Category Archives: Sportswear

Sportswear Innovation – Culottes, 1930s

One of my latest finds looks like a dress, but the skirt is actually culottes. I first spotted this on Instagram and then I stalked the listings of LittleStarsVintage until she listed them. We don’t think much about culottes these days unless they are undergoing one of the many revivals of the style.  But in the 1930s, culottes were news.

In 1930 pants were being worn more and more by women, but they really were still mainly for sports, the beach, and the home. Wearing pants on the street shopping was still frowned upon in most places.

In 1931 Elsa Schiaparelli designed and made a culotte skirt and she actually wore it on the streets of London. I’m so glad that moment was documented. The same year she made a pair for tennis star Lili de Alvarez who was roundly criticized for wearing them in a tournament.  These photos are from Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli by Dilys E. Blum. I highly recommend it.

I think Schiaparelli’s pair looks like beach pyjamas that have shrunk to just below the knees. By 1931 the straight legs of the pyjamas of the 1920s had morphed into wide-legged bell-shaped legs. Could that have been Schiaparelli’s inspiration for the shape of her culottes?

My pair dates to the second half of the 1930s, and is made from a cotton print of coins. The red rick-rack is a casual touch, and marks this as a dress that might be perfect for a picnic or as a house dress. A very brave woman might even wear it to the market.

A machine stitched hem pretty much confirms this was a commercially manufactured garment. The seller had previously sold a very similar dress which had a size tag, something this one does not have.

It also has machine-made buttonholes which points to a manufactured product.  I can’t help but wonder why black thread was chosen.

Besides the culotte skirt, this dress has another feature that makes this appropriate as sportswear – a pleated sleeve. I love this sleeve, which I first encountered in an early 1930s blouse pattern.  Sleeves made in woven fabrics often have a stiff and uncomfortable feel, but this sleeve is loose and airy without looking frilly or silly.

Culotte patterns were also available to the home sewer.  This Hollywood pattern is not dated, but the original owner wrote “May 12, 1936” on the envelope.

And I refuse to believe that anyone has legs that long!

 

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Late Victorian Bathing Costume

The great bulk of my collection dates after 1915, but I’m slowly educating myself about earlier sportswear, and I’ve begun to acquire a few pieces.  This late nineteenth century bathing suit is my latest.  I bought this one mainly because most of the ones I’ve looked at over the past year are black, so a different color was a plus.  I’ll probably eventually buy a black one, if I find one with great design that is in good condition.

Condition is a major problem with antique bathing suits, as they were for the most part, made from wool.  Besides the fact that moths love them, they were exposed to salt water and who knows what else.  So while this suit photographs and displays well, it has the sort of issues one might expect from a well-used garment that is around 120 years old. In this case, I decided I could live with more damage than I would on a more common garment.

The bathing suit is made up of two pieces, the blouse and bloomers combination, and a matching skirt. This was pretty much the makeup of women’s bathing suits until the second decade of the twentieth century, when the shrunken bloomers were covered by a skirt that was attached to the top.  From there the bathing suit kept getting smaller, and smaller and…

The lighter color tie is attached at the shoulders.  It covers a placket, under which is a row of buttons.

The modesty panel attaches to the collar with buttons on one side, and is permanently attached on the other.

The braid, which is green, was sewn on by machine, and looks to be professionally done.

The braid also decorated the sleeves, the waistband, and the hem of the skirt.  The weight of it helped to keep the skirt from riding or blowing up, thus saving the wearer from extreme embarrassment.

The damage is much more apparent on the back.  There are a number of moth holes, and the waist band is torn.  I’m guessing that the owner had gained a bit of weight, and the band simply ripped from the stress.  The buttons are for attaching the skirt.

Note the fullness below the waistband, which is the top of the bloomers.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

This bathing suit came with a bit of a mystery attached – an extra piece that was originally part of the garment. It is a slice cut from the skirt. At some point the suit was altered to make the back of the skirt less full.  And while there is only one piece, there is evidence that two pieces were cut out.

This is the inside of the skirt, showing where I think the piece was removed. The most obvious sign is that a different color of thread was used.  On the left you can see that the thread matches the fabric, but the newer seam is stitched in white.  On the front, the original seams are so perfectly matched that it is hard to see them.  On the two new seams, the braid is off somewhat.

There is also white stitching where the skirt is gathered into the waistband.  So the back of the skirt had quite a bit of fullness removed.  But why? It probably has to do with changing fashion.

The image above is from 1898, from The Glass of Fashion. Even though a garment like a bathing suit might not be considered “fashion”, you can see the trends of an era in the shape and the details. Even though this is a dress, it has a lot in common with my bathing costume, with the gored skirt having a flat front and a full back.  The bodice is also similar with the pleats and gathers attached to a yoke. And don’t forget the puffed sleeves.

The bathing suit above is from an 1899 Delineator magazine. You can see how similar this one is to mine, with the tie, sailor collar, puffed sleeves and band at the hem.  This basic style remained popular over the next fifteen or so years, with gradual changes being made to reflect changing fashion.  The bodice became droopy in front, the gathers disappeared and smooth, full gores replaced them.

In period illustrations, bathing costumes are frequently pictured in beautiful colors, but photographs from the same time tell a different story.  The overwhelming majority of bathing suits for women were dark, either black or navy.

There are a few other problems with my suit.  Someone shortened the waist by about three quarters of an inch by making a tuck right above the waist.  I haven’t decided if I’ll remove it, but I probably will just leave it.  Most of the original buttons have been replaced, but buttons of this era are easy to find so I’ll probably replace the newer ones. The elastic in the legs of the bloomers has completely lost its stretch.  I’ll probably just leave it.

It was fun analyzing this piece.  Unfortunately, I know nothing at all about who the original owner was, but I do know she had a very appealing bathing costume.

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1950s Golf Dress – Babe Didrikson Golfer by Serbin

Some time ago I heard from Marianne Serbin, who was part of the family that owned the clothing company Serbin, and later, Serbin of Miami.  In her letter to me she mentioned that at one time famed athlete Babe Didrikson designed golf dresses for Serbin.  Since then I’ve had this line on my shopping radar, and finally, last month, I found a really great example.

Marianne did not mention when exactly Didrikson worked for Serbin, and it’s likely she does not know, as she would have been a child at the time.  But it is pretty easy to narrow it down to a range of just a few years.  First, Didrikson died in 1955 from cancer which was diagnosed with in 1953.

The length of the dress is quite long, and so the earliest it could be is 1948 or so.

The label reads just Serbin, instead of Serbin of Miami.  The company moved to Miami in 1951.  That may indicate that the set predates 1951 and the move, but that’s not guaranteed.  My 1960s golf set from Serbin does not mention Miami either.

I did find two ads online for Serbin golf dresses from 1949.  Actress Jane Russell is the model, but there is no mention of Didrikson.  It stands to reason that , as a very famous athlete, her name would have been in the ad as well. (The hunt continues.  I’ll update if I find a Serbin-Didrikson ad.)

My best guess is, then, 1950 through 1952.  But more important than the actual date of this dress is what we can learn about how fashion was adapted to fit a specific activity, in this case, golfing.

One of the first things to consider in making a golf dress is the sleeve.  Tight sleeves just won’t do, but in the early 50s most women on the golf course were just not ready to go sleeveless. In order to allow the arms full range of motion, golf dress sleeves were often pleated, and in this case, you can see that there are also buttons to give even more flexibility.

An interesting side note – this type of pleated sleeve appears to have started in the 1930s.  In the early 30s it was often seen on fashionable dresses.  So which use came first, the fashion or the sport?  I have no idea.

When unbuttoned, the sleeve is open all the way to the shoulder.

Another must-have feature on golf dresses was a pocket or two.  I really love how this breast pocket was cut on the bias.

I somehow neglected to take a full-length photo of the back of the dress, so take my word for it that this pocket is on the back, not the front.  It’s large enough to hold a ball, a glove, and a couple of tees.

One thing that made me buy this particular dress was that the belt was present.  So many times in old clothes the original belt is missing.  I didn’t realize until the dress arrived at my house that the belt is actually attached to a large flap in the back.  The flap obscures a large opening and the looseness of it allows for good air circulation.  It also makes the dress more flexible in the upper back.  Ingenious.

Here you can see the back opening.

Another interesting feature is that the dress has a front zipper that extends to the hem.  The zipper is actually a separating one, so this dress is very easy to put on.

Even with all the features that make this a dress for golfing, a woman could also have worn this dress for regular, casual wear.  It fits right in with what was stylish in 1950.

My Dad had a golf tournament  in Miami Beach which was Babe’s first win after her cancer and he presented her with a trophy topped with a diamond studded metal golf ball..quite a thrill for everyone.  Marianne Serbin.  Photo courtesy of Marianne Serbin.

I’m always amazed to learn of how so many otherwise famous people from the past also have a link to the fashion world.  Today, of course, it is just another way for a celebrity to make cash off his or her popularity.  But even a hundred years ago celebrities were being approached by companies eager to add a bit of  star power to their products.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Christina, I have a bit more to share.  Didrikson’s autobiography is online, and in it she mentions the deal with Serbin.  She won the British Ladies Championship in 1947, and after that win she was able to sign contracts with quite a few companies, including Serbin.  Later in the caption of a photo she mentions the ongoing deal with Serbin.  This was in 1955.

Christina also found photos of Didrikson wearing what looks to be a dress very similar to mine.  The year is 1950.   Thanks Christina!

UPDATE: Liza has found an ad in a newspaper for Didrickson/Serbin golf dresses dated March 30, 1949.  Thanks Liza!

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

1957 Jantzen Junior Dealer’s Catalog

A lot can be learned from old catalogs.  This one from Jantzen was not made for the consumer, but for the merchants that would be buying Jantzen products for their stores.  This particular catalog is for junior clothes, and I’m sure there were others for clothing for men, misses, and children.

Of course there were plenty of swimsuits.  After all, Jantzen was primarily a swimsuit company.  But what is interesting is how much of the catalog is devoted to other sportswear.

But before I get to the sportswear, I want to focus in one the swimsuit on the left.  This model was the “Holland Check” Sheath, with retailed for $10.95.  (Add in inflation, and this suit would be $93.50.  Jantzen was not cheap.)  In the late 1950s, and into the early 60s, plaids and checks were very popular.  This catalog features several plaid designs.

You can’t really tell what the plaid looks like here, but I do admire the way the designer used the print as part of the design.

Here you see the Holland check as trim on shorts and in a sleeveless top.

Even more Holland check in Bermudas, and as the trim on a blouse…

and on pedal pushers.

And best of all, here is the same check in a fabulous reversible cap.  The check was available in white with red, blue, brown, or black.  I’d never heard of “Holland Check” but it looks an awful lot like Prince of Wales plaid.

A store would pick which pieces to sell and it’s very unlikely that any one store opted to sell the entire line.  I can remember shopping in department stores in the late 1960s and early 70s, and it was common for stores to be selling the same brands, but to be offering entirely different pieces.

As a collector, it is nice seeing all the options available in the same print.  It’s hard enough finding great old sportswear garments, but how challenging it would be to try and assemble all the pieces of a particular line.  Unless one gets lucky, that is, the way I did with a matching line from Tabak of California.  

There was a real “Italian Look” evident in many of the garments.  The influence of Emilio Pucci, perhaps?

There were also references to the nautical influence, as in “Tars ‘n’ Stripes”.

And here’s even a nod to the ever popular middy blouse, though for some reason they chose to spell it “midi”.

Because these were junior swimsuits, targeted toward a teen consumer, Jantzen offered “Accents”, a bra pad.  The description of most of the swimsuits in this catalog mention that there is “space for ‘Accents” bust pads” in the suit.  I’ve got to wonder if there was an actual place in which to insert these pads.  Anybody know?

 

 

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Henry S. Lombard Yachting Uniforms, Circa 1910

I’ve written quite a bit about the middy blouse over the years, and about Lombard in particular.  It’s a garment that continues to fascinate me, and it has been on my short list of things to study in-depth whenever I miraculously find myself with unlimited time.  But until then, I’ll continue to park my findings and thoughts here.

I think what is really interesting about the middy is how it started as sailors’ attire, was adapted to clothing for children, morphed into high fashion resort and yachting wear for women, was adopted by all classes of women for bathing attire, became the uniform for college girls, and continues to make a fashion comeback every so often.  It has a long and ever-changing history, and it is still associated with the original wearer – the sailor.

This is the fourth Lombard catalog I’ve added to my collection, and it is the oldest.  Unfortunately, it is not dated, but the style of the hair and clothing places it to around 1910.  As far as the company is concerned, I’ve found very little about it.  The front of the catalog proudly proclaimed that Henry S. Lombard had been in business since 1855, but it is highly unlikely that the company was manufacturing women’s ready-to-wear.

I was able to find a reference to Lombard in an 1861 list of Boston merchants and makers.  The company was listed as dealing in “fancy goods.”

The next reference I found to the company was in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology magazine in 1895. There was an ad for Lombard that stated they sold “Yachting Outfits of Every Description.  Duck trousers, Outing clothes, Sweaters.”  We can safely assume that the ad is for men’s clothing, as at the time the students at MIT were mostly male.  At any rate, trousers would not have been made and sold to women in 1895.

In 1895 the making of  ready-to-wear for women was still in the early days of development.  By 1910, there were hundreds of makers of women’s blouses, or waists, and skirts and simple lingerie.  It this time Lombard was still making and selling uniforms for yachting officers and crews.  I found an ad for these in a 1911 issue of Yachts and Yachting magazine.

In my 1918 and 1920s Lombard catalogs, there is a wide selection of not only middies, but also skirts, bloomers, knickers, and breeches.  In this earlier catalog there are only two styles of skirts offered.

Nowhere in this little catalog is the word middy used to refer to the blouses. It is called a yachting blouse, or a sailor blouse.  By 1918, Lombard was calling this type blouse a middy.

I found quite a few ads for Lombard blouses in college magazines.  Both Vassar and Barnard ran ads in 1912.  And the catalog specifically mentions the “college girl” on almost every page.  It’s clear who their target customer was.

And finally, a lovely red coat and cap, or you could order the set in navy, or several different plaids.

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Wes-Mor Sure-Grip Shoe Cleats

If you have been reading The Vintage Traveler for a while you know that I’m a collector of women’s sportswear.  But I also am always on the lookout for items that relate to clothing and sports, but don’t really qualify as garments.  The Wes-Mor Sure-Grip Shoe Cleat falls into that category.

If you are ever bored, spend an hour or two on the Google Patents site.  Some of the oddball ideas will amaze and delight.  And what is fun is to actually find a product like mine that has the patent number right on the box.  Talk about making research easy!

Knowing this product was protected under patent number 2103472 led me straight to the patent and the accompanying drawings from the inventor, John Lascari.  He filed for the patent in  July, 1937, and the patent was granted in December of the same year.

According to the patent:

This invention relates to a shoe cleat and more especially to a device designed to be attached to boots, shoes or the like, to prevent slipping or sliding upon slippery surfaces such as those of ice or wet floors.

An object of this invention is to provide a device of this class which may be readily attached on, or detached from, the sole of a shoe when desired.

To test out the claim of “may be readily attached on, or detached from, the sole of a shoe when desired,” I tried the cleats on a pair of my own shoes.  I had my doubts, as the metal piece seemed to be quite stiff, but as you can see, the cleats worked perfectly.

In an era when most people could not afford to have special shoes for golf or hiking, this was a clever solution to the problem of smooth soled shoes.

Because the patent date is printed on the box, we know that the cleats cannot be dated to before early 1938.  The illustration of the woman on the box seems to show clothing from the late 1930s or early 40s.  There was a trademark application made for Wes-Mor by the Morrone Mfg. Company of Westerly, Rhode Island.  According to that application, the name Wes-Mor was first used in 1945.  I have found, however, that the “first used” date on trademark applications is often incorrect, as it is so often based on the applicant’s memory of something that happened years earlier.  So, my guess on the date is 1939 through 1945.

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French Beach Shoes, 1930s

Someone who had a great deal of experience with collecting once told me that it was “not just about the frocks.”  That really left an impression on me, and I did come to see what an important statement it was.  You just can’t understand the history of dress without also looking at the accessories.

When it comes to sports attire, it seems to me that clothing is much easier to locate than accessories.  I can think of many reasons why this might be so.  For example, rubber was a common material used in swim accessories, and rubber, if not stored properly, has a nasty tendency to melt and rip.  Also, sport shoes were often made of canvas, which would not have lasted like leather shoes would.

I spotted the beach shoes above in the Instagram feed of @garb_oh_vintage.  Probably the only reason they did not sell immediately was because they are a relatively small size.  That was good for me.

The seller had bought these in France some years ago.  I was not surprised, as these have a look to them of walks along the Côte d’Azur .  They are actually a play on the traditional espadrille, which originated in Spain, and which were very popular with the artistic set of France in the 1920s and 30s.

I found several very similar pairs in a 1936 advertisement for Lastex swimsuits.  Lastex was “the miracle yarn that makes things fit” and was introduced in 1931, but did not come into common use until later in the decade.

The heels are made from wood, something that is seen quite commonly in this type shoe.

The shoes show signs of light wear, but not enough to rub off the size – a French 37.

The straps fasten with metal buckles, which are lightly rusted.

When I think of all the shortages and scarcities of the World War Two era, I have to wonder how any clothing from before that time survived intact, especially something like shoes.

I tend to collect things that were made for the American market, so it is interesting that these shoes are from France, and the late 1930s Reid’s Holiday Togs playsuit I posted earlier is from Canada.  It’s even nicer that they look so fabulous together.

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Filed under Shoes, Sportswear, Summer Sports, World War II