Those who have followed this blog for a while know that my interest is mainly American women’s sportswear. But that does not mean that I can’t look to other countries to see how women were adapting dress as sports for women became more popular. When I spotted this Manby catalog from 1892, I had to add it to my collection of print resources.
My high school French is more than a little rusty, but even I could figure out that this catalog was for tailored women’s garments for sports. The title page tells us that here are clothes for travel, campaign, promenade, sea bathing, riding, yachting, and hunting. Yes, I can relate to all that.
Manby was located at 21 Rue Auber, and they advertised as a Maison Anglaise, specializing in tailored clothes for English clients. Later advertisements added Americans to the targeted clientele.
The catalog does not give a lot of information about each model offered for sale. I’m guessing that they knew the models their customers were after.
For the most part, the styles don’t look particularly French to me. In a way it seems like going to Paris only to eat at McDonalds.
But it does give a great look at what English, and probably American, women were looking for in the way of sports clothing in the 1890s.
The clothes look to me as they could have been made in the United States until I got to the illustration on the back cover.
I’ve looked at a lot of images of American women in sportswear, and never have I seen anything that compares to the pants and short “skirt” worn in this illustration. I do have another French print, dated to the 1870s that shows a similar short dress over pants, but it is a caricature.
As I said in my last post, online shopping has been great lately. Maybe it is due to sellers not having as many in real life selling opportunities, but there have been some fantastic things come up for sale this summer and fall. High on my list of purchases is this bathing suit from Gantner & Mattern.
I could talk all day about the attributes of this suit, starting with the colors. By 1920s orange was a popular fashion color, and it remained in style throughout the decade. The blue is also a good 1920s color. In fast, I have another early 1920s bathing suit in the exact color.
By 1920 the women’s bathing standby suit, two pieces usually made of a thin woven wool or blends of mohair and silk was being replaced by the knit suit. Most knit suits were knit in one piece, with the trunks attached to the dress. This suit is interesting because it is two pieces like the older style.
It is also interesting because of the slightly raised waistline. We tend to associate the dropped waist with the 1920s, but in the beginning of the decade the waist continued to be high as it was in the last part of the 1910s. At the same time, the shape of the body was becoming more tubular.
When I first saw this suit on Instagram, the crocheted trim intrigued me. When evaluating a piece of old clothing, you always have to consider that alterations could have been made at some point in the garment’s life. I have actually seen a 1920s knit suit where the back was cut to a fashionable 1930s scoop, with the edges finished with crochet. So I spent a long time looking at the crochet trim, trying to figure if it was original. The uniformity of the color, and the evenness of the applied trim led me to believe the crochet was original.
The real proof can be seen in this photo. Where the label was stitched onto the suit stitches over the orange yarn of the crochet, indicating the crochet was applied before the label.
Here’s a bit of Gantner & Mattern history I wrote several years ago in another post:
One of the great, but lesser-known California swimwear makers of the 20th century was Gantner-Mattern. Like most of the makers of swimsuits, they started out as makers of knitwear – stockings, underwear, and sporting sweaters. By the turn of the century, they were making the swimsuits that made them famous.
The company got its start in San Francisco in 1877 at the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company. By the late 1890s, two employees, corporate secretary John O. Gantner and mill superintendent Alfred Mattern had left Pfister to start their own knitting company. That was lucky for them because the Great Earthquake of 1906 destroyed the Pfister operation, while Gantner-Mattern was located in a safe area. Pfister was able to rebuild with the help of two friends, but it is not known if the friends in question were actually Gantner and Mattern.
Swimwear quickly became the main product at Gantner-Mattern. In the first days of the 20th century, swimming was becoming increasingly popular, and with the purchase of a Gantner-Mattern swimsuit, one got a free pair of waterwings to help the buyer learn to swim, or at least stay afloat! In 1932, Gantner-Mattern was the first company to produce a topless swimsuit – for men! Yes, it was still considered indecent in many places for a man to swim without a tank top in the early 1930s, but before long this quaint old custom was only a memory.
This post should have a subtitle. Maybe “Sometimes You Just Get Lucky.” Probably though, “It Pays to Be a Bookworm” is more appropriate. The truth is, unless I had read and reread my favorite book on women in sports, When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner, I would never have had an inkling of the purpose of this garment. As it was, it took me a while to actually figure out the purpose of this set, mainly because spotting it on Instagram was so unexpected.
The set has three pieces, and the seller, @vintageloftny, photographed the set with the blouse over the top of the skirt. That’s understandable, as there is elastic in the bottom of the blouse, and it makes sense that it would be on the outside of the skirt. However, something made me stop and visualize the blouse tucked into the waist of the skirt.
Once I saw the blouse in a different light, it rang a bell. The nautical details and the marine blue color pointed to a garment that was worn on the water. I ruled out sailing or yachting because I have been involved in studying issues of Harper’s Bazar from the 1860s through 1900. All the boating costumes shown (and there were a surprising lot of them) were styled in the current fashion, and were worn over a corset. The top two bodices are good examples.
My blouse does not follow the style of the late 1800s. Its loose fit pointed to a use in sports. I suspected it might be for rowing crew, and as good luck would have it, When the Girls Came Out to Play has a whole chapter on how Wellesley and other women’s colleges formed crew teams in the late 1870s.
Warner showed quite a few crew uniforms from the 1880s. Each class at the college had a crew team, all with their own special uniform. You might be surprised that the crew teams were not for racing. They were for performing musical spectacles for the public. This would explain why skirts were used instead of the bloomers the young women were accustomed to in gym class. Bloomers were not for public consumption.
Warner put forth the possibility that bloomers could have been worn underneath the skirts, but that there is no evidence of that. My set tends to say no, because it is complete with blouse, skirt, and belt. I would think that if these three pieces had been kept together for 135 years, if bloomers had existed, they would be present as well.
My set is made of the loveliest blue wool, and it appears to have been made by an expert dressmaker. All the tiny eyelets where the string fastens the blouse were made by hand. The white braid was laid on by hand.
Unmistakably nautical in design.
The skirt is also gathered and attached to the waistband by hand.
And the nicest surprise of all is the presence of a nice, deep pocket.
I have dated this piece as probably 1880 through 1886. After 1885 the crews began to turn from comfort to fashion, and most adapted a stylish corseted bodice. However, it’s not quite as silly at it sounds because these bodices were often made of jersey, which did afford a degree of comfort.
The blouse top did remain, however, and was used for gym class and other outdoor activities. I have read articles from the late 1800s that advised women hikers to wear a sports blouse. The page of Butterick patterns seen above is from 1889, and you can see that the puffed sleeve creeping in. My smooth capped sleeves are prior to that date.
I have long kept a list of older sportswear pieces that I would love to own, but a crew uniform was not on the list. I guess I thought that since they were such a specialized item, used for only a short time and in only a few places, it was doubtful one would ever turn up. But in the world of antique clothing, you just never know. Thanks so much to Mary Caroline of Vintage Loft NY.
I don’t look for stuff from the 1970s, but when a really great piece crosses my path, I try to add it to my collection. Having lived through the decade, I have good memories of what was cool, but memories can be deceiving. I remember knickers, but in my mind I can’t really place the fad to a specific year or season. My guess is that they sort of came and went from the late 60s to the 80s. I need to do a deep dive into my 70s Seventeen magazine collection to get a better idea of that trend.
What I love about this garment is its strong nod to the sportswear of the past. The late 60s and the 70s were influenced by a feeling of nostalgia, if you could call it that. For teens, it wasn’t a longing for our past, but instead, that of our parents and grandparents. We longed for the pop culture of the 20s, 30s, and 40s – without the Great Depression and the horrors of WWII, of course. No, we looked to Charlie Chaplin and Bogart, and Clara Bow and Betty Boop.
So where does my latest acquisition fit in? I’d say it’s part Little Rascals and part Rosie the Riveter. The tweed fabric is a definite throwback to the knickers that boys, and increasingly, young women, wore in the 1920s. The bib shows the influence of overalls, which women wore for work and recreation in the 30s and into the war years. There might even be a bit of the pilots’ jumpsuit in there.
But this is so typical of much of fashion and youth culture in the 70s. My mother, who was born in 1931, was always pointing out to me how the latest 70s fashions were so similar to what she wore as a young person.
The label is an interesting one. Plain Jane was the forerunner of Esprit. It was started in 1968 by Susie Tompkins and designer Jane Tise. They produced junior clothing under several labels including Sweet Baby Jane (a riff on the 1970 James Taylor album, perhaps). The company was renamed Esprit de Corps sometime in the late 70s, and by 1980 the label had been changed to Esprit.
The story of the company is not a nice one, though they did make nice clothing. Susie Tompkins’ husband Doug was involved in a nasty union dispute starting in 1974, mainly because he wanted to break his contract with his workers and move production to Hong Kong. You can see who won by looking at the label.
Danuta was Danuta Ragent who designed Plain Jane from around 1973 to 1978. Jane Tise continued to design the Sweet Baby Jane line, though her shares of the company were bought by the Tompkinses in 1976. My favorite sewing pattern of the late 70s was a Butterick Young Designer, Jane Tise for Sweet Baby Jane . The design was straight out of the 1940s.
This is such a great design. I love how the line of the bib pockets extends to form the hip pockets.
All the buckles are metal and are adjustable.
Thanks to Robin for sharing the information about Danuta, and whose Etsy shop is one of my favorites.
It may not be immediately obvious why I recently added this shirt to my collection. All will become clear when you see the closeup of the print.
If you have followed my writings for a while, you already know that I have a fondness for textile designs by Tammis Keefe. Today she is most remembered for her hankies and towels, but she also designed home decorator fabrics, and for a short time starting in 1957, she worked on textile design for the Marlboro Shirt Company.
If you are like me, the greatest association with Marlboro is with the cigarette brand. Marlboro Shirt Company was an entirely different company, though it does appear that at some point the company was acquired by Philip Morris, which also made the cigarettes. But my story dates to 1957 and 1958, long before that acquisition.
Marlboro Shirt Company had a long history, being formed in 1890. It was located in Baltimore, and for years men’s shirts were the only product. By the 1940s Marlboro had expanded into other men’s apparel, like bathing suits, pajamas, and jackets. In 1957 they entered the women’s shirt market with a new brand, Lady Marlboro.
At the same time, it was decided that the traditional man’s shirt could be made in sports styles, or rather, leisure styles to fit the increasingly casual American lifestyle. Tammis Keefe was brought in to design textiles that would fit into a more casual style. According to a paper written by FIT graduate student Suzanne Chee in 1990, many of the prints were (like mine) conversational in nature. She adapted antique motifs like vintage theater playbills and antique playing cards. And the shirts were made for men and women in matching prints.
To me, the designs do not look as though they were actually drawn by Tammis Keefe. The style of the ones I have seen all have an antique print look. Or maybe I’m not giving Ms. Keefe enough credit. I’m sure she could draw in more than the midcentury style she is most known for.
The closeup views reveal why I had to have this one. There are tennis players…
I bought this even though it is badly faded. It must have been a favorite piece. The color is actually an olive green, but I can’t help but wonder if it was made in other colors as well. And if anyone has the matching man’s shirt, I’d love to add it to keep this one company.
Beach pajamas are one of my favorite historic clothing items. They were in vogue for about fifteen years, during which time the concept went through several changes. Much of my interest stems from this garment’s role in making wearing pants in public by women acceptable. Much of my summer has been spent on gathering information, and then writing a paper on the evolution of pajamas on the beach. I’ll be sharing my paper in the future, first hopefully at my regional Costume Society of America symposium, and then here on my blog.
I already had several pairs of really great pajamas in my collection. I have told myself that I did not need any more, so I’ve not been tempted by any I have seen for sale in a while. But I had always wanted this particular pair, with the college pennant design. I felt like this design had been commercially produced because I had seen at least two examples of it.
When my friend Erika who posts as Cattybritches on Instagram posted a photo of this pair she spotted in an antique mall up her way, I was hoping she would be able to retrieve them for me. She was, and this week they arrived in my mailbox. In the collecting business, it really does pay to have friends!
The brand is Sas See Maids. As you can see on the label, they made dresses, smocks, and Hoovers (which was a wrap housedress) as well as pajamas. Note the line, “Made for the best retail trade”.
To put it into perspective, this ad shows these cost just 33 cents, and were found in the bargain basement. For those of you not old enough to have experienced a true bargain basement, my sympathies are with you. Even into the early 1970s the basement in Ivey’s in Asheville was a bargain hunter’s dream. I would spend hours there treasure hunting.
My exact pajamas are not in the ad, but it does mention the college pennant fabric. Best of all, it mentions a beach coat with trim. Dare I dream?
The ad and the newspaper clipping above came from Michelle of Wide Awake Vintage. Yet again, it pays to have friends with similar interests.
The low V neck in both front was back and the extra wide legs put this garment in the 1930 -1934 range. The low back developed about at the same time as low backed evening gowns and low backed bathing suits. The object was to acquire and then show off a suntan.
I hope you noticed the hat, because it is partly why I wanted this set so much. After examining it, I don’t believe it was commercially made. The seams are a bit too irregular, and the finishing is poor. The pajamas fit a person about five feet tall, so it’s possible these were shortened, and the excess used to make the hat. Or I could be wrong. Maybe another hat will materialize and prove me wrong.
I always consider it to be a lucky day when I spot a vintage sportswear catalog for sale. There are quite a few places to look for such catalogs, especially on ebay, but rarely do items of this sort come up for sale. The only bad thing about this one is that there is no date. Using style clues, I’m placing this one at 1936, give or take a year.
This catalog only has ten pages, so I’ll be sharing the entire thing.
Best of all, there are swatches! Swatches make any catalog better. Actually, I would not order the Skipper Slacks, due to the thinness of the fabric. I always think of Indian Head as a thicker duck cotton, but this is a thin poplin. I bet a lot of people were disappointed with this item.
But is Plaiddies not the best name ever?
The very wide legged slacks actually look a bit earlier than 1936.
But I’m placing my date partly based on the bathing suits. These are very similar to a Jantzen suit that I know was made in 1937.
The Brucewood bathing suits were also very stylish, and they were a dollar or more cheaper than the Jantzens.
Look at the waists of two of these suits and you can see the two-piece bathing suit starting to develop.
There are a few more dating hints in this grouping. The skirts are very long. By 1937 or so skirts started inching up toward the knee. Also, there’s no hint of the gathered shoulder that had become so popular by 1938.
And how can one not love a good bikette?
Terry and wool jersey.
Riding clothes are not always including in sportswear catalogs, so having a spread of them is a real treat.
What looks to be shorts is described as a pantie. It looks like they could have been buttoned to the shirt, and if so, would have been for wearing under the breeches.
Several of these jackets have asymmetrical openings, a common feature in the mid-1930s.
The sweater twin set is most associated with the 1950s, but they were actually popular starting in the 1920s.
Maurice L. Rothschild was born in Germany in 1964. As a teenager he came to America, and he eventually settled in Minneapolis. He started a store, the Palace Clothing House in 1887. The first store was small, and he quickly outgrew it, and after moving several times he constructed what became known as the Palace Building in 1907. The store remained in that location at the corner of Nicolett and Fourth Streets. A branch store was opened in Saint Paul in 1893, and one in Chicago in 1904.
Maurice died in 1941, and the business continued under the direction of his widow, Hulda, until 1949. At that time the business merged with the Young-Quinlan Company.
Company information is from the Hennepin County Library.