Category Archives: Sportswear

Tom Brigance Waterclothes 1970s Bathing Set

Having lived through the 1970s doesn’t make collecting the clothing from that decade easier. If anything, the waters are muddied by memories, some of which are not representative of the era. I once went to an exhibition that showed handbags from different eras, along with what women might have carried in each. I was loving the show until I got to the 1970s bags, and for some reason, the contents the curator had chosen seemed all wrong to me. After all, I was there, and I know what I carried in my bag.

But in some ways the more recent decades are easier to collect. For one thing, there’s more choice. And often the choices include high quality items at a reasonable price which in earlier decades would be priced out of sight. This set from sportswear designer Tom Brigance is a great example.

Brigance’s name isn’t as well known as some of his peers, like  Claire McCardell, Tina Leser, and Rose Marie Reid. But when it comes to beachwear, Mr. Brigance was hard to beat. He started out designing in Europe in the 1930s, but went to New York in 1939 where he designed at Lord & Taylor. Like so many others, his career was interrupted by World War II, but when the war ended, he returned to Lord & Taylor. In 1949 he opened his own design business, designing sportswear and swimsuits for various companies.

I have a Tom Brigance halter dress from the 1950s, but I’d had a Brigance bathing suit on my wishlist for some time. I was thinking that I wanted one from the 1950s, but when this set showed up on eBay, I changed my mind. I see this as a great representation of the type of things Brigance designed. He often used interesting necklines, and bare but covered lines.  The seller described this as being from the 1960s, and I didn’t disagree until I looked at the close-up photos. After all, it does that the mid 1960s Cole of California Scandal Suit vibe.

The soft interior of the bra section tells me this is not likely to be a 1960s suit. Until the early 1970s, most makers were designing bathing suits with rigid bras, and many even had boning. Things began to soften at the end of the 1960s with bras made of a bonded fabric that was soft but that held its shape. Many of these have deteriorated into dust. This suit simply has a shelf bra made of thick nylon.

The guessing game ended when I spotted this label.  The ILGWU switched to this label in 1974, using the colors of the American flag. Was this part of their campaign to get Americans to “Always look for the union label, it says we’re able to make it in the U.S.A.!”

Someone paid a lot for this set, though I don’t know exactly how much because the prices have been removed. And as you can see, it was never worn as the paper tags are still attached. I have detached the tags and have stored them, as the garments do not need any more exposure to the acidic paper.

As a buyer, I don’t expect sellers to always know everything about what they are selling. But the best sellers put in enough photos so people like me can make a determination on our own. That means lots of label shots. In  this case, I knew exactly what I was buying because of the union label.

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Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

A Tale of Two Jumpsuits

Anyone who collects or sells old clothing will tell you that most old garments come with a flaw or two. Clothes were worn, and they were often improperly stored. To get a piece with no issues is a real treat.  I acquire pieces with that in mind, because sportswear was especially subject to rough wear.

I decided to buy the pajama jumpsuit above because of the outstanding textile design. This type jumpsuit, which was made from around 1930 through about 1935, was a bit of a fad, and as such, many of the ones I’ve seen are made from cheap cotton materials. This one is no exception, as the fabric seems to be a printed cotton muslin.

But the print was just so good, I decided to get this one from an online dealer.  From the photos in the listing I could guess the pajama had been shortened at the waist. I was right.

Can you see the lines of the old stitches I removed? This had been taken up five inches.  A former owner must have worn this as at shin-length, because I am 5’1′, and the length after removing the stitches is perfect for me.

This brings up the question of when is it best to remove old stitching, and when should it just be left alone. In this case the decision was easy, as the alteration completely changed the original design of the garment as it was intended to be worn in the 1930s.

And the shoddy state of the alterations was another consideration.  Sellers, this is not normal.

And the only reference to this mess in the sales listing was that there was a bit of hand stitching. I’ll say!  To be completely truthful, the seller offered to take the pajamas back, as there were other undisclosed issues, but I was so in love with the fabric print that I decided to invest the work in restoring it and to keep it.

There were also belt loops, which had been concealed in the alteration. I’m guessing that the belt was black, and I’ll be making a reproduction belt for display purposes.

I also recently acquired this 1940s jumpsuit from Susan at NorthStarVintage. She had seen the two other 1940s jumpsuits in my collection that I posted on Instagram and she wisely figured I might be interested in this one as well. (I know this is a woman’s garment because of the way the zipper fold laps, right over left)

I was especially interested in this jumpsuit because it was made by White Stag. I know that White Stag made WWII era workwear for women, as I have a wartime catalog. But the label used in the work attire was White Stag Function Alls. And the Play Alls label is not shown at all in the catalog.

So, where do these fit in? I’d like to think they are from around 1940 or 41, as companies were already starting to make military-inspired clothing for women.  After the US entered the war, it’s not likely that so much metal would have been used. The catalog shows buttons instead of zippers and snaps.

At any rate this jumpsuit shows signs of being used for work. I think the woman who wore this must have been an auto mechanic, as there are tiny little grease stains on the knees. I can see her on her knees changing a tire!

Interestingly, this jumpsuit was also altered at the waist, but this time, the garment was made longer. The waist band was removed and the double thickness of it was made single, adding about an inch and a half to the length.  The alteration was so well done that I didn’t notice it until I was giving the piece a close examination.

Not only did the alterer have to remove and reattach the waistband, the zipper section below the waist had to be removed and reattached. This was the work of an experienced sewer, and it has the feel of having been done in the 1940s instead of later.

Because of that, I’ll be leaving this jumpsuit as it is. It’s more important to me to have the jumpsuit as it was worn, rather than how it was purchased.  It’s a great piece of women’s history, and I love it just as it is.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Shopping, Sportswear, World War II

Bradley High Quality Knit Garments – 1908

Bradley Knitting Company is one of those companies that no longer exists, but still its wares are well-known to vintage sellers and collectors due to the consistent release of consumer catalogs and their large volume of production. The company was renamed as Bradley in 1905, and so this 1908 is from the very early years of the company. At that date they were already producing the garments which made Bradley famous – sweaters and bathing suits.

You might have noticed the use of the word “coat” to describe what we today in the United States would call a sweater or cardigan. Bradley continued to use “knit coats” until the late 1920s when the catalogs switched to the more modern “sweater”.

I’m not familiar with the term, “pony jacket.” Could it have been appropriate for riding?

Even though sweaters were considered to be sportswear, the catalog stylist could not resist adding a bit of fashion with the huge hats.

I’ve seen this style of knit vest advertised as a golf vest. It would have been an excellent choice to wear for the sport because of the increased mobility of the arms which it would allow.

Bradley also made knits for men and for children. The cardigan above is very similar to what sweater companies made all through the 1920s, but it is a bit shorter in the body.

Heavy wool knits were very casual attire, and the association with sports was strong. I really love this baseball coat. I do wonder if the monogram was machine embroidered or if it was made separately and then attached.

In spite of the large, impractical hat (or is it a bow?), this little girl is dressed to play with her knit coat, short skirt, and softball.

Thanks to this catalog I now know that Bradley first made bathing suits in 1907.  Be sure to read the copy, as it is so unintentionally hilarious!

A note about men’s bathing suit styles: in 1908 men’s suits were still very modest, with the long top having a high neck and small armholes. The trunks are to the knees. By the 1920s the armholes and neck in men’s bathing suits were scooped, and the trunks were mid thigh.

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Currently Reading – Southern Tufts by Ashley Callahan

Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion is one of those books for which one would  have thought there was not enough information to fill two hundred plus pages. But Ashley Callahan has proved me wrong with this publication. Actually, I heard Ashley speak on the topic in 2012 at the national Costume Society of America symposium in Atlanta, and I’m amazed at how much she uncovered in the time between her presentation and the book’s publication in 2015.

This is a great example of a seemingly small story of what is pretty much one product that was produced for a short time in a specific place. In today’s world when so much is written about Chanel and Dior, it’s great learning about how a small town industry made a product that became popular across the USA.  The product was cotton chenille and the bedspreads and garments made from it, and the small town is Dalton, Georgia.

I think that one reason I enjoyed this book so much is because so many of my interests are addressed in it. The story begins with the early twentieth century crafts revival, tells about an obscure sector of the Southern textile industry, brings in the early tourist industry in the USA, and includes the making of sportswear.

Tufting is a form of candlewick work, where thick cotton threads are stitched in rows to produce designs, and then the threads are cut on the front of the fabric, and the threads separated to form tufts. The end result is called chenille.

The chenille industry that was centered around the little town of Dalton in Northwest Georgia began with Catherine Evans Whitener, who in 1895 took up hand tufting to make a bedspread after seeing an antique one in a neighbor’s house. Catherine continued with the craft, and began selling them. As other women saw the spreads, Catherine began getting orders for more. By 1910 she was selling her tufted bedspreads to department stores, and other women in the area were recruited to help make the spreads.

By the mid 1920s the industry was firmly established with many women and men involved in the making and distribution of tufted spreads. The craft spread across North Georgia and even into neighboring states.

The earliest products are all hand stitched, but in the 1920s experiments with machine tufting began. By the mid-1930s the use of tufting machines was widespread in Georgia’s chenille industry. It’s fairly easy to tell a hand tufted fabric from a machine tufted one. On machine made tufts, the lines are very uniform, but hand tufting can be very irregular.

With the improving of highways and the growing popularity of the automobile in the 1920s, American hit the road and the tourist industry boomed. The Dixie Highway which started in Michigan and ended in Florida was begun in 1915, with one branch going through the Dalton area. It didn’t take long for the tufters to realize there was money to be made from all the people traveling to Florida on vacation. Roadside stands selling chenille goods sprang up all over Northwest Georgia.

Chenille clothing was advertised as early as 1921, but it was not until the single needle machine tufter was invented that clothing became a major product. Most of the clothing made was suitable for wear at the beach, with capes and robes being the most widely available. This chenille dress is a rare early example of a garment made by a single needle machine.

In these examples of beach capes, look closely at the one on the right to see that the cape was made first, then it was tufted.  Some makers made the tufted fabric first, then cut it out and made the garment. This became more prevalent after 1941 when multi-needle machines were patented, making the process much faster.

Here’s a cape from my collection. You can see the regular stitches on the interior of the cape, a sign of machine tufting. Note also that the lines of chenille are fairly far apart, with probably means this cape was tufted using a single needle machine.

This example from my collection is later. See how close the rows of tufts are? This points to the use of a multi-needle tufting machine. Also, the anchors and ropes are tufted over the white tufting. This is a process that was developed after the multi-needle machine came into use.

Another way to tell the later multi-needle garments is that often the lines of the tufts run horizontally around the garment. Note how in my earlier cape the lines of tufts are diagonal, a process that was easier with the single-needle machine.

This was not addressed in the book, but many of the later examples are made using lighter colors, like the green seen around the border of my cape. Starting in 1957, rayon was sometimes added to the threads, and in 1963, nylon was used. I’ve seen plenty of the nylon tufted bedspreads. They have a very different look and feel from the cotton ones.

And just when you think you have seen it all, photos of the most amazing chenille pants appear. These were made around 1940. I’ve never seen a pair, and now I must find one for my collection.

During the 1950s, long chenille bathrobes were the most popular garment produced by the tufters. But by the 1960s, terry cloth robes were gaining in popularity, with chenille being thought to be an old-fashioned option.  Even worse, the chenille companies were having a difficult time figuring out how to comply with the fire prevention laws that were passed in the 1950s. Times grew tough for the chenille industry. Many of the companies closed, but others survived by switching production to carpets. Today Dalton calls itself the Carpet Capital of the World.

There were dozens of companies making chenille products in the mid twentieth century, and Callahan has documented the history of many of them. Unfortunately, chenille garments tend to not be labeled. I have four examples in my collection, none of which have labels, and from looking at them obsessively on Etsy and Ebay, I rarely ever see one with a maker’s label.

I really loved reading this book, especially since I learned so much about how to date my examples. My thanks to Liza at Better Dresses Vintage for knowing I’d love the book, and for loaning her copy to me.

 

 

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Filed under Currently Reading, Sportswear, Textiles

Update on Key West Hand Print Fabrics

I’ve written quite a bit about Key West Hand Print Fabrics in the past, especially concerning their relationship with Lilly Pulitzer.  For those of you who don’t know, for years Key West Hand Prints designed and made the distinctive fabrics Pulitzer used in her dresses.

Before 1961, Key West Hand Prints was a small fabric printing business in Key West, Florida, owned by Walter Starkey. The company made small printed linens, like tea towels. In 1961, Peter Pell and Jim Russell were visiting the island when they decided it was a good place to live. They bought Key West Hand Prints and hired a designer for the prints, Suzie Zuzek dePoo. 

On the other side of Florida, another entrepreneur was at work developing a line of tropical print dresses. Lilly Pulitzer had enlisted the services of a dressmaker to make dresses in loud prints that would cover juice stains she got while working in her family business, an orange grove and juice stand. So many customers at the stand asked about Pulitzer’s dresses that she saw an opportunity to make similar dresses for sale. She learned about Key West Hand Prints and visited the island to see if she could use the prints in her new line.

For the next fourteen years (or so, as I don’t have the exact dates), Key West Hand Print Fabrics designed and made the iconic Lilly Pulitzer fabrics. The little hand print business employed as many as two hundred people during this time, and they worked around the clock to keep up with demand. They were producing fabric not only for Lilly Pulitzer, but also for their own line of dresses, labeled “Vanda Fashions, Key West Hand Prints” and for yardage that could be purchased in their Key West store. Vanda was designed by Virginia Peirce. 

Artist Suzie dePoo designed the prints, but the colors were worked out by others on the staff, including co-owner Peter Pell. Lilly Pulitzer would fly into Key West to visit with Pell and Russell and to pick out the fabrics for her next collection. They would spend the day involved in  business, and then they would retire to the bar to celebrate. 

It was a system that worked well until a new business manager hired by Pulitzer in 1976 or 77 ended the relationship between Lilly Pulitzer and Key West Hand Print Fabrics. It was a decision that ultimately harmed both businesses. Key West Hand Prints lost their largest customer, and the atmosphere of the business changed, especially for Peter Pell, who lost interest in the enterprise. Lilly Pulitzer prints changed, becoming more “fashionable” and less “Florida” and in 1984, Lilly shut down her business.

A lot of the information above was given to me by Jacq Staub, whose mother Jacquolyn was the in-house model and the merchandising manager for Key West Hand Print Fabrics. He has shared with me all these stories as well as some wonderful photos.  The model in all these photos is Jacq’s mother. In the photo at the top, Jacquolyn is modeling a caftan that was ordered for Elizabeth Taylor.

Key West Hand Prints was a casual, family business, though most of the staff were not actually related. Jacq refers to Pell and Russell as Uncle Peter and Uncle Jim, though they were actually his godfathers. The photo above was taken in Vanda’s design studio, and was used for the company’s catalog.

Here’s another look at that distinctive corner in Vanda’s studio. These photos were taken in the early 1970s.

This photo wasn’t dated, but the hairstyles sure are saying mid to late 1960s. Just when we thought men were going to loosen up in their clothing choices, Dress for Success came along and swept it all away.

Here’s Uncle Jim and Jacquolyn at a fashion show in 1973.

The designer holding onto Peter Pell? Lilly Pulitzer, of course! And how about those printed jeans?

So, where is Key West Hand Prints today? The owners are long gone, but Key West Fashions continued in business until 2007. The original screens used to make the prints and the dye formulations were bought by Ed Swift, who stored the items for years. It appears that these items have now been sold, with the new owner exploring the possibility of reopening the print business.

It also appears that there is also a book, exhibition, and film about Key West Hand Prints in the works. Behind this project is the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, a division of the Smithsonian. It will be interesting to see how they tell the story, as many of the people involved with Key West Hand Print are still with us.  It’s a chance to tell the story of a unique American textile business that had a lasting influence on how we dress. 

My thanks to Jacq Staub for the photos and the stories.

 

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Abercrombie & Fitch Summer Sport Styles 1939

I’m always happy to locate a catalog that features women’s sports clothing, especially when it’s from a company like Abercrombie & Fitch. This newest acquisition is from 1939, and I also have the winter 1938 edition. These are the only two I’ve ever seen, so I have no idea how long A&F put out this particular catalog.

If I ever get around to building that time machine, one place I definitely want to visit is the A&F flagship store that was located on Madison Avenue at 45th Street in New York City.  That would be true adventure shopping!

The copywriter lays it out straight – don’t expect frou-frou at Abercrombie & Fitch. But that does not mean the the clothing sold by A&F in the spring of 1939 was not fashionable.

The move toward the very strong shoulders associated with the 1940s had already begun, and you can clearly see it in the sleeves of these rayon and linen frocks. Insead of shoulder pads, the 1930s designer used deep pleats at the top of the sleeve to create the desired width.

By the end of the 1930s, fashionable length in tennis dresses had been abandoned in favor of shorter skirts that increased the players’ mobility.  I love the zipper in the sleeve of the dress on the left. I’ve never seen this feature in a blouse or dress. Usually what is seen is the split sleeve on the right. Both free the arms to make for a better swing.

The dress in the center is the same as the one on the cover. The buttons not only can be unfastened to allow the player to have a wider stride, according to the catalog it “unbuttons down each side so it may be laundered easily.”  All these dresses are available only in white.

Golf attire did not adopt the shorter skirt like the tennis dress. Golf does not require the long stride of tennis, and golf and country clubs tended to be very conservative spaces.  Only one of these dresses was available in white, as color was standard on the golf course.

It’s always amazing to realize how much more conservative swim and beachwear was in the late 1930s than in the late 20s and early 30s. All these suits except the one in the middle are made from woven fabrics, and most likely they all have zippers down the back.  The willowy beach pajamas of a few years earlier have been replaced with slacks.

Riding attire depended on where one was riding. The look on the left was appropriate  for Western ranch wear. The riding coat and jodhpurs were more suited for Eastern wear.

Here we have a selection of clothing for boating. The slacks suit in the middle was made from denim, but the one on the right was constructed of waterproof silk. It was also available in cotton sailcloth.

This page was titled, “Country Compromise”. One could wear her shorts and her skirt too. The set on the left is called an exercise suit, and comes with shorts beneath the skirt.

As much as I love the clothes, I’ll admit that this page of accessories is my favorite. Number 4 is a beach bag from Paris, and that’s a watch set into the wooden lid. Number 6 is described as lastex panties, to wear under sports clothing. And number 11 is a pouch to hold one’s golf incidentals.

 

 

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Bradley Knitting Company of Delavan, Wisconsin

Over the years I have written quite a bit about Bradley, maker of bathing suits and wonderful 1920s sweaters, but a recent project I’m working on led me to revisit the company. Previously I wasn’t able to find great details on Bradley, but a newer article on a Wisconsin news site, The Beacon, was full of really interesting stuff.

The name Bradley has long been associated with Delavan, Wisconsin, first as a dry goods store, then as a department store, and finally as a maker of woolen knitwear. But the factory actually started in Chicago as Globe Knitting Mills. The operation was moved to Delavan in 1903, and in 1905 it was bought and renamed by the owners of the Bradley Department Store (which still exists, by the way).

The company quickly grew. By 1914 it was large enough to accept an order from the British government for one million sweaters to outfit soldiers fighting in World War I. Unfortunately, the shipment was loaded upon the Lusitania, which was sunk by a German U-boat in May, 1915.  The order was duplicated, and when the US entered the war, Bradley made sweaters for the US Army as well.

Being located in a small town, Bradley often had problems keeping a full work force. In 1919 they built Bradley Hall to house young woman workers. The building still stands an apartment building.

As you can see on my fan above, the Bradley slogan was “Slip into a Bradley and out-of-doors.”  They were primarily a maker of sportswear, especially knit wool bathing suits and athletic sweaters. Several major league baseball teams had team sweaters made by Bradley, and Babe Ruth was pictured in 1926 on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post wearing his Bradley sweater.

All was well until the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression. Bradley made it through the 1930s, but just barely. In 1941 the business was under bankruptcy reorganization when it was bought by one of the investors. With the US entering World War II, Bradley received another large order for sweaters. And after the war the company limped along by making a more diverse line of textile products. Finally, in 1949 Bradley was sold to AA Empire Company, and was relocated to New York. Items continued to be made under the Bradley label until sometime in the 1960s or early 1970s. The old Bradley mill was torn down in 2003.

Today there is a little museum of sorts in the Bradley Department Store. While doing a sprucing up of the store’s decor several years ago some great old items were found in the store’s storage. Included is a large banner showing the same diving pair you see illustrated on my fan.

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