Category Archives: Sportswear

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

Reid’s Holiday Togs 1930s Playsuit

Many of you will recognize the name Rose Marie Reid, as her company produced women’s swimsuits for many years.  The Rose Marie Reid label began in 1946 when she moved her business from Canada to Los Angeles, a center of the swimwear industry.  But before that, she actually had a swimwear and sportswear company in Vancouver, Reid’s Holiday Togs.  The label dates roughly from 1936 to 1946 and is rarely seen today.

I felt pretty lucky when I spotted this sweet example in an etsy shop, Mystic Clutter Vintage.  According to the biography of Reid, the company produced only swimsuits, so finding a garment other than a bathing suit was pretty exciting.  When I received the playsuit, my enthusiasm for it was even greater.  There are so many great little details that add up to a perfect little garment.

One of my favorite features is how the pockets are built into the princess line.  Then note how just below the pocket, a pleat opens in the side seam.

The presence of pleats in a playsuit really adds to the functionality of the garment.  The legs are full without looking full, leading to greater range of movement by the wearer without sacrificing the fitted look of the suit.

The front is closed with a long metal zipper, which helps to date this to the very early years of  the label.  After Canada entered WWII, the Reid biography specifically pointed out that zippers were unavailable to the company.  I love the curved raglan shoulder, which gives the appearance of a bigger shoulder in accordance with the style of the time.  The little round collar is also a nice touch.

The back of the bodice has an inverted pleat which adds to the wearer’s mobility.

The fabric is a nice cotton twill.  The color is very reminiscent of that used in gymsuits during this time, but there is no evidence that I found that Reid made garments for gym classes.  It is my thinking that this a just a more stylish form of the gymsuit that was recognized as functional attire for girls participating in sports.  It is even possible that a matching skirt was made, as that is how playsuits were generally marketed and sold.

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Filed under Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Collis Improved Cushion Ankle Support

Sometimes I don’t know how I manage to run across the forgotten and obscure bits of sportswear history, but I’m glad I do.  In this case, it was an item I had no idea even existed – an ankle support.  But HippieSewingMama had it for sale on ebay, and I somehow located it, and now it’s a part of my collection.

For all athletic purposes, though I suspect that even large ladies would not have been using this to help out in a football game.

The support is actually a soft brace, sturdy enough to actually help someone suffering from wobbly ankles.  It’s made from a strong cotton, and is padded.

Henry James Collis of Taunton, Massachusetts made  his first ankle brace in 1906, but the original design was rejected by the patent office as a very similar brace predated his.  He was eventually able to get his patent (note that my box reads “Design Protected”) and over the next few years he continued to patent improvements to the original design.

My ankle support does not have the vertical lines shown as numbers 14 and 15 in the drawing.  These were pockets for “removable stiffening strips” and I imagine many of them were actually removed as the idea seems a bit uncomfortable to me.

The view from the front.

I’m not sure how long Collis made his ankle supports, but here they are in a 1935 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog.  According to this ad, the removable stiffening strips were reeds.  Like I said earlier, uncomfortable!

I have found out very little about Henry James Collis.  He was born in Great Britain in 1873, and died in Massachusetts in 1960.  He held patents not only for ankle supports, but also wrist supports, padded skate straps, an improved watch fob strap, and billfolds.  A search on ebay turned up several canvas items with a H.J. Collis label, including a fishing creel, a game bag, and a holder for fishing flies.  In other words, Collis was a manufacturer of canvas sporting accessories.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Sportswear

Irene Brown Cashmere Sweater for Golfer

 

I’ve been on a lucky streak online recently, as far as finding great stuff for my collection.  Above you can see my new favorite, bought off eBay from seller lindys4sale.  It is cashmere, and is decorated with velveteen appliques, accents with beads, embroidery, and the occasional bit of leather.

Irene Brown of Detroit is a new name to me, and an internet search showed up only a few references, all in Michigan newspapers dating from 1962 to 1968.  I found two other examples that had been sold online, both of which used applique to decorate the sweater.

One thing I can tell you about Irene Brown is that the sweater that bears her name shows top notch workmanship.  Each little piece was cut from velveteen or leather, and then was expertly appliqued to the sweater.  The letters shown above are about an inch and an eighth, are beautifully finished and then embroidered on one side to mimic a shadow.  The number on the flag and the dimples on the ball are made with beading.

Even the sides of the sweater and the sleeve cuffs are decorated.  The two other examples I found of Brown’s work also had gathered cuffs like this one.  Perhaps it was a trademark of her designs.

The back of the sweater has one big applique of a golf bag and clubs.  All the design on the bag was made through embroidery.

The interior is not lined, so you can get a good look at the handwork.  I would have expected a sweater of this quality to be lined, but I can find no traces of old lining threads, and the other examples I found do not seem to be lined either.

One thing I really love about vintage golf prints and such is that the 19th hole is almost always referenced.  That little cocktail is enough to entice me onto the golf course.  You’ll find me in the club house.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Variations on a Theme: Bloomers

Sometimes when I go on the hunt for vintage clothing, a theme appears.  Last week the theme was bloomers.  I first spotted this gymsuit with bloomers.  It has a nifty feature.

How about that!  Convenient, but I’m betting the girl who had to wear this suit hated it, and especially hated the drop bottom.

That girl was Margo Kellow.  The gymsuit was made a a company that is new to me, Pennco, or the Pennsylvania Apparel Company.

No sooner had I spotted Margo’s green suit than I saw these big black bloomers flapping in the wind.  I’m pretty sure that the vendor thought they were funny, and she seemed genuinely surprised when I asked the price.  The other shoppers then began to have a few laughs at my expense.

No matter, as I know a great pair of bloomers when I see them.  These are very long, and quite old, probably Edwardian.  Note the use of an overlock stitch.  Yes, the overlock was used this early, having been invented in the 1880s.

It’s very possible that these bloomers once had an attached blouse, as the waist band stitching has been removed.

It was not all gym attire, however.  This is an apron made in the shape of bloomers, which mirror the woman in the print.

Cute, no?

When I returned home, a package was waiting.  In it was yet another pair of bloomers, these a bit later than the top pair.  I got these from my new favorite etsy shop, Poor Little Robin.  Again, we are lucky to have the name of its original owner, Martha Wilson.

All these bloomers got me to thinking about my next research project.  I’m getting a pretty good selection of gymsuits, and so I’m going to be working on a timeline of the changes made in girls’ gym attire over the years.  Hopefully I will have enough information to write a paper for presentation at Costume Society, but if not, I can still post my findings here.

Later on I may be begging for help in the form of your family photos.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Shopping, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

A Sun Mode Original by Jane Irwill

A couple of months ago I went on a rant about using the correct terminology when describing vintage and antique garments.  Not everyone agreed with me, and I can see why, but because I used playsuit as an example, I’m been looking at lots of images, especially in 1930s and 1940s ads, to make sure playsuit was the proper term.

And it is.  The one-piece shorts and top combination above is most commonly referred to as a playsuit in ads of the period.  Almost all the ads I found, and there were quite a few, also featured a matching skirt which can be worn over the playsuit.

On my recent trip to the Hillsville Flea Market, I pulled the playsuit out of a big pile of vintage garments.  The first thought through my head was, “If only the skirt was here too.”  It was my lucky day, as the skirt soon emerged from the heap.

In most of the ads, the skirt buttons up the front, but in my new example, there is a metal zipper closure.

There is also a label in the skirt, something I did not notice until I got the set home and started a better examination.  I was a bit surprised by the label, as I’d known Jane Irwill only as a sweater maker.  The company was actually called Irwill Knitwear Corporation. But a label is an excellent starting place in trying to learn more about a garment.

The first place I turned to was TESS, the US trademark site.  TESS is a great starting point, because it often gives the name of the owner of the label, and it always has the name of the company that produces it.  In this case, I learned that Jane Irwill was a maker of sweaters and playsuits, and that the company name was Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  The page also states that “Jane Irwill” is not a real person.

According to TESS, The trademark “Jane Irwill” was first used in 1940.  I always take first usage dates on TESS with a grain of salt, as I’ve found many errors over the years.  Often the trademark application is made many years after the first usage, and people being human, make mistakes.  So I really do not give the 1940 date much credence.

My next step was to see what I could find out about the Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  Quite a few sites that list business registrations list the year of incorporation as 1923.  The founder of the company was Irving Louis.  Just because the Irwill Knitting Corporation started in 1923, we cannot assume that the Jane Irwill label dates back that far.  The first actual reference I found to the label was in 1939, in a business directory.

I also did a search for “Sun Modes Jane Irwill”, and came up with several newspaper ads ranging from 1946 through 1954.  It could have been used earlier, or later, as I only located five examples.

So depending on when the label was really first used, I’m looking at a set that could have been made between about 1935 when play sets became very popular, through the very early 1950s when the style changed to a more fashionable line.  This was a basic sportswear design that did not really change much in those years.  So it is necessary to really look at the details to narrow down a date.

Note how long the skirt is.  Add two inches to that length because the skirt was hemmed at some point.  This means that either the wearer was short, or the skirt was shortened to bring it more into style when skirts got shorter during WWII.  The skirt length, plus the relatively weak shoulders tend to suggest that this set is either before 1939 or so, or after 1947.

Another clue is that the skirt is cut in  eight gores rather than in a front and back cut as two pieces.  This uses more fabric, and is another clue that this set was not made during the war.

The next thing I considered was the fabric design and the colors used.  The fabric is a very light blue with a brown stripe.  Some people I know are very good at identifying the possible years of manufacture just from the colors used.  Unfortunately, I am not one of those persons, so without a lot of reading and looking at period examples, that information does not help.  What about the stripes, though?  In looking at magazines from 1934 through 1950, I noticed the popularity of stripes increased around 1940, and they stayed popular throughout the 1940s.

So, my best guess is that my Sun Modes set dates to around 1947 or 48.  I would appreciate any additional insights.

This was a great addition to my collection.  In collecting I’ve noticed that the playsuit is often found for sale, but it is rarer for the skirt to be present as well.  I already had one set that is most likely early 1940s.  It was home sewn using feedsack material, a good example of WWII era thrift.  It’s nice to now have a later example.

Let me add a few words about condition.  This set was quite dirty, so I did hand wash it with great success.  Besides the hemming, there are some crude hand repairs to the sleeves and underarms.  For now I’ll leave them as they are.  I rather like the evidence of the former owner’s hand.

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Swimming Tights by Annette Kellerman

Okay, I know that the garment above doesn’t look like a big deal, but appearances can really deceive.  In 1905 when other women around the world were wearing dress and bloomer bathing suits, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman introduced Europe to the one-piece swimming suit for women.  At the time, even most men were still wearing two-piece bathing suits, consisting of knit trunks that came to the knee with a long tee shirt on top.

But in Australia, competitive swimmers, both male and female, had begun wearing one-piece knit suits for the sport.  When Kellerman went to England in 1905 for a swimming exhibition, she found a much stricter set of rules for women swimmers.  In order to perform, she took a pair of black stockings and sewed them to her suit to provide more coverage.  She was then allowed to perform.

This 1914 ad shows the famous suit

Two years later Kellerman gained notoriety when she appeared on a beach near Boston, and was promptly arrested for indecency.  At her hearing she argued that swimming was a healthful exercise, but that bulky bathing suits did not allow one to swim.  The judge agreed, provided she agreed to wear a robe when not in the water.

Note: On the Powerhouse Museum website, the notes for an Annette Kellermann suit in their collection state, “…the story that she got herself arrested at Boston’s Revere Beach for wearing a one-piece bathing suit is not supported by evidence.”  The story is often repeated, and Kellerman herself related the tale in a 1953 interview.  

By this time Kellerman was quite famous, and so the time was right to capitalize on her name.  The right deal came along in the form of Asbury Mills, who for about twenty years made Annette Kellermann swimsuits.  The early ones were very similar to what she had been wearing, but by the late 1910s, the products were more like the standard 1920s swimsuit for women.  In fact, one Australian site credits Kellerman with coming up with the one-piece suit with the attached overskirt.

My suit has a deeply scooped neck of the type Kellerman seemed to favor.  The photos of her in her very early suits show a small cap sleeve instead of my sleeveless version.

The description of the suit on the site where I found it read that the waist seam stitches were broken.  When I received the suit I realized that there was no waist seam originally and that a former owner had put the seam it to shorten it.  There was so little of the seam left that I made the decision to remove it.

Whenever I have a garment that has alterations or damage, I have to decide what, if anything, to do about it.  Many times I leave it as is, but in this case I wanted the swimsuit returned, as much as possible, to the original state.

I say as close as possible, because the seam did leave a crease and a faint faded area.

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has an extensive collection of Kellerman material, including many of the costumes she wore in movies and public performances.  Starting August 10, much of it will be on display at the museum.

You might have noticed that I used two different spellings of Annette’s name.  While she generally spelled Kellerman with one N, she did use two N’s on her label and in her books.

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports