Category Archives: Sportswear

Bathing Suit – Circa 1870

I bet I’m like most collectors in that I greatly prefer to shop in person, rather than online.  With the item right in front of you it is much easier to assess the flaws and feel the textile. But in this world, shopping online is pretty much necessary when looking for rarer items. That’s why I continue to buy stuff I’ve seen only in photos.

Most of the time when the item arrives, it is exactly what I expected. The trick is to buy only from those who know their business, and who truthfully describe their items. I’ve found that most professional vintage dealers do these things.

I recently bought a few things from an auction house that holds the auctions live with the option to bid online. Before even bidding, I knew that the set above was not as the dealer described it. It was listed as a 1900 gym suit. Being made from cotton in in that great indigo blue, I knew this was actually a bathing suit. And from the long pants and sleeves, I knew it was older than 1900.

My starting place was to look through all the books I have that picture Victorian clothing. Most useful was a book from Dover, Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar – 1867 – 1898. While this book did not have a suit very similar to mine, I quickly saw that long trousers and sleeves were passé  by 1876. I then went to the marvelous online resource, Hearth, in which Cornell has digitized women’s magazines, including Harper’s Bazar.

The closest bathing suit I found was the one I’ve paired above, from 1870. That year all the bathing pants were long trousers, but you can see the edge of a short sleeved version. By 1871, all the bathing suits had short sleeves. By 1875 most had pants that came to the middle of the calf.  The sleeve continued to shrink so that by 1880 they were just a ruffle at the shoulder, and several years later the suits were sleeveless.  The pants continued to shorten as well, to just below the knee.

Someone ought to publish just the bathing suit fashion plates from Victorian and Edwardian publications. Put in chronological order, the shrinkage of the bathing suit over the period would become very obvious.

What else can I say about this piece? First, it was most likely made at home using a sewing machine, though I have found ads for ready-made bathing suits as early as 1870. The sleeves are made in two pieces, as one might expect with a nineteenth century piece.

The buttonholes are hand-stitched. The color of thread used is the same as was in the bobbin of the machine – a light brown.

If you look carefully at this button, you will detect a problem.  This is a plastic button,; a modern replacement. This is an issue commonly seen in items that are this old. The problem is that it was not disclosed in the item description.

The other buttons, the ones on the top piece, are glass. Are they original to the piece? I can’t say for sure, but if they are, they have all been resewn with modern thread. But one of them on the pants retains the light brown thread identical to that of the bobbin, which puts in a good word for the rest of the glass buttons. Thoughts?

The pants are interesting. The waistband is yoked in exactly the same way as pants from the 1930s. These button on both sides, much like the sailor pants of midshipmen.

The white trim is a purchased twill, which also forms the belt loops.

Overall, I’m pleased with this piece. It is a very early bathing suit, the earliest one I’ve ever seen on the market. I do prefer that all parts of an item be original, but a few plastic buttons aren’t worth getting too upset about. I just wish I had known before bidding.

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Filed under Sportswear, Summer Sports

Fashions & Home, Outdoor Number, May, 1927

This publication straddles the line between catalog and magazine. The William F. Gable Co, was a department store in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1884, it closed in 1990, another victim of the shopping mall.

My decision to buy this publication was based solely on the cover. How could I miss with four sports represented on the cover? Inside is a mix of articles about Paris fashions and advice on what to buy for summer sports, complete with prices. There is also an article on how to decorate a porch with wicker furniture sets beginning at $46.50.

The illustrations are really great, with a big emphasis, as promised, on sports. This woman in her pretty robe de style, is unpacking the summer things she had packed away the previous fall. Is that a bathing cap with a Scottie dog?

This could be a photograph right out of Vogue which regularly featured the real life costumes of the rich and titled.

A “two-piece Knitted Frock, a Swiss or French import…” would have indeed been the choice for the golf course.

Here we see the knitted golf  ensemble, along with the linen tennis dress.

This illustration accompanied an article on picnicking, complete with suggestions, menu, and recipes.

I suspect this haircut would have been a bit outre for Altoona, PA. The dress was designed by Madeleine des Hayes. I have never encountered the name before, so please let me know if you know more about the elusive Mademoiselle des Hayes.

The dress is about as short as hemlines actually reached in the mid to late 1920s.

In contrast is this dress.

Bouffant dance frock for the graduate with tight bodice  and long full skirt of orchid and pink taffeta, uneven hem.

Yes, as early as 1927 it was evident that hemlines were going to drop. The high-low trend of just a few years ago was truly inspired by the designers who used this trick to ease the fashionable into longer skirt lengths in 1927.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Fashion Magazines, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

Kleinert’s for 1961 Swim Caps – Beach Bags

I have always loved catalogs. I wasn’t too crazy about the Barbie I got for Christmas in 1962, but I loved that little catalog that came with it, the one showing her latest fashions. And the arrival of the yearly Sears Wish Book was a big event in the Adams household.

It amazes me that so many old catalogs have survived. Why would anyone keep a 1961 Kleinert’s swim cap catalog? After a season its usefulness is wiped out. When I was a kid, there were never stray catalogs nor newspapers nor magazines lying around. My mother kept a tight ship when it came to clutter, and her method of dealing with it was to get rid of it as soon as possible.

But I’m grateful for the savers – the people who didn’t mind a few old catalogs taking up space in their homes or business. The latest addition to my collection is a wholesale catalog. The shop owner chose what she or he thought would sell. The original owner of this catalog made notes in the margins such as, “Add 6 to order, natural only”.

An obvious benefit of having catalogs of the things one collects is that they help so much when trying to place a date on an object. I’m sure a lot of people must think that these fancy bathing caps disappeared at the end of the 1950s, but this catalog is full of them. The bathing cap covered with flowers must have been really popular because so many of them survive. Most are in bad shape. The caps tend to age quite well, but the attached flowers get all mashed out of shape when stored flat. I’ve even seen them melted and sticky.

The “Gamine” style is less common, but not really rare. I have one that is covered in shiny black “hair”.

I’d like to see someone with that much hair actually put that rubber cap on! That is a sweet cap though, with the braid trim and that flower on the back of the neck. And how about those rubber bangs on the Bouquet cap?

Here we are getting in rarer territory. I’ve never seen a gingham swim cap, not in reality nor in print. This gives me something to aspire to, preferably in turquoise.

But most of all, I need this Regatta swim cap in my life, along with the matching beach bag.

When I think of bathing caps, I think of old ladies round the pool in Florida. I must have gotten that from some movie I saw as a girl. My actual experience with bathing caps was short-lived. My local public pool and the summer camp I attended both required caps for girls, insisting that the long hair of girls got clogged in the filtration system. In the mid-1960s when boys started growing their hair longer, we girls rebelled, saying truthfully that many of the boys had longer hair than we did.

Of course, instead of making boys wear the caps, the rule for the girls was “forgotten”.

The catalog has much more than just swim caps. I think that this postcard beach tote is simply the best.

Some time ago a reader emailed a photo of one of these folding hats that she had. I’ll admit I was clueless about it, so seeing this one was a real treat, despite the very unfortunate name. I’ve forgotten who had this hat, but if you are still around and you still have it, I’m ready to buy!

And here’s a different take on the sunglasses hat. Again, this is a new one to me.

The catalog has several styles of hats that have an attached scarf to tie on the head. I have a fairly generic one that belonged to my mother-in-law, but how I’d love to have this one that just looks so Italian.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

1917, Von Lengerke & Antoine Sporting Goods Exclusively

I know that blogging has now been replaced with Instagram and whatever the social media platform of the week happens to be, but I can tell you that having a more permanent place on the internet can really pay off. The biggest advantage seems to me to be that having a site that is searchable by google brings the blogger into contact with  all sorts of people.

My favorite type of such people is the one who is searching an item she has in her possession, but doesn’t know what to do with it. Through the miracle of Goggle this person finds me, and by the end of our email exchanges, the item is on its way to me. In this case, my new best friend, Joanna, had an old catalog from Von Lengerke & Antoine, a Chicago sporting goods store that was bought by Abercrombie & Fitch in 1928.

This catalog predated the acquisition, and looked to be about 1920 to me. There was no date on the catalog, but using the No. 53 designation on the cover and the fact they released about two catalogs a year put date at 1918 or 1919. Whatever; I was thrilled when Joanne offered to send it to me.

 

There was no date on the cover, nor in any of the pages that give all the information about the catalog, but here in the description of the bathing suit we learn that the 1917 line of bathing suits make up all the latest fashions. The most striking thing about the bathing suit above is the price of it. $50 was a very high price for a swimsuit in 1917. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, That 1917 $50 would buy $1075 worth of goods today.

The other styles were more reasonably priced, but even $20 was a big expense for an item that was not truly necessary. Von Lengerke was not for the bargain hunter.

The bathing caps are really interesting, with the two plain styles being for men. The sad thing for collectors is that few of these seem to have survived.

Another must-have item for the 1917 bather was a pair of bathing slippers. These were made of sateen cotton or canvas, and so survive in greater numbers. It’s interesting that these have leather and linoleum soles. All the ones in my collection have canvas soles.

This may be a 1917 catalog, but the Von Lengerke people did not spring for a new illustration for their outing shirts. This one dates to the previous decade, but since the style didn’t change much, why change the illustration?

But here’s where I really get a bad case of antique catalog envy. I’ll take either of these outing hats, please.

The last item is not clothing, but it is such a great example of how technology was changing the way people thought about camping that I had to include it. The auto was taking people places they’d never imagined, but it took a while for the accommodations industry to catch up. In the meantime, auto camping was a good solution to the question of where to spend the night.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

White Stag, 1953

Over the years I’ve written a lot about White Stag. It continues to be one of my favorite American sportswear companies, and with good reason. It represents a time when quality in clothing was more important than quantity. I’ve seen dozens of White Stag pieces from the 1940s through the 1960s over the years, and in only one instance can I say a piece looked worn out.

Until the 1960s, White Stag made most of their clothing from the same material they used to make tents and other canvas outdoors items. I’ve seen White Stag rucksacks that were made from the same fabric as a canvas coat I have. The fabric was sturdy and remarkably color-fast.

I recently acquired this White Stag blouse from one of my favorite vintage sellers, Past Perfect Vintage. I was eager to add it to my collection because I have some other coordinating pieces from White Stag. And that is part of the joy of collecting sportswear. I never know when a matching piece to things I already have will pop up.

And as luck will have it, I found an ad for this line from 1953. It does not show any pieces in brown, but the ad copy reveals that these items were available in “eleven sunbright colors.” White Stag used brown quite often, sometimes combining it with turquoise and black. I am hoping to someday find that nifty carry-all.

The top-stitching adds to the sporty look. It’s another common feature of White Stag clothing from the 1950s.

I have, on occasion, been accused of putting too much store in the labels found in vintage garments, but when combined with a dated ad, all the guesswork of when certain labels were used is erased. I know without a doubt that this label was used in 1953.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Gym Suit Uniformity

This is a brochure sent out to gym teachers with the aim of convincing them that having all students in matching gym suits was the way to go. It seems a bit odd, because from what I’ve seen, heard, and read, by the time this brochure was mailed in the early 1950s, most schools already had the girls in matching gym suits. Maybe there were some rogue gym suit holdouts in various corners of the USA.

My favorite part of this ad is how the gym suit is being compared to a Rockette costume. Uniformity was very important to the Rockettes, so much so that there was not a Black Rockette until 1988. Even then the director, Russell Markert, was reluctant, claiming it messed up the uniformity.

I also like this chart that pointed out the practical features of the Moore gym suit.

One thing this brochure does not have is the date it was published.  The photos, especially that of the girl on the front (with her gym class lipstick on point) look to be late 40s or early 50s. I set about looking at what might be clues in the text.

It mentioned that Russell Markert was the director, and Gene Synder was the co-director of the Rockettes. I looked for information of both men, but that turned out to be a dead end as both men’s tenures with the Rockettes spanned many years.

One gym suit was labeled as being style A12-66.  I have a 1949 Moore catalog, but this model was not mentioned. There was a style A10-66, so maybe the suit in the picture is an updated version. I also have a 1962 catalog, but by that time the method of numbering the suits had changed. There was a model 12, which was very similar to the model in the picture. Anyway looking at the style numbers proved to be inconclusive.

Finally I looked at the addresses given for the branch offices of ER Moore.  The address of the Los Angeles office was changed from what was given in 1949, but was the same at what was listed in 1962. That pretty much proved the brochure is after 1949, but before 1962, as noted by the change in model numbers.

So I’m going with early 1950s, due mainly to the styling of the suits, and to the girl’s hair and makeup.

One additional note is this also shows how slow to change gym suit styles were. Just the fact that Moore was offering pretty much the same suit over at least ten years goes to show just how hard it is to put a firm ate on these garments.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear

1970s Design Research and Marimekko Bikini

Here’s a truth about collecting: Sometimes it is easier to effectively collect things that are one hundred years old than it is to collect things one remembers wearing.  When it comes to things within one’s memory, your thoughts can’t help but be clouded by what you actually remember. Does that make sense? Well, here’s an example.

I once went to an exhibition of one woman’s collection of handbags along with her collected contents of what might be in each bag. With the 1900s through the 1950s bags, all was well, but when it got to the late 1960s and the 70s, things seemed to fall apart. I scrutinized each item, as though it was my handbag from that time. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was reading my own experience into the contents of the bags.

It was a valuable lesson.  But it has also made me very cautious when collecting from my own years of wearing fashion, particularly the 1970s. This helps explain why I have more bathing suits from the 1930s than from the 1970s.

Still, I can recognize the good stuff when I see it. This 1970s bikini is a good example. I first spotted it on the Instagram feed of  Selvedge Fine Vintage, and I knew it was something I needed for the collection.

I don’t remember Design Research from my youth, though I do remember the brand that was most associated with that store, Marimekko. Growing up in North Carolina, we used to joke that we could get a copy of a two year old Seventeen, copy the styles, and be on the cutting edge of fashion. It was the truth. Looking back at Seventeen from 1973 I can see how great and cute the styles were, but none of us in the back-of-beyond would have had the courage to wear most of what the magazine was telling us was stylish.

But I would have worn this bathing suit.

I’ve written about Design Research before, so I won’t repeat the facts here. But what makes them important was their association with Marimekko. My new bikini does not have a Marimekko label, but it’s impossible to deny the connection. This suit, if not from Marimekko, was strongly influenced by the Finnish brand.

This was about as skimpy a bathing suit as I would ever have worn. What makes it really interesting is that built into the pants is a way to make them even smaller.

On the inside of the sides is a drawstring that can make the side a few inches smaller.

So as the bikini continued to shrink, bathing suit makers came up with ways for a wearer to have it both ways.

I have another Marimekko/Design Research item from around the same time, a shirt with a similar print. I’m not stretching the truth when I say that an early 70s woman would have worn this shirt as a cover-up for her black and white swimsuit. Many swimsuit companies were showing matching shirts as bathing suit cover-ups during this time.

All the Marimekko patterns have names, and if anyone recognizes either of these I’d love to know what they are called.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing