Category Archives: Sportswear

1929 Beach Pajamas as Seen in Needlework Magazine

I love finding old Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines from the 1920s, but of just as much importance to my research are the publications that were geared toward the average American homemaker. A lovely reader of this blog recently sent a bundle of Needlework magazines to me. I was really happy to find this article in the August, 1929 issue.

You can read the description of how the big New York department stores set up a beach mise-en-scène in store, complete with beach chairs and sales girls in beach overalls. Today we assume that overalls are a bifurcated garment, but I can’t tell if that was true from the text. An overall could simply be a dress-like cover-up. I’ve seen these in photos of the period.

I was most interested in the shape of the pants legs. In photos and in clothing catalogs dating to the second half of the 1920s, pajamas worn on the beach were pretty much the same pajamas worn in the boudoir, and they had straight legs. Here we see the legs starting to widen. And no longer is the pajama a garment that crossed over from the bedroom to the beach. This is a garment that was designed just for the beach, with all its sailor inspired references.

Also interesting is the emphasis on the waist. If I had found this drawing without the date of 1929 firmly printed on the page, I would have guessed it was from 1932. It does pay to keep an open mind!

 

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Filed under Collecting, Fashion Magazines, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

Circa 1900 Seaside Promenade Dress

My collecting is expanding slowly back in time, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to anything that dates before 1915. But in order to have a comprehensive collection showing how sportswear developed, one must make adjustments, as in the case of this dress. It was love at first sight, and so I added a dress for seaside promenades to my group of antique clothing.

I’ve looked at pictures of old dresses and at old fashion plates until my eyes crossed, and I still could not decide on a date. The sleeves are lighted gathered, the back of the skirt is gathered and has a bit of a tiny train effect, and there is a little peplum at the waist. It will not hurt my feelings at all if you want to help me pin down a date on this pretty dress.

Not quite sportswear, this dress nevertheless was meant for a casual walk along the boardwalk. The collar and fabric stripes fairly scream “nautical”.

Note: the hem looks dirty, but it is not. I’m guessing my stellar photography skills added the dirt.

The bodice has no permanent way to close it, so I’m guessing pins were used. Actually, a former owner had applied velcro, which I removed. I looked for signs of hooks and eyes from the past, but did not detect any old stitch marks. They could have been there, however.

The fabric is a fantastic cotton cord, which adds to the sporty look of the set.

The peplum effect is more pronounced in the back.

Maybe you can see here that the sleeves are gathered. They are also shaped with a bend in the elbow.

I think what really made me want this dress was that I was so crazy about a similar one in the collection at the Museum at FIT. I took this photo of their Uniformity exhibition in 2016. Maybe I need to do a reproduction tie and belt.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

1934 Summer Fashions from Butterick Patterns

Last fall luck was with me and I found a Butterick counter catalog from 1934. I say lucky because these are so hard to find these days, and when they appear online they always come with a hefty price tag. What’s really amazing about a resource like this catalog is that every time I look through it I notice something new. So I hope this post will be somewhat focused, without me running here and there with a hundred different observations.

Of course I’m most interested in the sportswear, and this catalog is full of superb examples. But because the catalog offers a wide range of clothing, comparisons between sportswear, day clothing, evening gowns, and even lingerie, can easily be made. One of the best tips I know of when it comes to dating sportswear is to look at a piece as though it were fashionable day or evening wear. Things like swimsuits and tennis dresses often have the same sort of fashionable details you’d see in other clothing.

You can see that the design above is the same play set at the top of this post. The pattern actually contained all four pieces, so a woman could easily turn a play look into streetwear. It’s a little too early for the one-piece playsuit with matching skirt, but it’s easy to see how sportswear was headed in that direction. The shorts look almost exactly like the lingerie panties so commonly seen in the early 1930s.

It would not be long before the pleated shorts as seen on the right became the most popular type.

Have you noticed the bare backs? It wasn’t just popular in sportswear. Halter tops were fashionable, as were tops that fastened at the shoulder, and were bare in the back like the top on the right…

and like this evening gown.

By looking at these drawings you might think that no woman in 1934 had hips, and that all were very tall. That’s partly due to the elongated scale of the drawing, but also because by 1934 dress waists had become shortened as skirts got longer. Of course, “waistlines” were actually at the hip in 1927 and then they began the journey up toward the waist. This didn’t happen over night.

I read somewhere that before the mid 1930s waists tended to draw the eye down with seams and piecing like the downward pointing yoke of the shorts in the first photo. But by 1934 or so waists started moving and pointing toward the face. Skirts became very slim and quite plain. The details were mostly on the bodice, above the waist.

What makes pattern books especially helpful in seeing trends like this is that unlike catalogs of ready made clothes that feature just what was designed and made for that season, pattern books would carry a popular pattern for several years. Because the patterns are numbered pretty much consecutively, it’s easy to tell the older designs from the newer ones. The dress above with the piecing below the waist is an older design.

I had to show this pattern because it reminds me so much of the nautical pant set I recently added to my collection.

This one is interesting because it’s one of the very few designs in the catalog that calls for a zipper.

It’s hard to understand the logic behind having a dress that buttons up the back, but regardless, I love this look so much. It came with a little jacket, as that V-neck in the back is a bit too bare for the street.

Most of the dresses could be made very sporty, or slightly less so. The two dresses in the center could be made from the same pattern, with a choice of collar, sleeves, and belt.

One of the oldest designs offered in this catalog is this romper. Judging by the number of the pattern and the hair styles of the models, my guess is that this one dates from 1929 or 1930. Maybe Butterick continued to sell it because it was popular with dance students.

 

 

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Sewing, Sportswear

Something a Little Different from Jane’s Closet

After all the beige and tan and brown in Jane Hefner’s closet, the playsuit above came as a big surprise. Stylistically it is very similar to her other play sets, but the pattern and color really set this one apart. The only other novelty prints were in her favored muted tones, and while there were a few green items, the red was a real oddity.

It is a great set, probably from 1946 or 47. The little bolero jacket gives it a bit of versatility. But I thought the bra looked to be odd and ill-fitting.

Then I located the problem. There was a little tie that had become separated from the other three pieces. I had already moved on to photographing another garment, and was too lazy to redress the form, but you can see here how that little strip of fabric changes the entire look of the bra.

Color was very popular in clothing and textiles in the post WWII period. Many of the chemicals used in fabric dyes were needed for the war effort, and so colors were limited during that time. But look at any magazine or catalog from late 1945 and you’ll see how color once again played a big part in fashion. And textile designers were not afraid to come up with color combinations that we now can look at as distinctly post war. The red, lime, green, and black in the print of the play set is a great example.

Can you tell how pristine and sharp the colors are? At first I thought the set had been starched, but now I’m thinking that the original sizing of the fabric was never washed out. In other words, Jane never wore this set.

I’m not psychic, but I do know that a buttonhole has to be cut open in order for the button to fit through the hole. The bra fastens  in the back with two buttons, but the holes were never cut all the way through. There’s no way the bra, at least, could have been worn.

And that’s not a bit surprising, because this set is just not Jane’s style. Did she buy it in a moment of weakness, knowing it was fashionable and thinking she could wear something different? Was it a gift from a well-meaning auntie who wanted to see Jane in something colorful? We’ll never know, but it sure added an interesting twist to Jane’s wardrobe.

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Helen’s Photo Album, 1923

This is Helen Ambrose. In 1923 her sister, Emily, made a photo album for her with photos of their family and friends. It’s nice knowing the names of many of the people pictured, and also the places, though I came up empty when searching online for Helen.  Most of the photos that are labeled were taken in Hinsdale, Illinois or Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I bought this album for several reasons, the main one being that it shows Helen in quite a bit of her wardrobe, so that you can get a good sense of her style. We can start with her dark cotton knickers and matching sports shirt. Even better, we get a good look at her canvas shoes and hat.

She must have liked this sport ensemble, as she is wearing it in quite a few of the photos, and seemingly at different times. Here she is shown wearing it with a different hat. The object of her attention is Harold Reynders. He is a regular cast member in this year of Helen’s life.

This photo was taken on the same day at the same location, a golf club in Villa Park, Illinois. It must have been a very informal place to have allowed a woman to play in pants, or maybe they just mistook her for a boy!

There are also photos of Helen wearing her knickers with a middy blouse. Note that she has not yet bobbed her hair, even though she seems comfortable wearing pants in public. In all the photos she is wearing this same hairstyle with the coils at the sides. It gave long hair the look of being short, but it looks a bit old-fashioned for 1923.

Many of the photos are of various members of the extended Ambrose family, including these two little unnamed cousins.

And here’s the middy with a skirt. The skirt does seem a little long for a young woman in 1923, but the year before, skirts lengths did take a move toward the floor. They then began the upward journey to the knee, a length most associated with the 1920s.

Helen is wearing a suit that appears to have been made from jersey, possibly cotton. She’s seen wearing it a lot, and with good reason – she looks great in it. I love the scalloped edge of her collar, and the dark tie around her neck.

Here she is in another suit, this time with a blouse and vest. And note how the hem on this skirt is just a bit shorter than the others. Could Helen have been a teacher? She looks a bit too polished to be a schoolgirl.

The album is quite fragile, and the white ink Emily used to label the photos is fading badly. That’s Helen, Emily, and a friend, Iva. On the right in the wonderful, but unfortunately unflattering, dress is Aunt Em and a possible uncle.

This is Grandmother and Daisy. I’m guessing that Daisy is the child and not the cat, but I could be wrong. I have a strong suspicion that Grandmother never did shorten her skirts.

This photo was not labeled, and I don’t think it is Helen. It does illustrate an interesting tidbit I read in an article in a 1975 American Heritage magazine:

“There was an enormous number of surplus sailor hats at the end of WWI, and soon “Army & Navy” stores were swamped with them. They made good fishing hats, tennis hats, and headgear for general lounging; but pretty girls also discovered that something about a sailor hat, perched atop vagrant curls and hovering over big blue eyes, was irresistible.”

In this case the entire ensemble was appropriated.

Finally, there are some swimming photos, taken at Reed’s Lake, which I think is near Grand Rapids. The bathing suits are great, but it’s their caps that I covet.

And check out the boathouse. A lake near me has one such boathouse remaining from this era, and it is now a historic landmark.

I really don’t want to get into the business of collecting photo albums, but sometimes I come across one that illustrates the times so well that I can’t resist. It’s really a shame that this has been separated from family members who would treasure the contents, but we can honor Helen’s life by letting her teach us about her life and fashions in 1923.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Photographs

1933 – 1935 Beach Ensemble

One of my biggest splurges of the past year was this four-piece beach or sailing ensemble. After years of building a collection, I’ve learned that it’s better to wait for really special things to come to the market instead of buying a lot of miscellaneous bargains. This set is a good example of what I’m saying. I spent more on it than I normally spend on acquisitions, but it was such a great addition to my collection that I just could not resist.

Here are the first two pieces – a playsuit/bathing suit, and a rope belt. The neck with those fabulous nautical flags ties with the same rope as the belt. The belt buckle is plastic, and it is a small miracle that the thing has survived eighty something years.

I was hoping the flags spelled out a secret message, but I could not find a corresponding message for each flag.

This is also the case for the buckle, or at least I could not find it in any of the charts. Maybe I’m asking too much of an already fabulous article.

The pants could be added for a more covered up look. You might have expected the pants to be more like traditional sailor pants with the front flap and two rows of buttons, but the designer was too creative for that.

Instead she gave us one row of buttons on the side front, with a diagonal line to the crotch. You can’t tell from my photo but the opening actually drapes and overlaps an interior piece, and there are straps (barely visible on waistband) that wrap and button. It’s such a great design.

The last piece is a little red jacket, which by itself would look rather plain. But with the flags draped over the neckline and the belt buckle directly below, no other decoration was needed.

Unfortunately, the bathing suit is not in perfect condition. It obviously got much more wear than the other pieces, and there is an area of damage right on the front. When I received this the holes looked much worse, but I did a temporary repair in which I stitched the visible fabric to the lining.  In an interesting twist, I would never have been able to afford this had it been in perfect condition. The trick is to balance fabulousness and rarity with condition. The fact that there were four coordinating pieces really adds to the scarcity. I often see bits and pieces of former sets that have lost their mates. It’s sad, actually.

Can you tell this is a knit? It’s a very finely knit rayon and looks quite similar to the good nylons used by better lingerie companies starting in the late 1940s. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between knit rayon and the later nylon, and I’ve seen 1930s knit rayon mislabeled by sellers as nylon.

Dating was made easy due to the single label present. This is the label used when products were made in accordance with the National Recovery Act, or NRA. The act was instituted in 1933, but was found to be unconstitutional in 1935, so there is only a three year window in which items with the NRA eagle symbol could have been made.

 

 

 

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

A 1960 Ski Marriage

I hope you weren’t expecting wedding photos, as this is a different type of marriage. It’s a marriage of objects that started life in the same place, were separated, and are now reunited.

I found the plaid parka three or four years ago in an antique mall here in North Carolina. For a while it actually resided in my own closet, but I was afraid to wear it because it was so pristine. So for over a year it sat, waiting for a companion to make it complete. Then, out of the blue, I got an email from my friend Hollis of Past Perfect Vintage. She had a pair of ski pants that she thought I might be interested in. After seeing photos, I knew I was interested. I had found (or rather it found me) the mate for my parka.

A bonus was that the pants were unworn, and even had the original hangtag attached. And look at the little White Stag logo charm.

Here you see that the parka has the same charm as the zipper pull. I’m not sure how long White Stag used the charm, but I have only seen it on garments from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Also in the category of Things I Don’t Know, is the issue of labels. Up until around 1960 White Stag used blue or red labels.

At the same time, the colored labels were replaced with a white label with gold lettering. It’s likely that the use of the labels overlapped. It’s also possible that the pants are a year older than the parka, but the blue is identical and the match is perfect.

Both pieces are very well made, as is seen in White Stag active sportswear of this era. But not long after these pieces were made, things began to change at White Stag. I once had a conversation with a former executive of the company who told me that sometime in the 1960s White Stag decided to go in a more “fashion” direction. The ski wear became more about looks than about function, and was eventually just phased out.  If you see White Stag items from the 1970s and later, you will see what he was talking about.

But my set is functional for outdoor sports. The parka is lined in waterproof nylon, and the hood fits tightly to the head without affecting visibility. There is a drawstring at the hem so it can be adjusted to suit the wearer. And all the pockets are deep and are zippered.

The pants pockets are also zippered, and the hems of the pants are slightly flared to allow one to easily pull them on. And there is a wide elastic strap to hold the legs securely under the boots.

As Hollis said to me when I got these, it really does pay to let people know what you collect. I’ve gotten a lot of great items from sellers who have learned my collecting needs. And check out Hollis’s shop and Instagram. She sells some of the best vintage clothing on the net.

A note about my photos. I know they are bad. I have lost my “good” camera, and I obviously have not mastered the art of smartphone photos. Please bear with me!

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports