Category Archives: Sportswear

Early 1930s Catalina Bathing Suit

When one thinks of pioneers in the American swimsuit industry, Jantzen immediately comes to mind. But lately I’ve been giving a longer look at another major swimwear maker, Catalina. And while it’s probably true that Jantzen was the industry leader in the years between 1920 and 1970, my fresh look at Catalina has revealed a company that is at the top in terms of design.

I recently acquired the suit above, and I wanted it because it shows a link between the traditional one-piece suit, and what was soon to come, the woman’s two-piece. A side view makes this more obvious.

The bodice of the suit is attached only in the front for about seven inches. This feature was also seen in men’s suits at the time, and soon there was a zipper in men’s suits that allowed them, for the first time, to go topless. Women weren’t given that option (not until Rudy Gernrich’s monokini in 1964, anyway), but there was no stopping the shrinking of the swimsuit and the advent of the two-piece.

The two-piece for women first appeared in Europe in the early 1930s, and by 1935 Catalina was making two-piece suits, but it was not until the 1940s that it really caught on in the USA.

I did a lot of searching for my suit, but the closest I found was the suit in this 1932 ad.  The ad does not tell us the fiber of the yarn, but I’d guess that it’s wool, as this is about the time Lastex entered the market and radically changed the way swimsuits were made. After 1933 or so, most swimsuit ads boasted of their use of snug-fitting Lastex.

My suit does not have Lastex, so even though this style of suit was made for most of the 1930s, the later ones (1934 and after) I found ads for all have lastex.

Be sure to read the endorsement of Hollywood designer Adrian. While he did not design this suit, Catalina was quick to draw a parallel between their made in California suits and the movie industry. And isn’t it interesting that “we ‘play to’ their skin tones rather than their hair,” when the movies were still all in black and white!

According to the label, Catalina suits were, “Worn by the Stars of Hollywood”. Later in the decade Hollywood designer Orry Kelly did actually design suits for Catalina, and the company changed the line to, “Styled for the Stars of Hollywood”.

 

In the early 1930s the back was often bared in evening dresses, and so the swimsuit had to also bare the back.

This logo is hard to beat!

Even though this is a swimsuit knit of wool, it is very different from the wool suits of the 1920s. The gauge of the knit is much finer than that used only a few years earlier, the bodice is lined, and there is a real attempt at shaping through darts and contours. This suit had to have been much more flattering that the heavy wool knits of the past.

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1960s Emilio Pucci Pants Set

Photo courtesy of Meloo Vintage

I find that I’m a bit of an age snob when it comes to looking for sportswear for my collection. What that means is that I find it to be a lot more exciting to look for items from the first half of the 20th century than for those from the second half.

I think part of the problems is that so much survives from the 1960s and 70s, that I’ve learned to be really picky about what I pick up. If I have got mid 1960s “scooter” dresses on my mind, I could go to etsy, Ruby Lane, and Ebay and have my pick of dozens of items.  Even with high-end garments like those from Italian designer Emilio Pucci, there are hundreds of items listed for sale at any given time.

So, I don’t really search very hard for things made in the last sixty years or so, but when I run across a stellar example, I’m ready to shop. And when Melissa of Meloo Vintage posted this set on Instagram, I fell in love.

For years I’ve been looking for an older Pucci set, from his days on the Isle of Capri, but I’ve not been lucky to find what I wanted. I dumbly passed on a great ski-themed top from the late 1950s, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. But when I saw this tunic and pants set, I knew I’d found my Pucci set.

It dates a little later, from the early to mid 1960s. Pucci can be difficult to date, as the nature of the prints are outside the whims of fashion. Older prints (from the 1950s) are often on a theme, like the skiing blouse I mentioned. The label used is a big help, and my set has the labels most commonly seen in the 1960s.

I’d love to think that some jet setter bought it in Italy, but instead there is a B. Forman of Rochester label alongside the Pucci one. I have no idea what the little “E” label means.

You can see that a metal zipper was used, but be sure to note the way it was inserted – by hand picking. This is a detail seen more commonly in couture clothing, which this is not. But it does go to show how much more handwork went into high-end ready-to-wear fifty-five years ago than you see today.

The crease in the pants is made permanent by the use of hand picking, and the side seams are secured in the same manner.

What really sold me on this set was the way the print of the tunic was designed specifically to be a top with a scalloped edge. It’s one of things that makes the set so special. Imagine, for contrast, if the tunic was made from the same print, but that it was cut in a willy-nilly manner with no thought to the scallops or to the placement of the center of the design.

What could be more Continental than three-quarters length sleeves with French cuffs?

The bateau neck is actually padded. It’s just one more great detail.

In the late 1960s mainstream fashion caught up with Pucci, and these “psychedelic” prints were everywhere. From what I’ve seen of Pucci garments from the 1970s and later, the print became the design, but in these earlier pieces you can see how Pucci was more than just a bunch of color thrown onto the fabric.

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Late 1950s Catalina Play-Alongs Plus Swimsuit

I found and bought the shirt above so many years ago that I have no recollection or record of its purchase. I know it has to be at least twenty years or so because for a long time it was actually in my closet. But I stopped wearing vintage on a regular basis long ago, mainly because I am so sloppy, and I was afraid of ruining things.

About the same time I began collecting sportswear more seriously, and so the blouse was added to my growing pile of old clothes. I especially loved the label, Catalina Play-Abouts, but since it went into the collection I really haven’t thought much about it.

But, as it so happens, I ran across a set of blouse and bathing suit of this print on etsy. I really wanted the swimsuit, but because I already had the blouse, I decided to think about it before buying. As luck would have it, someone posted just the swimsuit on Instagram, but before I could buy it, the posting disappeared.

By this time I was fairly discouraged, but not so much that I didn’t check the usual vintage venues. And there it was, on etsy, and a bit cheaper than the last one. My luck was improving.

A few days later, another set surfaced on Instagram – this time a bathing suit and matching skirt. But the print was in orange and yellow. But that started me on a further search.

I went back to etsy, and that time a skirt, in blue, surfaced. That brought my set to three matching pieces.

After posting the blouse and the bathing suit on Instagram, Liza of Better Dresses Vintage emailed some newspaper ads she found. The first one for Catalina Play-Abouts was dated 1953, and the last one was from 1960. Best of all, one from 1958 looked a lot like my bathing suit. And even more important was the information that there were also shorts and pedal pushers in the Play-Alongs lines.

After looking all over the internet, I finally found (on Pinterest) this image from a 1959 ad.  I can’t tell what the model is holding, but it might be a shawl or coverup. And I now know the print was made in a matching cabana set for guys.

The addition of this tag is also interesting. The fabric was apparently designed for Catalina, and there is also a copyright statement on the selvage of the fabric that I located in the skirt. And after looking at all the different photos of this fabric in extant garments, I noted that the bathing suits were not all the same design. There were three different suits that I have found.

The buttons on the skirt and blouse are plastic, shaped and painted to resemble bamboo. It’s a nice touch.

So the hunt for more of this line is on. I’m positive they are out there.

 

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1960s Dulottes by Serbin

Well, it looks like I’m sort of back in business, with a shiny new laptop and a huge learning curve. A lot of changes have occurred to computing in the past eight years and I’m slowly figuring out how to work this new machine. I’m still trying to improve on my photo editing, so please excuse the below par pictures in this post.

I first spotted this great culotte dress on the Vintage Fashion Guild forum. Every week member sellers show off what is new in their shops in a feature called Fresh Vintage, and it’s a great way to see “new” things as they hit the stores. This came from the etsy shop of member Racked Vintage.

At first glance this looks to be a dress, but it is actually a culotte dress, and I’m pretty sure it was designed as a golfing outfit. The front of the skirt is a bit full, which tends to disguise that the skirt is divided.

The back goes even farther with the deception, as there is a skirt panel sewn over the culottes so that from the back it looks like a straight skirt.

My thinking is that the garment would have been very useful in places where the dress code required women to wear skirts in the clubhouse. It would also be useful in transforming from golf course to city street.

Another feature that shows the duo nature of this piece is the large removable pocket. It’s quite necessary when trying to keep up with the paraphernalia of golf, but off the course it just looks a bit odd. So the designer put the pocket on the belt where it slides off and on.

My photos are so poor color-wise. This dress is a very pretty yellow, and the birds, while not always accurately colored, are in nice shades of red, gold, blue and green.

I had never seen this label before this dress, and I love how it hints at the two functions of the dress. The owner got a duo of dresses in one.

I got a bit lucky in researching the label as Serbin had the name dulottes trademarked. At first glance this dress appears to be from the early 1960s, but according the the trademark application, the label was first used in 1967. There are often mistakes in trademark applications, due mainly to the passage of years between the time the name was first used and the time the application was made.  But in this case the first usage and the application both happened in August, 1967, so I’m sure it is correct.

In 1967 and 68 there was a softening of women’s fashion. The mod look was still going strong, especially among the young, but if you look at magazines from the later 60s you see a bit of traditional femininity returning in the form of gathered waists, soft collars, and even ruffles and lace. I’d put this dress in the spring of 1968. Now to find an ad to support that bold claim!

 

 

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1920s Wool Knickers for Women

I’ve wanted (or, rather, needed) a pair of 1920s wool knickers for some time, and so my heart skipped a few beats last week when I finally found a pair. I had been hoping to find a pair with a matching jacket, and even told myself I was going to hold out for a set, but the minute I laid eyes on these I knew I had to add them to my collection.

Why all the fascination with knickers? For one thing, knickers were both the shorts and the slacks for 1920s women and girls. Except for bloomers worn in gym class and at the end of the decade, pajamas worn on the beach, knickers and the similar garment, breeches, were the only options women had for wearing pants in public.

I’ve heard lots of stories from women who were young during the 1920s of how they raided brother’s closet to daringly wear his knickers. But by the early 1920s that was not even necessary, as mass-market catalogs like Montgomery Ward carried knickers for girls and women.

The clothing above is from the 1925 Montgomery Ward catalog. On the left are breeches, and on the right is a pair of wool tweed knickers. Note that both button on the side, on both sides actually, and the front drops for convenience. Whenever I find a photo of a woman wearing knickers I always try to see the closure, but usually it is obscured as you can see in the photo above.  The presence of a front fly would indicate the woman is wearing men’s knickers.

My pair has pockets that hide the buttons of the opening.

The seam edges are secured with an overlock stitch made by an early machine of this type. Overlocking is most commonly seen on sportswear in garments before the late 1960s.

Here’s another pair from Montgomery Ward, this time from the 1930 catalog. You can see that the style is little changed from the ones made five years earlier.  Knickers were more utilitarian than fashion, but soon after 1930 women’s knickers disappeared from catalogs. In their place were shorts, slacks, and pajamas. My 1932 Sears catalog has no knickers at all for women. It does have breeches and ankle-length knicker-like pants for skiing, and even a pair of actual slacks. Times were definitely changing.

I’m still in the market for a great 1920s wool knicker suit if anyone happens upon one.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation, c. 1915

Click to enlarge

One of the great joys of the Goodwill Outlet bins is the over-abundance of books. I never leave the place without a stack of them, most of which I read and then pass on or re-donate. A while back I found an interesting volume, Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation in Picture, Song & Story. Of course it went into my cart, because as the subtitle promised, it was full of wonderful illustrations.

There’s no date on this book, but the Leslie-Judge Company published an annual Caricature starting around 1895. Several of the illustrations in this particular book are dated 1915, and so my guess it is from that year, or perhaps a year later.

The sporting life was a popular theme. Maybe it’s because members of the leisured classes were a bit of an easy target for humorists of the day. I’ll admit that the humor is often dated, and would leave many modern readers scratching their heads. But I’m in it for the pictures, not the jokes.

There are lots of illustrations of people swimming, and the bathing suits are incredibly modern for 1915. From what I’ve seen in the many circa 1915 photos I’ve examined, most women at the beach were still in long, woven wool or cotton bathing suits, not the sleek knit ones seen above.

This one is especially skimpy. Do you suppose the man is her father and is getting ready to lock her in the bath house?

Here the young women are still wearing their schoolgirl middy blouses. This was a common look for tennis and golf. Notice that girl with the tennis racket is wearing a headband to control her hair.  As I wrote earlier, this is a look associated with the 1920s, so it seemed a bit early for this style to appear in print. I knew that the look was popularized by tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, and a quick google search found a 1914 article showing Lenglen wearing the famous bandeau.

Click

Just as interesting as the sporting pictures are those showing well-off people at leisure.

Here we have three elegantly dressed promanaders…

and three more (bulldog included) who would rather be, well anywhere but on that boring boardwalk.  But these illustrations show how the fashion silhouette of 1915 was showing big changes over the previous years. The skirts are shorter with considerable fullness. And it seems obvious to me that stripes were very popular for seaside wear.

You do have to look at period illustrations with a questioning eye. Drawings are often exaggerated to make a point, as we see in the skimpy bathing suit drawing above. But look carefully, and you just might learn something, as I did with the tennis headband.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Currently Reading, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

1920s Sports Bandeau

Sometimes it’s the smallest and simplest vintage item that is the hardest to find. I’ve written in the past about the popularity of the head band, or bandeau, for sports. They are very commonly seen in photos of women tennis players of the 1920s, but a search for one for my collection was proving to be almost impossible. For some time I’ve been coveting one Susan Langley pictured in her book, Roaring 20’s Fashion: Jazz. Her example was new and on the original sales card.

The problem with finding a 1920s sports bandeau is that it is obviously a stretchy knit band, and many women would recognize it as being for the head, but how many would see the specific purpose for which it was designed? I fear than many, when found, are not seen as item of significance. It’s just an old headband.

Thankfully, one etsy seller, O2Vintage, did recognize this little piece and listed it exactly as it is. Through some miracle I found it, and how I have the desired bandeau.

It’s finely knit of silk, and the five little decorative buttons are also made of silk thread wrapped around a base. The condition of this little piece is incredible, and I suspect the wearer was more into fashion than tennis!

Can you see where the band narrows slightly at the back? The wearer would not need nor want as much width where the bandeau is beneath the hair.

In this flat shot the width change is even more obvious. Sometimes we take something simple like a hair band for granted, but even the simplest object can be designed with improvement of use in mind.

From this early 1920s photo it looks as if I should have pulled the bandeau lower across the forehead of my mannequin. A quick look at the rest of my old photos show that these were worn just above the eyebrows, just as a cloche, the current style in hats, would have been worn.

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