Have you ever looked at an object, admiring it, so long that you convinced yourself you had to have it? That’s what happened to me with this hat. I was having a hard time justifying the purchase, but after months of longing to add this to my collection, I bit the bullet, so to speak. My general rule about buying things that are in the upper end of my budget is that I ask myself, “How sad will I be if someone else buys this?” In this case I decided I would be very, very sad.
You may of heard of Lenci as a maker of felt dolls. The company was formed in Turin, Italy in 1918 or 1919. The first product was the dolls, but in 1927 they decided to branch out into fashion items for women and girls made from the same felt as the dolls. The line got a lot of good fashion press in both Europe and the United States.
The entire hat is constructed of felt, with colorful felt appliques of stylized flowers. It’s in very good condition, with a few tiny moth nibbles. This is, after all, made of wool felt.
This illustration is from a March 1928 issue of Women’s Wear Daily. And how about that umbrella?
This illustration is in the collection of the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas in Madrid. My hat also has a contrasting brim like the model in the foreground.
Here’s the label. There must have been Lenci stores in New York, Paris, London , and Manchester. I did read a reference to a store in Paris.
Lenci garments and accessories are quite rare. There is currently a darling girl’s bonnet listed on etsy, and a really sweet little sewing kit attributed to Lenci. This hat came from the collection of long-time Canadian collector Alan Suddon, who died in 2001. My thanks to Cora Ginsburg LLC for the information, the ads, and most of all the hat.
There was also a trend toward nautical themes. The short “Oriental” pants were replaced by so-called “Gob” trousers, gob being slang for “sailor”.
A 1930 article in Good Housekeeping reported:
“Beach fashions are distinctly masculine. A marked change has occurred in beach attire, for smart women are forsaking fancy pajama suits for long, wide, sailor-like trousers… In their smartest version these trousers feature a fullness set in at the knee.”
These one-piece beach pajamas remained in fashion through the mid-1930s. In 1931 Good Housekeeping declared, “Pajamas are never smarter. For the beach they are comfortable and feminine in colorful combinations of linen, shantung, or jersey.”
The evolution of beach pajamas was complete, but it’s worth noting that pajamas did not stay on the beach. Brave women like Mrs. Joseph Walton, “[wore] a velveteen jacket, a light crepe overblouse, and dark trousers…” on the streets of Palm Beach in 1929.
By 1930 middle class and wealthy women were already wearing pants in the form of knickers for hiking, breeches for riding, and bloomers for gymnasium. But pajamas wearing on the beach was different in that women of most economic classes could participate. Cotton beach pajamas were cheap to buy and even cheaper to sew at home. Pattern companies like McCall’s, Butterick, and Pictorial Review sold pajama patterns for the home sewer.
Oregon farm girl Cecilia Nordstrom showed off her new pajamas in 1933. She later recalled, “Frivolous is lounging pajamas when you live on a farm. No one has time to lounge.” Nevertheless, she ordered this one from a catalog, and she looks quite pleased with it.
Pajamas-wearing was also different in the public nature of the beach. No longer confined to the school gym or the hiking and riding trails, beach pajamas were women in trousers in view of large crowds of people. Pants for women were here to stay, even though it would be several more decades before women wore pants for more than work or very casual occasions.
1924 saw beach pajamas spreading across European beach resorts, and were even worn by a few brave souls on Florida sands. In her memoir, Jane Fisher, wife of the developer of Miami Beach, recalled an incident that happened in 1924:
Colonel CT Melville, the international polo player, … wrote a book in which he expressed delight over such Miami Beach surprises as “…strawberries for breakfast at Christmas and being driven about by a lady wearing pajamas.” I was the lady in pajamas – as startling in the early ‘twenties, even in freedom-loving Miami Beach, as my form-fitting bathing suit had five years before.”
For the most part, 1924 was a year of debate in the United States fashion press. During that year Women’s Wear began mentioning pajamas not only in their negligee column, but also in the sportswear section.
The question of whether or not American women would wear trousers in public in the form of pajamas was answered by Vogue in January, 1925. “Usually made of gay printed [silk]… they are seen during the sunny hours between bathing and dressing when one loiters on the sand. European beaches have seen them in large numbers, and, now, Newport and Palm Beach are witnessing the beginnings of their success.”
Not that Vogue‘s proclamation was universal. In February, 1925, Women’s Wear printed a report from Palm Beach saying “Palm Beach Visitors Do Not Adopt Beach Pajamas.” The mayor of Atlantic City, NJ went so far as to ban pajamas from the beach before the 1925 season, saying, “…we could not allow anything like that.”
In 1926 beach pajamas went from being an uncertainty to being mentioned favorably in most Women’s Wear articles on the subject. They wrote in March, 1926, “…as the season advances, beach pajamas are seen in greater numbers and variety.” Even shops in Atlantic City were advertising them. Beach pajamas had truly arrived.
Although pajamas were sleepwear first and sportswear second, they did follow the rules of fashion. In the 1920s when the straight garcon look dominated, pajamas had a similar silhouette consisting of short trousers with a sleeveless tunic, often with a matching robe. They were often in bright colors with art deco or Asian designs. They were usually made of silk, but the more practical cotton began appearing as well.
When fashion began to change toward curvier, longer lines in 1927, so did pajamas. A Women’s Wear report in 1927 informed readers that “Both beach and lounging ensembles are characterized by the adoption of long trousers…”
At the same time, bathing suits were getting smaller, with the newest styles featuring a very low scooped back. Some French designers, in particular Mary Nowitzky, developed an abbreviated top for her beach pajamas, much like the tank top of today. This top was not a tunic, but instead was meant to be tucked into the waist of the pants.
It was just a short time until designers realized that making the beach pajamas as a one-piece garment would allow them more easily to include the bare suntan back. This idea developed into a wide-legged one-piece garment that highly resembled a long flowing dress. This one-piece pajama was sleeveless, usually had a bare back with a scooped or V-neck front, and very wide trousers. They were increasingly made of brightly printed cottons.
Tomorrow, the exciting conclusion of Pajamas for Women.
The style did not catch on as outerwear, but increasingly it was marketed as lingerie. When famous actresses began wearing pajamas on stage, manufacturers were alerted to this by Women’s Wear.
By the middle of 1911 a trade report from Cincinnati said, “Manufacturers of shirtwaists and pajamas say the trade is quite good…” And James McCreery & Co. on 34th Street in New York City had “silk pajamas for women” in their shop windows. Copy in the 1912 spring-summer catalog from Greenhut-Seigal Cooper declared, “Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year.
By WWI, pajamas were not just for sleeping. They were advertised as loungewear, and Women’s Wear categorized them as negligee. They were even suggested as “an excellent tea gown”. These early women’s pajamas were two pieces like men’s but were feminized most often by being made of pastel colored silk, elaborately decorated with lace and embroidery.
Around 1914 a new idea in women’s pajamas emerged – the one-piece jumpsuit type. These became very popular after actress Billie Burke wore them in a film in 1916. She became so associated with the style that one-piece pajamas were called Billie Burkes until they fell out of favor around 1920.
Even after pajamas had been made for women for a decade, articles in Women’s Wear show that manufacturers worried they were just a fad. As manufacturer R.F. Raskid said in 1917, “I consider [pajamas] as merely a passing fad, that will have worn itself out in the course of a few months…” But pajamas, along with bifurcated workwear like overalls and coveralls, gained favor during the years of WWI because they were practical. And while overalls for women did decrease in popularity after the war ended, women did not give up their pajamas.
In 1919, Women’s Wear declared, “For lounging and the care-free hours, pajamas are at present favored by the best dressed women. They have freedom, are comfortable, and offer a wide variety of styles.” By 1919 pajamas were mentioned almost daily in the sleepwear section of Women’s Wear. They were no longer a novelty.
In writing about pajamas, Women’s Wear continued to refer to them in “Oriental” terms like Persian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Turkish. Historian Victoria Pass has been conducting research into what Paul Poiret seemed to know in 1911 – that the Orientalist tropes used to market pajamas with trousers to women connected pajamas to “the exotic other”, making the masculine nature of the pants less of an issue.
Until 1922, women for the most part confined their pajamas-wearing to their homes. But in July of that year Women’s Wear published a startling new use for pajamas. “Silk Pajamas on the Beach – A New Use for the Silk Pajamas that have long been Manufactured and Used for Negligee Purposes Is Shown in the Accompanying Photograph. This bather, after her dip, has slipped on the pajamas as a protection from sunburn.” The location was unnamed, but later reports identified it as the Lido in Venice, Italy.
It was not until fall of 1923 that Women’s Wear asked its readers, “Will American Women Adopt Pajamas for the Beach?” A few months later Women’s Wear first used the term, beach pajamas.
I’m back from the Costume Society of America Southeast Region Symposium, and I’m pleased to share here my paper that I read. I’ll post it over the course of four days. I hope you enjoy it.
In the mid-1920s a new fad traveled from Italian beaches to those in the United States – that of pajamas as beach attire. It was not new for women to wear bifurcated garments for sports and as underwear, but pajamas for women were relatively new in the 1920s. So how and why did women take to wearing their newly adopted sleepwear on the beach?
Even men in the US and most parts of Europe did not begin sleeping in pajamas until the 1870s. Most likely the first Westerners to adapt the Indian Pay- jama as night and loungewear were Englishmen living in India. In 1878 Harper’s Bazar reported, “The loose Japanese costume called the Pajamas has been adapted [by men] as a nightgown, for lounging in the daytime and in midsummer it is worn to board yachts.”
(Of course, the garment was Indian, not Japanese, but at least they got the continent right.)
The first reference I have found to American women wearing pajamas was a comment in an 1895 newspaper article that referenced women’s pajamas in fashion plates. Over the next decade there were occasional references to and ads for women’s pajamas in American newspapers, but not until the summer of 1905 does one see any multiple sources advertising pajamas for women. That year a syndicated sewing pattern for women’s pajamas was for sale in many US newspapers, and some department stores advertised readymade pajamas for Christmas gift giving.
A 1905 article that ran in many American newspapers titled “Pajamas Healthful”, had the following to say about women wearing pajamas:
“Women everywhere, the country over, and in city and country alike, do wear nightgowns, as they have long, if not always have done. Do women wear pajamas in these days? Well, some, but not many.
“It was a little fad to wear them, for a time, and there are some women who now wear them; but their number is not large, and the custom is not growing.”
In 1906 Good Housekeeping magazine offered for sale a sewing pattern for “Lady’s Pajamas”. In the description for the pattern was this line: “The upper part of the pajamas is cut in the broad Mandarin style and the sleeve is loose at the bottom, also reminding one of that Eastern garb.” There didn’t seem to be a big demand for women’s pajamas until 1911 judging by the lack of ads for them in Women’s Wear, the forerunner of Women’s Wear Daily, and in their absence in clothing catalogs. So what happened that convinced American women to wear what was considered, in the West anyway, a man’s garment?
For one thing, in 1911 French designer Paul Poiret introduced what he called harem pants, a design based on a pants style worn by Middle Eastern men and some women. By making a reference to the “Oriental” and not to the Western men’s trousers, he made it seem as though the woman was emulating the exotic “Oriental” and not her own husband or father.
Working non-stop to clean out two houses left me with only enough energy in the evenings to search eBay for treasures. Good sporting sources are getting harder to find, but I am good at spotting them. Take this 1920s catalog, for instance. At first its little eBay thumbnail photo didn’t look too promising, and then I noticed the auto tent.
I’m not at all interested in truck covers and tarps, but auto tents always attract my attention.
The catalog is just full of mid 1920s camping supplies. The Hettrick Company started out as a maker of canvas goods, making items for the late 19th century farmers such as horse and wagon covers. They were evidently willing to change with the times, as the 1920s brought cars and more leisure hours. Hettrick turned to canvas car covers and tents.
Today we might look on Instagram to see the ideal camping setup. In the pre-internet days, catalogs sold the perfect camping experience.
In the 1940s and 50s Hettrick turned from canvas items to metal outdoor furniture. Those metal gliders and chairs we all enjoyed as kids could have been made by Hettrick.
The caption for this great drawing could have been written in 2021 as millions of Americans flooded our national parks looking for some soothing nature.
I have two of these wonderful old reclining chairs. It’s time to replace the canvas.
This catalog still has a small selection of wagon covers and horse coats, but as America moved from farms to the cities and suburbs, Hettrick was able to transition to a leisure hours supplier. Funny how the cover focused on their past as a maker of farm supplies instead of what the catalog actually was focused on.
The three owners were also avid swimmers, so they worked on the knit until it was good for swimming and not just splashing about in the water. In 1921 the team at Jantzen began marketing their suits as swimming suits instead of bathing suits. By then Jantzen suits were being marketed to both men and women, and their famous diving girl logo had been designed.
The Jantzen story is well-documented. The company advertised heavily and they also released catalogs for both retail and wholesale. I have a fair collection of them, mainly from the 1950s, so I was glad to get this earlier one.
Unlike some companies, Jantzen maintained an archive even after the original families sold the business. They have not only a nice collection of Jantzen swimsuits, but catalogs, artwork, and copies of the in-house magazine, Jantzen Yarns.
The Take-Off model came with a removable skirt that doubled as a cape. The straps could be adjusted for three different looks.
Jantzen developed several textured knits, like the Kava knit seen throughout this catalog. Lastex thread had been invented and marketed starting in 1931, but it took swimsuit makers a few years before they fully embraced the new (and improved) technology.