Category Archives: Summer Sports

1940s French Bikini

I love bathing suits, and I have become very picky about the ones I chose to collect. The early French bikini above is the sort of find that keeps me excited about collecting.

When I say early, I mean late 1940s. In 1946 designer Jacques Heim released his tiny two-piece and called it L’ Atome. Shortly afterward, Louis Réard designed what he called the Bikini. Both suits were tiny and showed the navel, and even though Heim’s was released slightly earlier than Réard’s, the name Bikini stuck.

A 1940s bikini has been on my want list for a long time. They are rare  in the USA, as the suit was just too skimpy for most American women of the post-war period. Last year an example by Heim came up for auction. I crossed my fingers and made the biggest bid I could, hoping it would fly under the radar of other collectors. It did not, and in the end sold for almost $10,000. This was a bit over my budget.

But then the suit above came into my life. I first spotted it on the seller’s Instagram (Skirt Chaser Vintage), and then bought it when it came up for sale.

Many of the early French bikinis laced and tied at the sides. This was not new, as several American swimsuit makers used this feature on their larger suit briefs during the war. Daring bathers could buy the suit a bit snug and then lace loosely to show a bit more skin.

The French took the idea to a whole new level. Some of Louis Réard’s suits were actually string bikinis, with no sides at all – only the string ties.

The map of France print is a great touch. The fabric is interesting, and unexpected. It’s a cotton textured barkcloth, more suitable for curtains than a swimsuit. But this was after the war, and fabric production was not back to pre-war levels. One used what one had.

I came up completely empty when attempting to find out anything at all about the label, Lavog. If anyone has any information about it, I’d be forever grateful.

In 1948 Holiday magazine printed an amazing photo-essay on the changing bathing suit. Leading off the article was this photograph.  The caption reads:

Such brief suits, unfortunately, are not ordinarily for sale. They must be custom built for custom-built girls like Sandra Spence.

The essay features other two-piece suits, but all have navel-covering shorts. It would be another fifteen to twenty years before the bikini really caught on in the US.

 

 

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Bathing Suit Timeline

A recent project has been developing a timeline of bathing suits from the 1860s through the 1920s. From looking at the sales pages and such on the internet, it seems to me that such a timeline might be useful to people trying to place a date on older suits. I’ll be adding to what I’ve got here and will eventually make a permanent page on my long neglected Fuzzylizzie.com site.

For now, here’s a chronological view of sixty years of bathing suit styles, with date and source, but no commentary.

1864, Godey’s Lady’s Book

1865, Godey’s Lady’s Book

 

1871, Harper’s Bazar

 

1876, Harper’s Bazar

 

1881, Harper’s Bazar

 

1885, Harper’s Bazar

 

1892, Harper’s Bazar

 

1895, Le Bon Ton & Le Moniteur de la Mode United

 

1902, Sears, Roebuck Catalog

 

1909, McCall’s

 

1911, Woman’s Home Companion

 

1912, Greenhut-Siegel Cooper Catalog

 

1917, Von Lengerke and Antoine Catalog

1918, The Delineator

 

1921, B. Altman & Co Catalog

 

1925, Bonwit Teller Catalog

 

I’ve chosen to end with the mid 1920s, as after that date there are many more resources for dating, and I want to use images that are firmly in the public domain.  You can see there are some gaps, and I’m working on at least an example from every five years or so.

Putting bathing suits in a timeline really shows how fashion was followed, even in the water.

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The Nineteenth Hole Golf Bag

I don’t actively seek out sports equipment, but when I run across something interesting or really cheap I’ll pick it up, mainly to use as props if I ever have the opportunity to put some of my collection on display. So I have a few random things like old wooden dumbbells, and a 1940s tennis racket. I have some skates, both ice and roller. But that’s pretty much it.

What looks to be a 1960s or 70s golf bag for holding clubs is actually a bag for holding something else, a bottle for the nineteenth hole. There are two more pouches to stash cups or a jar of olives or whatever one’s drink requires.

After I spotted this little golf bag on the Instagram of @vtgrunway, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I realized that I had to add this to my collection, and so I did.

To me it seems to be the sort of thing found in special gift catalogs and in magazine sections titled, “What to Buy for the Man Who Has Everything.” Stores like Abercrombie & Fitch carried such novelty items in their Christmas catalogs. I spent the best part of an afternoon trying to locate an example in all my catalogs and magazines, but came up empty.

There are no labels at all, but on the interior of the bag is printed the word naugahyde. Naugahyde is often associated with cheap upholstered furniture from the Sixties, but it was also commonly used for tote bags and novelty items. It is a thick vinyl, a product of UniRoyal.

This little pocket is just the right size for a golf ball, or a jigger measure.

A larger pocket could hold cups.

A trip through the bazaars of the internet show that these are not rare. Some I found were stamped with the name of golf equipment, like Wilson, or another brand like Marriot or even Nabisco, They are newer than mine, with nylon zippers (all the zippers on my bag are heavy metal ones) and thin vinyl construction. I feel really lucky to have an older one, probably from the late 1960s.

I don’t golf, but my husband does. He was really surprised a few days ago when I told him I wanted to go with him to the course next time he played a round. He’ll play eighteen holes, but I’ll stick with the nineteenth.

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Athletics & Out-door Sports for Women, 1903

In 1903 women were in the S-bend corset, and skirts still were sweeping the ground. Amelia Bloomer’s great experiment with pants had failed, and even women cyclists had pretty much settled on skirts over bloomers and knickers for cycling. So how were women at the turn of the twentieth century able to comfortably participate in the growing sports boom?

Probably the best insight on this issue comes from Patricia Campbell Warner in her 2006 book, When the Girls Came Out to Play. Simply put, women wore skirts when participating in sports in a public (meaning men might be present) way, but they turned to bloomers when the situation was private, or included only women. And there were times when bloomers or knickers were worn, but they were concealed beneath a skirt.

I recently acquired Athletics & Out-door Sports for Women, edited by Lucille E. Hill and published in 1903. Hill was the director of physical education at Wellesley, and many of the authors of the sixteen chapters were also associated with women’s colleges. Half of the writers were men.

Another book I’ve been reading (well, actually browsing) on sportswomen in the same era was written by women participants in various sports. This might seem like an advantage, but what was produced was a collection of stories praising each individual sport instead of giving the basics of how to participate. In addition, the topics were definitely targeted toward the British upper class: yachting, stag hunting, and riding to the hounds being covered.

So it has been a real pleasure reading a book that not only is helpful in detailing the clothing women were advised to wear for sports, but also in explaining why, in the customs of the day, such attire was recommended. Not only that, but the photograph illustrations are great.

In her introduction, Hill explains that the only real equipment needed for a woman to get “splendid, daily athletic exercise” is a short skirt and a pair of shoes. Remember, this is 1903, and “short” pretty much means several inches from the ground. In a chapter on cross-country walking it is advised that ” Old clothes are best – warm and not too tight. No constriction of any part of the body can be permitted; loose waists, knickerbockers, and short skirts are always advisable.” It may be that the author, a man, was trying to say “No corsets,” but he stopped short at making that pronouncement. He went on to endorse sweaters and woolen underwear, and to abolish pointed toe boots and any heels over half an inch.

Ms. Hill explained that before participating in sports, a woman must first build up her strength through training at home or at a gymnasium. And while we are not given a written description of what should be worn, we are told for the only time in the book, that corsets are simply not necessary. If a woman cannot give up her corset for exercise, then it must at least be worn loose. All the photos in this section of the book show the women exercising without corsets.

She will soon give it [corset] up, for its support will not be needed. She will have as a result of the exercise a corset of her own beneath the skin, a corset of strong and elastic muscular tissues, much better than steel and whalebone. Anthony Barker

When playing indoors the regulation gymnasium suit of bloomers and a loose blouse of some thin woollen material such as serge is usually worn…

while in the open air a somewhat heavier costume is adopted, a short skirt of some durable cloth like corduroy, and a sweater, or an easy-fitting woollen blouse. Ellen Bernard Thompson

Though the author makes it sound like the skirt and sweater are for reasons of health, I think it is probably a case of not being seen in public in the unseemly bloomers.

There is no distinct golfing costume, but I would advise a short skirt, a shirt-waist that does not bind, and a sensible pair of shoes, large enough to be absolutely comfortable, and with very low heels. Some prefer tennis shoes with no heel at all. One must have rubber or hobnails on the soles to keep from slipping. Frances C. Griscom

When taking up a sport the first thing to consider is the equipment, which should consist of a moderately short walking-skirt, reaching to within four or five inches of the ice, and a pair of well-fitting shoes that can be laced up high enough to give support. Buttoned and low shoes are out of the question. William T. Richardson

The hockey skirt should be plainly made… six inches from the ground all the way round. The shirt-waist, made of flannel, to prevent risk of chills, should be loose fitting. This does not necessitate an ill-fitting garment or untidiness. Petticoats should not be worn, but knickerbockers of the same material as the skirt, fastening at the knee, be substituted. Constance M.K. Applebee

As to costume, looseness is the first and most important particular. The waist should not fit too tight, and it should be particularly free at the elbows and shoulders. The skirt should be short and stiff enough not to get in the way of the knees to to bend so much around them as to bind… Many players wear low canvas slippers with rubber soles, and find them more comfortable and less tiring than leather-bound shoes. J. Parmley Paret

When bowling, women should dress comfortably, avoiding tight-fitting clothes as far as possible. Street shoes are usually worn, but the value of regular bowling shoes is appreciated by the expert. A skirt in short or walking length is preferred, although a long skirt may be worn if occasion demands. A shirt-waist or blouse giving ease at the neck and armholes is essential. Sophie Gundrum

In 1903, it was still standard practice for women to ride side-saddle, and the chapter on riding reflects this attitude.

For my part, I think and hope that the cross saddle for women is more or less a fad, for I cannot see a single advantage it possesses over the side saddle, for looks, good riding, or safety. Belle Beach

Ms. Beach went on to give very particular instructions for the correct riding habit. In the illustration you can see the model is in riding breeches, but Ms. Beach made it clear that the breeches are underclothes, to go under a riding skirt.

In 1903, most women were not swimmers. There was a reason it was called a bathing suit, or even a bathing dress. A day at the beach or lake usually meant a mere frolic in the shallow water. But times were changing. People were beginning to see swimming as a beneficial skill, if not for fun, at least for safety.

The greatest difficulty the female pupil has to encounter is found in the costume which that all-powerful factor, custom, has declared she must wear. Judging from the practical and rational point of view, anything more absurd and useless than the skirt of a fashionable bathing-suit would be difficult to find… A much better garment would be a one-piece loosely fitting garment of fine, light woollen stuff, with the skirt as an adjunct, but not as part of the actual swimming-suit. Edwyn Sandys

What Mr. Sandys is actually describing is the standard gymsuit, perhaps with less full bloomers. As far as I have been able to determine, the difference between an antique bathing suit and a gymsuit is that in a swimsuit the pants are separate, and in a gymsuit the skirt is separate. I am sure there are exceptions, but this is overwhelming what I see in my own research.

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Filed under Currently Reading, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Winter Sports

1920s California Sport Hat

If you follow me on Instagram then you have already had an opportunity to ohh and ahh over my new hat.  Well, it’s not exactly new, as it dates to between 1928 and 1930, though it has never been worn. And to make it even better, the original box was included with the hat. You may wonder how such things survive, but as someone who has had the pleasure of visiting several old stores that looked like they had been swallowed up in some time travel vortex, there are treasures like this still to be found.

I didn’t find this hat in a dusty old store storage room. It came from Dallas, Texas, from the shop of Vintage Martini. And thanks so much to Jonathan for spotting it and letting me know of its existence. Everyone needs friends who help them shop.

I thought it was rather humorous that at California Sport Hat was made in Milwaukee, so I spent some time googling. At first I got only ads for the brand, all dated from the late 1920s and very early 30s. When I added Milwaukee to the search I got a bunch of links to the Federal Trade Commission Annual Reports of 1930 and 1933.

Thanks to Google Books, these reports have been digitized and are available online. I had no idea that government reports could be so interesting. I could barely get past the cases of a maker of cotton shirts who made the consumer think their product was linen and of a men’s hatter who was taking old hats and refurbishing then, and then selling them as new. It seems like cheaters and those willing to stretch the truth to its breaking point have always been with us.

So what was the deal with California Sport Hats? There had been a complaint filed in 1929 by makers of hats located in California that the Milwaukee hats were false advertising, and even worse, cutting into their profits. There had been an earlier complaint and in 1928 the makers, Everitt & Graf, Inc., put the “Made in Milwaukee” line in the lining of their hats to try and fend off a lawsuit.  Instead, the line pretty much proved the case, and in 1930 the company was issued a cease and desist order from the FTC.

Everitt & Graf evidently complied with the order, as in 1932 the FTC closed the case. I didn’t find any ads for California Sport Hats after 1930, and I wasn’t able to find out what happened to Everitt and Graf.

The “Reg. U.S. Patt. Off.” line is interesting. I could not find any reference to either California Sport Hat or to Everitt & Graf in the Patent Office database. And it’s weird that there are two T’s in that abbreviation.

But regardless, what a peachy hat! According to the box, the color is Blush Rose. There’s a little turned down brim in the front, and the hat can be worn with a slight tilt.

The graphics on the box were used as evidence in the complaint. The illustrations of palm trees, which I’m pretty sure do not grow in Wisconsin, were pointed out as being associated with California, and were meant to deceive.

It really is the box that makes this set so special. By the 1920s Americans were benefiting from labor laws that allowed working people to have more leisure hours. And to be clear, this was not a high-end product. The  price tag is still present, and so I know this model retailed for $4. Part of the complaint against Everitt & Graf stated that their prices undercut the actual California makers, whose hats started at $5, with most costing much more.

And wouldn’t this hat be perfect paired with this 1920s knit sports dress?

 

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Catalina, 1970s Style

Over the years I’ve been very fortunate that friends have kept me in mind whenever they find sportswear I might be interested in. Such was the case of the swim bra and matching skirt above which was tentatively offered to me from a VFG friend as a gift because the bikini bottom was missing. I loved it so much that I took it, thinking the bottom would eventually turn up on ebay (which was pretty much the only place to look in those days).

You wouldn’t think there would be much of a market for the bottom half of a two-piece swimsuit, but look through the sales listings and you will see that quite a few are listed at any given time. For years I’ve had this set in mind while doing my regular Catalina search,  now not just on eBay, but also on Etsy and Ruby Lane as well. I finally got lucky, but not in the way I’d thought I would.

I recently located a matching one-piece suit. And it’s like a 1970s swimsuit version of the mother-daughter matching ensembles of the 1950s and early 60s. I say that because the two suits (and I say this without even seeing the bottom half of the bikini) were made to appeal to two entirely women. In 1972 or whenever these were made, I would have definitely worn the bikini, and I can see my mother in the much more covered up one-piece, though the print might have been a bit bold for her taste. It was certainly her style.

All the moms wore this style, with a modest front and this very deep scooped back. We all know about mom jeans, but I’ll forever think of this style as the mom bathing suit.

The one-piece looks great with the skirt. What you can’t see is a side split up to the knee in the skirt, which makes it possible to walk in such a narrow style. I can imagine this skirt took the original owner straight from the pool to the cocktail lounge.

There’s a bit of difference of color in the bathing suit and the skirt. It could be different dye lots that are responsible, but I tend to think that the one-piece just got more use and is a bit faded. It’s made of nylon, and yes, nylon will fade.

As would be expected, the same label is in all three pieces.

So my search for the bikini pants is not over, but I am really pleased to how have an addition to the set. I’m also still looking for an ad, so let me know if any of you stumbles across this in a 1970s newspaper or magazine.

I have always liked Catalina as a brand, but the more vintage Catalina clothing I see, the more I love it. They were really big into matching pieces, in swimwear and in casual sportswear.  In fact, I have another great Catalina piece to write about in the near future.

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Women’s Softball, 1938

A while ago I found an interesting item at a local antique mall, a 1938 scorecard for women’s softball games at Madison Square Garden. There was a league – the Metropolitan Women’s Softball League, and other leagues across the country as well. Because of the movie, A League of Their Own, the All American Girls Baseball League of the 1940s is well-known, but I’d never heard of  a women’s softball league.

Growing up, I was well acquainted with fast-pitch softball. Our local YMCA, which was administered by the town’s primary employer, Champion Fiber and Paper, fielded a team, the Champions of Canton.  It was a team of men, and I don’t remember there ever being a woman’s team.

The Champions were big in Canton. Rumor had it that any excellent ball player could get a job at the paper mill, and I’m sure that’s the way it worked all over the country. Many factories and other businesses had softball teams, and competition for the best players was high.

After finding the scorecard, I went on an internet search for information about the Metropolitan Women’s Softball League. The best find was a series of photos of the New York Roverettes and the Americanettes with Babe Ruth, taken in 1938, the same year as my scorecard.  (I linked to the photos, because I don’t use photos from Getty on my blog. They have been known to sue.)

The uniforms were interesting and quite flashy, being made of colorful satin fabric. By the late 1930s most women’s teams had adopted shorts, but some more conservative communities in New England and in Arizona’s Cactus League fielded their women’s teams in long pants.

Wanting more information led me to Erica Westly’s book, Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game. Westly tells of how softball started as an indoor sport, but by the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, it had moved outdoors. It was the 1933 Fair that helped popularize the game. In 1938 it was again played indoors, at Madison Square Garden. In biweekly games the New York Roverettes would play visiting teams from around the country and Canada.

The back of the program gives us a look at the types of businesses that sponsored teams. The Num Num Girls of Cleveland were sponsored by a potato chip maker. The Newark Poppy Mills was a knitting factory.

Here’s the scorecard of the International game between the Toronto Langley-Lakesides and the Roverettes. Interesting that all the coaches and managers were men, though that began to change in the 1950s when women were allowed in the management ranks, and for the first time, Black women were allowed on the teams.

South Bend Blue Sox Baseball Dress, worn by Besty Jochum, National Museum of American History, catalog #1983.0183.01

Fastpitch gives a good look at the origins of The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  Started in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley in order to keep revenue flowing through Wrigley Field during the war, it was originally a softball league. The name was changed to baseball, and the rules were a mix of both games. Wrigley came up with the idea of the players wearing skirts with little bloomers beneath. He felt like skirts were more womanly.

He also mandated that the players could not wear slacks off the field, and they must always wear makeup and lipstick, and wear high heels when not playing. There were lots of rules, but the pay was good. Many of the best softball players gave up their satin shorts to play in Wrigley’s league.

Seeing the Smithsonian’s South Bend Blue Sox baseball dress made me wonder if any of the much more common satin shorts ensembles are in any museum collections. I found a site for the National Softball Hall of Fame which is located in Oklahoma City, but there is little information on the site about the collection. I would bet that there are many located in local historical society collections. Get in touch if you know of one.

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