Category Archives: Summer Sports

Gantner & Mattern Bathing Suit, 1920

As I said in my last post, online shopping has been great lately. Maybe it is due to sellers not having as many in real life selling opportunities, but there have been some fantastic things come up for sale this summer and fall. High on my list of purchases is this bathing suit from Gantner & Mattern.

I could talk all day about the attributes of this suit, starting with the colors. By 1920s orange was a popular fashion color, and it remained in style throughout the decade. The blue is also a good 1920s color. In fast, I have another early 1920s bathing suit in the exact color.

By 1920 the women’s bathing standby suit, two pieces usually made of a thin woven wool or blends of mohair and silk was being replaced by the knit suit. Most knit suits were knit in one piece, with the trunks attached to the dress. This suit is interesting because it is two pieces like the older style.

It is also interesting because of the slightly raised waistline. We tend to associate the dropped waist with the 1920s, but in the beginning of the decade the waist continued to be high as it was in the last part of the 1910s. At the same time, the shape of the body was becoming more tubular.

When I first saw this suit on Instagram, the crocheted trim intrigued me. When evaluating a piece of old clothing, you always have to consider that alterations could have been made at some point in the garment’s life. I have actually seen a 1920s knit suit where the back was cut to a fashionable 1930s scoop, with the edges finished with crochet. So I spent a long time looking at the crochet trim, trying to figure if it was original. The uniformity of the color, and the evenness of the applied trim led me to believe the crochet was original.

The real proof can be seen in this photo. Where the label was stitched onto the suit stitches over the orange yarn of the crochet, indicating the crochet was applied before the label.

Here’s a bit of Gantner & Mattern history I wrote several years ago in another post:

One of the great, but lesser-known California swimwear makers of the 20th century was Gantner-Mattern.  Like most of the makers of swimsuits, they started out as makers of knitwear – stockings, underwear, and sporting sweaters.  By the turn of the century, they were making the swimsuits that made them famous.

The company got its start in San Francisco in 1877 at the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company.  By the late 1890s, two employees, corporate secretary John O. Gantner and mill superintendent Alfred Mattern had left Pfister to start their own knitting company.  That was lucky for them because the Great Earthquake of 1906 destroyed the Pfister operation, while Gantner-Mattern was located in a safe area.  Pfister was able to rebuild with the help of two friends, but it is not known if the friends in question were actually Gantner and Mattern.

Swimwear quickly became the main product at Gantner-Mattern.  In the first days of the 20th century, swimming was becoming increasingly popular, and with the purchase of a Gantner-Mattern swimsuit, one got a free pair of waterwings to help the buyer learn to swim, or at least stay afloat!  In 1932, Gantner-Mattern was the first company to produce a topless swimsuit – for men!  Yes, it was still considered indecent in many places for a man to swim without a tank top in the early 1930s, but before long this quaint old custom was only a memory.

Thanks to Over Attired Vintage for this fantastic addition to my collection.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Tammis Keefe for Marlboro Shirts

It may not be immediately obvious why I recently added this shirt to my collection. All will become clear when you see the closeup of the print.

If you have followed my writings for a while, you already know that I have a fondness for textile designs by Tammis Keefe. Today she is most remembered for her hankies and towels, but she also designed home decorator fabrics, and for a short time starting in 1957, she worked on textile design for the Marlboro Shirt Company.

If you are like me, the greatest association with Marlboro is with the cigarette brand. Marlboro Shirt Company was an entirely different company, though it does appear that at some point the company was acquired by Philip Morris, which also made the cigarettes. But my story dates to 1957 and 1958, long before that acquisition.

Marlboro Shirt Company had a long history, being formed in 1890. It was located in Baltimore, and for years men’s shirts were the only product. By the 1940s Marlboro had expanded into other men’s apparel, like bathing suits, pajamas, and jackets. In 1957 they entered the women’s shirt market with a new brand, Lady Marlboro.

At the same time, it was decided that the traditional man’s shirt could be made in sports styles, or rather, leisure styles to fit the increasingly casual American lifestyle. Tammis Keefe was brought in to design textiles that would fit into a more casual style. According to a paper written by FIT graduate student Suzanne Chee in 1990, many of the prints were (like mine) conversational in nature. She adapted antique motifs like vintage theater playbills and antique playing cards.  And the shirts were made for men and women in matching prints.

To me, the designs do not look as though they were actually drawn by Tammis Keefe. The style of the ones I have seen all have an antique print look. Or maybe I’m not giving Ms. Keefe enough credit. I’m sure she could draw in more than the midcentury style she is most known for.

The closeup views reveal why I had to have this one. There are tennis players…

picnickers…

hikers…

beach croquet…

and fishers.

I bought this even though it is badly faded. It must have been a favorite piece. The color is actually an olive green, but I can’t help but wonder if it was made in other colors as well. And if anyone has the matching man’s shirt, I’d love to add it to keep this one company.

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Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Textiles

The Body Beautiful by Annette Kellermann

 

I’ve written about swimmer Annette Kellermann before, and you might know her as the subject of the 1952 film, Million Dollar Mermaid, staring Esther Williams. She was the woman who introduced the one-piece swimsuit for woman. but what she might have been best at was self-promotion.

In 1925 she promoted a health plan which was outlined in this booklet. She capitalized on a study conducted by Dr. Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University which found her body to be the most perfectly formed female physique. She promised that in just five to fifteen minutes a day, any woman could “enjoy the priceless possessions of glorious health, radiant beauty, and a figure fashioned in Nature’s own wonderful mould.”

There are numerous photos of Kellermann’s perfect body in the booklet, most of which appear to have been altered to make her look thinner than she appears in other photos I’ve seen of her.

It just goes to show that  the pressure on women to strive for unrealistic body ideals have been with us a very long time.

I love that on this page Kellermann assures the reader that attaining world-wide fame for her figure has not in the least made her vain. That’s reassuring.

The 1920s was a time when youth and slimness were fashionable. It’s easy to see how this program might appeal to women who had been told their bodies were old-fashioned. Another part of the appeal might have been that in 1925 Kellermann was thirty-eight years old. Though she didn’t advertise that fact in the booklet, she had been in the public eye for about twenty years by this point. People knew she was approaching middle age.

I’d like to say that we’ve finally gotten to the point where we no longer put this type of “perfect body” pressure on women and on ourselves, but then that would be untruthful. Years of exposure to weight loss ads and magazines articles on losing weight, the “helpful” comments of others and subtle peer pressure are powerful influences.

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Filed under Advertisements, Curiosities, Summer Sports

1930s Collegiate Print Beach Pajamas

Beach pajamas are one of my favorite historic clothing items. They were in vogue for about fifteen years, during which time the concept went through several changes. Much of my interest stems from this garment’s role in making wearing pants in public by women acceptable. Much of my summer has been spent on gathering information, and then writing a paper on the evolution of pajamas on the beach. I’ll be sharing my paper in the future, first hopefully at my regional Costume Society of America symposium, and then here on my blog.

I already had several pairs of really great pajamas in my collection. I have told myself that I did not need any more, so I’ve not been tempted by any I have seen for sale in a while. But I had always wanted this particular pair, with the college pennant design. I felt like this design had been commercially produced because I had seen at least two examples of it.

When my friend Erika who posts as Cattybritches on Instagram posted a photo of this pair she spotted in an antique mall up her way, I was hoping she would be able to retrieve them for me. She was, and this week they arrived in my mailbox. In the collecting business, it really does pay to have friends!

The brand is Sas See Maids. As you can see on the label, they made dresses, smocks, and Hoovers (which was a wrap housedress) as well as pajamas. Note the line, “Made for the best retail trade”.

To put it into perspective, this ad shows these cost just 33 cents, and were found in the bargain basement. For those of you not old enough to have experienced a true bargain basement, my sympathies are with you. Even into the early 1970s the basement in Ivey’s in Asheville was a bargain hunter’s dream. I would spend hours there treasure hunting.

My exact pajamas are not in the ad, but it does mention the college pennant fabric. Best of all, it mentions a beach coat with trim. Dare I dream?

The ad and the newspaper clipping above came from Michelle of Wide Awake Vintage. Yet again, it pays to have friends with similar interests.

The low V neck in both front was back and the extra wide legs put this garment in the 1930 -1934 range. The low back developed about at the same time as low backed evening gowns and low backed bathing suits. The object was to acquire and then show off a suntan.

I hope you noticed the hat, because it is partly why I wanted this set so much. After examining it, I don’t believe it was commercially made. The seams are a bit too irregular, and the finishing is poor. The pajamas fit a person about five feet tall, so it’s possible these were shortened, and the excess used to make the hat. Or I could be wrong. Maybe another hat will materialize and prove me wrong.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

1920s Silk Bathing Shoes

In pandemic times, what would we do without the internet?  I’ll be completely honest – I find shopping in a real store or antiques market and spotting something wonderful for my collection much more satisfying than online shopping. This is especially true of ebay auctions where there’s little immediate gratification. But some things are worth the wait, and here’s my latest example of that.

I spotted these silk 1920s bathing shoes on @1860-1960’s Instagram page, and my poor heart stood still.  Bathing shoes of any kind are getting harder and harder to find, and here was a pair that I’d never seen before. A week later, they were mne, and a week after that, they showed up in my mailbox. I was not disappointed.

These are actually a silk print placed over a canvas base. I have several canvas pairs of bathing shoes. They had to be made of a sturdy fabric in order to survive their hard use on sand and rocks, and in salt water.

Almost all bathing shoes had canvas soles. I do know that Keds made a bathing shoes with a rubber sole, and by the 1930s, rubber bathing shoes had pretty much replaced canvas ones.  I have seen canvas shoes with leather soles advertised as bathing shoes or boots, but no.

My new shoes have a two-button closure. Some have one button, like Mary Jane shoes, some tie, and others, mainly boots, have laces.

I looked for an image in my resources that showed a printed fabric made into a bathing shoe, but was not successful. So I decided to show some  of the history of bathing shoes from photos in my collection. Please note that bathing shoes go back to Victorian times, and some are very fancy.These are rarely seen on the market.

These bathing boots date to the 1910s, and I can’t quite figure them out. I think they lace and the wearer tied them on the back of the leg.

Bathing boots continued to be popular into the early 1920s. Note that the dark stockings have been replaced by rolled white ones.

These could be black, but I’ve seen these in red and dark green as well as black.

A few years later, this woman wore bathing boots which were cut out in the front.

They are not quite a shoe, and not quite a boot.  These date to the mid 1920s.

My new bathing shoes were probably made in the mid to late 1920s, at the end of the canvas bathing shoe’s popularity. In the  1930s, women turned to rubber shoes, or bare feet in the water, with sandals on the shore.

This photo dates from 1929 or 1930. Her fantastic shoes are made from rubber.

I really do want to thank all the online sellers who have persevered during such a trying time. Thank you for keeping collectors like me from going insane!

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

1940s Bonnie Beach Bag

My newest acquisition is this “Bonnie Bag” from the 1940s.  It’s often described as a knitting bag, but period advertising describe it also as a beach bag.  This is a bit of a lazy post, as I bought this bag from Robin of Edgertor at Etsy.  Of all the vintage sellers I know, Robin does the best job of researching her wares. So much of what you will read here is Robin’s work, which she freely shared.

The bag style seems to be quite common, and dated to the late 1930s. Several different companies made these, with some being labeled while others are not. In 1942 W.L.M.Clark registered a design patent for two styles of the bag  – one with an oval wooden plaque, and one with a square plaque.

Here’s one of the patent drawings, with the square wooden plaque. Robin says she doubts that Clark actually invented the design, and I agree with her.  Here is an ad for the bag from May, 1942, months before Clark’s patent for a slightly different design was registered.

It is a clever design, and being made of heavy canvas, they have held up well over the years. Mine shows a few signs of use, but it is in really excellent condition.

My bag was made by A. Mamaux & Son. Would it surprise you to learn that this was a window awning business, not a handbag business?

If you were an awning store in the 1930s or 40s, would you throw out the leftover scraps from awning projects? No, of course not. In this case it really appears that remnants  were used to make a type of Bonnie Bag.

I had been looking for the perfect Bonnie Bag when I saw this one in Robin’s Instagram feed. With that little Scottie, how could I  resist?

The canvas is very heavy – sturdy enough to carry all one’s beach needs.

Expanded, the bag has a totally different look.

I have seen quite a few of this type of expandable bag with no label at all. I don’t think it’s a far reach to assume that these were also made in the home from scraps of canvas, especially during wartime.

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Edwardian Divided Skirt

The world is reopening, whether or not Covid-19 is under control.  I’m a bit conflicted, as it seems like the more people are out being “normal”, the greater the likelihood is that we’ll again find ourselves in lockdown again this fall. I have discovered that antique shops are a good compromise between staying home completely and jumping into a swimming pool with 100 strangers, yelling about our right to party.

So, after getting my hair cut for the first time since February, I went to an antique mall in a nearby town, as a little treat for myself. I had never been there before, so I didn’t have any expectations. As I walked up the aisles, I saw ahead a booth that clearly had clothing. Ten years ago I’d have been all excited, but so many booths in antiques malls are now selling modern clothing that I really didn’t get my hopes up.

But, praise be, there were old clothes in this booth! I immediately spotted a pair of old black cotton exercise bloomers. $12! As I grabbed them, I took a quick look around the booth, and then I saw it – an Edwardian divided skirt. This is the garment women wore for hiking, for camping, and for horseback riding. It’s an all-purpose sports garment, with a big secret.

That secret is that the skirt is actually a pair of pants. Unbutton the front panel, flip it to the right, and you are now wearing culottes.

For years women had been wearing some sort of pants under their skirts for sports. The divided skirt was a late Victorian innovation that allowed the wearer to switch from one to the other with the changing of a few buttons.

Even buttoned to expose the pants, the garment could pass for a skirt.

These were sold by the Standard Mail Order Company of New York  City.  There are digital copies of catalogs from that company all over the internet, so I will be doing a bit of searching for my divided skirt.

This was not a product unique to Standard. My 1910 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog has a very similar style  for sale for $12.50 to $20  dollars. According to the inflation calculator, that would have been  $320 to $512in today’smoney. Perhaps Standard was a bit more accessible to the less-than-rich.

And I’m guessing it was more affordable, as I have in my collection of vintage photos various women wearing the garment. It was such a great innovation, which allowed women to ride a horse astride, to safely ride a bicycle, and to romp freely through the woods, Can’t ask more of a garment than that.

My divided skirt shows a lot of signs that it was worn a lot. It’s missing a button, and there are a few small rips around some of the buttonholes. The hem you see with the darker thread is not original. Either the original wearer was very short, or she shortened the skirt in the mid 1910s when fashion dictated a shorted skirt. Either way, it’s a part of the skirt’s history, and will remain.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Shopping, Summer Sports, Vintage Photographs