Category Archives: Summer Sports

1940s Made in Hawaii Bathing Suit from Kahala

This recently acquired halter and shorts set sent me down a rabbit hole of Hawaiian textiles.  The beginnings of the Hawaiian shirt are a bit obscure, but the first ones were probably made from silk fabrics from Japan in the 1920s.  Most of them were made by small shops in small batches. The large scale manufacture of shirts from Hawaiian fabrics started in the mid 1930s.

My set was made by Kahala, one of the first companies to manufacture “Hawaiian” garments.  It was started in 1936 by Nat Norfleet and George Brangier, neither of whom was a native Hawaiian. Their company, Branfleet, was using the Kahala name and label by 1937.  From what I’ve been able to find out, women’s garments were not made until after World War II, but then clothing for women became a major part of their business.

It is possible that my set is actually a bathing suit. It is completely lined in cotton jersey.

What Norfleet and Brangier discovered was that men would buy a shirt made from their Hawaiian fabrics to wear while in Hawaii, but women would continue to wear their Kahala garments after returning home.  I’d say this was much better than today’s not so subtle brag of the souvenir tee shirt.  You could remind the neighbors of your Hawaiian trip while looking fabulous.

I don’t find a lot of older Hawaiian garments here in the Southeast. People here were much more likely to vacation in Florida, or if a little more affluent, Cuba. But from the few older Hawaiian shirts I have been able to closely examine, I can tell you that the fabric is very different from the newer rayons made in the 1980s up through the present time.  My set is rayon, but it is lightly textured, though smooth at the same time.

The button is made from coconut shell, and adds another layer of Hawaiian authenticity.

But the star of this set is the print.  The richness is achieved with the use of at least fourteen colors.  I especially love the light blue used with so much red.

According to my one and only book on Hawaiian shirts, the very earliest prints were tropical flowers and tapa cloth prints. Scenics like mine soon became popular as well.

The Hawaiian Shirt, by H. Thomas Steele, was one of the very first fashion books I bought.  I can remember looking through it in the local B. Dalton book store and trying to justify the purchase. It was published in 1984, so I’m sure it was shortly after than that I added this to my very small, but growing, fashion history library.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

Late Victorian Bathing Costume

The great bulk of my collection dates after 1915, but I’m slowly educating myself about earlier sportswear, and I’ve begun to acquire a few pieces.  This late nineteenth century bathing suit is my latest.  I bought this one mainly because most of the ones I’ve looked at over the past year are black, so a different color was a plus.  I’ll probably eventually buy a black one, if I find one with great design that is in good condition.

Condition is a major problem with antique bathing suits, as they were for the most part, made from wool.  Besides the fact that moths love them, they were exposed to salt water and who knows what else.  So while this suit photographs and displays well, it has the sort of issues one might expect from a well-used garment that is around 120 years old. In this case, I decided I could live with more damage than I would on a more common garment.

The bathing suit is made up of two pieces, the blouse and bloomers combination, and a matching skirt. This was pretty much the makeup of women’s bathing suits until the second decade of the twentieth century, when the shrunken bloomers were covered by a skirt that was attached to the top.  From there the bathing suit kept getting smaller, and smaller and…

The lighter color tie is attached at the shoulders.  It covers a placket, under which is a row of buttons.

The modesty panel attaches to the collar with buttons on one side, and is permanently attached on the other.

The braid, which is green, was sewn on by machine, and looks to be professionally done.

The braid also decorated the sleeves, the waistband, and the hem of the skirt.  The weight of it helped to keep the skirt from riding or blowing up, thus saving the wearer from extreme embarrassment.

The damage is much more apparent on the back.  There are a number of moth holes, and the waist band is torn.  I’m guessing that the owner had gained a bit of weight, and the band simply ripped from the stress.  The buttons are for attaching the skirt.

Note the fullness below the waistband, which is the top of the bloomers.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

This bathing suit came with a bit of a mystery attached – an extra piece that was originally part of the garment. It is a slice cut from the skirt. At some point the suit was altered to make the back of the skirt less full.  And while there is only one piece, there is evidence that two pieces were cut out.

This is the inside of the skirt, showing where I think the piece was removed. The most obvious sign is that a different color of thread was used.  On the left you can see that the thread matches the fabric, but the newer seam is stitched in white.  On the front, the original seams are so perfectly matched that it is hard to see them.  On the two new seams, the braid is off somewhat.

There is also white stitching where the skirt is gathered into the waistband.  So the back of the skirt had quite a bit of fullness removed.  But why? It probably has to do with changing fashion.

The image above is from 1898, from The Glass of Fashion. Even though a garment like a bathing suit might not be considered “fashion”, you can see the trends of an era in the shape and the details. Even though this is a dress, it has a lot in common with my bathing costume, with the gored skirt having a flat front and a full back.  The bodice is also similar with the pleats and gathers attached to a yoke. And don’t forget the puffed sleeves.

The bathing suit above is from an 1899 Delineator magazine. You can see how similar this one is to mine, with the tie, sailor collar, puffed sleeves and band at the hem.  This basic style remained popular over the next fifteen or so years, with gradual changes being made to reflect changing fashion.  The bodice became droopy in front, the gathers disappeared and smooth, full gores replaced them.

In period illustrations, bathing costumes are frequently pictured in beautiful colors, but photographs from the same time tell a different story.  The overwhelming majority of bathing suits for women were dark, either black or navy.

There are a few other problems with my suit.  Someone shortened the waist by about three quarters of an inch by making a tuck right above the waist.  I haven’t decided if I’ll remove it, but I probably will just leave it.  Most of the original buttons have been replaced, but buttons of this era are easy to find so I’ll probably replace the newer ones. The elastic in the legs of the bloomers has completely lost its stretch.  I’ll probably just leave it.

It was fun analyzing this piece.  Unfortunately, I know nothing at all about who the original owner was, but I do know she had a very appealing bathing costume.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

1950s Golf Dress – Babe Didrikson Golfer by Serbin

Some time ago I heard from Marianne Serbin, who was part of the family that owned the clothing company Serbin, and later, Serbin of Miami.  In her letter to me she mentioned that at one time famed athlete Babe Didrikson designed golf dresses for Serbin.  Since then I’ve had this line on my shopping radar, and finally, last month, I found a really great example.

Marianne did not mention when exactly Didrikson worked for Serbin, and it’s likely she does not know, as she would have been a child at the time.  But it is pretty easy to narrow it down to a range of just a few years.  First, Didrikson died in 1955 from cancer which was diagnosed with in 1953.

The length of the dress is quite long, and so the earliest it could be is 1948 or so.

The label reads just Serbin, instead of Serbin of Miami.  The company moved to Miami in 1951.  That may indicate that the set predates 1951 and the move, but that’s not guaranteed.  My 1960s golf set from Serbin does not mention Miami either.

I did find two ads online for Serbin golf dresses from 1949.  Actress Jane Russell is the model, but there is no mention of Didrikson.  It stands to reason that , as a very famous athlete, her name would have been in the ad as well. (The hunt continues.  I’ll update if I find a Serbin-Didrikson ad.)

My best guess is, then, 1950 through 1952.  But more important than the actual date of this dress is what we can learn about how fashion was adapted to fit a specific activity, in this case, golfing.

One of the first things to consider in making a golf dress is the sleeve.  Tight sleeves just won’t do, but in the early 50s most women on the golf course were just not ready to go sleeveless. In order to allow the arms full range of motion, golf dress sleeves were often pleated, and in this case, you can see that there are also buttons to give even more flexibility.

An interesting side note – this type of pleated sleeve appears to have started in the 1930s.  In the early 30s it was often seen on fashionable dresses.  So which use came first, the fashion or the sport?  I have no idea.

When unbuttoned, the sleeve is open all the way to the shoulder.

Another must-have feature on golf dresses was a pocket or two.  I really love how this breast pocket was cut on the bias.

I somehow neglected to take a full-length photo of the back of the dress, so take my word for it that this pocket is on the back, not the front.  It’s large enough to hold a ball, a glove, and a couple of tees.

One thing that made me buy this particular dress was that the belt was present.  So many times in old clothes the original belt is missing.  I didn’t realize until the dress arrived at my house that the belt is actually attached to a large flap in the back.  The flap obscures a large opening and the looseness of it allows for good air circulation.  It also makes the dress more flexible in the upper back.  Ingenious.

Here you can see the back opening.

Another interesting feature is that the dress has a front zipper that extends to the hem.  The zipper is actually a separating one, so this dress is very easy to put on.

Even with all the features that make this a dress for golfing, a woman could also have worn this dress for regular, casual wear.  It fits right in with what was stylish in 1950.

My Dad had a golf tournament  in Miami Beach which was Babe’s first win after her cancer and he presented her with a trophy topped with a diamond studded metal golf ball..quite a thrill for everyone.  Marianne Serbin.  Photo courtesy of Marianne Serbin.

I’m always amazed to learn of how so many otherwise famous people from the past also have a link to the fashion world.  Today, of course, it is just another way for a celebrity to make cash off his or her popularity.  But even a hundred years ago celebrities were being approached by companies eager to add a bit of  star power to their products.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Christina, I have a bit more to share.  Didrikson’s autobiography is online, and in it she mentions the deal with Serbin.  She won the British Ladies Championship in 1947, and after that win she was able to sign contracts with quite a few companies, including Serbin.  Later in the caption of a photo she mentions the ongoing deal with Serbin.  This was in 1955.

Christina also found photos of Didrikson wearing what looks to be a dress very similar to mine.  The year is 1950.   Thanks Christina!

UPDATE: Liza has found an ad in a newspaper for Didrickson/Serbin golf dresses dated March 30, 1949.  Thanks Liza!

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

Antique Photograph: Tennis Party

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I took a photo of this photo last fall at the Liberty flea market.  It was pretty expensive, but the owner was nice enough to let me take a shot of it.  There is so much to look at and think about, and it has given me a chance to use my dating skills to give a shot at when it might have been taken.

Unfortunately there was no information about the photo at all, so I have no idea who these young people were.  Were they friends?  Relatives? Members of a club?

The first thing I looked at was the shape of the heads of the tennis racquets.  Look carefully at the racquets in the photo and you will notice that they all have a squared off shape at the top of the head.  One site I found dated this shape to the late 1880s.

Because all the women are seated, and three of them are partly obscured, we might be able to tell more from the men’s attire and hair.  I thought it was interesting that seven of the eight have facial hair, with all but one of them having only mustaches.  Only the man with the beard has sideburns.  Their hair is very short, very controlled, and several have center parts.

Here’s what Joan Severa had to say about men’s hair in the early 1890s:

…very short haircuts, almost shaved up the sides, and clipped necks.  A center part was usual, and the hair was oiled.  A generous walrus-style mustache appears with some frequency in the photographs.  

Most of the men are wearing sack jackets, in a style that came out in the late 1880s.  The jackets were rounded at the hem to show off the waistcoat, with three or four buttons.  The sleeves were shorter than before, allowing a bit of shirt cuff to show.  The ties shown are also consistent with the styles of the late 1880s and early 1890s, with both the bowtie, and the black neck tie (tied either over or under the collar) being popular.  Pant legs were slim, which you can see on several of the men.

As for the women, there are some clues as well.  First, I considered what I did not see – the puffed sleeve caps that came into vogue at the beginning of the 1890s.  By the middle of the decade the sleeves were the huge leg-o’-mutton that is so associated with the 1890s.  Since none of the women are wearing the puffed sleeve, I think it is safe to say the photo had to have been made before 1892.

We can see the most detail on the woman on the right.  She certainly does not seem to be dressed for tennis, with the lacy underskirt and front of her bodice.  The skirt has a draped apron effect, which became more prevalent as the bustle started to collapse around 1886.  The woman on the left has a much sportier look with her striped skirt.

All the women have high collars, another feature of the late 1880s.  The sleeves on all are shorter than full length, with the wrist bones being exposed.

As we saw with the men, the hairstyles reveal a lot of information.  Joan Severa quoted the July, 1890 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal to describe changes to hair styles that year:

And then remember that the “bang” is no longer a heavy “mop,” but should be a softly curled fringed that comes like a halo about one’s face, not overshadowing the eyes or hiding the forehead, only shading and softening the entire face.  The frizzy bang is essentially bad form.

The addition of the little dog in the lap adds a lot of charm to the scene.  And do any hat experts care to comment on the hat that is in front of the woman on the right?

The woman on the right in this section of the photo is wearing a plaid dress with a sort of pinafore over it.  I could not find a similar garment in any of my sources, poor as they are.  When I posted this photo on Instagram it was asked if that was another dog on her lap.  At first I thought it was her hat, but you can see the plain straw hat to the right.  Could this be a cat, maybe a dog?

So, add it all up and what do we get?  My best guess is 1889 or 1890.  I don’t mind if you care to point out something I missed, or to correct my dating.

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Filed under Summer Sports, Vintage Photographs

French Beach Shoes, 1930s

Someone who had a great deal of experience with collecting once told me that it was “not just about the frocks.”  That really left an impression on me, and I did come to see what an important statement it was.  You just can’t understand the history of dress without also looking at the accessories.

When it comes to sports attire, it seems to me that clothing is much easier to locate than accessories.  I can think of many reasons why this might be so.  For example, rubber was a common material used in swim accessories, and rubber, if not stored properly, has a nasty tendency to melt and rip.  Also, sport shoes were often made of canvas, which would not have lasted like leather shoes would.

I spotted the beach shoes above in the Instagram feed of @garb_oh_vintage.  Probably the only reason they did not sell immediately was because they are a relatively small size.  That was good for me.

The seller had bought these in France some years ago.  I was not surprised, as these have a look to them of walks along the Côte d’Azur .  They are actually a play on the traditional espadrille, which originated in Spain, and which were very popular with the artistic set of France in the 1920s and 30s.

I found several very similar pairs in a 1936 advertisement for Lastex swimsuits.  Lastex was “the miracle yarn that makes things fit” and was introduced in 1931, but did not come into common use until later in the decade.

The heels are made from wood, something that is seen quite commonly in this type shoe.

The shoes show signs of light wear, but not enough to rub off the size – a French 37.

The straps fasten with metal buckles, which are lightly rusted.

When I think of all the shortages and scarcities of the World War Two era, I have to wonder how any clothing from before that time survived intact, especially something like shoes.

I tend to collect things that were made for the American market, so it is interesting that these shoes are from France, and the late 1930s Reid’s Holiday Togs playsuit I posted earlier is from Canada.  It’s even nicer that they look so fabulous together.

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Filed under Shoes, Sportswear, Summer Sports, World War II

Reid’s Holiday Togs 1930s Playsuit

Many of you will recognize the name Rose Marie Reid, as her company produced women’s swimsuits for many years.  The Rose Marie Reid label began in 1946 when she moved her business from Canada to Los Angeles, a center of the swimwear industry.  But before that, she actually had a swimwear and sportswear company in Vancouver, Reid’s Holiday Togs.  The label dates roughly from 1936 to 1946 and is rarely seen today.

I felt pretty lucky when I spotted this sweet example in an etsy shop, Mystic Clutter Vintage.  According to the biography of Reid, the company produced only swimsuits, so finding a garment other than a bathing suit was pretty exciting.  When I received the playsuit, my enthusiasm for it was even greater.  There are so many great little details that add up to a perfect little garment.

One of my favorite features is how the pockets are built into the princess line.  Then note how just below the pocket, a pleat opens in the side seam.

The presence of pleats in a playsuit really adds to the functionality of the garment.  The legs are full without looking full, leading to greater range of movement by the wearer without sacrificing the fitted look of the suit.

The front is closed with a long metal zipper, which helps to date this to the very early years of  the label.  After Canada entered WWII, the Reid biography specifically pointed out that zippers were unavailable to the company.  I love the curved raglan shoulder, which gives the appearance of a bigger shoulder in accordance with the style of the time.  The little round collar is also a nice touch.

The back of the bodice has an inverted pleat which adds to the wearer’s mobility.

The fabric is a nice cotton twill.  The color is very reminiscent of that used in gymsuits during this time, but there is no evidence that I found that Reid made garments for gym classes.  It is my thinking that this a just a more stylish form of the gymsuit that was recognized as functional attire for girls participating in sports.  It is even possible that a matching skirt was made, as that is how playsuits were generally marketed and sold.

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Filed under Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Irene Brown Cashmere Sweater for Golfer

 

I’ve been on a lucky streak online recently, as far as finding great stuff for my collection.  Above you can see my new favorite, bought off eBay from seller lindys4sale.  It is cashmere, and is decorated with velveteen appliques, accents with beads, embroidery, and the occasional bit of leather.

Irene Brown of Detroit is a new name to me, and an internet search showed up only a few references, all in Michigan newspapers dating from 1962 to 1968.  I found two other examples that had been sold online, both of which used applique to decorate the sweater.

One thing I can tell you about Irene Brown is that the sweater that bears her name shows top notch workmanship.  Each little piece was cut from velveteen or leather, and then was expertly appliqued to the sweater.  The letters shown above are about an inch and an eighth, are beautifully finished and then embroidered on one side to mimic a shadow.  The number on the flag and the dimples on the ball are made with beading.

Even the sides of the sweater and the sleeve cuffs are decorated.  The two other examples I found of Brown’s work also had gathered cuffs like this one.  Perhaps it was a trademark of her designs.

The back of the sweater has one big applique of a golf bag and clubs.  All the design on the bag was made through embroidery.

The interior is not lined, so you can get a good look at the handwork.  I would have expected a sweater of this quality to be lined, but I can find no traces of old lining threads, and the other examples I found do not seem to be lined either.

One thing I really love about vintage golf prints and such is that the 19th hole is almost always referenced.  That little cocktail is enough to entice me onto the golf course.  You’ll find me in the club house.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports