Category Archives: Too Marvelous for Words

Charm, January 1957

I can imagine that to the average Charm reader, a trip to somewhere in which a swimsuit would be needed in January was just a dream.  It was, after all, The Magazine for Women Who Work, and not for the women who had large sums of money with which to take winter vacations. Or maybe this was meant to be for the “later” mentioned in the caption.

I’m really interested in the idea of swimsuits with sleeves.  Ever since the sleeves were banished from bathing suits in the early 1920s, makers have tried on numerous occasions to bring them back, and in fact, many of Claire McCardell’s designs for swimsuits had sleeves.  Nevertheless, it is very rare for one to come onto the vintage market, so I’m betting they just didn’t go over, especially in the days when much of the object of wearing one was to get a tan.

Today  everything from two pieces of string tied strategically to a long sleeved leotard paired with leggings can pass for a bathing suit.  I rather like the idea of a short sleeved bathing suit, but then I’m pretty much in favor of all sleeves these days.

Bathing suit was part of the International Set line from Jantzen; hat by John Fredericks; copyright Conde Nast.


Filed under Curiosities, Too Marvelous for Words

1920s Girl Power Tin Box

I somehow usually manage to limit any vintage purchases to clothing items for my collection or to print resources that might aid in research.  But sometimes an object so perfect that completely encapsulates my interests presents itself, and so it becomes part of my “archive.”  In this case it is this 1920s tin lunchbox.

That may seem to be an odd object to add to a vintage clothing collection, but with a theme this perfect, how could I say no.  As the vendor put it, “I’ve never seen so much 1920s girl power on one item.”  Neither had I.

For I’ve seen a lot of sports-themed decorated items that were designed for teenagers, but the great majority of them were geared toward boys.  There might sometimes be a token girl, cheering her boyfriend football hero from the sidelines, or maybe a shapely teen in a swimsuit, but the baseball player, the golfer, the racing driver would all be male.

The graphics on my new box put the girls front and center, and put boys in a secondary role.  This is obviously an item designed for girls, but it has none of the pink-tinged soft Hello Kitty motifs of products that are designed for girls today.  These are real girls who enjoy sports.  They are not portrayed as masculine girls, but they are shown to be strong girl competitors.  They are not trying to be boys, but are enjoying the freedoms given to girls in the twentieth century.

Interestingly, it was this generation of American girls who came of age in the 1920s that was the first to grow up knowing they would have the right to vote.*  Girls were growing up better educated and knowing they had opportunities that had been denied their mothers.

I’ve been reading a book written for teenagers about the battle for women’s right to vote, Petticoat Politics, by Doris Faber, published in 1967.  It was the type of book that I loved as a girl.  It showed that our rights were gained by hard work and perseverance.

I’m somewhat perplexed by young women today who claim they are not feminists.  But I think it is because they do not have a strong understanding of the history of women’s rights and because they mistakenly think that to be feminist is to be anti-male.   Maybe they should look to the young women on my tin box as role models.

Cooperation, not competition.

Just because there are no boys at the swimming hole does not mean that they can’t look cute.

Not only can she drive the race car, she can do it in style.

This independent girl finished her needlework pillow and promptly took it for a spin in her canoe.

Presenting the most non-aggressive basketball players ever!

*  Some states, starting with Wyoming in 1869, had already written into state law the right of women to vote.  There was nothing in the US Constitution that did not allow women to vote, as voting rules were left up to each state.  By the time the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, most women living in the West already had the vote.  With the passage of the 19th amendment all states were required to allow women to vote.


Filed under Collecting, Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint

Vogue, December 15, 1915

I love vintage fashion magazines, and one of the things I love the most is the cover art.  From the 1910 and into the 1930s, covers were illustrations instead of photographs, with some of the best commercial artists of the times working for Harper’s Bazar, Vogue, and other fashion and women’s magazines.

The illustration above is by artist Helen Dryden who did many covers and inside illustrations for Vogue during the 1910s and early 1920s.  Dryden had been trained as a landscape artist, but gave it up for fashion and Conde Nast.  Later in life she turned to industrial design and worked designing decorative objects for the home, as well as car interiors.

But it is for images like the one here that Dryden is best remembered.  I love how the focus is on the lighting of the tree, even though there is a nod to the more commercial aspect of Christmas as you can see in the gifts scattered on the floor, in the background really.  But my favorite part is the dog, a feature that is not immediately noticed, but which adds so much to the feeling of the picture.

Contrast this 1915 cover with that of the 2014 December Vogue.  It is a photograph of the celebrity of the month, Amy Adams, wearing a sheer Valentino couture dress.  Out of the five headlines on the cover, three of them are about celebrities, including Kendell Jenner of the family formerly scorned by Anna Wintour (the Kardashian/Jenners), but now being praised to the hilt for their selling power.

To some degree Vogue has been about celebrity since it was first published in 1892.  This 1915 issue has article on the Ballet Russes, a feature on the latest stars in the theater, and photos of the latest society brides.  But the great majority of the editorial pages are all about fashion, exactly what one might hope to find in a fashion magazine.


Filed under Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint

The Designer, September, 1918

As this September, 1918 The Designer magazine was going to press, World War I was winding down in Europe.  The Allies had begun the Hundred Days Offensive, and the Germans were looking for a way out without total surrender.  At home, though, women continued to harvest the crops and to do other important jobs that were left vacant as male workers joined the armed forces.  Many women wore pants, in the form of farm overalls or certain uniforms, for the very first time.

I’m presently reading an advance copy of a book about the clothing of WWI, Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918, written by Nina Edwards.  Much of the information in the book is about dress in Britain, though Ms. Edwards includes information about clothing in Germany and the US and in the other participating countries.  It’s about so much more than clothing, and it paints a vivid picture of the hardships both at home and in the trenches.

WWI is now 100 years in the past, and that is a very long time. People who can actually remember the conflict are pretty much gone, and as for my own experience, the shared memories of my father and his contemporaries of WWII (which had ended only ten years before I was born) greatly overshadowed any tales I might have heard from a WWI soldier.  My grandfather and great uncles were of that magic age where they were too young for WWI, but too old for WWII.

So while WWII seems so real to a Baby Boomer like me, WWI seems so very long ago.  It is important to read books like Dressed for War, because the author drew heavily from the diaries and written records of people who experienced life during that horrible conflict.  We need to remember that wars are not just dates to memorize in history class.  It is from the stories of history that we can truly learn.

Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918 is being published by  I. B. Tauris, and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  Release date is December 31, 2014.


Filed under Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint

Charm, October, 1951

Charm, as the subtitle tells us, was a magazine geared toward the young career woman.  In 1951 a career woman was often an office worker or a nurse or a teacher.  Personally, I’d like to see this woman in a classroom.

Teacher fashion gets a very bad rap, often with good reason.  I’ve witnessed too many teachers wearing ill-fitting dowdy denim jumpers and baggy elastic waist knit pants.  And come October, schools are filled with adults wearing heavy orange sweaters liberally decorated with scarecrows, pumpkins, and if the community allows, ghosts and witches.  But that’s only the beginning, as there are sweaters for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and so on.

Teachers will tell you that the reason they dress like that is because the job necessitates that they be comfortable and look cheerful.  While that is true, it does not mean that sloppiness is requisite.  Whether or not they like it, teachers are strong sartorial role models.  Children notice what the teacher wears and they get a sense of how a professional  is supposed to dress from the woman or man standing in front of them every day.

It may sound as if I’m being over harsh in my assessment of how many teachers dress.  It’s only fair to point out that for every teacher who looks like a refugee from the Quacker Factory, there is another who dresses simply but professionally, like our cover girl.  A trim and neat sweater topping a pleated skirt or a pair of well fitting slacks with a scarf at the neck (brooch optional) makes a good school uniform for the teacher, and sets a high standard for the children to aim for in the future.

Of course, when I retired there were five black pleated shirts in my closet.


Filed under Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint

Mademoiselle, June, 1941

Even though this is the cover of a June issue, the photo reminds me more of this time of year.  The stores and magazines are now full of clothes for cold weather, but here in the South there will be at least another month of warm weather.  Women in the South (and the southern parts of the West) have long known to transition to autumn clothing slowly.  Put away the whites and the light pastels and rely on warm, golden colors in cottons.  Add a sweater on chilly mornings.  The coats won’t really come out of the closets until late November.

I finally had a chance to sit down and thumb through the massive Vogue September issue.  At 856 pages, this issue fell short of the 916 page record, but still it is heavy and bulky and full of things to buy.  It is another season of asking who in their right mind would wear a certain shoe, in this case a particularly ugly Dior model that looks like three different shoes were thrown into a blender and mishmashed together.

And while I didn’t sit and count the pages, it sure seems to me that most of the big fashion houses are really in the business of selling accessories.  For the most part, the shoes look ugly and difficult to wear, whereas handbags are generally sleeker and not as tricked out as in previous seasons.

But the only company whose ads really made me wish I had thousands to spend was Louis Vuitton.  The clothes have a nice uncluttered mod vibe, and there is a little handbag that is like a miniature Vuitton trunk.  There is also an article about the new designer at Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquiere.

Like I said, living in the South means that our clothes are lighter.  I have several coats, all vintage, none of which I wear more than a handful of times each season.  Maybe that is why I find the over-abundance of fur in Vogue so odd.  There were three editorial features on coats, and the majority of the ones shown were either made from fur or trimmed with it.  And many of the other features also had furs.  I don’t get the emphasis on a product that many women can’t wear because of their climate, and that many will not wear because they feel wearing fur is wrong.


I decided to add a photo of the ugly Dior shoes, taken from one of the many Dior ads in the Vogue September issue.  The pink part is actually molded rubber, like the sole of an athletic shoe, and the name “Dior” is embossed there near the heel.  Note also that the very tip of the black part is red, which extends under that cute little over-hang.  In some photos it looks like a tongue.  And finally, I do hope that heel is steel reinforced, as I can see that really narrow part snapping right off.


Filed under Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint

The American Magazine, June 1933

Pyjamas were the women’s pants of the early 1930s.  Worn only on the most casual of occasions, they are most associated with the beach or with sailing.  Today they are more commonly found than you might think, but they are highly prized by vintage wearers and collectors.  I have two pairs in my collection, but I’d love to have a matching set like this, with the pants, sun top, and jacket, not to mention the hat and sandals.


Filed under Too Marvelous for Words