Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Brown Building, Location of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

New York is so full of large, overwhelming buildings that it is easy to pass right by one without realizing its historic significance.  Such is the case with the Brown Building, which is part of the New York University campus and is located near the eastern edge of Greenwich Village.  Had I been there 104 years ago today, I would have been at the site of a tragedy, that of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.

It’s hard to imagine the scene where 146 died needlessly because there were few laws to ensure the safety of workers, and those that were in place were often ignored.  But all that changed as the fire raised awareness of the poor working conditions in the city’s many factories and sweatshops.  A public that had formerly been apathetic toward poor workers, and in many cases even antagonistic toward them, now clearly saw that changes had to be made.

It probably helped that the factory was located only a block from the affluent Washington Square neighborhood.  Many people were out and about on that Saturday afternoon and witnessed the tragedy firsthand.

I’m not going to retell the story of what happened that day, but I strongly recommend watching the American Experience  episode that not only tells the story, but also explains the significance of the aftermath.

I think it is interesting that the Brown Building is still in existence.  The fire gutted much of the factory which was located on the top three floors, but much of the structure was left unharmed.  At any rate, I can imagine that if this happened today the building would be razed.

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Ad Campaign – I. Miller Shoes, 1930s

I. Miller gives you summer shoes in color taken from the new flower prints.

On to the American Summer scene of glamorous clothes walk  I. Miller shoes in vibrant flower colors.  Nature’s hues selected with the I. Miller genius for color…for costume relationship. 1937

Israel Miller was the son of a Polish (some sources say Prussian) shoemaker who immigrated to the USA in the 1890s.  He obtained work as a cobbler with John Azzimonti,  an Italian immigrant who was making shoes for the theater.  According to an issue of the Boot and Shoe Recorder, actress Sarah Bernhardt once ordered 244 pairs of boots at one time.  When Azzimonti closed the shoe making business in 1909, his customers put in orders for up to thirty pairs.

They need not have worried about obtaining quality shoes, as Azzimonti’s former employee, Israel Miller was already making shoes and would establish I. Miller by 1911.  His operation was moved to a building near the corner of Broadway and 46th Street, which is in the theater district.  He was soon leasing the two brownstone buildings on the corner, and business was so good that in 1926 he bought both buildings and began renovations that would unify them into a single unit.

The resulting building is seen above,  but in 1926 the statues in the niches were not yet in place.  The next year it was announced that statues of four show women would be chosen to represent the arts of drama, comedy, opera, and movies.  The public was even invited to vote for their favorites, the winners being Ethel Barrymore, Marilyn Miller, Rosa Ponselle, and Mary Pickford.  The statues were made by A. Stirling Calder, the father of Alexander Calder of mobile fame.

Unfortunately Israel Miller did not live to see the unveiling of the completed building.  He died in Paris of a heart attack several months before the October, 1929 unveiling.

 

The Broadway side of the building was quite different from the elegant 46th Street facade.  There were pre-existing billboard leases on that side, and so even in the early days of the store, much of the Broadway facade was given over to advertising.  Today, the main entrance is on Broadway, as that is where most of the traffic is, but when this was a store store to the stars, they entered through 46th Street.

I. Miller shoes closed sometime in the 1970s and the building was bought in 1978 by Riese Restaurants, who ran a TGIFriday restaurant there for several decades.  By the late 1990s Riese was saying the store front would be restored, and though they applied for and were granted landmark status, nothing ever came of it.  Eventually the TGIFriday restaurant was closed, and the building taken over by the Express clothing company.

When I visited New York City in August, 2013, I went by to see the building and was dismayed to see it scaffolded over. In New York that could mean anything from restoration to a complete redoing of the building.  To their great credit, as Express readied the interior of the building  for retail, the exterior was renovated to its former glory.

The four statues had to be removed and restored as they were in terrible condition.  Chunks of marble on the building had to be repaired, the bronze was polished, and the entire facade was given a good cleaning.  Today it is one of the best reminders of what shopping in New York City was like in the early and mid 20th century.

When I first read of the shoe store several years ago it struck me as odd that there would be such an elegant store in a part of the city that was not (at that time, anyway) a shopping district.  A little reading about the subject informed me that this was only one of I. Miller’s stores.  The main store was located on Fifth Avenue, and there were two other New York City branches.  Nationwide there were 228 branch stores and several factories.

The mode for black is charmingly met in.. Monograin silk by I. Miller

As all femininity fares forth in Black, Monograin becomes the overwhelming fashion favorite for wear with the new autumn hats, gloves and handbags of this subtly-woven silk.  1930

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Word of the Week

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Sleeves

I’d like to report some good news from New York. After years of little besides sleeveless styles, this spring there is an abundance of short sleeves. It’s almost too much to believe that designers might actually be listening to older consumers. I first noticed all the sleeves on the designer floors of Saks,  but I’m betting there will be a trickle – down effect.

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Ladies Home Journal, March, 1945

I’ve been wanting a good snow, but since nature has not provided me with one, I’ve had to rely on the snows of Instagram friends and those of vintage illustrations.  This one from 1945 is a favorite.  I love the icy blue of the matching mother-daughter outfits along with the touches of red in the gloves and tassels (and cheeks and lettering).  Even their wind-blown blond hair matches.

 

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Month in Review, December 2014

In looking back at December’s photos, I’m really amazed at how many of them are concerned with Christmas.  All that color and sparkle are impossible to ignore, I suppose.

I took the top photo while window shopping in downtown Asheville.  It wasn’t until later that I noticed the reflection of my husband.

This is the top of a vintage sewing box I found a few years ago.  It’s covered in a Grandma Moses print barkcloth.

I made the short version of this skirt pattern from the fabric shown.  I had to lighten the photo to show the plaid, and the fabric is much nicer in person.  I’ll show off the project next week.

We are celebrating at Wicket Weed Brewery in Asheville.

And speaking of weed, I dumped the contents of a thrift store pattern out onto my table and this rolled out of the bottom of the envelope.  Who knew that those envelopes were a good hiding place for one’s joints? (Said joint has been properly disposed of, and I do not mean that it was smoked.)

This is the edge of a pretty 1920s table runner that is in my possession.

This label was found in a pair of 1920s women’s hiking boots.  I’m glad I already have a similar pair, because otherwise I’d have paid a lot of money just to own this label.

I was honored with a mention in the last edition of Worn magazine.

A small taste of our Christmas tree reveals flying angels and Scotties.

And finally, here is a young man who knows how to really celebrate.  He was in the local supermarket on Christmas Eve with his friends, who oddly enough were not dressed in their boxers on the outside of their pants.  After I asked to take his photo, his friends teased that he was going to end up all over the internet, and he replied, “Where I belong!”  I love a good attitude and playful spirit.

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Goodbye to Worn Fashion Journal

For the past seven years or so I’ve looked forward to the twice-a-year delivery of the best, most insightful, and entertaining fashion magazine on the market.  Worn Fashion Journal was an independently published magazine from Canada.  Over their ten years of publication everything from buttons to fashion museums was covered, always with an eye to the cultural and historical aspects of the subject.

I had already learn of the magazine’s closing when I was contacted by writer Madeleine Cummings.  She was working on an article about how feminism figured into the evolution of the gymsuit, and she wanted to know more about my collection of the garment.  I’m always happy to talk about vintage sportswear.

The article is very good, and I’m pleased to say that the bit where I talk about my collection is exactly as the conversation with Madeleine went.  I’m always a bit wary of interviews, as the things one says are not always stated in the same way once they make it to print.  That was not the case with Worn.  After Madeleine submitted her article, I was contacted by an editor at Worn to make sure all the facts were correct.  That had never happened before, and I was impressed with the standards this publication had set for itself.

Back issues are still available on the Worn website, but the best way to get a good taste of what Worn was all about is to order the Worn Archive book.

Probably my favorite content in the final issue (not counting the gymsuit article, of course) was a feature titled “A completely Random Glossary From A to Z.”  The entry for K is “Kitty Foyle Dress, and the one for T is “Toggle.”  Completely random, but also completely engrossing.

I wish all the people at Worn Fashion Journal the best.  Thanks for making the world of fashion journalism a whole lot more interesting.

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Waist Management: A History of Unmentionables

The Fashion History Museum has a newly opened exhibition at the  Peel Art Gallery Museum in Brampton, Ontario,  Waist Management  It’s all about how undergarments have been used to help women achieve a fashionable silhouette, something that is apparent in just one photo from the display.

A while back I wrote about selling items from my collection and how I’d do it only if I were convinced that the person wanting an item wanted it more than I.  The truth is I’ve also been known to actually give things away if I know someone needs it.

Back in the very early days of Ebay I was smart enough (actually that would be lucky enough) to buy a bit of the lingerie line that Emilio Pucci designed for Formfit Rogers.  At the time it was considered to be a poor alternative to the wonderful silk jersey vintage Puccis that were already getting nice ending prices on the auction site, but the lingerie was cheap and so I bought a few miscellaneous pieces.

After the onslaught of fast fashion made of tissue paper thin poly, the thin nylon Formfit Puccis soared in price.  They were seen not only as wearable clothing, but gained deserved respect as a part of fashion history.

Several months ago I was mindlessly browsing the site I love to hate, Pinterest, and noticed that the Fashion History Museum had begun posting parts of the collection.  In their lingerie section was a Pucci Formfit Rogers matching bra and girdle.  I was pretty sure I had a matching piece, and a quick look through my catalog revealed that I did have a matching robe.

I emailed Jonathan at the museum to ask if he would like to have my piece for the museum’s collection, and of course he did.  I sent it off along with another donation and an ad that showed that this design dates to 1969.

I was delighted to get the photo in my inbox last night.  Knowing that something I had accumulated is now being used to educate others about fashion history is a great feeling.

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