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The Fabric of a Town, Fountain Inn, South Carolina

I recently met friend Liza in the little town of Fountain Inn, SC. We were there to see an exhibition at the local museum, The Fabric of a Town: What We Wore from 1860 – 1960. Neither of us had ever been to Fountain Inn, which is just a few minutes south of Greenville, so we didn’t know what to expect. Small, local museums like the Fountain Inn Museum try very hard, but resources are slim, and there’s a lot of making do with what one has.

That said, we were delighted with what we found in Fountain Inn. The director of the museum, Kenzie Galloway, wanted to do a clothing exhibition, but the museum’s collection did not have enough garments to put on a good show, so she reached out to long-time members of the community and asked for loans of their clothes, and those of deceased family members. The result was a well thought out exhibition, with every piece a part of the story of the town.

This is not just a clothing exhibition; it is a collection of the stories of the people who are Fountain Inn. The wearer of each item is identified, any there are short stories about the wearers presented through the exhibition space. With the exception of exhibitions that feature the clothing of one person, you just seldom get this type of provenance.
Another advantage of this type of show is that you usually can get a good, close-up look. We were especially lucky because Kenzie walked through the exhibition with us, telling us even more about how she planned the show, assembled the garments, and recorded the stories.
This dress was one of my favorites, partly because it is so pretty, but mainly because of the woman who wore it. Emmie Stewart was in her mid thirties when she agreed to marry town dentist Doc Fulmer, provided he built them a large house and that he did not expect more than one child.
The dress was bought after the wedding and was Emmie’s afternoon receiving gown.
As you can see, she got the house and the one little boy.
This garment appears to me to be a dressing jacket, or a combing jacket. There is a matching corselet and petticoat (or skirt). It was made by one of the Mock sisters, Mattie and Maggie who were born in the 1860s. Both were accomplished seamstresses, which you will see once you know that the eyelets were all hand embroidered.
The sisters never married and lived together until Maggie died in 1940.
There are also men’s garments in the exhibition. This is a class coat from Furman College (now University) worn by Fred Wood. Fred graduated from Furman in 1930.

Furman’s college colors are white and purple, and the use of them has been traced to the early 1890s. My guess that the use of light blue and black for Fred’s coat indicate this was his class’s colors, which were different from the college colors.

And yes, there was a bit of sportswear, including this circa 1915 swimming tunic and bathing shoes. Unfortunately the bloomers were missing.
And there was this perfectly charming 1960s Jantzen swimsuit with matching cover-up or blouse.
Jantzen and Catalina made a lot of these matching sets in the 1950s and early 60s. It was fun to see a set that has remained together.
This is a beautifully preserved wedding gown from 1942. It was made by Carolyn White’s mother for Carolyn’s wedding to Luther White. Note the painting. This is Carolyn’s self-portrait of herself wearing her gown.
The display includes the sewing pattern!
You really can’t take us anywhere. Liza thought the veil was obscuring the beauty of the neckline. She was right.
A big challenge to small museums in displaying clothes is that mannequins and dress forms greatly enhance the way the garment looks, but these are not always available. Some of the plainer garments were hung on padded hangers, which pretty much worked. But some of the garments were much too fragile to hang and so were put in display cases. In the case of this late 1800s dress, there was no way it could have been displayed any way except flat. The silk is disintegrating, as you can see. It’s a shame, as this was a lovely dress.
This dress sparked a lively conversation about the stories that are often attached by family members to heirlooms. According to the story this dress was worn to a garden party in 1925. I’m not saying the story is not true, but if it is the wearer must have felt dreadfully out-of-date and overdressed.
There was a bassinette full of cute little baby things. Gwen Walton’s little feet wore these beautifully crocheted slippers.

I want to congratulate Kenzie for a job well done! The exhibition is running until July 30, 2021, so there is still time to see it if you are in the Greenville area.

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Jantzen 1936 Style Book

Jantzen is one of those companies that seemed to get things right from the very beginning. It was established in 1910 by Carl Jantzen and John and Roy Zehntbauer as the Portland Knitting Company, with their products being woolen sweaters and accessories. The founders were active in rowing, and in 1913, they designed wool knit trunks for members of their team. From there a one-piece men’s bathing suit was designed. By 1915 bathing suits became their main product, and the name of the company was changed to Jantzen.

The three owners were also avid swimmers, so they worked on the knit until it was good for swimming and not just splashing about in the water. In 1921 the team at Jantzen began marketing their suits as swimming suits instead of bathing suits. By then Jantzen suits were being marketed to both men and women, and their famous diving girl logo had been designed.

The Jantzen story is well-documented. The company advertised heavily and they also released catalogs for both retail and wholesale. I have a fair collection of them, mainly from the 1950s, so I was glad to get this earlier one.

Unlike some companies, Jantzen maintained an archive even after the original families sold the business. They have not only a nice collection of Jantzen swimsuits, but catalogs, artwork, and copies of the in-house magazine, Jantzen Yarns.

My 1936 catalog has this nifty color chart. Color can be an important clue when determining the age of a vintage piece. Colors, like everything else in fashion, come and go.
The 1930s brought a lot of changes to swimsuit fashion. The wool knit suit was still pretty much standard for suits, but makers were always looking for ways to make them fit better. They were much more form-fitting than 1920s suits, just as 1930s dresses were more fitted than the dresses of that decade.

The Take-Off model came with a removable skirt that doubled as a cape. The straps could be adjusted for three different looks.

The two-piece suit was making its appearance.
“Maximum exposure”
Changes were also coming to men’s swimsuits. In 1932 Jantzen introduced the Topper, in which the top could be removed from the trunks by way of a zipper. This was considered very risque in some areas.
By 1936 some men were doing away with the top and just sporting trunks. But for more conservative tastes, Jantzen still made the old-fashioned one-piece.
Things got really cute with kids’ suits.

Jantzen developed several textured knits, like the Kava knit seen throughout this catalog. Lastex thread had been invented and marketed starting in 1931, but it took swimsuit makers a few years before they fully embraced the new (and improved) technology.

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1970s Charlie Chaplin Beach Towel

In the past I have written about the early 1970s nostalgia craze. Retailers were quick to catch on, and so it was easier to buy a shirt decorated with the face of Little Orphan Annie than it was to find one featuring current rock stars. One favorite was Charlie Chaplin.

I’ve dated this towel to circa 1973. In that year one could also buy a sweater with Chaplin’s face, and if you had acted very quickly before the product was pulled from the market due to copyright issues, you could buy a Whiting & Davis mesh handbag. 1973 seems to be the year that Chaplin made a comeback. It was the year after he had been awarded an honorary Oscar for his ground-breaking work in film, so he must have been on people’s minds.

It almost seems like there are two types of vintage beach towels. There are the very thin, brightly colored towels with printed beach scenes. I’m betting most of these were actually sold in gift stores and beach shops at the coast (Anyone else remember the fabulous Gay Dolphin store in Myrtle Beach? It’s still open!) I have several of these, dating from the 1950s through the 70s.

The other type is like my Charlie Chaplin towel. It’s thick and full, and the design is woven in rather than printed onto the terrycloth.

Royal Terry International was one of the trademarks of Barth & Dreyfuss of California. The company was an importer, mainly of household and novelty towels. Being made in Brazil, this was one of the first wave of imports that led to the eventual collapse of towel manufacturing in the USA.

That RN number on the label proved to be the key to the company that produced the towel. There is an online database where you can type in the number, and it tells you who owned the label. It’s a handy little tool.

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Currently Listening to: Haptic and Hue

A report came out several weeks ago about how the pandemic saved podcasting. It seems as if podcast growth had slowed until people with more time to listen and more people with time to record, discovered the medium.

I love the idea of the podcast, but the sad truth is that so many of the ones I’ve tried to listen to just don’t work (at least for me) for various reasons. Some times the production quality is so poor that it’s impossible to hear. One podcast I’ve followed for years has shifted focus from fashion history to modern fashion issues. And another is hard to follow because the hosts spend so much time laughing and I feel like I’ve been left out of the joke.

Maybe that’s why I’m so happy to have discovered Haptic and Hue. The podcaster is Jo Andrews, who is also a handweaver. But the topics go far beyond weaving. Jo covers textiles of all types. And I’m really impressed with the professional nature of the podcast. Jo manages to be conversational without being silly, serious without being stuffy.

You can listen on any podcasting app, or if that’s not your thing, all the episodes are on Jo’s website. There are photos that illustrate each episode, and best of all, a written transcript. That’s great because some of Jo’s guests are French and their English is sometimes hard to follow.

While Haptic and Hue has a very polished, professional feel, I don’t think that’s entirely necessary in order for a podcast to be effective. The best example is Bande à Part, which is a weekly telephone conversation between friends Rebecca Arnold and Beatrice Behlen. Rebecca teaches fashion at The Courtauld, and Beatrice is fashion curator at the Museum of London. Their conversations run the whole range of fashion and arts topics. They are always fun.

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What Lurks Beneath

I posted a photo of this poster on Instagram, along with a plea for followers to encourage me to buy it. I left it in the antique store where I spotted it, but I could not forget about it. So a month later I decided to go back to the store, and if the poster was still there, I would buy it. And so I did

Not only is this a great piece of sports ephemera, it’s a bit of Asheville history. According to my mother, everyone roller skated in the 1940s, and so the Skateland Rollerdrome was opened in 1946 to capitalize from the fad. The craze faded, and the rink was closed in 1962, The building was converted to a music venue in the late 1960s, first as the Jade Club, and later as the Orange Peel. Both clubs were mainly R & B, and later, Soul, and the clientele came mainly from the nearby Black community. But being the Seventies, the club was not segregated, and White music lovers crowded in to see nationally known acts like The Commodores. By 1980 the (Almighty) Orange Peel had closed, along with everything else in downtown Asheville. But the late 1990s brought a revitalization, and in 2002, the Orange Peel was reborn.

So I bought the poster and brought it home. I knew that antique frame was not the right fit for a mid-century poster. An examination of the poster in the frame showed that it was mounted on some questionable paper, and needed to be removed.

The back showed some interesting mounting, including some tape and corrugated cardboard. It was all going to have to go.

But then came the big surprise.

Between the cardboard and the poster was this early twentieth century portrait. Unfortunately, there was nothing at all written on the back, so I have no clue as to who she might be. What a shame!
At any rate, the portrait is a much better fit for the frame, which has, unfortunately, been painted with blue enamel with a dark overglaze. Still, it’s a lovely portrait which did not deserve to be hidden away. I’ll not be keeping the frame and the portrait. I’m donating them to a local animal rescue group that runs a thrift store with an area for collectibles. I hope she goes to a good home.

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Currently Viewing and Reading – Halston

Netflix has a new bio-pic on the life of Halston, and I watched it so you don’t have to. Actually, you might want to watch it anyway, just make sure your expectations are appropriate. Let me explain.

Anyone who has ever watched a movie or program “based on” the life of a historical figure already knows that the truth is not the first matter of consideration. Probably the nuttiest example I can think of is the series of mini-films Karl Lagerfeld made on the life of Coco Chanel. These were, of course, long-play commercials meant to bolster the Chanel myth. The scenes were highly contrived.

In the same manner, I found Halston to be contrived, especially the first episode. We get a short look at Roy Halston Frowick’s miserable childhood, in which the Iowa farmboy is inspired by a handful of chicken feathers to make his mother a hat to soothe her feelings after a violent confrontation with his father. This sets the stage for inspiration after inspiration, all highly contrived, in a Forrest Gump sort of way.

Raindrops on a ruined suede coat lead to Halston’s adoption of Utlrasuede (which the scrip insinuates Halston invented. Not so). A chance encounter with a mirror post-shower leads to Halston’s signature sweptback hair style. The inspirations are never-ending. Liza Minelli even tells Halston at one point that inspiration is going to find him. And so it does, and does, and does.

One advantage that bio-pics often have over documentaries is the ability to make the subject more human and relatable. But as Ed Austin, Halston’s longtime boyfriend said, after years of being with Halston he didn’t know him. The same can be said for the viewers of this mini-series. Three hours later, and I had no sense of who Halston actually was, beyond a lot of drugs and sex and temper tantrums. I found Ewan MacGregor’s portrayal of Halston to be unsympathetic, and that’s a shame. Several years ago I attended a talk by his niece Leslie Frowick who showed him to be a caring and thoughtful uncle. One dimensional characters always look shallow.

So I did what any inquiring mind does. I reread a book, in this case the book on which the program was based, Simply Halston by Steven Gaines. Gaines had the advantage of writing his book soon after Halston’s death in 1990 so he was able to interview most of the major players in Halston’s life. He had actually met Halston, and had written a book on Studio 54.

Simply Halston is a sad story of a man who had everything he ever wanted, and yet had so little that made him happy. Heavy drug use along with unprotected sex in the time of HIV, combined with poor business decisions destroyed his talent, his ambition, his business, and ultimately, his life.

So why would anyone want to see this program? Watch it for the clothes and Elsa Peretti’s jewelry, both of which are glorious. Some of the garments in the show are vintage Halston, while others are careful reproductions. It’s a Seventies fashion fest!

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Vintage Miscellany – May 18, 2021

This young woman may look like she’s having a carefree day at the beach, but actually she is working. She’s a model and this is a professional photograph, made for the arcade card trade. I love it because the emphasis is not on the bathing suit, but on the girl’s happy attitude. And the accessories.

And now for what’s new…

  • I love that dress designer Ann Lowe is finally getting recognition. I hate that every article introduces her as the maker of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress.
  • Always over-contextualized, the Met has announced the next exhibition of the Costume Institute.
  • Here’s a great profile of Helen Uffner, owner of the last large costume rental shop in New York.
  • Designer Alber Elbaz died of Covid-19 in April.
  • In 1887 Hannah Ditzler Alspaugh started a scrapbook of fabric swatches from her clothing.
  • The plea for pockets continues.
  • Why should museums be de-colonized?
  • Do the clothing brands you buy from share your values?
  • The Jane Austen Society of North America, Southwest Region has posted a presentation on 18th century shoes on their Youtube channel.
  • You probably have heard about the biopic based on Halston’s life. It’s currently showing on Netflix. Ewan McGregor plays Halston, and he actually took dressmaking lessons in preparation for the role. I’ll have a review of the miniseries up later this week.

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