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1970s Nautical Print Two Ways

This 1970s (or maybe late 1960s) dress and vest are a recent acquisition. I don’t buy a lot of stuff from this era, mainly because my holdings are already pretty robust in that era. I do have a few items on my 1970s wishlist, but that’s another story.

I bought this set purely because of the fabric. In spite of the fact that the USA was involved in a very unpopular war, people were looking forward to the 1976 bicentennial of our country. Those of us who lived through this period were aware of the strange mix of loathing what our government was doing in Vietnam, contrasted with the pride that America had actually made it 200 years.

So red, white, and blue, along with somewhat patriotic themes emerged in our clothing. Red, white, and blue had long been popular for summer attire, but the impending celebration made the color combo really trendy.

But historical analysis aside, that’s not why I bought this set. This is:

I already had this skort and halter top in my collection, and I just could not resist adding the matching pieces. Not that they were made in the same factory, as I am fairly certain they were not.

The skort set has a Montgomery Ward label. Montgomery Ward at this time was a lot like Sears or JCPenney, but the quality was not quite as high.

This size label is the only label in the dress set. Already you might have noticed that is might be an indication of quality. Cheaper manufacturers often used this type size label. And look at the huge size of the stitches. The longer the stitch, the less thread is used. It’s a typical cost-saving measure.

While the skort set has overlocked seams throughout, the dress seams are left unfinished. In a fabric this loosely woven, this can be a huge problem.

And, as you can see, it really is a problem. Even though this vest has never been washed, the seams are unraveling badly.

We tend to associate poorly made clothing as a modern problem, but not all clothing from the past was made to last either. Several washings and this vest would have been literally coming apart at the seams.

The use of the same fabric by two different manufacturers is interesting, but not uncommon. My guess is that this fabric was also available to home dressmakers. I can remember making clothes from a very similar fabric. My grandmother insisted that I pink the seams, and she was right. Otherwise I’d have had a stringy mess on my hands.

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Abercrombie & Fitch 1923 Catalog of Women’s Outdoor Wear

This catalog cover illustration is pretty, but it pales in comparison to the contents within. That’s because this is a fall 1923 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog of women’s “practical, serviceable, smart outdoor costumes.”

I sometimes run across A & F catalogs, but these are usually for sporting goods. I have a few of them, but one only needs so many catalogs of hunting and fishing gear, with only a page or two of women’s wear. So this was a very rare and lucky find.

In 1923 hemlines were creeping up toward the knee, and the goods from A & F reflect the trend. The clothing in the catalog are fashionable, but sporty. They are also expensive. The Brighton Cape Coat, one of my favorites, retailed for $225. In the 2022 dollar that would be $3921.

Imported tweeds (from Britain, not China) were prominently featured. And take a look at those shoes.

I love how the catalog gives the entire ensemble. A & F advertised that they could outfit the sportsman – or woman as in this case – from head to toe.

It is amazing that in 1923 they were still selling sidesaddle riding habits. Some customs are very hard to change.

In 1921 after a portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales wearing a Fair Isle sweater was painted, there was naturally a craze for Fair Isle sweaters, for both men and women. The look was perfect for golf.

Women had been wearing cardigans for sometime, but that garment really caught on in the 1920s. Notice how this catalog uses the term sweater and the British word jumper interchangeably.

A few dresses were included, all made from jersey.

The hats (and gloves and stockings and shoes…) were also sold at Abercrombie & Fitch. Finding great 1920s sports hats has been a challenge. It seems that only the fancy survived.

These three brochures were found separately, enclosed in a 1933 magazine I bought at a different time and place. A & F must have done a lot of mail order business.

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Wilkes Heritage Museum

Recently, while on the way to somewhere else, we stopped at the Wilkes Heritage Museum in North Wilkesboro, NC. I have always loved local history museums because I just never know what treasure I will find within. And since volunteering at a local house museum, I have become really interested in what works at this type museum, and what doesn’t.

And of course, I am most interested in clothing and textiles. On this account, the Wilkes Heritage Museum did not disappoint. Most exhibit rooms had clothing of some type, and there was a room devoted entirely to clothing. Many of the garments were worn by local people, with some of the exhibit notes telling the story of the wearer. I found this to be quite effective.

But many of the garments were not interpreted in any way. They were just old clothes. The museum seems to be blessed with dress forms on which to show the clothes. Unfortunately, most of them were not the proper size, and could have benefited from layers of poly batting to fill out the garment. That said, I give them a B- because of the variety of clothing, and the effort to show them.

There were some men’s garments and accessories as well. I’ve noticed that when it comes to men’s attire in these museums, it’s usually special objects or formal wear. This hat and cane belonged to Dr. A.J Eller. A native of Wilkes County, he got his medical education in Baltimore. He returned to Wilkes County where he practiced medicine and was active in civic affairs.

This photo is not clothing related in any way, but it is just too interesting to omit. In the days before big pharma came to control our medical lives, people in the mountains gathered wild plant products which they sold to drug companies. It was one of the few ways some families had to obtain cash.

Like most counties in North Carolina, Wilkes was home to several textile manufacturing companies. This is a rib knitting machine, but most knitters look very similar. This one was originally powered by water.

If you are a NASCAR fan, you know about the racing heritage of Wilkesboro. Many of the early drivers got their start by running moonshine. Someone got the idea that racing for money was a better bet than running shine, which often led to stints in jail. An industry was born.

This crew uniform was worn in the 1960s by Lane Lovette, whose family was friends with driver Junior Johnson. The sponsor was Holly Farms, a major processor of chicken. The chicken business is still in operation, but is owned by Tyson.

This dress and bonnet belonged to Martha Holbrook Valentine, who was born in 1842. She was of mixed heritage, probably Cherokee, White, and Black. When she was nine she was illegally indentured to a White family who had her declared an orphan. She was eventually able to escape and return home to her mother.

Rosalie Walding worn this beautiful cape to the North Carolina State Republican Convention in the 1930s.

I enjoyed seeing a swim cap in the clothing room.

Also in the clothing room were various uninterpreted garments.

There was an exhibit of Wilkes County suffragists. This sash did not look to be original, but there were no details on it nor on the dress.

This lovely blue dress and matching hat were worn by a local woman at her wedding in the 1920s.

And what would a local history museum be without a spinning wheel or two?

Part of the Wilkes Heritage Museum is self-guided, but there are two other historic buildings on the site that you can see with a docent. I’ve been on a lot of tours over the past six decades, but this was one of the best experiences ever. The guide was a college student who really knew his local history. His knowledge and presentation were truly stellar.

I’ve said this before, but if you have anything to offer to a local museum, please consider volunteering. In my experience, most of them are run by history enthusiasts who strive to accurately tell the story of their region. But no one knows everything about everything. It takes a team of people who want to share their knowledge in order to best present the story of the past.

I have also found that museums – large and small alike – are reliant on information provided to them by donors. A family may honestly think that a pair of black suede 1940s day shoes was worn with a 1920s blue silk wedding dress. If there is no one at the museum who knows fashion styles, then chances are the shoes end up being shown with the dress. And yes, that’s an actual example from a small museum, but I can also tell you about one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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Shelton House – The End Results

As you might know, I spent the past six months volunteering at a local historic house museum, Shelton House in Waynesville, NC. I had visited the house several years ago, noticed they had a small clothing collection, and decided to volunteer to work with it. As with everything else in our lives over the past two years, the pandemic got in the way. But this May the time was right, and so I went to work, cleaning, cataloging, and organizing .

Many of the items required no work at all. The collection has been well maintained, and so it was mainly with new acquisitions that I worked. There were quite a few white cotton items such as lingerie and lingerie dresses that had yellowed. A good, gentle cleaning brought them back to life.

This beaded silk 1920s dress had the usual wear one often sees in dresses of this type. The weight of the beading puts a lot of stress on the shoulders. While the silk had not shattered, there were some stress tears. I backed the shoulders and the top of the bodice with muslin to relieve the stress and stabilize the tears. When not on display, this dress will be stored flat to help preserve it.

The area of the museum devoted to clothing was originally a dressing room and bath, so it is a very small space. Built-in shelves and free-standing display cases make good use of the space. These shelves were crammed full when I started rearranging this room. I learned very quickly that it is better to show less than to have things all stuffed together.

Looking at this photo I realized that the boater hat needs to be moved to the men’s room. Yes, there is a bit of menswear as well, most of it formalwear.

There is quite a bit of lingerie, most of it white cotton. By studying the museum records, I was able to group the lingerie according to maker, as most of this was made and worn by local women. After spending time studying the pieces, I was able to identify the maker of each because of the techniques they used.

That 1920s teddy on the left was a favorite of mine. It looks complicated, but there are only two pattern pieces. The bodice is a long rectangle, and the skirt is a square. The rectangle is seamed to make a tube, The square has a large hole cut in the middle with the same circumference as the tube. The rectangle is joined to the hole, straps and a snap at the crotch are added. and a teddy is born.

This 1930s dress is also a favorite. I spent a lot of time with it, reconstructing the shoulder area.

This display case was covered with white lingerie when I arrived. I very quickly realized that there was a lot of redundancy in the display. So after cleaning, about a third of the petticoats and camisoles were put into storage.

I do have one project to finish up this winter. This bodice is made of the most beautiful black silk, with the white yoke you see. Unfortunately the yoke is in poor condition, with shattering of the silk, and the delicate embellishment coming loose.

The museum also has the skirt, and so it is really worth it to stabilize the bodice. I was hoping to find a label in this piece because it is so fine, but unfortunately, the maker remains unidentified.

I can’t say how rewarding this experience was for me. It gave me a chance to use the skills I’ve developed through a lifetime of sewing and it taught me so much about how valuable our small museums are.

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Currently Reading: Enid, by Jeep Collins

It’s been a while since I did a book review. It’s not that I haven’t been reading, as of course I have been. I read constantly. Enid was the fifty-second book I’ve read this year, many of them rereads of books on my shelves. Some of them I wrote reviews for years ago.

Eleven years ago I was lucky to interview Jeep Collins, the son of handbag designer and maker Enid Collins. If you have spent any time at all looking at vintage goods, you know about her handbags. What began as a way to generate extra income on her family’s Texas ranch grew into major fashion business in South Texas.

Last year Jeep published Enid, His mother’s story, and the story of her handbags. It’s also the story of his father, Frederic, and that of the couple’s two children, Jeep and Cynthia. The story actually begins with Frederic, who was a metal crafter. Money was scarce on the ranch in the late 1940s so he began casting sculpture and small metal pieces to sell. The couple came upon the idea of making leather handbags that were embellished with Frederic’s metal pieces.

After these handbags began to sell, Enid thought up new designs, such as screen printed linen bags trimmed with leather. Then she began to embellish her designs with plastic “jewels”. By 1960 they were also making screen printed and embellished wooden boxbags. The handbags, under the name Collins of Texas were being sold in stores across the US.

As a person who loves a great personal narrative, this book really hit the mark. At times the timeline of the company was a bit confusing, but Jeep included lots of documentation with footnotes that included dates. So from Enid’s own letters we learn when certain designs were made, and how the business developed chronologically.

Some of the most enlightening passages in the book concerned the other products that were made by Collins of Texas. This leather belt is a good example as it incorporated Frederic’s metalwork for the fastener. The company also made items from papier mache for a short time in the late 1960s.

Enid is a great resource for collectors of her work, and for people like me who love the stories of how these iconic products came to be. Like many personal histories, this book would benefit from an index. There are also few photographs showing the actual bags, though I imagine Jeep figured that most people who were interested in this story would already be familiar with the various styles of bags.

If you are interested in this book, the best place to buy it is directly from Jeep’s website. I do want to mention that Jeep is a deeply committed Christian, and he talks about his faith quite a bit. He doesn’t preach to the reader, but you need to be aware of the religious references.

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1963 AMF Bowling Shoes

I’ve had these cute bowling shoes for some time. I thought they were pretty fashionable for bowling shoes, which, honestly, tend to be a bit dowdy, and also a bit hard to place a date on. To me these looked like any other stylish early 1960s shoe, so that’s how I labeled them.

Once again I’ve gotten lucky with my new stash of old magazines. Interestingly, I found this ad in the same November, 1963 Seventeen as I spotted the White Stag set I posted about a few weeks ago. It confirmed what I thought about the shoes – that they dated to the early 1960s, and that they were more fashionable than the average bowling shoe.

“AMF presents a brilliant new Fashion Line of accessories. Bowling bags and shoes that coordinate beautifully with “Magic Line” balls.”

Of course that means I’ll be on the lookout for the matching bag. I’ll probably pass on the ball though.

And while my shoes are really great, I don’t think anything can top those leopard print shoes and bag.

My shoes have the AMF logo printed inside. I had no idea that AMF stood for American Machine and Foundry.

You can’t see in the ad the great detail of how the black cord is woven through little cutout circles.

It’s always nice to have one’s thoughts regarding date validated by a primary source. When the internet first started gathering like-minded vintage sellers and collectors together, I had a touch of imposter syndrome. Even though I had been buying and collecting old clothes for years, it seemed like everyone else knew more than I did. It took a while before I became confident enough to confidently post my opinions in public. I no longer suffer doubts, but it’s still a good feeling seeing proof in black and white.

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Happy Birthday to Juli Lynne Charlot

In honor of Juli Lynne’s 100th birthday, I am republishing the results of the 2010 interview I had with her.

 Most vintage collectors know Charlot as the designer of some of the very best and most clever skirts to come out of the 1950s.  But there’s more to Juli Lynne than just decorated skirts.

Juli Lynne didn’t set out to be a clothing designer; she had a beautiful voice and studied for the opera.  Along the way she sang with Xavier Cugat’s orchestra, was soprano with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company, and played straight “man” to the Marx Brothers while performing at military bases during WWII.

As a performer, Juli Lynne had strong ideas about how she wanted to look.  She designed her stage wardrobe even though she could not sew.  She hired a professional dressmaker to bring her designs to life.

As the war came to a close, Juli Lynne met and married Philip Charlot.  She gave up performing to be a post-war wife.  In 1947 two seemingly unrelated events came together to start her career in fashion.  First, fashion changed dramatically with the New Look.  WWII fabric restrictions were lifted and hemlines dropped and skirts got full.

About the same time, Philip Charlot lost his job.  Juli Lynne was a young woman who wanted to be in fashion but she had no money for the new styles.  So she decided to make her own skirt for Christmas that year.  Since she could not sew, she got some felt.  It was the only fabric wide enough to cut a full circle skirt without making seams.  Fortunately, her mother owned a factory which used felt, so she had a free source of it.  Juli Lynne added some Christmas motif appliques and the result was so attractive that she made three more which she took to a Beverly Hills boutique.  The store put them on the floor, and they quickly sold.  The store reordered.

After Christmas the store requested a non-holiday design.  They figured that dogs were popular so it was suggested that Juli Lynne make a dog-themed skirt.  She came up with the idea of three dachshunds: two females and a male.  The first dog was a flirty girl, the seconds one was a girl with her nose stuck in the air, and the third was the male who was trying to get to the flirty girl.  But all the leashes became intertwined so the boy dog could only get to the stuck up girl.

The boutique loved the skirt and then requested a similar one with poodles.   And so the iconic poodle skirt was born.  Within a short time the president of Bullocks Wilshire called Juli Lynne.  He had seen the dog skirts and he wanted her to do skirts for Bullocks.  Not only that, he gave her the windows on Wilshire Boulevard to decorate with her skirts.  She did a series of six designs for the windows.

Before long, Juli Lynne had orders from all over the country – Stanley Marcus at Neiman Marcus in Texas and Andrew Goodman at Bergdorf Goodman were early customers.  By the time Juli Lynne was 24, she had a clothing factory and 50 employees.  She decided it was time to learn to sew and so she started design school.  She was so busy that she didn’t have time for the classes, so she quit, and then hired her sewing teacher.  She learned how to sew on the job from this teacher turned employee.

One thing that made Juli Lynne Charlot skirts special was that, like the first dog skirts, they told a story.  Juli Lynne wanted her clothing to be conversation starters.  She made sure that the stores buying her clothes knew the stories behind the skirts so they could tell them to the customers.

Summer design from 1954

To go with her skirts, Juli Lynne made matching bustiers, stoles, boleros, halter tops and sweaters, and there were hats and handbags decorated to match the clothes (this was the 1950s, remember!)  The factory also did custom work, as it did for Madeleine Haskell, magician’s assistant.  In 1952, Leading Designer Patterns, a mail order pattern company, released one of her designs.

Photo copyright Madeleine Haskell

Although she is best known for her wonderful full skirts, Juli Lynne has had other clothing enterprises in her long life.  Her last design venture started with a trip to Mexico in 1980.  While there Juli Lynne fell in love with the classic Mexican wedding dress.  She decided to do up-dated variations on this dress, bought a manufacturing plant in Mexico City to produce them and began exporting the dresses around the world.  Everything was going well until the Mexico City Earthquake of 1985.  Her factory collapsed, and though she tried getting her dresses made in New York, it was too expensive and so the business was lost.

Today Juli Lynne still lives in Mexico and is working on her memoirs.  Now that’s a book I’ll gladly buy!

All the photos of Juli Lynne are copyright Juli Lynne Charlot

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