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College-Maid, from the Girls at Maryville College

A recent acquisition is this cute little 1920s blouse with an interesting back-story. It wasn’t so much the blouse that sold me on this piece, but rather, the label.

This one ticked several boxes: women’s college related, somewhat local to me, and after digging a bit, sportswear related. And the Deco-ish embroidery didn’t hurt a bit. So what’s the story?

Maryville College is one of the fifty oldest colleges in the country, being founded in 1819 as a Presbyterian seminary. From the beginning the school was racially integrated, until it was forced to segregate in 1901. It began admitting women in the 1860s, and in 1875 granted the first degree to a women in Tennessee. By the 1920s there were more women than men in the college, probably because it offered degrees in education.

In 1921 (or 1920, according to one source) home economics teacher Kathryn McMurray devised a plan to help girls who were not able to afford their college fees to stay in school. She set up a sewing enterprise where students made simple garments that were then sold under the label “College-Maid”. The program started with ten girls, but three years later more than 400 girls were earning money to help pay for their education.

Several types of garments were made by the students. One was the apron, which is the champion of beginning sewing projects. I also found references to house dresses and work dresses, but best of all, by 1926 they were making two-piece pajamas. I am quite sure that my blouse is actually a pajama top.

Ms. McMurray traveled around the country, encouraging women’s organizations and department stores to sell College-Maid products. Women’s groups would have what we today would call pop-up shops to sell the garments for the college. Some department stores advertised the goods as late as 1934. A dress cost $1.95 at that time.

Several years ago I found some pages from a photo album belonging to a Maryville College student.

Ruth, Gert, Mae and Eva had lots of adventures. I can’t help but wonder if any of them worked making College-Maid garments.

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Alice Marble Tennis Dress, Circa 1940

I purchased this circa 1940 tennis dress for several reasons. First, I love labels that sport the name of a star in the sport. Today the practice is ubiquitous, but in the first half of the Twentieth Century, the practice was new. Alice Marble is not exactly a household name today, but she was tennis’s hottest woman star in the late 1930s.

I bought the dress even though it is not complete. There was very likely a matching belt and panties, both of which are missing. But the style was quite nice, I loved the label, and the price was right, so I added it to my collection.

At the time I knew very little about Marble, except that she dominated women’s tennis in the late 1930s. It turns out that she was much more than just a tennis champion.

I recently read tennis star Althea Gibson’s autobiography, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody. In it she talks about how she watched Alice play an exhibition match around 1940, and how Alice became an important supporter later on:

“… I had no way of knowing then that, when the time came for me to be up for an invitation to play at Forest Hills, my biggest supporter, aside from a handful of my own people, would be this same Alice Marble.”

Because she was Black, segregation rules kept Althea from playing in the big US tournaments. Incensed, in 1950 Alice wrote an editorial in the American Lawn Tennis Magazine.

“Miss Gibson is over a very cunningly wrought barrel, and I can only hope to loosen a few of its staves with one lone opinion. If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it’s also time we acted a little more like gentle-people and less like sanctimonious hypocrites…If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of women players, it’s only fair that they should meet that challenge on the courts.” 

And so they did. And the rest is history. Althea went on to win both the US Open and Wimbledon twice, and was the dominant women’s player in the late 1950s.

The dress in my collection is a great example of early 1940s tennis wear. The fit is easy, with a pullover bodice and side zipper. The skirt is very full and is knee-length. The sleeves are mere caps, and are split for mobility.

There’s no place to store an extra ball, but that feature might have been incorporated into the panties.

The Tom Boy label began in 1938, and was owned by the same Baltimore company, Straus, Royer, and Strass, that owned American Golfer. I found references to Alice Marble designs from 1939 to 1941.

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Of Course You Can Sew!, 1971

I plucked this book out of a Goodwill bin as it was being carted off to the place of no return. I don’t really collect sewing books, but I do have a nice grouping of them that typify the era in which they were written. A quick look through of this book by Barbara Corrigan fit the bill as one to add to the group.

My guess is that the book was written for the preteen and young teen set. The book came from an elementary school library and the check-out card was still in the book. Most of the girls (and all the readers were girls) who checked out the book were in the fifth and sixth grades, but a few were younger. The book was popular, with the card being full.

And no wonder. This was just the sort of book my twelve year old self would have loved. The projects within were just the sort of thing I was always making. There is a section on using simple commercial patterns, but most of the projects were made from squares of fabric or textiles such as towels and other household linens. The dress and bag above are typical. What was interesting was how the bag was made from the part of the towel that was cut off to make the dress. Even in 1971 textiles were not for wasting.

Many of the projects were sportswear. I remember people making similar garments from towels, especially beach cover-ups and bags.
The projects got progressively harder as one moved through the book, but lots of drawings and diagrams made the directions easy to understand. Here you see how to cut a caftan from towels.
Once the novice sewer moved past sewing plain straight seams, a gathered skirt was introduced. The skills were the same, but the addition of the gathers must have seemed like a big leap in ability.

There were also cute designs for making things from bed linens. A girl could have night clothes to match her sheets.

This was the Seventies, so of course there were ponchos.

This sewing corner would have driven me wild with envy. My sewing spot was the dining room table.

I was completely charmed by this little book, perhaps because I would have loved to have had it in my early sewing years. The text was so straightforward, without a bit of talking down to the youngsters that it seemed totally relatable, even though the author, Barbara Corrigan, was in her late forties when she wrote and illustrated the book. The illustrations were cute and modern, and while not the height of 1971 fashion, they were what girls were actually wearing at that time.

I had to learn more about Barbara, and I found she lived in Attleboro, Massachusetts. She studied at the Massachusetts School of Arts, and had plans to be a fashion designer, having been an avid sewer since childhood. But she ended up in commercial art while painting and sewing wedding dresses on the side. In the 1960s she landed a contract to design and write sewing books for Doubleday, of which this book is one. She also illustrated cookbooks and pages for Highlights for Children magazine.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler, Spring 2021

I’ve been spending my stimulus money in local antique establishments. At this point in my life I don’t buy everything that I see that I love. I buy old stuff with a particular goal in mind – it has to either fill a gap in my collection of vintage sportswear, be a print source that aids in my research, or be a good graphic representation of what women wore for their fun times. So here are some recent finds that didn’t come home with me.

The spool case above was an excellent buy for someone who loves using cotton thread. I have enough already.

For the most part, I don’t collect undergarments. But I found this corset to be interesting with its soft boning and supporting straps. I know next to nothing about corsets, so I’m asking those of you who are more knowledgeable – Is this a riding or sports model?

I almost bought this poster for Skateland in Asheville. Had it not been for the overbearing frame and the price tag to match, I would have added it to my collection. For those of you who know Asheville, this rink was in the building that now houses the Orange Peel, or as we said in the 1970s, the Almighty Orange Peel.

Fishnet stockings had a moment around 1967. I remember wearing white ones over pastel colored stockings. It was a fun look, and not a bit tarty.

Here’s a sorry photo of a cute little pin. I have a hard time justifying paying a lot for “jewelry”.

Again, I apologize for the terrible photo, but this dress was just too interesting not to share.

It was worn by actress Rhonda Fleming in the 1953 film, Inferno. How it ended up in an antique mall in Western North Carolina is anyone’s guess. It’s actually a very nice linen dress, with pretty bodice details.

This 1930-31 basketball team photos shows an important step in the development of gymwear – the transition from bloomers to shorts.

I love this so much, in spite of the fact that men’s sportswear is not my thing. It’s a standing counter display card.

This hat had to have been worn by the “kooky” girl in every 1960s beach movie.

I probably should have bought this photo of a sportswear storefront. This will be my first stop if I ever get that time machine.

This store display was cute. Several years ago I passed on the chance to buy some really great Keds store displays, but I didn’t have the space. I still regret letting those get away.

Great image of 1890s cyclists, but I can’t help but hate to see magazines torn apart for the ads.

And here’s another fantastic counter display.

I wish modern drivers were this attentive.

I love this photo so much, and would have bought it had the factory been identified.

And finally, this shopkeeper is not having it with the anti-maskers.

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The Portia Super Sports Shade

One of the problems in collecting clothes that are somewhat utilitarian is that there is often not a lot of change between say, an eye shade or visor, made in 1925 and one made in 1975 and one made in 2005. There are differences in materials, of course (no velcro in 1925) and in construction techniques, but these things are not immediately obvious when one is shopping primarily online.

I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to buy certain items like bucket hats (which were made for sports as early as the 1880s) in connection with a matching item. I located a 1910s bucket along with a pair of knickers that were made of the identical fabric. That removed all doubt concerning the age of the hat.

I had been wanting a 1920s eye shade of the sort worn by tennis star Helen Wills, but an online search proved impossible. That is, until I ran across the Portia Super Sports Shade. The packaging left no doubt that this was made in the mid 1920s. Better yet, there was a UK registered design number.

I’m fairly experienced in looking up US patent numbers, but the UK system stymied me. All I could figure out was that the design was registered in 1926. If some smart person who knows their way around the UK patent site can help, the number is 722887. I’d love to have a copy of the paperwork concerning this design.

The shade is in very good condition. It was altered by someone with a very small head. I’ll be leaving in the alteration because it does not change the look nor the function of the shade.

I’ve got to say that I’m amazed that this item has survived. Things made of plastics and rubber and elastic and such tend to degrade. And to have the original envelope is a real bonus. From a time when plastics could be highly flammable, it is comforting to see that my sports shade is non-flam.

The seller had another eye shade made by Portia, but it was sold as a reading shade. It was from the 1930s. It appears that Portia is still in business, making sunglasses and eye patches.

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Vintage Miscellany – March 29, 2021

The only caption for this late 1940s photo is “The Coveted Basketball suit”. I almost bought a coveted basketball suit recently, but I passed because I felt the price was too high, and because I couldn’t learn anything about the team it represented. The seller listed it as a woman’s baseball suit, and the members of some professional women’s teams did wear similar satin suits. So I couldn’t determine whether the suit was worn for basketball or baseball, or even softball. Now that the suit has sold I’m sitting here asking myself if it really mattered.

There will be other coveted suits.

And now for some news…

  • Alex Trebek’s  fourteen suits, fifty-eight dress shirts, and three hundred neckties were donated by his family to a charity that helps formerly incarcerated men.
  • Alfie Date, 109, knits sweaters for at-risk penguins.
  • John Kennedy’s Harvard cardigan recently sold for $85,000.
  • Martha Washington was more than the grandmother we always picture her as.
  • And, learning from Martha’s purple dress.
  • Historic Deerfield will present a virtual forum, “Invisible Makers: Textiles, Dress, and Marginalized People in 18th- and 19th-Century America,” on Saturday, April 10.
  • Sealaska Heritage Institute and Neiman Marcus have settled a lawsuit over a coat the company sold, bears a striking resemblance to a copyrighted, Alaska Native Ravenstail pattern.
  • Beatrice Behlen shows what we can learn from photographs of Suffragettes.
  • Jessica McClintock, maker of Gunne Sax, has died at age 90.
  • Elsa Peretti, designer of jewelry for Tiffany, has died at 81.

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What a Long, Strange Year It’s Been

I’ve been thinking back to how naïve we all were a year ago. I was pretty irritated because I had to cancel a trip for my 65th birthday, and then another trip with my longtime girl gang. I can remember thinking that at least things would be better by the end of April so we could go to my beloved Liberty Antiques Festival. But then that was cancelled, and so it was the thought of going to the Hillsville, Virginia Flea Market and the Liberty show in September that got me through the summer. But then those were cancelled, along with a clothing history symposium I was planning on in October.

In a way, it seems like the longest year ever, but at the same time, it’s almost as if the year didn’t happen. Being retired I was spared the whole work from home thing, but at this stage of my life my main pleasure is getting out in the world, visiting museums and historic sites, and just learning. For most of the past year that was just not going to happen. And even when things began to open up, the world just did not feel like a safe place.

I’m fortunate to live in the Southern Appalachians with National Parks and National Forests. I hiked a lesser known trail in the Great Smokies (not Clingman’s Dome; the parking lot was always full, which means the trail was too crowded) and I visited waterfalls and swam in the cold mountain streams. I slid down Sliding Rock, overcoming a childhood fear of the deep pool at the bottom. I visited local historic sites. And I spent many glorious summer afternoons in my own backyard, enjoying a cold beer, or two.

But still, I have really missed the feeling of freedom to come and go about the world. I feel, and I’ve heard other older people say the same, that I’ve lost a year of my life. Yes, I have gotten things done and have tried new activities. I’ve read – a lot. And I’ve taken advantage of places that allow for distancing.

I’ve often wondered how I’d would react if faced with a real emergency. Well, now I know. I’ve listened to the advice of trained professionals. Mask wearing is now second nature. I’ve had both doses of the covid vaccine. I’ve stayed home for the better part of the year, and I at least have the satisfaction of knowing I have done all I can to stop the spread of this horrible disease.

Even as spring break is causing insanity across the country, there does seem to be light at the end of the corona virus tunnel. As people are looking forward to a more “normal” world, let’s not forget that we all need to be more respectful of others. If we haven’t learned anything from the past year, it’s that it takes all of us to overcome not just covid, but also the social ills that continue to plague us.

I want to go to the beach, but not this beach!

A camping trailer would solve so many of the problems associated with hotels, but it just looks like so much work.

But not as much work as this setup.

Staying in a cabin in the woods might seem heavenly to city dwellers, but this is too similar to my real life.

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