Category Archives: Viewpoint

Definitions of Pants: Bloomers, Knickers, and Trousers

Several years ago I presented a paper to my regional Costume Society of America on my research on women hikers and their wearing of knickerbockers (knickers). Sometimes when a person (in this case, me) gets too wrapped up in her own topic, she forgets that others might not be as well acquainted with terms that denote a specific item. In this case, I was asked the question, “What’s the difference between knickers and bloomers?”

Later experience has taught me that for some reason, people tend to equate nineteenth and early twentieth century pants for women with bloomers. And the truth is, that most women who were wearing pants of any type before 1920 were wearing bloomers. They were the accepted garment for women’s sports and exercise attire. Some women were wearing them for bicycling. And for a brief moment in the mid nineteenth century, women dress reformers wore long bloomers beneath shorter dresses and coats.

The difference between knickerbockers and bloomers is chiefly in the volume of the fabric making up the legs. Bloomers are very full, while knickers are more fitted. Also, knickers end just below the knee and are finished with a buttoning band. Bloomers can range from above the knee to the ankle, and are often gathered at the hem with elastic.

But what about trousers, pants that fall straight from the hips to the ankles? While not common, yes, women in the nineteenth century did sometimes wear trousers, which was considered to be a male garment. I’ve seen quite a few photos of women on farms and ranches wearing trousers while doing work. The great photo above shows three women hikers wearing trousers.

But what about a woman in the nineteenth century who lived her life in trousers?

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Yes, there were some. Above is the famous Mary Edwards Walker, physician and fashion rebel. This photo of her sold in February for $9375.  I came across it while reading the latest issue of a well-known magazine for antiques lovers. What made me stop and think was the caption of the photo which twice pointed out that Dr. Walker was wearing bloomers in the photo. I hope you can tell from my descriptions of bloomers, knickers, and trousers that she is actually wearing trousers, not bloomers.

Should the writer of the article known the difference between trousers and bloomers? Does it matter?

The Swann’s auction site describes Walker’s garment as ” pantaloons or bloomers.”  Pantaloons seems to be a fairly accurate term, though many people associate the word with Little Bo Peep.  Personally, I would describe the garment as trousers, though Walker herself referred to them as pants.

Unafraid of controversy, in 1897 she wrote, “I am the original new woman . . . Why, before Lucy Stone, Mrs. Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were—before they were, I am. In the early ’40’s, when they began their work in dress reform, I was already wearing pants . . . I have made it possible for the bicycle girl to wear the abbreviated skirt, and I have prepared the way for the girl in knickerbockers.” Swanns Catalog

When accused of wearing men’s clothing, Walker famously replied that she was wearing her own clothes, not those of a man.

 

 

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Shopping with The Vintage Traveler at the Liberty Antiques Festival

We just returned from a trip to the eastern part of North Carolina, which is a very different world from the western part of the state where we live. Think beaches and tall pines and lots of water and marshes as opposed to mountains and rolling hills with rushing rivers and scenic vistas. In fact, the slogan for NC tourism used to be Variety Vacationland.

On the way home our last stop was the twice a year outdoor old stuff market at Liberty, NC.  I’ve been going to Liberty faithfully since 2005 and I’ve never been disappointed. The show has changed a bit in nature to reflect changing styles in home decorating. More on that in a bit. The show advertises that no new stuff is allowed, but many dealers ignore the uninforced rule. Still, it’s the best I’ve found in the Southeast.

So, here are the things I found interesting, but did not buy. First, the hooked Scottie rug above was a great temptation. Probably from the 1930s, he was a great example of that popular little dog, but I already have two Scottie rugs and do not need another.

There are several sellers who specialize in sporting collectibles, and I love looking through their things, even though the great majority is from male athletes.

I loved this photo. Are they tennis stars ot movie stars, or just stars in their own world? I promise to try and find their identities, so feel free to help me.

I really liked this skates case, but I was put off by the condition. What I really loved was that the woman appears to be wearing slacks, though it could be tights.

I spotted this pennant and my heart skipped a beat. I thought it could possibly be a suffragist’s item, considering the purple color. But no.

Instead it was from The Hub Clothiers in Ottawa. Right Clothing at the Right Price.

I spotted a 1928 yearbook from Appalachian State Normal School, which would become Appalachian State University. A normal school was actually a teacher education school, back in the days when most states did not require a teacher to have a college degree, but were starting to see the advantage in teachers having advanced training. My second grade teacher attended a normal school, and at some point she had to return to school to get a bachelor’s degree.

Thumbing through the book I saw immediately how the majority of the students were young women. There were enough men to have a basketball team, but they were not nearly as interesting as the girls’ team.

In 1928 the girls were still wearing bloomers, but they were above the knee. And how about those sleeveless knit jerseys? App’s colors today are black and gold, and I really hope the bits of color on these uniforms were gold as well. The socks are interesting. They are really more of a legging with a strap that goes under the foot, much like a modern baseball sock. I bought a pair of these years ago, hoping to find evidence that they were worn by women as well as men. Now I have it.

Public service announcement: Appalachian is pronounced  Appa-LATCH-un if you are referring to the university or to the southern mountains.

I love the tiny hatboxes that were given as Christmas gifts. A tiny hat within could be exchanged for an actual hat.

This creation was under glass, so my photo is not as good as I’d like, but this was the most charming little thing. The face is a real photo, but the rest is made from various textile bits. Even the striped stockings are cotton knit.

It might be obvious that the heart on the right is a pincushion, but what about the apple? Yes, it is also a pincushion, with a silk covering that is positively real looking. Even the stem looks real. Can you see the price? $110.

One seller had a pile of 1950s and 60s shoes, all in the original boxes and all labeled and dated.  I know that sounds like a seller’s dream come true, but the shoes within the boxes had signs of having been surrounded by acidic paper for fifty something years.

I’ve got to thank the people of the past who were considerate enough to save the original packaging. Imagine this as only the contents – a lipstick, brushes, and powder box – with no box and brochure. It’s not nearly as appealing.

Here’s a great little give-away item from United Woolen Mills. The flicker action no longer works, so the girl seems to be caught in a perpetual half-smile.

I’ll admit that at first this was St. Francis getting ready to bless the puppies, but then I saw the streamer and realized halos don’t have ribbon streamers. It’s a farm boy with the farm’s new pups.

I know it’s not called this any longer, but will Shabby Chic ever end? Just when I thought it could not get any nuttier, the passion for old bed springs is kindled in the home decorating obsessed heart. Along with springs, add the miscellaneous paint-pealing architectural element and old rusted out buckets.  And in a few years it will all be passé, I hope.

And I hope that little observation did not offend anyone’s taste, but I’ve come to realize that anytime words come out of a human’s mouth, another human is offended. So one should just go ahead and throw caution to the wind, firm in one’s knowledge of what is and is not tacky.

Finally, this great hat was not seen at the antiques show, but in the excellent Design Archive Vintage in Winston-Salem. Is this hat tacky? Possibly, but it is fantastic never-the-less.

 

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Random Thoughts on History and the Past

Our recent trip to Pennsylvania included a lot of history, which is the top consideration whenever we plan a trip. I’m lucky that my husband is also interested in the past, as it makes for an agreeable itinerary for both of us.  The primary reason for the trip was so I could attend the regional Costume Society of America symposium in Shippensburg, PA, but when we realized how close Philadelphia was, we decided to add a few days to the trip and visit the city.

Much of what is now referred to as the Old City is owned publicly and is administered by the National Park Service. A large part of this is the Independence Hall complex, seen above. In the center is what was the old Pennsylvania State House, and it was there that the Continental Congress met to discuss and sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and where eleven years later the Constitutional Convention was held.

To the right is Congress Hall, where the Congress of the United States met after the government moved to Philadelphia in 1790, and behind the trees on the left is where the Supreme Court met.  In a building to the right of where I took this photo is where the Liberty Bell is now housed.

I always find the juxtaposition of modern buildings and historical ones interesting. Philadelphia is a modern city, and that is left from colonial and early Federal days is scattered  throughout the Old City. The house in which Dolly Madison lived with her first husband survives, but the house that was George Washington’s Presidential residence does not. You can visit Betsy Ross’s house, but not Ben Franklin’s.

Both Washington’s house and Franklin’s are represented as “ghost houses”, where frames made of white pipes show where the houses would be if they had survived. It’s hard to believe that the President’s residence was torn down, but look at the photo above and you can see the big yard in front of Independence Hall. Years ago this lawn was full of homes and businesses. Washington’s house was located on this lawn.

This is the Thomas Bond House, which now houses an inn, and which is where we stayed. To the left is a parking garage, to the right a paved park, and beyond that, an apartment building. The paved park is the site of the home of William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania colony.

It is useful in such a situation to be able to imagine the missing buildings, and to see this house as part of a street of similar ones.

Thankfully, such a street still exists. It’s Elfreth’s Alley, where the houses all date from 1720 to 1830. It is literally in the shadow of  Interstate 95 and is just off a busy modern street, but all that is forgotten when walking this alley. So how did it survive? It became home to poor immigrants, and was rediscovered in 1934 when preservation efforts began. If you look at cities where a lot of old buildings survive, you’ll see that poverty is often the reason.

And while it’s a shame that so much of historic Philadelphia was lost, the real story might be that it is amazing that so much still exists. For comparison, how many pre-1830 buildings are still standing in New York City. The answer is very few.

I found this visit to Colonial Philadelphia to be oddly comforting in our stressful political climate. It was a great reminder that the figures of the past were not perfect beings, but they were still able to create a democracy that has lasted 230 years. They enslaved people, even Franklin (who later argued against slavery). They gave women no say in the proceedings, and when Jefferson wrote “All men are created equal…” he meant all white men.

In a time when we seem to be going backward in our progress as human beings, this serves as a reminder of how far we have come since 1776. It also helps to remember that history, like fashion, is not linear. I think the best example of this is our recent elections. Total control is no longer in the hands of one political philosophy, but is now shared with those of different views. If you study how our Constitution was written, you’ll see that our country has never agreed on every issue, but it is necessary that all voices be heard.

But enough of that – let’s look at signs of fashion history. We spotted this sign just down from the Betsy Ross House, but it is not a hoop skirt factory, but an apartment building. At one time this was an industrial building, but I’m unsure if hoops were ever made there.

When traveling, don’t forget to look up.  This building on Market Street is no longer a seller of trunks and bags, but one can imagine what it must have been like one hundred years ago.

At the site of an old public house, A Man Full of Trouble must have been referring to the hatbox she is carrying.

On the way home we stopped in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which is most known for the raid of abolitionist John Brown. Again, the National Park Service has a big presence, and it interprets not only the raid, but also the town of Harpers Ferry as it was in the nineteenth century.

I had been wanting to visit Harpers Ferry since college, when one of my professors declared that everyone in the town had one leg a bit shorter than the other from walking on the hilly streets. I actually can’t confirm that is true.

Part of the town is level, and runs along the Shenandoah River. This has been restored to look as the town did in the nineteenth century. Not knowing this, I got all excited when I saw the shop windows full of antique merchandise. As it turned out, it was just an illusion.

Still, it was fun peering into a general mercantile of the time.

The best interpreted store was an actual men’s haberdashery, Philip Frankel & Co.

Due to it being off-season, there were few rangers about to tell about the buildings, but the park has done a decent job of posting information for those willing to take the time to read.

 

 

 

 

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Anne Adams Sewing Patterns, Fall 1938

Anne Adams was the name of a sewing pattern company which sold their products through syndicated content in newspapers across America. I have seen Anne Adams patterns from the 1940s through the 1980s, but this catalog of designs is dated 1938. I added it to my archive because it was published by my hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen.

In looking through this catalog, I was struck by the big variety of lifestyles Anne Adams catered to. As you can see on the cover, there were evening gowns for those who had need of them. And while people might not think that women in a small city in the middle of the southern mountains would need a formal gown, there were plenty of events in Asheville that would make such a dress a necessity for many women.

On the other end of the spectrum was the house dress. A woman working at home during the day might not wear the three inch heels shown in the illustration, but I can remember that as late as the 1960s my grandmother and her three sisters always wore dresses similar to the ones pictured while doing their house cleaning, laundry, and cooking. All of them made these dresses out of cheerful prints in easy to clean cotton.

Here is a grouping of day dresses of a different sort. These were not for housework. They were for shopping or lunching, or perhaps for a club meeting.

In 1938, as it is today, the older woman is encouraged to look younger and thinner. Some things seem to never change.

For the truly young, there were campus fashions, starring the original teenage star, Deanna Durban.

The career woman was advised to make and wear separates which she could mix and match. The idea of separates is more associated with the 1950s, but it actually dates back much earlier, to at least the 1890s.

It’s pretty unlikely that in 1938 there was any skiing going on in the Asheville area, but a good, warm coat was needed. Interestingly, with the exception of pajamas, this was the only pair of pants offered for women. That was to change dramatically in just a few years.

And here are the other pants, in the form of pajamas. I can see where the width of the hems is starting to diminish from the extremely wide legs of the mid 1930s.

When I was coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the chief complaints of the girls in my school was that “fashion” here was two years behind what we saw in the fashion magazines. I’ve come to realize that our own conservatism had more to do with that than what was available to us. Even in 1938, women in the mountains of North Carolina could buy patterns of what was fashionable in other markets.

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On Blogging

After reading some of the comments on my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging and blogs. I really appreciate that so many of you reading this have been loyal readers through the years, I know that opening up a blog to read it is a commitment to time and brain power, something that is not always in large supply.

I follow blogs through a site called bloglovin’ and so I went to it to see how other blogs were doing. What I found was that there are dozens of formerly great blogs that haven’t been updated in months, or even years.

I can understand why someone would give blogging up. It takes a lot of time, energy, and thought. At the height of blogging popularity, I was trying to post every day. Now I ‘m lucky if I manage two posts a week. But that’s okay, because I blog, primarily, for me. I need a place to work out my thoughts on new things I see and acquire. And a big plus is that I also get the well-informed opinions of you readers. Without the comments, I’d be talking to myself, and might as well be just writing private documents.

Some of the bloggers I used to love to follow have now moved to Instagram. It’s a sign of the times, I suppose. But the fleeting nature of Instagram and other social media, while great for immediate engagement, does not lead to an easily accessible record of fashion research findings. To me, the fact that people interested in say, David Crystal, can google his name and find me, just like his great granddaughter did last week.

I’d like to think that what I’m doing is important, and I can definitely say that the few other active fashion history bloggers that I know of are doing important work. It’s worth your time to check them out.

Lynn at Americanagefashion writes about what the older woman in the 20th century wore. But it’s so much more than that. She looks into the advice older women were given and the images that were presented to women over fifty as appropriate.

Susan at Witness2fashion gives the best in depth look at fashion trends of the past that you can find on the WWW. Her experience as a costumer gives her the eye to analyze a 1920s dress as though it was hanging in her own closet.

Jonathan at Kickshawproductions brings a lifetime of fashion history experience to his writing.

For an in-depth look at fashion during WWI, read ClareRoseHistory.

Jen at Pintucks Vintage does not post very often, but when she does, it is always worth reading.

Liza at Better Dresses Vintage writes about fashion exhibitions and her own adventures wearing historical clothing.

And not strictly about fashion history, AllWays in Fashion is written by Michelle, who was a fashion insider during the 1960s through the 1990s, and who gives a great historical perspective to current trends.

Jackie Mallon  is another fashion insider, who brings her years of experience to her blog post that include exhibition reviews and historical references in current fashion shows.

Unfortunately, this is the extent of my list, though I also follow a few vintage travel and lifestyle blogs, and a few that focus on sewing and quilting. If I’m missing any good fashion history blogs, please add them in the comments.

It has also occurred to me that a person who wants a voice on the web today is likely to turn to podcasting rather than to blogging (which is SO 2012). In just the past few months some new fashion history podcasts have appeared.

If you haven’t discovered podcasts, it may be time for you to try them. I keep track of the ones I follow on my phone, where there are dozens of apps that store your favorites and then let you know when a new episode appears. Here’s my list, and again I’d appreciate a link to any I have missed.

Bande  à Part is a weekly conversation between fashion historians Rebecca Arnold and Beatrice Behlen. There is always good food for thought on a variety of fashion related topics.

Dress: Fancy is new, so new that there is only one episode, but I really enjoyed it and I look forward to more from Lucy Clayton and Benjamin Wild.

Dressed: The History of Fashion is from April Calahan and Cassidy Zachary. There is also a website with links and bibliographies.

The Museum at FIT Fashion Culture Podcast is, as promised, from FIT. It’s very new, and for now the podcast is just audio of previous conversations you can also find at youtube. I’m hoping this one will live up to its potential.

Unravel: A Fashion Podcast has been around for a while. The four FIT alums who produce it cover some fascinating topics. I have trouble following the conversation at times, as it feels like one is eavesdropping on a private conversation with references I don’t get. This may be a sign of the age gap between me and the podcasters.

 

 

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Reunited – A 1930s Pajama Set

Two weeks ago I went to a great street market in the nearby town of Hendersonville. They have this little antiques fair every year, but I usually forget about it, and that’s a shame because I do seem to always come up with some interesting old stuff there.

The thing with general antique markets of this sort is that they don’t tend to attract vintage clothing sellers. But that does not mean you can’t find clothes there; it means you have to work a bit harder to find them.

Rule number one is never fail to rummage through a basket of linens. It may look like a basket of white embroidered pillowcases from the top of the pile, but there might be treasures lurking below the pillowcases and faded linen tea towels.

It was in one such basket that I found the above pair of mid 1930s satin pajama pants. A continued search did not produce a matching top, however. I got the vendor’s attention and asked the price. She gave a figure that was well within my budget, so I indicated that I’d take them.

Then she said the words that always make a collector’s blood run cold: “I had the matching top, but have misplaced it.”

She went on to explain that it could be in a box to be taken to Goodwill, or it may have already been donated. She bought the set in a box lot along with two 1920s fancy dresses, and she really had no idea that the pajamas might be of interest to someone. Not that I blame her for that. It’s impossible to know everything about everything, and vintage clothing is not really her thing.

She went so far as to call home to see if her husband could find them in the donate box, but he could not locate them. So I left her my email address and she promised to let me know if the top turned up. Several days went by and I was sure I’d not hear from her, but miracles do happen in the collecting world! She found the top in a box earmarked for eBay sales.

She sent a photo and I agreed to buy it, and several days later it arrived in the mail. It was even better than I’d hoped, but I’m convinced that there was a third piece – a plainer top for actual sleeping, as opposed to this top that is more for lounging. At least I’d not be able to sleep with those big knot buttons!

The satin is a much richer blue (she called it Pepsi blue) than my photos suggest. The fabric is nice and heavy, and I suspect it is a high quality rayon, but it could be silk. I’ll be doing a burn test to find out.

Based on several hints, I’ve dated these at about 1933 – 1935. The sleeves show the unmistakable influence of Letty Lynton with the  fullness. The shape of the pants legs and the dropped crotch also hint to a mid 1930s date of manufacturer. And the pants are closed with a series of snaps instead of a zipper, though zippers are not always used in lounging attire.

I really love the suggestion of a middy collar.

Lingerie is not, for the most part, on my list of things to collect. The exception is pajamas. They played an important role in the pants for women story, and as such, are one of my favorite things.

 

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No, It’s Not Just a Jacket

I can remember when my mother gave up and decided to just let me choose my own clothes. I was probably seven or eight, which by today’s standard is a bit old for this rite of passage, but in the 1960s my peers could not believe Mama let me do the picking. But she wisely knew that sooner or later I’d insist on it, and besides, she had another daughter to dress up in pink.

The truth is, all people in my culture (and probably yours as well) choose their clothes if they are over the age of five or so. Even people who claim to care nothing at all about what they wear, do, in fact, care. My father-in-law was a great example. He was a notoriously sloppy dresser, and he repeatedly reminded us that clothes don’t make the man. The problem was that he had a long list of things he would not wear, and a very short one of what he chose to wear.

He had no jeans, but several pair of identical khakis. He had the same plaid button front shirt in twenty different plaids and colors. He never wore a pair of sneakers. He loved cardigan sweaters, but pullovers were verboten.

One year for Christmas we found what we thought was the perfect gift for him – a red cardigan with a big S applique that came from his alma mater, NC State. He seemed to like it, but we noticed that he never wore it. Some time later the cardigan reappeared, without the big S. He had carefully picked it off.  It then occurred to me that he thought wearing the sweater would look like bragging in a community where college graduates in his age group were rare. He knew that wearing a sweater that he thought advertised his education would make him look as though he was putting on airs.

John may have claimed that clothes do not matter, but he clearly did know that what we wear sends all kinds of messages to others.

Clothes don’t have to have letters, or even words, on them in order to send messages. It’s easy to sit on any park bench and watch people passing by, and make judgments about those people based on their clothes. Sometimes you will be right, and other times you will be wrong, but the message is sent never-the-less.

For centuries clothing has been a sign of social and economic status, a reflection of the position one holds, and even where one resides. When I travel to New York, I plan my clothing carefully, so as not to look so Southern (and out of place). In high school, the girls who had professional dads like doctors and lawyers carried Aigner handbags, while those of us whose fathers worked at the paper plant carried cheap imitations.

We just can’t get away from the fact that in our culture, clothes have meaning. They send messages. And the most obvious messages are those that are in print.

My old Merle Haggard shirt you see above dates from 1983 when Outlaw Country was an interesting alternative to Punk and New Wave. By then I was teaching and pushing thirty, and it seemed that Rock was dead anyway, so we started listening to Haggard and Cash and Nelson. I got the shirt at a concert in Asheville when Haggard was arrested for drinking onstage.

Over the years I’ve worn it when feeling particularly badass, and it never fails to send that message, at least it sends it to the many young folks who comment on it. It never fails to make me feel cool, though the truth is that I was merely lucky enough to have the money to attend a concert and buy the shirt way back in 1983.

But does that even matter? The message is sent, though I suspect that to some people the message is, “Why is that old lady wearing a Merle Haggard shirt?” It may not register with some that I was once a cool concert goer.

Today clothing with writing and logos is so common that one need not pay attention to all the other sartorial clues. At a glance you can tell what team that guy is rooting for, where his wife went on vacation, daughter’s favorite Disney princess, and the attitude of the teenage son. One thing I feel very confident in saying is that these messages are true. A  Red Sox fan does not wear a Yankees hat.

So when a public figure is seen wearing a jacket that says, “I really don’t care, do U?” you can be assured that the message was intended. Whatever she doesn’t care about, the message was sent, and the viewer uses his or her own experiences and perceptions of the wearer to decipher the message.

And who in their right mind wears a jacket in this heat?

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