Category Archives: Viewpoint

Fashion History on Instagram

Some time ago I promised to make a list of the best fashion history accounts that I follow on Instagram, and I apologize to all the people who requested a copy of the list.  Instead of trying to figure out who wanted it, I’m just going to post it here.

I also apologize to those of you who do not have an Instagram account.  If you have a smartphone or tablet, then you can open an account just to enjoy this resource.  You don’t have to post any photos.  And you can always see my latest photo by clicking on the photo in the right sidebar, under “More Fashion History on Instagram.”

Keep in mind that  I follow a lot of people on Instagram and these are just the ones that have a strong fashion history emphasis.  Also, I only follow accounts where the person running it gives the source of each photograph.  There are dozens of people who post lots of pretty pictures from other sources, but this is not Pinterest.

I’m sure I have left some out, so I’ll be adding to the list.  And feel free to suggest any others that I may not have found.  @myvintagevogue  @documentingfashion_courtauld @jacqwg @americanagefashion  @madameweigel.patterns @fashiontextilemuseum @nyucostumestudies @amberbutchart @historyalamode  @beecroftartgallerycostume @julenmorrasazpiazu @fidmmuseum @fashionhistorymuseum @isabellabradfordauthor @historicalgarments @oliapresnyakova @the_art_of_dress  @unl_historic_costume  @fox_historic_costume @scadfash @museumatfit @fitspecialcollections



Filed under Viewpoint

A Closer Look

I’m always confounded whenever I run across these tiny photos from the past.    They couldn’t have been of much use in the memory keeping department. This one is barely an inch and a half across, and other than a guy on a blanket and some people standing around, it is hard to tell what is going on.

Thanks to modern technology I was able to enlarge the photo to where we can see a bit more of the story.  The casual dress and the presence of the two coolers on the right made me think this is a picnic either getting started, or just breaking up.  Other than that, though, we have to just imagine.  Where is this mysterious sand bank?  Is a third man taking the photo?

In life, as in old clothes and vintage photographs, the more one looks, the more one sees.

I recently found a book at my fancy used book store, the Goodwill Outlet Center.  Actually, I find lots of books there, but this one was a bit different for me.  It was written by a local woman and was based on her blog.  The blog is about living a mindful life, a topic that seems to be really in favor right now, especially since so many people are spending more time being electronically “connected” and less time being connected to those around them.

To my surprise, I really liked the book.  The short chapters all had a bit of a lesson, complete with real life examples told with a sense of humor.  There was lots of great advice on how one can live his or her own life, without letting the negativity of the world determine life’s decisions.  It was fun reading, so I decided to check out the blog.  And because she is local, I played with the idea of contacting her to see if she wanted to get together for coffee or a drink.

As often happens to a blog after the writer publishes a book, this one was somewhat neglected.  But reading down several entries I was shocked by an entry.  The writer had gotten into a Facebook war with another person who was questioning the writer’s methods of child-rearing.  So how did this other person know so much about the writer’s child-rearing?  Because she has plastered it all over Facebook and Instagram.  I don’t see that it is my job to judge, but I can see why someone might comment that her methods are a bit unorthodox.  This is, after all, the Internet, and once it is posted, it pretty much becomes fair game.

But after going back and forth with this other person, the writer then put the entire transcript of the battle on her blog.  Her actions were pretty much the exact opposite of the advice in her book!  It seemed to be an odd course to take for a person who makes her living doing life-coaching and selling self-help books about dealing with unpleasant people.

Anyone who has a presence on the internet conceals and reveals things.  Sometimes it is the very nature of communicating by the written word that sets up what is revealed.  For example, I recently met another VFG member, and she told me she was surprised that I have a Southern accent.  This is not something I’ve intentionally concealed, as I think I actually use quite a few “Southernisms” in my writing.

It’s interesting to meet people you’ve known only online.  You get to see a whole new side of a person you think you know and you realize just how nice it is to have made a friend because you were able to connect through a common interest online, in my case, vintage clothing and fashion history.

I think I’ve learned my lesson.  From now on I’m sticking with my vintage and fashion friends.


Filed under Viewpoint

The Easy Way to Design Fabric

You “borrow” designs from people who know what they are doing.

I know some readers must think I’m beating a dead horse whenever I make a post like this one, but it honestly astounds me every single time I run across a print that is so obviously copied.  In this case a cheap line sold at Target had a print that is based in part on a Liberty of London print, Ianthe.  The classic Liberty Art Nouveau print, Ianthe was developed over one hundred years ago.




This is even more interesting because Target actually did a collaboration with Liberty of London five years ago.  This piece is not part of the joint venture, as those pieces were clearly marked Liberty for Target.

And while most clothing designs cannot be copyrighted in the United States, fabric prints are subject to copyright protection.  Of course that does not mean copying does not happen, as we have seen many, many times.


Filed under Curiosities, Viewpoint

New York Public Library Digital Collections

New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library

There is a growing movement within libraries and other institutions to allow freer use of resources that are without copyright restrictions.  This movement has even extended to the law in some places.  In the United Kingdom the courts recently ruled that photographs of items in the public domain (such as works of art) are also in the public domain.

The New York Public Library recently announced a change in their policy concerning the use of items in the public domain within their digital collections.  They have actually made it easier for people to freely use the items in their digital collections, going so far as to provide high resolution images that are available to download with one click.

On this blog I try to use my own images, but there are time when I don’t have what I need in my own collection.  It is great that institutions like NYPL are willing to share their riches, and thus to contribute to all the great scholarship that I see in fashion history blogs.  And I’m sure that this applies to other topics as well.

For a long time the internet has been like a giant free-for-all when it comes to images, and even content.  Perhaps the thinking at NYPL and other institutions is along the lines of, “If you can’t lick them, join them.”  People are going to take the stuff anyway, so providing them with the tools necessary to properly attribute the images used will keep images from being separated from their history.   Let’s hope so, anyway.

There is a search function, of course, but images are also arranged in categories and sub-categories.  I’m warning you though, this is a very deep rabbit hole, with more than 180,000 images.  Have fun!

New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library

L.Bonnotte, 1920, Art and Picture Collection. The New York Public Library

1895 Basket Ball Team of Smith College, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, NYPL

Fashion Print, 1931, Art and Picture Collection, New York Public Library

Grace Wiederseim, 1904, Art and Picture Collection, New York Public Library

Wool Cycling Dress With Pleated Back ; Tennis Costume Of Cream Flannel With Striped Sleeves & Trim, Black Ties 1891, Art and Picture Collection, New York Public Library

My search term, “sports women”, produced all the above images.


Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Photographs

My Honest View of Walt Disney World

I’m the type of person who is always ready for a trip, still, when a friend asked me to go with her to Disney World, I was somewhat reluctant.  In the end I decided to go, knowing that even though it would not have been my choice of a vacation spot, I would still have a good time.  Living with a military and aircraft history lover for close to forty years has taught me to look for little pockets of interest in the most unlikely places.  And after seeing every aircraft museum from here to Tucson, I have mastered that skill.  Disney World was easy in comparison.

There is a lot to see and do in the Mouse Kingdom, and we only scratched the surface.  One of my favorite attractions was a ride through vintage Hollywood movies.  Because lines can be very long many attractions have pre-shows, and in this case it was a mini-museum of movies costumes.  The one above was worn by Debbie Reynolds in Singing in the Rain.

This dress was worn by Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon.  There was also a costume worn by Katherine Hepburn, but it was black and my photo was  pretty terrible.  It was a delight getting to see a bit of old Hollywood, and it was a sort of double irony, seeing clothes made for make-believe in the ultimate make-believe setting.

Because that what Disney World is – a giant exhibition of make-believe.  But interspersed one can find some glimmers of authenticity, and they are worth the finding.

This section of Disney World, Hollywood Studios, was built in the late 1980s.  All along an area in front of a fake Grauman’s Chinese Theater are the authentic hand prints of many stars set in concrete.  It was interesting looking through them, as many who were hot stuff in the late 80s are now barely remembered.  And sadly, many have since died.

In Epcot there is an international section where eleven countries have displays and restaurants.  The area devoted to Norway had this example of traditional dress along with an explanation of how it was incorporated into the costumes of the animated movie, Frozen which is set in Norway. I was amazed how Disney managed to always connect everything with one of their movies.

There are thousands of ways to spend money in the Mouse Kingdom.  We thought the best stores were in Epcot, as they were not so Disney themed.  The Norway shop was a dangerous place, with a dazzling selection of Norwegian wool sweaters and accessories.  And the shop in China rivaled the best that New York’s Chinatown has to offer.  The restaurants in Epcot were great, and we had  German beer and authentic apple strudel.

I though this was pretty clever, but the chairs were just for show.  It would have been better if this had been an actual resting place.  But it was just an illusion.

In an area called the Animal Kingdom, one can take a safari ride through the African savanna.  Unlike the completely fake Jungle Cruise in the Magic Kingdom, this is a real wildlife area with actual animals.  It looks that the lioness is eyeing her dinner, but even the reality is set up to be misleading.  The two animals are separated by a wide hole which the lion cannot cross.

Probably the one most confusing thing at Disney World is what I called the Cult of the Princesses.  I was familiar with the old Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella cartoons, but clueless me had no idea there are now dozens of these fantasy females, all wearing  gowns and waiting for that all-important prince.  I know I must be exaggerating here, as I do not know the stories behind the new Disney princesses, and so I must assume that at least some of them are models of feminist ideals.

This parade through the Magic Kingdom at midday was full of cast member princesses and princes and even Mickey Mouse and his pal Goofy.  In the float on the left, Cinderella’s gown is being sewn by  her fairy godmothers.

Princesses are big business at Disney World.  There are entire stores that sell the complete ensemble of the various princesses.  The dresses are expensive and horribly cheap looking, being made of brightly colored acetate.  Judging by all the little princesses in attendance, these are mighty good money makers.  Interestingly, I didn’t see any little boys in costume, though I bet that is going to change now that Disney owns Star Wars.

There’s a lot more I could say about the stranglehold of baby strollers and electric scooters, and the high prices of everything, and the crazy long lines, but I don’t want to give the impression that I did not have a good time.  Because I did.  Fun is where you find it, according to Winnie the Pooh, and I found plenty of it.



Filed under Viewpoint

1920s Bathing Suit from Eff-N-Dee

I have a lot to say about this superb 1920s bathing suit, but I’ll try to keep my enthusiasm for it under control somewhat.  I’ll start by saying a few things about collecting.

Most guides to collecting anything give the same advice to beginning collectors: Buy the very best that you can afford.  After thirty-five years of collecting this or that, I can attest to the value of the statement.  With a few years of experience of looking at objects, it is always the cream that is most appealing.  The reason many collectors become sellers is to sell off the lesser quality items in their collections in order to afford the best examples.

From the moment I first saw the photos of this 1920s bathing suit on the Instagram of SmallEarthVintage, I knew this was an object I had to add to my collection.  Even though I already had two knit bathing suits from the early to mid 1920s, this one was just so much better with those great Art Deco designs that I began looking through my collection to see what I could sell in order to buy this one from Karen.  In the end, I did not have to sell a kidney, nor even a lesser piece that I already owned, as she was running a sale that put the piece within my budget.

The Art Deco designs are not knit into the fabric, but are embroidered over the black wool knit.  There is quite a bit of sheen to the embroidery which leads me to think that it is silk.  It makes me wonder how this would have stood up to repeated dunkings in water, but because of the excellent condition of the wool, I suspect this suit spent much more time on a beach blanket than in the ocean.  These are often found completely stretched out of the original shape due to heavy wearing.

I got help in pinning down a date for this piece from a great booklet by historian Claudia Kidwell, Women’s Bathing and Swimming Costume in the United States.  The booklet was published in 1968 by the Smithsonian, for which Kidwell worked.  Remarkably, the entire text of this excellent source is available online, or it can be downloaded free of charge from Amazon.

One thing that Kidwell points out is that until the necklines began to scoop deeply, even knit suits had to have a button at one shoulder in order to put it on.  Many places had a rule that the scoop of the neck could not be lower than a line drawn across the chest from armpit to armpit.  As the Twenties progressed, many of these rules were either abolished, or more likely, simply ignored.  By the late 1920s a button was no longer required at the shoulder as the neck opening was large enough to fit over the wearer’s body. My suit does have a rather high neckline, and thus, the needed button.

Another hint as to the age is the presence of an overskirt, with the trunks peeking out about two inches beneath it.  This skirt was all that was left of the old bathing dress of the previous decades.  And by the end of the 1920s, it would be gone as well.

By looking at hundreds of photos of swimmers in their suits and after seeing hundreds of existing suits for sale , I can safely say that the majority of knit swimming and bathing suits from the late 1910s and the 1920s were either a plain black, or black with a colored stripe.  It is the geometric design of this suit that separates it from the multitude of plain black suits.  Although the Art Deco movement received its name in 1925 after the L’Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes fair held in Paris, the designs were already in use and gaining favor by the early 1920s.  The original owner of this suit must have been a very modern woman.

So, what is the date of this suit?  There’s no way to know with 100 percent certainty without finding an ad or a catalog, but my best guess is between 1923 and 1925. After that time both the skirt and the trunks got shorter, the scoop neck got lower, and the button would have disappeared.

Another interesting thing about this suit is that it does have a label.  It is hard to read, but it is “Eff-N-Dee”.  I’d never heard of this brand, but Karen had discovered that it was the label of a knitwear company in Cleveland, Ohio, the Friedman-Devay Knitting Company.  Having the name of the firm is a good starting place for finding information, but this one has been a bit elusive.  I do know that the owners were S.A. Devay and W.A. Freidman and that the company produced knits for the entire family.  The first reference I found to the company was dated 1915.

One of the most interesting things I found was a listing of knit goods manufacturers in the city of Cleveland in 1916.  I was surprised to see that there were twenty-six makers of knits in Cleveland.  Someone who lives in that area needs to do a study.

Thanks to Karen at Small Earth Vintage for the use of her photographs.


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

Daughters of Revolution, Grant Wood

Click to enlarge

One of the best surprises at the Cincinnati Museum of Art was this painting by American artist, Grant Wood.  You are probably aware of his most famous (and most parodied) work, American Gothic, but Daughters of Revolution is probably the work of his that has the most interesting backstory. What looks like at first glance a simple statement of the  patriotism of three women is actually a statement about hypocrisy.

Wood painted Daughters of Revolution in reaction to an conflict with the Daughters of the American Revolution.  In the late 1920s Wood had been commissioned to make a stained glass window for the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Because he was not happy with the quality of glass available to him in the United States, he obtained the glass from Germany.  When the local branch of the DAR heard about the German glass, their protests kept the work from being dedicated until many years after Wood’s death.

Thankfully, Wood was quick to show the country what he thought of this interference.  The painting shows three daughters, one who looks suspiciously like George Washington and another like Benjamin Franklin, posing in front of the famous patriotic painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware.  To Wood it was significant that the painting was made by German American artist Emmanuel Leutze, who painted it in Germany using the Rhine as a stand in for the Delaware.  One daughter is wearing pearl earrings (from the Orient), another is holding a teacup (made in England using a Chinese design), and the other is wearing a collar made of fine lace (Belgian, perhaps?).

His point made, Wood continued his assault by making his subjects look like anti-revolutionaries.  What could be more common and sedate than three little old ladies sitting around in their nice clothes drinking tea and talking about their glorious ancestors?

I’ve noticed on the internet a trend toward referring to older people as “cute” or “adorable.”   I think a close examination of this painting shows the folly in that practice.

A side note:

Daughters of Revolution originally belonged to actor Edward G. Robinson, who according to one source, bought it directly from Wood.  The Cincinnati Art Museum obtained the painting from Robinson’s estate in the 1970s.


Filed under Museums, Viewpoint