Category Archives: Vintage Clothing

Something a Little Different from Jane’s Closet

After all the beige and tan and brown in Jane Hefner’s closet, the playsuit above came as a big surprise. Stylistically it is very similar to her other play sets, but the pattern and color really set this one apart. The only other novelty prints were in her favored muted tones, and while there were a few green items, the red was a real oddity.

It is a great set, probably from 1946 or 47. The little bolero jacket gives it a bit of versatility. But I thought the bra looked to be odd and ill-fitting.

Then I located the problem. There was a little tie that had become separated from the other three pieces. I had already moved on to photographing another garment, and was too lazy to redress the form, but you can see here how that little strip of fabric changes the entire look of the bra.

Color was very popular in clothing and textiles in the post WWII period. Many of the chemicals used in fabric dyes were needed for the war effort, and so colors were limited during that time. But look at any magazine or catalog from late 1945 and you’ll see how color once again played a big part in fashion. And textile designers were not afraid to come up with color combinations that we now can look at as distinctly post war. The red, lime, green, and black in the print of the play set is a great example.

Can you tell how pristine and sharp the colors are? At first I thought the set had been starched, but now I’m thinking that the original sizing of the fabric was never washed out. In other words, Jane never wore this set.

I’m not psychic, but I do know that a buttonhole has to be cut open in order for the button to fit through the hole. The bra fastens  in the back with two buttons, but the holes were never cut all the way through. There’s no way the bra, at least, could have been worn.

And that’s not a bit surprising, because this set is just not Jane’s style. Did she buy it in a moment of weakness, knowing it was fashionable and thinking she could wear something different? Was it a gift from a well-meaning auntie who wanted to see Jane in something colorful? We’ll never know, but it sure added an interesting twist to Jane’s wardrobe.

 

 

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One Woman’s Clothing, Part 2

Back in August I posted some items that I got from Julia of  Carolina Thrift Chick. She had the good fortune to acquire the clothing from the estate of Mary Jane Hefner, a career teacher and guidance counselor. Jane was born in 1931, and so came of age in the years following World War II, and her clothing from that time could be used to illustrate a chapter in a fashion history book on what teens were wearing in 1946 through 1948.

I was lucky to get to visit Julia and see the rest of the clothing. It really is so interesting to see the clothing of one person, especially a person who seems to have saved pretty much everything she wore from her teens to the end of her life.  The clothes date from around 1942 until she retired from education in the 1970s, so there are several different wardrobes. There are the clothes that date to the post-war 1940s, which she would have been wearing when she was still in high school. Then there are college clothes – lots of skirts and blouses. The next phase of her life shows career clothes, with some spectacular 1950s suits and dresses that date into the 1960s. And finally, there is the retirement clothing, poly printed tops and pants to match.

You might want to revisit the first post I wrote about Jane’s clothes. There you can see that she was fond of a certain color palette – browns, beiges, warm tans, and dusty roses. In this new bunch of clothes you will see that Jane, even as a teen, knew what she liked.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at catalogs and magazines from the 1940s in order to get a clear picture of when each garment was worn. All of the garments that I acquired from the estate date from around 1944 through 1952, with the great majority of them dating to 1946 or 47. Also, most of the clothes from that time have her name label sewn into them. When Julia and I looked at and discussed this, we thought maybe she had sewn in the labels for college. But she would have been only 15 or 16 when most of these clothes were fashionable. Maybe she did a stint as a camp counselor and that would explain the labels.

Another thing I used to help with dating was the measure of the waistline of the clothing. Jane was not a small girl, and most of the shorts and skirts have a waist measurement of around 30 inches. But a couple of the pieces, like the dress above, are smaller.

I’ll admit that this piece is a bit of a puzzle. One of the things that make the collection so great is that most ensembles have all the pieces present. I’m pretty sure that this dress must have had a pair of matching bloomers as it is pretty short. I found a reference to 1946 playsuits in a Life magazine article that showed similar sets, but this one is is a bit smaller than her other things from 1946 and 47.

Still I bought this, even without the bloomers, because, honestly, who could resist this back?

Another set that is a bit smaller, but that fits right in with postwar fashion trends is this bathing suit. It is made of woven rayon, and the skirt has built-in rayon panties. Note the style of the bra, as we’ll be seeing that again.

This bathing suit has an interesting label, but there is not a name label. Does anyone know of Beau Jardin Cie?

These two pieces are rayon, and both were exactly the sort of thing one would find for sale in 1946 and 47.

Bare midriffs were popular, and were shown off in tied shirts and cute bra tops. This illustration is from Montgomery Ward, 1946.

Just so you would know that Jane did thrown in a bit of blue from time to time. These are the same shorts as above.

This swimsuit is probably from 1946 or 47 as well. It’s from Cole of California, and I’ve found quite a few similar ones online, but not the exact suit. The front is rayon jersey, but the back is Lastex, a textile that involved wrapping rayon around a rubber thread. It wasn’t available during WWII, and the maker, the United States Rubber Company announced its availability in the spring of 1946. And notice how the style of the bra is so similar to the ivory and black one above.

Here’s a similar style From Montgomery Ward, 1946.

Here’s a great playsuit. It has a pretty strong shoulder line, and little pads for emphasis.

And yes, there is a matching skirt, all in Jane’s favorite colors.

I’m almost ashamed to post this photo as it is just too awful, but you do need to see this great pair of breeches. They are a brown and beige twill, and I’ve paired them with a Jantzen Khara fleece sweater.

These two item might date from Jane’s college years. Khara fleece was developed for Jantzen in 195o. It’s a combination of wool and synthetic fibers.

And finally, here’s another pair of 1940s pleated shorts, this time in linen. I’ve paired them with a blouse that probably would not have actually been worn with these shorts, but both pieces just look so great in the photo. The top is Textron rayon, and the anchors are beaded. So a bit dressy for linen shorts, wouldn’t you think? Still, it does illustrate how mix and match this wardrobe was. I hope Jane was never at a loss when deciding what to wear with what, because it all fit together so beautifully.

I have one more piece from Jane’s closet to show you. It’s a bit of a surprise!

And here a photo of Jane, I’m guessing when she was in her mid twenties.

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Helen’s Photo Album, 1923

This is Helen Ambrose. In 1923 her sister, Emily, made a photo album for her with photos of their family and friends. It’s nice knowing the names of many of the people pictured, and also the places, though I came up empty when searching online for Helen.  Most of the photos that are labeled were taken in Hinsdale, Illinois or Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I bought this album for several reasons, the main one being that it shows Helen in quite a bit of her wardrobe, so that you can get a good sense of her style. We can start with her dark cotton knickers and matching sports shirt. Even better, we get a good look at her canvas shoes and hat.

She must have liked this sport ensemble, as she is wearing it in quite a few of the photos, and seemingly at different times. Here she is shown wearing it with a different hat. The object of her attention is Harold Reynders. He is a regular cast member in this year of Helen’s life.

This photo was taken on the same day at the same location, a golf club in Villa Park, Illinois. It must have been a very informal place to have allowed a woman to play in pants, or maybe they just mistook her for a boy!

There are also photos of Helen wearing her knickers with a middy blouse. Note that she has not yet bobbed her hair, even though she seems comfortable wearing pants in public. In all the photos she is wearing this same hairstyle with the coils at the sides. It gave long hair the look of being short, but it looks a bit old-fashioned for 1923.

Many of the photos are of various members of the extended Ambrose family, including these two little unnamed cousins.

And here’s the middy with a skirt. The skirt does seem a little long for a young woman in 1923, but the year before, skirts lengths did take a move toward the floor. They then began the upward journey to the knee, a length most associated with the 1920s.

Helen is wearing a suit that appears to have been made from jersey, possibly cotton. She’s seen wearing it a lot, and with good reason – she looks great in it. I love the scalloped edge of her collar, and the dark tie around her neck.

Here she is in another suit, this time with a blouse and vest. And note how the hem on this skirt is just a bit shorter than the others. Could Helen have been a teacher? She looks a bit too polished to be a schoolgirl.

The album is quite fragile, and the white ink Emily used to label the photos is fading badly. That’s Helen, Emily, and a friend, Iva. On the right in the wonderful, but unfortunately unflattering, dress is Aunt Em and a possible uncle.

This is Grandmother and Daisy. I’m guessing that Daisy is the child and not the cat, but I could be wrong. I have a strong suspicion that Grandmother never did shorten her skirts.

This photo was not labeled, and I don’t think it is Helen. It does illustrate an interesting tidbit I read in an article in a 1975 American Heritage magazine:

“There was an enormous number of surplus sailor hats at the end of WWI, and soon “Army & Navy” stores were swamped with them. They made good fishing hats, tennis hats, and headgear for general lounging; but pretty girls also discovered that something about a sailor hat, perched atop vagrant curls and hovering over big blue eyes, was irresistible.”

In this case the entire ensemble was appropriated.

Finally, there are some swimming photos, taken at Reed’s Lake, which I think is near Grand Rapids. The bathing suits are great, but it’s their caps that I covet.

And check out the boathouse. A lake near me has one such boathouse remaining from this era, and it is now a historic landmark.

I really don’t want to get into the business of collecting photo albums, but sometimes I come across one that illustrates the times so well that I can’t resist. It’s really a shame that this has been separated from family members who would treasure the contents, but we can honor Helen’s life by letting her teach us about her life and fashions in 1923.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Photographs

1933 – 1935 Beach Ensemble

One of my biggest splurges of the past year was this four-piece beach or sailing ensemble. After years of building a collection, I’ve learned that it’s better to wait for really special things to come to the market instead of buying a lot of miscellaneous bargains. This set is a good example of what I’m saying. I spent more on it than I normally spend on acquisitions, but it was such a great addition to my collection that I just could not resist.

Here are the first two pieces – a playsuit/bathing suit, and a rope belt. The neck with those fabulous nautical flags ties with the same rope as the belt. The belt buckle is plastic, and it is a small miracle that the thing has survived eighty something years.

I was hoping the flags spelled out a secret message, but I could not find a corresponding message for each flag.

This is also the case for the buckle, or at least I could not find it in any of the charts. Maybe I’m asking too much of an already fabulous article.

The pants could be added for a more covered up look. You might have expected the pants to be more like traditional sailor pants with the front flap and two rows of buttons, but the designer was too creative for that.

Instead she gave us one row of buttons on the side front, with a diagonal line to the crotch. You can’t tell from my photo but the opening actually drapes and overlaps an interior piece, and there are straps (barely visible on waistband) that wrap and button. It’s such a great design.

The last piece is a little red jacket, which by itself would look rather plain. But with the flags draped over the neckline and the belt buckle directly below, no other decoration was needed.

Unfortunately, the bathing suit is not in perfect condition. It obviously got much more wear than the other pieces, and there is an area of damage right on the front. When I received this the holes looked much worse, but I did a temporary repair in which I stitched the visible fabric to the lining.  In an interesting twist, I would never have been able to afford this had it been in perfect condition. The trick is to balance fabulousness and rarity with condition. The fact that there were four coordinating pieces really adds to the scarcity. I often see bits and pieces of former sets that have lost their mates. It’s sad, actually.

Can you tell this is a knit? It’s a very finely knit rayon and looks quite similar to the good nylons used by better lingerie companies starting in the late 1940s. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between knit rayon and the later nylon, and I’ve seen 1930s knit rayon mislabeled by sellers as nylon.

Dating was made easy due to the single label present. This is the label used when products were made in accordance with the National Recovery Act, or NRA. The act was instituted in 1933, but was found to be unconstitutional in 1935, so there is only a three year window in which items with the NRA eagle symbol could have been made.

 

 

 

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

A 1960 Ski Marriage

I hope you weren’t expecting wedding photos, as this is a different type of marriage. It’s a marriage of objects that started life in the same place, were separated, and are now reunited.

I found the plaid parka three or four years ago in an antique mall here in North Carolina. For a while it actually resided in my own closet, but I was afraid to wear it because it was so pristine. So for over a year it sat, waiting for a companion to make it complete. Then, out of the blue, I got an email from my friend Hollis of Past Perfect Vintage. She had a pair of ski pants that she thought I might be interested in. After seeing photos, I knew I was interested. I had found (or rather it found me) the mate for my parka.

A bonus was that the pants were unworn, and even had the original hangtag attached. And look at the little White Stag logo charm.

Here you see that the parka has the same charm as the zipper pull. I’m not sure how long White Stag used the charm, but I have only seen it on garments from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Also in the category of Things I Don’t Know, is the issue of labels. Up until around 1960 White Stag used blue or red labels.

At the same time, the colored labels were replaced with a white label with gold lettering. It’s likely that the use of the labels overlapped. It’s also possible that the pants are a year older than the parka, but the blue is identical and the match is perfect.

Both pieces are very well made, as is seen in White Stag active sportswear of this era. But not long after these pieces were made, things began to change at White Stag. I once had a conversation with a former executive of the company who told me that sometime in the 1960s White Stag decided to go in a more “fashion” direction. The ski wear became more about looks than about function, and was eventually just phased out.  If you see White Stag items from the 1970s and later, you will see what he was talking about.

But my set is functional for outdoor sports. The parka is lined in waterproof nylon, and the hood fits tightly to the head without affecting visibility. There is a drawstring at the hem so it can be adjusted to suit the wearer. And all the pockets are deep and are zippered.

The pants pockets are also zippered, and the hems of the pants are slightly flared to allow one to easily pull them on. And there is a wide elastic strap to hold the legs securely under the boots.

As Hollis said to me when I got these, it really does pay to let people know what you collect. I’ve gotten a lot of great items from sellers who have learned my collecting needs. And check out Hollis’s shop and Instagram. She sells some of the best vintage clothing on the net.

A note about my photos. I know they are bad. I have lost my “good” camera, and I obviously have not mastered the art of smartphone photos. Please bear with me!

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

Ski Suit, 1930s or early 1940s

I bought this white and blue ski suit some time ago, and until I posted about the late 20s suit, I had forgotten that I’d not shown off this one. There are a lot of similarities between this suit and the 1920s suit, but the differences are what makes placing a date on this set easier.

The biggest difference is probably the use of the zipper as an important part of the garment. The late 20s top has a short zipper at the neck, but  with its prominent tassel, I tend to think it was more for decoration than function. Remember, that earlier set was knit, and this one, made five to ten years later, is a woven. There is a need for garment openings, and both the jacket and the pants have zippers.

The 1920s knit pants were stretchy enough to pull on without an opening. There later pants with the tightly woven wool, require an opening. By the time these were made, probably after 1935, zippers were coming into common use in garments.

This set does have knit cuffs on the sleeves and pants legs.  The touch of color really adds to the attractiveness of this set.

This little tab under the collar keeps the jacket securely closed.

There is also a tab at the top of the pants zipper. Could it be that the maker just did not trust the zippers to hold securely? Remember, the zipper was just becoming commonly used. Maybe they were like the early adopters of the nylon coil zipper in the 1960s, when zipper failures were a very real problem.

That metal buckle also helps in adjusting the waist size.

Another clue that this suit is later than my 1920s one is the emphasis put on the natural waistline. You see that same feature on the ski suit in the 1941 photograph of Geraldine Kirkendall that I posted earlier this week. Actually these two suits are alike in every way except for the puffed sleeves  and surface decoration on Geraldine’s suit.

So, what keeps this ski suit from being from the later 1940s or even the 50s? Mainly, it’s the fabric used. By the time WWII started for the USA in 1941, manufacturers were turning away from heavy, fuzzy wools like the one used in my suit. Wool gabardine was found to be more resistant to water and wind and was lighter in weight. Ski pants lost the knit cuffs, and under-the-foot straps were added to keep the legs tucked into the boots and socks.

Okay, the gabardine suits might have been more practical, but I can’t imagine anything being cozier for a snowy day.

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1940s SS Neptune Linen Top

It seems like I’ve been on a real nautical kick lately, as the last three items I’ve added to my collection were inspired by the sea. It’s not surprising, really, as sportswear has from its very early days been influenced by clothing traditionally worn at and on the ocean. Garments like the middy blouse were based on the sailor’s middy, and nautical motifs are really common in sports clothing.

Today’s nautical garment is a top from the post-war 1940s. The fabric is linen, and is nice and crisp.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this top, and its original purpose. At first I thought it might be a beach cover-up, but the length seems a little short for that use. The presence of the pockets, and the fact that there are only three buttons keeps this from being a blouse that would tuck into pants or shorts. So I’m going with jacket. I can see this paired with a pair of white slacks, with maybe a tee shirt or halter top beneath.

I love the colors, which are not the standard nautical red, white, and navy. The rope around the life preserver is the very same color as a sash on a late 40s pants set I have. Color is fascinating, because you really can use it to help with the dating of garments.

At first I could not decide if the buttons were the originals, but a very close inspection of the thread used in the making of the buttonholes, and the thread used to sew on the buttons seems to be a match. So I’m pretty sure they are the originals.  And you can tell by the handmade button holes that the jacket was made by a home sewer, rather than manufactured commercially.

The sewer knew her (or his, possibly…) fabrics and took no chances with the linen. To eliminate raveling, the armscye was bound in bias tape, and the seams were flat felled. There are no exposed edges anywhere on the garment.

I looked to see if there was any special SS Neptune, and found a lot of photos of a sailing ship caught in the arctic ice. There have been lots of ships named Neptune, for obvious reasons, and I guess this print was named not for a real ship, but for an imaginary Neptune.

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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing