Category Archives: Vintage Clothing

A.E. Lelong, 18 Place de la Madeleine, Paris, Circa 1910

One of the great things about collecting old clothes is that the internet has made it so easy to find like-minded people with whom you can talk fashion history. It was through longtime on-line friend Jonathan that I met vintage sellers Melinda and Jeff, who live in my own community. Seriously, it took a guy from Canada to connect me with people in my own extended backyard.

For obvious reasons, I love visiting Mel and Jeff. They always have something “new” that I’ve never seen. And while museum exhibitions are so useful in learning about old stuff, having access to lovely things and actually getting to examine them is an education apart.

Last fall I was at their place of business when I passed by a blue linen suit waiting for its turn to be photographed.  I’m such a sucker for blue anyway, but this suit was just the loveliest thing I’d seen. I pulled it off the rack and saw the label, A.E. Lelong, Paris. I was familiar with Lucien Lelong whose couture house existed from the early 1920s to the late 1940s, but this suit predated that label. Still, I was sure there had to be a connection.

But even without the label I could tell this was an exceptional garment. The two colors of blue linen were perfectly matched, and the details showed expert construction. Between the label and the superb craftsmanship of the piece, I was intrigued. I took a few photos and when I returned home, began a search for A.E. Lelong.

As it turns out, A. was Arthur, Lucien Lelong’s father and E. was his wife Éléonore . Details are a bit sketchy, but Arthur and
Éléonore owned a textile and dressmaking establishment at 18 Place de la Madeleine in Paris. Their son Lucien studied business, but joined his parent’s business when he finished school. In 1914 he was set to take over with the first collection made under his direction when World War One erupted.

When the war was over, Lucien returned to Paris and resumed his work at A.E. Lelong. Several years later the company was renamed Lucien Lelong.  Lucien was not so much the designer of the company as he was the director. Designers were employed, and with  input from Lelong, the collections were designed and made.

This suit pre-dates Lucien’s time at Lelong, though from what I’ve read he was influencing the activities at A.E. Lelong even before he formally joined the company. What does matter about the suit is the fact that it is a wonderful example of French couture in the early days of the twentieth century. Linen suits from this era are quite common, but most of the ones I’ve seen are white or off white. The blue color is just extra special.

Like so much fine dressmaking from the twentieth century, this set has a combination of machine and handwork. The construction is machine sewn, with the embellishments being applied by hand.

A word about the length, the mannequin is a bit tall for the dress. It is actually to the ankle.

The dress makes a statement even without the jacket. What could be lovelier on a lazy summer afternoon.

The braid was laid on and stitched by hand.

The lace looks to be hand crocheted, but I’m no expert on lace, and machines were making incredible look-alikes buy this era.

The dress buttons up the back with the tiniest buttons.

Instead of buttonholes, the maker made a string of loops out of a continuous thread. This dress definitely required the help of a lady’s maid.

The closure on the jacket is that elaborately knotted braid. The buttons are purely decorative.

When I saw this set, my first thought was, “I want that.” But soon common sense took over. As much as I love this, I have to be reasonable and limit myself to buying sportier items that fit within the context of my bigger picture. So, I did what any friend would do – I sent photos to Jonathan at the Fashion History Museum. He was coming to North Carolina to get the Poiret coat, and I wanted to make sure he saw this as well.

As it turns out, the suit is now at the Fashion History Museum, on display in one of their current exhibitions, Made in France. I love happy endings!

An online search for examples of clothing with the A.E. Lelong label have shown the label to be quite rare. The Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris has four examples.

Thanks to Melinda and Jeff for the use of their photos.

And here’s a photo of the suit as shown at the Fashion History Museum. Thanks to Jonathan for the photo.

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Paul Poiret Coat, Circa 1912

Several months ago I posted that the Fashion History Museum was raising funds to acquire an evening coat by Paul Poiret. Thanks to all who helped with the fundraising (and that included around $600 donated by The Vintage Traveler readers) the coat was added to the museum’s collection, and is now on display in their latest exhibition, Made in France.

I was lucky to be able to see and examine the coat as, believe it or not, this coat was found here in North Carolina!

The story begins last spring, when Jonathan and Kenn from the museum traveled south from Ontario to deliver their Lucile dress to a small exhibition at a local Titanic attraction. They then spent the afternoon with me, viewing my collection and talking fashion history. They mentioned that they had an appointment in Asheville to see a Poiret coat, which really floored me.

As it turned out, the coat was in the possession of Melinda and Jeff of Style and Salvage Vintage, whose business is located here in my little town of Clyde. I didn’t know them at the time, but Jonathan put us in touch, and I eagerly took up their invitation to go to their business and see the coat.

It is a simply stunning garment, beautiful in photographs that don’t fully show just how great an object it is. The gold bits are metallic lace, that wonderful substance that was so prized in the 1910s and 1920s. The exterior of the coat is gold silk, and the interior, which shows through the lace, is the most luscious shade of green.

So how did such a rare object come to be in Western North Carolina. I won’t give the details, but Melinda and Jeff were at a sale that advertised old clothes and costumes. Not known for being shy, Jeff asked the seller if there were other garments not currently in the sale. The answer was yes, there were more, and so arrangements were made to view the rest of the clothing.

While going through the racks, Melinda spotted the gold lace, held her breath, and pulled the coat out. She already knew it was special, but I would have loved to have seen her face at the moment she spotted that label!

The seller, who was working on behalf of an organization that actually owned the clothes, agreed to let Melinda and Jeff take the coat on consignment. They then set about searching for the perfect buyer for the coat.

That led them to contact Jonathan and Kenn,who after seeing the coat, put it on hold and began fund-raising. This February they again traveled south, and this time returned home with this very special garment. After a bit of restoration, the coat can now be enjoyed all all who are lucky enough to visit the Fashion History Museum this spring and summer.

It just goes to show that there are still marvelous things still hiding in attics and warehouses and who-knows-where else. My thanks to Melinda and Jeff for sharing this story, and for letting me use their photos.

 

 

 

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Catalina Culottes Plus Associated American Artist Print

I know I’ve said this already, but Catalina is my new vintage favorite. Much of their early work as a swimsuit maker was very inventive, using Hollywood designers in the 1930s and  incorporating hand block prints in the 1940s. In the 1950s Catalina used art designs from the Associated American Artists (AAA), as part of the general trend to incorporate art into textile design.

There are many things that made me want this garment. Though it looks like a skirt, it is actually culottes. I’m thinking that these “pants” could have passed as a skirt, and therefore entered spaces where the presence of women in pants – even culottes – was frowned upon. Each leg is almost a complete circle, and so the bifurcation is very well hidden in the draping of the fabric. I wonder if any high school girls were able to fool the dress code police with these culottes.

I was also interested because the seller, Cheshire Vintage, mentioned that this is a Soap ‘n Water print from AAA.  A quick look through my sources confirmed that this print dates from 1957. I was happy to find this print pictured in a paper by Karen Herbaugh of the sadly now closed American Textile History Museum.

All the AAA fabrics I’ve seen are well-documented on the selvage. Often included is the name of the artist, the year of manufacture, and the AAA identification. Even though my culotte legs are very wide, the selvages were cut off. Still, it is the same fabric that Herbaugh identified as AAA.

I was drawn to this piece also by the label. Catalina was known for making multiple garments out of the fabrics they used, so I’m hoping to find a few matching pieces.

The designer did a beautiful job of showing off this fabric to best advantage. I love how the stripes drape across the hips. Also, notice how the front placement of the stripes make it look as if this were actually a pleated skirt. The center back has the same treatment, with the zipper partly concealed under one of the pleats.

In case you are skeptical that these really are pants, here’s the proof.

 

The culottes are in new condition, never having been worn. There’s even a paper tag that is a bit of a puzzle. The fabric is obviously cotton, not a modern rayon blend. Somehow the wrong tag became pinned to the garment at some point.

 

 

 

 

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1950s Visit to the Art Museum Skirt

I really do love fabrics that pay homage to the arts, and I have wanted to add a garment in this print to my collection ever since I first saw it ages ago.  It dates to the 1950s, that great post-war period when there was a movement to involve art in textile design.

This movement actually has its roots in the days of World War One, when the American Museum of Natural History became involved in a project aimed at getting textile designers to use the museum’s artifacts as inspiration for prints. This movement died down in the 1920s, but it was not forgotten by one of the main proponents of the project, M.D.C. Crawford. Crawford was a collector of South American textiles, and was a reporter for Women’s Wear Daily.  As World War Two spread across the world, he again suggested turning to museums as a way to help designers cope with being deprived of inspiration from Paris.

After the war ended, the art as fabric torch was raised up by a new publication for the textile industry, American Fabrics. According to this magazine there was $780,000,000 Worth of Design Ideas…Free just waiting for textile designers in the works of art in America’s museums.

As a result there are many art-based textile print projects from the late 1940s and the 1950s. Probably the most famous one is Fuller Fabrics’ line called Modern Masters. This line was so important that Life magazine did a large photo essay on it.

I have never discovered what textile company made the print on my new skirt, and the selvage ends are missing. In a way it takes the advice of American Fabrics a bit too literally. However, the black background and the colorful renditions of the works make for a lovely design.

There are several things about the print that I found to be really interesting. First was the inclusion of ceramics. Like textiles, ceramics are sometimes placed in the category of applied arts, rather than fine arts, where most paintings and sculptures are placed.

(If anyone can help identify this piece, I’d be most grateful.)

Also interesting is the inclusion of an Asian work, The Great Wave by Japanese artist Hokusai. While most of the works used are European, it was nice having this famous Japanese work.

Vincent van Gogh is well represented…

… as are the Impressionists.

The 17th century Dutch painters are represented by Johannes Vermeer…

…and Pieter de Hooch.

And any good art course includes a little Goya.

 

 

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Arts and Crafts Meets 1930s in One Lovely Dress

The dress above was part of the auction purchase I’ve written about previously. In this case, the dress (and little cape, which I’ll show in a moment) were exactly as described and as shown. I wanted this set because, while not strictly a sporting ensemble, the dress is very much in line with the sportswear aesthetic of the era. Take off the stenciled decoration, add a belt, and you have a typical tennis dress of the early 1930s.

In analyzing this dress and capelet, I first consulted the 1934 Butterick sewing pattern book in my possession.  I love vintage fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, but in order to see great representations of design details on clothing for the mass market, sewing pattern books cannot be equaled.

Let’s start with the back of the dress. In the early 1930s, the back became an area of fashion interest. It might have been due to the increase in sunbathing and tanning, or maybe the exposed back was making up for the more covered legs. At any rate, an exposed back was in favor on everything from swimwear to evening dresses. Tennis dresses were no exception.  Look carefully at my dress to see the deep, squared-off neckline, similar to view B in the catalog illustration.

As impractical as it may seem, a long row of back buttons was also commonly seen in my 1934 catalog. The view above combines the buttons with a deep V-shaped back neckline.

My dress does not actually button. The wonderful old bakelite buttons are sewn over snap fasteners. I’ll tell why I think the maker chose this method later.

It’s the little matching cape that really gives this ensemble an early 1930s look. These capelets are everywhere in my catalog.

The red piping is a great touch.

The shape of the collar tends to give it a bit of a sailor look, which was another popular design theme in the early 1930s.

You might have noticed that my dress has princess seaming, in which the front is formed by three pieces, with the seaming forming the shape of the bust and the waist. At first I didn’t see any evidence of this design feature, but then one appeared.

I am thinking that my dress must had originally had a matching belt, though the placement of the back buttons does not make allowances for one. But essentially all the dresses in this catalog have a belt at the natural waist.

The stenciling is an interesting feature. The maker might have been inspired by Art Deco motifs, or even the Arts and Crafts movement or the Wiener Werkstätte.

This set was made by a competent dressmaker, but I must say that button holes were not her strong suit. Maybe that’s why the back closes with snaps rather than with buttons.

I hope you can see how beautiful the linen material is. The set is a bit darker than my photos show, giving the piece a lovely handcrafted feel.

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Rita Rollers Skating Sweater

Part of the purpose of this post is to remind you of just how incredibly awesome the internet actually is. Those of us who grew up in the days before the world wide web are not apt to forget how locating information that once took trips to the library are now at our fingertips. Still, a little reminder to be grateful for that reference library in your pocket is in order.

I found this sweater in my Instagram feed. I waited patiently until the seller, Woodland Farm Vintage put it on her site so I could buy it. I have seen a lot of athletic sweaters in my time, but none with a big old dated roller skating patch on the back.

But who were the Rita Rollers? The seller guessed that it was a roller derby team, but I somehow didn’t think this was flashy enough for those skaters. Still, I thought the possibility was intriguing.

Research proved otherwise. I could find no reference at all to a roller derby  team from Chicago called the Rita Rollers. So I did what any modern researcher does – I consulted social media. To be more exact, I posted a photo of the logo patch on Instagram and hoped for the best.

I wasn’t disappointed. My friends at @styleandsalvage thought it might be connected with a Chicago Catholic boys’ school, Saint Rita of Cascia. Another IG friend, @hollyhobbiedthis went on Classmates.com and actually confirmed that is was a school skating club jacket from St. Rita. Not only that, but she found school yearsbooks in which the Rita Rollers were mentioned.

I’ll not post any photos here because of a potential copyright issue, but in the 1942 Cascian there’s a picture of a student wearing his Rita Rollers sweater, and there are team photos of the members wearing their sweaters as well. We are also treated to a bit of information about the club

The reason for the existence of any club is the good of its members. If it does not offer to its members advantages and opportunities for the betterment there is no reason for its existence.

The Rita Rollers organization offers its members social, cultural, and physical advantages. Roller skating is a good, wholesome, exercise for boys and girls. The parties conducted by the club give the boys an opportunity to meet good Catholic girls, and to associate with them in a clean and spirited form of entertainment. The cultural value lies in the refining influence that association with the gentler sex has upon boys.

So, simply put, the purpose of  joining the Rita Rollers was to meet girls. Now that’s settled, here’s a closer look at my sweater.

Even without that super patch on the back, this  would be one nifty sweater. The striped yoke, echoed by the ribbed section at the bottom and on the cuffs puts this one a few notches above the average letter sweater. Also, note that it zips, and has a cute little zipped pocket.

I really do love that zipper.

There are elbow patches sewn to the inside of the sleeves, thereby helping to solve the old problem of holes forming at the most stressed part of the garment.

There’s no maker’s label, only this “All Wool” declaration. I’ve seen this in other sweaters, and also in wool swimsuits.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I found a patch with the original owner’s last name embroidered on it.  So I went back to Classmates.com to try and locate a student named Przyscuha in the 1942 yearbook. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find him in 1942, but there was a Przysucha in the junior class in the 1941 book. Unfortunately, first names weren’t listed except for seniors.

So what happened to our Mr. Przyscuha/Przysucha? Did he get his sweater and then transfer to another school? Did he turn eighteen and quit school to join the military? Was he absent the day school portraits were taken? Maybe some day we’ll discover the answer, but it would really help if I could find his first name.  I did find a pair of Przysucha brothers from Chicago in the 1940 census, Joseph and Chester, who would have been fifteen and eighteen in 1942. Perhaps the sweater belonged to one of them.

 

 

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1970s Pants Set by Stephen Burrows

A big part of my goal in developing my collection is to show when and how and what types of pants were being worn by women. The pair above shows one of the last hurdles women leaped over in the quest for bifurcation – pants as evening wear. In the 1950s women were wearing at-home evening ensembles, often with a long, open skirt over a pair of slim pants. But even in the late 1960s, the day of the tunic pantsuit, women were often denied entrance to restaurants when wearing pants. There are many stories floating around about women who stepped out of their pants and then were allowed to dine wearing only the tunic.

But just a year or two later, things were changing. Designers and fashion magazines were showing pants specifically designed for a night out.  Pants had clearly crossed the finish line, though there are plenty of instances of women being denied the right to wear pants even today.

The set above is by Stephen Burrows, who gained fame as a designer in 1968 when he was given a boutique space withing Henri Bendel, Stephen Burrows World. In 1973 he went independent with his own business and label. My set dates to that second period.  It was during this period of Burrow’s career that he participated in the famous “Battle of Versailles” in November of 1973.

Even when designing in black, Burrows managed to put in a color accent. He had become known for finishing the edges of his clothes with a zig-zag stitch, and he often did the stitch in red.

Both the tunic and the pants are made of three layers of sheer and floaty chiffon. The sleeves are just one layer, which leaves them sheer, giving a bare, but actually covered up look.

This is a magnified look at the little sparkly dots on the fabric. You can see that they are tiny metal strips that are clamped around the weave of the fabric. I can’t imagine how this was created. By hand? By machine?  A few of them are missing, mainly from the shoulders. That’s understandable.

The pants have been professionally altered to enlarge the waist.  At first this puzzled me, as the back of the elastic casing was overlocked, which made it look original as it continued over the added piece. A closer look revealed that the stitching was a bit uneven, and the Stephen Burrows label had been shortened in the process.

The alteration does not bother me, mainly because it does not affect the way the set displays. I will sometimes remove later alterations to a garment, but I plan to just leave this one as it is. The fabric is delicate, and I could end up doing more harm than good to the piece.

I spent several days engrossed in early 1970s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, hoping to find this set featured. I wasn’t so lucky, but there was an editorial in one 1973 magazine that showed a very similar Burrows top along with a flowy pantsuit by another designer.

I was pretty darn tickled when I spotted this gem when visiting friends at Style and Salvage. I want to thank them for giving me first dibs and for the use of their photo. But most of all thanks for letting me hang out and interrupt your busy day. Vintage friends are the best!

 

 

 

 

 

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