Category Archives: Vintage Clothing

1920s Bloomer Shorts by Lafayette Mfg of Baltimore

In the 1910s and 1920s gym wear was a booming business. Most schools were adding physical education classes to the curriculum, even for girls. A need for gym clothing spread beyond the elite colleges and city gymnasiums to schools across America. There were plenty of companies ready to fill the need.

Many sporting goods companies added girls’ gym clothes to their inventory, but in addition what seems to be hundreds of companies were formed to make clothes for gym class. One of these was the Lafayette Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1923 with the mission of providing middy blouses, the standard for girls to wear not only for physical education, but also as classroom attire. The company was formed with partners Maurice Rosenberg, Irma Rosenberg, and Joseph Hinkle. The company’s address was 306 East Lombard Street in Baltimore.

A real plus to this purchase was that the shorts are deadstock and retained the original hangtag. There’s a wealth of information on the tag, without which I don’t think I would ever have been able to learn about the makers.

By far the most useful information provided was the patent number on both the label and the tag. Having the number, I was able to locate a copy of the patent.

If you are wondering why a simple pair of shorts required a patent, the answer is that these are not a simple pair of shorts. Thanks to drawstrings in the back of the waistband, the waist is adjustable from 25 to 34 inches. I can imagine the thrifty mother looking at these with glee, knowing they would continue to fit her growing daughter.

Just pull and tie to adjust the fit.

These shorts have one more interesting feature. At first I was puzzled that the tag called these “bloomers” and the patent called them “knickers” because to me I thought they should be called “shorts”. But these are indeed bloomers, which are concealed beneath the straight legs. It’s an interesting development in the history of shorts, a term that came into use about the time these were made in the late 1920s. The idea of bloomers under shorts persisted in gym clothes. I have several 1960s catalogs that show them.

Research on these bloomers was hindered by the name of the business. With all the towns and streets in the US named for the French hero, plowing through the search results was daunting. Finally, using the name on the patent, and the assumption that Rosenberg was located in Baltimore, I found exactly one useful reference.

Today the location of Lafayette Manufacturing appears to be a parking lot for a hotel.

8 Comments

Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

Ars Lenci Cloche, Circa 1928

Have you ever looked at an object, admiring it, so long that you convinced yourself you had to have it? That’s what happened to me with this hat. I was having a hard time justifying the purchase, but after months of longing to add this to my collection, I bit the bullet, so to speak. My general rule about buying things that are in the upper end of my budget is that I ask myself, “How sad will I be if someone else buys this?” In this case I decided I would be very, very sad.

You may of heard of Lenci as a maker of felt dolls. The company was formed in Turin, Italy in 1918 or 1919. The first product was the dolls, but in 1927 they decided to branch out into fashion items for women and girls made from the same felt as the dolls. The line got a lot of good fashion press in both Europe and the United States.

The entire hat is constructed of felt, with colorful felt appliques of stylized flowers. It’s in very good condition, with a few tiny moth nibbles. This is, after all, made of wool felt.

This illustration is from a March 1928 issue of Women’s Wear Daily. And how about that umbrella?

This illustration is in the collection of the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas in Madrid. My hat also has a contrasting brim like the model in the foreground.

Here’s the label. There must have been Lenci stores in New York, Paris, London , and Manchester. I did read a reference to a store in Paris.

Lenci garments and accessories are quite rare. There is currently a darling girl’s bonnet listed on etsy, and a really sweet little sewing kit attributed to Lenci. This hat came from the collection of long-time Canadian collector Alan Suddon, who died in 2001. My thanks to Cora Ginsburg LLC for the information, the ads, and most of all the hat.

12 Comments

Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Summer Sports

1910s Red Tam

I am always looking for accessories to complete my sporting ensembles. One thing I never pass up in an antique store is a rack of hats. Ninety-nine percent of the time the rack will be full of hats from the 1960s. I have a theory, that when hats began to lose favor in the late 60s women stored their old hats instead of investing in new ones. What else could account for the abundance of 60s hats at estate sales and antique stores?

But this post is about that rarest of hat finds – the pre-1960s sports hat. I gave a little happy dance when I spotted this little red tam among all the faux turbans and pillbox hats.

Items like this hat that were worn for decades with little change in the style, so they can be hard to date from that alone. Fortunately there were a couple of things that let me know this tam dated from around 1910 to the 1920s. First, the seams were finished using a Merrow overlock machine. The stitch is similar to a modern serger, but it is easy to see the difference. I see it a lot in pre-1930 knit bathing suits.

Second, the band of the tam is in a type of machine knit that is commonly seen on knit items from this era. I have a pair of navy blue mittens in the same type knit.

In looking at catalogs and other illustrated sources from the 1910s and 20s, the tam is the hat worn by most women for winter sports. The illustration above is from a 1921 Bradley catalog.

This illustration is on a late Edwardian postcard.

And this one is from the mid to late 1920s. It fits a bit closer to the head, and might even be called a toboggan.

Another factor that contributes to the scarcity of early knits is that so many of them were consumed by moth larvae. Thankfully, this one somehow escaped the hungry little buggers.

2 Comments

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

Pajamas for Women, Part 2

Greenhut-Seigal Cooper catalog, Spring/Summer 1912

The style did not catch on as outerwear, but increasingly it was marketed as lingerie. When famous actresses began wearing pajamas on stage, manufacturers were alerted to this by Women’s Wear.

By the middle of 1911 a trade report from Cincinnati said, “Manufacturers of shirtwaists and pajamas say the trade is quite good…” And James McCreery & Co. on 34th Street in New York City had “silk pajamas for women” in their shop windows. Copy in the 1912 spring-summer catalog from Greenhut-Seigal Cooper declared, “Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year.

Women’s Wear​ Novelties in Pajamas, June 28, 1917

By WWI, pajamas were not just for sleeping. They were advertised as loungewear, and Women’s Wear categorized them as negligee. They were even suggested as “an excellent tea gown”. These early women’s pajamas were two pieces like men’s but were feminized most often by being made of pastel colored silk, elaborately decorated with lace and embroidery.

Billie Burke in Gloria’s Romance. 1916

Around 1914 a new idea in women’s pajamas emerged – the one-piece jumpsuit type. These became very popular after actress Billie Burke wore them in a film in 1916. She became so associated with the style that one-piece pajamas were called Billie Burkes until they fell out of favor around 1920.

Even after pajamas had been made for women for a decade, articles in Women’s Wear show that manufacturers worried they were just a fad. As manufacturer R.F. Raskid said in 1917, “I consider [pajamas] as merely a passing fad, that will have worn itself out in the course of a few months…” But pajamas, along with bifurcated workwear like overalls and coveralls, gained favor during the years of WWI because they were practical. And while overalls for women did decrease in popularity after the war ended, women did not give up their pajamas.

“Billie Burkes”,​Butterick Quarterly, Summer 1919

In 1919, Women’s Wear declared, “For lounging and the care-free hours, pajamas are at present favored by the best dressed women. They have freedom, are comfortable, and offer a wide variety of styles.” By 1919 pajamas were mentioned almost daily in the sleepwear section of Women’s Wear. They were no longer a novelty.

In writing about pajamas, Women’s Wear continued to refer to them in “Oriental” terms like Persian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Turkish. Historian Victoria Pass has been conducting research into what Paul Poiret seemed to know in 1911 – that the Orientalist tropes used to market pajamas with trousers to women connected pajamas to “the exotic other”, making the masculine nature of the pants less of an issue.

“Silk Pajamas on the Beach”​ Women’s Wear, ​July 26, 1922

Until 1922, women for the most part confined their pajamas-wearing to their homes. But in July of that year Women’s Wear published a startling new use for pajamas. “Silk Pajamas on the Beach – A New Use for the Silk Pajamas that have long been Manufactured and Used for Negligee Purposes Is Shown in the Accompanying Photograph. This bather, after her dip, has slipped on the pajamas as a protection from sunburn.” The location was unnamed, but later reports identified it as the Lido in Venice, Italy.

It was not until fall of 1923 that Women’s Wear asked its readers, “Will American Women Adopt Pajamas for the Beach?” A few months later Women’s Wear first used the term, beach pajamas.

Tomorrow, Part 3.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Women in Pants

1920s Dress with Some Issues

I didn’t need this dress. I bought it anyway. First of all, it is a really great dress. Secondly, it has some problems and I felt sorry for it. And finally, it was cheap. I just couldn’t leave it to become someone’s Halloween costume, and then be throughly trashed.

So, I brought it home. The truth is, I was in search of some wintertime projects. This one should occupy me through a few cold and snowy days.

I need to add that this is a really great dress. The asymmetrical chiffon layers are just stunning with the applied trim ovals. It’s a great balance of what the 1920s were all about – a straight (or boyish) silhouette with a touch of romance. I was hoping the dress would have a label, but sorry to say, there isn’t one.

Most of the problems are with the upper bodice. As you can see, the shoulders are pretty much gone. This dress is very light, but even a mostly chiffon 1920s dress with suffer in the shoulders if left to hang. That’s what’s going on here.

You might can tell that there are two layers of chiffon, one black and the other beige. Both will need to be replaced.

There are a few other little issues, like this small hole in the drape, and a rent on the bottom flounce. But ninety percent of the work will be to the upper bodice.

Note that there is an appendage on the right (your left) hip. I’m thinking of using it to replace the upper bodice. Will I be ruining the balance of the dress?

Another problem with the bodice is this lace. It seems to be there for a bit of modesty, as the sheer part of the bodice is quite low. At first I thought the lace was a later addition.

You can see that the stitching holding the lace in place is definitely not original to the dress. I was feeling all smug about thinking the lace was an afterthought until I spotted something else.

This is a bit of the lace where it was originally stitched to the bodice, and then cut away.

The lace is actually very nice, with that metallic thread over-embroidery. So after replacing the chiffon, I’ll reattach the lace in the original place.

After all this work, I’ll not be keeping this dress. This is a dress that needs to be seen, and it is definitely strong enough to wear. It doesn’t fit into my collection, and as pretty as this one is, most museums already have plenty of unlabeled black dinner dresses. The lack of provenance would make it difficult to fit into a history museum collection. So it will be sold, hopefully to someone who will cherish it and who will look marvelous in it.

18 Comments

Filed under Sewing, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Dogs and Brooke Cadwallader

I saw (and bought) a lot of great things on my recent trip to the Liberty Antiques Festival, but probably my favorite is this superb silk scarf by Brooke Cadwallader. Seriously, how can you beat a scarf with a map of the world peppered with our best friend throughout. I’ve written about Brooke Cadwallader in the past, so here’s a refresher course.

Brooke was an American who went to France in the interwar period. There he met his future wife, Mary Pearsall, an Italian/American who was working at Maison Tilly, a scarf maker. They joined forces and began their own scarf business, where they attracted the attention of designers such as Schiaparelli and Molyneux. Success led them to marriage. Unfortunately, the Nazis arrived in Paris, and the Cadwalladers were forced to flee. They ended up in New York, where they restarted their textile printing business.

They were again successful, and produced scarves and also fabrics they sold to designers like Tina Leser and Nettie Rosenstein. The New York operation was small, but in 1950 they moved to Mexico where the business expanded as Casa de los Gallos SA. The business operated until some time in the 1970s. Due to a crooked accountant and government bureaucracy, Cadwallader lost the business. Before turning over the factory, he burned all the textiles that were in stock, his silk screens, and many of the original designs. (Thanks so much to David Noyes, Cadwallader’s great nephew, for this great information.)

Brooke and Mary were fond of old prints, and you can see how they incorporated an antique look into many of their designs.
Here’s the entire scarf. My photography does not give a clue as to how wonderful this is. Click the image for a larger view.
The design makes no attempt to place each dog near the country of origin. Instead, all the dogs are citizens of the world.

And here’s the signature to look for. These scarves are always winners.

3 Comments

Filed under Designers, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

College-Maid, from the Girls at Maryville College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Made in the USA, manufacturing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Vintage Photographs