Category Archives: Vintage Clothing

Late 1940s Alice Stuart Travel Blouse

One thing that really determines whether or not I add an object to my collection is the condition, especially if it is a fairly common garment.  But sometimes a piece that is damaged crosses my path and I have to decide if the garment is special enough to disregard the damage.

Such was the case of this rayon blouse from the late 1940s or early 50s.  I loved the print, which is made up of ocean liner stickers.  I loved the blue, black, and lime green color scheme.  I loved the style.  But it had numerous problems.  The price was reasonable, so I bought it anyway.

Look carefully at the two photos above to spot the differences.  The bottom photo is before a few temporary repairs.  There were a series of darts that released into fullness above the waist.  This was a design trick that helped a tucked in blouse look neater because it reduced the bulk around the waist.  A previous owner had taken out all the darts, and then she hemmed the blouse about an inch and a half.

Here you can see the stitch marks that had been removed, and the fold line where the blouse had been hemmed.  Note that the stitch lines of the darts had been strained, which probably explains that they had been removed following a weight gain.  The shorter length could possibly have occurred late in the 1950s when over-blouses became popular.

Because the seamlines were somewhat compromised, I decided not to restitch the darts permanently.  Instead, I lightly basted them in place so that when displayed they had the shape of the original design, but with less stress on the dart seams.  The seams around the bottom of both sleeves had been repaired, with much of the underarm seams being broken.  Again, I used basting as these seams were also in fragile condition.

After the repairs, the blouse is still fragile, but is strong enough for display.  It has the look of its original self.

The ad above is from September, 1951, around the time my blouse was made.  One thing I love about researching old brands it that it allows a few guilt-free hours looking through vintage fashion magazines.  I did not expect to find an ad for my blouse, as I would have remembered this print from previous browsings.  But I felt confident that I would find ads for Alice Stuart.

Blouses were a very big deal in the 1940s and 50s, with there being dozens of companies that made blouses exclusively.  Every issue of magazines targeted toward the career girl, like Glamour and Mademoiselle, had plenty of blouse advertisements including those for Alice Stuart.

From the ad above you can see that the blouses were made by Alice Stuart, Inc.  By 1956 the label had become part of the Jonathan Logan dressmaking empire.  In that year Jonathan Logan registered the trademark, which the application claims that the label was first used in 1942.  That sounds about right, though sometimes the information contained in trademark applications involved a bit of guesswork by the applicant.

I have no idea when the label was discontinued, but a search on ebay produced styles from the 1980s.

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Filed under Ad Campaign, Collecting, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

1940s Hat with Everything

So when the mood of today’s hats seem frivolous it may be a kind of singing in the dark, the expression of an effort to put a bit of gaity into a world burdened with problems.

It might seem that the above words could have been written today, but actually the year was 1943.  The world was embroiled in a horrible conflict that required the citizens of the world to be brave, and to present a brave face even in the midst of fear.  Teacher and writer Grace Margaret Morton wrote the words in her book, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance.  They sum up perfectly the view many women both in the US and Canada, and in Europe took in response to fear and grave danger.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past several days looking at fashions from the 1940s, with a focus on the top and the bottom – the hats and the shoes.  By 1943 women’s shoes were terribly practical, with oxford styles and mid to low heel heights prevailing in the fashion magazines.  Colors were very limited, with most styles available only in black and brown.

Hats, on the opposite end of the scale, were fanciful and they varied widely in style.  Most prevalent was a modified form of the fedora, but women could buy hats in almost every shape and form imaginable.  Berets and turbans, tiny tilt hats that hovered over the eyes, and towering toques that had to be shaped on a stiffened form were available.

The difference in shoes and hats was based somewhat on the materials used to make them.  The leather for shoes was in short supply, but hats could be made in many different fabrics, most of which were not rationed.

As a sportswear collector, I do not seek out fancy and elaborate hats and accessories, but when I run across something really great, that I feel helps tell a story, then I can’t resist adding it to my horde.  Such is the case with this hat.

It has a little bit of everything.  The general shape is that of a Juliet cap, a form that was popular with young American women and teens.  But the creator didn’t stop with the addition of sequins and ribbon.  To the lower back of the cap, a looping fringe was added, perhaps simulating longer hair.

But what really sold me on this hat was the cut-out heart on the back of the cap.  This hat was a real attention-getter!

My new hat has three labels – the size, the store, Scherman Fifth Avenue, and a New York Creations label.  I could not find any concrete information about Scherman, but most of the hats I found for sale with the label were from the 1940s and early 1950s.  There was also a hat label for Eugene Scherman from the same era.  In addition, I located a reference to a E.H. Scherman hat shop located on West 37th Street in 1922.

I have no way of knowing at present if the three different references are related, but the search continues.  I would appreciate any information any reader might know or run across about Scherman.

 

The most extreme hats of WWII were those worn by French women.  To learn more about how the French used hats as a protest against German occupation, listen to this Missed in History podcast with fashion historian April Calahan.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, World War II

Mrs. William Stock Wearing a Familiar Looking Dress

I’m in the process of organizing and making good digital copies of my photograph collection.  Actually, I’m waiting for a big snowstorm that will force me to actually stay at home and accomplish the task, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I have been reviewing and categorizing each photo, and when I came to this one, I did a bit of a double-take.  Mrs. Stock’s dress looked very familiar.  Then it hit me.  I have that dress.

The dress is a rayon print with travel tags: Paris, Salzburg, Marrakesh, Edinburgh, and Venice.

It’s 1950s in every way possible, from the pink and olive green used in the print, to the fonts of the words, to the line drawings.  And the design of the dress – actually a skirt and blouse – is also typical of the 1950s.

My dress has no label, but it was commercially made.  I’ve seen the print in another colorway, and in a different type garment – a much fuller skirt.  That’s not uncommon, as a fabric design was often not only used by more than one company, and it might have been offered to home dressmakers as well.

Click to enlarge

Here’s a closer look at Mrs. Stock and her dress.  I love that we can see how she accessorized the dress, with her pearls, bracelet, and especially, the belt.  It’s the only piece that does not match!

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

Variations on a Theme: Bloomers

Sometimes when I go on the hunt for vintage clothing, a theme appears.  Last week the theme was bloomers.  I first spotted this gymsuit with bloomers.  It has a nifty feature.

How about that!  Convenient, but I’m betting the girl who had to wear this suit hated it, and especially hated the drop bottom.

That girl was Margo Kellow.  The gymsuit was made a a company that is new to me, Pennco, or the Pennsylvania Apparel Company.

No sooner had I spotted Margo’s green suit than I saw these big black bloomers flapping in the wind.  I’m pretty sure that the vendor thought they were funny, and she seemed genuinely surprised when I asked the price.  The other shoppers then began to have a few laughs at my expense.

No matter, as I know a great pair of bloomers when I see them.  These are very long, and quite old, probably Edwardian.  Note the use of an overlock stitch.  Yes, the overlock was used this early, having been invented in the 1880s.

It’s very possible that these bloomers once had an attached blouse, as the waist band stitching has been removed.

It was not all gym attire, however.  This is an apron made in the shape of bloomers, which mirror the woman in the print.

Cute, no?

When I returned home, a package was waiting.  In it was yet another pair of bloomers, these a bit later than the top pair.  I got these from my new favorite etsy shop, Poor Little Robin.  Again, we are lucky to have the name of its original owner, Martha Wilson.

All these bloomers got me to thinking about my next research project.  I’m getting a pretty good selection of gymsuits, and so I’m going to be working on a timeline of the changes made in girls’ gym attire over the years.  Hopefully I will have enough information to write a paper for presentation at Costume Society, but if not, I can still post my findings here.

Later on I may be begging for help in the form of your family photos.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Shopping, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

A Sun Mode Original by Jane Irwill

A couple of months ago I went on a rant about using the correct terminology when describing vintage and antique garments.  Not everyone agreed with me, and I can see why, but because I used playsuit as an example, I’m been looking at lots of images, especially in 1930s and 1940s ads, to make sure playsuit was the proper term.

And it is.  The one-piece shorts and top combination above is most commonly referred to as a playsuit in ads of the period.  Almost all the ads I found, and there were quite a few, also featured a matching skirt which can be worn over the playsuit.

On my recent trip to the Hillsville Flea Market, I pulled the playsuit out of a big pile of vintage garments.  The first thought through my head was, “If only the skirt was here too.”  It was my lucky day, as the skirt soon emerged from the heap.

In most of the ads, the skirt buttons up the front, but in my new example, there is a metal zipper closure.

There is also a label in the skirt, something I did not notice until I got the set home and started a better examination.  I was a bit surprised by the label, as I’d known Jane Irwill only as a sweater maker.  The company was actually called Irwill Knitwear Corporation. But a label is an excellent starting place in trying to learn more about a garment.

The first place I turned to was TESS, the US trademark site.  TESS is a great starting point, because it often gives the name of the owner of the label, and it always has the name of the company that produces it.  In this case, I learned that Jane Irwill was a maker of sweaters and playsuits, and that the company name was Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  The page also states that “Jane Irwill” is not a real person.

According to TESS, The trademark “Jane Irwill” was first used in 1940.  I always take first usage dates on TESS with a grain of salt, as I’ve found many errors over the years.  Often the trademark application is made many years after the first usage, and people being human, make mistakes.  So I really do not give the 1940 date much credence.

My next step was to see what I could find out about the Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  Quite a few sites that list business registrations list the year of incorporation as 1923.  The founder of the company was Irving Louis.  Just because the Irwill Knitting Corporation started in 1923, we cannot assume that the Jane Irwill label dates back that far.  The first actual reference I found to the label was in 1939, in a business directory.

I also did a search for “Sun Modes Jane Irwill”, and came up with several newspaper ads ranging from 1946 through 1954.  It could have been used earlier, or later, as I only located five examples.

So depending on when the label was really first used, I’m looking at a set that could have been made between about 1935 when play sets became very popular, through the very early 1950s when the style changed to a more fashionable line.  This was a basic sportswear design that did not really change much in those years.  So it is necessary to really look at the details to narrow down a date.

Note how long the skirt is.  Add two inches to that length because the skirt was hemmed at some point.  This means that either the wearer was short, or the skirt was shortened to bring it more into style when skirts got shorter during WWII.  The skirt length, plus the relatively weak shoulders tend to suggest that this set is either before 1939 or so, or after 1947.

Another clue is that the skirt is cut in  eight gores rather than in a front and back cut as two pieces.  This uses more fabric, and is another clue that this set was not made during the war.

The next thing I considered was the fabric design and the colors used.  The fabric is a very light blue with a brown stripe.  Some people I know are very good at identifying the possible years of manufacture just from the colors used.  Unfortunately, I am not one of those persons, so without a lot of reading and looking at period examples, that information does not help.  What about the stripes, though?  In looking at magazines from 1934 through 1950, I noticed the popularity of stripes increased around 1940, and they stayed popular throughout the 1940s.

So, my best guess is that my Sun Modes set dates to around 1947 or 48.  I would appreciate any additional insights.

This was a great addition to my collection.  In collecting I’ve noticed that the playsuit is often found for sale, but it is rarer for the skirt to be present as well.  I already had one set that is most likely early 1940s.  It was home sewn using feedsack material, a good example of WWII era thrift.  It’s nice to now have a later example.

Let me add a few words about condition.  This set was quite dirty, so I did hand wash it with great success.  Besides the hemming, there are some crude hand repairs to the sleeves and underarms.  For now I’ll leave them as they are.  I rather like the evidence of the former owner’s hand.

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Dating the Swirl Wrap Dress

Longer length plus pocket, so probably 1950s

Usually when you see a Swirl dress advertised, it is described as being from the 1950s.  However, the Swirl wrap dress was made starting in 1944, and its manufacture continued at least through the 1960s and possibly even into the 1970s.  So how does one date a style that was made practically unchanged for thirty years?
First of all, look at the label.   There are two labels that were used in the 1940s; “Ty-wrap by Swirl” and “Swirl by neat ‘n tidy.”  But by far, most Swirl dresses are simply labeled, “Swirl.”  It is thought that some of the early 1950s dresses have this label, but with the addition of the word “sanforized.”

To further complicate matters, the Ty-Wrap label is sometimes found on 1960s wrap dresses.  Perhaps a cache of the old labels was found and put to use at that time.

This Swirl is probably mid 1960s, judging by the length of the skirt.

Probably one of the best ways to judge the age of a Swirl is by its length. The later Swirls are considerably shorter in keeping with the shorter dress styles of the mid 1960s. If you have a short Swirl that you think might be from the 1950s, check the hem to be sure it has not been shortened.  Also, later Swirls are often not as full through the waist as those of the mid 1950s.
Another thing to consider are pockets. Vintage-voyager’s 1940s Swirl has pockets that are sewn into the side seams. The early 1950s Swirls had huge patch pockets. Later Swirls often had smaller pockets, one smaller patch pocket, or even no pockets at all.

Another clue might be the type of print and the colors used. Pink and yellow seem to be popular colors for Swirls, regardless of age, but pay attention to the details. The ultra feminine fabrics of the 1950s gave way to darker colors and more somber prints in the early 1960s.

A later Swirl with shorter length and no pockets

Last of all, there are some dresses from the mid 1960s that are not wrap dresses at all. They sometimes zip up the front, and have a separate tie belt, and they do have the familiar Swirl label. The length, style and colors point toward the mid 1960s for these dresses, and it’s my guess that the Park East and Swirl Girl labels soon followed these styles.

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Filed under Vintage Clothing

The Swirl Wrap Dress

Today I have another of the articles I wrote several years ago for my website.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Swirl wrap dress story starts in Philadelphia with the L. Nachman and Son Company, which was located at 10th and Berks Streets. This company had produced clothing since the early days of the 20th century.  By 1940 they were making a product called the Neat ‘N Tidy, which was a pinafore apron.  In 1944 the Swirl dress and label were born.  Actually, the Swirl was originally conceived as an apron. When Lawrence Nachman registered the Swirl name with the US Patent and Trade mark office, the product was listed as “WOMEN’S AND GIRLS’ WRAP-AROUND APRONS”.  The wrap around apron was a common garment of the day.

How the concept of an apron evolved into a dress is not known (by me, at any rate!) but at some point, the Swirl became a dress – not really a housedress, but one step above.  It was a quick and easy way for a busy housewife to get dressed in a hurry for a trip to the market, or for a casual supper on the patio.  As their slogan at the time put it, Swirl was…”YOUR WRAP “N” TIE FASHION”.

This 1940s Swirl is in the vintage-voyager.com collection.

According to the 1951 ad below, the Swirl pictured came in three patterns and cost about $9.  Vivian Vance’s character on the TV classic, I Love Lucy, Ethel Mertz, frequently wore this style Swirl in the early days of the program.

By 1953, Jack Nachman, president of the company, was looking to relocate the Swirl operation to the South.  First, they would to be closer to where the cotton fabrics they were using were being produced. This would save transportation costs.  Secondly, it’s very likely that they wanted a cheaper source of labor, which was easily found in the non-unionized South.

So Mr. Nachman went south, to Greenville, South Carolina. Through business contacts there he settled on the little town of Easley, about fifteen miles from Greenville. The location was ideal. The town was in the middle of the cotton belt – the area where cotton was grown and then made into cloth.  The textile industry was booming.  In fact, there were sixty-seven factories producing cotton fabric in the Greenville area, factories eager to supply their product to a new clothing production plant.

Photo courtesy of Cur.io Vintage, dress is now in my collection.

And labor costs were very cheap. Most of the people eventually employed at Swirl were women, and that combined with the absence of unions worked to keep wages low.

The Nachman Company started construction on the Easley Textile Company (as the new subsidiary was known) in October, 1953, and in January 1954 the new plant opened. The plant was state of the art, with all new machines from Singer. This is interesting, because when a plant relocated in this fashion, it was usual for all the old machinery and equipment to be moved to the new location.

By 1955, the company was known as Swirl, Inc., with the corporate headquarters in Easley. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, the money generated by the plant (along with that from another new factory in town) enriched the town coffers to the point where a long-delayed hospital project was finally finished. Soon, a second Swirl factory was built in nearby Ware Place, South Carolina.

At the same time, the product line was expanded widely. A wide variety of cotton print fabrics were readily available, and Swirl took full advantage of this. Swirls were made in hundreds of different fabrics, and were decorated with embroidery, applique, lace, piping, rick-rack, and a wide variety of trims. The basic shape of the dress was always the same, with a bodice and sleeves cut in one piece and a full, usually gathered, skirt. They used a signature “Swirl” button at the back of the neck.

A Park East by Swirl dress

This one dress, the wrap model, was the sole product of the plant until 1962.  At that time a second product, the Models Coat, was trademarked and produced by Swirl.  The Models Coat, which sounds glamorous, was just a straight cotton robe that snapped up the front.

The Swirl wrap dresses were also made, but they were getting shorter, as the age of the miniskirt was looming.  By 1964, the company could see that fashions were changing radically, and their product was quickly becoming out-moded.  Plans were made to update the image of the company.

A Swirl Girl Wrap dress

As lifestyles changed, so did Swirl.  In the 1960s Swirl began making women’s loungewear and developed different lines for a more diverse consumer base. The first addition was the Park East label in 1964.  Park East was used mainly on shift dresses, sort of in the Lilly Pulitzer mode.  In 1965 came Swirl Girl, a younger, trendier line of casual dresses and loungewear.

I’m not really sure when the last Swirl wrap dress was made, but I’ve seen them that were knee length and had care labels, so it is my guess that the wrap Swirl was still being made in the early 1970s. They also started making them floor length, as the fashion for floor lenght dresses re-emerged in the 1960s.

Swirl with Maxime Caftan

By the end of the 1980s, the main product at Swirl was the Models Coat.  In 1990, the first real signs of trouble for the company came when sewers were laid off and production curtailed.  The decline of the company occurred slowly through the 1990s, and in 1998, Swirl announced that it would be closing its main facility.  The remaining jobs were phased out, and the company closed the Easley factory for good in 1999.

They did continue operations in Ware Place, South Carolina, making the Models Coat. Today, that house coat, or duster, as my grandmother called it, is still being made in New York by Swirl II Ltd, using mainly imported fabrics. The factory is located in Brooklyn, New York.

Geoffrey Beene for Swirl dress

Next: Some hints on dating Swirl dresses.

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Filed under Southern Textiles, Vintage Clothing