Category Archives: Vintage Clothing

The Cowichan Indian Sweater

I pulled this great little booklet out of a Goodwill bin, along with some other vintage booklets about Native American textiles.  What really interested me about this one was the section on knitted goods made by Vancouver Island Indians.  I know that knitting is not what generally springs to mind when thinking of Native textiles, but the Cowichan sweater is a special story.

In the early days of ebay chat boards, I loved to read the Vintage Fashion Board.  This was in the late 1990s, or maybe early 2000s, long before any vintage blogs or other sources of information online.  It was the best vintage education I could have gotten because it was an open discussion about anything and everything about old clothes.

One discussion I remembered in particular involved Mary Maxim and Cowichan sweaters.  As ebay was growing (exploding, actually) one of the big concerns was using key words so buyers could find what they wanted through searching.  For some reason, probably due to some “expert” on the board giving bad information, sellers started using the term Cowichan to describe Mary Maxim sweaters.

The only things the two sweaters really have in common is the use of a heavy multi-ply yarn in their making and often, the depiction of wildlife.  Mary Maxim is a company that sold knitting charts and yarns to home knitters.  The patterns are pictorial in nature, with themes like fishing or bowling or airplanes, usually in bright colors on a tan background.  They are best described, I suppose, as novelty sweaters.  Cowichan sweaters are hand knit by Indians on Vancouver Island, often with geometric patterns, but also depicting local wildlife.  They are knit in neutral colors of wool.

In the course of the ebay discussion, some knowledgeable person finally showed up and set us all straight about the Cowichan.  To use the term Cowichan to describe any bulky hand knit was just wrong, and to be honest, ignorant.  It was a good lesson for me, not to rely on the word of people I don’t really know.  Do my own research and be careful with the details.  Of course it is much easier now, fifteen years later.  The amount  of information on the internet is far beyond anything I imagined in 2000.  And it helps that today I know many people online whose knowledge I can trust.

Following is the text from the booklet, Indian Weaving, Knitting, Basketry of the Northwest, by Elizabeth Hawkins.  It was published in 1978.

Knitting is a modern technique that was introduced by early Scottish settlers to Vancouver Island Indians.  Today, Native knitting is predominated by the Salish women knitting the famous Cowichan Indian sweaters, and to a lesser extent, tams, socks, mitts and ponchos.  Many women still spin and dye their own wool both because of the handcrafted touch it gives and to keep the cost down.  Many of the sweaters are knitted in the round using as many as eight needles and therefore produce a seamless garment.

There is such a demand today for these sweaters that I was recently told that on two of the Vancouver Island reserves every woman of age commercially knits.  While the southern Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley tribes are the predominant knitters the demand is encouraging a similar home industry in northern villages as well.

Design

Geometric patterns predominate in primitive Salish design but more modern designs often incorporate wildlife.  Thunderbird, eagle, killer whale and deer are crest figures often portrayed.

Duncan Fall Fair brings forth competition among Cowichan knitters.

I thought the spindles were really interesting.  I’ve never seen a spinning wheel adapted from an old treadle sewing machine.

Note the Scottish influence in the sweaters hanging behind the happy spinners.  I love that argyle.  The snowflake is interesting as well.  It looks like other knitting designs such as Scandinavian were being appropriated into the Cowichan.

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Filed under Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

Miller’s Cowgirl Shirt and Karman Riding Pants

I bought this pair some time ago, and I’ve put off and put off writing about them because I’m so clueless about riding attire.  I found them at the Goodwill Clearance, and they were so cheap that I couldn’t resist.  I was pretty confident I could find extra information on the internet.  And as I’ve pointed out before, even clothing designed purely for sport will usually have a bit of “fashion” in them, whether in the colors used, or in the design details.

Actually, I’ve found very little about riding apparel on the net.  I do know that these were for Western riding, maybe of the sort one would wear at a show of Western skills.

The shirt has pearlized snap closures, and a ruffled bib and ruffles on the sleeve cuffs.  The small spread collar is meant to be worn open.

The shirt reminds me so much of a 1970s man’s tuxedo shirt with all those ruffles.  But the collar does not follow the trend toward large and pointed collars.  The fabric is cotton, and just look at that label.

As for the pants, they have that marvelous Western styling with the fancy yoke and big tab belt loops.  There is a metal side zipper.

There is no interior label, but they still have the paper tag attached to the outside.  These were made by Karman.

What was really throwing me off was the shape of the legs.  These look like typical 1970s bell bottom pants.  But then again, maybe they are just wide because they are boot cut, which allows one to wear the pants over the boots.

You can also see a bit of the construction in this photo.  The seams are pinked, and the top of the waist is finished with a strip of bias binding.  The leg hems are not finished, as the wearer would have them hemmed to fit.

The pants also have a paper tag that tells the fiber content and that gives us a WPL number.  WPL stands for Wool Products Labeling.  Unfortunately, the number is not of much use in this case.  All WPL numbers were distributed before 1959, but the date is not when the garment was made.  It merely means that the garment was made after Karman got their number, which was sometime in the 1950s.  There is a database where you can look up the numbers, but it is not useful in dating.  It will help with the manufacturer’s identification in cases where you have the number but not a maker’s label.

So, my verdict?  I’m leaning toward early to mid 1960s, due to construction details, like the metal zipper and the pinked seams.  I also think the label looks old fashioned to be used in the 1970s.  But I’m open to opinions, especially from anyone who has experience with this type of thing.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Mixed Messages – The Mini and the Midi

I’m not going to go into details about the great midi debacle of 1967-1970 because I wrote about it at length last year.  I wanted to show this set though to point out just how confusing the issue of dress length was at the time.

The set is from Ladybug, which might be surprising if you remember that label from the early to mid 1960s.  Ladybug, the junior division of The Villager, was known more for their conservative prints and preppy separates, not for pushing the fashion edge.  Maybe that is why they were hesitant to go full out midi, and instead compromised with the short/long look.

Without the vest, the dress looks a lot shorter.  It is a great little dress, made from wool tweed, or possibly a blend; this was the late 1960s after all.  The bias cut adds so much to the design, as does the leather trim.  But unfortunately, the leather is actually fake, and did not age well.

I can see that this is inspired by the work in leather and wool that Bonnie Cashin did for Philip Sills in the 1960s.  Unfortunately the real leather pieces of Cashin often did not fare any better than did this cheaper version.  Neither leather nor plastics age well without careful preservation.

I didn’t take a photo of just the vest, but I’m glad the set is still together so as to give an accurate picture of its story.  Without the matching dress, one would be tempted to place the vest later in the 1970s, as it is so reminiscent of Maude and her famous long vests.

And while I’m mentioning Ladybug, here is what comes to my mind when thinking of that label.  As I said, Ladybug was the younger version of The Villager, a brand famous for blouses and shirt dresses made of little prints.  Each Ladybug purchase came with a little stickpin in the form of a ladybug.

These pages are from a Ladybug catalog insert in a Seventeen magazine, 1965, and are very typical of what the brand had to offer.  It was the All-American college girl  look, which was fading fast in 1965 due to the Swinging London Mod girl look.

It does seem like so much of the study of  history is interconnected.  I’m currently reading Seven Sisters Style by Rebecca C. Tuite, a history of the clothing worn by the young women at the Seven Sisters colleges.  Villager and Ladybug were a big part of that look in the late 1950s and into the 60s.

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Filed under Ad Campaign, Collecting, Vintage Clothing

Bill Atkinson, Glen of Michigan Shorts Set; Early 1960s

Bill Atkinson for Glen of Michigan is one of those labels that one has either never heard of, or that brings back fond memories of great sportswear.   From 1950 through 1970 architect  Bill Atkinson was the designer at Glen of Michigan.  Atkinson accidentally found he had a talent for fashion after he designed a square dance skirt for his wife.  Made from eight bandannas, the skirt was a big hit.  Atkinson decided to make them to sell, and found a company willing to take on his order, Glen Manufacturing, a maker of women’s house dresses.  In 1951 he released his first full line of sportswear separates.  This set falls in the middle of Atkinson’s career at Glen, sometime in the early 1960s.

Sets like this one are enough to make one long for the days when the American sportswear industry was at its best.  Today the cute kite print would be expected to carry the entire design, but a quick look at the details of this blouse show the types of things that made Glen special.  It would have been simpler to have all the buttons one color, but there are three different colors used, all pulled from the print.

The buttons on the sleeves are all different, and the other sleeve has a different combination.

I forgot to photograph the outfit with the shirt tucked in, but included is the matching belt.

This looks like a skirt, but it was culottes, and in most places a girl could have worn this set to school without bringing the dress code police running.

The shorts even have side seam pockets.

As I’ve said before, it is always a treat when I find all the components of an outfit.  So many times the belts are lost or separated from the set when donated to a thrift store or when an estate is sold.  In this case the seller had bought the entire contents of an estate, and all I had to do was wade through the piles of clothes to locate the matching pieces.

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

1930s Superose Outing Jacket

Last week I talked about the joys of finding a complete outfit.  Today I have just a single piece to share, an outing jacket from Supak and Sons of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  According to newspaper reports in 1954, the company had been making outdoor garments in Minneapolis since 1933.  In 1954 the company relocated to Elizabeth City, North Carolina.  This was during a time when many companies moved south to find a work force that was cheaper and that was not unionized.  Think of it as the first step in off-shoring.

I loved the jacket when I first saw it, but I’ll have to admit that it was the label that sold me on this one.

While this jacket was not labeled as a ski jacket, the company advertised itself as a maker of snow and ski attire.  I can just picture this pretty jacket on the slopes, with maybe dark green wool ski pants, or even brown ones.

I spend quite a bit of my collection time looking at how ensembles were put together in the past.  Ski jackets and pants were sold in matching sets, but the jackets and pants were also sold as separates.  It’s up to me to try and figure out what most likely would have been paired with this jacket by a woman planning a skiing trip.

The color is a bit too orange in this photo.

There is just a hint of extra fullness in the sleeve cap, which tends to say 1936 to 1937 or so.  The presence of a zipper is also within that time frame.

Here’s a nice feature – the pockets are lined in cotton flannelette which is much warmer than the acetate linings and pockets so commonly used today.

Added:  In 1945 the owners of Supak and Sons were listed in a trademark filing as  Henry Supak, Nathan Supak, Sophie Supak, Maurice M. Kleyman, and Thedore Ptashne.

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Filed under Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

Circa 1960s Golf Set by Serbin

One of the difficult things about collecting clothing is that often one finds just part of an ensemble.  As a collector of sportswear that often does not matter, but it is always a treat to find an outfit in its entirety.  Having the top or the skirt of this set would be nice, but it is so much better having both, plus the matching belt.

Serbin was founded in 1943 by brothers  Lewis and John Serbin in Cleveland, Ohio.  In 1951 Lewis Serbin moved his family and the family business to Florida.  There the company focused on golf wear and casual dresses.  The Serbins had a daughter, Marianne, and I’m guessing that she is the Mari*Anne on the label.  At some time she married and her name was Marianne Serbin Friedman.

The quilted skirt is covering a pair of shorts made from the same fabric as the top.  It feels to be a cotton/poly blend.  The buttons are a type that was popular in the late 1960s, ball-shaped plastic covered by a matte paint. There is a nylon zipper in the shorts and in the back of the top.

The belt matches the bias trim on the top and the skirt.

I have not firmed up a date, but my best guess is late 1960s.  Besides the buttons, there are other clues.  The A-line shape of the skirt was a popular one at that time, as was the cotton/poly fabric.  I’ve not shown any of the interior details, but the seams are pinked instead of serged.  That tends to mean a manufacture before the mid 1970s when the serger became widely used, but it pays to remember that smaller companies could not always invest in the latest machinery.

Novelty prints are really more associated with the Seventies than they are the Sixties, but when it comes to golf wear, anything goes.  Any other thoughts?

And I’d sure love to hear from the Serbin family.

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

1960s Buffy For Cinderella Dress

I usually do not buy children’s clothing, but I had to pick up this late 1960s  little dress to share here.

For those of you not around in the 1960s, Buffy was a character on the American sit-com, Family Affair.  It was the story of how three adorable orphans went to live with their urbane uncle and his valet in a luxurious New York apartment.  Buffy was a fan favorite, with her Mrs. Beasley doll and cute pigtails.

I remember the Mrs. Beasley doll being licensed and manufactured by Mattel, but I had no idea that Cinderella was making Buffy dresses.  When the show debuted in 1966 I was eleven years old, and so identified more with the older sister, Cissy.  Her wardrobe was what I’d have gone for.

Buffy was played by Anissa Jones, who unfortunately died from a drug overdose at eighteen.  It was a sad ending to the story of a little girl who had captured the hearts of so many.

Even little girls gave up feminine frills in the 1960s in order to be Mod.  This dress is made from the popular acrylic knit and featured a dropped waist accentuated with a bright red tie.  It was completely on fashion, and very different from the frilly types of dress I remember being produced by Cinderella.

I don’t plan to keep this dress, so if any of you are in need of a tiny little mod dress for daughter or doll, let me know, and I’ll send it on to you.

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Filed under Curiosities, Vintage Clothing