Category Archives: Vintage Clothing

1920s Wool Knickers for Women

I’ve wanted (or, rather, needed) a pair of 1920s wool knickers for some time, and so my heart skipped a few beats last week when I finally found a pair. I had been hoping to find a pair with a matching jacket, and even told myself I was going to hold out for a set, but the minute I laid eyes on these I knew I had to add them to my collection.

Why all the fascination with knickers? For one thing, knickers were both the shorts and the slacks for 1920s women and girls. Except for bloomers worn in gym class and at the end of the decade, pajamas worn on the beach, knickers and the similar garment, breeches, were the only options women had for wearing pants in public.

I’ve heard lots of stories from women who were young during the 1920s of how they raided brother’s closet to daringly wear his knickers. But by the early 1920s that was not even necessary, as mass-market catalogs like Montgomery Ward carried knickers for girls and women.

The clothing above is from the 1925 Montgomery Ward catalog. On the left are breeches, and on the right is a pair of wool tweed knickers. Note that both button on the side, on both sides actually, and the front drops for convenience. Whenever I find a photo of a woman wearing knickers I always try to see the closure, but usually it is obscured as you can see in the photo above.  The presence of a front fly would indicate the woman is wearing men’s knickers.

My pair has pockets that hide the buttons of the opening.

The seam edges are secured with an overlock stitch made by an early machine of this type. Overlocking is most commonly seen on sportswear in garments before the late 1960s.

Here’s another pair from Montgomery Ward, this time from the 1930 catalog. You can see that the style is little changed from the ones made five years earlier.  Knickers were more utilitarian than fashion, but soon after 1930 women’s knickers disappeared from catalogs. In their place were shorts, slacks, and pajamas. My 1932 Sears catalog has no knickers at all for women. It does have breeches and ankle-length knicker-like pants for skiing, and even a pair of actual slacks. Times were definitely changing.

I’m still in the market for a great 1920s wool knicker suit if anyone happens upon one.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Elisabeth Stewart Swim Set

One of the great things about collecting more recent eras of fashion is that there is so much choice. On the other hand, the existence of so much stuff from the past sixty years or so means that a collector has to really be careful in buying so as not to be distracted by all the choices. I’ve written before about how I really try to limit my acquisitions to the very best examples possible. When it comes to sportswear from the mid 1950s and younger, it pays to be patient and to wait until something really special hits the market.

Spend some time looking at old ads from the past and you’ll quickly see that bathing suit companies didn’t just make bathing suits. All sorts of accessories and matching garments were available to the swimsuit shopper. One such garment was the matching cover-up.

I spotted this set some time ago, and I really fell for it. Not only was the set never worn, but there were three matching pieces. The label was one that was not represented in my collection, and the price was fair.

Elisabeth Stewart was the daughter of Catalina swimsuits owner, Ed Stewart. When Ed sold Catalina in 1956, Elisabeth and her brothers, David and Bill Stewart, opened their own bathing suit business in Los Angeles. At that time swimsuit styles (along with fashion in general) were beginning to change. The hourglass New Look was fading, and straighter lines were showing up. Elisabeth Stewart’s swimsuits reflected this change.

This style bathing suit, with the straight across bodice attached to shorts was made popular by designer Tina Leser who was making swimsuits for Gabar.  Leser was adept at making bathing suits that gave women a bit more coverage. The style must have struck a chord with women because it remains available today, sixty years later.

But the real icing on this bathing suit cake is this matching hat. It looks rather silly on, but it brings out a facet of the set that didn’t really occur to me until I saw the hat on the mannequin. It appears to me that this suit was inspired by the old-fashioned men’s Edwardian striped knit bathing suits, along with the caps worn by Edwardian women bathers.

The label I’m showing is in the hat. Tapoo Hawes was Bill Hawes, a maker of sports hats. The first reference I’ve found to Tapoo was in 1952, in Jet. By looking at some of the hats by Hawes I found for sale, I’d say he continued in business into the 1970s.

Finally, go back to my first photo to make sure you noticed how the design of the fabric was actually achieved through seams. Just beautiful!

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1960s Golf Dress: Chippers by Gregg Draddy

We’ve had a lot of cold and rainy days recently, and that means I’ve spent too much time prowling online selling sites looking for things I didn’t realize I had to have. The dress shown here is a great example. I rarely look for and buy Sixties and newer clothing online because there is so much of it selling for reasonable prices in my local markets. But for this golf dress I made an exception.

I wasn’t familiar with this particular label, but it was the details and condition that sold me on this one. Both side seams are open to the waist to show off the little calico shorts beneath. I loved how the calico was also used to trim the scalloped hem and the neckline.

And I guess a bit of nostalgia was in play here because this was exactly the type of dress (we called them scooter dresses) that the girls in my school used to skirt the dress code prohibition of pants for girls. I had several of these in the late Sixties, and I can remember the teachers telling us to wear a scooter dress the next day whenever something was planned that might mean we’d be on the floor.

So if this was just common attire for schoolgirls in 1968, why did I want this as a golf dress?

The back of the dress tells the tale. There is a pocket that has an expandable pleat, perfect for golf balls and tees. There is also a ring sewn to the other side. I really can’t say what the true function was, but I’ve seen men’s golf pants that have a towel holder in the same spot. Could that be it?

After a bit of online searching, I found the answer in a 1969 Golfdom article:

“From Greg Draddy comes the drop waist dress slit up the sides with pants attached. The back pocket is detachable and there’s a towel ring. Some have cowl collars, others a placket; but all have long back zippers. There’s a waffle pique to fall into the category of texture treatment in fabrics. All the dresses retail from $30 to $35.”

One of my favorite things about this dress is that the pocket is removable. If the owner wanted to wear it off the golf course, she could without it screaming “golf dress”.

I think Chipper is a great name for a golf dress, and it also fits in with cute names of the other lines produced by Gregg Draddy: Zizzie, Tizzie, Sassy, and Steppy.  I haven’t found a lot about the Gregg Draddy label, but one of the dresses I found for sale also had a Bergdorf Goodman label, so the brand was not cheap. But I already knew that from examining my dress. The quality is superb, with a complete cotton lining. And if not for the wear on the label, I’d have bet that this dress had never been worn. Just lovely condition.

I wasn’t very successful in searching for Gregg Draddy as a person.  Those familiar with sportswear may recognize the Draddy name, as it was Vin Draddy at American clothing company David Crystal, who brought the Lacoste polo shirt to America in 1950. I did find a photograph of Gregg Draddy and Vin Draddy together with a few celebrities, and I also found a reference to Gregg as a manufacturer. I’m thinking Vin and Gregg were brothers. There are descendants of Vin still around (in the Asheville area, no less) so the answers are out there.

 

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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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