Category Archives: Vintage Photographs

Mammoth Cave Costume

Unidentified Mammoth Cave Costume, Library Special Collections, Western Kentucky University

Another presentation that focused on the history of southwestern Kentucky was given by Donna Parker, recently retired from the Western Kentucky University Library. Like most Americans, I knew of the great Mammoth Cave system, but it was a real surprise to learn that for close to a century, women visitors to the cave wore a special costume provided by the owners of the cave.

The cave was well-known by the 1840s. It was just one of many natural wonder destinations that well-off tourists traveled to experience, along with Niagara Falls, the Natural Bridge of Virginia, the Hudson River Valley, and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Early on it must have been obvious that fashionable dress was dangerous in the cave. The owners developed a woman’s costume, consisting of a shortened dress with bloomers or trousers worn beneath.

The wearing of these costumes is well-documented in photographs, diaries, letters, and personal travel accounts. Many women expressed embarrassment at being forced to wear trousers, others saw it as just part of the experience.

Jennie Ray Younglove at Mammoth Cave

The Kentucky Museum has an exhibition on Mammoth Cave, and in it they included this photograph of a woman visitor. You can barely see the trousers beneath her skirt. One of the best sources of information were the photos taken of visitors to the cave. The WKU Library Special Collections has a nice selection of these, dating from the 1850s to the 1930s when the practice of providing costumes ended.

Kentucky Museum and Library Digital Collection

This photo is from the digital collection of the Kentucky Museum. Though undated, this photo is from around 1905, and maybe as late as 1912 or so. It’s interesting in how the costume has changed. The skirt was abandoned, the bloomers shortened. It could be that these women were accustomed to wearing bathing suits, were at that time were very similar to the cave costume.

Unfortunately, the museum has not been able to locate any extant cave costumes. It’s possible that as things changed and women became more accustomed to wearing bloomers, the oldest costumes were remade into the more abbreviated versions seen above. At any rate, there was a fire in 1916 at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, and it is possible the remaining costumes were destroyed then.

I like to think that somewhere, in an obscure collection, a Mammoth Cave costume still exists. The problem is one of identification. How would one distinguish the cave costume seen in the first photograph from a bloomer outfit worn by a dress reformer? How could the bloomers in the third photograph be distinguished from a 1905 gymnasium suit? I’m not sure it could be done.

I can only hope that somewhere one rests in a box with a note attached, confirming the garment as the elusive cave costume.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Curiosities, Museums, Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs, Women in Pants

Vintage Miscellany – May 18, 2021

This young woman may look like she’s having a carefree day at the beach, but actually she is working. She’s a model and this is a professional photograph, made for the arcade card trade. I love it because the emphasis is not on the bathing suit, but on the girl’s happy attitude. And the accessories.

And now for what’s new…

  • I love that dress designer Ann Lowe is finally getting recognition. I hate that every article introduces her as the maker of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress.
  • Always over-contextualized, the Met has announced the next exhibition of the Costume Institute.
  • Here’s a great profile of Helen Uffner, owner of the last large costume rental shop in New York.
  • Designer Alber Elbaz died of Covid-19 in April.
  • In 1887 Hannah Ditzler Alspaugh started a scrapbook of fabric swatches from her clothing.
  • The plea for pockets continues.
  • Why should museums be de-colonized?
  • Do the clothing brands you buy from share your values?
  • The Jane Austen Society of North America, Southwest Region has posted a presentation on 18th century shoes on their Youtube channel.
  • You probably have heard about the biopic based on Halston’s life. It’s currently showing on Netflix. Ewan McGregor plays Halston, and he actually took dressmaking lessons in preparation for the role. I’ll have a review of the miniseries up later this week.

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Filed under Vintage Miscellany, Vintage Photographs

A Mountain Goat?

This photo was a gift from Janey who writes The Atomic Redhead. There was just enough information written on the back of the photo to piece together a bit of a history. It reads, “A mountain goat? Jackie Moore (later Husen)” Quite remarkably, I found two more photos of Jackie, one on Pinterest; the other on Flickr. It appears that whoever had these photos of Jackie had the good habit of labeling them.

An internet search brought up a Jackie Husen Park in Portland, Oregon. I posted all this info with the photo on Instagram, where @truevtgfashion recognized the park as being near her home. She found that, “Jackie Husen Park, named for a long-time local resident whose husband made the property available to the district.”

Another Instagram user, @k.stone.707, found Jackie on Ancestry.com. She was Jacqueline Adelle Moore, who married Carl Calvin Husen in 1946. She was born in 1926, and died in 2000. She was listed on Findagrave.com, where I learned that Carl died in 2006.

Okay, so I have no details about who Jackie was as a person, but looking at this photos of her, taken when she was probably between 18 and 20, we can see that she had an adventurous side. She knew how to put together a great casual outfit. And she had a lovely smile.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Vintage Photographs, Women in Pants

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.

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

Vintage Miscellany – March 29, 2021

The only caption for this late 1940s photo is “The Coveted Basketball suit”. I almost bought a coveted basketball suit recently, but I passed because I felt the price was too high, and because I couldn’t learn anything about the team it represented. The seller listed it as a woman’s baseball suit, and the members of some professional women’s teams did wear similar satin suits. So I couldn’t determine whether the suit was worn for basketball or baseball, or even softball. Now that the suit has sold I’m sitting here asking myself if it really mattered.

There will be other coveted suits.

And now for some news…

  • Alex Trebek’s  fourteen suits, fifty-eight dress shirts, and three hundred neckties were donated by his family to a charity that helps formerly incarcerated men.
  • Alfie Date, 109, knits sweaters for at-risk penguins.
  • John Kennedy’s Harvard cardigan recently sold for $85,000.
  • Martha Washington was more than the grandmother we always picture her as.
  • And, learning from Martha’s purple dress.
  • Historic Deerfield will present a virtual forum, “Invisible Makers: Textiles, Dress, and Marginalized People in 18th- and 19th-Century America,” on Saturday, April 10.
  • Sealaska Heritage Institute and Neiman Marcus have settled a lawsuit over a coat the company sold, bears a striking resemblance to a copyrighted, Alaska Native Ravenstail pattern.
  • Beatrice Behlen shows what we can learn from photographs of Suffragettes.
  • Jessica McClintock, maker of Gunne Sax, has died at age 90.
  • Elsa Peretti, designer of jewelry for Tiffany, has died at 81.

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Filed under Vintage Miscellany, Vintage Photographs

What a Long, Strange Year It’s Been

I’ve been thinking back to how naïve we all were a year ago. I was pretty irritated because I had to cancel a trip for my 65th birthday, and then another trip with my longtime girl gang. I can remember thinking that at least things would be better by the end of April so we could go to my beloved Liberty Antiques Festival. But then that was cancelled, and so it was the thought of going to the Hillsville, Virginia Flea Market and the Liberty show in September that got me through the summer. But then those were cancelled, along with a clothing history symposium I was planning on in October.

In a way, it seems like the longest year ever, but at the same time, it’s almost as if the year didn’t happen. Being retired I was spared the whole work from home thing, but at this stage of my life my main pleasure is getting out in the world, visiting museums and historic sites, and just learning. For most of the past year that was just not going to happen. And even when things began to open up, the world just did not feel like a safe place.

I’m fortunate to live in the Southern Appalachians with National Parks and National Forests. I hiked a lesser known trail in the Great Smokies (not Clingman’s Dome; the parking lot was always full, which means the trail was too crowded) and I visited waterfalls and swam in the cold mountain streams. I slid down Sliding Rock, overcoming a childhood fear of the deep pool at the bottom. I visited local historic sites. And I spent many glorious summer afternoons in my own backyard, enjoying a cold beer, or two.

But still, I have really missed the feeling of freedom to come and go about the world. I feel, and I’ve heard other older people say the same, that I’ve lost a year of my life. Yes, I have gotten things done and have tried new activities. I’ve read – a lot. And I’ve taken advantage of places that allow for distancing.

I’ve often wondered how I’d would react if faced with a real emergency. Well, now I know. I’ve listened to the advice of trained professionals. Mask wearing is now second nature. I’ve had both doses of the covid vaccine. I’ve stayed home for the better part of the year, and I at least have the satisfaction of knowing I have done all I can to stop the spread of this horrible disease.

Even as spring break is causing insanity across the country, there does seem to be light at the end of the corona virus tunnel. As people are looking forward to a more “normal” world, let’s not forget that we all need to be more respectful of others. If we haven’t learned anything from the past year, it’s that it takes all of us to overcome not just covid, but also the social ills that continue to plague us.

I want to go to the beach, but not this beach!

A camping trailer would solve so many of the problems associated with hotels, but it just looks like so much work.

But not as much work as this setup.

Staying in a cabin in the woods might seem heavenly to city dwellers, but this is too similar to my real life.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, North Carolina, Viewpoint, Vintage Photographs

Edwardian Divided Skirt

The world is reopening, whether or not Covid-19 is under control.  I’m a bit conflicted, as it seems like the more people are out being “normal”, the greater the likelihood is that we’ll again find ourselves in lockdown again this fall. I have discovered that antique shops are a good compromise between staying home completely and jumping into a swimming pool with 100 strangers, yelling about our right to party.

So, after getting my hair cut for the first time since February, I went to an antique mall in a nearby town, as a little treat for myself. I had never been there before, so I didn’t have any expectations. As I walked up the aisles, I saw ahead a booth that clearly had clothing. Ten years ago I’d have been all excited, but so many booths in antiques malls are now selling modern clothing that I really didn’t get my hopes up.

But, praise be, there were old clothes in this booth! I immediately spotted a pair of old black cotton exercise bloomers. $12! As I grabbed them, I took a quick look around the booth, and then I saw it – an Edwardian divided skirt. This is the garment women wore for hiking, for camping, and for horseback riding. It’s an all-purpose sports garment, with a big secret.

That secret is that the skirt is actually a pair of pants. Unbutton the front panel, flip it to the right, and you are now wearing culottes.

For years women had been wearing some sort of pants under their skirts for sports. The divided skirt was a late Victorian innovation that allowed the wearer to switch from one to the other with the changing of a few buttons.

Even buttoned to expose the pants, the garment could pass for a skirt.

These were sold by the Standard Mail Order Company of New York  City.  There are digital copies of catalogs from that company all over the internet, so I will be doing a bit of searching for my divided skirt.

This was not a product unique to Standard. My 1910 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog has a very similar style  for sale for $12.50 to $20  dollars. According to the inflation calculator, that would have been  $320 to $512 in today’s money. Perhaps Standard was a bit more accessible to the less-than-rich.

And I’m guessing it was more affordable, as I have in my collection of vintage photos various women wearing the garment. It was such a great innovation, which allowed women to ride a horse astride, to safely ride a bicycle, and to romp freely through the woods. Can’t ask more of a garment than that.

My divided skirt shows a lot of signs that it was worn a lot. It’s missing a button, and there are a few small rips around some of the buttonholes. The hem you see with the darker thread is not original. Either the original wearer was very short, or she shortened the skirt in the mid 1910s when fashion dictated a shorted skirt. Either way, it’s a part of the skirt’s history, and will remain.

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Filed under Collecting, Shopping, Summer Sports, Vintage Photographs