Category Archives: Vintage Photographs

Dressed to Protest: What Women Wore to the Revolution

Several years ago I read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. In case you don’t know the book, it’s about developing creativity. From many conversations I’ve had with adults over the years, it seems that most people either think they are creative, or they are not creative. But according to Cameron (and many others) creativity can be developed.

One thing Cameron prescribes is what she calls “morning pages”. This is where first thing every morning you write three pages of just anything, in an effort to clear your head of whatever is happening in your life so you can be more receptive to your creative side. I’m sure this practice helps many people, but I tried it and it just seemed like a chore to me.

But another practice suggested in the book has proven to be more helpful, that of setting aside time every week for an art date. The art date is a special activity that breaks the routine and exposes you to beauty, learning, and new ideas. It can be anything from a tour through local antiques shops to a museum visit to a lecture on birdwatching.

I really do try to schedule an art date each week. Last week I met with Liza to do some vintage shopping, and then to attend a presentation by Cornelia Powell on the dress reform movement. It was the kind of day that everyone needs, with vintage finds and a thoughtful history lesson. Never mind the guy at the shop who had a big box full of 1930s and 40s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines that he would not sell. That’s another story.

So, here we are after a rough day of the vintage hunt.  We don’t look too frazzled, in light of the fact that just thirty minutes prior we were considering knocking a bookseller over the head and running off with his box of magazines.

I’ll not go into the details of Cornelia’s presentation, because I can’t do justice to it, but I will share some of the images she used.  It’s easy to see why I enjoyed this so much.

If you have read this journal for any time at all, then you  are already aware that sports, and especially bicycling, played a big role in the move toward reform in dress for women. Bicycling also led to many women becoming less dependant on men for transportation. Could this, perhaps, lead to other things? Some men warned that the bicycle was just a gateway to more independence for women.

And the automobile only confirmed those fears.

The wearing of white was a powerful symbol for women protesting and marching for the right to vote. But also note the “revolutionary” tricorn hats!

I really loved this photo of women from the Western states who had already gained the right to vote. Sometimes we in the East forget that many women in the Western states had been voting for many years.

Cornelia reminded us that fashion was a valuable tool in the fight for suffrage. Many of the leaders of the movement learned early on with the failure of the bloomer that looking respectable was key to gaining respect for their cause.

And so my art date was a big success. Thanks to Liza for letting me use her photos, and to Cornelia for all the food for thought.

Remember to always look up. This was the skylight in the library where the event was held.

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Filed under Shopping, Viewpoint, Vintage Photographs

Definitions of Pants: Bloomers, Knickers, and Trousers

Several years ago I presented a paper to my regional Costume Society of America on my research on women hikers and their wearing of knickerbockers (knickers). Sometimes when a person (in this case, me) gets too wrapped up in her own topic, she forgets that others might not be as well acquainted with terms that denote a specific item. In this case, I was asked the question, “What’s the difference between knickers and bloomers?”

Later experience has taught me that for some reason, people tend to equate nineteenth and early twentieth century pants for women with bloomers. And the truth is, that most women who were wearing pants of any type before 1920 were wearing bloomers. They were the accepted garment for women’s sports and exercise attire. Some women were wearing them for bicycling. And for a brief moment in the mid nineteenth century, women dress reformers wore long bloomers beneath shorter dresses and coats.

The difference between knickerbockers and bloomers is chiefly in the volume of the fabric making up the legs. Bloomers are very full, while knickers are more fitted. Also, knickers end just below the knee and are finished with a buttoning band. Bloomers can range from above the knee to the ankle, and are often gathered at the hem with elastic.

But what about trousers, pants that fall straight from the hips to the ankles? While not common, yes, women in the nineteenth century did sometimes wear trousers, which was considered to be a male garment. I’ve seen quite a few photos of women on farms and ranches wearing trousers while doing work. The great photo above shows three women hikers wearing trousers.

But what about a woman in the nineteenth century who lived her life in trousers?

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Yes, there were some. Above is the famous Mary Edwards Walker, physician and fashion rebel. This photo of her sold in February for $9375.  I came across it while reading the latest issue of a well-known magazine for antiques lovers. What made me stop and think was the caption of the photo which twice pointed out that Dr. Walker was wearing bloomers in the photo. I hope you can tell from my descriptions of bloomers, knickers, and trousers that she is actually wearing trousers, not bloomers.

Should the writer of the article known the difference between trousers and bloomers? Does it matter?

The Swann’s auction site describes Walker’s garment as ” pantaloons or bloomers.”  Pantaloons seems to be a fairly accurate term, though many people associate the word with Little Bo Peep.  Personally, I would describe the garment as trousers, though Walker herself referred to them as pants.

Unafraid of controversy, in 1897 she wrote, “I am the original new woman . . . Why, before Lucy Stone, Mrs. Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were—before they were, I am. In the early ’40’s, when they began their work in dress reform, I was already wearing pants . . . I have made it possible for the bicycle girl to wear the abbreviated skirt, and I have prepared the way for the girl in knickerbockers.” Swanns Catalog

When accused of wearing men’s clothing, Walker famously replied that she was wearing her own clothes, not those of a man.

 

 

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Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Photographs

Calamity Jane’s Duds: Historical Center’s Exciting Discovery

Usually a back issue of True West magazine would not interest me, but this one found at the Goodwill Treasure Center caught my eye with the word “Duds”.  And then there was a photo of some interesting looking clothing along with Ms. Calamity herself.

Note the publication date of 1990. This was pretty much pre-internet, and so the nature of research was very different than a search of this nature would be today. in 1989 Elizabeth A. Brink, researcher at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming was given the task of determining whether three garments thought to have belonged to Calamity Jane were, in fact, hers.

The items had come to the Cody Center from the collection of artist Frederic Remington.  According to an 1897 inventory of Remington’s studio, there were no items belonging to Calamity Jane. But a 1916 catalog of the contents listed her vest, coat, and trousers.

Brink turned to photographs to see if any of the objects at the Cody Center matched up with garments Calamity Jane wore in publicity shots. Brink was able to locate around two dozen shots of Jane, most of which are easily accessed today on the internet. In 1989 Brink had to rely on the Center’s library, which fortunately, was up to the task.

In three of the photos Calamity Jane is wearing the outfit above, a coat, vest, and trousers. That certainly sounded promising. In fact, enough of the decorated vest was showing so that Brink was able to positively identify it as being the vest in the Bill Cody Historical Center’s collection.

To add to the evidence, both in the photo and on the garment, the third button down is missing.

Brink then turned her attention to the coat. A garment in the collection, a pullover shirt with beaded American flag decorations was labeled as being the coat. But there was no such garment evident in the known Calamity Jane photos. Encouraged by the presence of the vest, Brink decided to closely examine the other garments in the Remington collection.

She found a coat that was very similar to the one Calamity Jane wore over the vest in the three photos. In the old photos, there was fur at the cuffs, but no fur was present on the existing coat. However, a close examination of the sleeves revealed needle holes and threads where fur could have one time been attached. She was also able to match up the tear on the lower front seen in the photo with a repair in the garment. The final clue that this was Calamity Jane’s coat was found in the buttonholes, which had a distinctive pattern, with some being vertical, but others being horizontal.

The pants were also mislabeled, but another search found a different pair that matched those being worn in the photographs. They were identified by the matching brass buttons and a patch on the left leg.

I went on a search for an online version of this story, and was unable to locate it. The article by researcher Brink is referred to in much of the literature on Calamity Jane, but I felt that this great story needed a presence on the WWW.

 

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Museums, Vintage Photographs

At Hood Rubber Company, Circa 1905

click to enlarge

Back in the winter I wrote about Hood Rubber. The company made all sorts of products that incorporated rubber, but the most interesting to me were the canvas and rubber leisure shoes.  After making the post, my friend Lynn of AmericanAgeFashion wrote to remind me that she had also written about the company because she had a wonderful old photo that showed some workers in one of the Hood factories. When I met Lynn in Charlotte a few weeks ago, she gave the photo to me to add to my archive.

The only person identified in the photo is the older woman who is standing between two men. She was identified as Grandmother King. In another pen was added “Hood Rubber Watertown”, and in pencil someone wrote “c 1910”. These identifications were added much later, as the pens used were ballpoints, which did not come into common use until the 1940s. My point is that the circa 1910 seems to be a bit off, as I’d put this at least five years earlier.

My guess is this is a cutting room. At the time, athletic shoes were either black or white, and that’s what we can see in the bolts stacked behind the workers. Even though this area has electric lights, the factory still makes use of the natural light by placing the work tables near the windows. And look carefully at the tables. They appear to be spread with the canvas, and you can see the bolts on the floor on the backs of the tables.

Old industrial photos of this sort provide a lot of information about everything from the types of clothing workers wore to the way factories were set up. They are hard to find, so I’m really happy to have this one and to add it to my records. Thanks Lynn!

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Filed under Collecting, Made in the USA, manufacturing, Shoes, Vintage Photographs

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

Vintage Miscellany – October 8, 2017

It still isn’t fallish here in the Southern Appalachians, but how could I resist this fashionable pair?

And now for a bit of vintage news…

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Filed under Vintage Miscellany, Vintage Photographs

Most Wanted: WWII Era Block Printed Swimsuit

I’m starting a new feature just to show how I can get something on my mind and just keep thinking about it until I either drive myself crazy, or I find an example. Lately, I’ve been all about swimsuits like the one on the right.  These were a wartime innovation, probably in response to the scarcity of dyes and fabrics.

All the ads I’ve found date from 1943 through 1949. Even though there were two piece swimsuits before WWII, they became more prevalent during the war. Because the pieces of fabric used to construct the tops and bottoms are smaller than would be in a one piece, the cutter of the fabric could be more creative in the placement of the pieces, and could work out ways in which to save fabric.

Dyes were made of chemicals used in the war effort, so fabrics were limited to fewer colors. The block printing of the design added color to the white fabric while saving on dye.

All of the examples I’ve seen were made by Catalina Knitting Mills of California, and I’ve seen the idea attributed to their designer, Mary Ann DeWeese (Remember these lobster suits by DeWeese?). I imagine there were companies that copied the idea.

I’ve seen this outrigger canoe design in shades of blue. It’s pretty impressive!

See the difference a few fish (whales?) make?

I’m not sure if this one is actually printed, or if  it is cut and pieced. I’m glad I picked this one out to enlarge because the shoes on the woman on the right are very similar to a pair I have. Otherwise I would never have noticed them.

And here’s another view of the same suit.

These do come on the market quite often, but the prices are always pretty insane. I can see why they are so desirable, so I’ll just wait until I find one in a dusty corner of an estate sale. It could happen, right?

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Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, Most Wanted, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Photographs