Category Archives: Vintage Photographs

New York Public Library Digital Collections

New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library

There is a growing movement within libraries and other institutions to allow freer use of resources that are without copyright restrictions.  This movement has even extended to the law in some places.  In the United Kingdom the courts recently ruled that photographs of items in the public domain (such as works of art) are also in the public domain.

The New York Public Library recently announced a change in their policy concerning the use of items in the public domain within their digital collections.  They have actually made it easier for people to freely use the items in their digital collections, going so far as to provide high resolution images that are available to download with one click.

On this blog I try to use my own images, but there are time when I don’t have what I need in my own collection.  It is great that institutions like NYPL are willing to share their riches, and thus to contribute to all the great scholarship that I see in fashion history blogs.  And I’m sure that this applies to other topics as well.

For a long time the internet has been like a giant free-for-all when it comes to images, and even content.  Perhaps the thinking at NYPL and other institutions is along the lines of, “If you can’t lick them, join them.”  People are going to take the stuff anyway, so providing them with the tools necessary to properly attribute the images used will keep images from being separated from their history.   Let’s hope so, anyway.

There is a search function, of course, but images are also arranged in categories and sub-categories.  I’m warning you though, this is a very deep rabbit hole, with more than 180,000 images.  Have fun!

New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library

L.Bonnotte, 1920, Art and Picture Collection. The New York Public Library

1895 Basket Ball Team of Smith College, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, NYPL

Fashion Print, 1931, Art and Picture Collection, New York Public Library

Grace Wiederseim, 1904, Art and Picture Collection, New York Public Library

Wool Cycling Dress With Pleated Back ; Tennis Costume Of Cream Flannel With Striped Sleeves & Trim, Black Ties 1891, Art and Picture Collection, New York Public Library

My search term, “sports women”, produced all the above images.


Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Photographs

In the Snow, 1952

I recently read an interesting quote by The New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman: “Everyone who gets dressed thinks about fashion.”  And while I couldn’t find the quote in context, to me it brings up the idea that being concerned with one’s dress is not for the serious-minded among us.  In other words, fashion is fluff.

The woman in today’s photo may or may nor be a fashionable person, but she is obviously concerned with her style of dress.  Before you go out into the cold weather, throwing on anything that will keep you warm, think about this woman and how she styled herself for the cold.

She limited herself to two colors – pink and black – plus white.  Since her jacket was pink, she chose a black with white snowflake sweater.  Around her neck she tied a black and white scarf.

I suppose the obvious choice for gloves would have been black, but she went with a darker pink with white mittens.

But probably my favorite thing about this snow ensemble is the choice of socks.  How wonderful are those pink socks!

The 1950s are often thought of as a time when everything had to match, but we forget that “matching” can happen in many different ways.  She didn’t do for all pink accessories because the little touch of black at her neck created more contrast and is more interesting visually.

I do have one concern.  For someone who is so stylishly yet appropriately dressed, where the heck is her cap?


Filed under Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs, Winter Sports

1920s Shawl-Collared Sweaters, Part II

One of the great things about collecting photographs is that I don’t have to look very far for illustrations for my blog posts.  I found the shawl sweaters in my 1921 catalog so interesting that I looked through my collection to see how women wore shawl-collared sweaters in the 1920s.

Above is an early 1920s photo that was taken at a sporting event of some sort, maybe a college field day at a school for women.  There were lots of young women in middys and bloomers, but there were also some very sporty spectators.

I posted this photo some time ago in a quest to figure out what the heck these young people were doing.  A close look shows that at least one of them is wear a shawl-collared sweater.  (They are pulling a log for some unknown reason.)

This sweater looks like a more masculine style, so it is possible that this young woman has appropriated her boyfriend’s or brother’s sweater.  I didn’t show any men’s sweaters from the Famous Fain catalog, but it does show this style of cardigan – a style that changed very little through the 1960s.

This photo is a bit more recent than the others, being dated 1929.  It’s a good possibility that this is a man’s sweater as well, as those made for women tended to be more “fashionable.”  By 1929, this style had been around for a while.

Collecting vintage photos is fun.  They are easy to store and they do not take up much space.  For practically every interest, there are vintage photos.  I have a really hard time limiting myself to just ones of women in sports clothes and to travelers.  I could easily tip over into people wearing Halloween costumes, homes decorated for Christmas, and kids playing with their dogs.  And though I don’t actively collect them, I always look for ones that are somehow quirky, like ones I saw at the Met several years ago.  I could have a category called “people doing nutty stuff in inappropriate clothing.”


Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs, Winter Sports

Along the Way to Women Wearing Slacks – Beach Pyjamas

One reason I know I’ll never be able to write a book is because I’m too easily distracted.  For the past two months I’ve been immersed in old magazines and books, looking for references to women’s hiking attire.  But I also found myself being attracted to other subjects that kept turning up, especially ones that had to do with women wearing pants.

Most intriguing was the way beach pyjamas burst onto the American fashion scene in 1925.  In January, 1925, Vogue speculated on the success of the daring new style:

All the shops are showing the new and brilliant beach pyjamas, so successfully worn at the Lido – so daringly sponsored by one lone Newport leader last summer.  Will they – or won’t they – be seen at Palm Beach?  Poiret, for one, declares that they will.  But customs are very different at the Lido and at Palm Beach, and it is unlikely that their popularity will be as great in this country as in Italy.

To me, the term beach pyjamas conjures up a vision of the wide legged one-piece pyjamas worn in the early 1930s.  But Vogue was referring to an entirely different silhouette.  The beach pajamas of the 1920s were more like pajamas of today, with narrow legs and consisting of two pieces.  The photo above is from a 1925 ad for Best & Co.

The Lido Pajama is the latest thing for beach wear.  These have wool jersey trousers and a smart little mandarin top of bright patterned rubberized silk banded in jersey.

By April, Vogue had taken another tone when referring to beach pyjamas.  In an article titled “Warm Weather Accessories,” beach pyjamas were mentioned almost matter of factly.

For those who prefer the freedom of the pyjama is this terry cloth beach set.

Through the end of the 1920s, beach pyjamas were just that – a two-piece set of top and trousers.  The photo above was taken in 1929.

To get a better picture of what American women were actually wearing, I turned to Good Housekeeping, a magazine that had monthly fashion features but which was not a fashion magazine.  It was not until June of 1930 that I found a reference to beach pyjamas in that more mainstream publication.  The one pictured was French and one-piece, but the trouser legs were still slim.

But wide legs were on their way.  The illustration above is from a 1931 publication from Wright’s Bias Fold Tape.  You can see the transition from the older style pajamas in the green suit on the right, to the wider legs of the other two examples.

Of course I don’t know why the legs got so wide so fast, but it can be observed that the wide legged pyjamas of the early 1930s seem to mirror the shape of the floor length evening gowns of the period with their narrow waists and wide, sweeping hem.  Those of the 1920s were a more boyish look, in keeping with the “garçonne” look of the mid 1920s.



Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Photographs

Currently Reading: Women in Pants

Dear Readers, I am having some problems with my computer, and so I’m not able to make any new posts. While we are waiting for a miracle cure for my old HP Touchsmart, here is a post from five years ago.

I’ve been reading this book, Women in Pants, for the past day or so, and I’ve got to say how much I really loved it.   Ironically, I almost didn’t buy it; in fact had passed on it several times.  You see, I was prejudiced against it for several reasons.  First, there are more photos than there is print.  That is usually a bad sign for me, as I love great old vintage photos, but I like a  little information served up with them.  It’s been my experince that books full of vintage photos usually are just about what you see.  And that leads me to former objection number two, which was this book is pretty much the collection of one person, author Catherine Smith.  Again, I’ve really come to suspect books of this type as being long on images, short on info.

I’m happy to say that I did take a chance on the book, and I was terribly wrong about it.  Smith and Greig present a well researched, beautifully illustrated book on the subject of women who literally wore the pants in an era when it was almost completely socially unacceptable to do so.  The photos Smith and others have collected are accompanied with insights gleaned from many primary sources, which are quoted liberally throughout the book.

While the book shows women wearing pants in the expected ways – college girls in bloomers playing basketball, stage actresses dressed as men during performances – there are some really interesting and off-beat photos of women dressed as men lovers and even all female weddings with half the women dressed as men.  And then there are the women adventurers dressed as men as they flew aeroplanes and scaled mountains.  Fantastic stuff!

As a collector of old photos of women in sportswear, I’ve looked through thousands of vintage photos.  Usually the older ones just get a quick glance from me, but now I’ll be looking for the crooked mustache and the too large suit coat!

And here are some of my favorite women in pants:


Filed under Currently Reading, Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs

Thoughts on Photographs – Vintage and Modern

A lot of my time on any vintage shopping excursion is devoted to looking through stacks of vintage photographs.   I just can’t think of a better way to study how people actually dressed than to examine the photos of an era.  I guess it would be even better if they were all in color.

I’ve noticed that I rarely see photos younger than the early 1970s.  I’m thinking that newer photos are still in the possession of their original owners, but that as time passes and the owners die, treasures from the 1970s through the 1990s will hit the market.

It has occurred to me that these wonderfully old candid snapshots are pretty much a thing of the past.  With digital photography we take and retake an image until it is “perfect.”  We arrange not only ourselves, but also our belongings in photographs.  What we have lost is a sense of spontaneity in our photos.

I know that many history and museum people object to the use of the word “curate” outside of a museum setting, but it does aptly describe how people take photos in the digital age.  I’m not saying that photo “curation” is somehow wrong; I’m saying that it is leaving a false record of how our lives actually look.

Another disturbing thought is that many photos taken today are never seen outside of the virtual world.  Out of the thousands of photos I take in any year, I might actually print a hundred or so of them.  I doubt that anyone prints all the photos they take these days.

Of course the trade-off is that there are so many photos digitized and shared today that the  internet is a virtual photo album of the grandest sort.  More and more people and institutions are digitizing collections so they can be shared online.  We have access to photos of the past – and present – like never before.  That said, I don’t think anything can replace the fun of a good shuffle through a stack of vintage black and whites.

Here are two more photos from the Sophie in Miami set.  In the top photo Sophie is on the left, next to yet another man identified only as Sy.  That’s him in the bottom photo, with his arms around Betty of the fantastic shoes, so he was probably not one of Sophie’s conquests.


Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Photographs

Sophie in Miami, 1938 – 1942

I look at a lot of vintage photos.  I love nothing more than finding a big box of them at a flea market so I can stand and shuffle through them.  I even look for them online.  Whenever I have a spare thirty minutes or so I’ll often go to Etsy and do some searches for sportswear-wearing vintage women.

That’s how I found the photos I’m showing today.  I usually do not look for lots of more than one photo, but I found a group which contained the same people on the beach in Miami between 1938 and 1942.  It was too interesting to pass up.

The set of photos were taken with several different cameras, but some of the same people kept appearing over and over.  The most common factor in the group is a woman named Sophie.  I’ve come up with the idea that these were her photos, and that she and her group of friends traded them for other photos taken on their days at the beach.  That would explain the different types of photos, plus the fact that there are different handwritings on the various photos.

The oldest photo I have of Sophie is the one above, taken in 1938.  The young man is not identified.

This is Sophie and Harry Lack.

Sophie and Harry again, with a better look at her bathing suit.

A month later, Sophie is wearing the same bathing suit, but she has a new guy to pose with, Lou Shapiro.

And then another month later, Sophie is sporting a new bathing suit, and another new guy, Herb Klein.

The photos end in April, 1942.  Here Sophie has yet another new beau, Irving Saltz.  It would be interesting to know what happened to Sophie.  Did she end up with Harry or Lou or Herb or Irving? Maybe the great and wonderful internet will solve the mystery for us.



Filed under Vintage Photographs