Category Archives: Vintage Photographs

Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part II

So with much encouragement, people across the US took up camping, hiking, and out-dooring, a general term of the time that encompassed many outdoor activities .  It became clear early on that some concessions concerning dress had to be made, especially for women.  One of the first American guides to outdooring was published in 1869.  Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp Life in the Adirondacks, by William Murray, gives a suggestion to women from the author’s wife.  Wear “a short walking dress, with Turkish drawers fastened with a band tightly at the ankle.”

These Turkish drawers were very much like the bloomers that had been advocated by women’s rights activists a few years prior and which had found a place as the bottom half of fashionable bathing costumes.  Mrs. Murray argued that the Turkish drawers were more practical than petticoats.

Despite the advice of Mrs. Murray, most sources of the 1860s through the 1880s don’t mention the wearing of bloomers in place of petticoats.  What was suggested was a light-weight flannel dress with a wide enough skirt hem to allow for a good stride.  In 1884 Harper’s Bazar suggested that “a flannel dress should be included, by all means and it should be made as short and as light in weight as possible, so that it will be suited for mountain climbing and walks through woods where there are more briers than paths.”

By short the writer meant just a few inches shorter than what was fashionable and accepted.  Even in the woods, style was important.  In 1885, Outing, a magazine devoted to the outdoor life, reminded their female readers that “A great deal of your pleasure depends on having comfortable and pretty clothes, nay, even stylish, for the camping-out dress has a style and grace that can be made very effective and becoming.”

The practice of wearing knickerbockers under the hiking skirt coincided with the bicycle craze of the 1890s.  The caricature of a woman in huge bloomers riding her wheel is well-known, but the wearing of exposed knickers on the street was just too extreme a style for most women.  The “skirt convention” as it is called by dress historian Patricia Campbell Warner, was not easily overcome, and despite all the articles and cartoons of the period, it appears that very few women actually wore bloomer bicycle suits.  This conclusion is based on the scarcity of surviving suits and the lack of photographic evidence.

Instead, women bicycle riders began wearing knickerbockers or breeches under a skirt that came to the wearer’s boot tops.  This mode of dress also appealed to women hikers.  Looking back in 1902, a writer for Good Housekeeping magazine stated, “One of the principal reasons camping and tramping are so popular to-day is because women are becoming more discriminating in the matter of dress.  The bicycle taught us the comforts of the short skirt, having cut off trains for one sport, the next step was to evolve fashions where in we might enjoy all of nature.”

In the mid 1890s many articles that addressed the question of what to wear in the woods actually recommended a biking ensemble.  From Harper’s Bazar: “For the [skirt] itself, nothing could be better than a bicycle suit of stout serviceable cloth, the skirt to reach no nearer the ground than the tops of ordinary walking boots.  Under this should be worn bloomers or knickerbockers, just as in bicycling.  Petticoats are as much to be avoided here as when on the wheel.”

Tomorrow:  The hiking skirt becomes obsolete.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Photographs

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.”

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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.

 

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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:

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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.

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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.

 

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1930s Pendleton Toboggan Coat

To a historical clothing collector, one of the most exciting things that can happen is to find  one of the treasures in one’s collection in a vintage photograph.  I was happy to get this photo from reader Edgertor in my inbox last week.  The photo is of her grandmother, and was taken sometime in the early 1930s.  The coat looks to be a Pendleton toboggan coat, which was made by Pendleton in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

I’m lucky enough to have this model in red in my collection.   The Costume Institute at the Met has a black one, and the Pendleton archives also has tan and khaki versions.  All four are made from a textile called the  Glacier Park stripe.  The toboggan coat was also made in a pattern called Harding.  I’ve never seen an example except for photos from the Pendleton archive.

Unfortunately, it appears that the coat has not survived. The coat’s owner was a dairy farmer in Connecticut, and she died only a few years after this photo was taken.  The farm’s barn is still there, and maybe buried under a pile of hay, the coat might someday be found.  That’s my wish, at least.

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