Category Archives: Winter Sports

Athletics & Out-door Sports for Women, 1903

In 1903 women were in the S-bend corset, and skirts still were sweeping the ground. Amelia Bloomer’s great experiment with pants had failed, and even women cyclists had pretty much settled on skirts over bloomers and knickers for cycling. So how were women at the turn of the twentieth century able to comfortably participate in the growing sports boom?

Probably the best insight on this issue comes from Patricia Campbell Warner in her 2006 book, When the Girls Came Out to Play. Simply put, women wore skirts when participating in sports in a public (meaning men might be present) way, but they turned to bloomers when the situation was private, or included only women. And there were times when bloomers or knickers were worn, but they were concealed beneath a skirt.

I recently acquired Athletics & Out-door Sports for Women, edited by Lucille E. Hill and published in 1903. Hill was the director of physical education at Wellesley, and many of the authors of the sixteen chapters were also associated with women’s colleges. Half of the writers were men.

Another book I’ve been reading (well, actually browsing) on sportswomen in the same era was written by women participants in various sports. This might seem like an advantage, but what was produced was a collection of stories praising each individual sport instead of giving the basics of how to participate. In addition, the topics were definitely targeted toward the British upper class: yachting, stag hunting, and riding to the hounds being covered.

So it has been a real pleasure reading a book that not only is helpful in detailing the clothing women were advised to wear for sports, but also in explaining why, in the customs of the day, such attire was recommended. Not only that, but the photograph illustrations are great.

In her introduction, Hill explains that the only real equipment needed for a woman to get “splendid, daily athletic exercise” is a short skirt and a pair of shoes. Remember, this is 1903, and “short” pretty much means several inches from the ground. In a chapter on cross-country walking it is advised that ” Old clothes are best – warm and not too tight. No constriction of any part of the body can be permitted; loose waists, knickerbockers, and short skirts are always advisable.” It may be that the author, a man, was trying to say “No corsets,” but he stopped short at making that pronouncement. He went on to endorse sweaters and woolen underwear, and to abolish pointed toe boots and any heels over half an inch.

Ms. Hill explained that before participating in sports, a woman must first build up her strength through training at home or at a gymnasium. And while we are not given a written description of what should be worn, we are told for the only time in the book, that corsets are simply not necessary. If a woman cannot give up her corset for exercise, then it must at least be worn loose. All the photos in this section of the book show the women exercising without corsets.

She will soon give it [corset] up, for its support will not be needed. She will have as a result of the exercise a corset of her own beneath the skin, a corset of strong and elastic muscular tissues, much better than steel and whalebone. Anthony Barker

When playing indoors the regulation gymnasium suit of bloomers and a loose blouse of some thin woollen material such as serge is usually worn…

while in the open air a somewhat heavier costume is adopted, a short skirt of some durable cloth like corduroy, and a sweater, or an easy-fitting woollen blouse. Ellen Bernard Thompson

Though the author makes it sound like the skirt and sweater are for reasons of health, I think it is probably a case of not being seen in public in the unseemly bloomers.

There is no distinct golfing costume, but I would advise a short skirt, a shirt-waist that does not bind, and a sensible pair of shoes, large enough to be absolutely comfortable, and with very low heels. Some prefer tennis shoes with no heel at all. One must have rubber or hobnails on the soles to keep from slipping. Frances C. Griscom

When taking up a sport the first thing to consider is the equipment, which should consist of a moderately short walking-skirt, reaching to within four or five inches of the ice, and a pair of well-fitting shoes that can be laced up high enough to give support. Buttoned and low shoes are out of the question. William T. Richardson

The hockey skirt should be plainly made… six inches from the ground all the way round. The shirt-waist, made of flannel, to prevent risk of chills, should be loose fitting. This does not necessitate an ill-fitting garment or untidiness. Petticoats should not be worn, but knickerbockers of the same material as the skirt, fastening at the knee, be substituted. Constance M.K. Applebee

As to costume, looseness is the first and most important particular. The waist should not fit too tight, and it should be particularly free at the elbows and shoulders. The skirt should be short and stiff enough not to get in the way of the knees to to bend so much around them as to bind… Many players wear low canvas slippers with rubber soles, and find them more comfortable and less tiring than leather-bound shoes. J. Parmley Paret

When bowling, women should dress comfortably, avoiding tight-fitting clothes as far as possible. Street shoes are usually worn, but the value of regular bowling shoes is appreciated by the expert. A skirt in short or walking length is preferred, although a long skirt may be worn if occasion demands. A shirt-waist or blouse giving ease at the neck and armholes is essential. Sophie Gundrum

In 1903, it was still standard practice for women to ride side-saddle, and the chapter on riding reflects this attitude.

For my part, I think and hope that the cross saddle for women is more or less a fad, for I cannot see a single advantage it possesses over the side saddle, for looks, good riding, or safety. Belle Beach

Ms. Beach went on to give very particular instructions for the correct riding habit. In the illustration you can see the model is in riding breeches, but Ms. Beach made it clear that the breeches are underclothes, to go under a riding skirt.

In 1903, most women were not swimmers. There was a reason it was called a bathing suit, or even a bathing dress. A day at the beach or lake usually meant a mere frolic in the shallow water. But times were changing. People were beginning to see swimming as a beneficial skill, if not for fun, at least for safety.

The greatest difficulty the female pupil has to encounter is found in the costume which that all-powerful factor, custom, has declared she must wear. Judging from the practical and rational point of view, anything more absurd and useless than the skirt of a fashionable bathing-suit would be difficult to find… A much better garment would be a one-piece loosely fitting garment of fine, light woollen stuff, with the skirt as an adjunct, but not as part of the actual swimming-suit. Edwyn Sandys

What Mr. Sandys is actually describing is the standard gymsuit, perhaps with less full bloomers. As far as I have been able to determine, the difference between an antique bathing suit and a gymsuit is that in a swimsuit the pants are separate, and in a gymsuit the skirt is separate. I am sure there are exceptions, but this is overwhelming what I see in my own research.

7 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Winter Sports

Mervin Knitting Mills Circa 1905 Catalog

I’ve not been very lucky lately in the sportswear ephemera department, but then this catalog appeared on eBay. It’s precisely the type of thing I love  as it shows how women began wearing ready-made sportswear in the very early days of women’s ready-to-wear. It’s hard for us today to imagine, but until late in the nineteenth century there pretty much was not a women’s ready-to-wear industry. Cloaks and mantles – overgarments that did not need precise fitting – were the first to hit the market, and by the late 1890s, women could buy waists, skirts, and undergarments.

There’s no date to be found on my Mervin Knitting Mills catalog but a close examination of the models shows they are all sporting the S silhouette so popular in the Edwardian era. I did find one ad for Mervin, from 1909, and those sweaters all had a longer and leaner line, in keeping with how fashion was changing. So my best guess is around 1905.

Mervin made and imported a large variety of knit goods for women and children. We’d call the garments shown above cardigans or sweaters today, but Mervin Mills marketed them as knit blouses.

In many of the photos the models are holding golf clubs. Being knit, golfers must have really enjoyed the freedom a knit provided.

Many of the images of women golfers of this era show them wearing a double-breasted vest like the golf vests above. The only one I’ve actually ever seen was in an exhibition at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, several years ago.

Taken at Fashioning the New Woman: 1890 – 1925, DAR Museum, in 2013

Mervin Knitting Mills even offered a knit middy, perfect for table tennis.

Knit toques like these are commonly seen in photographs of the era, but are very rare these days.

Knit skirts like these do make it to the modern market on occasion. They are usually sold as petticoats, and I’ve seen them in period catalogs as petticoats. It would be a shame to hide those stripes though, don’t you think?

This garment was listed as a “kimona” coat. It looks a bit fancy for the golf course.

Witness2Fashion has been looking at the different terms given to various forms of lingerie in the 1920s, many of which have changed meaning or are no longer in use. Well, here’s a term I’ve never seen before, the pony coat. What makes the cardigans above pony coats? I have no idea.

Just in case some descendant of Max M. Myres is looking for information, he was the owner of Mervin Knitting Mills. located in New York City on Broadway at the corner of Broome Street. Today a Madewell clothing store occupies that address.

3 Comments

Filed under Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

A 1960 Ski Marriage

I hope you weren’t expecting wedding photos, as this is a different type of marriage. It’s a marriage of objects that started life in the same place, were separated, and are now reunited.

I found the plaid parka three or four years ago in an antique mall here in North Carolina. For a while it actually resided in my own closet, but I was afraid to wear it because it was so pristine. So for over a year it sat, waiting for a companion to make it complete. Then, out of the blue, I got an email from my friend Hollis of Past Perfect Vintage. She had a pair of ski pants that she thought I might be interested in. After seeing photos, I knew I was interested. I had found (or rather it found me) the mate for my parka.

A bonus was that the pants were unworn, and even had the original hangtag attached. And look at the little White Stag logo charm.

Here you see that the parka has the same charm as the zipper pull. I’m not sure how long White Stag used the charm, but I have only seen it on garments from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Also in the category of Things I Don’t Know, is the issue of labels. Up until around 1960 White Stag used blue or red labels.

At the same time, the colored labels were replaced with a white label with gold lettering. It’s likely that the use of the labels overlapped. It’s also possible that the pants are a year older than the parka, but the blue is identical and the match is perfect.

Both pieces are very well made, as is seen in White Stag active sportswear of this era. But not long after these pieces were made, things began to change at White Stag. I once had a conversation with a former executive of the company who told me that sometime in the 1960s White Stag decided to go in a more “fashion” direction. The ski wear became more about looks than about function, and was eventually just phased out.  If you see White Stag items from the 1970s and later, you will see what he was talking about.

But my set is functional for outdoor sports. The parka is lined in waterproof nylon, and the hood fits tightly to the head without affecting visibility. There is a drawstring at the hem so it can be adjusted to suit the wearer. And all the pockets are deep and are zippered.

The pants pockets are also zippered, and the hems of the pants are slightly flared to allow one to easily pull them on. And there is a wide elastic strap to hold the legs securely under the boots.

As Hollis said to me when I got these, it really does pay to let people know what you collect. I’ve gotten a lot of great items from sellers who have learned my collecting needs. And check out Hollis’s shop and Instagram. She sells some of the best vintage clothing on the net.

A note about my photos. I know they are bad. I have lost my “good” camera, and I obviously have not mastered the art of smartphone photos. Please bear with me!

10 Comments

Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

Ski Suit, 1930s or early 1940s

I bought this white and blue ski suit some time ago, and until I posted about the late 20s suit, I had forgotten that I’d not shown off this one. There are a lot of similarities between this suit and the 1920s suit, but the differences are what makes placing a date on this set easier.

The biggest difference is probably the use of the zipper as an important part of the garment. The late 20s top has a short zipper at the neck, but  with its prominent tassel, I tend to think it was more for decoration than function. Remember, that earlier set was knit, and this one, made five to ten years later, is a woven. There is a need for garment openings, and both the jacket and the pants have zippers.

The 1920s knit pants were stretchy enough to pull on without an opening. There later pants with the tightly woven wool, require an opening. By the time these were made, probably after 1935, zippers were coming into common use in garments.

This set does have knit cuffs on the sleeves and pants legs.  The touch of color really adds to the attractiveness of this set.

This little tab under the collar keeps the jacket securely closed.

There is also a tab at the top of the pants zipper. Could it be that the maker just did not trust the zippers to hold securely? Remember, the zipper was just becoming commonly used. Maybe they were like the early adopters of the nylon coil zipper in the 1960s, when zipper failures were a very real problem.

That metal buckle also helps in adjusting the waist size.

Another clue that this suit is later than my 1920s one is the emphasis put on the natural waistline. You see that same feature on the ski suit in the 1941 photograph of Geraldine Kirkendall that I posted earlier this week. Actually these two suits are alike in every way except for the puffed sleeves  and surface decoration on Geraldine’s suit.

So, what keeps this ski suit from being from the later 1940s or even the 50s? Mainly, it’s the fabric used. By the time WWII started for the USA in 1941, manufacturers were turning away from heavy, fuzzy wools like the one used in my suit. Wool gabardine was found to be more resistant to water and wind and was lighter in weight. Ski pants lost the knit cuffs, and under-the-foot straps were added to keep the legs tucked into the boots and socks.

Okay, the gabardine suits might have been more practical, but I can’t imagine anything being cozier for a snowy day.

8 Comments

Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

Bradley Knitwear 1920s Ski Suit

If you have been reading The Vintage Traveler for a while you already know that Bradley is one of my favorite vintage brands. Bradley Knitting Company was located in Delavan, Wisconsin, and was established in 1904.  They made all kinds of woolen knit goods, including swimming suits, sweaters, and other sports apparel.  This company was very important to the small town of Delavan as it was their chief employer, with 1200 persons working there when the company was at its peak.  In fact, they often had to advertise in larger cities in order to keep enough workers.

When I first spotted this set on etsy, I was confused because at the time it was made (late 1920s or very early 30s) Bradley was making only knits, and from the photos in the listing, these pieces looked to be woven. I was pleasantly surprised to get the set and to find they were actually knit.

Yes, this is a knit, though it is hard to tell from this photo. Another interesting thing about the top is the use of the zipper. Even if this dates from 1930 the use of the zipper in a garment is a very early example.

These little black arrow accents were not knit in; they are appliqued on top of the garment. You see this feature quite a bit in late 1920s bathing suits in a nod to the geometric designs of Sonia Delaunay, perhaps.

The straight bodice of the top is another hint to the date of the set. After 1930s jackets became shorter, often ending at the waist. This piece still has the long straight look of the late 1920s.

And what is an old wool garment without a few moth nibbles. I’m showing you this because here you can actually tell that this garment is knit, not woven. I also want to draw attention to the overlock stitching where the collar is attached to the bodice. There are some vintage sellers who insist that you don’t see overlock before the 1970s, but that is simply not true. It was commonly used on early sweaters and other knits, having been invented in the 1880s.

A bit more applique is found in the bands at the sleeve cuffs. And what about that tassel!

 

8 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

White Stag Ski Togs Promotional Brochure

A recent addition to my sportswear archive is this little folder from White Stag of Portland, Oregon. It isn’t dated, but from the style of the clothing, I can say it is late 1940s.

Thanks to @noaccountingfortaste on Instagram, I can tell you a bit about the illustrator of the cover. She was Gereldine Olinger Hinkle Abbot, or as she signed this picture, Gerry.

Jessica wrote,”She was born in Washington state; in 1944, she and her first husband moved to San Francisco, and by 1946 she was working for Lilli Ann as art director and advertising manager. She also lived and worked in Portland, illustrating for Jantzen and White Stag and numerous department stores. In 1950, she won the Frances Holmes Achievement Award for advertising women of the West, an award named for the first woman to open her own ad agency, in Los Angeles. She won three awards; one for best layout series, best mechanical production, and best finished art series for work she’d done for the firm Frederick and Nelson, and was given the overall achievement award because she “…best typified how a woman can achieve outstanding merit in the world of advertising.” She opened her own agency, Gerry Advertising and Art Service.”

Inside the folder is a little dictionary of ski terms, and several cards that have photos of the latest ski fashions. In this period of time, ski pants, and usually jackets as well, were made of wool gabardine, this is thin and light, though dense and warm. The pants were pleated at the waist to give the wearer greater mobility.

This is a pretty standard ski suit from the late 1940s. The shoulders are still wide, and the pants are roomy. It would be only a few years before Willi and Maria Bogner of Germany discovered that thick nylon knit made a sleek and effective ski pant and changed the style completely.

Here the pants are gabardine, but the jackets in made of cotton poplin. White stag started as a canvas tent makers, and they continued to work with cotton fabrics.

This is the Ski Banner style described in the photo above. On the back of each card is a brief description and the price. At $14.95 and $16.95, these togs weren’t cheap. According to the inflation calculator, the jacket would be 171.63 and the pants would be $194.59 in 1017 dollars.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Winter Sports

1920 Sports Sweater

This sweater is a real survivor. It’s almost 100 years old, and it has managed to escape the scourge of vintage knits – the moth. I see a lot of these sweaters in old photos from 1915 through 1922 or so, but they are very rarely actually found on the vintage market. Several years ago I let one get away, and I vowed to buy the next one I found that was not held together by a few threads.

It took a while, but finally this beauty came my way. It had everything I was looking for – a great color with contrast, excellent condition, and it was made for a woman (front laps right over left). And who could resist those pockets?

This style was made for both men and women, as shown in this illustration from the 1921 Bradley Knits catalog. The only thing my sweater is missing is a label, but it could have been made by Bradley. Or maybe not, as there were many producers of wool knitwear during this time period.

The details are so nice, and add to my love of the cardigan. This sweet little pocket flap really makes me happy.

The buttonholes seem to be made by hand, using the matching wool yarn. I’m not sure why my colors are all over the place. The sweater is not this purple.

Besides the green stripes, notice the knit-in stripes of red.

And finally, a reminder that the overlock machine was not invented in the 1970s. The overlock was commonly used on sportswear, even earlier than this sweater.

 

9 Comments

Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Winter Sports