Category Archives: World War II

1940s Bonnie Beach Bag

My newest acquisition is this “Bonnie Bag” from the 1940s.  It’s often described as a knitting bag, but period advertising describe it also as a beach bag.  This is a bit of a lazy post, as I bought this bag from Robin of Edgertor at Etsy.  Of all the vintage sellers I know, Robin does the best job of researching her wares. So much of what you will read here is Robin’s work, which she freely shared.

The bag style seems to be quite common, and dated to the late 1930s. Several different companies made these, with some being labeled while others are not. In 1942 W.L.M.Clark registered a design patent for two styles of the bag  – one with an oval wooden plaque, and one with a square plaque.

Here’s one of the patent drawings, with the square wooden plaque. Robin says she doubts that Clark actually invented the design, and I agree with her.  Here is an ad for the bag from May, 1942, months before Clark’s patent for a slightly different design was registered.

It is a clever design, and being made of heavy canvas, they have held up well over the years. Mine shows a few signs of use, but it is in really excellent condition.

My bag was made by A. Mamaux & Son. Would it surprise you to learn that this was a window awning business, not a handbag business?

If you were an awning store in the 1930s or 40s, would you throw out the leftover scraps from awning projects? No, of course not. In this case it really appears that remnants  were used to make a type of Bonnie Bag.

I had been looking for the perfect Bonnie Bag when I saw this one in Robin’s Instagram feed. With that little Scottie, how could I  resist?

The canvas is very heavy – sturdy enough to carry all one’s beach needs.

Expanded, the bag has a totally different look.

I have seen quite a few of this type of expandable bag with no label at all. I don’t think it’s a far reach to assume that these were also made in the home from scraps of canvas, especially during wartime.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports, World War II

How I Collect – 1940s

As I’ve stated before, How I Collect is a series I’ve been posting on Instagram. I’ve worked my way up to the 1940s, though I haven’t photographed everything in my collection. I have quite a few ensembles from the Forties, so I’ll be showing them in two parts. My apologies if you follow on Instagram, as you have already seen these. And I’ve included links to older posts about some of the garments.

This early 1940s ski suit has a Sonja Henie label. The ice skating star had her name on both skating attire and ski suits in the late 1930s and into the 40. The little pin is a souvenir of a live Sonja Henie skating show.

I wish this were a Sonja Henie ice skating dress, but no, the label is Gail Burke Classics. Still, it’s pretty nifty with the felt appliques and the green taffeta lining. Ice skating enjoyed a surge of popularity in the late 1930s and the 1940s due to the influence of Henie’s movies and live skating extravaganzas.

By the late 1940s, wool gabardine had pretty much replaced  heavy, thick wool as the favored fabric for ski attire. This suit has a reversible jacket. The nylon cap has a little skier on the front emblem.

It’s not all sportswear, but I also love the types of clothing that would have appealed to a sportswoman. Claire McCardell fits that bill perfectly. The scarf is a champagne motif, and the shoes are a lucky Ferragamo find from years ago.

I’ve written at length about the curious case of the 1940s Alpine fashion fad. Some trends really do defy understanding, in retrospect.

I’ve also written about this piece, a World War Two era siren suit from England. It was a lucky buy from an auction house that thought it was a ski suit. Here I explain why it’s not appropriate for skiing.

I bought this Gilbert Adrian suit years ago on ebay. I actually wore the jacket when I went to an exhibition on Adrian with friend Liza. I was terrified I’d ruin it, so I had to change before I went out to eat lunch.  The shoes are from Swiss maker Bally.

For the most part I do not collect lingerie, but I do love a great pair of pajamas especially when there’s a trio of Scottie dogs embroidered on the pocket. I’ve had these since the 1980s. I bought them back when I actually wore a lot of old clothes. It’s a miracle they aren’t covered in coffee stains.

I love this great bowling dress so much, and so I was thrilled to find the red and white bowling shoes to match. It’s enough to make a collector’s heart sing.

Slacks were already beginning to gain in popularity in the late 1930s, but WWII really made pants-wearers of many American women. The sweater is from Bradley, and is made with a cheap blend of reprocessed wool. The shoes have not a bit of leather, as the uppers are velveteen and the soles are a synthetic rubber.

The handbag is a Chimayo handwoven bag. I found it in the Goodwill bins! That was a very lucky day.

Next will be some nice summery ensembles.

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Filed under Collecting, Winter Sports, World War II

Currently Reading – Theatre de la Mode

The story of the Théâtre de la Mode is quite well-known. Briefly, it was a project undertaken after the liberation of Paris in 1944 to show that the Haute Couture had survived the war, and to raise money for war recovery. Dolls, sculptures actually, were designed by young artist Jean Saint-Martin, and members of the  Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne designed fashions for the dolls to wear. Scene sets were designed by famous artists like Christian Bérard.

Lots of money was raised. The show toured Europe, and then went to New York, with the show ending in San Francisco. When the show ended, the dolls somehow ended up at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Oregon.

There is, of course, so much more to this story. When I spotted this book in an antique mall last fall, I picked it up and then put in my to-read pile. Well, that pile has been shrinking, and I finally got around to reading Théâtre de la Mode. My timing could not have been better, because this is not just the story of some beautifully dressed sculptures; it’s the story of how beauty can survive in the midst of the most terrible of circumstances.

As an American Baby Boomer, I grew up with my family’s tales of the depravitations of World War II. There were stories of cars with no gasoline, of cakes with no chocolate, and of new clothes being remade from old. To my middle class 1960s life, it all sounded so dreadful. In recent years the sufferings of life in Britain during and after the war have been well documented in movies and television. But what about life in Paris after the liberation from Nazi control?

The writers of Théâtre de la Mode did an exceptional job of painting a picture of post-liberation Paris. What was pointed out was that after the cheering was over, one of the harshest winters in known history set in, with shortages of everything from coal to milk. The infant mortality rate soared to 10.9 percent. Electricity was turned on only at meal times and at night. New, warm clothing was not to be had.

But in spite of all the misery and hardships, the couture had survived. Paris had lost its position of the world’s fashion leader, but plans were made in 1944 for the city to regain what it had lost. Part of the plan was the Théâtre de la Mode.

Couture houses, milliners, and shoemakers worked through the winter of 1944-1945 on their contributions to the project. Sets were built, dolls constructed, and tiny garments constructed. In March, 1945, the Théâtre de la Mode opened at the Pavillon Marsan. It was a smashing success. Paris was ready for some beauty and fantasy.

Above you see Eliane Bonabel, who was instrumental in the development of the dolls.

When the show closed in Paris, it traveled to other cities across Europe. Late in 1945 new clothes in what couturiers imagined to be the latest fashions were made before the dolls were sent to New York, accompanied by Bonabel. The show opened there in May of 1946, and then traveled to San Francisco where it was shown at the De Young Museum. When it closed, the dolls were stored at the City of Paris department store in the city.

There the dolls stayed until 1951 when Paul Verdier, president of the store, arranged for the dolls to be sent to Maryhill. There they resided until they were “rediscovered” in 1984 by Stanley Garfinkel of Kent State University.  A plan was hatched to send the dolls back to Paris where they would be restored, and put on display again at the Pavillon Marsan. All the original sets had been lost so reproductions were made of nine sets.

This book came about as a result of the restoration and the Paris exhibition. There are essays by people involved in the project, and by historians. All are interesting. The photos by David Seidner are really special.

Today the Maryhill Museum of Art displays the dolls and sets on a rotating basis. I have definitely put Maryhill on my long range plan list. And now, a little taste of the lovely photos of the dolls.

Coat and dress by Martial & Armand, hat by Blanche & Simone, shoes by Bertili

Left: Suit by Lucile Manguin, accessories by Vedrennes

Right: Suit by Dupouy-Magnin, hat by Jane Blanchot, shoes by Gelé.

The only slacks that I spotted: Sport ensemble by Freddy Sport

Beachwear ensemble by Maggie Rouff, hat by Gilbert Orcel, sandals by Casale

Beachwear ensemble and hat by Jacques Heim, sandals by Hellstern

Dress by Madame Grés, veil by Caroline Reboux

Left: Dress by Henriette Beaujeu, hat by Rose Valois, gloves by Hermés, shoes by Grezy

Right: Dress and hat by Schiaparelli, gloves by Faré, shoes by Casale

In all there were over 235 dolls, though some are now missing. Many of the accessories are also missing. For the 1991 exhibition, Massaro made some reproduction shoes.

Essays by  Edmonde Charles-Roux, Herbert R. Lottman, Stanley Garfinkel, Nadine Gasc, Katell le Bourhis, and photographs by  David Seidner 

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Filed under Currently Reading, Designers, Museums, World War II

A Tale of Two Jumpsuits

Anyone who collects or sells old clothing will tell you that most old garments come with a flaw or two. Clothes were worn, and they were often improperly stored. To get a piece with no issues is a real treat.  I acquire pieces with that in mind, because sportswear was especially subject to rough wear.

I decided to buy the pajama jumpsuit above because of the outstanding textile design. This type jumpsuit, which was made from around 1930 through about 1935, was a bit of a fad, and as such, many of the ones I’ve seen are made from cheap cotton materials. This one is no exception, as the fabric seems to be a printed cotton muslin.

But the print was just so good, I decided to get this one from an online dealer.  From the photos in the listing I could guess the pajama had been shortened at the waist. I was right.

Can you see the lines of the old stitches I removed? This had been taken up five inches.  A former owner must have worn this as at shin-length, because I am 5’1′, and the length after removing the stitches is perfect for me.

This brings up the question of when is it best to remove old stitching, and when should it just be left alone. In this case the decision was easy, as the alteration completely changed the original design of the garment as it was intended to be worn in the 1930s.

And the shoddy state of the alterations was another consideration.  Sellers, this is not normal.

And the only reference to this mess in the sales listing was that there was a bit of hand stitching. I’ll say!  To be completely truthful, the seller offered to take the pajamas back, as there were other undisclosed issues, but I was so in love with the fabric print that I decided to invest the work in restoring it and to keep it.

There were also belt loops, which had been concealed in the alteration. I’m guessing that the belt was black, and I’ll be making a reproduction belt for display purposes.

I also recently acquired this 1940s jumpsuit from Susan at NorthStarVintage. She had seen the two other 1940s jumpsuits in my collection that I posted on Instagram and she wisely figured I might be interested in this one as well. (I know this is a woman’s garment because of the way the zipper fold laps, right over left)

I was especially interested in this jumpsuit because it was made by White Stag. I know that White Stag made WWII era workwear for women, as I have a wartime catalog. But the label used in the work attire was White Stag Function Alls. And the Play Alls label is not shown at all in the catalog.

So, where do these fit in? I’d like to think they are from around 1940 or 41, as companies were already starting to make military-inspired clothing for women.  After the US entered the war, it’s not likely that so much metal would have been used. The catalog shows buttons instead of zippers and snaps.

At any rate this jumpsuit shows signs of being used for work. I think the woman who wore this must have been an auto mechanic, as there are tiny little grease stains on the knees. I can see her on her knees changing a tire!

Interestingly, this jumpsuit was also altered at the waist, but this time, the garment was made longer. The waist band was removed and the double thickness of it was made single, adding about an inch and a half to the length.  The alteration was so well done that I didn’t notice it until I was giving the piece a close examination.

Not only did the alterer have to remove and reattach the waistband, the zipper section below the waist had to be removed and reattached. This was the work of an experienced sewer, and it has the feel of having been done in the 1940s instead of later.

Because of that, I’ll be leaving this jumpsuit as it is. It’s more important to me to have the jumpsuit as it was worn, rather than how it was purchased.  It’s a great piece of women’s history, and I love it just as it is.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Shopping, Sportswear, World War II

Cole Cuts Newsletter for Cole of California

I recently added twenty-two copies of swimsuit maker Cole of California’s company newsletter from the 1960s to my archive. I have found old newsletters before, as it was a pretty common practice for large companies to share news of the company and workers this way. The pulp and paper factory in my hometown had a newsletter called Chips (get it; wood pulp made from wood chips). Puns must have been popular in naming newsletters, as Cole’s was called Cole Cuts.

Like most of the company newsletters I’ve seen, Cole Cuts was a gossipy, amateurish affair.  The covers were usually cut and pasted motivational content from other sources, but the interior content reveals a wealth of information about Cole and its workers.  The pay must have been fairly decent, because many of the employees took vacations across the country, and even to Europe.  Every month there was a listing of who was driving new cars!

Cole of California actually started as the West Coast Manchester Knitting Mills, a maker of men’s long johns. When the owners’ son, Fred Cole, joined the family business in the mid 1920s, he switched over to making knit bathing suits.  The biggest change came in 1936 when Cole hired designer Margit Fellegi to design bathing suits with a California/Hollywood look. In 1937 they added clothes to match the bathing suits: skirts, jackets, and dresses.

In each newsletter there is a profile of a long term employee. In telling this employee’s story, a lot of company history is revealed. For instance, one profile mentioned that in the late 1930s scraps of fabric left over from the cutting of the clothes were used to make matching shoes. Most interestingly, most of the workers profiled started working at Cole in 1942 or 1943. They joined Cole to make parachutes for the war effort, and ended up staying at Cole after the war work ended.

Also interesting is what the newsletter does not say.  In twenty-two issues I could find only one mention of Fred Cole, and that was in a profile of his daughter Anne Cole. I don’t have every issue, so surely his death in 1964 was mentioned, but by and large, he goes unnoted.

On the other hand, the designer Fred Cole hired to remake Cole’s image, Margit Fellegi, is mentioned in most issues. During WWII Fellegi designed the Swoon Suit. It was two pieces, and was held together with laces on the side of the trunks. No rubber was used due to wartime restrictions. My suit above is not a true Swoon Suit, but is a tamer post-war version.

In 1965, the newsletter compared the public’s reaction to the Swoon Suit to the most recent Fellegi creation – the Scandal Suit . The Scandal Suit was mentioned a lot in 1964 and 1965.

That’s Margit Fellegi on the left, along with assistant designer Barbara Meyer, in December of 1967. By that time Cole had five divisions, all with a design staff. Their top of the line was the misses department, along with sportswear and juniors, and two separate labels, Sandcastle and Sea Star. Sea Star was actually made for and sold by Sears.

From reading Cole Cuts and looking at the many photos of workers, I was amazed at the diverseness of the staff. In the tidbits about workers, it often mentioned from where the employee came. Cole had workers from across the globe and the USA. There were many Hispanic workers, especially at their plant in Pico. In fact, the news from Pico was printed in Spanish.

My newsletters date from 1964 to 1969. By reading carefully one can begin to see hints of big changes ahead. The newsletter above brags about automation coming to Cole, but over the years automation has led to the elimination of thousands of jobs in manufacturing. And in one revealing note from 1968, we can see the beginnings of manufacturing moving off shore. Two company executives visited Japan and Hong Kong “where they visited factories who are manufacturing certain items in our lines, and also looked for new fabrics…”

Cole of California was first sold in 1960, to Kayser-Roth. Since then it has changed hands several times, and today you can still buy a Cole bathing suit. I imagine that the folksy newsletter is long, long gone though. And I wonder what happened to their archive.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, World War II

WWII English Siren Suit

A lot of the fashion origin stories one encounters are not entirely true, but the one about pants for women being popularized during the World War Two years is pretty much accurate. Many Western women had been wearing pants of some form since the middle of the nineteenth century, and as the 1940s approached, more women were wearing pants for sports, leisure, and work. But it wasn’t until war broke out that more and more women began wearing pants as they took over jobs traditionally allotted to men.

Women had been wearing pants as part of a pajama suit since at least the 1910s, but WWII brought a new nighttime pants suit to those in England and France – the siren suit. The siren suit was designed to go over one’s nightie in case the air raid sirens went off and it became necessary to head for the nearest shelter.

The siren suit (I’ve also seen it referred to as a blitz suit) was designed for speed of dressing, comfort, and warmth. The style above shows buttons or snaps, but most examples I’ve seen in photos show the suit as having a long front zipper. Most styles have multiple pockets in which to stow essentials that may be needed during the time in shelter. Many also had hoods, and were made of warm fabrics.

Which brings me to this garment, one of the newest additions to my collection. I recently was the high bidder on a few lots from an auction house that specializes in old clothes and textiles. I always enjoy this auction’s offerings, as they usually have nice sporting things. This last auction was no exception, so I sent in a few bids and crossed my fingers.

The jumpsuit was paired with a 1930s outdoors ensemble from the 1930s, consisting of pants, jacket, and matching hat. I wanted that set, and to be honest, didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the jumpsuit. It was described as being a 1940s one-piece ski suit.

When the package arrived, I acted like a kid on Christmas morning, and then got down to the work of examining each piece. When I picked up this one, I immediately got the feeling that this was no ski suit. Actually, I should have noticed this just from the photos, but like I said, I was distracted by the other piece.

On reflection, I realized that I’d never seen a photo of a woman’s one-piece ski suit from the 1940s. That does not mean this type was not made, only that if they were, they had escaped my attention in the many hours I’ve spent looking in fashion magazines and catalogs. Then I started thinking about the legs of my new suit. A ski suit has to have leg hems that are narrow, to keep the snow out. These are anything but narrow.

At this point I knew it was time to look at the details. First up was the center front zipper. The pull had an odd shape (not too unusual for earlier zippers) and I got out my new magnifier to read the brand name stamped on it. The brand is Lightning. This was the first clue this item was not manufactured in the US, as Lightning zippers were made in England.

There are also two zippers on the back, as this jumpsuit has a drop-flap to aid in the use of the toilet.  My apologies about this photo as it is upside-down, but it has a very useful patent number and the words “Made in ENG”. Actually the patent number, 472518, has escaped me, and I’ve searched both US and UK patents.

I put the patent search on hold and took another look at the interior of the garment. The edges were serged, or overlocked, but in a style of stitch with which I am unfamiliar. Again, this points to a foreign manufacture.

I finally began to see the light. Big, functional pockets, a front zipper, wide legs, and a drop seat all told me this was not a ski suit. The fact that it was most probably made in England pointed to the siren suit, a garment you’d not expect to see in the US.

As I stated, I’ve never seen a one piece ski suit for adults of this era. Women were wearing jumpsuits and overalls for work, and these, while not terribly common, are found in the US fairly easily. But they are made from cotton or lightweight gabardine of wool, sometimes with cotton mixed in. This is a nice, textured wool and is quite hefty.

The drop seat also makes no sense in a ski suit. After skiing where you get wet (and this fabric would really make the snow cling) and cold, and you would change into something dry as soon as possible.

A former owner had sewn the flap shut. I can see why, especially if it has been worn in recent years as a jumpsuit. There is a bit of a gap between zipper and buttons. There is also a bit of a belt loop that was hidden under the stitches. I’m assuming there was a matching belt.

And speaking of buttons – these are not the originals. They are modern replacements, and while they match nicely, the buttons on the flap are too large for the holes.

There are four roomy pockets, and this one on the chest has a bit of a pocket within a pocket. Could it be for eyeglasses?

The other pockets expand to hold things and each has a single button closure. If you were headed to the air raid shelter, these pockets would be very practical, and could hold everything from your identification papers to a snack.

But these pockets make no sense on a ski suit, where the patch pockets are not secure enough to keep things safe while hurtling down a mountain. Most ski pants and jackets have deep inset pockets, and these are generally zippered.

The presence of a hood certainly seems to say “outdoors wear” but this hood is quite loose around the head, and there is no way to secure it. A ski hood or cap would tie or fit snugly on the head.

It would be warm, though!

In spite of the wrong buttons, the missing belt, and the mis-attribution of the piece, I’m very happy with this purchase. I already have quite a few ski ensembles, but where would I ever find a siren suit?

Thanks so much to Jonathan Walford at the Fashion History Museum for the help. Also, the photo of the pattern is not mine, and since I found it on Pinterest, I can’t locate the origin. My apologies to the owner.

UPDATE: The pattern belongs to Miss Rayne, and she has graciously agreed to let me use it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, World War II

1940s Vitality Open Road Shoes

I recently found this pair of wedge heeled shoes on eBay, and was really delighted when they arrived in my mailbox. I don’t buy a lot of shoes for my collection for various reasons, and I’m quite cautious when I find a pair I might want to add to my collection. These more than met my strict criteria.

Condition is a big problem with vintage sporty shoes. It’s fairly easy to find superb examples of evening shoes that date back to the early days of the twentieth century, but comfortable day shoes were often worn until they were done for.  This pair looks like they just came out of the shoe box, circa 1947.

How did I arrive at that date? First, I could be off a year or so in either direction. I have spent considerable time engaged in research involving 1940s and early 1950s fashion magazines. To me it’s really interesting to follow a trend from its first appearances in advertisements, to the days, often years later, when the trend becomes a has-been.

Wedge heels first appeared in 1936 in Italy with designer Salvatore Ferragamo, though they didn’t really catch on until WWII made practical heels more necessary. They continued after the war ended, into the early 1950s.

In trying to date my shoes I looked for two things: ads from the Vitality Shoe Company, and wedges that have a curved, rather than a flat sole. From 1945 through 1954, I found only one ad from Vitality.

This ad is from 1949 and it features three styles of wedge heels. Note that the pair on the bottom left has a slimmer and higher wedge. I noticed this happening around 1947, and by 1954 the old thick clunky-look wedge was gone.  Note also that Vitality calls these walking shoes the Wanderlust line. My thinking is that this line replaced the Open Road line. The last ad I found on-line for Open Road was 1946.

Vitality was part of the International Shoe Company of Saint Louis. At one time it was recognized to be the largest maker of shoes in the world. They made average price range shoes, so it is interesting to see how very well-made my shoes are.

I love the way there is a woven label inserted under the insole. That feature pretty much ended with the 1940s.

During WWII, shoe colors were strictly limited because the dyes used for leather contained ingredients needed for the war effort. I have read there were six colors allowed, but a Smithsonian article says there were only four: black, white, brown, and russet.

At any rate, these shoes could not have been made during the war years with the beautiful red and blue, and the trim of even more colors.  In my research, I noted that by the beginning of 1946, American consumers were once again able to buy colorful shoes.

After the war ended there was an increasing interest in style from the American West. Many service men and women and defense workers had enjoyed the “California lifestyle” during the war, and the Westernwear of Hollywood actors must have also played a part.

I can’t help but think that in today’s world, a cry of “cultural appropriation” might be raised against my moccasin/wedgie hybrids.  With their colorful but vaguely Native or Southwestern vibe, I can see how they could have been just the shoes for women who were ready to wear color again.

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Filed under Collecting, Shoes, World War II