Legendary Philadelphia Department Store – Wanamaker’s

A trip to any big city is not complete without a visit to some wonderful shopping emporium of the past. In Philadelphia, that means Wanamaker’s.

As much as I hate the blandness and standardization that Macy’s represents in today’s shopping culture, I will admit that they have done a reasonably good job of preserving parts of the old department stores they have taken over. I saw this in Chicago in the old Marshall Field store, and was delighted to see so much shopping history in the old Wanamaker store in Philadelphia.

John Wanamaker really was a ground-breaking merchant, though the interior of his store looks quaintly old-fashioned to visitors today. No matter, as it is the past that took us to  Macy’s/Wanamaker’s.

The store that stands today was opened in 1911. It has an open court, and on one end a giant pipe organ, acquired by Mr. Wanamaker from the 1904 World’s Fair in Saint Louis, is installed. In the courtyard is a Philadelphia landmark, the Wanamaker Eagle.

The eagle was also a relic of the Saint Louis Fair. Wanamaker bought it, and even reinforced the floor beneath it so it could be safely displayed. People shopping would use the centrally placed eagle as a meeting place, and “Meet me at the eagle” became part of Philly vernacular.

Macy’s has a sign beside the eagle that tells about the tradition and a bit of the eagle’s history. They even have someone on staff who is very familiar with the store’s history in case one has unanswered questions.

When linens designer Tammis Keefe designed a hankie for Philadelphia, she used the interior of Wanamaker’s and included the famous phrase.  This hankie was a gift from Mod Betty, who lives in the Philadelphia area.

You know I adore a good mosaic, and so I loved this one found in one of the entrances to the store.  John Wanamaker made sure a customer knew it was his store.

I’d like to report than that Macy’s in Philadelphia still retains some of the great customer service Wanamaker’s was famous for. But our experience was quite the opposite. Tim found himself in need of more reliable walking shoes so we thought while we were already there, it would be a chance to quickly pick up a pair. He found shoes that suited him, but unfortunately we left without buying them. There were people working in the shoe department, but we just couldn’t interest any of them in assisting us. Old JW must have turned over in his grave.

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Jean Muir, Woman Designer

Jean Muir is one of those designers who really deserves more attention. I wrote a bit about her back in 2007 when a book about her, Jean Muir: Beyond Fashion, was released. At that time Muir had been dead for twelve years, and the Jean Muir brand closed shortly after.

I was reminded of Muir last month when visiting my friends at Style and Salvage Vintage.  The great thing about having top-notch vintage dealers in the neighborhood is that whenever I need a dose of inspiration, all it takes is a visit to their studio. On this visit I was struck by a wonderful suede jacket by Muir.

I took lots of photos mainly because the piece was so great, and I wanted to study the details a bit more. Seriously, there is suede, and then there is top-quality suede, which is what Muir used in her creations. This leather is thin and light and smooth. It’s a shame that all suede can’t be like this.

My photos can’t tell the entire story, so S&S kindly let me borrow theirs. I went back and reread Beyond Fashion, because I wanted to refresh my memory of the woman who created this jacket. I tend to associate Muir with knit jersey, but she was also known for her work in suede.

That is a seriously wonderful sleeve.

Muir began designing in 1962 under a label called Jane & Jane. In 1966 she started her own label, Jean Muir. She was considered to be one of the new British “Mod” designers, but she really came into her own in the 1970s with her softer construction and styles. She continued to design clothes that women found comfortable and beautifully constructed. In designing a new season, she went back and studied what she had done for the past two years, She saw “fashion” as a progression of ideas, rather than a slavish dedication to what everyone else was doing.

For this reason, Muir garments can be a bit hard to date. They were meant to fit in with what came before, and what would come later. In other words, she designed for the way women actually build a wardrobe.

In this Muir jacket we can see a mix of suede and leather.

It is also a great example of one of Muir’s favorite design elements – top-stitching.

 

Muir is also remembered as a minimalist, which you can certainly see in the very dark green wool crepe dress. She says it best:

Clothes which step back allow the personality and some kind of cerebral presence to be felt. I do not think one should indulge the weakness for fripperies, which is present in human nature. I think people should be what they are visually; they should simply enhance with clothing what they are naturally. You should like your self, not disguise or hide it.

I rarely see Jean Muir garment here in my corner of the USA, so these were a real treat. My guess is that they are much more common in the UK. I know there are far-sighted collectors who focus on some of the great American woman designers such as Claire McCardell and Bonnie Cashin. I’d like to hope there are also collectors in the UK who are focusing on Jean Muir. She deserves it.

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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

Vintage Miscellany – November 12, 2018

Today is the day that in the US we celebrate the armed services veteran. In the rest of the world, yesterday was Remembrance Day, in which we stop and remember the horrific losses of war, and especially of WWI. But in the US, we have Memorial Day in May. Maybe if we switched the two days it would be less confusing to our friends in other countries.

And now for the news…

  •  There is what sounds like a textile lovers dream exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum of Art – The Fabric of India. It then travels to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.
  •   Did this hat belong to Abraham Lincoln?
  •   Halloween is in the past, but this is still a pretty good ghost story.
  •   One of the big problems in publishing a book on art – or fashion – is the cost of image fees.  An undesired side effect is that writers then come to rely on images from institutions that offer them at no cost, and we start to see the same objects over and over.
  •  John F. Kennedy’s Harvard sweater recently sold at auction for $34, 140.
  •   “80 percent of objects sold on the Internet under the Hermès names are fakes.”
  •   If you missed out on Marc Jacob’s “grunge” collection for Perry Ellis in 1992, great news! He’s reproducing much of it, and the clothes “based on ‘found crap'” will be for sale soon.
  • #ClothingofConflict
  • Thanks to Lynn at American Age Fashion for the wonderful photograph.

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Random Thoughts on History and the Past

Our recent trip to Pennsylvania included a lot of history, which is the top consideration whenever we plan a trip. I’m lucky that my husband is also interested in the past, as it makes for an agreeable itinerary for both of us.  The primary reason for the trip was so I could attend the regional Costume Society of America symposium in Shippensburg, PA, but when we realized how close Philadelphia was, we decided to add a few days to the trip and visit the city.

Much of what is now referred to as the Old City is owned publicly and is administered by the National Park Service. A large part of this is the Independence Hall complex, seen above. In the center is what was the old Pennsylvania State House, and it was there that the Continental Congress met to discuss and sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and where eleven years later the Constitutional Convention was held.

To the right is Congress Hall, where the Congress of the United States met after the government moved to Philadelphia in 1790, and behind the trees on the left is where the Supreme Court met.  In a building to the right of where I took this photo is where the Liberty Bell is now housed.

I always find the juxtaposition of modern buildings and historical ones interesting. Philadelphia is a modern city, and that is left from colonial and early Federal days is scattered  throughout the Old City. The house in which Dolly Madison lived with her first husband survives, but the house that was George Washington’s Presidential residence does not. You can visit Betsy Ross’s house, but not Ben Franklin’s.

Both Washington’s house and Franklin’s are represented as “ghost houses”, where frames made of white pipes show where the houses would be if they had survived. It’s hard to believe that the President’s residence was torn down, but look at the photo above and you can see the big yard in front of Independence Hall. Years ago this lawn was full of homes and businesses. Washington’s house was located on this lawn.

This is the Thomas Bond House, which now houses an inn, and which is where we stayed. To the left is a parking garage, to the right a paved park, and beyond that, an apartment building. The paved park is the site of the home of William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania colony.

It is useful in such a situation to be able to imagine the missing buildings, and to see this house as part of a street of similar ones.

Thankfully, such a street still exists. It’s Elfreth’s Alley, where the houses all date from 1720 to 1830. It is literally in the shadow of  Interstate 95 and is just off a busy modern street, but all that is forgotten when walking this alley. So how did it survive? It became home to poor immigrants, and was rediscovered in 1934 when preservation efforts began. If you look at cities where a lot of old buildings survive, you’ll see that poverty is often the reason.

And while it’s a shame that so much of historic Philadelphia was lost, the real story might be that it is amazing that so much still exists. For comparison, how many pre-1830 buildings are still standing in New York City. The answer is very few.

I found this visit to Colonial Philadelphia to be oddly comforting in our stressful political climate. It was a great reminder that the figures of the past were not perfect beings, but they were still able to create a democracy that has lasted 230 years. They enslaved people, even Franklin (who later argued against slavery). They gave women no say in the proceedings, and when Jefferson wrote “All men are created equal…” he meant all white men.

In a time when we seem to be going backward in our progress as human beings, this serves as a reminder of how far we have come since 1776. It also helps to remember that history, like fashion, is not linear. I think the best example of this is our recent elections. Total control is no longer in the hands of one political philosophy, but is now shared with those of different views. If you study how our Constitution was written, you’ll see that our country has never agreed on every issue, but it is necessary that all voices be heard.

But enough of that – let’s look at signs of fashion history. We spotted this sign just down from the Betsy Ross House, but it is not a hoop skirt factory, but an apartment building. At one time this was an industrial building, but I’m unsure if hoops were ever made there.

When traveling, don’t forget to look up.  This building on Market Street is no longer a seller of trunks and bags, but one can imagine what it must have been like one hundred years ago.

At the site of an old public house, A Man Full of Trouble must have been referring to the hatbox she is carrying.

On the way home we stopped in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which is most known for the raid of abolitionist John Brown. Again, the National Park Service has a big presence, and it interprets not only the raid, but also the town of Harpers Ferry as it was in the nineteenth century.

I had been wanting to visit Harpers Ferry since college, when one of my professors declared that everyone in the town had one leg a bit shorter than the other from walking on the hilly streets. I actually can’t confirm that is true.

Part of the town is level, and runs along the Shenandoah River. This has been restored to look as the town did in the nineteenth century. Not knowing this, I got all excited when I saw the shop windows full of antique merchandise. As it turned out, it was just an illusion.

Still, it was fun peering into a general mercantile of the time.

The best interpreted store was an actual men’s haberdashery, Philip Frankel & Co.

Due to it being off-season, there were few rangers about to tell about the buildings, but the park has done a decent job of posting information for those willing to take the time to read.

 

 

 

 

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Shopping with The Vintage Traveler

I spent much of October on the road, attending a Costume Society of America symposium, spending time with friends, and doing a bit of  history-themed touristing. But I was able to fit in a bit of shopping in between visits to historic sites and fashion exhibitions.

My guess is that the 1940 card above was designed to help children learn to sew on buttons.  I love how one of the croquet balls is square.

Before there were tanning beds, there were sun lamps. I remember these well, and I can promise you that sitting beneath one is nothing like the box graphic implies.

I am a sucker for an old home workshop-made lawn lounger. This one is obviously inspired by an ocean liner deck chair.

I hope I left enough of the surroundings in the photo so that you can tell how large this book is. Actually it is a catalog of car tires, and was used by some teen as a scrapbook.  The stylish cover was the best thing about it.

“Are you coming?” asks the lovely woman on her sidesaddle. And is it just me, or does the horse look s if it is levitating?

This one was a real heartbreaker, as I thought I’d found another movie star hanger for my small collection. Actually, this was originally a hanger, but it is now only a very damaged prop in a display of hats in an antique mall.

Okay, this is not a Scottie, and I’m not particularly fond of tea, so why was I so tempted by this cute little pot?

I photographed this ad mainly because I wanted to remember the name of this new-to-me brand. It was framed…

as was this magazine cover.  I’ve never understood the market for ads and illustrations pulled out of vintage magazines, mainly because the magazines are so interesting. But seeing these framed, I can see how they would make for cheap but attractive wall decor.

I’ve seen a lot of these old fashion prints with bits of fabric and lace added, but this one is probably the most elaborate ever.  I love how the white dress extends off the printed surface.

This close-up look shows just how much work went into this.

This little girl’s middy was just adorable. I have to make myself not buy things like this, though I could probably justify this purchase by using this to show the relationship between children’s dress and the athletic wear of older girls and women. Still, I do not need to go out on another tangent.

I loved this so much that I tried very hard to justify its purchase. Can you see that it’s a satin evening bag attached to a bracelet? So clever!

The symposium was really excellent, but the presence of a marketplace with six vintage dealers was the icing on the cake. Dealers, if you ever get the opportunity to set up and sell at a CSA event, take it. I was not the only clothing obsessed collector present.

 

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Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Part II

You might have guessed that the next theme addressed by Fabulous Fashion is color. First up is this 2013 dress which is a reinterpretation of a 1952 dress made from fabric designed by artist Ellsworth Kelly. This dress was made by Calvin Klein Collection.

If it is difficult to imagine that dress as originating in 1952, the museum has kindly provided visitors with a photo of the original dress, along with Kelly’s study for it.  Anne Weber, the woman in the photo, actually sewed the dress using the Kelly-created fabric.

I am sorry about the fuzziness of this photo. I am working on this; I promise.

Left to right:

Charles James, 1955 Pagoda Suit. There are solid color versions of this suit, which better show James’s trademark structure. I actually did not recognize this as a Charles James until the docent pointed it out.

Issey Miyake, 1994 Flying Saucer Dress. This style of Miyake’s folds flat like a paper lantern.

Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo, 1971 bodysuit and skirt. Haute Hippie.

This 1962 palazzo pants ensemble was designed by Italian Irene Galitzine. The difference in color of the skirt and the jumpsuit is due to the jumpsuit being beaded. This piece was getting a lot of attention from the crowd, and it deserved it.

This cheerful top and skirt was one of my favorites. It’s by Stephen Burrows, made in 1971 for his boutique within the Henri Bendel store in New York. Burrows is one of those designers that I remember fondly from my teen years, and I still have a very soft spot for his designs.

Here we have moved from color to metallics.  It’s always fun to see a Paco Rabanne creation (left, 1966), though I’m also reminded of what Audrey Hepburn said about the Rabanne dress she wore in Two for the Road. She referred to is as the most uncomfortable thing she’d ever worn, and that it was impossible to sit in it.

On the right is a late 1960s dress by Norman Norell. Even though this dress was ready-to-wear, the beads and sequins were each sewn on by hand, taking about 250 hours to bead one dress.

I felt like this Geoffrey Beene dress from 1994 was the star of the metallics section. It’s hard to compete with a dress named “Mercury” that truly lives up to its name. I hope future generations remember the Beene name.

I say that because so many in the tour I was in had never heard of the designer of this gown, Anne Fogarty. Now I don’t really put Fogarty in the same category as Beene, but she did play a big role in keeping the big skirt with crinoline look alive throughout the 1950s.

I wanted you to see just how lovely that metallic lace is.

At this point I felt like the whole structure of the exhibition of design elements, sort of fell apart. This was a mini-section of black and white, and while I was puzzled at its inclusion, I was also delighted by it. How can one not love a classic Chanel suit sandwiched between a skeleton ensemble of 2011 by Bernhard Willhelm and a 2018 coat (yes, this is one piece) by Rei Kawakubo. The unexpectedness of this display made it all the more relevant.

And then there were hats! This Bes-Ben hat, circa 1965, was the subject of much subject speculation. I’m pretty sure it is a rooster, but others saw more exotic birds.

By Stephen Jones, this hat was based on the London Tube (subway) map. 2008

Here we were treated to the mistress of draping, Madame Gres. This dress, circa 1981, is truly about the back, but I would have really loved a peek at the front as well.

 

And like any good fashion show, this one ended with wedding dresses. This circa 1959 gown was designed by Pierre Balmain.

Every fashionable bride in 1968 should have worn a dress like this one from American designer Gustave Tassell. Unfortuanately that was not, if my own recollections of late 60s wedding can be trusted, the case.

And finally, because this is Philadelphia, we have some of the wedding ensemble of Grace Kelly, who married in 1956. On the left is her copy of – not the Bible, as I expected – but of  Bride’s Manuel: A Manuel of Catholic Devotion with Mass for the Marriage Ceremony and the Nuptial Blessing. 

The cap which anchored her veil was designed by Helen Rose and was made by the costume department at MGM. The shoes were from David Evins. Princess Grace donated these items to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, along with her dress, which is, according to the docent, too fragile to mount and display. That’s a pity because many of the visitors were looking for the dress.

And there you have it. If you are going to be in the Philadelphia area anytime this fall or winter, treat yourself to an afternoon of Fabulous Fashion.

 

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