Sportswear Innovation – Culottes, 1930s

One of my latest finds looks like a dress, but the skirt is actually culottes. I first spotted this on Instagram and then I stalked the listings of LittleStarsVintage until she listed them. We don’t think much about culottes these days unless they are undergoing one of the many revivals of the style.  But in the 1930s, culottes were news.

In 1930 pants were being worn more and more by women, but they really were still mainly for sports, the beach, and the home. Wearing pants on the street shopping was still frowned upon in most places.

In 1931 Elsa Schiaparelli designed and made a culotte skirt and she actually wore it on the streets of London. I’m so glad that moment was documented. The same year she made a pair for tennis star Lili de Alvarez who was roundly criticized for wearing them in a tournament.  These photos are from Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli by Dilys E. Blum. I highly recommend it.

I think Schiaparelli’s pair looks like beach pyjamas that have shrunk to just below the knees. By 1931 the straight legs of the pyjamas of the 1920s had morphed into wide-legged bell-shaped legs. Could that have been Schiaparelli’s inspiration for the shape of her culottes?

My pair dates to the second half of the 1930s, and is made from a cotton print of coins. The red rick-rack is a casual touch, and marks this as a dress that might be perfect for a picnic or as a house dress. A very brave woman might even wear it to the market.

A machine stitched hem pretty much confirms this was a commercially manufactured garment. The seller had previously sold a very similar dress which had a size tag, something this one does not have.

It also has machine-made buttonholes which points to a manufactured product.  I can’t help but wonder why black thread was chosen.

Besides the culotte skirt, this dress has another feature that makes this appropriate as sportswear – a pleated sleeve. I love this sleeve, which I first encountered in an early 1930s blouse pattern.  Sleeves made in woven fabrics often have a stiff and uncomfortable feel, but this sleeve is loose and airy without looking frilly or silly.

Culotte patterns were also available to the home sewer.  This Hollywood pattern is not dated, but the original owner wrote “May 12, 1936” on the envelope.

And I refuse to believe that anyone has legs that long!

 

 

 

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1910s – 1920 Wool Gym Suit

I started adding gym suits to my collection purely by accident.  Ten years or so ago I was trading some things with my favorite vintage shop when the owner pulled out a 1940s gym suit and insisted that I take it. I was a bit reluctant as I was trying to limit the focus of my acquiring.  I now realize she knew me better than I knew myself.

Since then I’ve actively searched for gym suits, and now have sixteen in my collection dating from circa 1870 through the 1950s.  Considering how women claim to have detested their gym suits, it is surprising how many survive. I’m pretty sure my 1970s version was destroyed decades ago!

I found my latest gym suit at the Liberty Antiques Festival back in April. I almost missed it, as it was folded in a stack of old linens. But something about the black serge caught my eye as I passed by.  The lesson is, of course, to always look through unpromising stacks of linens.

I estimate this one to date from 1915 through 1920.  The photo above is from an Aldrich & Aldrich catalog showing a 1920 gym suit from their inventory.  Mine is a different company, E.R. Moore, but the styling is very similar, with the loose belt that contains the wide pleats that fall from a yoke at the shoulders.

E.R. Moore was founded in 1907, and made not only gym suits, but also academic gowns for graduations and other ceremonies. As far as I can tell, the gym suit production ended several decades ago, but gowns continued to be made at least until 2005. The year before there was a big kerfuffle at Harvard when it rained at graduation and the dye from the gowns ruined graduates’ clothing. The factory building is now loft apartments.

 

One thing I especially love about this suit is that I know the name of the original owner.  Not only is Virginia Hooper’s name sewn into the suit, but a note was attached as well.

I have not been able to identify Ms. Hooper, but the suit came from a consolidation estate company in Indian Trail, NC, which is in the Charlotte area. Along with the gym suit and linens, several boxes of high quality fabrics came from the estate. (And yes, I bought some of them as well.)

 

After looking at the Aldrich catalog, I’m thinking I should have photographed the belt buttoning at the back.

Without the belt you can see how roomy this gym suit is.  No need for a corset here.

In my quest for more information about this particular suit, I turned to When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner, and I was rewarded with some nice details about this style of gym suit.  It was designed around 1910 by Florence Bolton at Stanford University, and was based on the English gym slip, but with bloomers at the bottom. It was designed to be worn with a cotton blouse beneath. Practical though it was, this design proved to be unpopular as it was too far from mainstream fashion. Warner points out, however, that before long, most women’s fashions had a similar silhouette. Once again we see the influence of sports attire.

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Vintage Miscellany – May 21, 2017

Here’s a little something for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday. It looks like these little flag-wavers are off to a patriotic parade or party, but they don’t look too happy about it, do they? I’m guessing they are too hot with the stockings, and on the older girl, long sleeves. Still, how could one not be happy with a fantastic hat like that?

And now for some news…

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Saul Steinberg Novelty Border Prints

I think that at some time or another I’ve shown photos of the skirts in today’s post. But after showing these on Instagram I realized I needed to write a little about artist Saul Steinberg and this line of skirts. You may know Steinberg from the many covers he made for The New Yorker. Lesser known were the textiles he designed in the 1950s.

Starting in 1946 Steinberg designed a line of home decorator fabrics and matching wallpapers for Piazza Prints. It was supposed to be an exclusive contract, with Steinberg designing only for Piazza, but somehow he entered into agreements with at least two other firms.  One was another maker of home decorating fabrics, but the other was a producer of dress goods. Probably because he was in violation of his contract with Piazza, Steinberg’s name does not appear on the garment weight goods.

All of this information was researched for the book and exhibition Artists’ Textiles: 1940 – 1975.  The information about the two “illegal” lines was uncovered in the correspondence between Steinberg and Piazza representatives.  Piazza did not care about the dress goods fabrics, as they were not their competition. They were upset at the other lines, as it was a competing company located just blocks from them in the garment district.

The dress goods are all, as far as I know, labeled Regulated Cotton “Never Misbehaves”. Also included is the name of the print.  This modern day cowboy goes to Vegas scene is titled “Tin Horn Holiday”. I know nothing at all about that company  but some of the fabrics have been found in 1950s JC Penney catalogs. Like many of the fabrics in the past, yardage was available to both home sewers and to manufacturers of clothing.

The Steinberg prints are pretty easy to recognize, as most of them have some features in common. One end of the selvage, which is the bottom of the print, has a border that is not part of the narrative. Above you can see random lines along with scribbles that sort of look like words, but don’t actually say anything.  Above that is the story, in this case of a cowboy and bandit, two cat-eyed ladies in a big ole car, palm tree street lights, and a resort casino sign.

Parts of the motif are carried upward into the background. Here you see lots of little cars, probably traveling in for a holiday. As was common, this print came in at least five different colorways.

This print is, I think, called Casbah. Steinberg had spent time in North Africa, and he made a similar drawing during his visit.  This print follows the pattern of hem border, the main story, and then the palm tree motif repeated near the top.

This print also came in white, with red, gold, and blue accents.

This print had the selvage removed during its construction, so I can only guess at a name.  How about Cuckoo?  And I love that goat so much.

In making this skirt, the sewer used the bottom border to make the waistband.  A complete version has sea turtles at the hem.  I’ve seen this print with a black background with bright colors, and someday this skirt will be replaced with that version.

Instagram user gday321 posted a photo of himself wearing a cabana set – swim trunks and matching shirt – made from this print in white with bright colors.  He found his set pictured  in a 1958 Sears catalog. I’ve seen this print referred to as Calypso, though I do not know if that is the actual name.

This last print has been identified as a Saul Steinberg design, and it does look like his work.  It is a bit different in that the background is not filled in with a smaller motif.

All the Steinberg prints seem to have travel based themes, or at least travel destinations for American tourists.  There are several more besides the ones in my collection. An English fox hunting scene has the fox sitting on a “No Hunting” sign while surrounded by hunters on horseback and their hounds.  A Florida themed skirt called “Cypress Gardens” has water skiers and speed boats.  There are two prints that feature trains, “Paddington Station” and one known as simply “Train.” One of the most elaborate designs is a scene in an opera house. There is one that features a roller coaster in an amusement park.  There is one that looks like Innsbruck, with a procession of antique fire engines, and another that looks like Switzerland with people in folk costume and a Saint Bernard dog with his little cask of rum. There could be others, as some of these are rarely seen.

I’m thinking Steinberg must have made more than a little pocket change from these fabrics, as some of them were obviously very popular, especially Tin Horn Holiday. Hopefully more research will be made and more details will come to light about these fantastic fabrics.

Artists’ Textiles 1940 – 1976by Geiff Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Phelp is a great book.  Read it.

 

 

 

 

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1940s Made in Hawaii Bathing Suit from Kahala

This recently acquired halter and shorts set sent me down a rabbit hole of Hawaiian textiles.  The beginnings of the Hawaiian shirt are a bit obscure, but the first ones were probably made from silk fabrics from Japan in the 1920s.  Most of them were made by small shops in small batches. The large scale manufacture of shirts from Hawaiian fabrics started in the mid 1930s.

My set was made by Kahala, one of the first companies to manufacture “Hawaiian” garments.  It was started in 1936 by Nat Norfleet and George Brangier, neither of whom was a native Hawaiian. Their company, Branfleet, was using the Kahala name and label by 1937.  From what I’ve been able to find out, women’s garments were not made until after World War II, but then clothing for women became a major part of their business.

It is possible that my set is actually a bathing suit. It is completely lined in cotton jersey.

What Norfleet and Brangier discovered was that men would buy a shirt made from their Hawaiian fabrics to wear while in Hawaii, but women would continue to wear their Kahala garments after returning home.  I’d say this was much better than today’s not so subtle brag of the souvenir tee shirt.  You could remind the neighbors of your Hawaiian trip while looking fabulous.

I don’t find a lot of older Hawaiian garments here in the Southeast. People here were much more likely to vacation in Florida, or if a little more affluent, Cuba. But from the few older Hawaiian shirts I have been able to closely examine, I can tell you that the fabric is very different from the newer rayons made in the 1980s up through the present time.  My set is rayon, but it is lightly textured, though smooth at the same time.

The button is made from coconut shell, and adds another layer of Hawaiian authenticity.

But the star of this set is the print.  The richness is achieved with the use of at least fourteen colors.  I especially love the light blue used with so much red.

According to my one and only book on Hawaiian shirts, the very earliest prints were tropical flowers and tapa cloth prints. Scenics like mine soon became popular as well.

The Hawaiian Shirt, by H. Thomas Steele, was one of the very first fashion books I bought.  I can remember looking through it in the local B. Dalton book store and trying to justify the purchase. It was published in 1984, so I’m sure it was shortly after than that I added this to my very small, but growing, fashion history library.

 

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Vintage Miscellany – May 8, 2017

April, 1946, Lansing, Michigan. Sailor boyfriend/brother/husband’s cap duly appropriated. Fun ensues.

And now for the news…

  •   There were two overwhelming themes in the past two weeks in fashion news.  One was the opening of Rei Kawakubo: Art of the In-Between at the Met.  The best of the dozens of articles: The Atlantic, Freize.com, and for a look at the work behind the exhibition, Vogue.
  •  Another common theme was the complexity of the manufacturing system, and how it allows all kinds of problems to be masked.  First, we need to completely lay to rest the idea that production in the USA means that workers are safe. Yes, we do have laws and protections, but this article at Racked shows just how easily these laws are circumvented.
  • “How can brand-name clothing companies, highly valued in the market for their ability to control all manner of production challenges, not know where their products are being made?” The problems intensify as the sewing factories are further removed from the brand.
  •  And if there are marketing problems with a brand, the parent company merely replaces labels with something less problematic, as in the case of Ivanka Trump clothing being relabeled as Adrienne Vittadini.
  • The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has opened an exhibition on Yves Saint Laurent.
  •  Tim Gunn talks Disco.
  •   Is nostalgia dangerous?
  •  This last article has nothing to do with clothing, but as a collector, I found the story of this looter and destroyer of history to be highly disturbing.

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Currently (Not) Viewing – #Girlboss

I watched part of #Girlboss on Netflix so you wouldn’t have to.  Yes, that does make me a martyr to the cause.

This thirteen episode series on Netflix is more about the vintage clothing industry than it is about old clothes.  In particular, it addresses the big changes that occurred in the vintage market starting around 2005. It is the story of one vintage seller, Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal Vintage, who turned her ebay store into a major e-commerce site selling trendy new ready-to-wear. The story is a mix of fiction and the truth as Amoruso wrote it in her 2015 book, #Girlboss.

I have not read #Girlboss, and I only started watching the series after reading a discussion of the series in a facebook group of vintage clothing sellers. It seemed as if Amoruso was telling her version of why she got kicked off ebay in 2007, and it did not jibe with my own remembrance of the events.

This is not the first bad review #Girlboss has received.  Many of them focus on the main character, a fictionalized version of Amoruso, and her complete depiction as a “garbage person”.  She steals, she lies, she takes advantage of her few friends. She has no redeeming qualities at all.  But in spite of her complete lack of character, I found myself not even caring. Is it because we as a society have become so used to narcissistic, despicable people who are only interested in what benefits them? Something to think about.

So I found myself skipping several episodes.  I was, after all, only in it for the vintage. So Sophia floundered around, looking for direction when she sold a few things on ebay. She quickly realized there was a buck or two to be made, so she started studying the sellers who were the most successful.

This came at a time when eBay was changing rapidly. I first started using eBay to buy vintage around 1998.  For several years I could come home from work, sit with a cup of coffee, and go through all the new vintage clothing listings in about thirty minutes.  By 2006, when this story starts, that was no longer possible.  The category had grown, sub-categories were put in place, and eBay started community chat boards, including one for vintage clothing.

Until around 2005, most vintage sellers were were experienced dealers who had been in the business for years.  Many owned brick and mortar stores. Prices were good for both buyer and seller.  And most buyers seem to have been interested just in the wearing or collecting of vintage clothing.  Then, some very smart young women realized that by selling old clothes as fashion, they could make a lot of money. Styling and tall, thin models replaced hanging mannequins and clothes spread out on the floor for photos.  Overnight the game had totally changed.

Sophia found she was very good at this game, which often involved taking thrift store finds, many of them from the late 1970s and the 1980s, and cutting them up to make them more in tune with the styles of 2006.  By this time, the cutting up of old clothing had come to the attention of other sellers, and it was being discussed freely on the Ebay Vintage Clothing discussion board. Most of the comments were critical, though there were defenders of the practice.  I was of the opinion, which I stated several times on the board, that cutting up 1970s JC Penney polyester dresses designed for someone’s grandma was not a big deal, but that from what I could tell, some of the scissors-happy sellers seemed to have no experience with clothing, and so the possibility of valuable or historically important pieces getting ruined was high.

Amazingly, there is quite a bit in #Girlboss about this criticism.  In one episode, another seller, one of the “protectors of vintage” traveled to Sophia’s apartment to shame her for the practice of destroying old clothes. By the end of the episode, Sophia and the other seller seemed to have bonded, and the other woman gives Sophia a treasured dress,which turns up on Nasty Gal Vintage, chopped up beyond recognition.

I’m pretty sure that never happened, and was just written for the Netflix series. I think this episode is a metaphor for the online criticism Sophia was getting for her slash and trash selling tactics. But it does continue with the on-going “feud” between Sophia and her eBay haters. Probably the most imaginative thing in the entire series is the episode shown above, showing the Vintage Fashion Forum as people in a dark space, talking around a circle as though they were speaking through their computers, bashing NastyGal for cutting up the vintage. Occasionally NastyGal shows up, along with her friend, who is acting as a white knight.

The portrayal of the other vintage sellers is pretty funny, and I’m thinking that is probably how the young and smug Sophia really viewed the people on the forum. Or rather, how she wanted them to be. All are seriously up-tight, dowdy, and socially inept.

But they get their revenge by getting Sophia kicked off eBay for having external links to her MySpace (2006!) page in her item listings. From what I’ve read, this is also what Amoruso tells in her book, but although this was against the rules, I really do not think it was enough to get a person kicked off the site, especially one who was making so much money for eBay.

The was another, and much more serious discussion about NastyGal and some of the other newer sellers – that of shill bidding.  Before Ebay tightened up its rules and procedures, one could have any number of bidding ids.  And bids were shown by bidder on the sales page.  Some people on the Ebay Vintage board were actively following all the auctions of those suspected of bidding on their own auctions.

I do not have personal knowledge of why she was kicked off, but there were lots of complaints, and people were investigating the alleged shilling and reporting it to ebay. But while she bragged about the petty shoplifting in her book and in the program, shilling is a serious matter, which may be why she glossed over that part of the story. She did deny that she ever shilled on eBay in a 2014 interview.

It looked as if Amoruso had the last laugh though.  She went on to start NastyGal.com and she made a fortune. In 2014 Forbes estimated her personal worth as $280 million. But it wasn’t to last.  In 2015 the company began to implode, and at the end of 2016, Nasty Gal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company was purchased at a discount, and Amoruso was out.  She’s now started a new company, Girlboss, which, according to the site is “connecting smart women through content, community, and experiences.”

Photos copyright Netflix.

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