Arts and Crafts Meets 1930s in One Lovely Dress

The dress above was part of the auction purchase I’ve written about previously. In this case, the dress (and little cape, which I’ll show in a moment) were exactly as described and as shown. I wanted this set because, while not strictly a sporting ensemble, the dress is very much in line with the sportswear aesthetic of the era. Take off the stenciled decoration, add a belt, and you have a typical tennis dress of the early 1930s.

In analyzing this dress and capelet, I first consulted the 1934 Butterick sewing pattern book in my possession.  I love vintage fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, but in order to see great representations of design details on clothing for the mass market, sewing pattern books cannot be equaled.

Let’s start with the back of the dress. In the early 1930s, the back became an area of fashion interest. It might have been due to the increase in sunbathing and tanning, or maybe the exposed back was making up for the more covered legs. At any rate, an exposed back was in favor on everything from swimwear to evening dresses. Tennis dresses were no exception.  Look carefully at my dress to see the deep, squared-off neckline, similar to view B in the catalog illustration.

As impractical as it may seem, a long row of back buttons was also commonly seen in my 1934 catalog. The view above combines the buttons with a deep V-shaped back neckline.

My dress does not actually button. The wonderful old bakelite buttons are sewn over snap fasteners. I’ll tell why I think the maker chose this method later.

It’s the little matching cape that really gives this ensemble an early 1930s look. These capelets are everywhere in my catalog.

The red piping is a great touch.

The shape of the collar tends to give it a bit of a sailor look, which was another popular design theme in the early 1930s.

You might have noticed that my dress has princess seaming, in which the front is formed by three pieces, with the seaming forming the shape of the bust and the waist. At first I didn’t see any evidence of this design feature, but then one appeared.

I am thinking that my dress must had originally had a matching belt, though the placement of the back buttons does not make allowances for one. But essentially all the dresses in this catalog have a belt at the natural waist.

The stenciling is an interesting feature. The maker might have been inspired by Art Deco motifs, or even the Arts and Crafts movement or the Wiener Werkstätte.

This set was made by a competent dressmaker, but I must say that button holes were not her strong suit. Maybe that’s why the back closes with snaps rather than with buttons.

I hope you can see how beautiful the linen material is. The set is a bit darker than my photos show, giving the piece a lovely handcrafted feel.

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Collection Organization Time

It’s been really busy around here, as I have been working on upgrading my collection records. While all of you have been busy watching Marie Kondo helping people declutter their homes, I’ve been busy making sure all my stuff and the information about each piece is readily accessible.

I recently did a card count (I have always kept a card for each item of clothing and for each accessory) and discovered that I now have over one thousand pieces in my collection. That’s not counting any of the paper items. I’ve been fairly conscientious about record keeping, but after reading the book in my photo above, Managing Costume Collections, I realized that much of what is known about each piece is either in my head or in an old blog post. So much of the supporting evidence I’ve collected (much of which has been emailed to me by many of you) is available only in files on my computer.

One of the things Louise Coffey-Webb pointed out is how fast digital systems change, and how quickly things like floppy disks become obsolete. This combined with a recent major computer failure has convinced me that hard copies are good. Actually, I’ve always thought that, but I have been too lazy and cheap to invest the time and money to make sure all the information I have about each item is stored together.

Several years ago I wrote about my storage and organization system. While all that still works for me, I have decided to add a physical file for each item. I’m starting with the newest acquisitions, and hope I can also work through my collection so that eventually most items have their own folders.

Every item has a number that starts with a year close to the time it was made and worn. I don’t have every year in the system, only those that end in three or seven, like 1943, 1947, 1953, and so on. My new skating sweater is from the early 1940s, so it is categorized as 43. The 1 means it is a garment (2 is for shoes, 3 is for hats, and so on), and the 29 means it is the twentieth-ninth clothing item for the early 1940s.

This number is used everywhere the sweater is referenced – on the folder, the file card, in the book of photos, and on a piece of twill tape sewn inside the sweater. Hopefully there is no way the information I’ve gathered about this sweater can be separated from the garment.

So, what goes in the file? So far I’ve got photos and information about the roller skating club from the yearbook of the school and an ad from the rink where the club held their meetings. I have the obituaries of the brothers who were the likely owners of the sweater. I’ve included the sales slip. On the front I’ve attached photos of the sweater, and have listed the contents. At the bottom of the folder is the date I blogged about it. Eventually I might find a catalog that shows my sweater style for sale. That will be added to the file. Hopefully I’ll get an email from a Przysucha heir, which will then go into the file. The possibilities are so exciting!

 

 

 

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Rita Rollers Skating Sweater

Part of the purpose of this post is to remind you of just how incredibly awesome the internet actually is. Those of us who grew up in the days before the world wide web are not apt to forget how locating information that once took trips to the library are now at our fingertips. Still, a little reminder to be grateful for that reference library in your pocket is in order.

I found this sweater in my Instagram feed. I waited patiently until the seller, Woodland Farm Vintage put it on her site so I could buy it. I have seen a lot of athletic sweaters in my time, but none with a big old dated roller skating patch on the back.

But who were the Rita Rollers? The seller guessed that it was a roller derby team, but I somehow didn’t think this was flashy enough for those skaters. Still, I thought the possibility was intriguing.

Research proved otherwise. I could find no reference at all to a roller derby  team from Chicago called the Rita Rollers. So I did what any modern researcher does – I consulted social media. To be more exact, I posted a photo of the logo patch on Instagram and hoped for the best.

I wasn’t disappointed. My friends at @styleandsalvage thought it might be connected with a Chicago Catholic boys’ school, Saint Rita of Cascia. Another IG friend, @hollyhobbiedthis went on Classmates.com and actually confirmed that is was a school skating club jacket from St. Rita. Not only that, but she found school yearsbooks in which the Rita Rollers were mentioned.

I’ll not post any photos here because of a potential copyright issue, but in the 1942 Cascian there’s a picture of a student wearing his Rita Rollers sweater, and there are team photos of the members wearing their sweaters as well. We are also treated to a bit of information about the club

The reason for the existence of any club is the good of its members. If it does not offer to its members advantages and opportunities for the betterment there is no reason for its existence.

The Rita Rollers organization offers its members social, cultural, and physical advantages. Roller skating is a good, wholesome, exercise for boys and girls. The parties conducted by the club give the boys an opportunity to meet good Catholic girls, and to associate with them in a clean and spirited form of entertainment. The cultural value lies in the refining influence that association with the gentler sex has upon boys.

So, simply put, the purpose of  joining the Rita Rollers was to meet girls. Now that’s settled, here’s a closer look at my sweater.

Even without that super patch on the back, this  would be one nifty sweater. The striped yoke, echoed by the ribbed section at the bottom and on the cuffs puts this one a few notches above the average letter sweater. Also, note that it zips, and has a cute little zipped pocket.

I really do love that zipper.

There are elbow patches sewn to the inside of the sleeves, thereby helping to solve the old problem of holes forming at the most stressed part of the garment.

There’s no maker’s label, only this “All Wool” declaration. I’ve seen this in other sweaters, and also in wool swimsuits.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I found a patch with the original owner’s last name embroidered on it.  So I went back to Classmates.com to try and locate a student named Przyscuha in the 1942 yearbook. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find him in 1942, but there was a Przysucha in the junior class in the 1941 book. Unfortunately, first names weren’t listed except for seniors.

So what happened to our Mr. Przyscuha/Przysucha? Did he get his sweater and then transfer to another school? Did he turn eighteen and quit school to join the military? Was he absent the day school portraits were taken? Maybe some day we’ll discover the answer, but it would really help if I could find his first name.  I did find a pair of Przysucha brothers from Chicago in the 1940 census, Joseph and Chester, who would have been fifteen and eighteen in 1942. Perhaps the sweater belonged to one of them.

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – January 6, 2019

There has been a lot of talk this past week about what people choose to wear, so let’s join in the chorus by analyzing this couple’s attire. She wins on basis of appropriateness. Her neat breeches topped with boots or leggings are perfect for the snow. Both have the layering thing down pat, but where the heck are his gloves?  Another view of them is at the bottom of the post.

  •   The new Congress was sworn in and clothes mattered. From a veteran’s shorts that showed his new legs, to a feminist white pants suit, to an ultra-femme bisexual look, to Native touches and looks that showed off the wearer’s ethnicity, the 116th Congress is not your grandpa’s government.
  •  The International Tennis Hall of Fame has posted an online gallery, showing off their tennis clothing collection.
  •   We are to be treated to a TV mini-series on designer Halston.
  •   Dress reformer Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was  the first and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.
  •    To kids of the Sixties, it will always be a Nehru jacket.
  •    This one is not so much about clothing, as it is about bad history in general. However, the main issue of bad history and false research applies to many disciplines. I see a lot of problems with TV “documentaries” when images are chosen to illustrate fashion.
  •    It’s time for us to decide whether or not our historical artifacts are worth preserving.
  •   Exhibition Lab: Sargent and Fashion is an experiment by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in which visitors get to give input on a future exhibition. Boston readers, if you go, let me know what you think.

Thanks to Janey for the great photos.

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Golfer Imagery, 1920 or 1970s?

I’ll go ahead and say that this image of a 1920s woman golfer is from the early 1970s (or possibly late 60s).  There are lots of clues why, but the best way to see them is to look at an actual 1920s graphic.

The figures in both images are wearing sweaters, scarves, and cloche hats. But a closer look shows the authentic 20s woman wearing sporty argyle stockings and what look to be oxford shoes. The 70s golfer is stockingless (or maybe wearing sheer hose, not the best choice for golfing) and inappropriate (though really cute) shoes.

Another great clue is the Twenties woman’s lips. She has that “bee stung” look made famous by silent stars such as Mae Murray and Clara Bow. The Seventies woman’s lips have the more natural shape of that decade.

Both of these images come from new additions to my collection. The Seventies item is a bag for golf shoes. It has two joined pouches for the shoes with a red heavy twill tape handle. The seller listed the bag as an item form the 1920s, but I bought it knowing that was not the case. I’m not criticizing the seller, as it’s just not possible to know everything, especially when the image is clearly that of a “1920s” woman.

It is a great example of how popular the idea of nostalgia was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fashion has always borrowed from past styles, but what makes this trend in the Seventies so interesting is how the imagery of 1920s people was updated to fit the Seventies aesthetic. You see a bit of this in children’s wear of the 1950s, with scenes of cowboys and Indians, and in the novelty prints of the late 1940s and into the 1950s, but not until the late 1960s did graphics showing the fashions of the past become a major fashion trend.

My other recent find was this tin. All four sides show different scenes of the Twenties sporting woman. In the 1920s, sports for women were gaining in popularity, and one finds imagery of this modern woman in lots of 1920s media and products. The covers of women’s magazines often featured a sportswoman. And this is the second tin I’ve found with the sides covered with women engaged in sports. (One more and it will be a collection.)

 

 

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Naomi Jackson of Vested Gentress

It is with sadness that I must report the recent death of Naomi Jackson, co-founder and owner of The Vested Gentress clothing brand. A friend of Naomi’s got in touch with me four years ago and I was able to interview Naomi and get the story of her company. From all accounts Naomi was a delightful person who will be greatly missed.

To honor her memory, here is my interview.

Courtesy and copyright of Club Vintage Fashions

About a month ago I got an email from John Fibbi in Florida.  Seems as if he was sitting with Naomi Jackson, who had been, along with her husband Bud, the owner of  The Vested Gentress.  They were searching the internet looking for references to her company and came across an old post here at The Vintage Traveler.  He got in touch, and she agreed to answer a few questions about the company.

This was very exciting to me because despite the fact that vintage Vested Gentress clothing is pretty common and some pieces are highly collectible, there just wasn’t much about the company to be found.   Now, thanks to John and Naomi, and Naomi’s son, Dan Jackson, I can tell the story behind this whimsical label.

Copyright and courtesy of GailDavid’s Memory Lane

1.  How did Vested Gentry get started?

Fritz, or “Bud”,  Jackson Jr.  Naomi’s husband,  was good at doodling, and was in advertising for a while and good at casual art.  Around 1960 he had two comics or cartoons published; one in Look and a short time later one in Playboy.  

The first products Bud created were men’s woolen vests that were also screen printed with cocktail-themed designs and sports cars, thus the name Vested Gentry.  Ads were placed in The New Yorker magazine and orders were taken.  Bud actually hand screened the first articles at home in the bedroom on a flush door. Orders from individuals and Ambercrombie & Fitch were filled as they were received.  They also made some men’s hand screened shirts.

The label for Vested Gentry was a stoic guy, dressed in black, wearing a top hat.

2.  Is there a special significance to the name Vested Gentress?

That was the name the Bud created when he began the woman’s line in 1961 and began phasing out the men’s wear.

Courtesy and copyright of pinky-a-gogo

3.  How was the logo of the equestrienne chosen?

This was a creation of Bud’s, who felt that the logo fit the name.

Courtesy and copyright of Metro Retro Vintage

4.  What can you tell me about the fabric designs?

In the beginning all of the designs were the personal work of Bud.   He really most enjoyed drawing the animals.  Most of the floral prints were purchased as Bud did not enjoy drawing the florals.

Courtesy and copyright of Better Dresses Vintage

   Did you employ an artist? 

In the later days an artist was hired, mostly for the florals.

Courtesy and copyright of Metro Retro Vintage

5.  Was the screen printing done in your own factory?

Yes it was done in the factory, in a large room with many screeners. We could handle a ten color process.  At the factory there were approximately thirty-five employees: screeners, designers and sample makers.

Courtesy and copyright of Northstar Vintage

What about the sewing?

The sewing was contracted out.  In the beginning it was tough, as we did not have large orders.   Articles were screened and cut in the factory, and samples were sewn there. The cut pieces were then sent out for sewing.

Courtesy and copyright of Second Looks

6.  I’ve noticed that many of the designs incorporate a big, friendly dog.  Was he based on an actual dog?  Did he have a name?

The dog logo was based completely on a family pet and member of the family, a 200 pound Newfoundland hound named Briney Bear.  He was the chairman of the board and had his own stationery.  The hang tag, also designed by Bud was based on a drawing of Briney Bear.  The hang tag logo can also be found on Bud’s headstone.

Courtesy and copyright of Hatfeathers Vintage

7.  Was Vested Gentress marketed as an active sports line?  So much of it seems to be appropriate for golf and tennis.

There was a pro line, that was sold exclusively in country club pro shops.  This was late in the life of the line.

Vested Gentress had four of their own retail stores, Rehoboth, Delaware, Stone Harbor, New Jersey,  and Jupiter and Clearwater, Florida.  Florida was the largest sales area.

Courtesy and copyright of Northstar Vintage

8.  Which of the print motifs were the most popular?

Heads and Tails which is the horse with the bows, and one with a parrot.  The parrot was also based on an actual creature.  He was positioned outside a barber shop in Florida, and when they went by him the parrot would bother Briney Bear.

Copyright and courtesy of joulesvintage

9.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ad for Vested Gentress in vintage magazines.  Did the company advertise on a national level?

Yes, mostly through The New Yorker.

Courtesy and copyright of Hatfeathers Vintage

10.  How and when did the business close?

Naomi  remembers that Lilly Pulitzer folded (1984)  prior to her husband’s passing in 1985 and Vested Gentress closed sometime after he died.  Dan said that they kept the business going for a while after his father died, but that Vested Gentress was Bud’s passion, and it was too hard to continue without his guiding force.

Naomi stated that they were surprised at Lilly Pulitzer’s closing as they had three items in Town & Country that year.

Courtesy and copyright of pinky-a-gogo

Vested Gentress was a true family company, with Bud and Naomi running the company and the children working there as well.  Dan said that his first job was sweeping the factory floor on Saturdays.  He was able to work his way up.

 

Many thanks to John Fibbi, who found me and who transcribed Naomi’s story.  And thanks to Naomi and Dan for answering all my questions.  Also thanks to members of the Vintage Fashion Guild for providing so many great illustrations of Bud’s work.

Courtesy and copyright of Viva Vintage Clothing

A few words about the label:

Vested Gentress was started in 1961, and in 1966 the  equestrienne trademark was registered.  The version on the trademark site shows the woman without a riding crop in her hand, and I’ve seen labels that do not have the crop.  I assume thay are older than the much more commonly found woman with a crop.  The Jacksons had no recollection of the change in the label.  If you find a label with no crop and no R (registered) symbol, I think you can safely assume it is from before 1966.

Courtesy and copyright of Viva Vintage Clothing

Courtesy and copyright of Club Vintage Fashions

Courtesy and copyright of Northstar Vintage

To see even more, here is an old blog post at the Vintage Merchant blog.

 

 

 

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Women’s Softball, 1938

A while ago I found an interesting item at a local antique mall, a 1938 scorecard for women’s softball games at Madison Square Garden. There was a league – the Metropolitan Women’s Softball League, and other leagues across the country as well. Because of the movie, A League of Their Own, the All American Girls Baseball League of the 1940s is well-known, but I’d never heard of  a women’s softball league.

Growing up, I was well acquainted with fast-pitch softball. Our local YMCA, which was administered by the town’s primary employer, Champion Fiber and Paper, fielded a team, the Champions of Canton.  It was a team of men, and I don’t remember there ever being a woman’s team.

The Champions were big in Canton. Rumor had it that any excellent ball player could get a job at the paper mill, and I’m sure that’s the way it worked all over the country. Many factories and other businesses had softball teams, and competition for the best players was high.

After finding the scorecard, I went on an internet search for information about the Metropolitan Women’s Softball League. The best find was a series of photos of the New York Roverettes and the Americanettes with Babe Ruth, taken in 1938, the same year as my scorecard.  (I linked to the photos, because I don’t use photos from Getty on my blog. They have been known to sue.)

The uniforms were interesting and quite flashy, being made of colorful satin fabric. By the late 1930s most women’s teams had adopted shorts, but some more conservative communities in New England and in Arizona’s Cactus League fielded their women’s teams in long pants.

Wanting more information led me to Erica Westly’s book, Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game. Westly tells of how softball started as an indoor sport, but by the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, it had moved outdoors. It was the 1933 Fair that helped popularize the game. In 1938 it was again played indoors, at Madison Square Garden. In biweekly games the New York Roverettes would play visiting teams from around the country and Canada.

The back of the program gives us a look at the types of businesses that sponsored teams. The Num Num Girls of Cleveland were sponsored by a potato chip maker. The Newark Poppy Mills was a knitting factory.

Here’s the scorecard of the International game between the Toronto Langley-Lakesides and the Roverettes. Interesting that all the coaches and managers were men, though that began to change in the 1950s when women were allowed in the management ranks, and for the first time, Black women were allowed on the teams.

South Bend Blue Sox Baseball Dress, worn by Besty Jochum, National Museum of American History, catalog #1983.0183.01

Fastpitch gives a good look at the origins of The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  Started in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley in order to keep revenue flowing through Wrigley Field during the war, it was originally a softball league. The name was changed to baseball, and the rules were a mix of both games. Wrigley came up with the idea of the players wearing skirts with little bloomers beneath. He felt like skirts were more womanly.

He also mandated that the players could not wear slacks off the field, and they must always wear makeup and lipstick, and wear high heels when not playing. There were lots of rules, but the pay was good. Many of the best softball players gave up their satin shorts to play in Wrigley’s league.

Seeing the Smithsonian’s South Bend Blue Sox baseball dress made me wonder if any of the much more common satin shorts ensembles are in any museum collections. I found a site for the National Softball Hall of Fame which is located in Oklahoma City, but there is little information on the site about the collection. I would bet that there are many located in local historical society collections. Get in touch if you know of one.

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