Martha Washington College, now the Martha Washington Inn

I just spent a few days with friends in my favorite type of place – a town full of history.  The town is Abingdon, VA, and more specifically, I’ll be telling about the inn where we stayed, the Martha Washington.  The central part of the inn was built in 1832 as a residence for General Francis Preston and his family.  Much of the original structure is intact, including the family’s parlors, and a lovely oval staircase.

The house was sold in 1858 to the Methodist church, which was in the process of establishing a school of higher learning for girls which was to be named for Martha Washington.  The school actually opened in 1860.  Over the years the building was enlarged and new wings were added on either side.

All the sources I’ve found call the school Martha Washington College, though, especially in the early years, it was really more of a finishing school.  A girl could attend for two years if she had graduated from high school, or for four years if she had completed two years of high school.  By the 1920s the school was in effect, a junior college.

There are a lot of legends and ghost stories surrounding the school, including tragic love stories involving students and Civil War soldiers.  I also found a lot of differing information concerning dates.  This is a topic in search of a good researcher!

What made the stay at the Martha Washington so interesting to me was the presence of many photographs and other memorabilia concerning the school that lined the walls of the main floor of the inn.  Most of it was from around 1895 to 1932, when the Great Depression forced the school to close.

Many of the photos from the Teens and Twenties show the girls in sports uniforms.  Here’s part of the basketball team from 1924.

And here are some basketball players from a few years later.

Students were properly attired for golf in 1924.

Many of the photos showed the girls wearing middy blouses, that most schoolgirl of all garments.

The inn really has taken great pains to remember the heritage of the old building.  Each guest room is identified with a different vintage photo of the school and its students.  One of the parlors is named for First Lady Edith Wilson, who was a student at Martha Washington for a very short time.

After the college closed in 1932 (some sources say 1931) the building stood empty for a few years.  But fortunately for Abingdon, a new enterprise opened across the street – the Barter Theatre.  In 1933, young (and out of work) actor Robert Porterfield got the idea to open a theatre and let people pay their admissions with either 40 cents or an equivalent amount of food.

The theatre was an immediate success, and that created a need for a hotel.  The Martha Washington opened as an inn in 1935.

In 1948 Abingdon was the “Second healthiest town in America.”  I would love to know which town was number one!

 

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Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form at the James A. Michener Art Museum

Worth, Evening Coat, 1924, cherry red voided velvet and ermine. Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Mrs. Paul Pennoyer, 1982. 82.34.

I can remember the first fashion exhibition I saw, probably around 1995.  At that time very few museums were staging exhibitions dedicated purely to fashion, and one pretty much had to go to New York or London to see historical dress shows. But by the mid 1990s, museums that had collections of clothing started realizing that fashion attracted viewers, and so now we are living in a time when many museums treat us to all sorts of fashion-based exhibitions.

That first exhibition I saw was on shoes. It was, simply put, a room lined with shelves on which all sorts of old shoes were displayed, along with short descriptions and dates. I can’t help but think of how far museums have traveled in the twenty-five or so years since I was first thrilled to see a room dedicated to shoes.

Today, while some major institutions are still hung up on proving fashion is art, others are putting on exhibitions that show the larger relationship between fashion and art. Several years ago the Andy Warhol Museum put together a fantastic show highlighting the relationship between the artist and designer Halston. Currently at the Brooklyn Museum, one can explore the style of artist Georgia O’Keefe. And at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, visitors are currently being treated to the role of fashion in the career of American Modernist painter and photographer, Charles Sheeler.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Criss-Crossed Conveyers, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company, 1927. Black and white print. 9 ¼ x 7 3/8 in. From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Until I got an interesting email from friend and fellow blogger Mod Betty, I had no idea there was a connection between Sheeler and fashion. I knew him as a painter and photographer of the industrial. But Mod Betty had been to the preview for Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form and she knew I’d be interested in it.

As Sheeler was working to establish himself as a painter and photographer, he took a job as photographer at Condé  Nast, the publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair.  Between 1926 and 1931 he photographed society women and actresses wearing the latest fashions.  The question is, how did this work, which he disliked, influence his other art? Can one see a connection between the fashion Sheeler photographed and his later work?

I found several Sheeler photos in the July 1, 1926 issue of Vogue. These early fashion works by Sheeler seem to be similar to other fashion photography of the day.  But as time went on, Sheeler developed a style that was more in keeping with his other work.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Bobbe Arnst, Vanity Fair, July 1, 1928. © Condé Nast.

This 1928 photo of Bobbe Arnst has an almost sculptural feel.  Sheeler was as interested in the geometry present in this picture of a woman and her dress as he was in his photograph of a Ford industrial complex seen above. It was a feature of his work that continued through the years.

Worth, Evening Dress, 1924-27, ivory satin, silver metallic machine-made lace, mine-cut brilliants. Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Mr. Robert Winthrop, 1986. 86.60.38.

There is also the intriguing idea that the designs of 1920s fashions with their geometric motifs also influenced Sheeler’s work. To show this, clothing was borrowed from other museums and was placed in context with Sheeler’s photographs and enlargements of details in his work. In the exhibition, the Worth dress above is placed before a backdrop of an enlarged section of a Sheeler painting.  To see how effective this is, Mod Betty has posted some of her photos of the exhibition on Flickr.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Helen Menken, Vanity Fair, October 1, 1931. © Condé Nast.

The exhibition also shows some dresses with photographs that show similar styles.  Sheeler took the above photo in 1931.  The designer of the dress is unknown.

Gilbert Adrian for MGM Studios, Evening gown, 1931, silk, velvet, and metal. Gift of Mrs. Thomas E. Burns Jr., The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University. Image courtesy of the Drexel Digital Museum Project. Photograph by Dave Gehosky.

But a similar dress is on view, this one designed by Adrian in 1931, worn by Greta Garbo in Inspiration.

Another interesting aspect of Sheeler’s career was that, for a short time in the early 1930s, he designed knit fabrics for William Heller, a New York textile company.  The museum did not include a photo of the textile designs in their press kit, but you can see examples on Mod Betty’s flickr page. They are geometrical in nature, and one can see echoes of the designs in paintings made years later.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Barn Abstraction, 1946, tempera on paperboard, 21 ½ x 28 3/8 inches. Collection of Joseph P. Carroll and Dr. Roberta Carroll, Courtesy Forum Gallery, New York.

Unfortunately I’m not going to be in the Doylesville area this summer, but I do hope some of you will be and can take in what looks to be a fantastic show. And thanks to Mod Betty, I have two exhibition passes to give away to someone who will use them.  So if you are in the Doylesville or Philadelphia area, or will be traveling there before July 9 when the exhibition closes, please email me at thevintagetraveler@gmail.com before April 6, 2017.  If more than one person can use the passes, I’ll put the names in a hat and do a drawing.

Thanks so much to Mod Betty for sharing the exhibition, and for the passes.  And thanks to curator Kirsten Jensen at the James A. Michener Art Museum for bringing this important aspect of Sheeler’s career to light.

 

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler

I’ve been shopping again, this time mainly in the Franklin, NC area, and in Asheville. By shopping, I really mean looking, because I actually don’t buy many things at all. But I look at window shopping as an education of sorts, and it’s a rare day spent in antique stores that I don’t learn or see something new.

I really liked this Scoreze handy golf score pad, and would have bought it except I felt the price was too high. I’ve found a few online, and most of them are in the same price range, but I’m just not willing to pay what people are asking. The price reflects the fact that the store display is intact, but all I want is the little pad and holder. I’m sure I’ll eventually run across one.

It’s rare that I even talk about prices.  Most importantly, it’s my wish that people reading this blog think of the items I present more as historical artifacts, and less as items to be bought and sold. When I see an item that I want to add to my collection, what the item is “worth” is not a big consideration, but unfortunately, the price tag is.

Having spent some time as a vintage seller, I understand that sellers deserve to get fair prices for the goods they sell.  It’s not an easy job. Finding great stuff to resell is getting harder all the time as attics are emptied. So for the most part, I don’t complain about prices.

I thought this was interesting.  I had to look up the history of Trader Vic’s, and to my surprise, there are still a few locations in operation.  This is older, as the prices prove:

I could really go for some Cosmo Tidbits about now.

I really hope there are some collectors out there who are saving all the great vintage kids’ garments. Sometimes the cuteness is just overwhelming.

This is the oldest Rit Dye case I’ve ever come across.

I love how a few well-placed scallops can make a boot look pretty.

I live for a stack of good antique magazines. I usually don’t buy copies of the Ladies’ Home Journal, but I do love the covers.

This card was a new one to me.

They may be making fun of Miss Fishley, but she was wearing a really great bathing suit.

Things like this always confuse me. Why would anyone have eight copies of the same cookbook for sale?

If you are ever in Asheville, NC, and have time to visit only one antique store, make it Magnolia Beauregard’s on Broadway. The store has been in business for decades, and is just as interesting now as it was years ago when I was just learning about historical clothing.

I know there is more to the story of this item.  It is the cover of a songbook, dated 1928.  Interesting that a flooring company would be producing a musical “frolic”.  Maybe it was put on by the employees, as the Fulton Opera House is also in Lancaster, PA.  I can’t help but wonder if the performers wore a version of the pajamas seen in the illustration.

Outing is one of my favorite sources for information on sportswear from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The issues are online, but it was fun seeing an issue in the wild.

 

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Vintage miscellany – March 26, 2017

Meet my new favorite couple, Hortense Ledogan and Frank McDonough, with photo-bomber Eleanor Ledogan in the foreground.  The year is 1940, the place is unknown.  But, a google search for Hortense McDonough seems to imply the couple was later married, and she is still alive and is 102 years old.

The photo gives an excellent look at how young women dressed for their casual outings.  Hortense is wearing cotton overalls with a print shirt.  This was to become almost a uniform for women who did outdoors and factory work during the impending war.

And now for some news…

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Currently Reading – Portrait of a Woman in Silk

I think I’ve mentioned here that my first history obsession was with the American colonial period.  Since my college days I’ve gone on to other interests, but I’ve recently rediscovered  early American history after reading a biography of Abigail Adams, and then I discovered my latest podcast love, Ben Franklin’s World. It was through Ben Franklin’s World that I found the book that is today’s topic.  The author, Zara Anishanslin, was the featured guest on the podcast, and she made her book sound so interesting that I had to read it.

And I’m so glad that I did.  I love biographies, and you might say the book is a biography of the portrait, which weaves together the stories of four people who had a hand in the creation of it – the woman who designed the pattern of the silk, the man who wove the silk, the woman who wore the dress, and the man who painted the portrait.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of “material culture” (otherwise known as stuff) and what we can learn from from objects from the past.  And while I usually explore the not so distant past, it was so interesting to see a historian travel back 250 years to see what evidence can be found in portraits, bits of silk, drawings, not to mention the usual historical sources of written records.  The challenge of this study was that there were few written records.  None of the four people involved left written accounts of their lives. Other written evidence was sketchy, such as mentions in guild records or other people’s letters.

So Anishanslan turned to what was plentiful – the objects themselves, especially the portrait and others painted by the artist, Robert Feke.  It’s helpful to know how to “read” a portrait, and Anishanslin provides plenty of instruction in the symbolism and clues found in a colonial portrait.  I had no idea you could learn so much about a person just by the careful examination of her portrait.

The woman in the portrait is Anne Shippen Willing, and it now hangs at Winterthur in Delaware.  It was Anishanslin’s recall of the portrait as she was examining designs for Spitalfields silk fabrics housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum that led to her research.  Seeing the similarities between the dress in the portrait and the designs in the museum, she was then able to find the original drawing for that particular piece of silk, which was drawn by Anna Maria Garthwaite.  From there she discovered that the weaver of the cloth was Spitalfields weaver Simon Julins.

One important person that could have added to this story that was not uncovered by Anishanlin was the dressmaker who constructed the dress.  It’s a shame that her (the dressmaker’s) work was not somehow recorded.  But then, she was just a seamstress, out of a multitude of sewers working in a city like Philadelphia, where Willing lived.  If only Willing had kept a diary!

It’s rather amazing that one portrait could inspire an entire book, but Anishanlin left no stone unturned in her pursuit of her subjects. The book is full of tangents and detours, and it is all the richer for them.  This book is not just about the portrait, or the fabric, or the people directly involved in the creation of the two.  There’s a rich study of the importance of botany in the eighteenth century, a close look at New England trade and the merchants who got rich off from trans-Atlantic trade, and the role of slavery in both Philadelphia and New England.

Portrait of a Woman in Silk

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1950s Golf Dress – Babe Didrikson Golfer by Serbin

Some time ago I heard from Marianne Serbin, who was part of the family that owned the clothing company Serbin, and later, Serbin of Miami.  In her letter to me she mentioned that at one time famed athlete Babe Didrikson designed golf dresses for Serbin.  Since then I’ve had this line on my shopping radar, and finally, last month, I found a really great example.

Marianne did not mention when exactly Didrikson worked for Serbin, and it’s likely she does not know, as she would have been a child at the time.  But it is pretty easy to narrow it down to a range of just a few years.  First, Didrikson died in 1955 from cancer which was diagnosed with in 1953.

The length of the dress is quite long, and so the earliest it could be is 1948 or so.

The label reads just Serbin, instead of Serbin of Miami.  The company moved to Miami in 1951.  That may indicate that the set predates 1951 and the move, but that’s not guaranteed.  My 1960s golf set from Serbin does not mention Miami either.

I did find two ads online for Serbin golf dresses from 1949.  Actress Jane Russell is the model, but there is no mention of Didrikson.  It stands to reason that , as a very famous athlete, her name would have been in the ad as well. (The hunt continues.  I’ll update if I find a Serbin-Didrikson ad.)

My best guess is, then, 1950 through 1952.  But more important than the actual date of this dress is what we can learn about how fashion was adapted to fit a specific activity, in this case, golfing.

One of the first things to consider in making a golf dress is the sleeve.  Tight sleeves just won’t do, but in the early 50s most women on the golf course were just not ready to go sleeveless. In order to allow the arms full range of motion, golf dress sleeves were often pleated, and in this case, you can see that there are also buttons to give even more flexibility.

An interesting side note – this type of pleated sleeve appears to have started in the 1930s.  In the early 30s it was often seen on fashionable dresses.  So which use came first, the fashion or the sport?  I have no idea.

When unbuttoned, the sleeve is open all the way to the shoulder.

Another must-have feature on golf dresses was a pocket or two.  I really love how this breast pocket was cut on the bias.

I somehow neglected to take a full-length photo of the back of the dress, so take my word for it that this pocket is on the back, not the front.  It’s large enough to hold a ball, a glove, and a couple of tees.

One thing that made me buy this particular dress was that the belt was present.  So many times in old clothes the original belt is missing.  I didn’t realize until the dress arrived at my house that the belt is actually attached to a large flap in the back.  The flap obscures a large opening and the looseness of it allows for good air circulation.  It also makes the dress more flexible in the upper back.  Ingenious.

Here you can see the back opening.

Another interesting feature is that the dress has a front zipper that extends to the hem.  The zipper is actually a separating one, so this dress is very easy to put on.

Even with all the features that make this a dress for golfing, a woman could also have worn this dress for regular, casual wear.  It fits right in with what was stylish in 1950.

My Dad had a golf tournament  in Miami Beach which was Babe’s first win after her cancer and he presented her with a trophy topped with a diamond studded metal golf ball..quite a thrill for everyone.  Marianne Serbin.  Photo courtesy of Marianne Serbin.

I’m always amazed to learn of how so many otherwise famous people from the past also have a link to the fashion world.  Today, of course, it is just another way for a celebrity to make cash off his or her popularity.  But even a hundred years ago celebrities were being approached by companies eager to add a bit of  star power to their products.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Christina, I have a bit more to share.  Didrikson’s autobiography is online, and in it she mentions the deal with Serbin.  She won the British Ladies Championship in 1947, and after that win she was able to sign contracts with quite a few companies, including Serbin.  Later in the caption of a photo she mentions the ongoing deal with Serbin.  This was in 1955.

Christina also found photos of Didrikson wearing what looks to be a dress very similar to mine.  The year is 1950.   Thanks Christina!

UPDATE: Liza has found an ad in a newspaper for Didrickson/Serbin golf dresses dated March 30, 1949.  Thanks Liza!

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

1957 Jantzen Junior Dealer’s Catalog

A lot can be learned from old catalogs.  This one from Jantzen was not made for the consumer, but for the merchants that would be buying Jantzen products for their stores.  This particular catalog is for junior clothes, and I’m sure there were others for clothing for men, misses, and children.

Of course there were plenty of swimsuits.  After all, Jantzen was primarily a swimsuit company.  But what is interesting is how much of the catalog is devoted to other sportswear.

But before I get to the sportswear, I want to focus in one the swimsuit on the left.  This model was the “Holland Check” Sheath, with retailed for $10.95.  (Add in inflation, and this suit would be $93.50.  Jantzen was not cheap.)  In the late 1950s, and into the early 60s, plaids and checks were very popular.  This catalog features several plaid designs.

You can’t really tell what the plaid looks like here, but I do admire the way the designer used the print as part of the design.

Here you see the Holland check as trim on shorts and in a sleeveless top.

Even more Holland check in Bermudas, and as the trim on a blouse…

and on pedal pushers.

And best of all, here is the same check in a fabulous reversible cap.  The check was available in white with red, blue, brown, or black.  I’d never heard of “Holland Check” but it looks an awful lot like Prince of Wales plaid.

A store would pick which pieces to sell and it’s very unlikely that any one store opted to sell the entire line.  I can remember shopping in department stores in the late 1960s and early 70s, and it was common for stores to be selling the same brands, but to be offering entirely different pieces.

As a collector, it is nice seeing all the options available in the same print.  It’s hard enough finding great old sportswear garments, but how challenging it would be to try and assemble all the pieces of a particular line.  Unless one gets lucky, that is, the way I did with a matching line from Tabak of California.  

There was a real “Italian Look” evident in many of the garments.  The influence of Emilio Pucci, perhaps?

There were also references to the nautical influence, as in “Tars ‘n’ Stripes”.

And here’s even a nod to the ever popular middy blouse, though for some reason they chose to spell it “midi”.

Because these were junior swimsuits, targeted toward a teen consumer, Jantzen offered “Accents”, a bra pad.  The description of most of the swimsuits in this catalog mention that there is “space for ‘Accents” bust pads” in the suit.  I’ve got to wonder if there was an actual place in which to insert these pads.  Anybody know?

 

 

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