Helping Fight Bad History

One thing about being a teacher for twenty-eight years is that it helps you develop a very strong bullshit meter.  Not that you would need much of one for this bit of nonsense.  In 1921, women in the US had gotten the vote, so there are no need to be a suffragette.  It may look like the women are eating pizza, but in the early 1920s, pizza was not the easily-obtained food that it is today.  And I’ve never, ever heard of groups of women eating to annoy men.

This photo was taken from Shorpy, where it is plainly labeled that the women are eating pie, something you can see for yourself in an enlarged view of the original.

We are all adults here, so I’m hoping I’ll not be bursting any bubbles when I tell you that you simply cannot believe everything you see – or read – on the WWW.  There are entire websites dedicated to exposing the fake and the falsely captioned.  It seems to be a huge losing battle, as the desire to make a twitter photo or a facebook post go “viral” is so much more important to many users than is the truth.

One of the great values of the internet is the ability to share information.  I’ve talked here many times about merely posting about an object or a clothing company is a fantastic way to collect information about it.  People who know the answers will find you, eventually, through Google.

Many people are using the internet to discover the “lost” stories of defunct fashion companies and to piece together the trends of the past.  Rubbish like the pizza-eating suffragettes only muddies the historical waters.

Of course ClassicPics could have simply repeated the caption from Shorpy, and even credited that site as the origin of the photo.  But what would be the fun in that?

My second beef with this twitter posting is the lack of a source.  The photo itself is quite interesting, and might be just the thing that a researcher needs to illustrate a paper or a presentation.  The problem then becomes finding the original source, something that one of the debunking sites had already done in this case, but would have taken me all day to figure out.

I’ve had that great blog post at Wynken de Worde on my mind, the one I posted a link to in last week’s Vintage Miscellany about the same issues I’m addressing here.  This really struck home yesterday when I spotted two of my photos on Instagram, both of which had been cropped, neither of which was attributed to me or to the copyright holder.  It’s disheartening that people who  profess to love fashion history are posting photos out of their true context, separating objects from their history.

For the most part I don’t mind if people use my images as long as a credit is given (and a link is even better).  That way if someone stumbles across one of my images elsewhere on the internet, they can follow the breadcrumbs back here to read more about the object.  It is a win for everyone concerned.  But images without a way to learn more about them steals a learning opportunity from the viewer and it robs me of a visitor to this blog.

I have gotten to the place where I’ll point out when an image was taken from my site.  I don’t like doing it because I always feel like I’m being a bit passive-aggressive in my approach.  But it is either that or silently fume, which is something I just refuse to do.

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Currently Reading: The Mountain Artisans Quilting Book

Mountain Artisans shows just exactly how important timing is in business, and in life in general.  After President Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, there were dozens of agencies set up to implement hundreds of programs that were meant to help the poor.  Mountain Artisans was started by a worker in the arts and crafts department of the Department of Commerce, Florette Angel.  Ms. Angel was in West Virginia to help a group of quilters figure out how to market the projects they were making using traditional quilting skills.

It was a good time to be starting a crafts cooperative.  Not only was there the Federal assistance that sent Ms. Angel to the quilters, it was 1968, and interest was increasing in alternative lifestyles such as the back-to-the-earth  movement.  The American Bi-centennial was coming up in 1976, and interest in history and heritage were growing.

Even so, the project got off to a rocky start.  Interestingly, there was money to spend on studies of impoverished people and how they could make money, but there was no money to pay for needed craft supplies.  All the young women who were working to start the business had no experience and they were working without pay.

Help arrived in the person of Sharon Rockefeller, whose famous name helped open doors.  She put the group in touch with the famous Parish-Hadley decorating firm, which arranged for meetings in New York, including one with Diana Vreeland at Vogue.   Through Vreeland, Oscar de la Renta ordered some of the fabric being pieced by the women in the co-op.  The group was on its way.

They also benefited from some excellent press coverage.  Whoever was in charge of public relations did a fantastic job, getting a feature in Life magazine, and mentions in Newsweek and New York Magazine.  The Associated Press and United Press International regularly distributed features on the co-op.

Dorothy Dembosky Weatherford, a local artist, donated her talents as a designer, and her work led to a distinctive Mountain Artisans style.  She liked big bold blocks of color, much in the style of the late 1960s and early 70s.

By 1972 the co-op was a success, and Weatherford won a special Coty award that year for “reviving native handicrafts.” According to an account from the AP in 1972, there were 160 full time quilters, with an additional 60 working part time.  Total sales for the previous year had been a half a million dollars.  A showroom was planned for New York.

Sharon Rockefeller wearing a Mountain Artisans skirt

The success of the group is nicely documented in this book by Alfred Allen Lewis.  Published in 1973, it is a book typical of the time, with the story of the co-op intertwined with directions for making projects based on those of the Mountain Artisans.  I’m not so sure how easy it would be to actually follow the directions, but there are lots of photos of the quilters sitting and sewing along with diagrams showing the design and construction process.

The clothes, which were mainly floor-length “hostess skirts”, were sold in high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Joseph Magnin, and Neiman Marcus.  The co-operative also made patchwork pillows and quilts.  These items occasionally come up for sale today, and they are easily identified because they are labeled.

Quilt made for the Rockefeller baby

In appreciation for all the support she had given them, the group made a quilt for Sharon Rockefeller’s first baby.  Designed by Weatherford, it was not the average baby quilt made from sweet pastels.  I’ve got to wonder if the Rockefellers still have it.

Dorothy Weatherford experimented with modern-looking variations of old quilt themes.

The early 1970s were an interesting time.  People were discovering traditional handicrafts such as quilting, knitting, and sewing, and there was a definite Little House on the Prairie vibe going on in fashion.  The women running Mountain Artisans were wise to capitalize on this interest.

But fashion changes, and the homespun look died with the passing of time.  After July, 1976, interest in “tradition” waned, as Americans discovered the pleasures of disco.  Mountain Artisans closed in 1978.

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Exhibition Journal: Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

While not technically not a fashion exhibition, this show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in 2013 is one of my all-time favorites.  I’ve said before that it you want to really understand the fashions of the Teens and Twenties, you have to look at the work that was done by the costumers and set designers of the Ballets Russes.  Scheherazade,first performed by the Ballets Russes in 1910 that set off a fad for Orientalism in fashion that lasted into the 1920s.  Even the great couturier Paul Poiret was influenced by the movement, even though he downplayed it in his autobiography.

So much of the beauty of the Ballet Russes costumes is in the attention to detail.  In my journal I made a border of the ones I found to be the most interesting, and in the center, on a piece of translucent paper, I drew Sonia Delaunay’s magnificent costume for the 1918 production of Cleopatra.

 

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Vintage Miscellany – August 9, 2015

Click to enlarge

Look carefully at two of the bathing suits and you’ll see that they read “Salt Lake”.  The reverse of the photo tells us that the year is 1932.  But what is that contraption the swimmers are clinging to?

And on to the news…

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A Matter of Proportion

I spotted this skirt recently at a nearby antique mall, and I really liked it, but for some reason it looked a little off. The mix of colors was so fresh and unexpected, so that wasn’t it.  Still, it left me a bit unsettled.

A check inside the skirt revealed one of my favorite sportswear labels from the 1950s and 60s, Bill Atkinson for Glen of Michigan.  I’ve sung the praises of this label in the past, and I know it to be of good quality and to have a sound design aesthetic.  So what about it bothered me?

I took the skirt from the rack and turned it inside out to examine it.  And there was the story.  The skirt had been shortened.

The bottom squares were originally true squares like the rest of the ones in the skirt.  Even better, there was a band of that same dark pink velveteen that is used in the waistband.  My faith in Mr. Atkinson was restored.

I was impressed that the person who turned this knee-length skirt into a mini did not take the scissors to it.  Instead she turned up the band and half of the bottom squares, which made for a very bulky hem.  I’m guessing it didn’t get a lot of wear as the condition of the skirt was so good.

As a short person, I’ve learned that there is often more to consider when putting up a hem than just length.  Proportion is very important in order for a dress or skirt to look “right.”  Several years ago before maxi-length dresses came back into fashion, it was common on ebay to see 1970s maxis that the seller had cut off to a mini length.  Because the scale of prints in the early 70s was often quite large, the prints were well suited to the maxi length.  But with three feet of fabric sliced from the bottom, the mini versions always ended up looking off kilter.

I’m glad that floor-length dresses made a reappearance in fashion, because it saved many vintage 1970s maxi dresses from the chopping block.

Correction: Spelling error

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Currently Viewing: The True Cost

When The True Cost was released earlier this year, the reviews raised some concerns about what the film did not do.  While the filmmaker did a good job of showing the various problems – environmental, social, and economic – of fast fashion, there were few solutions to the problems offered.  The film also focuses solely on fast fashion, when the reality is that the problems associated with textile and clothing production is not limited to that one sector of the industry.

I was able to see The True Cost because it just became available on Netflix.  It is also available on iTunes and Amazon Instant, so if you have any of these services, it is worth watching.  No, the film is not perfect, but it is a good view of many of the problems the world faces due to “fashion.”

As I watched the film, I was pretty much overwhelmed by the amount of human suffering that is caused by the clothing industry.  The filmmaker, Andrew Morgan, follows one woman in Bangladesh, telling the story of how she has to take her small child to live with her parents in their village while she is working in a sewing factory in the city. It is very effective.   I was also amazed at the massive piles of textile waste.  It really does make you stop and think.

But where the film goes astray is in offering solutions.  I was almost left with the impression that if we all just stopped being consumers, then the problems would just go away.  One of the persons interviewed (who is a 9/11 truther, though that was not brought up in the film) even said that the only solution was to abolish capitalism.  He may be right, but how likely is it that either of these things is going to happen?

After watching the film I was left with a feeling that I never wanted to go shopping again.  But the film was not really aimed at me because I’m not much of a consumer of fashion.  I sew most of my clothes using mainly fabrics that I’ve bought secondhand.  The message of The True Cost is not hitting its intended audience, the consumers of fast fashion.   The people who might really be influenced by the film are unlikely to see it.  Several teenage girls were shown in the movie posting their “haul” videos, in which they get on YouTube and brag about all the cheap stuff they just bought.

Maybe there should be a second version in which two cute and famous young celebrities narrate and feature in the film.  Then it might be more likely to get the audience that it needs.  In the meantime, The True Cost is preaching to the choir.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler – July, 2015

Summertime is hot in North Carolina, so I usually don’t leave the cooler mountains until September.  But I was enticed down to the flatlands by the Vintage Charlotte Summer Market. This market has been going on now for several years, but for this event they moved to a larger venue and there were more vendors.  And, I’m happy to report, some of the regular vendors had really upped their game.

I also went to a large antique mall in Charlotte, the Sleepy Poet, which is always good for a few hours browsing.  So some of these photos are from Vintage Charlotte and others are from the mall.

How great is this 1950s handbag?  The beads are glued on, and the eyeglasses are cut from felt.

Not only were these wonderful late 1940s shoes in perfect condition, the details put them a few steps above the average shoe.  I loved that gold trim with the brown suede.

That’s Andi of Raleigh Vintage on the left.  She and Isaac always have a terrific booth.

I’m crazy for suitcases and luggage of all types, but I spotted this little case and just could not figure it out.

Turns out it is a portable card file!

Sometimes an imitation can be even greater than the original as in the case of this Lilly Pulitzer wannabe.  It is so much of a copy that you can almost – but not quite – find the Lilly signature in the print.  Frankly, I think it is better than most Pulitzer prints I’ve seen.

I have a collection idea for all the necktie wearing readers: Rooster ties.  Rooster was owned by Max Raab, the man behind Villager. Rooster ties were unusual because of the square end and because they were cut on the straight of the fabric rather than the bias.  The novelty prints that Rooster used are fun and whimsical, as you can see in the four examples above.

Poppycock Vintage had some super little hats.

That favorite date is very late, but hopefully he’ll not be a cheap date and just buy her the chocolate marshmallow special.

Even the inside of that notebook is great.

There was a lot to look through at Vintage Charlotte, and if you are in the area it is well worth a drive to Charlotte.  They have the market several times a year, with the next one being in November, I think.  I didn’t buy a lot, but I did find an arm-load of 1950s fashion magazines.  That always equals a great day of shopping.

 

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