Currently Reading: Fabulous Hoosier by Jane Fisher

Lots of times I pick out a book because of the illustrations. I picked up this one at my local Goodwill purely because I loved the photograph above. That’s Jane and Carl Fisher in 1909, on a “honeymoon” trip by car from Indianapolis to California. Jane was 15; Carl was twenty years older. By the time they were married Carl had made a fortune from car headlights and had built the Indianapolis Speedway. He went on to plan the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway which led to what was probably his largest project, the building of Miami Beach.

For seventeen years or so Jane was swept along in the frenzy of Carl’s ideas. Even though she divorced him in 1926, they remained friends until his death in 1939. Several years later she wrote Fabulous Hoosier, which told how Carl managed to make and lose several fortunes over his 65 years.

The story was interesting, but as usual, I read memoirs looking for the clothes. Jane did not disappoint. She told how her love of swimming led to an ad concept for the developing Miami Beach.

Unwittingly, I was the original of the Miami Beach bathing beauty that was to help make our city famous. Carl had built the Casino, with its pavilion for pleasure, sun-bathing and swimming… The first women of the Beach swam there each morning in long black stockings, bathing suits that would serve today for street dresses, and bathing shoes. Demure mop caps covered our long hair.

I had mastered the new racing stroke, the Australian crawl, and longed for greater freedom in the water. I found it in what I have been told was the first form-fitting bathing suit, with a shockingly short skirt that came only to my knees, and most daring of all, anklets instead of the modest long black stockings. The following Sunday a minister in a church on the mainland used my bathing suit – and me in it – as a symbol of the brazenness of the modern woman…

Within a few weeks of my public pillorying, not a black stocking was to be seen on the Beach… Carl told me excitedly: “By God, Jane, you’ve started something! We’ll get the prettiest girls we can find and put them in the @$@&% tightest and shortest bathing suits and no stockings or swim shoes either. We’ll have their pictures taken and send them all over the @$@&% country as “The Bathing Beauties of Miami Beach!

One of the shortcomings of the book is that Jane couldn’t commit to a chronological timeline. She’d be telling about something that happened in 1915, and then she’d skip to 1920 and then back. So the best I can tell the above story happened in 1919.

She also mentions wearing pajamas on Miami Beach.

[One visitor] expressed delight over such Miami Beach surprises as “strawberries for breakfast at Christmas and being driven about by a lady wearing pajamas.” I was the lady in pajamas – as startling in the early ‘twenties, even in freedom-loving Miami Beach, as my form-fitting bathing suit had been five years before.

And:

Whatever was new, was mine. I had the first Irene Castle bob south of the Mason-Dixon Line, wore the first lipstick – sparingly, the first knee-high skirt, the first pajamas.

And if the bathing suit story happened in 1919, that made the pajamas-wearing happen in 1924. By that time, pajamas had shown up on European beaches, but the first sighting of pajamas on the more fashionable Palm Beach, Florida, was the winter season of 1925. In that case, Jane truly was a trendsetter.

Those lines alone were worth the price of the book and the time spent reading it.

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For Your Viewing Pleasure:

There’s at least another month of cold weather ahead in the Northern Hemisphere, and if you are like me, you are getting a bit (or a lot) antsy. I’m here to help with a few diversions in the form of fashion and textile themed lectures and presentations. It’s amazing how many museums, organizations, historical societies, and just interesting people have stepped up with online content during the pandemic.

I took the photo of the sampler above three years ago at MESDA – Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. I was delighted to see an analysis of the work on the Decorative Arts Trust Youtube channel. And check out the other videos from the Decorative Arts Trust. I’m working my way through them, and all I’ve viewed so far have been excellent.

A site that was new to me is American Ancestors by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. I was alerted to a live program called Dress Codes, which is about laws that have determined how people have dressed. The presenter,  Richard Thompson Ford, has written a book on the topic and he has been a guest of several institutions and their programing. There are several other programs that sound interesting, including one on samplers and one on collecting.

Most of the videos on Kent State University Museum’s Youtube are short teasers of their past exhibitions. But there’s an indepth look at their current show, Stitched: Regional Dress Across Europe.

The National Arts Club has so much great content that it’s hard to pick one to highlight. But not to be missed is an interview with Mary Wilson of the Supremes about the group’s stage costumes. So poignant since Mary died soon after the interview.

And if you need even more, check out the Museum at FIT, the Costume Society of America, and FIDM, especially their collections conversations.

My last recommendation is a movie on Netflix, The Dig. Watch the trailer.

Feel free to add your own list of diversions.

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1960s Bausch & Lomb Ski Shield

This recent vintage sportswear find came with a bonus – the original box. The packaging of an item can be really handy, especially if the collector is encountering a new-to-them item. Like this Ski Shield.

When I spotted this on Ruby Lane, I was immediately drawn to the graphics. I knew this had to be from the late 1950s or 1960s. The dating was made easier due to the box.

Someone (the buyer? the store?) was kind enough to write a date on the end. Even without the date, there are two more important clues. The presence of a zip code dates this to 1963 or after. And best of all, there’s a patent number.

The patent was filed in 1960 and granted in 1962. There is a lot of information about how the shield works, but the most important part is the diagram. There are two shields – a green for day and a yellow for night. They snap on and off a rubber strap.

And there’s more. The price sticker tells me that this Ski Shield was bought in Sun Valley, at Sturtevant’s. This store was located in Ketchum, ID, and is still in business.

I tend to shy away from items made of plastic. They are often really hard to preserve, as most plastics degrade. To make it worse, the strap is rubber, another finicky material. The only marking on the shield itself is “Bausch & Lomb” stamped on the rubber strap. See how valuable that that box is?

I found this on Ruby Lane. That’s a great place to shop. I find that the sellers there are professionals.

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Old Quilts or New Clothes?

An article in Wednesday’s New York Times sparked an online “conversation” about many things: copying in the fashion industry, the value of a man’s work over that of a woman’s, the erasure of the makers of craft as opposed to the sellers of it, is copying really copying if there is a long-standing tradition of the practice, and who actually “owns” a news story.

I’ll say straight out that I don’t pretend to own anything I find online and share here. The news is out there for all of us to find, whether it be the day of the event or, in this case, three days later.

The article in question is titled, “Menswear is on a Quilt Trip” and it is about the clothes by Tristan Detwiler who is making garments using used quilts and other textiles. There’s really nothing earth-shattering about his concept. Anyone who has spent any time at all hunting for old clothes has seen dozens of examples of this practice. I even have an example in my collection, as you see above. The top of these 1930s pajamas was pieced specifically for this garment, but the legs were reused from an old crazy quilt.

But his line has come under criticism not for copying the work of home sewers of years gone by, but because his clothing is strikingly similar to that of a woman designer, Emily Bode. You can compare the garments on Bode’s site to the ones by Detwiler in the Times article. I didn’t link to his site because it’s mainly just photos of him posing shirtless. You can see more of his items on the Instagram account of Diet Prada.

And that’s is where all the discussion about Detwiler’s clothing is happening. You can read the comments for yourself, if you dare. It’s all a big blame-game with so many different grievances that it’s hard to keep track. In fact, I gave up trying.

But one issue that was all but ignored was the use of old textiles. I’ve been to enough flea markets and thrift stores to know that old quilts are not a rare commodity. Almost every trip to the Goodwill bins turns up at least one depression era quilt. Fantastic old wool blankets are common as well. I accumulated so many that I no longer buy them.

Most of these textiles show their age. Wool blankets usually have holes. Quilts are often threadbare. Old table linens are stained and holey. So when I see old textiles in another shopper’s cart, I’m happy to see them being rescued, even though I know chances are they will be cut up to make clothing or home decor items. By the time an item reaches the Goodwill bins, very few options are left for the object. Better that that an old quilt be used to make a fashion statement than for it to go to a ragger.

Still, I’m very uncomfortable with the thought that some historically important textiles could be cut up to make clothing that is sure to be a short-lived phase of the textile’s life. In other words, is anyone going to be wearing these recycled quilt garments five years from now? My guess is no. In the case of a battered old 1930s quilt, it’s nice that it will get a few years more use. But many quilts are valuable and important artifacts. Do the people making the decisions of whether or not to cut know the difference between the mundane and the sublime?

Bode has been in business since 2016, and her aesthetic seems to have been quite influential. There are lots of people who make jackets out of old quilts and recently they have been popping up in my Instagram feed on a regular basis. But it would be giving Emily Bode too much credit to say she was the originator of this practice. I wrote a blog post on Joanne Kliejunas ten years ago. Take a look at her fantastic quilt and linen creations. And what about the unknown maker of my patchwork pajamas?

There really is nothing new under the sun. Well, almost nothing.

I hope you regular readers are not too shocked that I’ve posted two days in a row. I’m hoping to post more often, especially when it concerns current happenings.

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Vintage Miscellany – February 19, 2021

It’s February 19. and most of us here in the Northern Hemisphere are dreaming of warmer weather. Maybe that’s what the young woman in today’s photo is contemplating, though she seems to be content where she is. I hope that wherever you are, you are safe and warm.

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1890s Cycling Ensemble Promotional Paper Doll

I recently took a survey where one of the questions was, “How much time do you spend online?” I needed the interviewer to clarify if this was before covid-19, or after. My answer would be vastly different depending on the era – BC or AC.

But the upside is that I have become a better searcher of internet sales sites. I’ve turned up some truly fantastic things for my collection in the past eleven months. A great example is the topic of today’s post. It’s a little standup paperdoll, dressed in Redfern tweeds and holding a Columbia bicycle.

There’s no date, but the sleeves pretty much limit the possibilities to the mid 1890s. Another online pursuit over the past months is that I’ve been reading all the nineteenth century Harper’s Bazar magazines so generously provided by the Cornell Digital Library. It’s been a real education watching the sleeves inflate from the late 1880s through 1896, and then start to deflate by 1897. I’ve also enjoyed tracing the number of articles devoted to certain sports over the years. Tennis and skating were popular throughout the time period covered by the magazines, starting in 1867, but bicycling only becomes a serious topic in 1893, as did golf. It was the increasing popularity of the safety bicycle and the building of golf courses in the United States that brought about the change.

The mention of the matching knickerbockers is interesting. While there were many references to women cyclists wearing knickerbocker suits in the press, especially on comics pages, extant bloomer or knickerbocker suits from the 1890s are very rare. It’s not that women were not wearing pants to ride their bikes, it’s just that for the most part they were wearing them under an ankle-length skirt.

This little note from the January 2, 1897 Harper’s Bazar mentions knickers and bloomers in the context of ice skating, but the use of them was similar when bike riding. For most American women wearing a man’s garment, pants, was just not to be considered, unless it was covered up.

Note the price of the bicycle. The US Inflation Calculator only goes back to 1913, and even then, the bike would cost over $2600 in today’s dollar.

Redfern was a British ladies’ tailoring establishment. It had many high profile clients, such as Alexandra, the Princess of Wales. The New York branch of Redfern opened in the mid 1880s.

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1980s Peter Max Swimsuits

For the most part, my collecting stops with the 1970s. That’s an arbitrary cutoff date, but early on I realized I had little interest in more modern sportswear. Over the years I’ve gone back in time, but not forward.

The one exception is that I have a small collection of clothing and accessories that use the art of modern artists. This in itself is a bit weird, as I’m not a big fan of most art from the late 20th century, though I do make efforts to expand my understanding of it. I only get pieces that the artist actually had a hand in designing, like these two late 1980s swimsuits from pop artist Peter Max.

Max is most known for his work in the 1960s. To quote myself in an earlier blog post about max:

In the late 1960s and early 70s Peter Max was everywhere.  Or at least his products with his name in bold print were.  Max opened  a design studio in New York in the early 1960s, but it was his finely honed style of the late Sixties that combines op art, comic strips, astrology and Eastern mysticism that seemed so perfect for the Woodstock Generation.   In 1969 he was on the cover of Life, with the title of the article being, “Peter Max: Portrait of the Artist as a Very Rich Man.”

There were dozens of Peter Max labeled products – everything from blow-up vinyl pillows to kitchen wares to clothing.  Many of the designs were manufactured by clothing firms such as Wrangler, for which Max designed jeans, shorts, and shirts.  Others were advertising items like the decorated vinyl umbrellas that were made for Rightguard deodorant.  About ten years ago my friend Corky who owned a vintage store in Asheville went to the estate sale of an optometrist.   She found stacks of Peter Max scarves that were made for an eyeglass company.

In 1970 Max designed a line of junior dresses, tee shirts and neckties for the guys which Seventeen magazine featured on the cover and in an editorial.  These were only made for a year or two and are very rare (and valuable) today.   I guess the very rich artist decided he had enough money to last him for a while, because soon afterward he closed his design studio and semi-dropped-out.

Actually, he didn’t really drop out. He was rich enough to concentrate on the art he wanted to create. He did work on commission and opened stores to sell his pieces. And for some reason, in the 1980s he again did clothing collaborations under two labels, Neo Max and Via Max.

I’m going to say right out that I know next to nothing about these clothing lines. Neo Max was, according to the US patent database, first used in 1987. Via Max was first used in 1986.

I found these swimsuits in thrift stores over a decade ago. Today similar suits are offered for sale at really good prices, but nothing like the sums asked for his clothing from the 1960s. It all has to do with the desirability of pieces that portray that for which the artist was best known. Max was at his apex of influence in the late 1960s. That’s what collectors want.

Not that the 1980s items aren’t interesting. They are. It’s just that they don’t have the cultural currency that the 60s items do.

I recently found an original hangtag from the Via Max line. It’s a nice addition to my file on these suits.

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