Exploring The Charleston Museum

I always love a great fashion exhibition, but it’s also fun to look for traces of clothing and textile history in places that are not “fashion” museums.  Because the clothes we wear and the business of making textiles and clothing is so intertwined with our lives, one can find fashion exhibited in almost any museum.  That’s especially true in places like the Carolinas where cotton production and cloth manufacture are important to the economy.

A recent visit to the Charleston Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, proved to be  full of stuff of interest to the fashion historian.  The Charleston Museum has a gallery dedicated to textiles, but the other exhibits have textile history as well.  One of the main galleries is a sort of Carolina Lowcountry timeline, starting with Native American culture, and then working its way to the present.

One thing I found to be particularly interesting in the telling of the the story of slavery is how the museum focuses on the culture of the enslaved Africans, rather than on the issue of slavery.  There are some artifacts that do make it clear that slaves were considered to be property, but much of what you see is like the baskets above.  Today, many descendants of slaves still make and sell these sweetgrass baskets, and so the basket weavers are a familiar sight in Charleston on the streets and in the market.  It is an object that visitors to the city can relate to, and it shows how the skill of making them dates back to slavery.

Southern museums and museum houses that date to the antebellum period (before the American Civil War) are often criticized for their glossing over of slavery.  Personally, I’ve been to a lot of museums and plantations in the South, and I’ve never had an experience where I left being shaken by how the site interpreted slavery.  This is not to be taken as a criticism of The Charleston Museum, as they only have so much space and as a general history and culture museum, perhaps the task is best left to another institution.  I will say that I could have done with fewer Civil War era guns, and more in depth coverage of human issues.

The photo at the top is of a cotton bale.  Cotton bales were large and heavy and represent a lot of human labor.  They also have on display a cotton gin (or engine), the machine that allowed cotton production to flourish, and with it, slavery.

Of course, the big event in Charleston was the Civil War, and in particular, the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  There is a large section on the war and lots of guns.  Whoever thinks the South was short on arms during the war has never visited a Southern museum.  There are enough surviving Civil War rifles scattered across the South to arm General Lee’s army.

But as we know, history is not just the battles fought.  History gets interesting when we start to see events as happening to people.  And the Charleston Museum does an excellent job of presenting life along with the battles.

Alongside the guns and uniforms, you will also see the clothing of women and children.

There are also displays of the tools used in textile and clothing making in the home and workshop, though the floating flax wheel (upper left) and yarn winder (upper right) are a bit odd.

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I loved these little sewing accouterments, especially the pincushion encased in a carved walnut shell.

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My favorite object has to be this peddler’s trunk.  I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for an isolated farm family when a traveling salesman showed up at their door with this trunk of treasures.

Another section of the museum is a throw-back to the early days of its history.  The Charleston Museum was founded in 1773 and opened to the public in 1824. In those days museums were more like cabinets of curiosity than the well organized and mission statemented institutions of today.  As such, many of the oldest artifacts have nothing at all to do with the history, culture, or natural history of the region.

This mummy was acquired in 1893 by museum director and curator Gabriel Manigault.  The sarcophagus was added in the 1920s.  These are the sort of miscellaneous objects that collectors prized.  The interesting thing about this exhibit is that it is telling the history of the museum more than it is telling about the Charleston region.

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There is also a children’s area in the museum, with lots of hands-on activities, but also with artifacts that tell about the lives of children in Charleston.

There is also a stuffed polar bear, but I somehow neglected to get a photo.  What do polar bears have to do with South Carolina?  Absolutely nothing.

 

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1960s Golf Blouse from Adelaar

Not only do I collect sports clothing, but I also love clothes that depict women participating in sports and outdoor activities.  The 1950s and into the 60s was a great time for novelty prints, and so a lot of what I’ve found is from that time frame.  My new blouse appears to be from the early 1960s.

The young women shown are wearing fashionable golf attire which includes some very sharp shirts.  That’s not surprising as this blouse was made by Adelaar, one of the great blouse companies of the mid twentieth century.

Adelaar was originally Adelaar Brothers, and was owned by Emil, Maurice, and Bernard Adelaar.  The company was founded in 1934 in Chicago, with Maurice being the original designer of the blouses.  The company eventually relocated to New York City where it was easier to find sewing factories to actually construct the garments.

A couple of years ago a poster at VFG told about his family’s relationship with Adelaar.

I have a lot of familiarity with Adelaar. My uncles were the jobbers that made most of the blouses that were sold in the US. One shop was in Brooklyn. The second was on Long Island. They started making them right after WWII. The height was in the 1950’s and 1960’s. At that time I would venture that my uncles employed about 150 people, mostly first generation and immigrant Italian-American women. They were producing thousands of dozens a month. The blouses were very high quality material–silks, cottons, some linens (although they really didn’t like working with linen). They had a lot of style and wore very well. In fact, my aunt (my uncles’ youngest sister) passed away last year. Cleaning out her closet we discovered a number of Adelaar blouses including some that never came out of the box. They looked and felt brand new.

When a new run of blouses came in my uncles would sit down with Manny Adelaar and “make prices”–negotiate the wholesale cost of putting the blouses together. They had a great relationship with the Adelaar’s. There were no contracts. Everything was done on a handshake and an invoice. Adelaar would then ship the material, the buttons and the thread. Then the cutters would use the patterns and make all the sizes. Eventually some of the blouses were coming pre-cut. Toward the late 1970’s there were several trends occurring: women weren’t wearing those style blouses as much (didn’t quite fit the Woodstock generation profile); Adelaar was moving more into man-made material; US production costs were rising; and overseas competition was able to shave significant costs. The cost differential was too much for Adelaar to ignore so they had to move production overseas. One of my uncles passed away in 1979. The other one closed the second shop in about 1986. During the mid-70’s on Saturdays my cousins and I would occasionally help out as sweepers, packers, etc.

He was correct in saying that Adelaar produced a high quality product.  While this blouse is a bit over-shadowed by the graphic design of the illustration, without the decoration it is still a very nice shirt.

Note the cloth-covered buttons.  And even though this blouse is about fifty-five years old, the colors of the print are still good, even though the ragged state of the label shows it has been washed many times.

The blouse, which I bought through a facebook group, is not perfect due to a former owner cutting the sleeves off.  I was able to find a photo online of another example of this blouse and it had three-quarters sleeves with cuffs that button, and so I know how the shirt looked originally.  I did not know it at the time I bought the shirt, but I’d have purchased it anyway as the price was good, and the main thing is the graphic design.

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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Vintage Miscellany – April 10, 2016

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I’m still working on looking closely at antique photographs in order to better place a date on them.  In this case I keep wavering between 1890 and 1898.  The sleeves are slightly puffed, and are too small to be from the mid 1890s when sleeves could have been filled with helium to make the wearer airborne.  That’s a joke, of course, but they were huge, puffy things.  The sleeves did begin to get smaller, with some more conservative styles like this one by 1898.

It does look like the blouse has a very high and tight collar.  This style came in around 1897

The length of the skirt, however, I’d think would be shorter by 1898.  Women played with the idea of wearing knickers while riding, but it was just too radical for most places, and so women bikers settled on a riding skirt a few inches off the ground.

So, help me decide, please.  Meanwhile, here is the news:

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Window Shopping

Click to see Charleston Style in all its glory.

I used to love to shop retail.  I still love to window shop,  but I have so many clothes that I don’t do a lot of actual buying.  To me,  “shopping” means looking at what is new, and what works, and to be honest, what can I take from this to use in my own sewing.  Not that I do not buy – I do, but it has to be so great that I know I’ll be wearing it for years, maybe even the rest of my life.  But before I even go into a store, I have to be enticed by the windows.

Shop windows are fun.  You can tell so much from them.  Take the windows above.  They are in the shop of Joan Crosby, a locally owned store in Charleston, South Carolina, where I took all the photos for today’s post.  What I like about this particular store is that it is so very Charleston in style.  Charleston is a city, but it also has a resort vibe.  Think Lilly Pulitzer.  Charleston has a Lilly Pulitzer store, but this local shop is far more interesting.

The shops in Charleston are a mix of national brands and local stores.  Mall shoppers would feel at home on King Street (the main shopping street) but so would people looking for a more local experience..

Here is a national brand, Fresh Produce, that is using Charleston’s closeness to the beach in their appeal to passersby.  And isn’t that what a shop window is – an inducement to come in and shop?

So, who does it better, the locals or the chains?  It’s very much a mixed bag, with some local stores being totally uninspired, and others…

using their windows to attract the casual shopper.  Redefined is a consignment shop, and I didn’t get a chance to go in, but I loved the window.  And looking at so many varied windows made me stop and wonder why all stores don’t maximize the free advertising that is literally right in front of them.

One store that usually does a great job with windows is Louis Vuitton.  This time around I thought they were a bit uninspired, with large pastel niches that contained one product.  But on the other hand, they can always be counted on to showcase an antique piece or two.  This trunk dates to 1906.  It looks like it was never used.

Big companies like Louis Vuitton have designers who “do” the windows for all their stores, so the windows in Charleston must be very similar to what is in New York, and Nashville, and Chicago.

To show just how easy effective windows can be, here’s one from Kate Spade.  The ribbon streamers not only mirror the colors in the dress, they serve to focus the viwer’s attention on the dress and not on the clutter of the store.  It made me take a closer look, as this one window said much more about what was inside the store than any other window on the street.

I’m not a bit tempted by ice cream truck purses, but check out that Scotty dog key ring, and the little suitcase one as well.

I’m not going to name the store, but this top was in the window of a national mid-priced chain that caters to career women.  I took the photo because, frankly, I liked the top enough that I might someday make a version for myself.  And had the maker made an attempt to actually match the stripes, I’d have gone in and tried it on.  And if I had liked it, I would have bought it.  But instead, the wonkiness of it kept me from even going inside.

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Fashion Goes Around and Comes Around

I really didn’t think I’d be writing about sweaters in April, but much of the northern United States has had a bit of snow, and it is even predicted here in the southern mountains later this week.  The way I see it, anytime is right for a fantastic sweater like the one above.  I took this photo at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC several years ago.  Even though this was a sports piece, the sleeve style is pure fashion, and dates this fabulous sweater to the mid 1890s.

You would think that such an extreme style would have had its moment in the sun, never to be seen again, but it seems to me that all fashion is at sometime recycled.

I spotted this 1980s sweater recently at the Goodwill Outlet.  The puffed sleeved sweater was not unusual in the 80s; I had one myself.  What I found to be most interesting was the tight lower part of the sleeve.  My photo is sort of pitiful, but imagine this sweater on a body.  Though not nearly as extreme, the effect would be the same as the 1890s sweater.

I don’t think I would have not made the connection if not for my recent reading of Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa.  Suddenly I’m seeing 19th century influences everywhere.  It just goes to show the power of reading, and looking at lots of wonderful old photographs, to improve one’s eye.

In the latest issue of Dress – The Journal of the Costume Society of America, there was a tribute to Joan Severa, who died in 2015.  Colleagues often referred to her as “Joan Perservera” because once started, she would simply not give up on a project.  Seeing as how she spent almost twenty years working on Dressed for the Photographer, I’d say it was a very accurate moniker!

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Vintage Shopping with the Vintage Traveler

Once again, it’s time for a little shopping trip, this time to antique stores in east Tennessee and along I-26 in South Carolina.  Above you see what could possibly be the most interesting girdle produced in the 1960s.

Lilli Ann is a well-known (and coveted) label in the vintage world.  Most desired are the high quality suits and coats from the 1940s and 50s, but the company produced some interesting clothes in the 60s as well.  In the mid 60s and into the 70s they made some great dress and coat ensembles in a nice polyester knit, sort of mod for the married set.  This vest is made of wool knit and is made in Hong Kong which seems to put it in the early 60s.  I’m sure there was originally a matching dress or skirt.

That’s a lot of design.

The over-flowing hat basket is a commonly found feature of antique malls.  This one gets extra credit for being a double.

This is a close-up view of a 1890s bodice.  The fabric is velvet, and is beyond beautiful.

There were several Vested Gentress dresses at one store.  This one is a classic, with Briney Bear the dog and his nemesis, Pedro the parrot.

In 1919 the US Army had not quite given up on the horse.

This Caribbean themed fabric was interesting.  It was in three pieces, all the size of feedsacks, but it was rayon instead of cotton.  There were even stitch holes like are seen in deconstructed feedsacks.

Collier’s Weekly often featured sports on their covers.  I love that she’s reading a book titled, How to Ski.

This is a late 1930s dress for a preteen girl, which shows that even a ten-year-old wants a fashionable sleeve.

As long as I live I will never understand why anyone would cut up an old crochet piece so she can hot glue it to a pair of vintage (and almost antique) boots.  These are canvas, of the type made by Keds, though I’ll admit I was too upset to even look for a label.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, Evening in Paris was considered a cheap gift given by boys who were beyond clueless.  I do have to admit that this set from probably the early 50s is pretty nifty.

This bag is by John Romain, which looks to be an attempt by that company to keep up with the times.  Romain bags were popular in my area in the mid 1960s, but nobody was carrying them by the 70s.  Funny, though, to see a handbag with a piece symbol.  By that time it was all about the shoulder bag.

Cute Scotty dog sighting, but I was strong and left the pair for another dog lover.

And finally, possibly the largest item I have ever seen for sale in an antique store, a late 1940s Pontiac Silver Streak.

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Ad Campaign – Jantzen, 1944

I got the above ad from Pam at glamoursurf.com after she posted it during a VFG Sportswear workshop.  Not only is it a great ad, it was important to me because I have the shorts in the illustration.  It’s always great to get a date verification for things in my collection, especially in the form of an ad or magazine copy.

The ad comes from 1944 – note the reference to War Bonds and the pun of a headline.  Even though clothes were rationed and fabric was in short supply, the American sportswear makers still managed to come up with some wonderful sportswear.  This pleated (front only, to save fabric) short style is one of the most flattering shorts ever made, and they look just as fresh in 2016 as they did in 1944.

I originally posted this in 2008, but the shorts in Sunday’s post reminded me so much of these that I thought a repost was in order.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, World War II