1920s Dress with Some Issues

I didn’t need this dress. I bought it anyway. First of all, it is a really great dress. Secondly, it has some problems and I felt sorry for it. And finally, it was cheap. I just couldn’t leave it to become someone’s Halloween costume, and then be throughly trashed.

So, I brought it home. The truth is, I was in search of some wintertime projects. This one should occupy me through a few cold and snowy days.

I need to add that this is a really great dress. The asymmetrical chiffon layers are just stunning with the applied trim ovals. It’s a great balance of what the 1920s were all about – a straight (or boyish) silhouette with a touch of romance. I was hoping the dress would have a label, but sorry to say, there isn’t one.

Most of the problems are with the upper bodice. As you can see, the shoulders are pretty much gone. This dress is very light, but even a mostly chiffon 1920s dress with suffer in the shoulders if left to hang. That’s what’s going on here.

You might can tell that there are two layers of chiffon, one black and the other beige. Both will need to be replaced.

There are a few other little issues, like this small hole in the drape, and a rent on the bottom flounce. But ninety percent of the work will be to the upper bodice.

Note that there is an appendage on the right (your left) hip. I’m thinking of using it to replace the upper bodice. Will I be ruining the balance of the dress?

Another problem with the bodice is this lace. It seems to be there for a bit of modesty, as the sheer part of the bodice is quite low. At first I thought the lace was a later addition.

You can see that the stitching holding the lace in place is definitely not original to the dress. I was feeling all smug about thinking the lace was an afterthought until I spotted something else.

This is a bit of the lace where it was originally stitched to the bodice, and then cut away.

The lace is actually very nice, with that metallic thread over-embroidery. So after replacing the chiffon, I’ll reattach the lace in the original place.

After all this work, I’ll not be keeping this dress. This is a dress that needs to be seen, and it is definitely strong enough to wear. It doesn’t fit into my collection, and as pretty as this one is, most museums already have plenty of unlabeled black dinner dresses. The lack of provenance would make it difficult to fit into a history museum collection. So it will be sold, hopefully to someone who will cherish it and who will look marvelous in it.

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Research and Truth

I am not a quilter (though I have finished two already pieced tops) but I love reading quilt history and research articles. This book, Quiltmaking in America, Beyond the Myths is currently on my reading list. It’s a collection of papers written between 1980 and 1989, and originally published in Uncoverings, the journal of the American Quilt Study Group.

This book was published in 1994, five years before the publication of Jaqueline Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard’s  Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. This book started one of the all-time great quilt myths, that of the Underground Railroad code quilt. According to the authors quilts with special symbols were hung outside the safe houses that took in people fleeing from slavery. It’s a nice story, but under close scrutiny, the myth is revealed. Many of the symbols were based on quilt blocks that had not yet been developed in pre Civil War days.

The narratives and portrayals that emerged were more compelling than the myths they sometimes replaced.

We all love a good fantasy every once and a while, but when it comes to the study of the past, the myths just get in the way.

Last week I was at the Goodwill bins and uncovered a book on fashion history. Or rather, it is a collection of short biographies of innovative designers, starting with Hermes and ending with Gareth Pugh. I thought this would be a good introductory book for someone who wanted to know more about fashion history, so I bought it though I generally don’t buy books that rehash the same old designers.

I picked the book up this morning and started reading, and almost immediately I was confronted with some of fashion history’s enduring myths.

The Gucci saddle shop myth was debunked by careful research by  Sara Gay Forden for her 2000 book House of Gucci. She proved that the story was simply not true, that Gucci never was a saddler.  . It seems as if the story was fabricated in the 1970s as a way to establish some horsy roots for Gucci.

The article on Paul Poiret hints at the corset myth – that he was the first to free women from corsets. But even more disturbing was a passage about the Ballets Russe. Poiret never designed for the Ballets Russe.

What happens when I encounter a mess like this is that I get increasingly mad. How can fashion as a field of study be taken seriously when a fashion writer and historian does not fact-check, and ends up with a book riddled with errors.

The final straw was in the Mainbocher article. Not only is the date wrong, but also the branch of the service for which he designed uniforms. That was it. I was done.

I don’t pretend to know everything about every designer, but I do read a lot, and I visit every fashion exhibition I can. I’m just a hobbyist when it comes to history, and yet I spotted five errors in the first fifty pages. So frustrating. And what a shame. It’s now off to the recycling bin.

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1930s Roadhome Pullman Coach Catalog

I have always loved vintage travel trailers, and even considered searching out one in which to store my collection. Had I had more time, I might have actually pursued that option. As it turns out, I did add a trailer related object to my collection, this mid to late 1930s catalog for Roadhome Pullman Coaches.

There’ no date in the catalog, so I had to go by the dates to figure out when it was published. The models of the cars are probably the best clues, but I know little about vintage cars. So I went with the clothing the people are wearing. The lengths of the dresses and the hair styles sure look 1935 – 1936 to me. If you are a vintage car know-it-all, feel free to enlighten me.

Travel trailers had been around for a while in the 1930s. People had been using their autos for camping since the early days of the automobile. There were specially made tents that attached to the car, with the auto itself being used for sleeping. But as more people were hitting the ever-improving American highways, camping setups became more luxurious.

Why rough it and spend hours setting up camp when one could have a fully stocked cabin on wheels? There’d be more time for relaxing.

Campfires were optional when one had a fully-functioning kitchen.

That refrigerator is actually an icebox, though you could upgrade to gas or electrical. Power was limited, and so was conserved when possible.

At night the sofa became a bed. The walls were made of mahogany, a feature I’ve noticed in other trailers of that era.

These floor plans make the Roadhome look nice and spacious. If you have noticed the lack of a bathroom, the bathtub is hidden beneath a seat, and the toilet is contained in a closet.

What’s interesting is how the basic fundaments of a travel trailer have not changed much since the 1930s. They still have tiny kitchens and toilets concealed in closets. Furniture still serves double-duty when possible. But somehow the vintage ones are just more charming. Maybe I should find one for myself anyway.

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A New Home for my Collection

My collection is now safely housed in its new home, a little prefab cabin. It’s not ideal, though I’m working toward light and climate control. I’m in the process of making blackout curtains for the four windows. Next year the cabin will be insulated and paneled. But for now, I’m happy that everything fit in.

The neighbors are calling it the museum. I need to investigate the sizes of the world’s smallest museums. I might qualify for the Guinness Book.

In preparing for the move, I put as many things as possible in storage boxes. Now that I’m in the new building I see that I have more hanging space, and even room for another rack. I greatly prefer hanging storage, but not everything can be hung. Knits and delicate things will stay in the boxes.
I painted the walls to increase the brightness of the rooms and to keep the hanging clothes from coming into contact with the acidic wood. The exposed wood was varnished for the same reason.
The boxes are acid-free quilt storage boxes. There are thirty of them, neatly stacked according to decade. The contents of each box is written on a card attached to the box.
The hatboxes have all been treated with an acid neutralizer, and I also have muslin barriers inside all of them. My rubber bathing caps are not stored in the building. They are too susceptible to temperature fluctuations so until we get this space under better climate control, they remain in our house.

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Dogs and Brooke Cadwallader

I saw (and bought) a lot of great things on my recent trip to the Liberty Antiques Festival, but probably my favorite is this superb silk scarf by Brooke Cadwallader. Seriously, how can you beat a scarf with a map of the world peppered with our best friend throughout. I’ve written about Brooke Cadwallader in the past, so here’s a refresher course.

Brooke was an American who went to France in the interwar period. There he met his future wife, Mary Pearsall, an Italian/American who was working at Maison Tilly, a scarf maker. They joined forces and began their own scarf business, where they attracted the attention of designers such as Schiaparelli and Molyneux. Success led them to marriage. Unfortunately, the Nazis arrived in Paris, and the Cadwalladers were forced to flee. They ended up in New York, where they restarted their textile printing business.

They were again successful, and produced scarves and also fabrics they sold to designers like Tina Leser and Nettie Rosenstein. The New York operation was small, but in 1950 they moved to Mexico where the business expanded as Casa de los Gallos SA. The business operated until some time in the 1970s. Due to a crooked accountant and government bureaucracy, Cadwallader lost the business. Before turning over the factory, he burned all the textiles that were in stock, his silk screens, and many of the original designs. (Thanks so much to David Noyes, Cadwallader’s great nephew, for this great information.)

Brooke and Mary were fond of old prints, and you can see how they incorporated an antique look into many of their designs.
Here’s the entire scarf. My photography does not give a clue as to how wonderful this is. Click the image for a larger view.
The design makes no attempt to place each dog near the country of origin. Instead, all the dogs are citizens of the world.

And here’s the signature to look for. These scarves are always winners.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler, Summer 2021

Over the past few months I’ve spent much more time finding homes for vintage treasures than I have in looking for new ones. Still, I have been able to carve out some time for vintage shopping.

The sign above would have been great for my collection except that it is a reproduction. Still, it was a great example of how the promise of leisure was a big selling point in 1911.

One of the theories of how “flappers” were named comes from the huge floppy hairbows they wore as girls. Here we see a future flapper and that giant bow.

I’m not a “cat person” but this was such a great buy for some feline fan.

Remember Remco? That toy company made lots of novel products, many from molded plastic like this “spinning wheel”.

I don’t know if you can make sense of my photo, but the wheel was actually a giant knitted cord maker. It’s a gadget we used to make with an old wooden spool and a few nails. No wonder this one was like new. There was so little that could actually be made with it.

I loved this hair dryer case.

For once the WAC is out front instead of in the flyer’s shadow.

Simply put, this is one of the nicest thread spool cases I’ve ever seen.

This is a cold weather mask, probably for a pilot. The store was closed, so this was window shopping at its worst. I suspect this was a military piece.

Cypress Gardens was an attraction in Florida that showcased skilled water skiers.

Someone bought one of these toy sewing machines for me when I was about ten. It only made a chain stitch, and I hated it.

Oh, my, but these Dior counter displays were peachy.

The dealer’s tag declared this was a 1970s Betsey Johnson dress, but I had my doubts. There was no label, and it sure looks 1990s.

In one antique mall, Liza and I found three antique parasols. All were pretty, but unfortunately, they were also shredding.

So, how was your summer?

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1907 – 1908 Jaeger Catalog

Or, Dr. Jaeger’s Sanitary Woolen System. German doctor Gustav Jaeger had a theory. He believed that because humans were animals, the only proper fiber for human wear was animal in origin. Thus, he advocated the wearing of wool, especially as undergarments.

In 1880 he released a book on his theories, translated into English as Standardized Apparel For Health Protection. His concepts caught on, especially in Germany, where woolen underwear was being manufactured according to his ideas. In 1884, one of his devotees,  Lewis Tomalin, brought the clothing to Britain as Dr. Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Co. Within a few years the clothing was made in England under the Jaeger brand.

There was a Jaeger store in London, and one was opened in New York as well, located at 306 Fifth Avenue. Most of the garments sold by Jaeger in these early years were items that were worn next to the skin. My little catalog is full of long johns, socks, undershirts and nightclothes.

Dr. Jaeger believed that dyes were harmful because the chemicals could be absorbed through the pores. Thus, most of the products sold at Jaeger were either the natural color of the wool, or were white.

Among the claims Dr. Jaeger made, was that woolen clothing protected one from disease. He had proof that the wearer was protected from cholera, small pox, measles, and the plague.

One of the few black garments offered were these equestrian tights. Women riders had been wearing trousers under their riding skirts for some time. I suppose it was just too immodest for a woman to wear the natural color because it might look like bare skin on a light-skinned woman.

In 1907, a motor scarf was necessary for those lucky enough to own an automobile. These were also offered in black and in gray.
What got me to thinking about Jaeger was the currently traveling exhibition from the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960. In the catalog, also called Sporting Fashion, the FIDM curators have paired a Jaeger corset with bloomers, both to be worn under a bicycling suit.
Here’s a photo from the book showing FIDM’s corset, which is quite similar to the one in my catalog.

And here’s the label from the corset. I love how the photo shows not only the label, but also the texture of the wool knit. It’s little things like this that elevate what could have been just a lot of pretty pictures (and there are plenty of those to be sure) into a very useful and appreciated resource. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in women’s sportswear and the social history of the advance of women into the public sphere.

Sporting Fashion the exhibition, will not be back in Los Angeles until May, 2024. If you hurry, you can catch it at The Frick in Pittsburg (until September 26, 2021) or catch it in Memphis, TN (July 24–October 16, 2022), Davenport, IA (February 11–May 7, 2023), Utica, NY (June 17–September 17, 2023), Cincinnati, OH (October 14, 2023–January 14, 2024), or Jacksonville, FL (February 24–May 19, 2024). I plan to see it in Memphis, or possibly Cincinnati.

Sporting Fashion the book was written by FIDM curators  Kevin L. Jones and Christina M. Johnson with Kirstin Purtich. It can be ordered from the FIDM website.

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