Circa 1900 Seaside Promenade Dress

My collecting is expanding slowly back in time, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to anything that dates before 1915. But in order to have a comprehensive collection showing how sportswear developed, one must make adjustments, as in the case of this dress. It was love at first sight, and so I added a dress for seaside promenades to my group of antique clothing.

I’ve looked at pictures of old dresses and at old fashion plates until my eyes crossed, and I still could not decide on a date. The sleeves are lighted gathered, the back of the skirt is gathered and has a bit of a tiny train effect, and there is a little peplum at the waist. It will not hurt my feelings at all if you want to help me pin down a date on this pretty dress.

Not quite sportswear, this dress nevertheless was meant for a casual walk along the boardwalk. The collar and fabric stripes fairly scream “nautical”.

Note: the hem looks dirty, but it is not. I’m guessing my stellar photography skills added the dirt.

The bodice has no permanent way to close it, so I’m guessing pins were used. Actually, a former owner had applied velcro, which I removed. I looked for signs of hooks and eyes from the past, but did not detect any old stitch marks. They could have been there, however.

The fabric is a fantastic cotton cord, which adds to the sporty look of the set.

The peplum effect is more pronounced in the back.

Maybe you can see here that the sleeves are gathered. They are also shaped with a bend in the elbow.

I think what really made me want this dress was that I was so crazy about a similar one in the collection at the Museum at FIT. I took this photo of their Uniformity exhibition in 2016. Maybe I need to do a reproduction tie and belt.

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1934 Summer Fashions from Butterick Patterns

Last fall luck was with me and I found a Butterick counter catalog from 1934. I say lucky because these are so hard to find these days, and when they appear online they always come with a hefty price tag. What’s really amazing about a resource like this catalog is that every time I look through it I notice something new. So I hope this post will be somewhat focused, without me running here and there with a hundred different observations.

Of course I’m most interested in the sportswear, and this catalog is full of superb examples. But because the catalog offers a wide range of clothing, comparisons between sportswear, day clothing, evening gowns, and even lingerie, can easily be made. One of the best tips I know of when it comes to dating sportswear is to look at a piece as though it were fashionable day or evening wear. Things like swimsuits and tennis dresses often have the same sort of fashionable details you’d see in other clothing.

You can see that the design above is the same play set at the top of this post. The pattern actually contained all four pieces, so a woman could easily turn a play look into streetwear. It’s a little too early for the one-piece playsuit with matching skirt, but it’s easy to see how sportswear was headed in that direction. The shorts look almost exactly like the lingerie panties so commonly seen in the early 1930s.

It would not be long before the pleated shorts as seen on the right became the most popular type.

Have you noticed the bare backs? It wasn’t just popular in sportswear. Halter tops were fashionable, as were tops that fastened at the shoulder, and were bare in the back like the top on the right…

and like this evening gown.

By looking at these drawings you might think that no woman in 1934 had hips, and that all were very tall. That’s partly due to the elongated scale of the drawing, but also because by 1934 dress waists had become shortened as skirts got longer. Of course, “waistlines” were actually at the hip in 1927 and then they began the journey up toward the waist. This didn’t happen over night.

I read somewhere that before the mid 1930s waists tended to draw the eye down with seams and piecing like the downward pointing yoke of the shorts in the first photo. But by 1934 or so waists started moving and pointing toward the face. Skirts became very slim and quite plain. The details were mostly on the bodice, above the waist.

What makes pattern books especially helpful in seeing trends like this is that unlike catalogs of ready made clothes that feature just what was designed and made for that season, pattern books would carry a popular pattern for several years. Because the patterns are numbered pretty much consecutively, it’s easy to tell the older designs from the newer ones. The dress above with the piecing below the waist is an older design.

I had to show this pattern because it reminds me so much of the nautical pant set I recently added to my collection.

This one is interesting because it’s one of the very few designs in the catalog that calls for a zipper.

It’s hard to understand the logic behind having a dress that buttons up the back, but regardless, I love this look so much. It came with a little jacket, as that V-neck in the back is a bit too bare for the street.

Most of the dresses could be made very sporty, or slightly less so. The two dresses in the center could be made from the same pattern, with a choice of collar, sleeves, and belt.

One of the oldest designs offered in this catalog is this romper. Judging by the number of the pattern and the hair styles of the models, my guess is that this one dates from 1929 or 1930. Maybe Butterick continued to sell it because it was popular with dance students.

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – January 21, 2018

Someone’s photography practice produced a delightful record of a woman at her sewing machine. It was taken on June 25, 1932, and I could tell you the camera settings the photographer used. Unfortunately, I don’t know who she is, nor where the photo was taken. It’s interesting to see what was and was not important to someone all those years ago. Today, the who and the where would tell us much more than the how.

And now for some news…

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Mervin Knitting Mills Circa 1905 Catalog

I’ve not been very lucky lately in the sportswear ephemera department, but then this catalog appeared on eBay. It’s precisely the type of thing I love  as it shows how women began wearing ready-made sportswear in the very early days of women’s ready-to-wear. It’s hard for us today to imagine, but until late in the nineteenth century there pretty much was not a women’s ready-to-wear industry. Cloaks and mantles – overgarments that did not need precise fitting – were the first to hit the market, and by the late 1890s, women could buy waists, skirts, and undergarments.

There’s no date to be found on my Mervin Knitting Mills catalog but a close examination of the models shows they are all sporting the S silhouette so popular in the Edwardian era. I did find one ad for Mervin, from 1909, and those sweaters all had a longer and leaner line, in keeping with how fashion was changing. So my best guess is around 1905.

Mervin made and imported a large variety of knit goods for women and children. We’d call the garments shown above cardigans or sweaters today, but Mervin Mills marketed them as knit blouses.

In many of the photos the models are holding golf clubs. Being knit, golfers must have really enjoyed the freedom a knit provided.

Many of the images of women golfers of this era show them wearing a double-breasted vest like the golf vests above. The only one I’ve actually ever seen was in an exhibition at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, several years ago.

Taken at Fashioning the New Woman: 1890 – 1925, DAR Museum, in 2013

Mervin Knitting Mills even offered a knit middy, perfect for table tennis.

Knit toques like these are commonly seen in photographs of the era, but are very rare these days.

Knit skirts like these do make it to the modern market on occasion. They are usually sold as petticoats, and I’ve seen them in period catalogs as petticoats. It would be a shame to hide those stripes though, don’t you think?

This garment was listed as a “kimona” coat. It looks a bit fancy for the golf course.

Witness2Fashion has been looking at the different terms given to various forms of lingerie in the 1920s, many of which have changed meaning or are no longer in use. Well, here’s a term I’ve never seen before, the pony coat. What makes the cardigans above pony coats? I have no idea.

Just in case some descendant of Max M. Myres is looking for information, he was the owner of Mervin Knitting Mills. located in New York City on Broadway at the corner of Broome Street. Today a Madewell clothing store occupies that address.

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Katharine Hepburn – Dressed for Stage and Screen

I sort of hate posting about this exhibition, as it is closing, but despite my best intentions, I was unable to attend it until late last week. It was the Upstate History Museum’s  (in Greenville, SC) very first showing of fashion and costume, and they really did lead off with a winner. The show came from Kent State University Museum, which acquired the personal clothing of Katharine Hepburn around ten years ago. I saw this show in 2010 at Kent State, and had really enjoyed it, and since it was so close, decided to see it again.

When Kent State acquired the clothing, they learned that some of the pieces were identified with the name of the production, but others were not. Since I saw the show seven years ago, it appears that some more pieces have been identified, as there were some additions that I did not see the first time around. Someone has haved the very pleasurable task of watching Hepburn’s films with an eye out for the museum’s costumes!

Included in the show are garments Hepburn wore on stage, on screen, and in her personal life. There were quite a few costumes in her possession because if she really liked a particular garment, she would buy it when filming was completed or when the play’s run was over. In some cases, if she could not get the original, Hepburn would have the designer make copies for her personal use.

This green jumpsuit may be such a copy. It was made for Hepburn in 1939 by the designer, Valentina, and was worn in the stage production of The Philadelphia Story.  You can see Hepburn wearing it, or the original, in the photo behind the mannequin. There is also an very similar natural silk one in the collection.

Also from The Philadelphia Story, this gown was also designed by Valentina. The belt is a reproduction. Hepburn also wore this dress in 1973 (thirty-fours years later) when she portrayed Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie.

This dress was worn in another stage production, The Lake of 1934. Remember that famous Dorothy Parker quip about Hepburn’s acting, “She  runs the whole gamut of emotion from A to B”? This is the play being referenced.

Hepburn continued to grace the stage, even after she found fame in Hollywood. These three costumes are from Coco, a 1969 musical in which Hepburn played Coco Chanel. Cecil Beaton designed the costumes, but to add a bit more authenticity to the production, Hepburn went to Paris and purchased some of the real deal. The suit on the left is by Chanel; the pantsuit and gown are by Beaton.

 

Stage Door, 1937, gown by Muriel King. I don’t tend to think of Hepburn as the frilly type, but this proves she could carry it off when necessary.

Hepburn wore this gown in 1949’s Adam’s Rib, opposite Spencer Tracy. In the movie poster seen behind the dress the dress is tinted red so it would stand out from the others wearing black. This dress was designed by Walter Plunkett in 1949.

This gown was designed by Irene, and was worn in 1948’s State of the Union.

UPDATE: I added this photo from Liza at Better Dresses Vintage to illustrate one of the things we discussed during our visit, the quality of workmanship of Hollywood costume departments. Being able to examine the clothes this closeup really lets you see the great skills of the sewers in those costume shops.

In 1967 Hepburn made her last movie with Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. These two ensembles were not actually used in the film, but were the outfits she wore in publicity photos for it. They both show signs of additional wear, and so Hepburn must have worn them in her private life.

Katharine Hepburn also did special productions for television. These two costumes were worn by her in the 1979 production The Corn Is Green. Considering she was seventy-two years of age at the time, she had a pretty impressive figure. She did have a little help from corsetry.

I’m afraid I have to title this photo, “Costuming Gone Bad.” These two are from Love Among the Ruins, which was filmed in 1975, but was set in 1911. The green robe/coat garment was made from a lovely silk, and I really liked it, but that red!  The fabric appeared to be a cheap poly, and the trim was that stuff people used to use to trim lampshades. And so many feathers! I simply do not understand what the designer, Margaret Furse, was thinking. But what do I know? Furse won a costuming Emmy for this made for TV film.

Here’s a selection of Hepbrun’s famous slacks. There are thirty-one pairs in the collection, though not all were on exhibit. Many were custom made to fit Hepburn’s specifications. The jodhpurs were bought at Abercrombie and Fitch. The blue jacket may be the one she wore in On Golden Pond.

Hepburn also had her shoes custom made. There are six of these brown single strap shoes in the collection.

Two trays of Hepburn’s makeup, and you can barely see a hairpiece in the upper right corner.

I had some company on this visit, Liza, the owner of Better Dresses Vintage. Having another fashion history lover with whom to discuss and critique the clothes really does enhance the experience of a visit to an exhibition.

These clothes will be heading back to Kent State where they will be on view from February 2, 2018 to September 2, 2018.

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Something a Little Different from Jane’s Closet

After all the beige and tan and brown in Jane Hefner’s closet, the playsuit above came as a big surprise. Stylistically it is very similar to her other play sets, but the pattern and color really set this one apart. The only other novelty prints were in her favored muted tones, and while there were a few green items, the red was a real oddity.

It is a great set, probably from 1946 or 47. The little bolero jacket gives it a bit of versatility. But I thought the bra looked to be odd and ill-fitting.

Then I located the problem. There was a little tie that had become separated from the other three pieces. I had already moved on to photographing another garment, and was too lazy to redress the form, but you can see here how that little strip of fabric changes the entire look of the bra.

Color was very popular in clothing and textiles in the post WWII period. Many of the chemicals used in fabric dyes were needed for the war effort, and so colors were limited during that time. But look at any magazine or catalog from late 1945 and you’ll see how color once again played a big part in fashion. And textile designers were not afraid to come up with color combinations that we now can look at as distinctly post war. The red, lime, green, and black in the print of the play set is a great example.

Can you tell how pristine and sharp the colors are? At first I thought the set had been starched, but now I’m thinking that the original sizing of the fabric was never washed out. In other words, Jane never wore this set.

I’m not psychic, but I do know that a buttonhole has to be cut open in order for the button to fit through the hole. The bra fastens  in the back with two buttons, but the holes were never cut all the way through. There’s no way the bra, at least, could have been worn.

And that’s not a bit surprising, because this set is just not Jane’s style. Did she buy it in a moment of weakness, knowing it was fashionable and thinking she could wear something different? Was it a gift from a well-meaning auntie who wanted to see Jane in something colorful? We’ll never know, but it sure added an interesting twist to Jane’s wardrobe.

 

 

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One Woman’s Clothing, Part 2

Back in August I posted some items that I got from Julia of  Carolina Thrift Chick. She had the good fortune to acquire the clothing from the estate of Mary Jane Hefner, a career teacher and guidance counselor. Jane was born in 1931, and so came of age in the years following World War II, and her clothing from that time could be used to illustrate a chapter in a fashion history book on what teens were wearing in 1946 through 1948.

I was lucky to get to visit Julia and see the rest of the clothing. It really is so interesting to see the clothing of one person, especially a person who seems to have saved pretty much everything she wore from her teens to the end of her life.  The clothes date from around 1942 until she retired from education in the 1970s, so there are several different wardrobes. There are the clothes that date to the post-war 1940s, which she would have been wearing when she was still in high school. Then there are college clothes – lots of skirts and blouses. The next phase of her life shows career clothes, with some spectacular 1950s suits and dresses that date into the 1960s. And finally, there is the retirement clothing, poly printed tops and pants to match.

You might want to revisit the first post I wrote about Jane’s clothes. There you can see that she was fond of a certain color palette – browns, beiges, warm tans, and dusty roses. In this new bunch of clothes you will see that Jane, even as a teen, knew what she liked.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at catalogs and magazines from the 1940s in order to get a clear picture of when each garment was worn. All of the garments that I acquired from the estate date from around 1944 through 1952, with the great majority of them dating to 1946 or 47. Also, most of the clothes from that time have her name label sewn into them. When Julia and I looked at and discussed this, we thought maybe she had sewn in the labels for college. But she would have been only 15 or 16 when most of these clothes were fashionable. Maybe she did a stint as a camp counselor and that would explain the labels.

Another thing I used to help with dating was the measure of the waistline of the clothing. Jane was not a small girl, and most of the shorts and skirts have a waist measurement of around 30 inches. But a couple of the pieces, like the dress above, are smaller.

I’ll admit that this piece is a bit of a puzzle. One of the things that make the collection so great is that most ensembles have all the pieces present. I’m pretty sure that this dress must have had a pair of matching bloomers as it is pretty short. I found a reference to 1946 playsuits in a Life magazine article that showed similar sets, but this one is is a bit smaller than her other things from 1946 and 47.

Still I bought this, even without the bloomers, because, honestly, who could resist this back?

Another set that is a bit smaller, but that fits right in with postwar fashion trends is this bathing suit. It is made of woven rayon, and the skirt has built-in rayon panties. Note the style of the bra, as we’ll be seeing that again.

This bathing suit has an interesting label, but there is not a name label. Does anyone know of Beau Jardin Cie?

These two pieces are rayon, and both were exactly the sort of thing one would find for sale in 1946 and 47.

Bare midriffs were popular, and were shown off in tied shirts and cute bra tops. This illustration is from Montgomery Ward, 1946.

Just so you would know that Jane did thrown in a bit of blue from time to time. These are the same shorts as above.

This swimsuit is probably from 1946 or 47 as well. It’s from Cole of California, and I’ve found quite a few similar ones online, but not the exact suit. The front is rayon jersey, but the back is Lastex, a textile that involved wrapping rayon around a rubber thread. It wasn’t available during WWII, and the maker, the United States Rubber Company announced its availability in the spring of 1946. And notice how the style of the bra is so similar to the ivory and black one above.

Here’s a similar style From Montgomery Ward, 1946.

Here’s a great playsuit. It has a pretty strong shoulder line, and little pads for emphasis.

And yes, there is a matching skirt, all in Jane’s favorite colors.

I’m almost ashamed to post this photo as it is just too awful, but you do need to see this great pair of breeches. They are a brown and beige twill, and I’ve paired them with a Jantzen Khara fleece sweater.

These two item might date from Jane’s college years. Khara fleece was developed for Jantzen in 195o. It’s a combination of wool and synthetic fibers.

And finally, here’s another pair of 1940s pleated shorts, this time in linen. I’ve paired them with a blouse that probably would not have actually been worn with these shorts, but both pieces just look so great in the photo. The top is Textron rayon, and the anchors are beaded. So a bit dressy for linen shorts, wouldn’t you think? Still, it does illustrate how mix and match this wardrobe was. I hope Jane was never at a loss when deciding what to wear with what, because it all fit together so beautifully.

I have one more piece from Jane’s closet to show you. It’s a bit of a surprise!

And here a photo of Jane, I’m guessing when she was in her mid twenties.

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