1920s Wool Knickers for Women

I’ve wanted (or, rather, needed) a pair of 1920s wool knickers for some time, and so my heart skipped a few beats last week when I finally found a pair. I had been hoping to find a pair with a matching jacket, and even told myself I was going to hold out for a set, but the minute I laid eyes on these I knew I had to add them to my collection.

Why all the fascination with knickers? For one thing, knickers were both the shorts and the slacks for 1920s women and girls. Except for bloomers worn in gym class and at the end of the decade, pajamas worn on the beach, knickers and the similar garment, breeches, were the only options women had for wearing pants in public.

I’ve heard lots of stories from women who were young during the 1920s of how they raided brother’s closet to daringly wear his knickers. But by the early 1920s that was not even necessary, as mass-market catalogs like Montgomery Ward carried knickers for girls and women.

The clothing above is from the 1925 Montgomery Ward catalog. On the left are breeches, and on the right is a pair of wool tweed knickers. Note that both button on the side, on both sides actually, and the front drops for convenience. Whenever I find a photo of a woman wearing knickers I always try to see the closure, but usually it is obscured as you can see in the photo above.  The presence of a front fly would indicate the woman is wearing men’s knickers.

My pair has pockets that hide the buttons of the opening.

The seam edges are secured with an overlock stitch made by an early machine of this type. Overlocking is most commonly seen on sportswear in garments before the late 1960s.

Here’s another pair from Montgomery Ward, this time from the 1930 catalog. You can see that the style is little changed from the ones made five years earlier.  Knickers were more utilitarian than fashion, but soon after 1930 women’s knickers disappeared from catalogs. In their place were shorts, slacks, and pajamas. My 1932 Sears catalog has no knickers at all for women. It does have breeches and ankle-length knicker-like pants for skiing, and even a pair of actual slacks. Times were definitely changing.

I’m still in the market for a great 1920s wool knicker suit if anyone happens upon one.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler: Atlanta

As any good trip does, my recent visit to Atlanta involved a bit of shopping for old stuff. Just as a good exhibition is a learning experience, so is a bit of browsing antique markets.  So here’s a bit of what I saw, but did not buy.

I’m not too sure about the practicality of a ceramic flask, but I thought the one above was cute, even if the Scottie was a bit pudgy.

I first did a bit of looking in Chamblee, a town that has been overtaken by the urban sprawl of Atlanta. For years the place has marketed itself as a destination for vintage and antique shoppers, and there are still several very good antique stores there. However, I was really dismayed to find two of my old favorites gone, one a victim of gentrification. What used to be an Aladdin’s cave of treasures is now a cafe and a “design center”.  Still, there was more than enough to spend several hours of looking.

You would think that the bathing cap above would have gone into my shopping cart, but I’m afraid it was a victim of age and deterioration. The rubber was brittle and there were bald spots. A real shame, as this one was really great.

I really blew this one. I was so bummed about the store across the street being gone that I had a hard time concentrating on the good stuff. This is just a great pin, with the DC-3 plane and the two parachutes. What was I thinking?

This was rather cute, and I do love the nautical look, but I had to pass due to the amateurish appearance of the design.

Nothing amateurish about this coat, though. The first tip-off that this was a Bonnie Cashin design was her signature stripe used for the lining. Then there are the turn-lock closures, and the leather trim, and it all adds up.

That stripe is often found in Cashin’s work for Coach. This coat was labeled “A Bonnie Cashin, Sills and Co.”

Click to enlarge.

Besides Chamblee, I was able to fit in a quick trip to the monthly Scott Antiques Market. Scott’s has never been my favorite market, as it tends to cater to the decorator rather than the collector. But there are some very good vendors there, and I have found a few treasures over the years. I wasn’t in the market for a handbag, but this seller also had hankies, including a terrific Tammis Keefe that I did buy.

For those of you who were inspired by the Met gala this year, one seller has you covered when it comes to Christian iconography.

Here’s help for the fashion indecisive in the form of a game.

All that was left of this salesman’s kit was the suitcase.

Most of Scott’s is held inside, but there are also spaces for people to set up outdoors. The seller uttered those magic words, “Feel free to dig.” Unfortunately, most of the stuff was from the 1980s and later.

There were vintage bargains to be had. This dress was an incredible $48.

These were framed fashion sketches made for Laura Ashley in 1970. They were really fantastic, and had price tags to match.

The vintage traveler in me wanted these LV suitcases.

I am a real sucker for crazy quilts, and this is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. That spider is the absolute best!

And here is part of the reason I don’t make much of an effort to go to the Scott Market more than every three or four years. The market opens at 9 am, but for the first hour many of the vendors are still not open. And this was on the second day of the show. For someone like me who needs to get on the road to home, this is a big inconvenience. Sellers! If you are at a show to sell, you need to be there so I can your stuff.

 

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Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future

Currently showing at SCADFASH in Atlanta is Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future. As the title suggests, this exhibition is an exploration of how in the mid 1960s designer Cardin envisioned clothing of the future. As such, it’s not a true retrospective of Cardin’s work, but rather, an intensive look at what he is most known for, aside from all the hundreds of licencing agreements.

Cardin’s career began after WWII, when he worked first for Paquin and Schiaparelli, and then for Christian Dior. His first collection under his own name was released in 1951. This suit from 1957 shows the short-lived sack-back style, but it also shows Cardin’s love of structure and sharp tailoring.

The great majority of the exhibition was concerned with Cardin’s “space age”, or Mod looks. I really think the main point of this exhibition could be summed up with the photo above. These two dresses, both with a similar aesthetic, are forty-five years apart. The dress on the left was made in 1968, and the one on the right, in 2013.

So I spent time in front of each look, trying to determine if the look was from the Sixties, or if it were a modern re-interpretation of Cardin’s vision from the 1960s. Sometimes I was right, but just as often, I was not.

The dress above is from 1966. No problem believing that, right?

But what about these two? Both are from 2017! I have a lot to say about these dresses, but first let me say that the longer dress was one of my favorites, as well as one of Liza’s, with whom I saw the exhibition. We just adored the 1920s vibe of it.

What I found so interesting was that the fiber content of both as labeled as “synthetic”. That really doesn’t tell us a lot. The more modern dresses were mostly labeled this way (though some were made from wool jersey), but the 1960s ones were made from wool. The value to me of an exhibition of this sort is that I gain some insights on that I thought I already knew. In this case, I was struck at how the highly structured wool fabrics Cardin used created a silhouette so similar to the wool or polyester doubleknit fabrics used by the average home sewer in the 1960s.

This dress is from 1968, and is made of wool. The dress is so structured that I’m guessing it was interfaced and interlined, and then lined in another fabric. In 1968 the girls in my school were wearing similarly stiff and shaped dresses, but made, for the most part by our mothers and grandmothers. It was an easy look to imitate with doubleknit (and often with a bonded interlining) fabric.

Cardin was an early adopter of pantsuits for women. The 1966 one here is quite similar to the suits he designed for the Beatles several years earlier. He also incorporated this usage of zippers into his men’s clothing.

In 1969 women were in a quandary over skirt lengths. The midi and the maxi had been introduced, but many were reluctant to give up the mini. Cardin’s solution of long over short was a common one. The shiny bits are vinyl, and being attached to the wool coat and skirt, it must have driven dry cleaners crazy, as it does museum curators today. Many times the vinyl has not held up. Several years ago I was touring the archives of the North Carolina Museum of History with the textiles curator, who was an acquaintance. The museum had just acquisitioned a Cardin dress from this line. The wool was perfect, but the vinyl was sticky and in really bad condition.

The “Carwash” dress dates to 1969. It was widely copied, but I can remember seeing an original Cardin in a thrift store years ago. That one is high on my list of things I regret not buying.

Along the same lines is this tunic from 1970. Getting dressed in this one had to have been an experience.

Cardin did design for men as well as women, but while the women’s clothes of the 1960s look quite normal to us today, his menswear is anything but normal. The vinyl collar of the jumpsuit was modeled after that of a NASA spacesuit, but I’m pretty sure Neil Armstrong did not have a vinyl brief (codpiece?) over his suit. And note how the placement of the zippers is very similar to that on the woman’s suit seen earlier.

The red and black dress is again, wool and vinyl. I really like this 1968 dress and the way the sleeves are made in one with the yoke, but the presence of the vinyl makes it look a bit uncomfortable.

I hope you can tell this is a jumper over a black bodysuit. This is from 1967, and you can see how Cardin used the diamond-on-a-belt shape on the red dress above. I was happy to spot skirts with a similar motif for sale.

This skirt, and another in orange, is made of vinyl and mohair. Photo courtesy of Style & Salvage.

The three colorful dresses in the middle are all from 2015 and 2016, though Augusta Auctions just sold a 1960s version of the pink skirt with the straps that look like the spokes of a wheel.

Note Cardin’s use of circles as a motif, and go back through the photos above to spot more circles.

Even if the show notes had not pointed out Cardin’s love of the circle, any visitor could not help but notice them.

Click to enlarge

In a large grouping like this one the circles are even more obvious.

In the center of the exhibition there was an interesting display of Cardin’s evening looks that I thought were beautifully displayed, and shown, I’m guessing to get the point across that Cardin could do more looks than the Mod styles with which he is most associated. The lace and silk dress above is from 1977.

This very Halston-esque gown is from 2017. It is a spectacular little frock!

I loved the set of this exhibition. It was straight out of a 1960s space age fashion show with pods and circles galore.

For the first time that I’ve vivited SCADFASH, instead of a paper guide to the garments, I was loaned an ipad that had had the show notes. I loved this. It was easy to navigate, and best of all, it can be accessed through the SCAD website. So even if you can’t get to Atlanta before the show closes on September 30, 2018, you can browse the guide and see all the looks. I recommend it if you are at all interested in learning and seeing more.

 

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Vintage Miscellany – May 13, 2018

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The Florida Year-Round Clubs catered to the lucky few who managed to weather the storm of the Great Depression. Headquartered at the Miami Biltmore Country Club, members could fly to the club’s other Florida properties for fishing or golf or whatever. What a great hat for the Florida sun!

And now for some news…

  •   For Mother’s Day, here’s an interesting article about the history of mother-daughter dresses.
  •   This article shows how bedsheets are a reminder of home for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. thanks to Nann for the link
  •   Collector  Ann Mahony  has over 5,000 vintage hankies. thanks to RetroRoadmap
  •    In addition to his memoir being published, the New-York Historical Society is doing an exhibition on photographer Bill Cunningham. Opens June 8, 2018.
  •    Ivanka Trump continues to wear her company’s clothing even though there are federal rules “that prohibit government employees from using their public office for private gain.”
  •    There is a long history of textiles being used in social and political activism.
  •    Designer Jean-Paul Gaultier noted how similar the new Kim Kardashian body-shaped fragrance bottle is to his fragrance bottle. He didn’t mention how similar his bottle is to that of Schiaparelli, designed by her in 1937.
  •    Anna Wintour devoted her letter of the month to defending Georgina Chapman, there was an article in this month’s Vogue about Chapman’s life after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, and Scarlett Johensson wore a Marchesa gown to the Met Gala.  It’s clear that Wintour is using her influence to help Chapman rebuild the Marchesa line.  I really don’t have an opinion about Wintour, but I do think it’s really interesting that some of the same people who rightly insist on #metoo, have questioned Chapman’s own knowledge of, or complicity in, Weinstein’s behavior.
  • And we have a new story or two on cultural appropriation. The first involves a Caucasian high school girl who wore a cheongsam, or qipou, to her prom. She posted photos to social media, and then the backlash began. First, it’s pretty disturbing that so many people would jump on a teen because she wore a dress style that is marketed to non-Chinese tourists in any Chinatown in the world. Second, the qipou is an interesting mix of both Chinese and Western dress, and dates only to the 1910s when Chinese women were gaining more freedom to dress the way they wished.
  • The second cry of cultural appropriation concerned the Met Gala, and the theme, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Seems to me that it’s kind of hard to appropriate what is freely given by the Church.

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Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation, c. 1915

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One of the great joys of the Goodwill Outlet bins is the over-abundance of books. I never leave the place without a stack of them, most of which I read and then pass on or re-donate. A while back I found an interesting volume, Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation in Picture, Song & Story. Of course it went into my cart, because as the subtitle promised, it was full of wonderful illustrations.

There’s no date on this book, but the Leslie-Judge Company published an annual Caricature starting around 1895. Several of the illustrations in this particular book are dated 1915, and so my guess it is from that year, or perhaps a year later.

The sporting life was a popular theme. Maybe it’s because members of the leisured classes were a bit of an easy target for humorists of the day. I’ll admit that the humor is often dated, and would leave many modern readers scratching their heads. But I’m in it for the pictures, not the jokes.

There are lots of illustrations of people swimming, and the bathing suits are incredibly modern for 1915. From what I’ve seen in the many circa 1915 photos I’ve examined, most women at the beach were still in long, woven wool or cotton bathing suits, not the sleek knit ones seen above.

This one is especially skimpy. Do you suppose the man is her father and is getting ready to lock her in the bath house?

Here the young women are still wearing their schoolgirl middy blouses. This was a common look for tennis and golf. Notice that girl with the tennis racket is wearing a headband to control her hair.  As I wrote earlier, this is a look associated with the 1920s, so it seemed a bit early for this style to appear in print. I knew that the look was popularized by tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, and a quick google search found a 1914 article showing Lenglen wearing the famous bandeau.

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Just as interesting as the sporting pictures are those showing well-off people at leisure.

Here we have three elegantly dressed promanaders…

and three more (bulldog included) who would rather be, well anywhere but on that boring boardwalk.  But these illustrations show how the fashion silhouette of 1915 was showing big changes over the previous years. The skirts are shorter with considerable fullness. And it seems obvious to me that stripes were very popular for seaside wear.

You do have to look at period illustrations with a questioning eye. Drawings are often exaggerated to make a point, as we see in the skimpy bathing suit drawing above. But look carefully, and you just might learn something, as I did with the tennis headband.

 

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1920s Sports Bandeau

Sometimes it’s the smallest and simplest vintage item that is the hardest to find. I’ve written in the past about the popularity of the head band, or bandeau, for sports. They are very commonly seen in photos of women tennis players of the 1920s, but a search for one for my collection was proving to be almost impossible. For some time I’ve been coveting one Susan Langley pictured in her book, Roaring 20’s Fashion: Jazz. Her example was new and on the original sales card.

The problem with finding a 1920s sports bandeau is that it is obviously a stretchy knit band, and many women would recognize it as being for the head, but how many would see the specific purpose for which it was designed? I fear than many, when found, are not seen as item of significance. It’s just an old headband.

Thankfully, one etsy seller, O2Vintage, did recognize this little piece and listed it exactly as it is. Through some miracle I found it, and how I have the desired bandeau.

It’s finely knit of silk, and the five little decorative buttons are also made of silk thread wrapped around a base. The condition of this little piece is incredible, and I suspect the wearer was more into fashion than tennis!

Can you see where the band narrows slightly at the back? The wearer would not need nor want as much width where the bandeau is beneath the hair.

In this flat shot the width change is even more obvious. Sometimes we take something simple like a hair band for granted, but even the simplest object can be designed with improvement of use in mind.

From this early 1920s photo it looks as if I should have pulled the bandeau lower across the forehead of my mannequin. A quick look at the rest of my old photos show that these were worn just above the eyebrows, just as a cloche, the current style in hats, would have been worn.

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1930s Bruyere Adaptation Dress and Jacket

First of all, this fantastic set does not belong to me, as you probably could tell from the quality of the photo. But more about that later. First I want to talk a some about the maker of the set, and a bit about labels.

Sportswear is my great fashion history love, but that does not mean I don’t appreciate a great afternoon dress when I see it. I even buy dresses and gowns if I feel a garment fits in with the spirit of the collection. That’s a bit hard to explain, but I think I’m mainly interested in the gown a tennis player would wear after a day on the court.

You don’t even need a label to tell you this mid 1930s ensemble is really good, with the slit in the sleeves, and the way the border print is used to elongate the front. And the collar is quite special as well. It’s the type of garment that fashion history lovers look at and immediately hope to find a “good” label.

In this case, the answer is yes, there is a good, if lesser known, label. Bruyere was Madame Marie-Louise Bruyere. She had worked with both Callot Soeurs and Lanvin, and around 1930 opened her own establishment in Paris. According to an August 1932 article in Fortune magazine:

… the French don’t go near the shop which the white-haired Mme Bruyere, once with Lanvin, opened two years ago in the rue de Mondovi. This house, however, has had an enormous success with some Americans, and is one of the “coming” houses.

The article went on to say the Bruyere was the third most popular Paris label available in New York. This was based on the number of “Paris copies in Manhattan’s stores”. And that is exactly what we are seeing here. Note the word “adaptation” on the label. It means that this is a ready-to-wear piece based on a couture design by Madame Bruyere.

There’s not a lot of information available about Bruyere. We know her adaptations were popular with New Yorkers, but who actually manufactured the dresses? We may not know, but I can tell you the work was top-notch, something that’s not always true of adaptations.

Such details!

To add to my post about care of old clothes, I need to add another all purpose care tip. If you have a special garment and you spill something on it, clean it immediately, even if it is white wine or some other substance that does not show. The substance is there nevertheless, slowing turning dark.

And to end this post of multiple lessons, here is a photo I took of this ensemble on a hanger instead of  a mannequin. Never judge a dress by the way it looks on a hanger. Never!

I started this post by saying this dress is not mine. Through one of those serendipitous moments, I learned through mutual friends Jonathan and Kenn that the online vintage clothing shop Style & Salvage is located in my little town. It took a pair of guys from Canada to connect me with new local friends Mel and Jeff. I’ll be posting some of their incredible finds from time to time.

Photos courtesy and copyright of Style & Salvage

 

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