Vintage Miscellany – December 8, 2019

I collect photographs for several reasons. I love how you can glimpse into the past to see how people actually dressed, and sometimes a photo helps me assemble an ensemble of clothing and accessories. I also look for photos that help date and document items in my collection.

Between looking for old photos, I managed to read some interesting news.

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Update on Key West Hand Print Fabrics

I’ve written quite a bit about Key West Hand Print Fabrics in the past, especially concerning their relationship with Lilly Pulitzer.  For those of you who don’t know, for years Key West Hand Prints designed and made the distinctive fabrics Pulitzer used in her dresses.

Before 1961, Key West Hand Prints was a small fabric printing business in Key West, Florida, owned by Walter Starkey. The company made small printed linens, like tea towels. In 1961, Peter Pell and Jim Russell were visiting the island when they decided it was a good place to live. They bought Key West Hand Prints and hired a designer for the prints, Suzie Zuzek dePoo. 

On the other side of Florida, another entrepreneur was at work developing a line of tropical print dresses. Lilly Pulitzer had enlisted the services of a dressmaker to make dresses in loud prints that would cover juice stains she got while working in her family business, an orange grove and juice stand. So many customers at the stand asked about Pulitzer’s dresses that she saw an opportunity to make similar dresses for sale. She learned about Key West Hand Prints and visited the island to see if she could use the prints in her new line.

For the next fourteen years (or so, as I don’t have the exact dates), Key West Hand Print Fabrics designed and made the iconic Lilly Pulitzer fabrics. The little hand print business employed as many as two hundred people during this time, and they worked around the clock to keep up with demand. They were producing fabric not only for Lilly Pulitzer, but also for their own line of dresses, labeled “Vanda Fashions, Key West Hand Prints” and for yardage that could be purchased in their Key West store. Vanda was designed by Virginia Peirce. 

Artist Suzie dePoo designed the prints, but the colors were worked out by others on the staff, including co-owner Peter Pell. Lilly Pulitzer would fly into Key West to visit with Pell and Russell and to pick out the fabrics for her next collection. They would spend the day involved in  business, and then they would retire to the bar to celebrate. 

It was a system that worked well until a new business manager hired by Pulitzer in 1976 or 77 ended the relationship between Lilly Pulitzer and Key West Hand Print Fabrics. It was a decision that ultimately harmed both businesses. Key West Hand Prints lost their largest customer, and the atmosphere of the business changed, especially for Peter Pell, who lost interest in the enterprise. Lilly Pulitzer prints changed, becoming more “fashionable” and less “Florida” and in 1984, Lilly shut down her business.

A lot of the information above was given to me by Jacq Staub, whose mother Jacquolyn was the in-house model and the merchandising manager for Key West Hand Print Fabrics. He has shared with me all these stories as well as some wonderful photos.  The model in all these photos is Jacq’s mother. In the photo at the top, Jacquolyn is modeling a caftan that was ordered for Elizabeth Taylor.

Key West Hand Prints was a casual, family business, though most of the staff were not actually related. Jacq refers to Pell and Russell as Uncle Peter and Uncle Jim, though they were actually his godfathers. The photo above was taken in Vanda’s design studio, and was used for the company’s catalog.

Here’s another look at that distinctive corner in Vanda’s studio. These photos were taken in the early 1970s.

This photo wasn’t dated, but the hairstyles sure are saying mid to late 1960s. Just when we thought men were going to loosen up in their clothing choices, Dress for Success came along and swept it all away.

Here’s Uncle Jim and Jacquolyn at a fashion show in 1973.

The designer holding onto Peter Pell? Lilly Pulitzer, of course! And how about those printed jeans?

So, where is Key West Hand Prints today? The owners are long gone, but Key West Fashions continued in business until 2007. The original screens used to make the prints and the dye formulations were bought by Ed Swift, who stored the items for years. It appears that these items have now been sold, with the new owner exploring the possibility of reopening the print business.

It also appears that there is also a book, exhibition, and film about Key West Hand Prints in the works. Behind this project is the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, a division of the Smithsonian. It will be interesting to see how they tell the story, as many of the people involved with Key West Hand Print are still with us.  It’s a chance to tell the story of a unique American textile business that had a lasting influence on how we dress. 

My thanks to Jacq Staub for the photos and the stories.

 

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The Rest of the Story – Collection Updates

It probably does not surprise any reader here that I keep a detailed list of things I hope to find. Most of these are items that would fill a gap in my collection, such as an important bathing suit style of which I have no example. For this type of thing I keep a close eye on sellers on Instagram, and I do regular web shop searches.

But much more often I find things through serendipity, in other words, I pull an item from the Goodwill bins. This scarf is an example. Scarves are a good find at my bins. I’ll never have to buy another wool scarf, as I have so many I’ve bought for my own use. Still, I can’t help but look at any that turn up in the bins.

Back in August I wrote about our trip to Berea and seeing the student weaving operation there. So yes, I was pretty happy to find this vintage Berea College Student Industries scarf in the bins last week. Wool scarves can be difficult to date, but something about this one points to the 1940s.

Some time ago I wrote about my desire to own a Catalina bathing suit made from California Hand Print fabric. These come on the market quite rarely, and they are never cheap, so I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the perfect suit.

Catalina did a great job of advertising these suits, and so most of the designs are well documented. At the top of my wishlist was this suit from 1951, and I jumped into action when Cheshire Vintage posted one on Instagram. So, another gap filled, much to my delight. Now to locate the men’s matching set!

 

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Abercrombie & Fitch Summer Sport Styles 1939

I’m always happy to locate a catalog that features women’s sports clothing, especially when it’s from a company like Abercrombie & Fitch. This newest acquisition is from 1939, and I also have the winter 1938 edition. These are the only two I’ve ever seen, so I have no idea how long A&F put out this particular catalog.

If I ever get around to building that time machine, one place I definitely want to visit is the A&F flagship store that was located on Madison Avenue at 45th Street in New York City.  That would be true adventure shopping!

The copywriter lays it out straight – don’t expect frou-frou at Abercrombie & Fitch. But that does not mean the the clothing sold by A&F in the spring of 1939 was not fashionable.

The move toward the very strong shoulders associated with the 1940s had already begun, and you can clearly see it in the sleeves of these rayon and linen frocks. Insead of shoulder pads, the 1930s designer used deep pleats at the top of the sleeve to create the desired width.

By the end of the 1930s, fashionable length in tennis dresses had been abandoned in favor of shorter skirts that increased the players’ mobility.  I love the zipper in the sleeve of the dress on the left. I’ve never seen this feature in a blouse or dress. Usually what is seen is the split sleeve on the right. Both free the arms to make for a better swing.

The dress in the center is the same as the one on the cover. The buttons not only can be unfastened to allow the player to have a wider stride, according to the catalog it “unbuttons down each side so it may be laundered easily.”  All these dresses are available only in white.

Golf attire did not adopt the shorter skirt like the tennis dress. Golf does not require the long stride of tennis, and golf and country clubs tended to be very conservative spaces.  Only one of these dresses was available in white, as color was standard on the golf course.

It’s always amazing to realize how much more conservative swim and beachwear was in the late 1930s than in the late 20s and early 30s. All these suits except the one in the middle are made from woven fabrics, and most likely they all have zippers down the back.  The willowy beach pajamas of a few years earlier have been replaced with slacks.

Riding attire depended on where one was riding. The look on the left was appropriate  for Western ranch wear. The riding coat and jodhpurs were more suited for Eastern wear.

Here we have a selection of clothing for boating. The slacks suit in the middle was made from denim, but the one on the right was constructed of waterproof silk. It was also available in cotton sailcloth.

This page was titled, “Country Compromise”. One could wear her shorts and her skirt too. The set on the left is called an exercise suit, and comes with shorts beneath the skirt.

As much as I love the clothes, I’ll admit that this page of accessories is my favorite. Number 4 is a beach bag from Paris, and that’s a watch set into the wooden lid. Number 6 is described as lastex panties, to wear under sports clothing. And number 11 is a pouch to hold one’s golf incidentals.

 

 

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Fashion Queens – Southeastern Region Symposium in Charlotte, NC

I joined the Costume Society of America way back in 2005, and for a person like me who loves all aspects of fashion and social history, it has been a super learning experience. Once a year there’s an organization-wide symposium where members present their research, and on a smaller scale, there are yearly regional meetings as well.

I like the large symposiums, but I love the regional ones. There’s an intimate atmosphere where even if you do not know  a single person when you arrive, when you leave you have lots of new friends and contacts.

So I was pretty excited to learn that the Southeastern Region was holding this fall’s symposium in Charlotte, only about two and a half hours from me. The theme was Fashion Queens, which gives a nod to Charlotte, the Queen City, and Queen Charlotte for whom the city was named.

I know that sitting in a room with a bunch of history fanatics is not everyone’s cup of tea, to to me it’s an exciting opportunity to learn from the best.  The images above are from the research of Linda Baumgarten on designs of eighteenth century quilted petticoats. Linda is a Curator Emerita at Colonial Williamsburg. She’s the author of  books on the subject, including my favorite, What Clothes Reveal.

For attendees not familiar with quilting terminology, Linda provided clear photos to make her study easier to understand.

The presentation above was really interesting. Dr. Dina Smith of VA Tech studied “the design process of reenactors who create Regency gowns.” To do this she conducted interviews with reenactors attending the Jane Austin Festival in Louisville, Kentucky.

One of my favorite presentations was about the pearl button industry of Muscatine, Iowa. This research was conducted by Jade Papa of Thomas Jefferson University.  Anyone who studies clothing that predates the emergence of plastics has seen lots of  mother of pearl buttons, but do you know where they were made? Well, neither did I until I was enlightened by Jade.

Mussel and clam shells were harvested from the Mississippi River at Muscatine starting in 1891. By the 1920s the seven button companies in Muscatine were producing 37% of the world’s pearl buttons. Above you can see how discs were stamped out from the shells. This was just the beginning of the process, as each disc was handled thirty times before it became a button.

The beginning of the end of the Muscatine button industry came in the 1930s when the Great Depression hit. At the same time plastics were being made into buttons cheaper and easier. And the shells had been over-harvested which led to several species becoming extinct or endangered.  I hope Jade writes a book.

Jean Druesedow, who recently retired as director of the Kent State University Museum, talked about how Kent acquired the clothing of actress Katherine Hepburn. This was really interesting, partly because I have seen the exhibition using Hepburn’s clothing twice. Jean talked about the relationships that Katherine Hepburn developed with the designers of her screen and stage clothing.

After the presentations there’s the chance for the audience to ask questions. What really made this particular symposium so special was the exchange of ideas between professionals like Baumgarten and Druesedow, plus experienced conservators like Colleen Callahan and Margaret Ordonez. And just so you will not think the attendees were just the elders of the profession, there were quite a few college students and masters candidates who attended, and some who even presented. It was a great mix of ideas and experiences.

Another favorite part of CSA symposia are the trips to local museums. In this case we went to the Mint Museum. I’ve visited the Mint numerous times, but there’s always something new to see. Above you have part of a special exhibition from Studio Drift. The piece is Fragile Future 3.5, and it’s made of dandelion fluff attached to tiny lights. There’s a complete circuit of the metal parts.

And here’s my irregularly scheduled reminder that a museum does not have to have actually clothing on display for visitors to see fashion. So much of what we know about fashion history is learned from period art, like this 1857 painting by James Goodlyn Clonney, Offering Baby a Rose.

I would usually be more interested in the mother’s dress, or the hound observer, but in this case, it’s the father’s robe or banyan that caught my eye.

A big thanks to the Department of Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and especially to Aly Amidei, for hosting the symposium.

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Vintage Miscellany – November 17, 2019

Could the photo above be giving us a glimpse inside an early 1920s sporting event, perhaps at a school for girls? What else could explain the presence of the two women, who could possibly be mothers of some of the girls? There’s no way to know because there’s nothing at all written on the back of the photo to give us a hint. All I can do is speculate.

And here is a bit of news…

  •   Momentum is building in the movement to build a museum devoted to women’s baseball.
  •    Here’s a taste of what we might expect from Ingrid Mida’s new book, Reading Fashion in Art.
  •    Well, along with the corruption of the words vintage and curate, you can now add provenance to the list.
  •    Another Nazi-tainted work of art will be restored to the heirs of the rightful owners.
  •    In an upcoming movie, Lady  Gaga will play Patrizia Reggiani, the ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci who was convicted of plotting his murder in 1996.
  •    Here’s a nice article about textile designer Tammis Keefe.
  •   Bride Lyndsey Raby chose her flower girls wisely, and they even had matching dresses that looked good on them all.
  •    Jane Fonda is giving up clothes shopping, sort of.
  •   “Where there is wool, there is a woman who weaves, if only to pass the time.” Thankfully, that is what many women of the Bauhaus did.
  •   Clothing collector Sandy Schreier is really having her moment.
  •   One of the forces behind Columbia Sportswear, Gert Boyle, has died.

 

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Folk Art Center of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway as one is traveling south into Asheville, is the Folk Art Center. It’s mainly a crafts store that sells the products of craftspeople who are members of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, which has been around, officially, since 1930. It was born from the Crafts Revival Movement, which was the rural twin of the Settlement House movement made famous by Jane Addams in Chicago.

I’ve written quite a bit about the Crafts Revival Movement, and I’ll link to some of those articles at the end of this post. For the most part, it was driven by a desire of middle class and wealthy women to help women in poverty through the production of traditional crafts.  Remarkably, some of the efforts of these women still survive, as in the case of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild.

And while I find some of the ideas of one hundred years ago to be more than a bit patronizing toward the people of Appalachia, the efforts were sincere, and did actually lead to women in the Southern Mountains being able to make and market crafts, and thus to bring in badly needed cash to their families. It also helped establish a strong renewal of craft traditions in the Appalachians.

The Southern Highlands Craft Guild is also in possession of a nice collection of crafts and other artifacts from the early days of the Guild. Upstairs at the Folk Arts Center is a small, but interesting museum of some of the items in the collection.

Besides textiles, there are baskets and other woven items, like the late 1930s or early 40s tilt hat seen above. It was made by Alice Pratt of Asheville from braided cornhusks, lined in silk.

This 1930s handbag was also made from cornhusks, backed with burlap. The maker was Isadora Williams of Knoxville, Tennessee.

This is the coverlet that pretty much started the crafts revival. In 1894 it was given to a missionary, Frances Goodrich, who was working in the area north and west of Asheville and she was so taken with it that she thought it might be a way for the local women to make money. Unfortunately the coverlet was around forty years old at the time of the gift, and most women, even deep in the Appalachian Mountains had given up weaving due to the availability of cheap mass-produced textiles.

But Goodrich was persistent, and soon old disassembled looms were located and reassembled. Women who had given up the labor of weaving returned to the loom as Goodrich and others started co-ops in which to sell the coverlets and other crafts.

There are other coverlets on display, like these three from North Carolina, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

Here is a very rare survivor, a dress made for handwoven linsey-woolsey. The museum was a bit short on details, but dated the dress to around 1900. There are a few mended spots, but otherwise the dress seems to be in wonderful condition.

People who follow me on Instagram have already seen this piece, but it is just too special not to share here as well. This is a “cow blanket” though that is most likely a misnomer. It was made by Kate “Granny” Clayton Donaldson. Donaldson lived in Marble, NC, and sometime in the 1920s or early 30s she started crocheting figures and animals from her homespun and dyed wool. The story is a bit sketchy, but through an association with the nearby John C. Campbell Folk School (founded by another woman, Olive Dame Campbell} she began attaching the figures to pieces of fabric to make a decorative blanket or hanging.

Quite a few of Kate Donaldson’s blankets survive. They are in the collections of art and folk museums, and occasionally one comes up for sale.

A personal note – my father was born in Marble in 1927. It’s very likely that his family knew Kate, as Marble is a tiny place, where everybody knows everybody else.

Biltmore Industries

Fireside Industries, Berea

Penland School of Crafts

Crossnore Weavers

 

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