Vintage Miscellany – April 1, 2018

I love that today is a double holiday – Easter and April Fool’s Day. For today’s photograph, I went with the Easter bonnet theme.

I’ve always loved Easter, with its promise of new life, and bunnies and little feathery creatures. April Fool’s is another story. I spent too many years in an elementary classroom not to have developed the habit of looking over my shoulder for the entire day.

And now for some news…

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Elisabeth Stewart Swim Set

One of the great things about collecting more recent eras of fashion is that there is so much choice. On the other hand, the existence of so much stuff from the past sixty years or so means that a collector has to really be careful in buying so as not to be distracted by all the choices. I’ve written before about how I really try to limit my acquisitions to the very best examples possible. When it comes to sportswear from the mid 1950s and younger, it pays to be patient and to wait until something really special hits the market.

Spend some time looking at old ads from the past and you’ll quickly see that bathing suit companies didn’t just make bathing suits. All sorts of accessories and matching garments were available to the swimsuit shopper. One such garment was the matching cover-up.

I spotted this set some time ago, and I really fell for it. Not only was the set never worn, but there were three matching pieces. The label was one that was not represented in my collection, and the price was fair.

Elisabeth Stewart was the daughter of Catalina swimsuits owner, Ed Stewart. When Ed sold Catalina in 1956, Elisabeth and her brothers, David and Bill Stewart, opened their own bathing suit business in Los Angeles. At that time swimsuit styles (along with fashion in general) were beginning to change. The hourglass New Look was fading, and straighter lines were showing up. Elisabeth Stewart’s swimsuits reflected this change.

This style bathing suit, with the straight across bodice attached to shorts was made popular by designer Tina Leser who was making swimsuits for Gabar.  Leser was adept at making bathing suits that gave women a bit more coverage. The style must have struck a chord with women because it remains available today, sixty years later.

But the real icing on this bathing suit cake is this matching hat. It looks rather silly on, but it brings out a facet of the set that didn’t really occur to me until I saw the hat on the mannequin. It appears to me that this suit was inspired by the old-fashioned men’s Edwardian striped knit bathing suits, along with the caps worn by Edwardian women bathers.

The label I’m showing is in the hat. Tapoo Hawes was Bill Hawes, a maker of sports hats. The first reference I’ve found to Tapoo was in 1952, in Jet. By looking at some of the hats by Hawes I found for sale, I’d say he continued in business into the 1970s.

Finally, go back to my first photo to make sure you noticed how the design of the fabric was actually achieved through seams. Just beautiful!

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Y’s and Other Y’s, Converse College, 1901

I seem to have a new-found knack for finding antique yearbooks from women’s colleges. I don’t “collect” them, but the illustrations are just so marvelous, and they add a lot to the types of information gathering I’m doing on women’s sportswear. My latest find is from Converse College, located in Spartanburg, SC, and founded in 1889. Converse is still open, and is still a woman’s college, though they do have a co-ed graduate program.

Y’s and Other Y’s is like other yearbooks I’ve seen from the early 20th century. It a mixture of a record of the school’s activities combined with a literary journal of sorts. It’s illustrated with both photographs and drawings, most of which are signed A.C. Coles.

A.C. Coles was Annie Cadwallader Coles, and she was a junior in the spring of 1901. After Annie graduated in 1902, she went to New York, where she contiuned to study art privately. She eventually took up permanent residence in her hometown, Columbia, South Carolina. She never married, and made her living painting portraits of prominent Columbia residents. Annie died in 1969.

For Y’s and Other Y’s, Annie drew a series of sports girls, featuring the athletics of Converse College.

At first glance one might think these drawings were made by Charles Dana Gibson, as they are so much in his style.

Interestingly, even in the drawings that depicted girls engaged in activities which would have required bloomers, there is not a single trace of them in any of the drawings.

At least the skirts were shown shortened.

The photographs of the sports teams also obscure whether or not the team members were wearing bloomers under those skirts. Please don’t miss the girl at the very top, holding the ball in profile.

Or maybe there is a tiny trace of a bloomered leg there in the front row.

I found an obituary for Annie Coles, thanks to the wonders of the internet. From it:

A small woman of spare frame, Miss Coles was an early advocate of healthy diets, some of which have recently come into vogue, and she was a believer in physical fitness. She walked almost everywhere she went in Columbia, and she attributed her ability to continue painting into her 80s to diet and physical exercise.

 

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Early Southern Stitchery at MESDA, Winston-Salem, NC

Last weekend it was my great fortune to attend the MESDA Spring Seminar, Stitching a Southern Identity: Defining Female Culture in the Early South. MESDA is the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and is located at the southern edge of Old Salem, a Moravian town dating to 1766. The museum is located in a converted Kroger supermarket, and dates to 1965.

I signed up for this seminar on a whim. I’d planned to go to Williamsburg, VA for the Costume Society symposium, but a conflict prevented me from getting to make that trip. So this was a bit of a consolation prize, but as it happens, I’m really glad things turned out this way. I was pushed out of my comfort zone of 20th century clothing, and into a field about which I probably knew less than any of the other participants, at least it seemed that way by the learned conversations going on around me. And I can’t remember ever learning so much in two short days.

As the title suggests, this was all about the manufacture and decoration of textiles, mainly for use in the home. Most of the research presented was on samplers and quilts, but we also saw quite a bit of  other types of embroidery and of weaving. Without a doubt, my favorites were the samplers.

The word sampler tends to pull up an image of a school girl practicing her stitchery, and that’s a valid thought. But what was so surprising to me was the skill these girls exhibited in their work. Because girls tended to not only sign samplers, but also recorded their ages, we can see just how young these stitchers were. Even eight-year-olds were doing embroidery that would put me to shame!

Today samplers are valued not just as charming reminders of past childhoods, but also as historical documents. A girls would often include the names of family members, where she lived, important dates. But what is really interesting is how researchers today can look at a sampler and see so much more than the bare facts. This unusual sampler was stitched by Salley Keais, in 1793 in Washington, NC.

Researcher Marquita Reed was able to piece together a very good family history, just from the names and dates on the sampler and through searches in period newspapers. Her research helped explain the mermaid and the ship as it was found that hers was a family in the shipping business.

Another great sampler is this one by Sarah Hatton McPhail of Norfolk, VA. Other samplers of a very similar composition, including one by Sarah’s sister, were known to have been made in the Norfolk area. This tends to suggest that this was the style taught by the girls’ teacher. The fact that similar samplers were produced in the same school is a big help in identifying samplers, and has even led to the discovery of multiple samplers made under the direction of a particular teacher.

This close-up shows just how skilled Sarah was. She was eight years old at the time.

Click to enlarge

This remarkable sampler is part mourning tribute, part family register, and part scrapbook. The stitcher, Mary Ann Colboard, made this sampler in 1821 in Charleston, SC. It is thought that they are mourning the death of Mary Ann’s stepfather. The church is easily recognizable as St. Philips, where Mary Ann was married the year after she completed this work.

We also learned about quilts and other bed coverings. This is part of an album quilt. Each square was made by a different woman, and then put together and quilted by Catherine Palmer, near Charleston in 1848.

The squares were appliqued. Each maker would cut out a design from printed chintz (often combining elements from three of more different prints) and then stitch the new design to a square of cotton. Then it would be assembled and quilted.

Even though this quilt is attributed to Catherine Palmer, it is very possible that she had help in the form of her slaves. Documenting the work of slaves is extremely difficult as their labor was an expected part of the household work and was not often noted. However, careful examination of quilts often reveals that the stitching was done by more than one hand. It stands to reason that these other hands could have been enslaved.

Weaving was another task often carried out by slaves. Again, curators and researchers take what they know about a piece and try to determine whether or not it is possible that the item was made by an enslaved person.

It’s not possible for all the museum’s textile holding to be displayed all the time, but I was really surprised when the curatorial associate opened this cupboard to reveal a trove of handwoven coverlets and blankets.

I was surprised to see a few wallpaper covered bandboxes. For some reason I tend to associate them with the North, maybe because they are so seldom seen for sale here in the South.

Boys of the Powell Family by Samuel Moore Shaver, Knoxville, TN, circa 1850-1869

Just so you won’t get the idea that MESDA is just needlework, here are some details from their great collection of paintings. You will also find furniture, pottery, silverwork, clocks, books, woodwork and architectural elements, and ironwork.

I’ll close with this portrait of Mary Hawksworth Riddell and her daughter, Agnes Riddell. It was painted in the early 1790s by Charles Peale Polk (of the famous Peale family of artists).

I love that this sweet picture includes a basket of needlework.

My thanks to MESDA for such a rewarding experience. You can see more of their collection online.

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Vintage Miscellany – March 18, 2018

I’ve posted photos of this unknown woman before, as she is featured in the small photo album of the Adirondacks that I have. This photo was not glued in the album, and I think it might be a bit later. Our sportswoman has taken to wearing her outing skirt a bit shorter than before.

And now for some news…

  •   Rita Moreno reached far back into her closet to find a dress for this year’s Oscar ceremony.
  •    FIT has started a new project, “The Fashion History Timeline is an open-access source for fashion history knowledge.”
  •    Blogger Leimomi Oakes decided to test the waters in a newly made Edwardian style wool bathing suit.
  •    “A uniform for intellectuals … Marimekko is for women whose way of wearing clothes is to forget what they have on.”
  •    DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) has a great feature on women’s impact on baseball.
  •    The story of a circa 1730 wedding dress and the girl who made it.
  •    Tim Gunn and Dr. Valerie Steele at The Museum at FIT’s 19th fashion symposium, Fashion and Physique,  which was held in February, 2018.
  •    The fashion legacy of Hubert de Givenchy.
  •     Jimmy Fallon ordered a lot of junk from the Trump store so he could see where the products were made. No surprise that most of the stuff was made in China, but two items, including a doggie bandana, had no country of origin on the product, a violation of law. Fallow has filed a complaint.
  •   Besides the obvious fact that Trump campaigned on an “America First” platform, is there any tradition that the first family should be following in regards to fashion?
  •    Last of all, let’s talk about museums. Every year the de Young Museum in San Francisco has a very popular show in which local flower arrangers display their work which is inspired by art in the museum. The show is so popular with people taking photos that the museum has set aside a period of time as “photo free.” As expected, some people love it, and others hate it, but the article does a good job of presenting both sides of the issue.
  • When I started writing this blog in 2005, it was very common for cameras to be banned in museums. That’s why I started sketching in museums. But as the camera phone became ubiquitous, and social media became increasingly visual, many museums began changing their policies. It makes sense. A good Instagram photo can be valuable publicity.  Today I use my camera a lot more, but a museum experience is not just about taking a lot of great photos to put online. It’s about what you can see and learn.

 

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Fashion Stories: The Wright Flyer and the Hobble Skirt

My apologies if you have already seen this image on Instagram, but I’m still looking for the answer to a question I asked there:

Is there any evidence that this 1908 photo inspired Paul Poiret to design his hobble skirt? Or is this just one more modern interpretation of the past?

I have been reading David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers and in it the story is repeated that Poiret saw the photo and had an inspiration. This is not referenced in the endnotes, however.

A photograph of Madame Berg seated on the Flyer at Wilbur Wright’s side, beaming with pleasure in advance of takeoff, made an unprecedented magazine cover, and the famous Paris dress designer Paul Poiret, quick to see the possibilities in the rope around the ankles, produced a hobble skirt that became a fashion sensation.

In looking for the answer, I made the obvious series of Google searches, and in doing so found more and more misinformation. Edith Berg, seen in the photo, and who was the first American woman to ride in an airplane, is sometimes identified as Katherine Wright, the sister of the brothers. In some tellings of the stories, Wilbur tied the robe around Mrs. Berg’s legs, in some she tied the rope, and in others her husband tied it. One site calls Mrs. Berg “Hart Berg”, which was her husband’s name. Others claim she was the first passenger to ride in the Flyer.

Even the Smithsonian site has a suspect version of the story:

 A French fashion designer watching the flight was impressed with the way Mrs. Berg walked away from the aircraft with her skirt still tied. Mrs. Berg was then credited with inspiring the famous “Hobble Skirt” fashion.

To be fair, many of the sites I found tell the story as a “possibility.” But in others it is related as fact. Several even gave the Wright Brothers credit for “inventing” the hobble skirt.

The closest thing I’ve found to a contempory source was quoted in Alison Matthews David’s book, Fashion Victims. A New York Times article from June, 1910 called the hobble skirt the aeroplane skirt. This does seem to hint at a connection to the skirt and to the practice of early women passengers having their skirts tied below the knees.

I also found a 1928 article based on an interview with Edith Ogilvy Druce, formerly Mrs. Berg. In the article she claimed to have inspired the hobble skirt.

I know that Poiret was not one to admit his fashion inspirations, so I doubt that he related this story even if it were true. He did write an autobiography, but I have not read it. If he was inspired by the photo, why did he not make the first of his hobble skirts until two years later, in 1910?

I know I’ve presented more questions than I have answers, and I have one more. Is the answer even out there?

 

 

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Givenchy For McCall’s Patterns, 1966

I don’t write a lot about haute couture here at The Vintage Traveler. The careers of most of the 20th century greats are so well documented that there’s just not a lot I can add. But I just could not let the recent death of Hubert de Givenchy pass by without mentioning one of my favorite ever sewing pattern lines. In 1966 the movie, How to Steal a Million staring Audrey Hepburn and a wide cast of Givenchy creations, led to four of the suits Audrey wore in the movie being adapted into sewing patterns by McCall’s.

The patterns rated three pages in McCall’s magazine, all with publicity stills of Audrey, rather than pictures of the patterns. In the McCall’s Home Catalog, however, there were sketches of the pattern designs. By comparing the two sets of images you can see that the patterns are very faithful to the original designs as worn in the movie. All four designs were either suits or coat and dress ensembles.

Over the years I’ve managed to find three of the four patterns. An interesting note is that neither Audrey Hepburn nor the movie were mentioned on the actual pattern envelopes. I find that a bit odd as the connection between the patterns and the movie were well publicized in the magazines.

This is the pattern that I do not own. I need this pattern in my life.

I’ve been telling myself for years to make this coat. Maybe now is the time.

I don’t even try to collect couture clothing, as my interests don’t really run in that direction. I have been known to pick up the rare (inexpensive) piece though when lucky enough to find it. In fact, one of the few pieces of couture I own is a Givenchy suit, which dates to 1967.

 

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