Experience, the Best Teacher

A kind reader asked for a post on caring for old clothes and I referred her/him to a series Maggie at Denisebrain has been writing. There’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel here, as Maggie is in the process of laying it all out, care-wise. But I thought I would share with you some of the mistakes I have made or heard about, and so now you will never have to make them.

1. Never take a sequin for granted. At times in the past, mainly the 1930s and early 40s, sequins were made from gelatin. When exposed to heat or moisture, the gelatin sequins tended to melt. If immersed in water, they turn into a slimy clump of gel. Never put an old sequined dress in water without first testing for melting. Snip off a sequin to sacrifice to the water gods, and if after ten minutes or so you still have a sequin, then it is made of metal or a newer plastic substance and is probably safe for washing.

2.  All white cotton fabrics can’t be bleached with chlorine. For some reason exposure to chlorine will turn some cottons purple. Always do a tiny test spot before using bleach on any fabric, or be smart and stay away from bleach entirely. And if anyone knows the why of this purple phenomenon, I’ve love to know it.

3.  Never put a knit on a hanger. I knew this, but apparently a major fashion collection did not and when they inherited a slew of Rudi Gernreich knits from the 1960s and 70s, all the clothes were neatly hung and promptly forgotten. Several years later a new-to-the-museum worker stumbled across the collection hidden away in a closet or corner, and she was struck by how long all the clothes were. The first thought was that the donor was a very tall woman, but no, these actually came from the Gernreich archive. Over the course of just a few years the clothes had grown over a foot.

4. Keep your nice clothing in the dark. I have been to house sales where a rack of clothing was stored in a room with a window. The dresses on the ends of the rack would be completely trashed – brittle and faded – due to exposure to light. The others would be in pristine condition except for the line of extreme fading at the shoulders where the light could hit the dresses. Adding to the degradation was that these are usually stored on nasty wire hangers.

5.  Back in the 1980s when rayon became fashionable again, my mother warned us not to buy it. She had a friend in school (1940s) who bought a new rayon dress and the first time she wore it she was caught in a downpour. As the dress started to dry the wearer watched as the dress crept up her leg, getting shorter and shorter. She barely made it home with her dignity intact.  Not all rayons will shrink in this way, but rayon crepe is notorious for it.

6.  You cannot save a silk that has started to shatter. Period.

7. Likewise, if a fabric has a dark stain accompanied by little scattered holes, there is no hope for that stain. And even if there was hope, you’d be left with those pesky little holes.

8. Using an iron on any old textile is very risky. Old synthetics are not as stable as the modern fabric we are used to, so unless you like melted nylon or permanent iron prints on the rayon, invest in a steamer. For some reason, old navy dyes love to change to a deep reddish purple.

Since I don’t wear most of the old clothes in my possession, I’m not very aggressive about stains and small amounts of damage. I will do repairs, using only materials that can safely be removed in case a later owner wants to change my method of repair. This pretty much means I repair only with a needle and thread.  I also will restore an object if later alterations have made a big difference in the way the object would need to be displayed. Again, I only do things that could be reversed, and I document the changes in my records.

Does anyone have a good textile disaster story they’d like to share?

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Filed under Collecting, Viewpoint

Liberty Antiques Festival – Spring 2018

It’s officially flea market season. This weekend was one of my favorites – the Liberty Antiques Festival. It never disappoints and this show was especially good. We have been in a rainy pattern here in the Southeast, and often that means dealers leave the textiles at home, but for some reason they all took the chance on the weather. As it turned out, both days of the show were beautiful, if a little on the cool side.

Despite the presence of clothing, I didn’t find anything I needed for my collection, but I did find shoes and skates and a great little pair of “ski-skates”. So, here’s what I saw that was interesting to me, but I didn’t (for the most part) buy.

I loved this, and could see how handy it would be for sorting all my embroidery thread, but where would I put it?

There was a new dealer who had the most fantastic photos. The ones above and below were all in a group from a news service, and were of the rich and famous. Many, like this one, were identified:

The engagement was announced yesterday of Lady de Clifford and Mr. Arthur Stock, of Glenapp Castle, Ballentrae, Ayrshire. Our photo shows Lady de Clifford with Mr. Arthur Stock at Murren in Switzerland.

This group of photos was a real treasure, and needed to be kept together, so there was no way I could afford the thirty-odd photos that were priced at $20 each. A shame.

This is a chromolithograph of the sort that people collected for their scrapbooks. So pretty, but again common sense whispered that the price was too much.

At first glance this looks like an ordinary shirt. But look at the $2 bill and the spoons, and you can see that this is a miniature salesman’s sample.

Flea market rule #14: Every single box of textiles much be thoroughly examined for hidden treasure.

Without a doubt, this is the best way to display vintage hankies I’ve ever seen. Most dealers just pile them in a little box and one has to stand and flip through the entire stack. This way potential buyers can see at a glance if this seller has any hankies of interest.

What about the Nunn-Bush salesman’s case? And it was surprisingly well-made, with nice leather trim.

I may have shown this little boy’s middy and knickers set before, as I’m pretty sure I had seen it previously. I don’t usually buy children’s clothing, but this was a temptation, as it shows a step in the progression of girls and young woman wearing middys for sports.

This scarf was pretty amazing.

I see a lot of overshot coverlets at shows like this one, but rarely one with light blue and red. Very pretty!

This handbag was tiny and made from cardboard. But look at that Scottie.

Here’s proof that I live on the edge. I took this photo to show in this post, but the more I thought about Peter’s Ski Skates, the more I wondered why I didn’t buy them. I even posted a photo on Instagram, hoping that would be enough, but all the enablers over there told me I should have bought them. By that time I realized a smarter somebody had probably scooped them up, but I got back to the seller’s booth and they were still there. He even gave me a generous discount.

Meet Rosco. Unfortunately, he was not for sale.

The show was a bit smaller than last fall’s show, and two of my favorite sellers were not there. Still, I found some fantastic things for my collections, which I’ll be showing off in the coming days.

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Filed under I Didn't Buy..., North Carolina, Road Trip, Shopping

Compared: 1920s and 1970s Boots

One thing I probably don’t write enough about here is how fashion is constantly borrowing from its past. Someone once said to me that fashion ran out of ideas about 1967. I’m not sure that is true, but one does not have to look far to see borrowed ideas.

Above is a pair of hiking boots from Abercrombie & Fitch, from the late 1920s or early 30s. I don’t think that at the time these boots would have been considered to be “fashion” as they were a functional item worn for a specific purpose, and definitely not meant to be on the city streets. They were a style borrowed from the boys, so to speak, as men had been wearing this type boot in the woods for some time.

Today the lines between fashion and function is very blurred, with people wearing their workout clothing on the street and their jammies on airplanes, but in the 1920s, the rules were more rigid. It was a very big deal when in 1924 a brave woman in Italy first wore her pajamas on the Lido.

These boots are from the 1970s, and I’m sure that the similarity to the 20s ones is obvious. You see the same lacing with eyelet over the foot, and hooks up the leg. The below the knee length is the same. Both are made of leather.

But also striking are the differences. The 1920s boot has a low stacked leather heel. The 70s boot has a fashionable heel, covered with the same leather as the rest of the boot. The 20s boot has a ridge around the top of the foot to assist with the shaping of the leather, while the foot of the 70s boot is made from two pieces of leather. The toe shape is different.

What I find interesting is that the 1920s boot is obviously built for function and the 70s boots is obviously built for fashion. But at the same time there is no mistaking the fact that the 70s boot was inspired by the 20s one.

Even when mixed up, it’s easy to distinguish one boot from the other. It’s just one most thing to look for when trying to evaluate a piece of older clothing. Always look for the influences.

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Filed under Collecting, Shoes, Sportswear

Vintage Miscellany – April 22, 2018

I love old photos showing people playing croquet because I get a good look at what was thought to be appropriate for a very casual setting. By the standards of the era, (1905 ish) The women above are casually attired. And look at how the older girls are still wearing their skirts “short”. Photos are like little time capsules, and it is amazing how we can learn so much from them.

And now for some news…

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Filed under Vintage Miscellany

At Hood Rubber Company, Circa 1905

click to enlarge

Back in the winter I wrote about Hood Rubber. The company made all sorts of products that incorporated rubber, but the most interesting to me were the canvas and rubber leisure shoes.  After making the post, my friend Lynn of AmericanAgeFashion wrote to remind me that she had also written about the company because she had a wonderful old photo that showed some workers in one of the Hood factories. When I met Lynn in Charlotte a few weeks ago, she gave the photo to me to add to my archive.

The only person identified in the photo is the older woman who is standing between two men. She was identified as Grandmother King. In another pen was added “Hood Rubber Watertown”, and in pencil someone wrote “c 1910”. These identifications were added much later, as the pens used were ballpoints, which did not come into common use until the 1940s. My point is that the circa 1910 seems to be a bit off, as I’d put this at least five years earlier.

My guess is this is a cutting room. At the time, athletic shoes were either black or white, and that’s what we can see in the bolts stacked behind the workers. Even though this area has electric lights, the factory still makes use of the natural light by placing the work tables near the windows. And look carefully at the tables. They appear to be spread with the canvas, and you can see the bolts on the floor on the backs of the tables.

Old industrial photos of this sort provide a lot of information about everything from the types of clothing workers wore to the way factories were set up. They are hard to find, so I’m really happy to have this one and to add it to my records. Thanks Lynn!

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Filed under Collecting, Made in the USA, manufacturing, Shoes, Vintage Photographs

Empire Sporting Goods, Spring & Summer 1942 Catalog.

I added this 1942 Empire catalog to my collection for several reasons. First, I have an Empire piece in my collection, and I wanted documentation for it. But I was also interested to see how women’s sports clothing, especially softball uniforms were marketed in the very earliest days of WWII. This was a full year before the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that we all know of from the movie A League of Their Own.

http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/catalog/empire42/empire42a.jpg

Click to enlarge.

Before 1943, women were expected to play softball rather than baseball (something that for the most part is true today). As you can see from this page, the softball uniforms were very much like traditional baseball uniforms worn by boys and men. If you have seen A League of Their Own, you know that the women in that league did not wear traditional baseball uniforms. The Smithsonian has one of the women’s baseball uniforms that belonged to  Betsy Jochum, a player for the South Bend Blue Sox. I want, no I need, one of these uniforms in my life.

Looking through this catalog, it’s interesting to see how subtly fashion appears in the clothing. Often sports clothing is not thought of as being fashionable at all, but fashion is reflected in even an object as mundane as basketball shorts. Remember the good old days when Tom Selleck wore his shorts very short on Magnum, P.I.? It was the same on basketball courts across the country. When shorts lengthened and became baggy in the 1990s, the change was also seen in basketball uniforms.

In addition to the active sportswear, Empire also offered school jackets for both men and women. By the 1940s the standard raglan sleeve “letter jacket” was already available for men, but they also had more stylish offerings for both men and women.

And because this catalog must have gone to press just as the USA was entering WWII, there were all sorts of military logoed items available. I’ve got to wonder if these were actually ordered by the military, or if they were available to just anyone.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, World War II

Currently Reading: The Hidden History of American Fashion

One of the things I love about fashion history studies right now is that historians seem to have moved beyond writing about Chanel and Dior. I said some time ago that I didn’t know what else could be said about the great and familiar names of fashion. It appears that lots of others are in agreement.

The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovering 20th Century Women Designers is a book after my own heart. Edited by Nancy Deihl, the lives and careers of sixteen designers are explored. Some, like Tina Leser, are familiar to me, but others, like Pauline Fracchia and Catherine Scott were not. All are important to the story of American fashion.

Each chapter features a different designer, and each is written by a different historian or team of two. I like this type of book because it is easy to pick up and read one chapter when time (or attention) is short. Each chapter is well-documented with the sources given.

One of my favorite chapters is about designer Libby Payne. Payne was one of the hundreds of designers who worked without ever having their names on the label. Though her career spanned from 1937 to 1987, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that her name was on the label of a line she worked on. She designed for some very big names, among them Bobbie Brooks, Jonathan Logan, and Saks fifth Avenue. It’s great that now her name is a part of the historical records of the companies she helped make successful.

I was really surprised and pleased to spot my own name in the bibliography of one of the chapters, that on Fira Benenson. I was familiar with Benenson because I had seen the sewing patterns adapted by the Spadea company. Author Michael Mamp referred to the patterns, and referenced and quoted the article I wrote concerning how Spadea cut their patterns directly from the designers’ garments. This was information I got from Anne Spadea Combs, the daughter of the owners of Spadea Patterns.

I can’t help but think of how the internet has allowed this book to be written. So many of the sources are primary ones that are easily accessible due to back issues of newspapers and trade materials being available online. Material that used to be buried deep in microfilm is now easily found.

It is gratifying to know that even blogs like this one are now contributing to the written record and are useful to others doing research.

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Filed under Currently Reading, Designers