McEwens of Perth, Scotland Wools, 1961

Today I wore a skirt I made from Pendleton Black Watch plaid, and that reminded me that I had not talked about a group of brochures I have that advertise Scottish plaids and woolen knits.  McEwens was actually a department store which operated for nearly 150 years before closing in 2016. McEwens had a feature that people today would consider to be a real luxury, but which was fairly common in nicer departments stores in 1961. That feature was a department that made clothing to order.

My brochures are advertising skirts made from wool. There were sixteen skirt styles from which to choose, and sixteen different tartans. A buyer would fill out the order form which asked for the correct measurements. She would then order either a waistband or a petersham waist. She could order pockets for an additional charge. The item was truly made to order.

All the style names start with “glen”. The prices quoted beneath each style was just for the sewing charge. The fabric had to be bought for an additional charge.

If you wanted a truly coordinated ensemble, you could buy your sweater from McEwens using this handy chart that told which sweaters would match. I really love the Black Watch skirt above with that deep green twin set. You probably gathered that because I have it pictured three times.

The custom department at McEwens also made other garments, like these coats and jackets. Note how much more it cost to make a jacket than a skirt.

For home sewers, McEwens sold the fabric by the yard.

This catalog showed some of the made-to-order items along with what might be considered the types of items tourists visiting Scotland were looking to buy. Things like kilt pins, tartan neckties, and tartan scarves.

A shopper could not only choose the style of handbag, but also the tartan used and the color of leather trim. I can’t imagine what this would cost today, but the best that I can figure, these cost approximately $120 in current dollars.

I find so many vintage tartan scarves that I think every visitor to Scotland must buy at least one. It has to be a rule, right?

I think I need a pair of New Caledonian dancing sandals.



Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, Proper Clothing

Vintage Miscellany – February 4, 2018

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When it comes to human beings, it’s best to never use the word never as there are always going to be exceptions to the generalities. This photo is a good case to show what I mean. Except for women on ranches and farms, and except for performers, and except for women climbing mountains, and except for women wearing pajamas on beaches, it is pretty much accepted that women did not wear long pants in public before the 1930s. But check out this girl squad and their long overalls. Of course we know young women have long raided the closets of their brothers, but these pants all look new, and were maybe bought for the occasion.

There’s no date on the photo, but my best guess based on the hair styles and shoes, is late 1920s. Probably even more surprising than the overalls is the one girls who appears to be wearing shorts. And check out her rolled stockings.

This is one of those times when I’d gladly pay to know what exactly was happening in the photo. The presence of the book being held by one of the girls might be a clue.

And now for the news…



Filed under Vintage Miscellany

Peerless Patterns Pajamas, 1919

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One of the questions I’ve been trying to answer is when did women start sleeping in pajamas. This is important to me because it was pajamas-wearing that led to women wearing pants as a beach cover-up, which led to women wearing pants other than bathing suits, knickers or breeches in public.

It’s not like women were not already wearing “pants” of some sort before the twentieth century. Drawers and pantaloons as underwear had been around for a long time.  And while bloomers did not really catch on when Ms. Amelia advocated for them in the 1850s, nor when the practicality of them for riding bicycles came up in the 1890s, thousands of schoolgirls were wearing bloomers in gym class from the 1860s onward. Women who loved hiking had taken to wearing knickers and divided skirts.

It seems a bit surprising to me that in all my resources, I can’t find an example of women in pajamas before the year 1912. I feel pretty sure that this is not the beginning of the practice, but I’ll be the first to admit that my resource library is a bit thin in the pre-1920s years.

According to the 1912 Spring and Summer catalog from the Greenhut-Siegel Cooper Company, “Pajamas [are] the latest idea in underwear.  Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year…For traveling, pajamas are convenient…”  Even so, it appears that the nightgown continued to be the sleeping garment of choice for most women. It wasn’t until 1918 that I’ve found pajamas offered in a variety of styles in mass market and sewing pattern catalogs.

Starting in 1917 or so, pajamas became more prevalent in the catalogs I looked at, and a new, similar garment appeared – the work overall. During World War I the necessity of women taking on jobs that were traditionally thought to be for men led to women adapting a male garment, the overall work pants. I can’t help but think that the increased popularity of pajamas for sleeping is related to the adoption of overalls for working.

I do have a few things to say about this odd garment. It would keep a camper warm on chilly nights, but bless her heart if she had to answer the call of nature while wearing this suit. I keep fantasizing that the odd way the back seam zig-zags means that it is open below that horizontal seam. That would be most helpful.

Lastly, the text describes the pants above as “bloomers” but they are actually an odd combination of bloomers and knickers. Bloomers usually have an elastic waist, very full legs, and elastic at the bottoms of the legs. Knickers usually button at the waist, have less full legs, and have a band that buttons at the bottoms of the legs. Blickers?


Filed under Proper Clothing

The Dress that Launched a Thousand Sleeves

Lovers of old movies and followers of fashion history will recognize the image above as Joan Crawford in the famous dress from Letty Lynton, from 1932. The clothes were designed by the designer at M-G-M, Gilbert Adrian. So much has been written about this dress (with one of the best analyses coming from friend Susan at Witness2Fashion) that I really don’t have much new to say about it. But while looking through my 1934 Butterick pattern catalog I could not help but notice how influential were the sleeves on this dress.

Throughout the late 1920s and into the 30s, fashionable hips were impossibly slim. One way to give the illusion of leaner hips is to widen the shoulders. That’s what Adrian did with these spectacular ruffled sleeves. It didn’t take women long to realize the trick that worked for Crawford might do them some good as well.  Clothing manufacturers rushed copies of the dress into production, and it was a huge hit.

Two years later, the ruffled sleeve was a standard in women’s clothing. While most women would not wear the over-the-top version from the movie, ruffled sleeves were available from very full to barely there.  Even sleeves that were cut relatively straight often had a pleat at the top of the sleeve cap that gave a fluttery effect.

Even though there were all sorts of ruffled sleeves, the one thing all the dresses has in common were the very straight, very slim skirt.

The bateau neckline and the extensions over the shoulders tend to further elongate the shoulders.

Here are ruffles in a slightly more tailored look.

As much as people love fashion and looking stylish, it’s doubtful that most women across America could have pulled off a full-blown Lynton look. Most of the actual dresses from this era that I’ve seen have ruffles more like the dress pictured above. In fact, this look is quite commonly found on the vintage market.


Filed under Proper Clothing, Sewing

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.


Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

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.




Filed under Proper Clothing, Sewing, Sportswear

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…


Filed under Uncategorized, Vintage Miscellany