Tag Archives: 1920s

Gantner & Mattern Bathing Suit, 1920

As I said in my last post, online shopping has been great lately. Maybe it is due to sellers not having as many in real life selling opportunities, but there have been some fantastic things come up for sale this summer and fall. High on my list of purchases is this bathing suit from Gantner & Mattern.

I could talk all day about the attributes of this suit, starting with the colors. By 1920s orange was a popular fashion color, and it remained in style throughout the decade. The blue is also a good 1920s color. In fast, I have another early 1920s bathing suit in the exact color.

By 1920 the women’s bathing standby suit, two pieces usually made of a thin woven wool or blends of mohair and silk was being replaced by the knit suit. Most knit suits were knit in one piece, with the trunks attached to the dress. This suit is interesting because it is two pieces like the older style.

It is also interesting because of the slightly raised waistline. We tend to associate the dropped waist with the 1920s, but in the beginning of the decade the waist continued to be high as it was in the last part of the 1910s. At the same time, the shape of the body was becoming more tubular.

When I first saw this suit on Instagram, the crocheted trim intrigued me. When evaluating a piece of old clothing, you always have to consider that alterations could have been made at some point in the garment’s life. I have actually seen a 1920s knit suit where the back was cut to a fashionable 1930s scoop, with the edges finished with crochet. So I spent a long time looking at the crochet trim, trying to figure if it was original. The uniformity of the color, and the evenness of the applied trim led me to believe the crochet was original.

The real proof can be seen in this photo. Where the label was stitched onto the suit stitches over the orange yarn of the crochet, indicating the crochet was applied before the label.

Here’s a bit of Gantner & Mattern history I wrote several years ago in another post:

One of the great, but lesser-known California swimwear makers of the 20th century was Gantner-Mattern.  Like most of the makers of swimsuits, they started out as makers of knitwear – stockings, underwear, and sporting sweaters.  By the turn of the century, they were making the swimsuits that made them famous.

The company got its start in San Francisco in 1877 at the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company.  By the late 1890s, two employees, corporate secretary John O. Gantner and mill superintendent Alfred Mattern had left Pfister to start their own knitting company.  That was lucky for them because the Great Earthquake of 1906 destroyed the Pfister operation, while Gantner-Mattern was located in a safe area.  Pfister was able to rebuild with the help of two friends, but it is not known if the friends in question were actually Gantner and Mattern.

Swimwear quickly became the main product at Gantner-Mattern.  In the first days of the 20th century, swimming was becoming increasingly popular, and with the purchase of a Gantner-Mattern swimsuit, one got a free pair of waterwings to help the buyer learn to swim, or at least stay afloat!  In 1932, Gantner-Mattern was the first company to produce a topless swimsuit – for men!  Yes, it was still considered indecent in many places for a man to swim without a tank top in the early 1930s, but before long this quaint old custom was only a memory.

Thanks to Over Attired Vintage for this fantastic addition to my collection.

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1920s Silk Bathing Shoes

In pandemic times, what would we do without the internet?  I’ll be completely honest – I find shopping in a real store or antiques market and spotting something wonderful for my collection much more satisfying than online shopping. This is especially true of ebay auctions where there’s little immediate gratification. But some things are worth the wait, and here’s my latest example of that.

I spotted these silk 1920s bathing shoes on @1860-1960’s Instagram page, and my poor heart stood still.  Bathing shoes of any kind are getting harder and harder to find, and here was a pair that I’d never seen before. A week later, they were mne, and a week after that, they showed up in my mailbox. I was not disappointed.

These are actually a silk print placed over a canvas base. I have several canvas pairs of bathing shoes. They had to be made of a sturdy fabric in order to survive their hard use on sand and rocks, and in salt water.

Almost all bathing shoes had canvas soles. I do know that Keds made a bathing shoes with a rubber sole, and by the 1930s, rubber bathing shoes had pretty much replaced canvas ones.  I have seen canvas shoes with leather soles advertised as bathing shoes or boots, but no.

My new shoes have a two-button closure. Some have one button, like Mary Jane shoes, some tie, and others, mainly boots, have laces.

I looked for an image in my resources that showed a printed fabric made into a bathing shoe, but was not successful. So I decided to show some  of the history of bathing shoes from photos in my collection. Please note that bathing shoes go back to Victorian times, and some are very fancy.These are rarely seen on the market.

These bathing boots date to the 1910s, and I can’t quite figure them out. I think they lace and the wearer tied them on the back of the leg.

Bathing boots continued to be popular into the early 1920s. Note that the dark stockings have been replaced by rolled white ones.

These could be black, but I’ve seen these in red and dark green as well as black.

A few years later, this woman wore bathing boots which were cut out in the front.

They are not quite a shoe, and not quite a boot.  These date to the mid 1920s.

My new bathing shoes were probably made in the mid to late 1920s, at the end of the canvas bathing shoe’s popularity. In the  1930s, women turned to rubber shoes, or bare feet in the water, with sandals on the shore.

This photo dates from 1929 or 1930. Her fantastic shoes are made from rubber.

I really do want to thank all the online sellers who have persevered during such a trying time. Thank you for keeping collectors like me from going insane!

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Clothes, 1926 Filene’s, Boston

I recently found this catalog disguised as a magazine from William Filene’s Sons in Boston. I don’t buy a lot of basic catalogs, but this one focuses on summer sportswear, so it is a good fit within my collection.

I would think that today if the name Filene’s comes up, most people would think of the famous Filene’s Basement. Started in 1909, it was not the first bargain basement (that honor goes to Marshall Field in Chicago) but it did grow to become the most famous. It was probably the most lamented department when the store was closed in 2006 and 2007. Today there is an online Filene’s Basement, but we know that does not count.

But this catalog was not advertising wares from the basement. The dress or ensemble on the cover is not mentioned inside the catalog, but a very similar dress could be found in the women’s department on the fifth floor for $25. The inflation calculator prices that at $362 in 2019 dollars.

The catalog has twenty-two pages, and four of them are devoted to sweaters. This is 1926, so all the sweaters have a long, below the hip, slim line. Filene’s suggested layering the sweaters, much like French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen did. According to a question and answer page in the catalog, “Mlle. Lenglen this year often wears a sleeveless white dress, with three cardigans over it – the first of crepe de Chine, the second of Milanese silk, the third of light wool.”

The tennis dress on the left is made of silk, and is available in white as would be expected, but also in colors to wear off the court. I’d like one in larkspur. The dress on the right is described as being in the Vionnet style. This style is referenced elsewhere in the catalog, always when describing a square neck and a line of fagotting across the top of the bust.

This golf dress was developed with advice from actual women golfers. I can’t see that the necktie helped with the golfer’s comfort though.

There’s that Vionnet-style bodice again. Elsewhere in the catalog, sweaters are described as being Chanel-style.

But to get the real French thing, one had to go to the more exclusive French Shop, which was located on the sixth floor in 1926. There one could have a French designer gown fitted to suit the buyer.

Like so many department stores across the US, Filene’s eventually fell victim to Federated and Macy’s. To make it worse, the old Filene’s store was not converted to a Macy’s store as happened in so many other cities. Instead, the interior of Filene’s was gutted as only the exterior was protected under its historical classification. Today, much of the building is home to Irish fast fashion retailer Primark.

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Golfer Imagery, 1920 or 1970s?

I’ll go ahead and say that this image of a 1920s woman golfer is from the early 1970s (or possibly late 60s).  There are lots of clues why, but the best way to see them is to look at an actual 1920s graphic.

The figures in both images are wearing sweaters, scarves, and cloche hats. But a closer look shows the authentic 20s woman wearing sporty argyle stockings and what look to be oxford shoes. The 70s golfer is stockingless (or maybe wearing sheer hose, not the best choice for golfing) and inappropriate (though really cute) shoes.

Another great clue is the Twenties woman’s lips. She has that “bee stung” look made famous by silent stars such as Mae Murray and Clara Bow. The Seventies woman’s lips have the more natural shape of that decade.

Both of these images come from new additions to my collection. The Seventies item is a bag for golf shoes. It has two joined pouches for the shoes with a red heavy twill tape handle. The seller listed the bag as an item form the 1920s, but I bought it knowing that was not the case. I’m not criticizing the seller, as it’s just not possible to know everything, especially when the image is clearly that of a “1920s” woman.

It is a great example of how popular the idea of nostalgia was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fashion has always borrowed from past styles, but what makes this trend in the Seventies so interesting is how the imagery of 1920s people was updated to fit the Seventies aesthetic. You see a bit of this in children’s wear of the 1950s, with scenes of cowboys and Indians, and in the novelty prints of the late 1940s and into the 1950s, but not until the late 1960s did graphics showing the fashions of the past become a major fashion trend.

My other recent find was this tin. All four sides show different scenes of the Twenties sporting woman. In the 1920s, sports for women were gaining in popularity, and one finds imagery of this modern woman in lots of 1920s media and products. The covers of women’s magazines often featured a sportswoman. And this is the second tin I’ve found with the sides covered with women engaged in sports. (One more and it will be a collection.)

 

 

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The Dress I’ll Not Be Buying

Very high on my wish list for a very long time has been a late 1920s white dress appropriate for tennis. The dresses above are from 1927, seen in a B.Altman catalog. It shows the type of thing I’ve been desiring for a long time.

These are hard to come by. It’s much easier to find a fantastically beaded evening dress from 1927 than it is to find a simple white linen or cotton frock. That does not keep me from looking. I have the usual hunting sites, like Etsy, eBay, and Ruby Lane, but occasionally I’ll venture into high price territory, in the hopes that a dress I can afford will magically appear.

So I went to one such high-priced site, and my search for “tennis dress” returned a list of five or six actual dresses, one of which was labeled as 1920s. Unfortunately,  labeling a dress “1920s” does not automatically make it so.

While old, the dress was not from the twenties, but was very similar to the third dress in this group. And this is from a 1931 B. Altman catalog. Still, it was a great dress, and the best part was a little tennis racket motif embroidered on the bodice. Yes, this was an actual tennis dress.

I’ll admit that at first glance I was smitten. I was charmed by the obviousness of the embroidery. Then I started reading the description and looking at the photos. There were numerous stains and even a tear in the fabric. But what really stopped me in my shopping tracks was a description of the underarms. They were described as having “authentic sweat stains”.  A look at the photos confirmed that yes, these sweat stains were indeed authentic.

I can’t remember ever having read an item description where sweat stains were spun into a good thing. Perhaps that helps explain the $1200 (plus $25 shipping) price tag.

For the most part, I don’t complain about what people choose to charge for their old stuff. I figure that the marketplace really does help establish prices. That said, there are definite trends even in vintage clothing that do affect pricing. I long for the old days when I could buy 1950s travel-themed skirts for $40, and when the competition for old sportswear was non-existent, but I realize these fads too shall pass. I can remember when plain Victorian white underwear brought hundreds of dollars, things that today bring less than fifty.

In the meantime the $1225 1920s-but-really-1930s tennis dress will not be added to my little collection.

 

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The Fairmont Anti-glare Shield – 1920s Sunglasses

For a while now I’ve been looking for some driving goggles. The problem with finding a pair is that I had to first educate myself on what was actually being made and worn for driving in the early days of the automobile. I’ve been collecting photos and catalog pages, but the minute I went to etsy to look at what was available, I became confused.

First of all, not all sunglasses are goggles, and not all goggles are sunglasses. Second, is Steampunk still a thing? Almost every pair of goggles I found were tagged steampunk.  And not all older goggles were meant for motoring. Many were intended for workers who needed eye protection, such as welders.

So what’s a goggle-desiring girl to do? I’ve learned to look at only the listings that have the original box. The great majority of the ones I found were made by the Willson Products Company of Reading, PA. They made eyeglasses, and then branched off into industrial eyewear. A lot can be learned by looking at the information on the boxes. I’ve determined that the great majority of goggles offered for sale on etsy are welding goggles.

But somewhere in my searching, I came across The Fairmont Anti-glare Shield.  Due to the presence of the fantastic box, there could be no question but that these are women’s 1920s driving and sun glasses.

I hope you can tell that the tinted plastic covers only about half of the surface inside the rims. The rest is open. The rims are almost half an inch tick, and are transparent as well.

I tried these on, and was actually surprised at how well I could see through them. The transparent rims distort the vision somewhat, but without them the field of vision would have been too narrow.

I was delighted to see this patent number. The US Patent Office database is completely online and searchable.

And here is the drawing that was submitted with the original patent application. The inventor was Jacob Hillson of Newton, MA. The patent was granted in February of 1925, and by November the Fairmont Optical Manufacturing Company of Boston was advertising the new product in newspapers and magazines nationwide.

The ad above was in the November 1925 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.

You’ll be happy to know that these glasses also worked when boating.

I’m really happy with these rare 1920s anti-glare shield glasses, but the search for goggles from the early days of motoring goes on.

And for all you dog lovers, here are Bud’s goggles. Bud accompanied Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker as they drove across the country in 1903. These are in the National Museum of American History in Washington.

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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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