Tag Archives: 1920s

1920s Sacony Knit Sports Dress

One of the hard things about collecting antique and vintage sportswear is that so much of what was made did not survive.  These were clothes meant to be worn in rough conditions, and often times it really shows on the survivors.  Hiking clothes have impossible to remove stains.  Rubber swim caps and shoes have disintegrated over the years due to poor storage.  And wool swimsuits and other woolen articles are commonly full of holes.

Several months ago I was delighted to see the above dress on Instagram.  The poster was unsure as whether or not she’d be selling it, but eventually she did post it for sale.  There was a long line of interested buyers, but the relatively high price plus the presence of multiple moth holes discouraged most.  After a few emails back and forth, the seller and I came to an agreement as to price, and the dress became mine, holes and all.

As a collector, I’ve come to accept a few holes in older vintage woolens.  As long as they can be stabilized and do not detract terribly from the garment when it is displayed, I can deal with them, especially in a piece as rare as this one.  Because for every several hundred beaded 1920s frocks encountered, you might come across one sports dress.  And very few of those are knit.

The neck trim and the faux-ties were constructed separately and were then attached.  The very deep arm holes meant that a blouse had to be worn beneath.  I’ve paired it with a v-neck silk blouse I already had in my collection.

The dress was made by Sacony, which was a brand of S. Augstein & Co. The earliest reference I’ve found to S. Augstein was an entry in a 1918 Fairchild’s Womens Wear Directory, but I think the business was started earlier due to the fact that company namesake Siegmund Augstein died in 1913.  In 1920 Siegmund’s son-in-law, August Egerer, tried unsuccessfully to register the Sacony trademark, as it was judged to be too similar to another knit maker, Saxony.

In 1922 the business warranted a new factory and office building in Elmhurst, NY, where the entire operation including knitting and sewing were under one roof.  This is most likely where my dress was made.  The company continued as a maker of knit sportswear and swimsuits through the 1930s, but at some point, the products changed from being all knit, to being cut and sewn of woven fabrics.  Their niche was still sportswear.  I have several cotton pieces from Sacony made in the 1950s.

With details like this, I can forgive a few holes.  Okay, more than a few, but in the end it looks quite presentable.

Here’s a better view of the stitched-in pleats.  The skirt was wider than the bodice, and then was pleated to fit, forming the straight silhouette of the mid 1920s.

And here is the back neckline.

So when would the 1920s woman have worn this dress?  My guess is when she was playing golf.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Ad Campaign – Aberfoyle Fabrics, 1928

Susan at Witness2Fashion sent these ads my way because she noticed that the Aberfoyle mill was located in North Carolina.  I had never heard of Aberfoyle, but as it turns out, they had a mill in Belmont, NC, a small mill town just west of Charlotte.  I’ve been to Belmont plenty of times, mainly because there are several antique places there, one in a repurposed textile mill.  By looking at some photos Susan linked to, I at first thought that the mill I like to visit was the Aberfoyle plant, but on further investigation I realized that Aberfoyle was located down the street outside of town.

On that street, there were at least three textile mills, all of which are now closed.  Even after the factory buildings are torn down, you can often tell were they were located by the presence of lots of similar little houses, lined in neat rows.  These are former mill houses, built by the company as housing for the workers.  There are clusters of mill houses all over Belmont.

The wonderful textilehistory.org site appears to have been down for the past few weeks, which makes learning about these old textile companies a bit more difficult than usual.  I have learned that Aberfoyle began in Chester, PA in 1889, and later opened a mill in Belmont, probably because they were doing business with the other mills in that area, and because production costs were less in the South.  The Chester Mill closed in 1950, but the one in Belmont stayed open at least into the 1960s.

From reading the ads, you can see that Aberfoyle produced what many other Southern mills made – cotton dress goods.  I love how in the ad above you can see snippets of the fabric designs, which are arranged in a very Art Deco manner.

The artist of these is Helen Dryden, who is probably most famous for her beautiful magazine covers of Vogue.  She also did covers for Delineator, where these ads were found.  I can’t help but wonder what the workers at Aberfoyle thought of these stylish ads.  The late 1920s were particularly hard times for textile workers, and I suspect they would not have seen the “story behind their gaiety” that is implied in the ad.

I did learn of a history museum in Belmont that has exhibits on the town’s textile heritage.  I know what I’ll be visiting the next time I’m passing through that area.

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Filed under Ad Campaign, North Carolina, Southern Textiles

1920s: The Long Tubular Look

Even people who know nothing at all about fashion history have a mental image of how women dressed in the 1920s.  Actually, they can picture how women sort of dressed in 1926-27, with an image of what can be called the flapper with her knee length dresses and long strings of pearls.

But of course history is not as simple as that stereotype.  Before 1925 skirt lengths wavered between eight and twelve inches from the floor, with a big shift toward shorter skirts developing in 1925.

One thing that most 1920s dresses do have in common is a dropped waistline.  It was really more of a hip line than a waistline.  While most dresses did sport this long waist, some dresses were tubular, with no waistline at all.

The tubular dress seems to be most popular in 1924, though it is seen and mentioned earlier in fashion magazines.  In December, 1922, Vogue advised, “Those who do not care for the unbelted waist-line may wear a narrow grosgrain ribbon ties at the side in long ends…”  The accompanying drawing showed these ribbon ties at the hip.

Also in 1920 there was a vogue for bordered fabrics.  Susan at Witness2Fashion did a fabulous post about the fashions of 1924, and if you look at it you will see how these borders were incorporated into the styles of that year.  Note too, how many of them are tubular.

I found and bought the dress above last week, and I feel pretty confident that it does date to 1924.  All of the design is machine embroidered, with the neck section being engineered as a curve in the embroidering of the fabric.  The sleeve caps, however, are cut and sewn to the sleeves.

There are only two pieces to this dress, the front and the back, with the sleeves being cut as part of them.  Note the covered buttons, and see that there are also rows of them on the sides, from the hip to the hem.

Here you can see how the sleeve trim is sewn on top of the little sleeve.

The dress is beautifully made, with all seams being enclosed.  It’s as neat and tidy on the inside as on the outside.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Vintage Clothing

Design Inspiration at Louis Vuitton

I posted this on Instagram, and then decided that I wanted to write a bit more about it.  This is actually two photos.  The top is an illustration from 1921, and the bottom is a currently for sale wallet from Louis Vuitton.  It is pretty apparent where the LV illustration originated.  In fact, the Louis Vuitton website says that the decoration on the wallet came from a 1921 ad:

Ideal gift, this witty and colorful limited edition, inspired by an historical advertisement from 1921, pays tribute to Louis Vuitton’s travel heritage.

After seeing this design last fall (and thinking how perfect it would be for a vintage traveler…) I had the drawing stuck in my mind.  Louis Vuitton recently had an exhibition showing many old travel bags in vignettes with vintage clothing appropriate for travel back in the days before travel became such a hassle.  I couldn’t make it to Paris to see the exhibition, but I did pull out a fantastic book that shows one hundred LV travel cases, 100 Legendary Trunks, just to get another look at those fine old travel pieces.

And that is where I found the inspiration drawing.  The book was not entirely clear, but I’m pretty sure this was not from an advertisement, but was actually a header for a story on auto travel.  The caption reads:

“Du Voyage en Auto, a P.F. Grignon drawing that appeared in the review Femma in 1921.”

All I could gather from my brief searches what that Grignon was an illustrator, something that could have been assumed anyway.  I am totally unaware of what copyright laws are in France, but in the US, any copyright on the image would have expired.  And I’m pretty sure that a company like Louis Vuitton has a legal department that advises in such matters.  Still, I wish that Louis Vuitton would have identified P.F. Grignon on their website where the wallet is being sold.

I could not help but see the similarities between the Grignon illustration and the one I use for my own blog header.  That illustration also dates to 1921, and is from an advertisement for a defunct car company, Jordan.  I searched the original carefully for a signature, but there is none. Because this illustration predates 1923, the copyright has expired. Prior to 1923, copyright protection of a work expires seventy-five years after the first authorized publication.  Still I wish I could credit the artist who made this lovely work.

 

 

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Currently Reading – Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life by Emmanuelle Poole

I’m not a collector of couture clothing, but that does not mean I can’t learn from the lives of the masters of it.  One French couturier whose work I have always loved is Jean Patou.  Patou’s rise in the fashion industry came about at the same time as that of Coco Chanel, and the two are often compared.  They had similar design aesthetics, and their clientele overlapped, leading to competition and mutual dislike of one another.

Of course today Chanel is a household name and Patou is barely remembered outside of the fashion history set.  If not for his famous fragrance, Joy, it is possible that the name Patou would be even more obscure.  And while volumes and volumes have been written about Chanel, little has been written about Jean Patou.  I was delighted to find this 2013 book by Emmanuelle Polle.

Patou’s work in fashion began around 1910.  By 1914 he had opened a couture house under his own name, but World War I intervened.  After serving in the war, Patou returned to Paris where his business was revived.  He soon became the darling of the modern woman.  Like Chanel, he realized life had changed for women, and they required easy to wear clothing that allowed them to move about their lives with freedom.  And he was an early designer of sportswear.

In 1925 Patou opened “Les Coin des Sports” on the ground floor of his couture house.  It was a place where women could go to shop for his sports clothes, which were then made to order.  He was popular with tennis stars Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills who often played against each other, both attired in Patou dresses.

Les Coin des Sports also made swimsuits, ski wear, and clothing for sports spectating.  The book is rich in photographs, not just of the clothing, but also of the original sketches and often with matching vintage photos.  The ski suit on the right can also be seen in the small sketch.

I had no idea that the Jean Patou archive still survives.  Patou unfortunately died in 1936 with his sister and brother-in-law continuing to run the business, which made clothing under a variety of designers until 1987.  Today Patou produces only perfumes.  But because the house never closed, the archive remains, and so there is a rich treasure of sketches, photos, documents, and even garments.

I was most amazed at these photos of Patou sweaters, which are folded across a rail.  They date from the 1920s.  The model on the left appears to be wearing the red and white sweater in the upper left.

Of course, Patou made more than sportswear.  He was also a master of beaded evening dresses, like the one above which is from 1927.

And here is the dress as worn by dancer Eleanora Ambrose.

I loved the close-up look that the reader is given of many of the garments featured.  This dress from 1926 is stunning, but the full length view does not tell the entire story.  It was only with the close-ups that I could see the beautiful textile and the intricate beadwork. In all, there were four photos of this one dress.

I’m really not a fan of huge, heavy books.  Measuring 12.5 by 9.75 inches, and weighing five pounds, it’s a bit hard to curl up in a cozy corner with this one.  However, the wonderful large photos of details more than make up for that bit of inconvenience.

The book is an English translation of the French original, and I must say that at times the writing seemed a bit odd to this American-English reader.  Added to that, the organization is also not what might be expected.  After an initial brief biographical sketch of Patou’s life, there was little adherence to any sort of timeline.

Some of the vintage photos in the book have been widely reproduced, especially those of his bathing suits, but most of the photos were new to me.  That is always a good thing.

Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life is a bit expensive, even at discount.  Even if you don’t buy this one, I do recommend tracking it down through your library.  It’s a fascinating look at a designer that you just don’t see every day.

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Filed under Currently Reading, Designers

Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part IV

By 1917 many women were also wearing some form of pants as needed for their work during World War One.  Mass market retail and sewing pattern catalogs offered a variety of overall and work pants for women.  But after the war ended, these patterns and garments quietly disappeared from catalogs.  The skirt convention seemed to have overruled practically in women’s work dress.

But in the woods, knickers and breeches had pretty much put the skirt issue to rest.  Most articles that I found on the subject between 1918 and 1930 mentioned an overskirt only as an afterthought, if it was mentioned at all.  In 1920 writer and outdoorswoman Nancy B. Katz wrote in Outers-Recreation magazine that the skirted woman in the woods was obsolete.

By 1921 some brave women were wearing knickers for other sports, especially golf.  The September 1, 1921 issue of Vogue showed a suit of knickers and matching long vest and declared, “This costume allows for greater freedom, whether for golfing or walking, than almost any other type of sports suit.”

The knicker suit was soon seen in stores ranging from Lord and Taylor to Sears Roebuck. There was even a popular brand of knickers called “The Fad of the Hour.”

So how did knickers for women leave the hiking trails to become a fad?  Many women had become somewhat accustomed to wearing some form of pants, whether in the woods, in the school gymnasium, on the job during the war, or even in the form of a bathing suit.  It may also have something to do with the 1920s idea of woman as garçonne, as dressing for women took on touches of the masculine.

In 1926 Vogue published a slightly tongue-in-cheek article titled, “They Are Stealing Our Stuff!” Author George S. Chappell lamented that feminine fashions were more masculine than not, and that “…hordes of khaki-clad [women]  hikers… throng our summer byways.”

His complaint was too little, too late.  Women were wearing knickers, not only for hiking, but for other casual occasions and for motor-car travel.

Here is a family group in front of the State Capitol in Augusta, Maine, circa 1925.  The young woman on the right is dressed more like her father than her mother.  If not for the cloche hat we might have mistaken her for a boy.

By the mid 1920s pants for women were here to stay, though it would be several more decades before women could freely wear pants on any occasion.  The knickers-wearing girls of the 1920s became the pantsuit–wearing grandmothers of the 1970s, who had learned years earlier the comfort and practicality of pants.

I hope that everyone enjoyed my presentation.  I appreciate all your comments, and especially ant additional information that may add to this story.  The history of women wearing pants is a complicated one with many contributing factors to the end result.  I’ll be continuing to investigate this fascinating story.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

Famous Fain Knitted Outerwear, 1921

I love old knitwear catalogs, and for the most part have to be contented with the catalogs because the actual sweaters just have not survived in great numbers.  They rarely come up for sale, and when they do they cost more than my parents paid for my first car.

I had never heard of the famous Fain company, but Google books delivered a lot of information in the form of a 1922 issue of Textile World magazine.  The company was started in Brooklyn in 1912 as a maker of knitted swimsuits.  At first their daily output was two dozen suits a day, which they sold at the mill, directly to consumers.  The next year they added machinery to make sweaters and Fain began to grow, but they maintained their business model of selling directly to consumers.  In 1918 a Fain store was opened in Brooklyn, and by 1922 there were six stores, all in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and there was a plan for a new factory and store in the Garment District.  As far as I can tell, Fain sold only through their own stores.  My catalog is not for mail order, but is just a sort of preview of the new styles available in the Fain stores.

Interestingly, the Fain family also started a wholesale division, which was called Navy Knitting Mills.  Between the two parts of the company, the Fains sold $3.5 million in bathing suits, sweaters, hosiery, scarves, caps and various other accessories in 1922.  I’m not sure what went wrong, but Navy Knitting Mills went into bankruptcy in 1923, and Fain went into receivership in 1925.

But in the fall of 1921, things at Fain were looking good.

Fain offered a large range of prices, as you can see above.  Model No. 3008 was made from an “Extra Heavy Weight Zephyr” while No. 3101 was made from a thinner weight.  Still, the detailing on both is very nice, and I’ve made the photos clickable so you can see the details better.  I especially love the way both sweaters slip through a hole and then button to secure.

And for pricing reference, in 1921 $14.95 calculates to $212.07 in 2015 buying power, and $4.95 was worth $70.22.

Fain also made a wide range of wool accessories, like these scarves.  The more expensive one is made of camel’s hair.

Or how about a sport coat and matching tam of brushed alpaca?  Note that one woman is holding ice skates, and the other, a hockey stick.  These were clothes for the sporty set.

I’m not much of a cape person, but I do love these two models, especially the plaid one.

So, what do you think: is this a little girl or a little boy?  Does it matter?  There is a lot of talk today about whether it is right to instill sexual stereotypes in our children by way of dress.  Perhaps we should return to the days when little children were just children.

There were two models in the catalog that if seen out of context, might be misidentified as being from the 1930s.  I’m referring to the red model above and the blue one several photos above.  These are not what one visualizes when thinking 1920s fashion.  To my eye they look like they are ten years too early, but it may be that the company wanted to make a few models for those who were resisting the longer torso of the late Teens and early Twenties.

By looking at model No. 4018 it is easy to see the inspiration for the shawl-collared sweaters that were so popular in the 1970s.  Could there be a more cozy garment on a crisp fall day?  In the early Seventies I had a sewing pattern that included a shawl-collared sweater, and I scoured the local textile mill outlets looking for heavy knit goods with which to sew up my own sweaters.  I wish I’d known about those clever buttoned closures which are so much nicer than the bulky tie belts included with the pattern.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports