Tag Archives: 1920s

Pajamas for Women, Part 4

There was also a trend toward nautical themes. The short “Oriental” pants were replaced by so-called “Gob” trousers, gob being slang for “sailor”.

Advertisement for Atlantic Coast Line, found in December, 1933 Fortune magazine

A 1930 article in Good Housekeeping reported:

“Beach fashions are distinctly masculine. A marked change has occurred in beach attire, for smart women are forsaking fancy pajama suits for long, wide, sailor-like trousers… In their smartest version these trousers feature a fullness set in at the knee.”

These one-piece beach pajamas remained in fashion through the mid-1930s. In 1931 Good Housekeeping declared, “Pajamas are never smarter. For the beach they are comfortable and feminine in colorful combinations of linen, shantung, or jersey.”

The evolution of beach pajamas was complete, but it’s worth noting that pajamas did not stay on the beach. Brave women like Mrs. Joseph Walton, “[wore] a velveteen jacket, a light crepe overblouse, and dark trousers…” on the streets of Palm Beach in 1929.

Wright’s Bias Fold Tape Sewing Book No. 24, 1931

By 1930 middle class and wealthy women were already wearing pants in the form of knickers for hiking, breeches for riding, and bloomers for gymnasium. But pajamas wearing on the beach was different in that women of most economic classes could participate. Cotton beach pajamas were cheap to buy and even cheaper to sew at home. Pattern companies like McCall’s, Butterick, and Pictorial Review sold pajama patterns for the home sewer.

Cecilia Nordstrom, on her family’s farm in Birkenfield, Oregon, 1933, Photo courtesy of her granddaughter, Tania van Winkle

Oregon farm girl Cecilia Nordstrom showed off her new pajamas in 1933. She later recalled, “Frivolous is lounging pajamas when you live on a farm. No one has time to lounge.” Nevertheless, she ordered this one from a catalog, and she looks quite pleased with it.

Pajamas-wearing was also different in the public nature of the beach. No longer confined to the school gym or the hiking and riding trails, beach pajamas were women in trousers in view of large crowds of people. Pants for women were here to stay, even though it would be several more decades before women wore pants for more than work or very casual occasions.

5 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Women in Pants

Pajamas for Women, Part 3

Women’s Wear December 16, 1924

1924 saw beach pajamas spreading across European beach resorts, and were even worn by a few brave souls on Florida sands. In her memoir, Jane Fisher, wife of the developer of Miami Beach, recalled an incident that happened in 1924:

Colonel CT Melville, the international polo player, … wrote a book in which he expressed delight over such Miami Beach surprises as “…strawberries for breakfast at Christmas and being driven about by a lady wearing pajamas.” I was the lady in pajamas – as startling in the early ‘twenties, even in freedom-loving Miami Beach, as my form-fitting bathing suit had five years before.”

For the most part, 1924 was a year of debate in the United States fashion press. During that year Women’s Wear began mentioning pajamas not only in their negligee column, but also in the sportswear section.

The question of whether or not American women would wear trousers in public in the form of pajamas was answered by Vogue in January, 1925. “Usually made of gay printed [silk]… they are seen during the sunny hours between bathing and dressing when one loiters on the sand. European beaches have seen them in large numbers, and, now, Newport and Palm Beach are witnessing the beginnings of their success.”

Not that Vogue‘s proclamation was universal. In February, 1925, Women’s Wear printed a report from Palm Beach saying “Palm Beach Visitors Do Not Adopt Beach Pajamas.” The mayor of Atlantic City, NJ went so far as to ban pajamas from the beach before the 1925 season, saying, “…we could not allow anything like that.”

Women’s Wear,​ February 17, 1926

In 1926 beach pajamas went from being an uncertainty to being mentioned favorably in most Women’s Wear articles on the subject. They wrote in March, 1926, “…as the season advances, beach pajamas are seen in greater numbers and variety.” Even shops in Atlantic City were advertising them. Beach pajamas had truly arrived.

Women’s Wear​ November 22, 1928

Although pajamas were sleepwear first and sportswear second, they did follow the rules of fashion. In the 1920s when the straight garcon look dominated, pajamas had a similar silhouette consisting of short trousers with a sleeveless tunic, often with a matching robe. They were often in bright colors with art deco or Asian designs. They were usually made of silk, but the more practical cotton began appearing as well.

When fashion began to change toward curvier, longer lines in 1927, so did pajamas. A Women’s Wear report in 1927 informed readers that “Both beach and lounging ensembles are characterized by the adoption of long trousers…”

“Mary Nowitzky Develops Simple Type of One-Piece Beach Pajama”​ Women’s Wear​ March 1, 1929

At the same time, bathing suits were getting smaller, with the newest styles featuring a very low scooped back. Some French designers, in particular Mary Nowitzky, developed an abbreviated top for her beach pajamas, much like the tank top of today. This top was not a tunic, but instead was meant to be tucked into the waist of the pants.

It was just a short time until designers realized that making the beach pajamas as a one-piece garment would allow them more easily to include the bare suntan back. This idea developed into a wide-legged one-piece garment that highly resembled a long flowing dress. This one-piece pajama was sleeveless, usually had a bare back with a scooped or V-neck front, and very wide trousers. They were increasingly made of brightly printed cottons.

Tomorrow, the exciting conclusion of Pajamas for Women.

2 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Pajamas for Women, Part 2

Greenhut-Seigal Cooper catalog, Spring/Summer 1912

The style did not catch on as outerwear, but increasingly it was marketed as lingerie. When famous actresses began wearing pajamas on stage, manufacturers were alerted to this by Women’s Wear.

By the middle of 1911 a trade report from Cincinnati said, “Manufacturers of shirtwaists and pajamas say the trade is quite good…” And James McCreery & Co. on 34th Street in New York City had “silk pajamas for women” in their shop windows. Copy in the 1912 spring-summer catalog from Greenhut-Seigal Cooper declared, “Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year.

Women’s Wear​ Novelties in Pajamas, June 28, 1917

By WWI, pajamas were not just for sleeping. They were advertised as loungewear, and Women’s Wear categorized them as negligee. They were even suggested as “an excellent tea gown”. These early women’s pajamas were two pieces like men’s but were feminized most often by being made of pastel colored silk, elaborately decorated with lace and embroidery.

Billie Burke in Gloria’s Romance. 1916

Around 1914 a new idea in women’s pajamas emerged – the one-piece jumpsuit type. These became very popular after actress Billie Burke wore them in a film in 1916. She became so associated with the style that one-piece pajamas were called Billie Burkes until they fell out of favor around 1920.

Even after pajamas had been made for women for a decade, articles in Women’s Wear show that manufacturers worried they were just a fad. As manufacturer R.F. Raskid said in 1917, “I consider [pajamas] as merely a passing fad, that will have worn itself out in the course of a few months…” But pajamas, along with bifurcated workwear like overalls and coveralls, gained favor during the years of WWI because they were practical. And while overalls for women did decrease in popularity after the war ended, women did not give up their pajamas.

“Billie Burkes”,​Butterick Quarterly, Summer 1919

In 1919, Women’s Wear declared, “For lounging and the care-free hours, pajamas are at present favored by the best dressed women. They have freedom, are comfortable, and offer a wide variety of styles.” By 1919 pajamas were mentioned almost daily in the sleepwear section of Women’s Wear. They were no longer a novelty.

In writing about pajamas, Women’s Wear continued to refer to them in “Oriental” terms like Persian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Turkish. Historian Victoria Pass has been conducting research into what Paul Poiret seemed to know in 1911 – that the Orientalist tropes used to market pajamas with trousers to women connected pajamas to “the exotic other”, making the masculine nature of the pants less of an issue.

“Silk Pajamas on the Beach”​ Women’s Wear, ​July 26, 1922

Until 1922, women for the most part confined their pajamas-wearing to their homes. But in July of that year Women’s Wear published a startling new use for pajamas. “Silk Pajamas on the Beach – A New Use for the Silk Pajamas that have long been Manufactured and Used for Negligee Purposes Is Shown in the Accompanying Photograph. This bather, after her dip, has slipped on the pajamas as a protection from sunburn.” The location was unnamed, but later reports identified it as the Lido in Venice, Italy.

It was not until fall of 1923 that Women’s Wear asked its readers, “Will American Women Adopt Pajamas for the Beach?” A few months later Women’s Wear first used the term, beach pajamas.

Tomorrow, Part 3.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Women in Pants

1920s Dress with Some Issues

I didn’t need this dress. I bought it anyway. First of all, it is a really great dress. Secondly, it has some problems and I felt sorry for it. And finally, it was cheap. I just couldn’t leave it to become someone’s Halloween costume, and then be throughly trashed.

So, I brought it home. The truth is, I was in search of some wintertime projects. This one should occupy me through a few cold and snowy days.

I need to add that this is a really great dress. The asymmetrical chiffon layers are just stunning with the applied trim ovals. It’s a great balance of what the 1920s were all about – a straight (or boyish) silhouette with a touch of romance. I was hoping the dress would have a label, but sorry to say, there isn’t one.

Most of the problems are with the upper bodice. As you can see, the shoulders are pretty much gone. This dress is very light, but even a mostly chiffon 1920s dress with suffer in the shoulders if left to hang. That’s what’s going on here.

You might can tell that there are two layers of chiffon, one black and the other beige. Both will need to be replaced.

There are a few other little issues, like this small hole in the drape, and a rent on the bottom flounce. But ninety percent of the work will be to the upper bodice.

Note that there is an appendage on the right (your left) hip. I’m thinking of using it to replace the upper bodice. Will I be ruining the balance of the dress?

Another problem with the bodice is this lace. It seems to be there for a bit of modesty, as the sheer part of the bodice is quite low. At first I thought the lace was a later addition.

You can see that the stitching holding the lace in place is definitely not original to the dress. I was feeling all smug about thinking the lace was an afterthought until I spotted something else.

This is a bit of the lace where it was originally stitched to the bodice, and then cut away.

The lace is actually very nice, with that metallic thread over-embroidery. So after replacing the chiffon, I’ll reattach the lace in the original place.

After all this work, I’ll not be keeping this dress. This is a dress that needs to be seen, and it is definitely strong enough to wear. It doesn’t fit into my collection, and as pretty as this one is, most museums already have plenty of unlabeled black dinner dresses. The lack of provenance would make it difficult to fit into a history museum collection. So it will be sold, hopefully to someone who will cherish it and who will look marvelous in it.

18 Comments

Filed under Sewing, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

The Call of the Wild from the Hettrick Mfg, Company

Working non-stop to clean out two houses left me with only enough energy in the evenings to search eBay for treasures. Good sporting sources are getting harder to find, but I am good at spotting them. Take this 1920s catalog, for instance. At first its little eBay thumbnail photo didn’t look too promising, and then I noticed the auto tent.

I’m not at all interested in truck covers and tarps, but auto tents always attract my attention.

The catalog is just full of mid 1920s camping supplies. The Hettrick Company started out as a maker of canvas goods, making items for the late 19th century farmers such as horse and wagon covers. They were evidently willing to change with the times, as the 1920s brought cars and more leisure hours. Hettrick turned to canvas car covers and tents.

Today we might look on Instagram to see the ideal camping setup. In the pre-internet days, catalogs sold the perfect camping experience.

In the 1940s and 50s Hettrick turned from canvas items to metal outdoor furniture. Those metal gliders and chairs we all enjoyed as kids could have been made by Hettrick.

The caption for this great drawing could have been written in 2021 as millions of Americans flooded our national parks looking for some soothing nature.

Hettrick also made striped canvas awnings, tents, yard swings, umbrellas, and other accessories for the modern backyard. In the 20s they also began making clothing for outdoorsmen.

I have two of these wonderful old reclining chairs. It’s time to replace the canvas.

This catalog still has a small selection of wagon covers and horse coats, but as America moved from farms to the cities and suburbs, Hettrick was able to transition to a leisure hours supplier. Funny how the cover focused on their past as a maker of farm supplies instead of what the catalog actually was focused on.

6 Comments

Filed under Camping and Hiking, Catalogs, Summer Sports, Travel, Vintage Travel

College-Maid, from the Girls at Maryville College

A recent acquisition is this cute little 1920s blouse with an interesting back-story. It wasn’t so much the blouse that sold me on this piece, but rather, the label.

This one ticked several boxes: women’s college related, somewhat local to me, and after digging a bit, sportswear related. And the Deco-ish embroidery didn’t hurt a bit. So what’s the story?

Maryville College is one of the fifty oldest colleges in the country, being founded in 1819 as a Presbyterian seminary. From the beginning the school was racially integrated, until it was forced to segregate in 1901. It began admitting women in the 1860s, and in 1875 granted the first degree to a women in Tennessee. By the 1920s there were more women than men in the college, probably because it offered degrees in education.

In 1921 (or 1920, according to one source) home economics teacher Kathryn McMurray devised a plan to help girls who were not able to afford their college fees to stay in school. She set up a sewing enterprise where students made simple garments that were then sold under the label “College-Maid”. The program started with ten girls, but three years later more than 400 girls were earning money to help pay for their education.

Several types of garments were made by the students. One was the apron, which is the champion of beginning sewing projects. I also found references to house dresses and work dresses, but best of all, by 1926 they were making two-piece pajamas. I am quite sure that my blouse is actually a pajama top.

Ms. McMurray traveled around the country, encouraging women’s organizations and department stores to sell College-Maid products. Women’s groups would have what we today would call pop-up shops to sell the garments for the college. Some department stores advertised the goods as late as 1934. A dress cost $1.95 at that time.

Several years ago I found some pages from a photo album belonging to a Maryville College student.

Ruth, Gert, Mae and Eva had lots of adventures. I can’t help but wonder if any of them worked making College-Maid garments.

7 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Made in the USA, manufacturing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Vintage Photographs

The Portia Super Sports Shade

One of the problems in collecting clothes that are somewhat utilitarian is that there is often not a lot of change between say, an eye shade or visor, made in 1925 and one made in 1975 and one made in 2005. There are differences in materials, of course (no velcro in 1925) and in construction techniques, but these things are not immediately obvious when one is shopping primarily online.

I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to buy certain items like bucket hats (which were made for sports as early as the 1880s) in connection with a matching item. I located a 1910s bucket along with a pair of knickers that were made of the identical fabric. That removed all doubt concerning the age of the hat.

I had been wanting a 1920s eye shade of the sort worn by tennis star Helen Wills, but an online search proved impossible. That is, until I ran across the Portia Super Sports Shade. The packaging left no doubt that this was made in the mid 1920s. Better yet, there was a UK registered design number.

I’m fairly experienced in looking up US patent numbers, but the UK system stymied me. All I could figure out was that the design was registered in 1926. If some smart person who knows their way around the UK patent site can help, the number is 722887. I’d love to have a copy of the paperwork concerning this design.

The shade is in very good condition. It was altered by someone with a very small head. I’ll be leaving in the alteration because it does not change the look nor the function of the shade.

I’ve got to say that I’m amazed that this item has survived. Things made of plastics and rubber and elastic and such tend to degrade. And to have the original envelope is a real bonus. From a time when plastics could be highly flammable, it is comforting to see that my sports shade is non-flam.

The seller had another eye shade made by Portia, but it was sold as a reading shade. It was from the 1930s. It appears that Portia is still in business, making sunglasses and eye patches.

3 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports