Tag Archives: 1924

Of Suntanning and Pantalets

Photo found on Wikipedia

I have a really short attention span.  I can’t blame my age because I’ve always been this way.  I’ll be interested in one thing and then in my pursuit of it notice another, and so off I go in that direction.  I think that is why I like writing this blog.  I can chase whatever rainbow crosses my sky.

I might have mentioned here that I’m working on a program about women’s camp and hiking attire.  Since I was doing the work anyway I decided to expand the research in order to write a paper for possible presentation or publication.  And the topic is so interesting to me that I thought I’d have little trouble staying on track.

Wrong.  Everywhere I turn there I see another route I want to take, another fascinating fact to share, another article to read and think about.  And it is funny how when a topic gets into the consciousness, related topics tend to pop up as well.

Last week I went to the Metrolina Marketplace for a bit of recreational treasure hunting.  A women had her half-grown puppy there, and she was really making a spectacle of herself – the dog, not the owner.  This was a dog who knew how to command a crowd, and she was working the flea market with a very skilled paw.

Turns out the dog is a Coton de Tulear by the name of Coco Chanel.  The Coton de Tulear is a fairly rare breed, and I’m sure the owner chose the name because it symbolized glamour and fashion to her.  Frankly, I’d never name an animal for a notorious Nazi-lover, and it occurred to me that people must either not care that Chanel was such an odious person (her words, not mine), or they don’t actually know much about her.

But the encounter with the sweet dog with the sadly inappropriate name must have put Chanel in the forefront of my thoughts, because I keep finding her in my reading.

One of my finds from the weekend was a 1909 issue of McCall’s Magazine.  I usually don’t buy McCall’s, but this one had an article I knew would be helpful in my research, What Summer Camps Are Doing for Society Girls.  But that’s not the only gem in this issue, as I also noted Fashions for the Seaside, Suggestions for the Fair Traveler, and Packing for the Vacation Trip.  It’s almost as if those editors back in 1909 had me in mind when planning this issue.

One of the things that Chanel is almost always credited with is the popularization of the suntan.  I’ve read that nobody but nobody sported a tan before Chanel.  But here I found in this 1909 magazine a reference to tanning:

Poets have sung the charms of the “nut-brown maid” and it is not to be denied that a good coat of tan is very becoming to many people. If our annual seaside jaunt has no worse effect upon our tender skins than the transforming for a while to one of rich olive tone we should have very little to complain of.

The writer does go on to warn the reader of the burning effects of the sun, but the paragraph makes very clear that intentional suntanning was already being practiced and was considered to be desirable quite a few  years before Chanel supposedly introduced the practice to the world.

And that is one thing that bugs me about Chanel.  The stories told and retold about her border on myth.  I don’t understand why we can’t be content to let the woman’s real accomplishments – and there were many – be enough.

A day later I was reminded of Chanel again.  I was looking through my collection of pre-1930 vintage magazines to see if I could spot any references to pants being worn by women.  I expected to see beach pyjamas and knickers for skiing and breeches for riding, but I was completely surprised to find the image above in a 1924 Vogue.

Chanel makes a suit-dress of light grey Oxford cloth with a slightly fitting coat, a grey crepe bodice, and a skirt that may be worn buttoned or unbuttoned, over the grey crepe pantalets.

By the time this suit was conceived by Chanel, women had been wearing skirts over pants for biking and hiking for several decades.   It was not a new idea, but what was new was that this was not an ensemble that was intended for active sports.  This was a fashion garment, and the pants were meant to be seen.

I found another, similar example in a 1925 Vogue, but this idea must have been too outre for the mid 1920s.  Pants for women were strictly for sports and the boudoir and Chanel’s idea did not catch on.  But it does show us just how modern Chanel was, and how her ideas for women’s wear were on the cutting edge.  It seems a shame that she be remembered more for the little black dress and for suntanning than she is for the ideas that were truly forward-thinking.




Filed under Designers, Viewpoint

Harper’s Bazar, 1924

Today most people consider Vogue to be the queen of the fashion monthlies, but there was a time when Harper’s Bazar (later Bazaar) was the equal of any other fashion publication.  It is always a great treat to find older copies of Bazar, but these three just happily landed at my doorstep.

Back in the winter reader Susan Maresco wrote to ask my if I’d like to take some 1920s magazines off her hands.  I have a feeling she already knew I’d say yes.  In a few days two packages arrived, packed full of magazines from 1924 and 1925.  Among them are issues of The Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, and these three issues of Harper’s Bazar.

Susan explained that these magazines came to her from her 84 year old friend, Tish.  When her stepmother, Meta Redden Thomas, died around thirty years ago, Tish took the magazines from Meta’s home.

From Susan:

Meta was a highly educated black woman who was probably born in the 1890s.  She had a law degree from Howard University and a master’s in math from Columbia University.  She took her degrees and returned to her home town of Baltimore where she taught at Douglas High for 40 years.  She remained single into her 40s when Tish’s father, Clarence Young, asked her to marry him and help him raise Tish, an only child.  Clarence was a busy lawyer in Washington, D.C. and wanted his daughter raised right after his beloved first wife died when Tish was only 7.  He knew Meta and liked her, considered her a kind, bright, good person, so he asked her to be his wife.  She loved Tish and raised her right. 

I love how Meta wrote her name on many of the magazine covers.  Perhaps she loaned them to friends and wanted to make sure she got them back.

Many thanks to Susan for the incredible gift, and to Tish for sharing Meta’s story.


Filed under Collecting

Ad Campaign – R.H. Macy & Co., 1924

Women’s Frocks in the Autumn Mode

After writing about the R.H.Macy store in New York, I wanted to show an ad from its early days.  I chose 1924 because so many of us have been noting the 1924 fashions on the latest season of Downton Abbey.

To me the most amazing thing about this ad is the prices.  Don’t be fooled by what seems to be so inexpensive.  As I’ve written before, women in the past expected to pay a higher percentage of their income on a new dress than we do today.  When inflation is taken into consideration, the $44.75 frock becomes $611.60.  And while it is easy to spend $600 on a dress today, most women in the American middle class wouldn’t think of such an extravagance.   And then, as now, Macy’s catered to the middle class.

Note that design A is “a skillfully designed frock for the larger woman.”


Filed under Advertisements

The Crawl: 1924 Swimming Booklet

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that this little booklet was published by a maker of bathing suits, the Ocean Bathing Suit Company.  While it is primarily an informational pamphlet, it is also an advertisement.  One philosophy of advertising is to give the consumer something they will keep, but that has the advertiser’s message included in the item.  It must work because someone kept this for 90 years before it came into my hands.

The writer, L.De B. Handley, was a swimming teacher, and on the left you can read the impressive list of his renowned students.

The booklet is well illustrated, and all the drawings are of women swimmers.  In fact, the entire booklet seems to be targeted toward women, though some men’s suits are shown as well.

Even the 1924 Women’s Olympic Swim Team used Ocean suits.


No informational pamphlet is complete without a showing of the wares.

The booklet also has a really interesting page titled, “The Development of Bathing Apparel.”  It combines history with a bit of selling:

Back in the early “eighties” swimming was considered a reckless sport to be indulged in only by those of a more daring nature.  Few women could really swim, and those of their sex who visited beaches did so for the moderate stimulus of “bathing”.

In 1883, when Ocean started manufacturing bathing apparel, suits were for the most part made of flannel or “hickory,” and it was not until about 1900 that mohair was introduced, replacing flannel, which in turn, was superseded in popularity by knitted jersey cloth.  The constant changes in materials, and styles, was due in greatest measure to the steadily growing interest in swimming.  As new strokes, demanding greater freedom, were introduced, there consequently followed a simplification of models.

Through all these ramifications of style, Ocean maintained its position as the favorite beachwear in this country by constant improvement in methods and quality.  Coupled with this, a keen appreciation of style demands has always made Ocean beachwear the preference of those who enjoy water sports.  While the practical requirement of swimming comfort is the first consideration, every Ocean suit is styled with a keen sense of quiet good taste.


Filed under Summer Sports

Fashionable Dress, January 1924

It really is too cold out to feature anything but a cute girl looking fabulous despite the cold weather.  And nobody did cute girls better than Earl Christy.

I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned Christy here before, because I’m pretty sure I’ve shown some of the illustrations he did of sporty college girls in the 1910s and early 1920s.   You can find his work on postcards, as magazine illustrations and on the covers of novels for girls and young women.  His work remained popular through the 1930s, and the great majority of it was of pretty women.  Interestingly, he never married, and lived his entire adult life with a sister or two.

Illustrator: Earl Christy

Copyright:  Not known.  The Fashionable Dress Publishing Company (1915-1930)  was absorbed by Fashionist in 1931.


Filed under Fashion Magazines

Vogue, May 15, 1924

Sometimes I’m really stuck by an image like this one because it seems to contradict all the popularly held notions about an era.  I mean, weren’t the 1920s just a big fun-loving illegal booze fueled free-for-all?  Wasn’t every woman a flapper with bobbed hair, rouged knees and scandalous skirt hems?


Filed under Fashion Magazines

Vogue, May 1, 1924

We are having one of those winters where January seems more like April and May than it does like the dead of winter.  There has been practically no snow, but a lot of rain.  Not only are the crocus in bloom, but the hyacinths and the daffodils soon will be as well.  I’m not really complaining, but I’d really love to wear my vintage Mackintosh duffel coat (bought new by me in 1982) at least once.  And my boots actually have a thin coating of dust on them.  At least the umbrellas are getting a good work out.

Happy Saturday, all!

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Filed under Fashion Magazines