Tag Archives: 1930s

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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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.

 

 

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1920s or 1930s Barefoot Dancing Sandals

People who have never attempted to sell online seem to have the idea that it’s an easy way to make a buck. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Selling old stuff online is hard for many reasons, but I’m only going to address one of them. And that is that there are so many old things than even experienced sellers run across objects they look at and just scratch the head in puzzlement.

The seller of the shoes above listed them as circa 1900 leather bathing shoes. I knew that was not correct, but what exactly are they? I could see why the seller thought they were bathing shoes, as they really do resemble them in some ways, but I’ve never heard of them being made of leather. After seeing the listing several months ago I forgot about the shoes, but the purchase of a 1929 gym attire catalog revealed the identity of the mystery sandals.

Of course that started a mad scramble to try and re-find the listing, but I had not bookmarked it, and so I was just out of luck. Or so I thought. Last week as I was searching for bathing shoes, these popped up again. Three clicks and they were mine.

The story is made even happier because I have a very similar pink and white gingham dancing romper as illustrated in the catalog, right beside the dancing sandals.

The dancing sandals look rather sad without feet to fill them out. I am so glad I spotted these and was able to add the proper context back to the object.

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1933 – 1935 Beach Ensemble

One of my biggest splurges of the past year was this four-piece beach or sailing ensemble. After years of building a collection, I’ve learned that it’s better to wait for really special things to come to the market instead of buying a lot of miscellaneous bargains. This set is a good example of what I’m saying. I spent more on it than I normally spend on acquisitions, but it was such a great addition to my collection that I just could not resist.

Here are the first two pieces – a playsuit/bathing suit, and a rope belt. The neck with those fabulous nautical flags ties with the same rope as the belt. The belt buckle is plastic, and it is a small miracle that the thing has survived eighty something years.

I was hoping the flags spelled out a secret message, but I could not find a corresponding message for each flag.

This is also the case for the buckle, or at least I could not find it in any of the charts. Maybe I’m asking too much of an already fabulous article.

The pants could be added for a more covered up look. You might have expected the pants to be more like traditional sailor pants with the front flap and two rows of buttons, but the designer was too creative for that.

Instead she gave us one row of buttons on the side front, with a diagonal line to the crotch. You can’t tell from my photo but the opening actually drapes and overlaps an interior piece, and there are straps (barely visible on waistband) that wrap and button. It’s such a great design.

The last piece is a little red jacket, which by itself would look rather plain. But with the flags draped over the neckline and the belt buckle directly below, no other decoration was needed.

Unfortunately, the bathing suit is not in perfect condition. It obviously got much more wear than the other pieces, and there is an area of damage right on the front. When I received this the holes looked much worse, but I did a temporary repair in which I stitched the visible fabric to the lining.  In an interesting twist, I would never have been able to afford this had it been in perfect condition. The trick is to balance fabulousness and rarity with condition. The fact that there were four coordinating pieces really adds to the scarcity. I often see bits and pieces of former sets that have lost their mates. It’s sad, actually.

Can you tell this is a knit? It’s a very finely knit rayon and looks quite similar to the good nylons used by better lingerie companies starting in the late 1940s. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between knit rayon and the later nylon, and I’ve seen 1930s knit rayon mislabeled by sellers as nylon.

Dating was made easy due to the single label present. This is the label used when products were made in accordance with the National Recovery Act, or NRA. The act was instituted in 1933, but was found to be unconstitutional in 1935, so there is only a three year window in which items with the NRA eagle symbol could have been made.

 

 

 

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Ski Suit, 1930s or early 1940s

I bought this white and blue ski suit some time ago, and until I posted about the late 20s suit, I had forgotten that I’d not shown off this one. There are a lot of similarities between this suit and the 1920s suit, but the differences are what makes placing a date on this set easier.

The biggest difference is probably the use of the zipper as an important part of the garment. The late 20s top has a short zipper at the neck, but  with its prominent tassel, I tend to think it was more for decoration than function. Remember, that earlier set was knit, and this one, made five to ten years later, is a woven. There is a need for garment openings, and both the jacket and the pants have zippers.

The 1920s knit pants were stretchy enough to pull on without an opening. There later pants with the tightly woven wool, require an opening. By the time these were made, probably after 1935, zippers were coming into common use in garments.

This set does have knit cuffs on the sleeves and pants legs.  The touch of color really adds to the attractiveness of this set.

This little tab under the collar keeps the jacket securely closed.

There is also a tab at the top of the pants zipper. Could it be that the maker just did not trust the zippers to hold securely? Remember, the zipper was just becoming commonly used. Maybe they were like the early adopters of the nylon coil zipper in the 1960s, when zipper failures were a very real problem.

That metal buckle also helps in adjusting the waist size.

Another clue that this suit is later than my 1920s one is the emphasis put on the natural waistline. You see that same feature on the ski suit in the 1941 photograph of Geraldine Kirkendall that I posted earlier this week. Actually these two suits are alike in every way except for the puffed sleeves  and surface decoration on Geraldine’s suit.

So, what keeps this ski suit from being from the later 1940s or even the 50s? Mainly, it’s the fabric used. By the time WWII started for the USA in 1941, manufacturers were turning away from heavy, fuzzy wools like the one used in my suit. Wool gabardine was found to be more resistant to water and wind and was lighter in weight. Ski pants lost the knit cuffs, and under-the-foot straps were added to keep the legs tucked into the boots and socks.

Okay, the gabardine suits might have been more practical, but I can’t imagine anything being cozier for a snowy day.

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Late 1930s Bowling Shoes and the Bruno Athletic Shoe Manufacturing Co.

On a recent trip we were delighted by the hotel’s basement rec room, which included a two lane bowling alley. Growing up in the 1960s it seemed like everybody bowled, at least on a casual basis when there was nothing else to do. The bowling alley in my little town was always busy. But times change, and the alley went under. And even though I collect sportswear, I have few bowling pieces in my collection.

But we had so much fun bowling that I was inspired to go looking for some vintage pieces to fill the bowling void. What I discovered is that great garments are very expensive, but the shoes seem to be a bargain. So unsurprisingly, I now have three new pairs of bowling shoes. The clothing will come, but I’m going to have to spend a bit more time looking.

I’m okay with that. One can – and did – bowl in any comfortable and casual clothing, but bowling shoes are a specialized item that can greatly enhance one’s game. So maybe the shoes are actually more important than the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth two-toned gabardine bowling dresses.

I’ve had to educate myself on the ages of bowling shoes. They are not “fashion” items, but as in most cases of sports attire, you can find fashion influences. In the case of the shoes shown here, I had a bit of help with the dating. The seller got these from the original wearer’s daughter, who is now in her late 70s. The daughter knew these were the bowling shoes her mother had worn as a teen in the late 1930s. That was a great starting place.

I then went looking for photographic evidence on the WWW. I didn’t find what I needed, but in the meantime I ran across a catalog from the Bruno Athletic Shoe Manufacturing Company in Manchester, Ohio. There’s no date on the catalog, but the illustrations of mainly men playing various sports are typical 1930s. All I could really find was that the company was owned by Mike S. Bruno. All the information I could find locates the company in Cincinnati in the mid 1940s. Mike Bruno was described as “late” in a 1954 marriage announcement of his son, Joseph. That’s it, so I would appreciate any additional facts about Bruno.

I also found a very similar design in a 1935-36 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog.

I would imagine that this basic design remained in place for some years. In both catalogs the shoes were described as made from elk leather.

The soles are suede, or more likely, buckskin. The heels have a rubber finish, for additional control over the slide of the foot.

Bruno was primarily a maker of ice and skate boots, but they also manufactured bowling, baseball, and basketball shoes. They also advertised the “Bruno Magic Toe Stop”, guaranteed to keep the toes of your skates from developing those unsightly toe wrinkles.

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Sportswear Innovation – Culottes, 1930s

One of my latest finds looks like a dress, but the skirt is actually culottes. I first spotted this on Instagram and then I stalked the listings of LittleStarsVintage until she listed them. We don’t think much about culottes these days unless they are undergoing one of the many revivals of the style.  But in the 1930s, culottes were news.

In 1930 pants were being worn more and more by women, but they really were still mainly for sports, the beach, and the home. Wearing pants on the street shopping was still frowned upon in most places.

In 1931 Elsa Schiaparelli designed and made a culotte skirt and she actually wore it on the streets of London. I’m so glad that moment was documented. The same year she made a pair for tennis star Lili de Alvarez who was roundly criticized for wearing them in a tournament.  These photos are from Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli by Dilys E. Blum. I highly recommend it.

I think Schiaparelli’s pair looks like beach pyjamas that have shrunk to just below the knees. By 1931 the straight legs of the pyjamas of the 1920s had morphed into wide-legged bell-shaped legs. Could that have been Schiaparelli’s inspiration for the shape of her culottes?

My pair dates to the second half of the 1930s, and is made from a cotton print of coins. The red rick-rack is a casual touch, and marks this as a dress that might be perfect for a picnic or as a house dress. A very brave woman might even wear it to the market.

A machine stitched hem pretty much confirms this was a commercially manufactured garment. The seller had previously sold a very similar dress which had a size tag, something this one does not have.

It also has machine-made buttonholes which points to a manufactured product.  I can’t help but wonder why black thread was chosen.

Besides the culotte skirt, this dress has another feature that makes this appropriate as sportswear – a pleated sleeve. I love this sleeve, which I first encountered in an early 1930s blouse pattern.  Sleeves made in woven fabrics often have a stiff and uncomfortable feel, but this sleeve is loose and airy without looking frilly or silly.

Culotte patterns were also available to the home sewer.  This Hollywood pattern is not dated, but the original owner wrote “May 12, 1936” on the envelope.

And I refuse to believe that anyone has legs that long!

 

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing