Tag Archives: 1930s

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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French Beach Shoes, 1930s

Someone who had a great deal of experience with collecting once told me that it was “not just about the frocks.”  That really left an impression on me, and I did come to see what an important statement it was.  You just can’t understand the history of dress without also looking at the accessories.

When it comes to sports attire, it seems to me that clothing is much easier to locate than accessories.  I can think of many reasons why this might be so.  For example, rubber was a common material used in swim accessories, and rubber, if not stored properly, has a nasty tendency to melt and rip.  Also, sport shoes were often made of canvas, which would not have lasted like leather shoes would.

I spotted the beach shoes above in the Instagram feed of @garb_oh_vintage.  Probably the only reason they did not sell immediately was because they are a relatively small size.  That was good for me.

The seller had bought these in France some years ago.  I was not surprised, as these have a look to them of walks along the Côte d’Azur .  They are actually a play on the traditional espadrille, which originated in Spain, and which were very popular with the artistic set of France in the 1920s and 30s.

I found several very similar pairs in a 1936 advertisement for Lastex swimsuits.  Lastex was “the miracle yarn that makes things fit” and was introduced in 1931, but did not come into common use until later in the decade.

The heels are made from wood, something that is seen quite commonly in this type shoe.

The shoes show signs of light wear, but not enough to rub off the size – a French 37.

The straps fasten with metal buckles, which are lightly rusted.

When I think of all the shortages and scarcities of the World War Two era, I have to wonder how any clothing from before that time survived intact, especially something like shoes.

I tend to collect things that were made for the American market, so it is interesting that these shoes are from France, and the late 1930s Reid’s Holiday Togs playsuit I posted earlier is from Canada.  It’s even nicer that they look so fabulous together.

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1930s Swimsuit with Stars and Rope

There have been a thousand (or more) articles on how to title a blog post, and after reading them all I still struggle with going with anything other than the obvious.  So because this post is about a new-to-me 1930s bathing suit, made from a great fabric of white and blue stars intertwined in a nautical-style rope, the title is pretty much a bare-bones description of the object.

The 1930s were a time of transition for women’s swimsuits.  At the beginning of the decade most suits were still being manufactured of wool knit, but by 1940 a great variety of materials were being used for bathing suits.  The invention of Lastex in 1931 was the first big change, with the elastic thread being added to the wool yarns.  By the middle of the decade Lastex was also being blended with rayon yarns.

Compared to the low-waisted styles of the 1920s, the shape of the 1930s put more emphasis on the bust.  You can see this even in bathing suits, as there is often a seam under the bustline, as you see in my suit above.

Another change one sees in 1930s bathing suits is the return to the use of woven fabrics.  Wool jersey knit made the “dressmaker” bathing suits of the 1910s and early 20 passé, but in the 1930s, the addition of a cotton jersey lining allowed for a good fit in woven fabrics.  The white shorts under the skirt of my suit is cotton jersey, as is the rest of the lining.

Because of the lack of stretch in the outer fabric, this bathing suit has a button closure on the back.  It also has a deeply scooped back to allow for suntanning.  Many evening dresses of the period also sported a deep scoop in the back, so one’s tan must match one’s gown.

At first I though the red had faded to the rusty color you see, but a close examination of unexposed areas of the fabric show that this is the original color.  And what about that texture?!

And talking about 1930s bathing suits, I just had to share this one, which is not, unfortunately, a part of my collection.  It is wool, made in Germany in the 30s.  You can see elements of both the 20s (skirt over matching trunks, all wool) and the 1930s (seam under the bust, neck ruffle).  The photo was sent to me by vintage store owner and vintage clothing collector Ingo Zahn.  Ingo owns Rocking Chair Vintage in Berlin, and was a big help when I needed a German translation a while back.  Thanks for sharing your photo, Ingo!

 

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1930s Chenille Bathing Suit Cover-up Cape

During a recent lucky streak, I ran across this fantastic cape, which is a bathing suit cover-up.  It is made from machine-made chenille, a fabric that started out as the product of a cottage industry in northern Georgia.  Based around the town of Dalton, Georgia, home workers began making hand tufted bedspreads to sell to travelers going south on the newly finished Dixie Highway.  A local textile mill, Crown Cotton, provided the base material, which is a heavy muslin-type fabric.  By 1910 the homeworkers were setting up stands along the highway to sell to the growing tourist travelers.

In 1917 a manufacturing process was set up. and some of the tufting was done by machine.  Hand tufting was still being done, but it was increasingly mechanized.  At first the product was just bedcovers, but by the 1920s some garments, such as bathrobes and beach wear, were also being made.

I can remember seeing the bedspread stands as a child traveling to visit relatives in the far western reaches of North Carolina and on the road to Atlanta.  Some of the designs were quite bizarre – wildly colored peacocks spring to mind.  And occasionally a stand can be spotted even today, but for the most part, the chenille factories converted to carpets years ago.

I can’t say a lot about the origin of the cape.  There is a small, handwritten label, that looks more like a collections number than anything else.  Could this cape have been in a collection before becoming a part of mine?  It is possible.

I do have two more chenille garments, one a bedjacket and the other a shorter cape.  None of them have  makers labels of any kind.

The neckline is gathered with a cotton robe tie.  There is an extra row of red chenille for decoration.

The back of the gathering.

I don’t have any photos showing a chenille cape, but I did find this jacket.  It is dated July 1939, Mountain Lake, New Jersey.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Southern Textiles, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

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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Wright’s Bias Fold Tape Sewing Books, 1931

I love finding the odd bits that were published by companies, giving ideas about how to use their products.  In this case it was Wright’s Bias Fold Tape, a product that is still being produced.  Today it is a poly cotton blend, and who knows where it is made, but in 1931 Wright’s made tape in silk and cotton, in solid colors and prints.  I tend to accumulate it and have a full rainbow of vintage bias tape, which I do actually use, mainly for Hong Kong finishes.

These two booklets, both published in 1931, show decorative ideas for using the tape.  It wasn’t just for seam finishing and edging.  To me the booklets are especially useful in seeing the types of things that were inspiring home sewers.

Both booklets had pages on decorating pajamas.  What is really interesting is that early 1930s cotton pajamas found today are very often trimmed with bias tape.  This suggestion was obviously a popular one.

Vintage sellers are thrilled when 1930s pajamas come their way, as they are hot items at present.  They are always listed as beach pajamas (or more likely, pyjamas) but I have a feeling that most of them were intended for sleeping or lounging.  But this was the 1930s, and I’m sure many pajamas saw double duty for both beach and bedroom use.

Another place where one sees bias tape used is on children’s clothing.  As most of it was made from cotton, bias tape was perfect to bind the edges and put a bit of decoration on the dress.

Who could resist a bias tape puppy dog?

Aprons and cotton house dresses were another common use of bias tape, though I can’t imagine any woman taking the time and effort to make the one in beige.

I love the floral decorations on that housecoat.

There were suggestions for home decoration.  According to the booklet, this motif is “a fanciful representation of the flight of the eagle.”

Both booklets had suggestions for making and decorating underwear.  This must have been too much trouble, as I really can’t remember ever seeing more than a few homesewn cotton lingerie pieces from this era, and certainly none that were this decorative.

I am always interested to see what things are called, as I’m afraid we tend to use the current names for clothing from the past.  The booklet calls the pink and lavender pieces “chemise combinations” and the two piece sets are called “shorts and brassiere.”

And what about those pink knees!

 

 

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From My Collection: Beach Pyjamas

After writing about beach pyjamas (or pajamas) yesterday, I thought I should show the examples I have in my collection.  The pair above is from the mid to late 1920s, as you can see from the narrow legs.  These are made from a very light and sheer woven wool, and I can’t help but wonder if there was originally a matching top or jacket.  I love how the deep waist yoke is a nod to the dropped waists of the era.

The fabric is really quite wonderful.  Believe it or not, these came from the Goodwill clearance bins several years ago.  I really could not believe my luck, as these are very hard to come by.

These crazy quilt pyjamas from the early 1930s were also a lucky Goodwill find.  At first the design looks to be completely random, but look closely and you’ll see that the maker of this garment carefully engineered the bodice, with the stripe effect mirrored in the hems of the legs.

All of the pieces are silk fabrics.  I doubt that this was ever worn, as the condition of the piece is so good, and there is no sign of neither shrinkage nor dye failure.

This last pyjama is also from the 1930s and was an ebay purchase of about ten years ago.  These have become so popular that I’d probably not be able to buy it today as the prices are much higher than what I paid.  It’s is really great, with the red and blue stripes being applied to the heavy muslin pyjama.  It was a much more practical garment for the beach than the rayon patchwork one was.

Yesterday the question came up about when to use pajama, and when to use pyjama.  Susan pointed out that the US spelling is pajama.  I used both versions of the word in yesterday’s post, mirroring the usage in the primary sources I was using.  Today, we use pajama for our sleeping garments, but pyjama is pretty much standard usage when referring to 1930s beach pyjamas.

Correction:  I originally wrote that the patchwork piece is made from rayon, but I double-checked, and the pieces are actually silk.

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