Tag Archives: 1930s

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, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Textiles, 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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Along the Way to Women Wearing Slacks – Beach Pyjamas

One reason I know I’ll never be able to write a book is because I’m too easily distracted.  For the past two months I’ve been immersed in old magazines and books, looking for references to women’s hiking attire.  But I also found myself being attracted to other subjects that kept turning up, especially ones that had to do with women wearing pants.

Most intriguing was the way beach pyjamas burst onto the American fashion scene in 1925.  In January, 1925, Vogue speculated on the success of the daring new style:

All the shops are showing the new and brilliant beach pyjamas, so successfully worn at the Lido – so daringly sponsored by one lone Newport leader last summer.  Will they – or won’t they – be seen at Palm Beach?  Poiret, for one, declares that they will.  But customs are very different at the Lido and at Palm Beach, and it is unlikely that their popularity will be as great in this country as in Italy.

To me, the term beach pyjamas conjures up a vision of the wide legged one-piece pyjamas worn in the early 1930s.  But Vogue was referring to an entirely different silhouette.  The beach pajamas of the 1920s were more like pajamas of today, with narrow legs and consisting of two pieces.  The photo above is from a 1925 ad for Best & Co.

The Lido Pajama is the latest thing for beach wear.  These have wool jersey trousers and a smart little mandarin top of bright patterned rubberized silk banded in jersey.

By April, Vogue had taken another tone when referring to beach pyjamas.  In an article titled “Warm Weather Accessories,” beach pyjamas were mentioned almost matter of factly.

For those who prefer the freedom of the pyjama is this terry cloth beach set.

Through the end of the 1920s, beach pyjamas were just that – a two-piece set of top and trousers.  The photo above was taken in 1929.

To get a better picture of what American women were actually wearing, I turned to Good Housekeeping, a magazine that had monthly fashion features but which was not a fashion magazine.  It was not until June of 1930 that I found a reference to beach pyjamas in that more mainstream publication.  The one pictured was French and one-piece, but the trouser legs were still slim.

But wide legs were on their way.  The illustration above is from a 1931 publication from Wright’s Bias Fold Tape.  You can see the transition from the older style pajamas in the green suit on the right, to the wider legs of the other two examples.

Of course I don’t know why the legs got so wide so fast, but it can be observed that the wide legged pyjamas of the early 1930s seem to mirror the shape of the floor length evening gowns of the period with their narrow waists and wide, sweeping hem.  Those of the 1920s were a more boyish look, in keeping with the “garçonne” look of the mid 1920s.

 

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Sewing with Cotton Bags, 1937

Who better to tell a housewife how to sew with cotton bags than a group representing the makers of them, the Textile Bag Manufacturers Association?  This booklet dates from 1937, but I’ve seen similar ones from as recent as the late 1950s, just as paper bags were replacing the cloth sacks.  Generically known today as feedsacks, these bags are a hot commodity, selling for at least $10 each, and the best ones selling for $50 and even more.  Wouldn’t those thrifty homemakers from the 1930s be shocked to learn that what they got free with a purchase of flour or sugar are going for such prices!

Sewing with Cotton Bags is thirty-two pages of ideas of what to do with all those bags.  It was revised in 1937, but some of the styles are several years older, left over from an earlier edition.  The drawing above shows a woman who is more likely from 1932 than 1937.

The pleated sleeve shown above left was a common sports sleeve, and I’ve seen it as early as 1932.  I love how the booklet declares them to be “stylish” which is much better word in this case than “fashionable”!

The “Simple Sports Ensemble” on the left was a standard of any active woman’s wardrobe from the early 1930s through the 1940s.  This one is probably from 1935 or so, due to the long skirt and the sleeves that are not gathered.  The tennis dress appears to be from around the same time.

Wide legged pajamas were a 1930s standard.  That set on the left was designed for sleeping, but many women took them to the beach as cover ups.

Cotton sacks were not just for clothes.  You could also use them to make your summer cottage more charming.

They also worked well as a table cover.  I can imagine all the great junk that was stored out of sight, behind the feedsacks.

The patterns shown in the booklet could be ordered for ten cents each, or three for twenty-five cents.  Most are for aprons and clothes for small children, but some, like the blouses, were really quite nice, and yes, even stylish.

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Ferragamo, 1938 and 2015

I don’t do a lot of retail shopping, purely because these days I prefer to make my clothes, and because there is so little that I need.  Last weekend I found myself in Atlanta (great niece’s first communion; that was interesting) and staying across the street from a huge shopping mall.  I decided to take my morning walk in the mall and do a bit of window shopping.

I love shop windows, and while the ones in malls are seldom on par with the great ones seen on the street in the major shopping cities, I’m always interested to see what it is that brands think is newsworthy enough to feature in their windows.

The shoes above were in the windows of Ferragamo, Italian maker of shoes that dates back to the 1920s.  In 1928  Salvatore Ferragamo opened his shoe manufacturing business in Florence, Italy, after a time in Hollywood making shoes for the movies.  The business struggled through the depression, but by 1938 was making enough money for Salvatore to relocate the business to a grand palace.

World War II was looming, and Ferragamo was looking to alternative materials from which to fashion his shoes.  One idea was to build the soles and heels from cork.  From 1938 through the 1940s Ferragamo made fanciful wedge heels and platforms with the lightweight cork as a base.

The above shoe is quite well-known.  This particular example is in the Ferragamo Museum, which is still housed in the palace Salvatore bought in 1938.  You can see why I was attracted to the new platforms in the window.  It is a superb example of a company reaching back into their archives to bring out ideas and update them for modern taste.

On the Ferragamo website I found that there are several different styles in this line based on the 1938 cork sole and heel.  I also spotted some sandals and espadrilles  based on the famous Ferragamo Vara (the pump with the bow) which was first made in the 1970s and became the shoe of working women in the 1980s.  And they still make the Audrey, a flat ballet type shoe that was designed for Audrey Hepburn in 1954.

Ferragamo is proof that companies don’t have to reinvent the wheel every four months.  All they have to do is build on the greatness they have already created.

The book that contains the picture of the 1938 platforms is Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More, by Linda O’Keefe.  I bought it while on a school field trip with my fifth graders  to the Mint Museum in Charlotte in 1996, and I and the lucky little girls sitting near me on the bus ride home whiled away the trip with this great little book.  It’s still a favorite, partly because it reminds me so much of the fun we had analyzing the designs and picking out our favorites.

 

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