Tag Archives: 1930s

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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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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