Tag Archives: 1940s

A Sun Mode Original by Jane Irwill

A couple of months ago I went on a rant about using the correct terminology when describing vintage and antique garments.  Not everyone agreed with me, and I can see why, but because I used playsuit as an example, I’m been looking at lots of images, especially in 1930s and 1940s ads, to make sure playsuit was the proper term.

And it is.  The one-piece shorts and top combination above is most commonly referred to as a playsuit in ads of the period.  Almost all the ads I found, and there were quite a few, also featured a matching skirt which can be worn over the playsuit.

On my recent trip to the Hillsville Flea Market, I pulled the playsuit out of a big pile of vintage garments.  The first thought through my head was, “If only the skirt was here too.”  It was my lucky day, as the skirt soon emerged from the heap.

In most of the ads, the skirt buttons up the front, but in my new example, there is a metal zipper closure.

There is also a label in the skirt, something I did not notice until I got the set home and started a better examination.  I was a bit surprised by the label, as I’d known Jane Irwill only as a sweater maker.  The company was actually called Irwill Knitwear Corporation. But a label is an excellent starting place in trying to learn more about a garment.

The first place I turned to was TESS, the US trademark site.  TESS is a great starting point, because it often gives the name of the owner of the label, and it always has the name of the company that produces it.  In this case, I learned that Jane Irwill was a maker of sweaters and playsuits, and that the company name was Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  The page also states that “Jane Irwill” is not a real person.

According to TESS, The trademark “Jane Irwill” was first used in 1940.  I always take first usage dates on TESS with a grain of salt, as I’ve found many errors over the years.  Often the trademark application is made many years after the first usage, and people being human, make mistakes.  So I really do not give the 1940 date much credence.

My next step was to see what I could find out about the Irwill Knitwear Corporation.  Quite a few sites that list business registrations list the year of incorporation as 1923.  The founder of the company was Irving Louis.  Just because the Irwill Knitting Corporation started in 1923, we cannot assume that the Jane Irwill label dates back that far.  The first actual reference I found to the label was in 1939, in a business directory.

I also did a search for “Sun Modes Jane Irwill”, and came up with several newspaper ads ranging from 1946 through 1954.  It could have been used earlier, or later, as I only located five examples.

So depending on when the label was really first used, I’m looking at a set that could have been made between about 1935 when play sets became very popular, through the very early 1950s when the style changed to a more fashionable line.  This was a basic sportswear design that did not really change much in those years.  So it is necessary to really look at the details to narrow down a date.

Note how long the skirt is.  Add two inches to that length because the skirt was hemmed at some point.  This means that either the wearer was short, or the skirt was shortened to bring it more into style when skirts got shorter during WWII.  The skirt length, plus the relatively weak shoulders tend to suggest that this set is either before 1939 or so, or after 1947.

Another clue is that the skirt is cut in  eight gores rather than in a front and back cut as two pieces.  This uses more fabric, and is another clue that this set was not made during the war.

The next thing I considered was the fabric design and the colors used.  The fabric is a very light blue with a brown stripe.  Some people I know are very good at identifying the possible years of manufacture just from the colors used.  Unfortunately, I am not one of those persons, so without a lot of reading and looking at period examples, that information does not help.  What about the stripes, though?  In looking at magazines from 1934 through 1950, I noticed the popularity of stripes increased around 1940, and they stayed popular throughout the 1940s.

So, my best guess is that my Sun Modes set dates to around 1947 or 48.  I would appreciate any additional insights.

This was a great addition to my collection.  In collecting I’ve noticed that the playsuit is often found for sale, but it is rarer for the skirt to be present as well.  I already had one set that is most likely early 1940s.  It was home sewn using feedsack material, a good example of WWII era thrift.  It’s nice to now have a later example.

Let me add a few words about condition.  This set was quite dirty, so I did hand wash it with great success.  Besides the hemming, there are some crude hand repairs to the sleeves and underarms.  For now I’ll leave them as they are.  I rather like the evidence of the former owner’s hand.




Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

The Ski-O-Tard from White Stag

One of the great things about collecting it that there is always something new to be discovered.  Take the garment above.  It’s a White Stag creation called the Ski-O-Tard.  I was lucky to spot this recently on etsy, and was even luckier that the thing still had the original hangtag attached.

Hangtags often contain very valuable information, and in this case, the most important info was the name of the garment.  Without the unusual name, I might never have been able to learn a thing about the Ski-O-Tard.  And even with the name, I’ve been able to find only a few images, all dated 1948.

Even though White Stag was in the process of copyrighting the name, I think it is safe to assume that the idea just never caught on.  For one thing, all the bunched up fabric between the legs must have felt like one was wearing a diaper.  And while it probably was warm, it was so bulky that wearing it beneath slim-fitting trousers would have been difficult.

Although it was meant to be worn as a first layer, all the photos I found showed it without pants.  One photo is the January 1948 cover of See, a magazine for men, and another was in the pages of the January 8, 1948 issue of The Dispatcher, a Longshoreman Union newspaper.

When I posted a photo of the tag on Instagram, Julie at Jet Set Sewing commented that the Ski-O-Tard reminded her of the Claire McCardell “diaper” bathing suit.  I had not seen the resemblance, but after Julie mentioned it, I certainly did.  McCardell’s suit dates from the early 1940s, so it could be that it directly influenced the designer of the White Stag Ski-O-Tard.

In the 1940s and 1940s, White Stag used this tag in red, but also similar ones in bright blue and in white with red lettering.  Labels from the 1960s are usually white with gold lettering.  I only am telling this because White Stag garments can be really hard to date, as sportswear , while it did follow fashion, did not change as quickly as fashionable dress.   In this case, the Ski-O-Tard has very strong shoulder pads, at a time when shoulders were beginning to soften up a bit.

I thought you might enjoy seeing what the Ski-O-Tard looks like when not fastened at the waist.  Can you see how the concept might have been improved with a bit less fabric at the crotch?

As always, I welcome any additional information about the Ski-O-Tard.


Filed under Curiosities, Sportswear, Winter Sports

Late 1940s Shorts and Wrap Skirt

I recently ran across this skirt and a pair of matching shorts, and I bought them even though there are quite a few problems with the two pieces.  To be really honest, I wanted these partly because of the issues and my desire to analyze the set.  Using the questions from The Dress Detective, I wanted to hear the story these pieces have to tell.

To start with, there is a real possibility that a piece is missing.  By looking at sewing patterns and catalogs from 1940 through the 1950s, these sets often came with a matching blouse.  These pieces are home sewn, and there is no way to know if a matching blouse was actually made, but that is the way the pieces were marketed, and presumably, worn.

Here are some good examples from a 1940s brochure from Edwards Department Store in Rochester, New York.  In these photos the top and shorts are attached as one piece, but these were also available as shorts and top separately.

After World War II ended, fabrics became a lot more colorful.  Dyes had been restricted during the war, and I’m sure people were ready for a burst of color.  If you look at fashion magazines starting as early as the middle of 1945, you can really see what I mean.  Interesting designs and color combinations dominated.  In the case of my skirt and shorts you can see turquoise, a chartreuse-y yellow, and two shades of rust, printed on white and accented with black.

As mentioned, the set is home sewn, using simple techniques.  The sewer must have had one of those new-fangled buttonholers that attached to the machine.  The buttons on the skirt are mother of pearl, and they are well-worn.  They seem to be a bit old-fashioned for the piece.  Could they have been re-cycled?

There is a noticeable color difference between the shorts and the skirt.  The skirt looks hardly worn, but the shorts are quite faded.  What does that say?  The shorts were obviously washed more than the skirt, and so we can assume they were worn more.

There is another interesting clue on the shorts, a smear  of dried paint.  Could it be that after the shorts became either worn or not so fashionable (or both) that they were used to wear around the house for chores like painting.  It points to a long life of the shorts and skirt, and possibly a blouse, moving from cute outfit to work attire.

There is one last thing to point out.  At sometime the skirt was shortened as evidenced by the faded line.  During the last part of the 1950s skirt hems did rise, and so this could have been an attempt to make the skirt more fashionable.  Or it is possible this was done years later by a wearer of vintage clothing.  Either way, it is an interesting part of the skirt’s history.


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Sophie in Miami, 1938 – 1942

I look at a lot of vintage photos.  I love nothing more than finding a big box of them at a flea market so I can stand and shuffle through them.  I even look for them online.  Whenever I have a spare thirty minutes or so I’ll often go to Etsy and do some searches for sportswear-wearing vintage women.

That’s how I found the photos I’m showing today.  I usually do not look for lots of more than one photo, but I found a group which contained the same people on the beach in Miami between 1938 and 1942.  It was too interesting to pass up.

The set of photos were taken with several different cameras, but some of the same people kept appearing over and over.  The most common factor in the group is a woman named Sophie.  I’ve come up with the idea that these were her photos, and that she and her group of friends traded them for other photos taken on their days at the beach.  That would explain the different types of photos, plus the fact that there are different handwritings on the various photos.

The oldest photo I have of Sophie is the one above, taken in 1938.  The young man is not identified.

This is Sophie and Harry Lack.

Sophie and Harry again, with a better look at her bathing suit.

A month later, Sophie is wearing the same bathing suit, but she has a new guy to pose with, Lou Shapiro.

And then another month later, Sophie is sporting a new bathing suit, and another new guy, Herb Klein.

The photos end in April, 1942.  Here Sophie has yet another new beau, Irving Saltz.  It would be interesting to know what happened to Sophie.  Did she end up with Harry or Lou or Herb or Irving? Maybe the great and wonderful internet will solve the mystery for us.



Filed under Vintage Photographs

Ad Campaign – Jantzen All-Sports Jackets, 1947

a’hunting you can go… and fishing you can go and that’s not all!  These new Jantzen jackets are as versatile as all outdoors.  They’re for golfing. holidaying, going to college or relaxing, for everything that’s fun to do…

You really can’t ask more of a jacket than that.

Today it is always news when a fashion company moves into a new line, say when a maker of menswear develops a line for women.  If you look back over the history of clothing companies you can see that this is how the industry has operated over the years.  Expansion often meant veering from the product for which the company was known.  In this case Jantzen, which was a long-time maker of swimsuits, was dipping their toes in the sportswear waters.  They had developed a line called “Sun Clothes” which was mainly tee shirts and shorts, but they were also expanding into winter sports.

I have no idea how successful this idea was, but with the exception of 1940s figural sweaters, I don’t see a lot of winter time Jantzen that is older than the 1960s.


Filed under Ad Campaign

White Stag Function-Alls for Women Workers

I recently got a message from Juliet at SixCatsFun Vintage saying that she had found a denim jacket with an interesting label.  It was “White Stag Function-Alls.”  At first I sort of shook my head in wonder, as White Stag made clothing primarily in canvas up to the middle 1960s.  But something seemed familiar.

I pulled out a WWII era White Stag catalog I have, and there it was – a full page of denim Function-Alls.  They were produced for women who were working in wartime jobs that required sturdy work clothing.

Overall Jacket to match style No. 7844 or No. 653.  Triple-stitched 8-oz. Sanforized denim.  Copper buttons. Complete with bandana Handkerchief.  Dark Blue denim only.

You can see the triple-stitching referred to in the copy.  And if you want to see the label a bit more clearly, it is printed in the catalog.

It’s a gloved hand pulling on a lever of some sort.

Due to the faded and frayed label, you can tell that this piece was used, probably by some 1940s Rosie the Riveter.  I think the documentation from the catalog makes the piece really special.  It’s hard to find WWII era women’s work clothing, though you know it must have been made by the millions.

The great condition of this piece is typical of the type of quality that White Stag turned out.  Even under wartime restrictions and shortages, they managed to produce a product that held up beautifully.  My catalog is not dated, but the references to the war and “the duration” make me think it is probably from 1943 or 1944.

Note the stag on the button.

Thanks to Juliet for sharing this great piece of history with me, and for letting me show it off here.  For anyone interested in this historic piece, she is selling it on ebay.


Filed under Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, World War II

Mademoiselle, June, 1941

Even though this is the cover of a June issue, the photo reminds me more of this time of year.  The stores and magazines are now full of clothes for cold weather, but here in the South there will be at least another month of warm weather.  Women in the South (and the southern parts of the West) have long known to transition to autumn clothing slowly.  Put away the whites and the light pastels and rely on warm, golden colors in cottons.  Add a sweater on chilly mornings.  The coats won’t really come out of the closets until late November.

I finally had a chance to sit down and thumb through the massive Vogue September issue.  At 856 pages, this issue fell short of the 916 page record, but still it is heavy and bulky and full of things to buy.  It is another season of asking who in their right mind would wear a certain shoe, in this case a particularly ugly Dior model that looks like three different shoes were thrown into a blender and mishmashed together.

And while I didn’t sit and count the pages, it sure seems to me that most of the big fashion houses are really in the business of selling accessories.  For the most part, the shoes look ugly and difficult to wear, whereas handbags are generally sleeker and not as tricked out as in previous seasons.

But the only company whose ads really made me wish I had thousands to spend was Louis Vuitton.  The clothes have a nice uncluttered mod vibe, and there is a little handbag that is like a miniature Vuitton trunk.  There is also an article about the new designer at Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquiere.

Like I said, living in the South means that our clothes are lighter.  I have several coats, all vintage, none of which I wear more than a handful of times each season.  Maybe that is why I find the over-abundance of fur in Vogue so odd.  There were three editorial features on coats, and the majority of the ones shown were either made from fur or trimmed with it.  And many of the other features also had furs.  I don’t get the emphasis on a product that many women can’t wear because of their climate, and that many will not wear because they feel wearing fur is wrong.


I decided to add a photo of the ugly Dior shoes, taken from one of the many Dior ads in the Vogue September issue.  The pink part is actually molded rubber, like the sole of an athletic shoe, and the name “Dior” is embossed there near the heel.  Note also that the very tip of the black part is red, which extends under that cute little over-hang.  In some photos it looks like a tongue.  And finally, I do hope that heel is steel reinforced, as I can see that really narrow part snapping right off.


Filed under Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint