Tag Archives: 1940s

1940s SS Neptune Linen Top

It seems like I’ve been on a real nautical kick lately, as the last three items I’ve added to my collection were inspired by the sea. It’s not surprising, really, as sportswear has from its very early days been influenced by clothing traditionally worn at and on the ocean. Garments like the middy blouse were based on the sailor’s middy, and nautical motifs are really common in sports clothing.

Today’s nautical garment is a top from the post-war 1940s. The fabric is linen, and is nice and crisp.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this top, and its original purpose. At first I thought it might be a beach cover-up, but the length seems a little short for that use. The presence of the pockets, and the fact that there are only three buttons keeps this from being a blouse that would tuck into pants or shorts. So I’m going with jacket. I can see this paired with a pair of white slacks, with maybe a tee shirt or halter top beneath.

I love the colors, which are not the standard nautical red, white, and navy. The rope around the life preserver is the very same color as a sash on a late 40s pants set I have. Color is fascinating, because you really can use it to help with the dating of garments.

At first I could not decide if the buttons were the originals, but a very close inspection of the thread used in the making of the buttonholes, and the thread used to sew on the buttons seems to be a match. So I’m pretty sure they are the originals.  And you can tell by the handmade button holes that the jacket was made by a home sewer, rather than manufactured commercially.

The sewer knew her (or his, possibly…) fabrics and took no chances with the linen. To eliminate raveling, the armscye was bound in bias tape, and the seams were flat felled. There are no exposed edges anywhere on the garment.

I looked to see if there was any special SS Neptune, and found a lot of photos of a sailing ship caught in the arctic ice. There have been lots of ships named Neptune, for obvious reasons, and I guess this print was named not for a real ship, but for an imaginary Neptune.


Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

One Woman’s Clothing

An owner of a vintage clothing store once told me that the best part of running the store was all the great stuff that people brought to her. She never had to go in search of stock. Writing a blog about clothing history is a bit that way, as I’m always hearing from people who have great stories to tell, but also I hear from those who have a few questions about what they have.

Not too long ago Julia of Carolina Thrift Chick emailed me about a playsuit set she got from an estate. In emailing back and forth I found that from the same estate she had gotten some nice 1940s pants sets. I was lucky to not only get these sets, but I also learned a bit about the original owner, Mary Jane Hefner of Hickory, NC.

Jane was born in 1931 and attended Lenoir Rhyme College. It’s very likely that these garments were part of her college wardrobe.  They date to the second half of the 1940s, and she would have probably started college in 1948. In the original collection, Julia also found a lot of 1950s skirt suits, which Jane would have worn in her first job of teaching.

Jane seems to have been very fond of the warm peachy colors found in these suits. She also liked browns and dark blues. She was one of those dream women that vintage clothing sellers love to find, as she evidently kept everything, and stored things properly. Both suits still have the tags in them where they were dry cleaned before they were stored. Her cousin who is managing the estate said that she wanted to make sure Jane’s clothing went to a good home where it will be cherished. I think my home fits that bill.

Mary Jane Hefner eventually left teaching to care for her aging parents and an aunt. Throughout her life she kept and loved animals of all sorts, from guinea hens to goats. And she was a very stylish dresser.

Both of the pants sets are made from rayon that have a lovely drape. At first I thought that the one above was missing its belt, but then it dawned on me that the tie belt I photographed with the cream colored suit matched the buttons and trim on the peach colored one. The tie was hanging with the cream suit in storage, so maybe Mary Jane wore it with both suits.

The cream suit does not have a label, but the peach one was made by Kabro, a company based in Houston, Texas. I don’t know why that photo makes the fabric look off white. It is peach.

Here’s the back. That deep inverted pleat and the two pleats on the side must have made this very comfortable.

The playsuit is also in a peachy color. It is made from cotton, and has the best series of buttons. It completely buttons from one side of the shorts, across the waistband, and up to the neck.

And here it is with the matching skirt. It looks rather long for the day, but Jane was tall. Her pants measure 44 inches long.

The pretty neckline makes this playsuit look a little less like a gymsuit than many of the 1940s playsuits I’ve seen.

Interestingly, this set also has a Texas label – Nardis of Dallas. Both Nardis and Kabro were distributed nationally. Nardis was the official supplier of clothing to the Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1960s, so you might have seen some of their clothes on Mary Tyler Moore and Rose Marie.  As far as I can tell, Nardis was opened in the 1930s and it survived until 1980.


Filed under Collecting, Vintage Clothing

Most Wanted: WWII Era Block Printed Swimsuit

I’m starting a new feature just to show how I can get something on my mind and just keep thinking about it until I either drive myself crazy, or I find an example. Lately, I’ve been all about swimsuits like the one on the right.  These were a wartime innovation, probably in response to the scarcity of dyes and fabrics.

All the ads I’ve found date from 1943 through 1949. Even though there were two piece swimsuits before WWII, they became more prevalent during the war. Because the pieces of fabric used to construct the tops and bottoms are smaller than would be in a one piece, the cutter of the fabric could be more creative in the placement of the pieces, and could work out ways in which to save fabric.

Dyes were made of chemicals used in the war effort, so fabrics were limited to fewer colors. The block printing of the design added color to the white fabric while saving on dye.

All of the examples I’ve seen were made by Catalina Knitting Mills of California, and I’ve seen the idea attributed to their designer, Mary Ann DeWeese (Remember these lobster suits by DeWeese?). I imagine there were companies that copied the idea.

I’ve seen this outrigger canoe design in shades of blue. It’s pretty impressive!

See the difference a few fish (whales?) make?

I’m not sure if this one is actually printed, or if  it is cut and pieced. I’m glad I picked this one out to enlarge because the shoes on the woman on the right are very similar to a pair I have. Otherwise I would never have noticed them.

And here’s another view of the same suit.

These do come on the market quite often, but the prices are always pretty insane. I can see why they are so desirable, so I’ll just wait until I find one in a dusty corner of an estate sale. It could happen, right?


Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, Most Wanted, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Photographs

Seahorse Silk Blouse: Tache, Rue de Castglione

I realize after looking at this photo that I should have taken the time to try and do a better job of showing just how lovely this late 1940s or early 1950s blouse is. I’m hoping the details will show the special-ness of it.

Every so often the question will arise on vintage clothing chat board, “What makes a garment museum quality or museum worthy?” There’s no easy answer to the question, and it depends on the museum and the collection housed within. For example, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art might turn up its nose at a rather plain mid-nineteenth century dress made and worn by a woman in Kansas, but that same dress might be an important part of a museum that interprets the history of that state.

When it comes to adding something to my own collection, I have several things to think about. “Museum quality” isn’t one of them, but “collection worthiness” is. An item has to not just fit into my theme of sports and travel wear, it must fill a spot that is currently empty, or it has to be a better example of something I already own.

Blouses from the post WWII era are quite common, and I already have a few, including a navy one in rayon, so unless one is pretty special I’m not going to be interested.

I love the under-the-sea theme of the embroidery with the seaweed and seahorses.  But notice also the quality of the embroidery.  This is tambour, which is done with a hook. There is also a machine which can produce a good tambour facsimile, and I’m not enough of an embroidery person to be able to tell the difference. I’m guessing it is machine work because it is just so tiny.  I can’t imagine it being done by hand, but expert embroiderers are magicians.  All I can say is that the work is beautifully done, and the back is neat and lovely as well.

This is the arm opening, and you can see the tambour that is applied to the band that secures it.  Also note the button, which is starburst-cut mother-of-pearl.

I sort of wish the blouse were actually this color, but this is just my camera playing tricks again.  The blouse is navy.  But I included this shot because I wanted to make sure the row of tucks would be noticed.  You probably can’t tell, but they are actually stitched by hand.

This blouse was meant to be tucked into a skirt or slacks, and to help keep it looking neat, there is a series of eight tucks (in addition to these decorative ones) all around  the waist.

The label reads “Tache, Paris, 6 R. de Castiglione. The Rue de Castiglione is a shopping street that connects the Place Vendôme to the Tuileries Gardens. It’s a nice area of the city.  Unfortunately, I have found nothing at all about Tache.  I assume it was a store that sold pricey goods. Today, it appears as if there is a spa located in the space, which is across the street from a Weston Hotel.

As would be expected on a garment of this quality, there is a mixture of machine stitching and hand finishing.  The hem is hand stitched, as are the bindings at the neck and arms.  The machine-stitched side and shoulder seams are finished with a hand overcast stitch.

I also consider condition when deciding on a purchase.  I can deal with a bit of less-than-perfect-ness, especially if the garment is really good. Rarity also is considered.  I’d want a 1960s sportswear piece to be almost perfect, but I’m willing to be a little less picky when it comes to a piece from the 1910s. In this case, the condition is very good, with one light spot and a tiny repaired hole.  There are also some seams that have come loose.  Those I’ll fix with basting.

This was an item I spotted on Instagram, from Ballyhoo Vintage Clothing.  Sellers, if you are not on Instagram, you might be missing opportunities to sell your stuff.


Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

Delson Dash Abouts – Late 1940s or Early 1950s

One thing that really makes the clothes and accessories of the years immediately following WWII is color.  During the war the limitations to fashion went way beyond rationing.  Because they were made from chemicals, many dyes were in short supply due to their usefulness in the war effort.

In the US, shoes were pretty much limited to six colors: black, three shades of brown, navy, and white.  Some writers have suggested that part of the limitation of colors might have been an effort to make shoes less desirable, and to make women less likely to want to buy the new shoes.  There may be some truth to that, and I might suggest that the styles were not exactly attractive either. They were sturdy and made to last.  Aesthetics were an afterthought.

But after the war ended, color exploded across fashion.  Some of the very best prints ever conceived were printed on post WWII rayons and silks.  Color didn’t end there, though, and shoes and handbags were also full of fantastic colors.

I found these super wedge shoes last weekend, and immediately fell in love with the color combination of purple, light yellow, and pale sky blue.  Just that little touch of blue turned these shoes into something really special.

The wedge hell was introduced by Ferragamo in 1936, and it remained a practical heel through the war years.  It allowed for easy walking, and the stability make wedges more comfortable than a conventional heel.

After the war ended, the wedge heel remained popular.  For the most part, it was used for more casual shoes or shoes for work.  Sandals often had wedge heels during the postwar period.

I spent an hour or two this afternoon researching when wedges were popular.  What that means is that I lost myself in copy after copy of magazines from the 1940s and early 50s.  Judging by the frequency of wedges featured in ads and editorial content, starting about 1952 the wedge heel started to lose popularity.  A devotee of the wedge could still find them in 1954, but the style was fast waning as the stiletto came on strong.

The brand is Delson Dash Abouts, a label I don’t remember ever seeing.  My search through my magazines did not produce an ad for the company either.  I did find a very few online references, the earliest being a newspaper ad in 1950.  There was also a note in a book on copyright holders that the label belonged to Bird & Son, Inc.  The last mention I’ve found was in a 1960s ad.

The Scottie on the label had absolutely nothing to do with the purchase of these shoes.

As I said, I did not turn up an ad for Delson Dash Abouts, but advertisements for colorful wedge shoes were common from 1946 through about 1952.  An example is this 1951 ad from Buskins.


Filed under Collecting, Shoes, World War II

Late 1940s Alice Stuart Travel Blouse

One thing that really determines whether or not I add an object to my collection is the condition, especially if it is a fairly common garment.  But sometimes a piece that is damaged crosses my path and I have to decide if the garment is special enough to disregard the damage.

Such was the case of this rayon blouse from the late 1940s or early 50s.  I loved the print, which is made up of ocean liner stickers.  I loved the blue, black, and lime green color scheme.  I loved the style.  But it had numerous problems.  The price was reasonable, so I bought it anyway.

Look carefully at the two photos above to spot the differences.  The bottom photo is before a few temporary repairs.  There were a series of darts that released into fullness above the waist.  This was a design trick that helped a tucked in blouse look neater because it reduced the bulk around the waist.  A previous owner had taken out all the darts, and then she hemmed the blouse about an inch and a half.

Here you can see the stitch marks that had been removed, and the fold line where the blouse had been hemmed.  Note that the stitch lines of the darts had been strained, which probably explains that they had been removed following a weight gain.  The shorter length could possibly have occurred late in the 1950s when over-blouses became popular.

Because the seamlines were somewhat compromised, I decided not to restitch the darts permanently.  Instead, I lightly basted them in place so that when displayed they had the shape of the original design, but with less stress on the dart seams.  The seams around the bottom of both sleeves had been repaired, with much of the underarm seams being broken.  Again, I used basting as these seams were also in fragile condition.

After the repairs, the blouse is still fragile, but is strong enough for display.  It has the look of its original self.

The ad above is from September, 1951, around the time my blouse was made.  One thing I love about researching old brands it that it allows a few guilt-free hours looking through vintage fashion magazines.  I did not expect to find an ad for my blouse, as I would have remembered this print from previous browsings.  But I felt confident that I would find ads for Alice Stuart.

Blouses were a very big deal in the 1940s and 50s, with there being dozens of companies that made blouses exclusively.  Every issue of magazines targeted toward the career girl, like Glamour and Mademoiselle, had plenty of blouse advertisements including those for Alice Stuart.

From the ad above you can see that the blouses were made by Alice Stuart, Inc.  By 1956 the label had become part of the Jonathan Logan dressmaking empire.  In that year Jonathan Logan registered the trademark, which the application claims that the label was first used in 1942.  That sounds about right, though sometimes the information contained in trademark applications involved a bit of guesswork by the applicant.

I have no idea when the label was discontinued, but a search on ebay produced styles from the 1980s.


Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

1940s Hat with Everything

So when the mood of today’s hats seem frivolous it may be a kind of singing in the dark, the expression of an effort to put a bit of gaity into a world burdened with problems.

It might seem that the above words could have been written today, but actually the year was 1943.  The world was embroiled in a horrible conflict that required the citizens of the world to be brave, and to present a brave face even in the midst of fear.  Teacher and writer Grace Margaret Morton wrote the words in her book, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance.  They sum up perfectly the view many women both in the US and Canada, and in Europe took in response to fear and grave danger.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past several days looking at fashions from the 1940s, with a focus on the top and the bottom – the hats and the shoes.  By 1943 women’s shoes were terribly practical, with oxford styles and mid to low heel heights prevailing in the fashion magazines.  Colors were very limited, with most styles available only in black and brown.

Hats, on the opposite end of the scale, were fanciful and they varied widely in style.  Most prevalent was a modified form of the fedora, but women could buy hats in almost every shape and form imaginable.  Berets and turbans, tiny tilt hats that hovered over the eyes, and towering toques that had to be shaped on a stiffened form were available.

The difference in shoes and hats was based somewhat on the materials used to make them.  The leather for shoes was in short supply, but hats could be made in many different fabrics, most of which were not rationed.

As a sportswear collector, I do not seek out fancy and elaborate hats and accessories, but when I run across something really great, that I feel helps tell a story, then I can’t resist adding it to my horde.  Such is the case with this hat.

It has a little bit of everything.  The general shape is that of a Juliet cap, a form that was popular with young American women and teens.  But the creator didn’t stop with the addition of sequins and ribbon.  To the lower back of the cap, a looping fringe was added, perhaps simulating longer hair.

But what really sold me on this hat was the cut-out heart on the back of the cap.  This hat was a real attention-getter!

My new hat has three labels – the size, the store, Scherman Fifth Avenue, and a New York Creations label.  I could not find any concrete information about Scherman, but most of the hats I found for sale with the label were from the 1940s and early 1950s.  There was also a hat label for Eugene Scherman from the same era.  In addition, I located a reference to a E.H. Scherman hat shop located on West 37th Street in 1922.

I have no way of knowing at present if the three different references are related, but the search continues.  I would appreciate any information any reader might know or run across about Scherman.


The most extreme hats of WWII were those worn by French women.  To learn more about how the French used hats as a protest against German occupation, listen to this Missed in History podcast with fashion historian April Calahan.



Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, World War II