Tag Archives: antique

Late Victorian Bathing Costume

The great bulk of my collection dates after 1915, but I’m slowly educating myself about earlier sportswear, and I’ve begun to acquire a few pieces.  This late nineteenth century bathing suit is my latest.  I bought this one mainly because most of the ones I’ve looked at over the past year are black, so a different color was a plus.  I’ll probably eventually buy a black one, if I find one with great design that is in good condition.

Condition is a major problem with antique bathing suits, as they were for the most part, made from wool.  Besides the fact that moths love them, they were exposed to salt water and who knows what else.  So while this suit photographs and displays well, it has the sort of issues one might expect from a well-used garment that is around 120 years old. In this case, I decided I could live with more damage than I would on a more common garment.

The bathing suit is made up of two pieces, the blouse and bloomers combination, and a matching skirt. This was pretty much the makeup of women’s bathing suits until the second decade of the twentieth century, when the shrunken bloomers were covered by a skirt that was attached to the top.  From there the bathing suit kept getting smaller, and smaller and…

The lighter color tie is attached at the shoulders.  It covers a placket, under which is a row of buttons.

The modesty panel attaches to the collar with buttons on one side, and is permanently attached on the other.

The braid, which is green, was sewn on by machine, and looks to be professionally done.

The braid also decorated the sleeves, the waistband, and the hem of the skirt.  The weight of it helped to keep the skirt from riding or blowing up, thus saving the wearer from extreme embarrassment.

The damage is much more apparent on the back.  There are a number of moth holes, and the waist band is torn.  I’m guessing that the owner had gained a bit of weight, and the band simply ripped from the stress.  The buttons are for attaching the skirt.

Note the fullness below the waistband, which is the top of the bloomers.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

This bathing suit came with a bit of a mystery attached – an extra piece that was originally part of the garment. It is a slice cut from the skirt. At some point the suit was altered to make the back of the skirt less full.  And while there is only one piece, there is evidence that two pieces were cut out.

This is the inside of the skirt, showing where I think the piece was removed. The most obvious sign is that a different color of thread was used.  On the left you can see that the thread matches the fabric, but the newer seam is stitched in white.  On the front, the original seams are so perfectly matched that it is hard to see them.  On the two new seams, the braid is off somewhat.

There is also white stitching where the skirt is gathered into the waistband.  So the back of the skirt had quite a bit of fullness removed.  But why? It probably has to do with changing fashion.

The image above is from 1898, from The Glass of Fashion. Even though a garment like a bathing suit might not be considered “fashion”, you can see the trends of an era in the shape and the details. Even though this is a dress, it has a lot in common with my bathing costume, with the gored skirt having a flat front and a full back.  The bodice is also similar with the pleats and gathers attached to a yoke. And don’t forget the puffed sleeves.

The bathing suit above is from an 1899 Delineator magazine. You can see how similar this one is to mine, with the tie, sailor collar, puffed sleeves and band at the hem.  This basic style remained popular over the next fifteen or so years, with gradual changes being made to reflect changing fashion.  The bodice became droopy in front, the gathers disappeared and smooth, full gores replaced them.

In period illustrations, bathing costumes are frequently pictured in beautiful colors, but photographs from the same time tell a different story.  The overwhelming majority of bathing suits for women were dark, either black or navy.

There are a few other problems with my suit.  Someone shortened the waist by about three quarters of an inch by making a tuck right above the waist.  I haven’t decided if I’ll remove it, but I probably will just leave it.  Most of the original buttons have been replaced, but buttons of this era are easy to find so I’ll probably replace the newer ones. The elastic in the legs of the bloomers has completely lost its stretch.  I’ll probably just leave it.

It was fun analyzing this piece.  Unfortunately, I know nothing at all about who the original owner was, but I do know she had a very appealing bathing costume.


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

From Shawl to Scarf

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I’m not a fan of mindless “up-cycling.”  I didn’t arrive at that opinion quickly or lightly.  I’m a child of the 60s and 70s, and those of my generation thought we invented the re-crafting of old clothes.  Of course that was not true, no more than the DIYers of today invented the idea.

No, as long as there have been textiles, people have taken the old and tried to make it new.  Collectors of old clothes often come across garments that are reincarnations of an older item.  One favored material for such up-dating was the paisley shawl.

Shawls were popular during the age of the crinoline, the mid 1800s.  They were huge and rectangular in shape, and were used as a warm wrap over the voluminous dresses.   The very best ones were quite expensive.   After skirts began to shrink, so did the shawls.  Eventually, they became passe’.  But that did not mean that people discarded them.

I’ve seen many garments dating from the Edwardian era and the 1920s made from paisley shawls.  Many of them were cut into jackets and into robes.  Smaller pieces became handbags.  Here is an example form the 1890s.

Click to enlarge. From Handbags, by Anna Johnson

Even today, shawls are being made into new items.  A few years back, slipper-maker Stubbs and Wootton did a paisley slipper made from old shawls.

Several years ago I found what had once been a robe made from paisley.  It was missing an arm and most of one side, but the price was right – 50 cents if my memory is correct – and I knew that eventually I’d use it for something.  It was in such terrible shape that this was one piece that could be remade without guilt.  A few weeks ago it occurred to me that it would make a lovely scarf.

In order to get a good length, I had to piece the fabric.  I arranged and cut, and then resewed the paisley.

Then I had several larger holes to deal with.  I used a patch, but I’m not entirely happy with the results.  I may take off the patches and go with embroidery around each hole.

Finally, I backed the paisley with a length of black wool flannel.

To see more paisley, visit Brenna Barks’ blog, where Monica Murgia has written about an exhibition at the Allentown Art Museum.


Filed under Sewing

NFS – Not for Sale

Anyone who shops in vintage and antique stores knows the feeling: you spot something really super only to see those dreaded letters, NFS.  You think why is this person taunting me with this fantastic, perfect thing?  Then you go into negotiation mode, knowing full well this person is not going to sell such a treasure to you.

This was the feeling years ago when I first stepped into Magnolia Beauregard’s in downtown Asheville.  The shop has been open for years, and is like a treasure trove of vintage and antique goodies.  Of all the wonderful things within, however, the most wonderful are the collection of not-for-sale mannequins and manniquin heads.

The three above are made from wax.

There is a large display case (the photo shows less than half of it!)  filled with perfect condition heads from the 1920s and 30s.  The owner told me he found these years ago in the basement of a house that had belonged to a man who owned a clothing store.   The heads were still in the boxes in which they had shipped from the maker, still surrounded by packing straw.  It’s worth a trip to the store just to see these heads.

My favorite has to be the wide-eyed O-mouthed girl on the right.  There are actually two of these cute flapper heads; one is a redhead and the other a blond.


Filed under Curiosities, Shopping