I’ve dated this towel to circa 1973. In that year one could also buy a sweater with Chaplin’s face, and if you had acted very quickly before the product was pulled from the market due to copyright issues, you could buy a Whiting & Davis mesh handbag. 1973 seems to be the year that Chaplin made a comeback. It was the year after he had been awarded an honorary Oscar for his ground-breaking work in film, so he must have been on people’s minds.
The other type is like my Charlie Chaplin towel. It’s thick and full, and the design is woven in rather than printed onto the terrycloth.
That RN number on the label proved to be the key to the company that produced the towel. There is an online database where you can type in the number, and it tells you who owned the label. It’s a handy little tool.
I’ve written about nostalgia, and how the idea of our grandparents’ past played such a huge role in the fashions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I think it pretty much started with the 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde, staring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as beautiful and stylish versions of two of the nastiest small-time crooks around in the 1930s. The trend continued, and developed into a style of its own in the form of 1930s inspired slinky disco dresses in the mid 70s. Kitsch died, but style remaind.
My sweater is pure nostalgic kitsch. The stars and icons of the 1930s were seen everywhere from posters on our walls to the sweaters on our backs. My sweater is labeled Pronto, and this company also produced sweaters with the images of W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and Little Orphan Annie. The sweaters must have been popular, as they were even counter-fitted under the label, “an original import.”
This was made before imported became such a problematic word. Seems like the only people really worried about imports in the early 1970s were the textile and garment makers and the trade unions.
This is one object I don’t actually remember, but I was sure it had to be from the early 70s. Because the law concerning care labels went into effect in 1972, the detailed care label is a good indication that the sweater is from 1972 or later. The RN number was another clue. It was registered to Knits by Caron, which was listed as an importer and wholesaler.
But I got really lucky, as there is a book, Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp in America, 1947–77, by Lisa Stein Haven, that mentions this sweater. It was advertised in Seventeen magazine in a 1973 Saks Fifth Avenue ad.
The sweaters came in this greenish-yellow color and also in white. The stripes are the same on all the sweaters, with the images of the stars being embroidered on by machine. Close up, Chaplin’s hair looks like a mass of French knots.