Tag Archives: college

1880s College Crew Set

This post should have a subtitle. Maybe “Sometimes You Just Get Lucky.” Probably though, “It Pays to Be a Bookworm” is more appropriate. The truth is, unless I had read and reread my favorite book on women in sports, When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner, I would never have had an inkling of the purpose of this garment. As it was, it took me a while to actually figure out the purpose of this set, mainly because spotting it on Instagram was so unexpected.

The set has three pieces, and the seller, @vintageloftny, photographed the set with the blouse over the top of the skirt. That’s understandable, as there is elastic in the bottom of the blouse, and it makes sense that it would be on the outside of the skirt. However, something made me stop and visualize the blouse tucked into the waist of the skirt.

Page from 1889 Butterick pattern catalog, reproduced in When the Girls Came Out to Play

Once I saw the blouse in a different light, it rang a bell. The nautical details and the marine blue color pointed to a garment that was worn on the water. I ruled out sailing or yachting because I have been involved in studying issues of Harper’s Bazar from the 1860s through 1900. All the boating costumes shown (and there were a surprising lot of them) were styled in the current fashion, and were worn over a corset. The top two bodices are good examples.

My blouse does not follow the style of the late 1800s. Its loose fit pointed to a use in sports. I suspected it might be for rowing crew, and as good luck would have it, When the Girls Came Out to Play has a whole chapter on how Wellesley and other women’s colleges formed crew teams in the late 1870s.

Wellesley Class of 1886 crew, from When the Girls Came Out to Play

Warner showed quite a few crew uniforms from the 1880s. Each class at the college had a crew team, all with their own special uniform. You might be surprised that the crew teams were not for racing. They were for performing musical spectacles for the public. This would explain why skirts were used instead of the bloomers the young women were accustomed to in gym class. Bloomers were not for public consumption.

Warner put forth the possibility that bloomers could have been worn underneath the skirts, but that there is no evidence of that. My set tends to say no, because it is complete with blouse, skirt, and belt. I would think that if these three pieces had been kept together for 135 years, if bloomers had existed, they would be present as well.

My set is made of the loveliest blue wool, and it appears to have been made by an expert dressmaker. All the tiny eyelets where the string fastens the blouse were made by hand. The white braid was laid on by hand.

Unmistakably nautical in design.

The skirt is also gathered and attached to the waistband by hand.

And the nicest surprise of all is the presence of a nice, deep pocket.

I have dated this piece as probably 1880 through 1886. After 1885 the crews began to turn from comfort to fashion, and most adapted a stylish corseted bodice. However, it’s not quite as silly at it sounds because these bodices were often made of jersey, which did afford a degree of comfort.

The blouse top did remain, however, and was used for gym class and other outdoor activities. I have read articles from the late 1800s that advised women hikers to wear a sports blouse. The page of Butterick patterns seen above is from 1889, and you can see that the puffed sleeve creeping in. My smooth capped sleeves are prior to that date.

I have long kept a list of older sportswear pieces that I would love to own, but a crew uniform was not on the list. I guess I thought that since they were such a specialized item, used for only a short time and in only a few places, it was doubtful one would ever turn up. But in the world of antique clothing, you just never know. Thanks so much to Mary Caroline of Vintage Loft NY.


Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

Columbia College, Spotlight on Your Future! 1955

This recruitment bulletin from Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, was sent to prospective students for the 1955-56 school year.  Columbia College is a college for young women, and was established in the 1850s, making it one of the oldest women’s colleges in the US.  In 1915 Georgia O’Keeffe taught at the school.

The study of photographs and literature from women’s colleges is interesting from a fashion history perspective because of the unique environment.  Even in the 1950s women in co-educational colleges were often prohibited from wearing pants or shorts in co-ed situations.  At women’s colleges the dress code was usually much looser.

Click to enlarge

The curriculum at Columbia is what one might expect to find at a women’s college in the 1950s.  Home economics, education, music and art were standard courses for women.  There was also a business course, with a short two year certificate.

Physical education courses mandated the gym suit.  This style actually looks quite nice, with the well-fitting shorts.

Dressed for tennis, the girl on the right is wearing a Columbia College jacket.

Dramatic productions seemed to be a popular extra- curricular activity.

I assume that The Postscript was the college newspaper.  Note that many of the students are in jeans and sweatshirts.

There was no explanation for the historical dress, but since home economics was a big part of the program, it may have to do with clothing history.

The bulletin attempts to paint Columbia as an active place where the students were kept safe and busy.  In the early Fifties it was not always taken for granted that girls would even be allowed to attend college.  One of the big stories from my mother’s family concerned her younger sister, Jean.  Jean was an exceptional student, and as a high school senior she was offered a scholarship to Women College in Greensboro, NC.  The problem was that my mother had just dropped out of nursing school to get married, and my grandfather vowed not to let Jean leave home.

A big argument ensued over dinner one night, and my seventeen-year-old aunt got so angry that she picked up the bowl of beans and flung it in my grandfather’s face.  It was a grand gesture, but the best that she was able to negotiate was a two-year business school.  She then worked as an administrative assistant in a bank until she got married and started a family.


Filed under Proper Clothing

The Vintage Traveler Goes to College

If you have a blog or a website then you know that one of the most valuable tools around is a traffic tracker.  It’s almost like spying on your own site, seeing where your traffic originates, and in many cases, what search brought them to you. (I did a post on weird searches that brought traffic here, but I’m really due for an update.)

Last week I noticed I was getting a lot of traffic from a site called compositionatthebeach.com.  To be honest, if I get a link in my stats that looks a bit fishy, I usually refrain from clicking through to the site, but this sounded innocuous enough so like a good spy I went off to investigate.  Turns out that The Beach is California State University at Long Beach, and the link was to a forum where first year composition students discuss topics assigned by the instructor.

In this case the topic was “Do you ever stop to think about where your belongings come from? Does that affect their value?”  To facilitate the chat, the students were assigned to read two pieces, and one of them was a blog post I wrote about how I was concerned about how Pinterest users do not always properly link back to the source.  The other article was from Lucky Peach magazine,  written by Christine Muhlke and titled  “Trickle-Down: The Circuitous Path of Ideas in Food and Fashion.”  I can’t find the article online, but it is about how a good idea travels from innovator to mass market.

I thought this was an interesting way to get the students to talk about intellectual property and design.  When I first read the prompt, I assumed that this was going to be a discussion about products being made in Third World countries, but instead the instructor was referring to the actual origin of the belonging – how it was conceived.  And I loved that my blog was considered to be a “belonging.”

The resulting chat was interesting for as much as what the students did not say as for what they did say.   It was encouraging to read that most of them did see how I’d be upset that my photos and writing were posted on sites like pinterest and tumblr without giving proper credit.  It was a bit disturbing to read that some of them thought I was being naive to think I could post anything on the internet without knowing it would be stolen.

Many of them did take a more literal approach to the question, and discussed where their belongings were actually  made.  Almost every single one who made a statement of this sort said they never look at the labels to see where things they are buying are manufactured.  Most of them said that the cost of an item was more important to them than where the item was made.  And only a handful of them mentioned the issues of human rights violations in manufacturing.

Obviously there is work to be done in raising awareness of this issue.  Perhaps that is why the instructor chose the introduction to  Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion as the next springboard to discussion.


Filed under Uncategorized