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Pajamas for Women, Part 2

Greenhut-Seigal Cooper catalog, Spring/Summer 1912

The style did not catch on as outerwear, but increasingly it was marketed as lingerie. When famous actresses began wearing pajamas on stage, manufacturers were alerted to this by Women’s Wear.

By the middle of 1911 a trade report from Cincinnati said, “Manufacturers of shirtwaists and pajamas say the trade is quite good…” And James McCreery & Co. on 34th Street in New York City had “silk pajamas for women” in their shop windows. Copy in the 1912 spring-summer catalog from Greenhut-Seigal Cooper declared, “Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year.

Women’s Wear​ Novelties in Pajamas, June 28, 1917

By WWI, pajamas were not just for sleeping. They were advertised as loungewear, and Women’s Wear categorized them as negligee. They were even suggested as “an excellent tea gown”. These early women’s pajamas were two pieces like men’s but were feminized most often by being made of pastel colored silk, elaborately decorated with lace and embroidery.

Billie Burke in Gloria’s Romance. 1916

Around 1914 a new idea in women’s pajamas emerged – the one-piece jumpsuit type. These became very popular after actress Billie Burke wore them in a film in 1916. She became so associated with the style that one-piece pajamas were called Billie Burkes until they fell out of favor around 1920.

Even after pajamas had been made for women for a decade, articles in Women’s Wear show that manufacturers worried they were just a fad. As manufacturer R.F. Raskid said in 1917, “I consider [pajamas] as merely a passing fad, that will have worn itself out in the course of a few months…” But pajamas, along with bifurcated workwear like overalls and coveralls, gained favor during the years of WWI because they were practical. And while overalls for women did decrease in popularity after the war ended, women did not give up their pajamas.

“Billie Burkes”,​Butterick Quarterly, Summer 1919

In 1919, Women’s Wear declared, “For lounging and the care-free hours, pajamas are at present favored by the best dressed women. They have freedom, are comfortable, and offer a wide variety of styles.” By 1919 pajamas were mentioned almost daily in the sleepwear section of Women’s Wear. They were no longer a novelty.

In writing about pajamas, Women’s Wear continued to refer to them in “Oriental” terms like Persian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Turkish. Historian Victoria Pass has been conducting research into what Paul Poiret seemed to know in 1911 – that the Orientalist tropes used to market pajamas with trousers to women connected pajamas to “the exotic other”, making the masculine nature of the pants less of an issue.

“Silk Pajamas on the Beach”​ Women’s Wear, ​July 26, 1922

Until 1922, women for the most part confined their pajamas-wearing to their homes. But in July of that year Women’s Wear published a startling new use for pajamas. “Silk Pajamas on the Beach – A New Use for the Silk Pajamas that have long been Manufactured and Used for Negligee Purposes Is Shown in the Accompanying Photograph. This bather, after her dip, has slipped on the pajamas as a protection from sunburn.” The location was unnamed, but later reports identified it as the Lido in Venice, Italy.

It was not until fall of 1923 that Women’s Wear asked its readers, “Will American Women Adopt Pajamas for the Beach?” A few months later Women’s Wear first used the term, beach pajamas.

Tomorrow, Part 3.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Women in Pants

Pajamas for Women Part 1

I’m back from the Costume Society of America Southeast Region Symposium, and I’m pleased to share here my paper that I read. I’ll post it over the course of four days. I hope you enjoy it.

In the mid-1920s a new fad traveled from Italian beaches to those in the United States – that of pajamas as beach attire. It was not new for women to wear bifurcated garments for sports and as underwear, but pajamas for women were relatively new in the 1920s. So how and why did women take to wearing their newly adopted sleepwear on the beach?

Sears,​ Roebuck​ Catalog​, 1902

Even men in the US and most parts of Europe did not begin sleeping in pajamas until the 1870s. Most likely the first Westerners to adapt the Indian Pay- jama as night and loungewear were Englishmen living in India. In 1878 Harper’s Bazar reported, “The loose Japanese costume called the Pajamas has been adapted [by men] as a nightgown, for lounging in the daytime and in midsummer it is worn to board yachts.”

(Of course, the garment was Indian, not Japanese, but at least they got the continent right.)

Wilmington (Delaware) Evening Journal
December 27, 1905​

The first reference I have found to American women wearing pajamas was a comment in an 1895 newspaper article that referenced women’s pajamas in fashion plates. Over the next decade there were occasional references to and ads for women’s pajamas in American newspapers, but not until the summer of 1905 does one see any multiple sources advertising pajamas for women. That year a syndicated sewing pattern for women’s pajamas was for sale in many US newspapers, and some department stores advertised readymade pajamas for Christmas gift giving.

 A 1905 article that ran in many American newspapers titled “Pajamas Healthful”, had the following to say about women wearing pajamas:

“Women everywhere, the country over, and in city and country alike, do wear nightgowns, as they have long, if not always have done. Do women wear pajamas in these days? Well, some, but not many.

“It was a little fad to wear them, for a time, and there are some women who now wear them; but their number is not large, and the custom is not growing.”

Good Housekeeping January, 1906

In 1906 Good Housekeeping magazine offered for sale a sewing pattern for “Lady’s Pajamas”. In the description for the pattern was this line: “The upper part of the pajamas is cut in the broad Mandarin style and the sleeve is loose at the bottom, also reminding one of that Eastern garb.” There didn’t seem to be a big demand for women’s pajamas until 1911 judging by the lack of ads for them in Women’s Wear, the forerunner of Women’s Wear Daily, and in their absence in clothing catalogs. So what happened that convinced American women to wear what was considered, in the West anyway, a man’s garment?

Paul Poiret Harem Pants, Shown in L’Illustration. January 1, 1911

For one thing, in 1911 French designer Paul Poiret introduced what he called harem pants, a design based on a pants style worn by Middle Eastern men and some women. By making a reference to the “Oriental” and not to the Western men’s trousers, he made it seem as though the woman was emulating the exotic “Oriental” and not her own husband or father.

Coming tomorrow, part 2.

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1907 – 1908 Jaeger Catalog

Or, Dr. Jaeger’s Sanitary Woolen System. German doctor Gustav Jaeger had a theory. He believed that because humans were animals, the only proper fiber for human wear was animal in origin. Thus, he advocated the wearing of wool, especially as undergarments.

In 1880 he released a book on his theories, translated into English as Standardized Apparel For Health Protection. His concepts caught on, especially in Germany, where woolen underwear was being manufactured according to his ideas. In 1884, one of his devotees,  Lewis Tomalin, brought the clothing to Britain as Dr. Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Co. Within a few years the clothing was made in England under the Jaeger brand.

There was a Jaeger store in London, and one was opened in New York as well, located at 306 Fifth Avenue. Most of the garments sold by Jaeger in these early years were items that were worn next to the skin. My little catalog is full of long johns, socks, undershirts and nightclothes.

Dr. Jaeger believed that dyes were harmful because the chemicals could be absorbed through the pores. Thus, most of the products sold at Jaeger were either the natural color of the wool, or were white.

Among the claims Dr. Jaeger made, was that woolen clothing protected one from disease. He had proof that the wearer was protected from cholera, small pox, measles, and the plague.

One of the few black garments offered were these equestrian tights. Women riders had been wearing trousers under their riding skirts for some time. I suppose it was just too immodest for a woman to wear the natural color because it might look like bare skin on a light-skinned woman.

In 1907, a motor scarf was necessary for those lucky enough to own an automobile. These were also offered in black and in gray.
What got me to thinking about Jaeger was the currently traveling exhibition from the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960. In the catalog, also called Sporting Fashion, the FIDM curators have paired a Jaeger corset with bloomers, both to be worn under a bicycling suit.
Here’s a photo from the book showing FIDM’s corset, which is quite similar to the one in my catalog.

And here’s the label from the corset. I love how the photo shows not only the label, but also the texture of the wool knit. It’s little things like this that elevate what could have been just a lot of pretty pictures (and there are plenty of those to be sure) into a very useful and appreciated resource. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in women’s sportswear and the social history of the advance of women into the public sphere.

Sporting Fashion the exhibition, will not be back in Los Angeles until May, 2024. If you hurry, you can catch it at The Frick in Pittsburg (until September 26, 2021) or catch it in Memphis, TN (July 24–October 16, 2022), Davenport, IA (February 11–May 7, 2023), Utica, NY (June 17–September 17, 2023), Cincinnati, OH (October 14, 2023–January 14, 2024), or Jacksonville, FL (February 24–May 19, 2024). I plan to see it in Memphis, or possibly Cincinnati.

Sporting Fashion the book was written by FIDM curators  Kevin L. Jones and Christina M. Johnson with Kirstin Purtich. It can be ordered from the FIDM website.

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Edwardian Divided Skirt

The world is reopening, whether or not Covid-19 is under control.  I’m a bit conflicted, as it seems like the more people are out being “normal”, the greater the likelihood is that we’ll again find ourselves in lockdown again this fall. I have discovered that antique shops are a good compromise between staying home completely and jumping into a swimming pool with 100 strangers, yelling about our right to party.

So, after getting my hair cut for the first time since February, I went to an antique mall in a nearby town, as a little treat for myself. I had never been there before, so I didn’t have any expectations. As I walked up the aisles, I saw ahead a booth that clearly had clothing. Ten years ago I’d have been all excited, but so many booths in antiques malls are now selling modern clothing that I really didn’t get my hopes up.

But, praise be, there were old clothes in this booth! I immediately spotted a pair of old black cotton exercise bloomers. $12! As I grabbed them, I took a quick look around the booth, and then I saw it – an Edwardian divided skirt. This is the garment women wore for hiking, for camping, and for horseback riding. It’s an all-purpose sports garment, with a big secret.

That secret is that the skirt is actually a pair of pants. Unbutton the front panel, flip it to the right, and you are now wearing culottes.

For years women had been wearing some sort of pants under their skirts for sports. The divided skirt was a late Victorian innovation that allowed the wearer to switch from one to the other with the changing of a few buttons.

Even buttoned to expose the pants, the garment could pass for a skirt.

These were sold by the Standard Mail Order Company of New York  City.  There are digital copies of catalogs from that company all over the internet, so I will be doing a bit of searching for my divided skirt.

This was not a product unique to Standard. My 1910 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog has a very similar style  for sale for $12.50 to $20  dollars. According to the inflation calculator, that would have been  $320 to $512 in today’s money. Perhaps Standard was a bit more accessible to the less-than-rich.

And I’m guessing it was more affordable, as I have in my collection of vintage photos various women wearing the garment. It was such a great innovation, which allowed women to ride a horse astride, to safely ride a bicycle, and to romp freely through the woods. Can’t ask more of a garment than that.

My divided skirt shows a lot of signs that it was worn a lot. It’s missing a button, and there are a few small rips around some of the buttonholes. The hem you see with the darker thread is not original. Either the original wearer was very short, or she shortened the skirt in the mid 1910s when fashion dictated a shorted skirt. Either way, it’s a part of the skirt’s history, and will remain.

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Exhibition: Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie at Biltmore Estate

For the past four years or so Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC has had a spring costume exhibition. And by costume, I mean movie and television costumes, not historical dress. This year’s exhibition featured the costumes from the 1997 film, Titanic.  I know the movie has a lot of fans, and if you are one, you really need to see this one. You have until May 13, 2018. And I’m showing here fewer than half of the costumes on view, so if this is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

First I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the movie, which I’ve seen only once, way back in 1998. I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan of tragic endings. Also, I’m not as well-versed in pre-1915 fashion as I’d like to be, so feel free to disagree with any of my observations and opinions. And keep in mind that these are movie costumes, and as such have to portray more than just historical accuracy.

The exhibition started with the above suit, worn by Kate Winslet as Rose Dewitt Bukater as she boarded the Titanic. This is one of my favorites, and it seems to me to be one of the best as far as what a young rich woman would have actually worn in the situation. There is, in fact, a photograph of a very similar suit in a 1912 Les Modes fashion publication, which must have been designer Deborah L. Scott’s inspiration for this suit.

A quick note about accessories: some of the ones you’ll see in my photos are the ones used in the movie, like Rose’s parasol. The gloves, however are different, with the movie ones being short little gauntlets that turned back to reveal a purple lining. It’s a very charming detail, and shows just how much thought was put into the overall look.  Liza of Better Dresses Vintage, who was with me on this visit, thinks the hat is different as well.

Many of the clothes in the exhibition were the ones worn by Winslet, but you also get a good look at those worn by minor characters, including the men. That’s Captain Smith on the right, with the Countess of Rothes. Note the way the skirt drapes into that center piece. A couple of other dresses had the same treatment, which I thought was interesting. I did find a similar dress by Lucile (who was on the Titanic), though that center piece was not so prominent.

This dress was worn by Kathy Bates as Molly Brown (before she became unsinkable). In 1912 the trend was toward a slightly above the natural waist waistline, which is seen here, and in most of the dresses in the exhibition. I thought the skirt looked a bit full to be the height of fashion in 1912. At the time of the sinking, Brown was 44 years old, and photos of her after the sinking show her wearing a skirt with a similar silhouette. And according to photographs, she seemed to be partial to black.

This is another Molly Brown costume. Surely she didn’t wear black all the time, and I could not find if she was in mourning at the time. I think the fullish skirt looks odd.

More black, this time worn by, I think, an extra. I have a few questions. Was there really that much emphasis on the center front of the skirt? Wasn’t 1912 a bit early to be seeing so much black in women’s gowns? Shouldn’t this skirt be slimmer?

This costume was worn by Rosalind Ayers as Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile), so I guess it could be assumed that this is meant to be one of Lucile’s own creations. I did find a similar 1912 Lucile dress, but without the weird skirt detail, and without the train. And also without all the black.

Click to enlarge

All these dresses were worn by extras. According to interviews with  Deborah L. Scott, most of the costumes for the main actors were designed and made by her team, but many of the extras wore actual period clothing. They also sourced vintage fabrics and trims and incorporated them into the newly made costumes. These dresses could be made of old fabrics, as they sure looked right to me.

There were two outerwear pieces worn by Frances Fisher as Ruth Dewitt Bukater. One of the strengths of the exhibitions that have been at the Biltmore Estate is the setting. The clothes just looked so right in this Belle Epoque house with all its fanciness.

Others are not so fortunate, having been put in Plexiglas cages placed in the visitors center and the estate hotels. This cape seems to have been made with a combination of new and old materials. In the movie it is seen with the muff and hat seen in the previous photo.

But back to Rose. Again we are faced with quite a bit of black. This was a beautiful dress, though, and it’s no wonder Jack fell for Rose while she was wearing it.

If memory serves me correctly, this dress was worn by Rose in a dream, and was the white version of a black and red one she wore to a dance.

The one dress that was pretty much made just for effect was this one, the dress Rose wore when she and Jack went into the water. It was important for the dress to flow and float attractively.

The day we saw this exhibition was a warm and breezy one, and the staff had opened many of the windows. That allowed a nice breeze in some of the rooms, and gave movement to many of the costumes. This one was especially pretty with the motion. An unexpected result was that the shoes, which were just placed on the floor under the dresses were in full view. With these I could even see the (modern) label!

I know this photo is really bad, but it’s important that I show the context. The wind was blowing back the dress so that the shoes, which were meant to only peek out a tiny bit, were in full ugly view.

Something else that really surprises me about the Biltmore exhibitions is that they have always used the ugly plywood platforms you can see above. A little dark neutral paint would look a lot nicer. I mean, really! Plywood in a Belle Epoque mansion?

One of the great parts of the Biltmore Estate tour is that it includes the downstairs. For the exhibition they placed the clothes of the lower class passengers in a recreation of the dance party scene in the servants area.

This is I suppose, a dressing gown. It was worn by Rose, and a chair where she deposited it. I just can’t see this as a late Edwardian garment, though it does give a nod to the popularity of “Oriental” themes. And the robe itself looks cheap in reality. I am not a fan.

I really think Rose’s clothing should have been a bit lighter, though artists like Coles Phillips did portray young women in black in 1912.

Some of the costumes have been on display before, but I read that this is the largest Titanic costume show yet presented. Now that it has been organized, it might possibly be seen elsewhere in the future.

The lengths we go to in order to get the good photo.

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Circa 1900 Seaside Promenade Dress

My collecting is expanding slowly back in time, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to anything that dates before 1915. But in order to have a comprehensive collection showing how sportswear developed, one must make adjustments, as in the case of this dress. It was love at first sight, and so I added a dress for seaside promenades to my group of antique clothing.

I’ve looked at pictures of old dresses and at old fashion plates until my eyes crossed, and I still could not decide on a date. The sleeves are lighted gathered, the back of the skirt is gathered and has a bit of a tiny train effect, and there is a little peplum at the waist. It will not hurt my feelings at all if you want to help me pin down a date on this pretty dress.

Not quite sportswear, this dress nevertheless was meant for a casual walk along the boardwalk. The collar and fabric stripes fairly scream “nautical”.

Note: the hem looks dirty, but it is not. I’m guessing my stellar photography skills added the dirt.

The bodice has no permanent way to close it, so I’m guessing pins were used. Actually, a former owner had applied velcro, which I removed. I looked for signs of hooks and eyes from the past, but did not detect any old stitch marks. They could have been there, however.

The fabric is a fantastic cotton cord, which adds to the sporty look of the set.

The peplum effect is more pronounced in the back.

Maybe you can see here that the sleeves are gathered. They are also shaped with a bend in the elbow.

I think what really made me want this dress was that I was so crazy about a similar one in the collection at the Museum at FIT. I took this photo of their Uniformity exhibition in 2016. Maybe I need to do a reproduction tie and belt.

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Edwardian Bathing Beauty Tobacco Silks

I  was all ready to write about 1940s snowflake sweaters (the bitter cold has an effect…) when I spotted these little lovelies at Dandelion Vintage.  These little scraps of silk, which measure around 2″ X 3″,  came as free premiums in tobacco or cigarette packs.   There were lots of different themes, such as flags and flowers and colleges, and the tobacco companies hoped that consumers would collect the entire set of a theme.

People did collect them, and quilters often incorporated them into their work.  For some reason it seems that many of them ended up in crazy quilts –  those quilts that just developed willy-nilly as the fabric scraps became available.

These are so beautiful, and I’ve been very tempted to collect them.  As pretty collectibles, they make a nice display.  What they are not good for, however, is learning about fashion history.  These are probably from the first ten years of the 20th century, when bathing suits were still worn below the knees.  In reality, the necklines were often quite high, and the more modest bather even added inserts to raise a V-neckline!  And in the silks, the ladies are shown with the popular figure silhouette of the day, which would make a corset necessary.  While I’m sure some women, especially in fashionable bathing spots, were still wearing a corset when bathing, most photos from this era showing ordinary women show that the wearing of corsets at the beach was a thing of the past.

I suppose that the illustrations were spiced up a bit as the main users of tobacco at the time were male!

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