Tag Archives: gym suit

Columbia Gymnasium Suit Company Blouse

I rarely buy incomplete garments, but this one was rare enough to make an exception.  I didn’t feel too bad about the bloomers being missing, as I do have several pairs from the same era.

I wasn’t able to locate much about the Columbia Gymnasium Suit Company. Most of the sources were ads in women’s colleges’ newsletters and in sports magazines. The earliest reference I have found is from 1909, but I’m quite sure my blouse is a bit older than that.

The company also made bathing suits, and I found one suit labeled “Columbia Bathing Suit Co.” It was pretty much identical to the Columbia gymsuits I found online.

The addition of this second label helps to narrow the date a bit. The National Consumers League was chartered in 1899, which you can read on the label, in the circle. I’ve seen several Columbia gymsuits with this label in online collections, several being dated to before 1899. Even museums make mistakes!

I’m quite sure that my blouse is from around 1905, or possibly a bit earlier. You see the styling of the typical blouse of that era, with the blousy front and slightly gathered sleeves.

The waist buttoned to the bloomers, the waistband of which would have covered the brown cotton facing that holds the buttons. The buttons are made of glass.

The opening in in the front, with hook and eye closures on the shoulder, and a line of buttons running diagonally to the waist. These are concealed by the deep tucks.

Like many gymsuits and bathing suits made before 1920, this one is made from wool. It’s a very light, open weave wool, but terribly scratchy. Girls must have loved it when cotton became the favored fabric of gymsuit makers.

There is a modern Columbia Sportswear Company. I could find no connection between the maker of my blouse and the current company.

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Moore Gymwear, 1968

I have a nice little collection of gymsuit catalogs dating back to 1940, but this new-to-me catalog is not only the latest, it is from the year I bought my gymsuit as a seventh grader in junior high. Six years later, as a senior, I was still wearing it, and I’m still waiting on that last growth spurt.

The cover is interesting in that it makes a stab at racial diversity.  Considering that US Vogue did not have a Black model on its cover until 1974, I’d say good for Moore. Inside the catalog, the “models” are mostly white blondes and redheads, but this is still a good step forward, as the 1965 Moore catalog has no girls of color.

I love how the catalog designer used Op Art to show how “hip” Moore gymsuits are. Considering that the only persons who actually used the catalog (at least at my school) were the gym teachers. I imagine the only reason they looked at the catalog was to see the price of the same suit they have been ordering for years.

And here is my suit, the Waist Hugger. You can see it sold to schools for $4.35, which meant someone at the school made .65 on each suit they resold to the students. As I remember that mine cost $5.  So .65 times 150 girls meant a profit of $97.50 every year.

I wish our suits had been this nice blue. Ours were white, which meant one had to be careful about the underpants she wore on gym day. The suits were thin enough to see through, especially after a few year’s wear.

I guess I shouldn’t complain as it could have been worse. We would have really hated these bloomer legs.

This style, the Matadora, was “smasheroo news” when it was introduced in 1961. It looks a bit dated for 1968. Gymsuits aren’t high fashion, of course, but to a teenage girl, looking current is important.

There were two dresses with bloomers styles, the type my mother said she wore in school in the 1940s. I think I would have liked this one, as we could have pretended it was a mini dress. But NOT in white, please.

There were several pages of gym clothes for the teachers. This kilt was to be worn over the gymsuit for when teachers had to leave the gym. Even in 1968 girls and women teachers were not allowed to wear pants on campus, and certainly not shorts.

Look at all these great colors. So why were we forced to wear white? It seems like a mean trick to me.

There was a brochure included with this catalog, titled, “The Psychological Effects and Benefits of a Color and/or Style Change in Uniform Gymwear”.  It seems as if getting girls to spend $5 on a new and different gymsuit each year was good for them.

As a side note, I have quite a few gymsuits in my collection, ranging from Victorian styles to the late 1970s. I started buying when I found them years ago, when I could guy a great example for a few dollars. Today, there seems to be a fad for them, if the prices on etsy and the posts on Instagram can be believed. One girl’s misery is another’s cute outfit.

I’ve written a lot about gymsuits over the years, and I’m always rewarded with women sharing their own experiences with this garment, mostly negative. I’m not surprised.

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Gym Suit Uniformity

This is a brochure sent out to gym teachers with the aim of convincing them that having all students in matching gym suits was the way to go. It seems a bit odd, because from what I’ve seen, heard, and read, by the time this brochure was mailed in the early 1950s, most schools already had the girls in matching gym suits. Maybe there were some rogue gym suit holdouts in various corners of the USA.

My favorite part of this ad is how the gym suit is being compared to a Rockette costume. Uniformity was very important to the Rockettes, so much so that there was not a Black Rockette until 1988. Even then the director, Russell Markert, was reluctant, claiming it messed up the uniformity.

I also like this chart that pointed out the practical features of the Moore gym suit.

One thing this brochure does not have is the date it was published.  The photos, especially that of the girl on the front (with her gym class lipstick on point) look to be late 40s or early 50s. I set about looking at what might be clues in the text.

It mentioned that Russell Markert was the director, and Gene Synder was the co-director of the Rockettes. I looked for information of both men, but that turned out to be a dead end as both men’s tenures with the Rockettes spanned many years.

One gym suit was labeled as being style A12-66.  I have a 1949 Moore catalog, but this model was not mentioned. There was a style A10-66, so maybe the suit in the picture is an updated version. I also have a 1962 catalog, but by that time the method of numbering the suits had changed. There was a model 12, which was very similar to the model in the picture. Anyway looking at the style numbers proved to be inconclusive.

Finally I looked at the addresses given for the branch offices of ER Moore.  The address of the Los Angeles office was changed from what was given in 1949, but was the same at what was listed in 1962. That pretty much proved the brochure is after 1949, but before 1962, as noted by the change in model numbers.

So I’m going with early 1950s, due mainly to the styling of the suits, and to the girl’s hair and makeup.

One additional note is this also shows how slow to change gym suit styles were. Just the fact that Moore was offering pretty much the same suit over at least ten years goes to show just how hard it is to put a firm ate on these garments.

 

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Update: 1920s Gingham Romper

I posted my thoughts about this 1920s romper back in June. One of the things I wrote was this:

So rompers definitely were a thing for women, at least in the 1920s and 1930s. Still, I don’t agree with calling a gym suit a romper, no matter how much the garment is similar.

But then last week I found a real shocker in a 1926 high school yearbook.

These are the girls of the Gainesville Athletic Club at Gainesville High School in Florida. Could it be these were the actual basketball uniforms? It is hot in Florida, so maybe they adapted the usual bloomer suit into a light cotton garment.

I do need to make sure you notice that the suits are not identical, though they do seem to be made from the same fabric. And what’s with those belts?

It does pay to keep an open mind when it comes to the past. The minute we start saying “never” and “always” we run into trouble.

I also want to give a big thank you to all the kids over the past one hundred years who worked tirelessly on the yearbook committee. I don’t collect yearbooks, but anytime I run across an older one I always thumb through it to see if I can spot anything interesting. This time I was really rewarded.  Along with several yearbooks dating from the 1920s through the 40s, someone donated a series of photograph albums from the same years to Goodwill. It all ended up in the bins, and while I didn’t buy any of it, the guy who put them in his cart kindly let me photograph some really great photos.

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Filed under Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Rest of the Story, Sportswear

1929 Perfetex Athletic Clothing Style Book

I’m beginning to think that Chicago was the gym attire capital of the US,  as I’ve found another company that was located in that city. I knew about Perfetex because I have a pair of wool exercise bloomers with that label. It made me happy when earlier this week I located a catalog from the company. I bought it because I hoped to find my bloomers included (more about that later) but I found the catalog to be really interesting beyond my own collection.

The actual name of the firm that made Perfetex Athletic Clothing was Chancellor & Vaughan of Chicago. A note inside from the company president was signed C U Chancellor. Even with all that information, I was not able to find out anything about the company. That happens so often when a proper name is also a word with a meaning, such as “chancellor.”

In 1929, big changes where coming to women’s clothing. It wasn’t as sudden as history books sometimes make it seem, as there were hints that skirts were going to get longer, and clothing was going to be cut closer to the body. As for gym wear, for decades the bloomer had been the pants that girls and women wore for athletics. Above you can see the classic combination of middy blouse and baggy bloomers. The middy has short sleeves, and the bloomers are above the knee, but otherwise this is pretty much the same gym attire girls had been wearing for fifteen years.

But in 1929 the bloomer was slowly being replaced by shorts. In the outfit above, the blouse is still made of middy twill fabric, it has the pocket, and the V-neck. But gone is the flapping collar.

Taking it a stop further, here we see the shorts paired with a tee shirt made from jersey knit, which was available in either cotton or wool. Before long girls and women were wearing shorts for more than just basketball.

Click to enlarge

The middy was still pretty much the top of choice for gym. But it is interesting how in just a few years it would be pretty much gone, replaced by a gymsuit that was a blouse and shorts combination.

Prefetex was even selling a similar blouse in 1929. Just add the shorts and you have the new standard that replaced the middy and bloomers.

A while back I posted about a 1920s romper in my collection that is very similar to this one. It’s always good to find items documented with firm dating.

I’m doing a groan about the Barefoot Dancing Sandals though. I saw a pair of these somewhere online (probably eBay) described as bathing sandals, which I knew they were not. So I didn’t bid, and didn’t even bookmark the auction. Not good. Now I need them. Badly.

But getting back to my knickers, I am pretty sure that these are the ones I have. They are described as modern because so much of the fullness has been eliminated and they are shorter than the other knickers offered.

I am truly sorry about my sorry photos of these. I promise to take more time and do a better job. I hope you can tell that these are the same style.

Here’s the side opening with a placket covering the buttons.

The ad copy mentions a “diamond crotch piece.” I’d call it a gusset, and the purpose was to make the fabric “give” more in the area to reduce stress to the fabric. Note the mends on both sides of the diamond. it didn’t work.

To me, a lot of the fun of collecting comes from being able to identify garments like this pair of lowly bloomers. Simple pleasures!

 

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1920s Spalding Ted Shirt

Last week I got to take in the big Liberty, NC Antiques Fair.  Actually it is more like a big flea market where most of the stuff is old.  It’s usually not the best place to find clothes because it is outside and some dealers don’t like to exhibit clothing out in the weather, but I have found some fabulous things there over the years.

The first booth I came to had the dealers still pulling bins of textiles off their truck.  There must have been over a dozen big plastic binds full of clothing and linens from the past 125 years.  According to the seller they cleaned out the clothing from an estate and this was everything in the house.  There was no rhyme or reason to the packing of the bins.  You might have one with Victorian underwear and 1940s kids’ clothes together.

So I settled in to go through all the bins, and I was rewarded with some really interesting items.  One was this shirt from sportswear maker, A.G. Spalding.  It looks a bit odd, kind of like a shirt with legs.  I knew I’d seen a similar one in an ad in a 1929 EveryGirl’s magazine.

As you can see, in this ad from Man O’ War, it was called a ted shirt, which I assume is a cross between a teddy and a shirt.  Even though it is shown without a bottom in the ad, I assume it would be worn with bloomers.

I think this ted shirt is also from the late 1920s, with the popular round collar that is also seen on dresses from this era.  Also, the label is very similar to another Spalding suit from the late Twenties that I have in my collection.

Note how the top of the opening is shaped like a V and fastens beneath the collar.

As in the ad, there are curved shirt tails.

It looks like the purpose of the ted shirt was to keep the tails of it neatly tucked inside the bloomers, rather like the bodysuit of the 1970s.

Click to enlarge

Here’s the entire ad.

I’ll be sharing some of the other great sportswear I got from this dealer in the coming days.

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Early 1960s Gymsuit

I think it is pretty incredible that any vintage gymsuit exists.   Talk to almost any woman who had to wear one and you’ll get a long list of what was wrong with the garment, starting with unflattering and ending with hideous.  It seems to be a universally held memory by women over a certain age that the gymsuit was invented to lower self-esteem and inflict psychological pain.

One would think that on the last day of high school gym class there would have been mass ritual burnings of the garment.  Why would anyone keep such a hated thing?

To be honest, I can’t remember what happened to mine.  I graduated high school just as my sister started junior high, so it is possible that my mother made her wear it.  Not that there could have been much life left in it after I’d been abusing it for six years.  That’s right; I wore the same gymsuit for the entire six years of secondary school.  This was back in the day when mothers bought clothes a bit big so the child would “grow into” them.  Not that I grew much after age twelve.

But people did for one reason or another keep their old gymsuits.  I have fourteen of them, the oldest dating to around 1865 – 1870.  But until recently I did not have one that was similar to the one I wore in the late 1960s and early 70s.   Above you can see the latest addition to my little collection.

Gymsuits can be hard to date, as the styles tended to be used over a long period of time.  I was still wearing in 1973 the suit my parents bought in 1968.  And it was really similar to ones I’ve seen from the 1940s and 50s.    But there are a few things that told me this one was newer.

The button-down collar was the first hint.  According to a 1962 Moore Gymwear catalog I have, a style that was introduced the previous year was very popular partly due to “a sophisticated Ivy League, button-down collar.”   This suit was called the “Matadora”, and it is almost identical to my latest gymsuit even though mine was made by Champion.

In fact, my suit has every single one of the features shown in the diagram.

“Nylon and cotton elastic at waist for slender look”

“Button-down Ivy League Collar” and Snaps

“Princess Styling – Long Lines for Comfort” and “Tucks for Form Fit”  This suit has it all!

As I said, this suit was made by Champion.  The RN number is another big help in dating.  The labeling law changed in 1959, and it is known that the first number under the new law was 13670.  Since my number is 26094, I know the number was issued after 1959.  There is an RN number database, but it is of limited use.  For example, this number is now owned by Hanesbrands, which owns Champion.

I’m sure that this gymsuit was once white and that it has been dyed.  You can’t really tell in my photo, but the label is also green.  And the color is terribly uneven.

I love it when the original owner’s name is embroidered on the gymsuit, but I am so grateful my teachers did not have us do this.  It would have severely limited our ability to borrow a suit from a neat friend on inspection day!

These come up for sale quite often on ebay and etsy, but I don’t know of anyone other than myself who collects them.  They aren’t really “fashion”, but they are an important part of the shared history of women who came of age before the gymsuit was finally eliminated by most schools in the 1980s.

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