Tag Archives: knickers

1920s Wool Knickers for Women

I’ve wanted (or, rather, needed) a pair of 1920s wool knickers for some time, and so my heart skipped a few beats last week when I finally found a pair. I had been hoping to find a pair with a matching jacket, and even told myself I was going to hold out for a set, but the minute I laid eyes on these I knew I had to add them to my collection.

Why all the fascination with knickers? For one thing, knickers were both the shorts and the slacks for 1920s women and girls. Except for bloomers worn in gym class and at the end of the decade, pajamas worn on the beach, knickers and the similar garment, breeches, were the only options women had for wearing pants in public.

I’ve heard lots of stories from women who were young during the 1920s of how they raided brother’s closet to daringly wear his knickers. But by the early 1920s that was not even necessary, as mass-market catalogs like Montgomery Ward carried knickers for girls and women.

The clothing above is from the 1925 Montgomery Ward catalog. On the left are breeches, and on the right is a pair of wool tweed knickers. Note that both button on the side, on both sides actually, and the front drops for convenience. Whenever I find a photo of a woman wearing knickers I always try to see the closure, but usually it is obscured as you can see in the photo above.  The presence of a front fly would indicate the woman is wearing men’s knickers.

My pair has pockets that hide the buttons of the opening.

The seam edges are secured with an overlock stitch made by an early machine of this type. Overlocking is most commonly seen on sportswear in garments before the late 1960s.

Here’s another pair from Montgomery Ward, this time from the 1930 catalog. You can see that the style is little changed from the ones made five years earlier.  Knickers were more utilitarian than fashion, but soon after 1930 women’s knickers disappeared from catalogs. In their place were shorts, slacks, and pajamas. My 1932 Sears catalog has no knickers at all for women. It does have breeches and ankle-length knicker-like pants for skiing, and even a pair of actual slacks. Times were definitely changing.

I’m still in the market for a great 1920s wool knicker suit if anyone happens upon one.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Peerless Patterns Pajamas, 1919

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One of the questions I’ve been trying to answer is when did women start sleeping in pajamas. This is important to me because it was pajamas-wearing that led to women wearing pants as a beach cover-up, which led to women wearing pants other than bathing suits, knickers or breeches in public.

It’s not like women were not already wearing “pants” of some sort before the twentieth century. Drawers and pantaloons as underwear had been around for a long time.  And while bloomers did not really catch on when Ms. Amelia advocated for them in the 1850s, nor when the practicality of them for riding bicycles came up in the 1890s, thousands of schoolgirls were wearing bloomers in gym class from the 1860s onward. Women who loved hiking had taken to wearing knickers and divided skirts.

It seems a bit surprising to me that in all my resources, I can’t find an example of women in pajamas before the year 1912. I feel pretty sure that this is not the beginning of the practice, but I’ll be the first to admit that my resource library is a bit thin in the pre-1920s years.

According to the 1912 Spring and Summer catalog from the Greenhut-Siegel Cooper Company, “Pajamas [are] the latest idea in underwear.  Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year…For traveling, pajamas are convenient…”  Even so, it appears that the nightgown continued to be the sleeping garment of choice for most women. It wasn’t until 1918 that I’ve found pajamas offered in a variety of styles in mass market and sewing pattern catalogs.

Starting in 1917 or so, pajamas became more prevalent in the catalogs I looked at, and a new, similar garment appeared – the work overall. During World War I the necessity of women taking on jobs that were traditionally thought to be for men led to women adapting a male garment, the overall work pants. I can’t help but think that the increased popularity of pajamas for sleeping is related to the adoption of overalls for working.

I do have a few things to say about this odd garment. It would keep a camper warm on chilly nights, but bless her heart if she had to answer the call of nature while wearing this suit. I keep fantasizing that the odd way the back seam zig-zags means that it is open below that horizontal seam. That would be most helpful.

Lastly, the text describes the pants above as “bloomers” but they are actually an odd combination of bloomers and knickers. Bloomers usually have an elastic waist, very full legs, and elastic at the bottoms of the legs. Knickers usually button at the waist, have less full legs, and have a band that buttons at the bottoms of the legs. Blickers?

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Filed under Proper Clothing

1920s Tomboy Hiking Suit

 

One of my latest acquisitions came by way of Instagram.  I know that some people think that social media is just for teenage girls to get themselves in trouble by posting nude photos of themselves, or for pictures of the neighbor’s cat, or for showing off your breakfast at Starbucks.  But I say it is what you make of it, and that includes scoping out items for my sportswear collection.

I couldn’t believe this knickers and vest set that was posted by @thegirlcantdance.  I contacted her and she sent more photos and a detailed condition report.  Even though I already have a linen knicker set, this one is khaki twill, and was less of a fashion piece than my “Fad of the Hour” set.  So I was thrilled to be able to add it to my collection.

The tern “tom boy” (or is it “tomboy”?) was already in common use by the early 1920s went this set was most likely made.  I love how the label name fits in perfectly with the idea of girl as garçonne.  A note about the label: Even though it reads “Trademark”, there is no evidence of this label on the US trademark database.  Those of you who were teens during the 1970s might remember a different label that was called Tomboy.

The knickers are fitted at the waist, without a waistband.  I mentioned in the comments a few days ago that you can generally tell female pants from male before the mid 1960s because the great majority of them have a side opening, whereas male pants have a front fly.

Some former owner had a small waist, and you can see the stitching where darts had been inserted.  The buttons had also been moved but I put them back in the original position so that the pants would hang properly.

I’m really happy that this was complete with the button belt.  So often the small pieces are missing.

I think it is interesting that although it was becoming acceptable for women to wear knickers, the manufacturer made sure to provide an over-vest that covered that crotch.

The knicker legs also close with buttons.

How much more do I have to say about knickers?  Al the present I’m pretty much finished with the topic.  But in the world of fashion history, one never knows when a new discovery will be made, so don’t be surprised if I revisit knickers again sometime.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Sportswear

Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part IV

By 1917 many women were also wearing some form of pants as needed for their work during World War One.  Mass market retail and sewing pattern catalogs offered a variety of overall and work pants for women.  But after the war ended, these patterns and garments quietly disappeared from catalogs.  The skirt convention seemed to have overruled practically in women’s work dress.

But in the woods, knickers and breeches had pretty much put the skirt issue to rest.  Most articles that I found on the subject between 1918 and 1930 mentioned an overskirt only as an afterthought, if it was mentioned at all.  In 1920 writer and outdoorswoman Nancy B. Katz wrote in Outers-Recreation magazine that the skirted woman in the woods was obsolete.

By 1921 some brave women were wearing knickers for other sports, especially golf.  The September 1, 1921 issue of Vogue showed a suit of knickers and matching long vest and declared, “This costume allows for greater freedom, whether for golfing or walking, than almost any other type of sports suit.”

The knicker suit was soon seen in stores ranging from Lord and Taylor to Sears Roebuck. There was even a popular brand of knickers called “The Fad of the Hour.”

So how did knickers for women leave the hiking trails to become a fad?  Many women had become somewhat accustomed to wearing some form of pants, whether in the woods, in the school gymnasium, on the job during the war, or even in the form of a bathing suit.  It may also have something to do with the 1920s idea of woman as garçonne, as dressing for women took on touches of the masculine.

In 1926 Vogue published a slightly tongue-in-cheek article titled, “They Are Stealing Our Stuff!” Author George S. Chappell lamented that feminine fashions were more masculine than not, and that “…hordes of khaki-clad [women]  hikers… throng our summer byways.”

His complaint was too little, too late.  Women were wearing knickers, not only for hiking, but for other casual occasions and for motor-car travel.

Here is a family group in front of the State Capitol in Augusta, Maine, circa 1925.  The young woman on the right is dressed more like her father than her mother.  If not for the cloche hat we might have mistaken her for a boy.

By the mid 1920s pants for women were here to stay, though it would be several more decades before women could freely wear pants on any occasion.  The knickers-wearing girls of the 1920s became the pantsuit–wearing grandmothers of the 1970s, who had learned years earlier the comfort and practicality of pants.

I hope that everyone enjoyed my presentation.  I appreciate all your comments, and especially ant additional information that may add to this story.  The history of women wearing pants is a complicated one with many contributing factors to the end result.  I’ll be continuing to investigate this fascinating story.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

1920s Knickers and Accessories

I thought that with all the talk about knickers and hiking clothes that you might want to see examples from my collection.  The set above is a matching linen vest and knickers.  There is a very similar set in a 1925 B. Altman& Company catalog which shows the vest and knickers paired with a blouse, plain wool cloche,  knee socks and brogan shoes.  I was lucky enough to find a similar blouse which I’m showing here.

The vest has no closure except for the belt that buttons below the waist.  The knickers button on both sides.

I’ve seen this “The Fad of the Hour” in other knickers from the 1920s.  In looking through my catalogs and magazines I first saw knickers for women in a 1919 catalog, and their last appearance was in 1929.  That’s a pretty long lasting fad!

And just because I love this detail, here is the two button closure on the leg band.

Here is another pair, this time in black and white linen tweed.  Note how they button on both sides of the waist.

There are pockets on both sides as well.

Just for fun I paired these with a late 1920s sweater.  This one has a Marshall Field’s label, but I’ve seen this style in catalogs such as Sears from the late 1920s.

This is an odd cross between a middy and a blouse, but seeing as how it is made from cotton duck, I can safely say the intended use was for outings such as hiking and camping.  The bottom band actually folds up and buttons (that’s the exposed seam you can see).  I’ve seen ads for middies that proclaimed their superiority because they did not fasten at the bottom.

These unworn 1920s knee socks were a very lucky find, from Carol at Dandelion Vintage.  Best of all, both pairs are unworn.

Just like in the photos I shared earlier, the decorative tops of the socks were worn over the bottom band of the knickers.

And for the feet, a pair of Walkover brogans.

Topped off with a plain wool cloche, our hiker is now properly attired and ready to walk.

When collecting, I like to think of the entire ensemble.  To me it is just so interesting to see how women actually wore their clothes, and to be able to assemble all the pieces that was necessary for a look.  As another collector once said, “It’s not just about the frocks.”

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Vintage Clothing

Knickers – Precursor to Slacks for Women

After all the talk about knickers in yesterday’s post and comments I thought I’d show a few photographic examples from the 1920s.

Knicker is short for knickerbocker, which is a word that became associated with New York after the publication of Washington Irving’s History of New York.  An old-fashioned character in the book was named Knickerbocker, and the name became sort of a synonym for the old breeches-wearing Dutchmen of New York.  At some point the knee breeches themselves became known as knickerbockers.

Women, and especially school girls, had been wearing bloomers for sports since the nineteenth century, but knickers are not the same as bloomers.  Bloomers were very full and were usually contained at the below the knee hem by elastic.  Knickers were much slimmer and were fastened at the knee by a button closure.

Knickers were commonly worn by boys before they graduated into long pants.  By the early 1920s women were also wearing them for hiking and camping.  I guess it makes sense that girls who were adopting the style of le  Garçon, would literally take to wearing his pants.

In most of these photos you can see that young women often wore their knickers with knee socks.  The socks had a decorative band at the top which was worn over the band of the knickers.

A middy was often worn over the knickers, sometimes along with a cardigan.

This woman looks to be a bit old to be wearing a middy, but when camping necessity must have put a lot of odd ensembles out there.

This looks to be a sweater with a middy collar.

A “mannish” shirt and tie were also worn with knickers.

This woman’s pants look more like riding breeches than true knickers due to the narrowness at the knees.  But check out her boots!

This woman appears to be wearing shorts, but I thought her outfit was pretty interesting.  It looks like writing on the shirt, and what an odd choice of shoes for a hike.

Everything you read about women wearing pants in the 1920s mentions that women wore them only in the most outdoorsy of occasions, but here is a photo showing a woman wearing them in front of the Capitol building in Augusta, Maine.  What a fashion rebel!

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

Hiking Weather, and What to Wear

After weeks of rain, today was the perfect early fall day.  Fall is the time for hiking here in the mountains, with crisp, cool days and low humidity that makes the mountain vistas even better than usual.  When it comes to what to wear on such a hike, I really don’t think we can improve much on this knicker set from the early-mid 1920s.  It’s made from linen, and is appropriately “woodsy” but still quite polished.  How to accessorize?  Here’s how they did it at B. Altman & Co in 1925:

from a 1925 B. Altman catalog

I have the patterned stockings, and a casual dark red cloche.  I’m still looking for some brogan shoes, but I do have a great pair of 1920s lace up hiking boots from Abercrombie & Fitch.

When this set was made, slacks were not an option for women.  Bloomers had been made for bicycling before the turn of the 20th Century, but most female bike riders did not wear them, preferring a slightly shorter skirt instead.  Bloomers became commonplace at women’s collages, worn first as gym attire, and later as sports uniforms.  But until the very late 1920s, pants for women were knickers like these for sports wear, or long flowing pyjama pants for beach and poolside.

But what freedom these knickers must have afforded a generation of women who were used to hiking in long skirts and corsets!

Comments:

Posted by Catwalk Creative Vintage:

If only my history lessons at school had been so interesting! Love the 1925 advert from B Altman & Co to go with. Great post! 🙂

Monday, September 28th 2009 @ 1:32 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Well, aren’t you kind! I just hope some of my students from all those years of teaching history feel the same.

Monday, September 28th 2009 @ 2:00 PM

Posted by Trudy Callan:

Great blog you have here. Lots of interesting things. I found you through Sew Retro.

http://www.sewingwithtrudy.blogspot.com

Monday, September 28th 2009 @ 10:02 PM

Posted by Anna:

Wow! I came over from Sew Retro and I am so impressed with your blog! Absolutely fascinating!

Tuesday, September 29th 2009 @ 5:18 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Welcome to all the new readers from Sew Retro. I’m pleased that you all have checked out my journal.

Tuesday, September 29th 2009 @ 8:48 AM

Posted by Nan Jaeger:

This is one cool hiking outfit, love the linen — the knickers look so much better than the coulottes I remember wearing as a kid.

Tuesday, September 29th 2009 @ 11:26 AM


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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing