Tag Archives: middy

Man O’War Dance Romper, 1930

You want to know what makes a collector’s heart sing?  The discovery of an object she never knew existed!  The romper above has the Man O’War label, which I’d known only as a maker of middy blouses and gymsuits.  But gymsuits weren’t made in cute cotton floral prints.  So what’s the story?

Fortunately, the seller, Belvedere Vintage Wear had done her homework, and when she posted a photo of the romper on Instagram, she also posted the ad above.  It came from a 1930 issue of The Dance Magazine, so it turns out this was a rehearsal garment.

The  Man O’War label belonged to a Baltimore company,  Branigan, Green & Co.  According the the 1921 edition of The American Cloak and Suit Review, the company was recently formed as a maker of middys and gym attire.  The owners were Edgar Green and Joseph Branigan, both of whom had worked for Morris and Co, the makers of Paul Jones Middys.  I did however, find a reference to  Branigan, Green & Co in a 1909 list of clothing manufacturers, under the category of middy blouses.  Perhaps it is just the Man O’War label that was started in 1921.

In 1921, when the label was started, Man O’War was a household name, with the famous horse dominating racing in 1919 and 1920.  Maybe Branigan and Green thought it would be a great name for their label, as it also had a nautical connection, being a type of ship.  That is a ship on the label.

The structure is very similar to gymsuits of the period.  It unbuttons at the shoulder, and the wearer steps into the garment.  It is loose at the waist, but the illustrations in the ad show it being worn with a tie belt.  For the photo I used a piece of bias tape, but a wider ribbon is needed.

The elastic in the legs is pretty much shot, so I’ll be replacing that.  But that is pretty much all that this piece needs in order to made it dance-worthy.

This ad is from 1929, and featured Man O’War’s main product – gym attire. Maybe it was that by 1930 the middy was not as ubiquitous as it had been a few years before that caused Branigan, Green & Co to start branching out.  By 1931 they were also producing a line of ski wear, Adirondack: the Real McCoy for Winter Sports, and miscellaneous sportswear under a label called Good Game.  Over the years other labels were added. In 1955 they started a label for women’s and children’s sports separates called Sandpipers.  As far as I can tell, the company lasted until 1969.

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Henry S. Lombard Yachting Uniforms, Circa 1910

I’ve written quite a bit about the middy blouse over the years, and about Lombard in particular.  It’s a garment that continues to fascinate me, and it has been on my short list of things to study in-depth whenever I miraculously find myself with unlimited time.  But until then, I’ll continue to park my findings and thoughts here.

I think what is really interesting about the middy is how it started as sailors’ attire, was adapted to clothing for children, morphed into high fashion resort and yachting wear for women, was adopted by all classes of women for bathing attire, became the uniform for college girls, and continues to make a fashion comeback every so often.  It has a long and ever-changing history, and it is still associated with the original wearer – the sailor.

This is the fourth Lombard catalog I’ve added to my collection, and it is the oldest.  Unfortunately, it is not dated, but the style of the hair and clothing places it to around 1910.  As far as the company is concerned, I’ve found very little about it.  The front of the catalog proudly proclaimed that Henry S. Lombard had been in business since 1855, but it is highly unlikely that the company was manufacturing women’s ready-to-wear.

I was able to find a reference to Lombard in an 1861 list of Boston merchants and makers.  The company was listed as dealing in “fancy goods.”

The next reference I found to the company was in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology magazine in 1895. There was an ad for Lombard that stated they sold “Yachting Outfits of Every Description.  Duck trousers, Outing clothes, Sweaters.”  We can safely assume that the ad is for men’s clothing, as at the time the students at MIT were mostly male.  At any rate, trousers would not have been made and sold to women in 1895.

In 1895 the making of  ready-to-wear for women was still in the early days of development.  By 1910, there were hundreds of makers of women’s blouses, or waists, and skirts and simple lingerie.  It this time Lombard was still making and selling uniforms for yachting officers and crews.  I found an ad for these in a 1911 issue of Yachts and Yachting magazine.

In my 1918 and 1920s Lombard catalogs, there is a wide selection of not only middies, but also skirts, bloomers, knickers, and breeches.  In this earlier catalog there are only two styles of skirts offered.

Nowhere in this little catalog is the word middy used to refer to the blouses. It is called a yachting blouse, or a sailor blouse.  By 1918, Lombard was calling this type blouse a middy.

I found quite a few ads for Lombard blouses in college magazines.  Both Vassar and Barnard ran ads in 1912.  And the catalog specifically mentions the “college girl” on almost every page.  It’s clear who their target customer was.

And finally, a lovely red coat and cap, or you could order the set in navy, or several different plaids.

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1920s Middy and Skirt in Lavender

I had been thinking about middy dresses ever since I found a book on the National Park Seminary for Girls.  In the book the teenage girls are all wearing what was an unofficial uniform for girls at many private schools.  One thing that I was interested in was that even though the photos in the book were printed in black and white, I could tell that the dresses were of various colors.

Most of the vintage middies that are found are white, but I have seen them in yellow, orange and navy.  Vintage ads and catalogs point out that various colors were available.

This ad from a 1922 Lombard catalog lists this middy dress in French blue, old blue, lavender, green, pink and tan.

Shortly after posting about the National Park Seminary, I spotted a fantastic lavender middy dress in the etsy shop Vintage Runway.  I just happened to know that the owner of this shop, Suzanne, was located fairly close to me.  After a few emails back and forth, I arranged to meet Suzanne and get the dress.

At this point I’ve got to say how much fun it is to meet up with other people who love vintage clothing and fashion history.  Suzanne and I sat and chatted as if we’d known one another for years.

Today I finally had a chance to spend some time looking at the dress and its construction. I had told Suzanne that it looked like it was professionally manufactured even though it had no label, but after a closer examination I’m sure this was made by an accomplished seamstress.

One big clue that this dress was home sewn was the presence of many hand sewn details, such as you see in these buttonholes.

The nautical-inspired patches look to be manufactured, but a fancy hand stitch was used to attach them.  It was possible to buy the patches and the white middy braid.

This ad is from a 1927 Charles Williams mail order catalog.

The arrow stitching at the corners of the pockets was also embroidered by hand.

Still, the quality of the work is such that the dress does not have that dreaded “homemade” look.  This was a sewer who knew what she was doing.

Fortunately, I know the name of the original owner of this dress.  She was  Blanche Nechanicky, who was born in 1907.  If she first wore the dress when she was fifteen, the year would have been 1922.  If you look at the ad from 1922 and compare it to my dress, you can see that my dress is considerably shorter than the dress in the catalog.

That makes sense, because after 1922 skirt lengths got shorter.  In an attempt to keep in style, it appears that Blanche shortened the skirt by taking a tuck in the underdress.

There is another line of stitching holes which might show an earlier alteration.  It’s interesting that Blanche did not make the skirt shorter at the hem.  Skirt lengths were in flux in the early 1920s and she wisely chose not to cut it shorter.  Besides, skirts have not always been shortened at the hem, but rather, at the waist.

It is possible that Blanche herself made this dress, though she would have been an exceptional seamstress to be a teenager. Luckily, Suzanne was able to share a bit about her.

Blanche was reared by her Czechoslovakian immigrant grandparents after her mother died when Blanche was two.  From her grandmother she learned sewing, crocheting, embroidery, and tatting.  After high school she attended Iowa State University where she majored in Textiles and Clothing.

Blanche went on to have a long career in home economics.  For much of her career she worked for the  New York State Education Department as the State Supervisor of Trade and Industrial Education for Girls and Women.  At other times she taught sewing, both to school girls and to adults in various sewing programs.  She never married, but traveled extensively.

It is a real treat knowing so much about Blanche.  So much of the clothing I’ve collected has long ago become separated from the history.  My thanks to Suzanne for sharing Blanche’s story.

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1910s Pajamas, Butterick 1893

In the late 1910s and early 1920s, few women were wearing pants, even when sleeping.  World War I did did bring the idea of wearing pants to women though, partly because wartime work made pants so much more practical than dresses.  But it took World War II with thousands of women entering factories before pants began to really be acceptable wear for women.

And that is why I fell in love with this early pants for women pattern.  Yes, it is for pajamas, but they are very similar to the styles of pants that some women had adopted for factory and farm work during WWI.

The top takes its cue from a popular sports style top – the middy.  It is easy to see how this could have been inspired by the bloomers and middy sports ensemble of high school and college girls of the 1910s.

I got this mainly for historical interest, not really to sew, though I might try my hand at a pair of pajamas from 95 years ago.  Unfortunately the directions are missing, but I think I could muddle my way through.  As my grandmother often reminded me, the directions are for people who don’t know what they are doing.

A bit of icing for this cake – the original sales slip was tucked into the envelope.  This pattern was purchased at J.Lurie in Chicago, on January 15, 1920.

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The Middy: From Function to Fashion

So, how did the blouse of a sailor’s uniform, otherwise called a middy (as they were worn by midshipmen) become the basis of a dress recently worn by the Duchess of Cambridge?  Well it actually started with the British royal family.  The wearing of sailor suits by anyone besides an actual sailor probably originated with young Prince Edward in the mid 19th century.  He later had his own children dressed in miniature sailor uniforms.  A photograph of the children inspired a trend of dressing small boys in sailor suits – a trend that lasted well into the 20th century.

Photo is of a group of children in Finland, circa 1920 photo courtesy of Vintage Fan Attic

Around 1880, women’s sport blouses began sporting sailor type collars. This type collar was soon used on bathing suits and gymnasium uniforms as well.  This was not a true middy, as it was designed to be tucked into, buttoned onto, or attached to the skirt or bloomers.  Photo circa 1905.

Sometime around 1910 the sailor blouse was developed into the middy.  The middy did not “blouse” over the waist; it hung straight from the shoulders to the hip.  In the mid 1910s, the middy was often loosely belted, in keeping with current fashion.  By 1920, the belt was gone, and was often replaced with a wide band at the hem.

An important part of the middy was the fabric used.  The middy was constructed of cotton duck, like a sailor’s warm weather middy.   Because of its practically, the middy quickly became standard wear for sports, gym and camp.  The illustration is a 1919 ad.  Paul Jones was the brand name of Morris and Company, who claimed to be the originators of the middy.  The middy photographed above has a Paul Jones label.

By the late 1910s, middies were not just for active sports.  They had crossed over into being fashion as well.  Dresses with middy tops became popular for spectator sports.  This illustration is from a 1919 Butterick Pattern Book.

The middy was worn over huge bloomers when used for sport.  The bloomers were commonly made from wool, but increasingly as the 1920s progressed, they too were made from cotton duck.  Above  is the typical gym set:  white duck middy and blue cotton bloomers.

By 1929, the middy was pretty much back in its old position of being active sportswear.  Whereas in 1922 Montgomery Ward had a full page of middies, in 1929 there was just this one middy offered, and it was in the sports section instead of the clothing.

The middy has resurfaced from time to time as a fashion item.  The style became popular in the form of  patriotic dresses during WWII.  Ladies Home Journal, 1941.

These middy and nautical inspired blouses are from the late 1950s or early 60s.  During the 1970s, authentic sailor middies became very popular as we began to discover vintage.  The very first piece of vintage clothing I bought to wear was a white duck sailor’s middy, bought from the Army-Navy surplus store.  And in the 1980s, middy dresses reappeared, with dropped waistlines, puffed sleeves and big sailor collars.  Think Laura Ashley.

I have more middy illustrations and a list of resources on my website, Fuzzylizzie.com.

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White and Navy, The Middy Up-dated

It’s not often that I comment on what a celebrity is wearing, just because I feel that why bother when Tom and Lorenzo are in the world.  But I just have to say a few words about this fabulous dress that Duchess Catherine wore in Canada yesterday.

The fashion press lost no time in calling forth the vintage inspiration, saying it was 1920s inspired.  Well, yes, but to me it speaks more of the 1970s, when designers like Sonia Rykiel and Jean Muir took looks from the 20s and 30s and transformed them by making them in knits.  But no matter, because whatever the era it evokes, I cannot resist a dress that so beautifully transforms a sportswear staple from the 1910s and 20s, the middy.

The middy dress, or sailor dress has come and gone over the years.  They were big during World War II as a way to show one’s patriotism.  They were also popular in the mid 60s.  I can remember that I had one that was culottes that I wore in junior high, around 1968.  And then they had another big moment in the 1980s, when Laura Ashley began making a version in navy.

What is interesting is that it was first reported that Catherine’s dress was Sarah Burton for McQueen, but some people who pay close attention to what celebrities wear remembered seeing this one in 2006, being worn by Sarah Jessica Parker.  So the dress is actually by Alexander McQueen.  I wonder if they remade the dress for Catherine, or if it has been carefully folded up (never hang a knit dress!) on a shelf for the past five years.

There are several websites where one can go and vote for who wore it the best, but I think the dress suits them both.  It was surprising to see the dress on Parker, as when I saw the original dress my thoughts were, “Only on a tall woman.”  But Parker’s version is navy, which made it much more wearable for a shorter woman.  Trust me, I’m short and I’d have tried on both colors, loved the white and chosen the navy.

Photo of Duchess Catherine via dailymail.co.uk

Photo of Sarah Jessica Parker, Getty Photos, via Huffington Post

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New Folkwear Pattern – The Metro Middy Blouse

You all know how I love a great middy blouse, so I was tickled to see Folkwear’s latest pattern, an up-dated middy.   This one would be great as a blouse, as seen on the left, but I really love the untucked, swingy version.  This would make a super spring-into-summer jacket.

If you have not already read my homage to the middy, it really is a garment with an interesting history.

Top Image courtesy and copyright of Folkwear

June 18, 1916

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