Tag Archives: pants

Vactor’s Out-door Girl Slack Trousers

This Vactor’s Out-door Girl trousers ad dates from sometime in the mid-1930s, judging by the style of the shirt, the style of the slacks (and the fact that the button instead of zip),  and the hair style.  I actually have a sewing pattern from the same time with a shirt that is identical to the one the “model” is wearing.  Another clue is that sanforization was patented in 1930 by Sanford Lockwood Cluett.  By the mid 1930s the process was being widely used to eliminate shrinkage in cotton fabrics.

I’d never heard of the D.C. Vactor company, but I was able to find out a little bit online.  Because the ad told me that the company was located in Cleveland, Ohio, I was able to attempt a Google search that produced some results.

The first mention I found of Vactor’s was in a 1909 Sheldon’s Manufacturing Trade magazine, a periodical for the “cutting-up trade”.  I’m assuming that was a funny double entrendre.  At least I hope so.  All I learned was that Vactor’s was a maker of pants, and was located on Saint Clair Avenue in what was once a manufacturing center in Cleveland.  By the late 1910s and early 1920s, there were numerous references to the company in various clothing manufacturing trade magazines.  The last reference I found to D.C. Vactor was that his widow made a donation to a charity in his memory in 1944.

The little swatches of fabric really help one visualize how the slack trousers actually looked.  The fabric is a twill and is quite lightweight, much lighter than denim.  This does not seem to be a fancy department store product.  The price of $2.45 ($43 in today’s dollar) plus the type of fabric seem to point to this being the sort of thing that might have been sold in a small town general store or a cheaper department store.

Ads like this one were mailed to prospective buyers at stores, or were dropped off by the thousands of traveling sales representatives who paid calls to stores to take orders for their companies’ products.



Filed under Collecting, Sportswear

1930s Northbilt Ski Pants

In the 1930s skiing was a relatively new spot in the US, having become popular only in the 1920s.  After winter resorts and ski slopes were developed it became obvious that women especially were going to need clothing specifically for the sport.  It just was not practical to try to make one’s way down a mountain wearing a 1920s skirt, or even knickers that ended at the knee.  By the early 1930s companies were making full length wool ski pants for women, another great example of how active sportswear led to women adopting the wearing of pants.

Even though these ski pants were made to be functional in the snow, a woman wearing them would still want to look her best.  The waist and hip area is slim and quite fitted, with little extra bulk.

And what a nice curve there is to the side button opening.

The leg cuffs are made of a knit wool for a close fit.

And for the key to your room at the lodge, a little patch pocket was included.

These ski pants were made by the Northbilt company in Minneapolis.  According to the US Trademark site, Northbilt was first used as a brand name in 1919.  The last reference I can find to the company was in 1962.  As always, additional information about this company would be appreciated.

Here is a page from a 1936 Montgomery Ward catalog showing their selection of women’s ski pants, which are very similar to my pair.  Note that one pair has  “slide fasteners” – zippers – at the cuffs and the waist.  Button closings were slowly being replaced.


Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Winter Sports

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!


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

1930s Sailor Inspired Pants

It was during the 1930s that women became serious about wearing slacks.  Many had already taken to wearing knickers during the Twenties, and by the end of that decade the pyjama pant had become a popular beach option.  In the Thirties pants moved from the beach and into other casual venues.

This delightful pair was one of my flea market finds.  They aren’t perfect, but for an eighty-year-old garment that received rough wear, they aren’t bad.  I love the double button flap in the front, but check out this great detail in the back:

Just like a real pair of sailor pants, this pair has laces at the waist.  The stitching holds in place a sort of modesty panel.  We couldn’t be allowing a peek of our panties!

The label is great as well, with a horse and equestrienne theme. Marshall Field was the great Chicago department store, having been founded in 1881.

A second label gives a bit more information about the fabric.  It is “sanforized,” a process that helped keep cotton fabrics from shrinking.  It was developed and patented in 1930 by Sanford Cluett, one of the owners of Arrow shirts.  A sanforized tag can be useful in dating a garment, as one having that label cannot predate 1930.

Here’s a close-up of the front flap opening.  The buttons are the originals.  How about that little pocket?

Another nice detail that does not show in my other photos is the white piping down the side seam.

And I love that piping is also on the trim of the little pocket.

In the 1930s, the nautical look was hot, but it was not new.  Seaside outfits that took inspiration from the sailor’s suit dated back to Victorian times, and the inspiration continued through the Edwardian era and the 1920s  in exercise and swimwear.

This 1930s woman did not need to be on the shore in order to enjoy her nautical ensemble.



Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

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.


Filed under Sewing

Back to the Seventies

I graduated from high school in 1973, and this outfit would have been the very thing I’d have worn that year.  The girls at my school had just been granted the right to wear pants, mainly because the school officials didn’t seem to be able to control the shortness of the minis we were wearing.  Yes, there were rules, but they couldn’t send us all home.  So rather than have the constant parade of over-exposed thighs, the powers must have concluded that covered up, even if it meant pants, was better.

It was a whimsical time in fashion with lots of silly little prints of Holly Hobbie and cartoon characters that were popular with girls at my school.  We liked pinafore tops and I even had a dress with a back tie sash.  I guess we knew it was pretty much our last chance to really be kids.

So, sure, I’d have worn the mouse sweater.

I’ve had this little Bobbie Brooks sweater for at least five years, and possibly longer.  When I found it I had a perfect vision of the pants that would go with it.  First, they had to be plaid.  The main color would be light, or even white, but the blue would match, and there would be a darker color, maybe a deep gold or a red.

When I found these last week, I was pretty sure I’d found my pants.  Still, I was working the color from memory and could not be sure.  It helped that colors are fashion-driven, and this was a good color in the early 70s.

It was such a good match that you might think that the pants are also from Bobbie Brooks.  Actually, the label is Gordon of Philadelphia, which was geared toward a slightly older, more conservative consumer.  But I guess even the preppy had to capitulate to the way of fashion, at least for a few years.



Filed under Collecting, Shopping

American Sportswear, Part II: Pants

As promised, here is part two of my article on sportswear.  Today we’ll be talking about pants.

For many working women, their first experience with wearing pants came in World War I.  And in the late 1910s and in the 1920s  many high school and college girls were wearing bloomer pants as part of their gym attire.  Women were also wearing knickers and breeches for outdoor sports such as riding and hiking.  But even though young women were growing up wearing certain bifurcated garments, trousers were still considered to be solely for men.

By the mid-1920s, daring ladies were wearing “trunks” under their sports frocks.  By the early 1930s they were called shorts, and they were no longer confined to being under a dress.  A garment called a playsuit, quite similar to the gymsuit, was a one piece shirt and shorts, and it came with a matching skirt that was removed for the beach or picnic, and then put back on for the return to town.  In the photo above the skirt is buttoned over top of the playsuit.

I’m afraid I can’t say who came up with the idea for the playsuit, but I feel certain that it did not come from the swimsuit.  In structure it is much more similar to the gymsuit.  But I do know that it first appeared in the very early 30s.   It remained popular through the early 1960s, and in the mid 1970s  and the 1980s made brief reappearances.

1930s beach pyjamas

Slacks for women appeared in the 1920s, first in the boudoir and on the beach as pyjamas, but by the early 1930s they were worn for skiing, sailing and other leisure activities.  Increasingly, pants and even men’s style trousers, were seen in magazines on actress like Katharine Hepburn.  By the late 1930s, women were seen wearing slacks in movies.

But it took World War II to really turn American women into pants wearers.  During the war slacks or overalls were a necessity for women working in factories and farms. When the war was over women continued wearing the practical and comfortable slacks for casual events and in leisure time.  And increasingly, shorts were acceptable for the most casual occasions such as picnics and beach parties.

1940s shorts set, by Lorch of Dallas

I’ll end this series tomorrow by talking about some of the post WWII sportswear trends, and some of the important sportswear designers and makers.


Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Clothing