Tag Archives: shorts

1920s Bloomer Shorts by Lafayette Mfg of Baltimore

In the 1910s and 1920s gym wear was a booming business. Most schools were adding physical education classes to the curriculum, even for girls. A need for gym clothing spread beyond the elite colleges and city gymnasiums to schools across America. There were plenty of companies ready to fill the need.

Many sporting goods companies added girls’ gym clothes to their inventory, but in addition what seems to be hundreds of companies were formed to make clothes for gym class. One of these was the Lafayette Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1923 with the mission of providing middy blouses, the standard for girls to wear not only for physical education, but also as classroom attire. The company was formed with partners Maurice Rosenberg, Irma Rosenberg, and Joseph Hinkle. The company’s address was 306 East Lombard Street in Baltimore.

A real plus to this purchase was that the shorts are deadstock and retained the original hangtag. There’s a wealth of information on the tag, without which I don’t think I would ever have been able to learn about the makers.

By far the most useful information provided was the patent number on both the label and the tag. Having the number, I was able to locate a copy of the patent.

If you are wondering why a simple pair of shorts required a patent, the answer is that these are not a simple pair of shorts. Thanks to drawstrings in the back of the waistband, the waist is adjustable from 25 to 34 inches. I can imagine the thrifty mother looking at these with glee, knowing they would continue to fit her growing daughter.

Just pull and tie to adjust the fit.

These shorts have one more interesting feature. At first I was puzzled that the tag called these “bloomers” and the patent called them “knickers” because to me I thought they should be called “shorts”. But these are indeed bloomers, which are concealed beneath the straight legs. It’s an interesting development in the history of shorts, a term that came into use about the time these were made in the late 1920s. The idea of bloomers under shorts persisted in gym clothes. I have several 1960s catalogs that show them.

Research on these bloomers was hindered by the name of the business. With all the towns and streets in the US named for the French hero, plowing through the search results was daunting. Finally, using the name on the patent, and the assumption that Rosenberg was located in Baltimore, I found exactly one useful reference.

Today the location of Lafayette Manufacturing appears to be a parking lot for a hotel.


Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

1940s Made in Hawaii Bathing Suit from Kahala

This recently acquired halter and shorts set sent me down a rabbit hole of Hawaiian textiles.  The beginnings of the Hawaiian shirt are a bit obscure, but the first ones were probably made from silk fabrics from Japan in the 1920s.  Most of them were made by small shops in small batches. The large scale manufacture of shirts from Hawaiian fabrics started in the mid 1930s.

My set was made by Kahala, one of the first companies to manufacture “Hawaiian” garments.  It was started in 1936 by Nat Norfleet and George Brangier, neither of whom was a native Hawaiian. Their company, Branfleet, was using the Kahala name and label by 1937.  From what I’ve been able to find out, women’s garments were not made until after World War II, but then clothing for women became a major part of their business.

It is possible that my set is actually a bathing suit. It is completely lined in cotton jersey.

What Norfleet and Brangier discovered was that men would buy a shirt made from their Hawaiian fabrics to wear while in Hawaii, but women would continue to wear their Kahala garments after returning home.  I’d say this was much better than today’s not so subtle brag of the souvenir tee shirt.  You could remind the neighbors of your Hawaiian trip while looking fabulous.

I don’t find a lot of older Hawaiian garments here in the Southeast. People here were much more likely to vacation in Florida, or if a little more affluent, Cuba. But from the few older Hawaiian shirts I have been able to closely examine, I can tell you that the fabric is very different from the newer rayons made in the 1980s up through the present time.  My set is rayon, but it is lightly textured, though smooth at the same time.

The button is made from coconut shell, and adds another layer of Hawaiian authenticity.

But the star of this set is the print.  The richness is achieved with the use of at least fourteen colors.  I especially love the light blue used with so much red.

According to my one and only book on Hawaiian shirts, the very earliest prints were tropical flowers and tapa cloth prints. Scenics like mine soon became popular as well.

The Hawaiian Shirt, by H. Thomas Steele, was one of the very first fashion books I bought.  I can remember looking through it in the local B. Dalton book store and trying to justify the purchase. It was published in 1984, so I’m sure it was shortly after than that I added this to my very small, but growing, fashion history library.



Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

Late 1940s Shorts and Wrap Skirt

I recently ran across this skirt and a pair of matching shorts, and I bought them even though there are quite a few problems with the two pieces.  To be really honest, I wanted these partly because of the issues and my desire to analyze the set.  Using the questions from The Dress Detective, I wanted to hear the story these pieces have to tell.

To start with, there is a real possibility that a piece is missing.  By looking at sewing patterns and catalogs from 1940 through the 1950s, these sets often came with a matching blouse.  These pieces are home sewn, and there is no way to know if a matching blouse was actually made, but that is the way the pieces were marketed, and presumably, worn.

Here are some good examples from a 1940s brochure from Edwards Department Store in Rochester, New York.  In these photos the top and shorts are attached as one piece, but these were also available as shorts and top separately.

After World War II ended, fabrics became a lot more colorful.  Dyes had been restricted during the war, and I’m sure people were ready for a burst of color.  If you look at fashion magazines starting as early as the middle of 1945, you can really see what I mean.  Interesting designs and color combinations dominated.  In the case of my skirt and shorts you can see turquoise, a chartreuse-y yellow, and two shades of rust, printed on white and accented with black.

As mentioned, the set is home sewn, using simple techniques.  The sewer must have had one of those new-fangled buttonholers that attached to the machine.  The buttons on the skirt are mother of pearl, and they are well-worn.  They seem to be a bit old-fashioned for the piece.  Could they have been re-cycled?

There is a noticeable color difference between the shorts and the skirt.  The skirt looks hardly worn, but the shorts are quite faded.  What does that say?  The shorts were obviously washed more than the skirt, and so we can assume they were worn more.

There is another interesting clue on the shorts, a smear  of dried paint.  Could it be that after the shorts became either worn or not so fashionable (or both) that they were used to wear around the house for chores like painting.  It points to a long life of the shorts and skirt, and possibly a blouse, moving from cute outfit to work attire.

There is one last thing to point out.  At sometime the skirt was shortened as evidenced by the faded line.  During the last part of the 1950s skirt hems did rise, and so this could have been an attempt to make the skirt more fashionable.  Or it is possible this was done years later by a wearer of vintage clothing.  Either way, it is an interesting part of the skirt’s history.


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Vintage 1940s Jantzen Tee Shirt and Shorts Set

I’m back from my little vintage buying trip, and I’m ready to show off the special things I found.   I really do not buy large quantities of stuff, especially since I narrowed the focus of my collection to mainly sportswear.  It helps me to be able to zero in on the stuff that fits in with the types of things I like to acquire and research.

First up is a sweet tee shirt and matching shirts set from Jantzen.  I almost missed this set.  The lady who had it in her booth was still unpacking things, and when I passed by the box of unpacked merchandise I spotted the Jantzen logo.  I simply could not believe it when I saw that there were matching shorts, and that both were unworn.

The label in both pieces is found in Jantzen items dating from the late 1940s and into the early 1950s.    The shirt is cotton knit and the shorts are a cotton twill.

The shorts are cuffed and have a back metal zipper.

Best of all is the presence of this original sticker.  It was due to the sticker that I was able to narrow down the date of the set.  Style-wise it could be anywhere in the 1940s and early to mid 50s.   It was my hope to find the set in a period advertisement, and while I found quite a few similar ones online, I did not located the exact set.  But what I did notice was that all the ads had a price list in the ad copy.

Since I know my tee shirt was $2.95, I looked at all the prices of Jantzen tee shirts.  What I found was that up until 1945, they advertised their tees at $2.  By 1947 they were $2.95, but in a 1950s ad I noticed that the price had dropped to $2.50.  I think I’m pretty safe in assuming that my set dates between 1947 and 1949.

Another hint as to date might be the colors.  I do not know enough about what colors were “fashionable” during which years.  Wouldn’t that information make a fantastic reference book though?

One 1948 ad actually showed the stripe combinations that were available, but mine was not included.   I’m sure the answer is out there, and eventually I’ll find it.  But honestly, even though I love to have matching ads for items in my collection, it really does not matter that much to me whether the year is 1947 or 1950.    Items like this set were worn over spans of several years anyway.

Yes, that is an actual pocket, perfect for a dollar bill and the house key.


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Gardening Attire, Late 30s Style

This caught my eye yesterday as I walked through a local antique store.  I was some distance away, and at first I couldn’t tell exactly what the product was, but a closer look revealed that it was bug spray:

Surprising to find this gardener dressed as she’s about to go on a picnic!  I would have expected a girl in overalls, or at least a housedress with an apron.  Maybe they were trying to imply how easy the product was to use.  “Go ahead and get dressed for your outing, and spray the bugs before your date arrives!”

So now I’m wondering if these two young women sprayed their bugs before posing in their positive/negitive ensembles!

Speaking of overalls, there is a great post at Unsung Sewing Patterns showing a 1940s sewing pattern for women’s overalls.


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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs

Vintage Serendipity

I got an email from my friend Hollis a couple of weeks ago.  She had picked up some 1950s shorts at a sale and wanted to know if I would be interested in them.  Now that’s what I like – a friend who pays attention to what you love and who even does your shopping for you!

She sent some photos and then she really got my interest.  In the group of shorts was a pair by Catalina that was from the same line as a sleeveless blouse I already had.  There was shirring on the blouse front, and I could see the same shirring on the legs of the shorts.

I couldn’t wait to get them so I could photograph the two pieces together.  In reality, the set would probably look better on most women if the brown was on the bottom and the pink on the top, but still, pretty nifty, I’d say!

Hollis, you can shop for me any day!


Posted by Tom Tuttle from Tacoma:

neat detail. yea, you’re right about where the colours should preferably be! i was just telling a young colleague that pinks go with browns (she didn’t quite know how to wear browns).

Sunday, September 20th 2009 @ 7:45 PM

Posted by Karen/Small Earth Vintage:

That is so cool! The colors make me think of Neopolitan ice cream.

Sunday, September 20th 2009 @ 10:55 PM

Posted by Jennifer:

What an adorable set! I love that!!

Monday, September 21st 2009 @ 1:12 PM

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Summertime Means Shorts Time

Summer is in full swing, and here in my corner of the world, that means shorts time! I’ve loved wearing shorts ever since I was a little girl and we were not allowed to wear them to school. Shorts meant school was o-u-t, so shorts meant freedom!

Unfortunately, I’m having a non-shorts moment. It’s bad enough that my 54 year old legs really aren’t what they used to be, but to add insult to injury, I had a bad accident involving a crazy dog and a step ladder. I won’t go into details, but believe me when I say the sight of my bruised leg is not for the faint hearted!

So instead of wearing shorts, I’ll just write about them. Shorts-wearing by women is a relatively new concept, having its beginning in the 1920s, but not really catching on for any place other than the beach or sports field until the 1940s. The first reference to shorts being worn by women that I’ve ever found is in a 1925 Bonwit Teller Catalog. In this page from the catalog, the shorts are meant to be worn under the sports frocks: “Little Chanel running trunks to match, made to special order if desired.”

Toward the end of the 1920s, school and college girls began trading their gym bloomers for shorts.  In this ad from 1929, the shorts are still referred to as “trunks.”  (Also of great interest is the use of a slide fastener, or zipper.  It was another decade before zippers became commonplace.)

And another from a 1931 Sears catalog shows a sports costume, and this time the garment is called “shorts.”

By the mid 1930s, someone had come up with the idea of a playsuit – a one piece shorts and top over which the wearer could add a button-up skirt after she was through with the tennis match, or when she left the beach.  It was just not okay for a woman to be seen on the street wearing something as revealing as shorts. The playsuit/skirt set was so practical that it lasted for years.  One of my favorite summer outfits in the early 70s was one I made from a stretchy knit with a little ladybug print, and a matching red wrap skirt.

In the 1940s, shorts became very popular, and women began wearing them for more than just active sports.  Personally, I think the best looking shorts ever came from the 40s, with the flaring legs and mid thigh length being so  flattering… at least to the young and fit!

I got the above ad from Pam at glamoursurf.com. The ad comes from 1944 – note the reference to War Bonds.  Even though clothes were rationed and fabric was in short supply, the American sportswear makers still managed to come up with some wonderful sportswear.  This pleated (front only, to save fabric) short style is one of the most flattering shorts ever made, and they look just as fresh in 2009 as they did in 1944.  Here are these shorts:


Posted by Mary Catherine (APrizeEveryTime):

Terrific illustrations, Lizzie. So breezy and pert!

Tuesday, June 9th 2009 @ 7:37 PM

Posted by Joules:

Wonderful story of shorts! Love seeing the Jantzens, complete with ad, and the label. So great!

Wednesday, June 10th 2009 @ 3:37 AM

Posted by Couture Allure:

I always love seeing an actual garment matched to the original advertisement. Great post, Lizzie! I hope you’re OK, and that your bruises heal quickly.

Wednesday, June 10th 2009 @ 4:40 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

I’m glad you all love these!Jody, I’m fine and today the bruises do look a little better.

Thursday, June 11th 2009 @ 6:10 AM

Posted by Tara:

What a great post! I think I might actually wear shorts if I could find some in the 40’s style!

Wednesday, June 17th 2009 @ 9:08 A

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Filed under Advertisements, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Vintage Photographs