Tag Archives: sweater

Fashion Goes Around and Comes Around

I really didn’t think I’d be writing about sweaters in April, but much of the northern United States has had a bit of snow, and it is even predicted here in the southern mountains later this week.  The way I see it, anytime is right for a fantastic sweater like the one above.  I took this photo at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC several years ago.  Even though this was a sports piece, the sleeve style is pure fashion, and dates this fabulous sweater to the mid 1890s.

You would think that such an extreme style would have had its moment in the sun, never to be seen again, but it seems to me that all fashion is at sometime recycled.

I spotted this 1980s sweater recently at the Goodwill Outlet.  The puffed sleeved sweater was not unusual in the 80s; I had one myself.  What I found to be most interesting was the tight lower part of the sleeve.  My photo is sort of pitiful, but imagine this sweater on a body.  Though not nearly as extreme, the effect would be the same as the 1890s sweater.

I don’t think I would have not made the connection if not for my recent reading of Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa.  Suddenly I’m seeing 19th century influences everywhere.  It just goes to show the power of reading, and looking at lots of wonderful old photographs, to improve one’s eye.

In the latest issue of Dress – The Journal of the Costume Society of America, there was a tribute to Joan Severa, who died in 2015.  Colleagues often referred to her as “Joan Perservera” because once started, she would simply not give up on a project.  Seeing as how she spent almost twenty years working on Dressed for the Photographer, I’d say it was a very accurate moniker!


Filed under Curiosities, Sportswear

Catalina Official All America Board of Football Sweater Vest, 1940s

If it were up to me, this label would read “Bored of Football” but then if everyone were like me there’d not be lots of old athletic sweaters to covet.  I’ll admit, I bought this mainly because I thought the label added a lot to the story.

As you can see, this sweater is official, of what though, I’m not entirely sure.  Googling brought up some vague references to a Board of Football helping to select the All American college players for each year.  Unfortunately, I soon got bored with the search and decided to just focus on the sweater.

Athletic letter sweaters are a fairly commonly found item.  Unfortunately, the moths often find them first, as I’ve found many that were nibbled beyond repair. There is a reason these are so common, as the letter sweater was a standard trophy for not only high school and college football players, but also for cheerleaders, basketball players, track runners and even band members.

Older athletic sweaters, before the mid 1930s or so, tend to be pullovers.  My 1936 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog has both pullovers and cardigans, for both men and women.  They are called warm-up pullovers and coats.  Later athletic sweaters, from the late 1950s or so, are often made from acrylic yarn.


It’s such a nice hefty knit.  My color here is wrong though.  The real color is what you see in the top photo.  I obviously have not mastered the art of color balance.

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Round Hill Originals Decorated Sweater

Several weeks ago Emily at Virgin Vintage posted photos of a sweater on the Vintage Fashion Guild forums.  It was hand decorated with bugs and mushrooms, much in the manner of a Pat Baldwin sweater but it had a label I’d never seen before.

It was a Round Hill Original of Greenwich, Connecticut.  Marvelous researcher Lynne was able to dig up a bit of information.  Round Hill Originals was a non-profit group that was raising money for various charities and cultural groups.  I found where they helped pay for the relocation of an endangered historical building.  They provided a chapel at a Boy Scout camp.

The first reference that Lynne located was 1954, and the last was 1967.  In December, 1967 the group held a  “Mistletoe Mart” in which they sold “sweaters, costumes, and dresses.”

What I’ve not been able to find out is if the group actually decorated the items themselves, or if they bought them to resell.  The work is quite detailed, and is expertly done, so it does not appear that this was just an amateur craft co-op.

I’m sure the answer is out there, and to hopefully hurry up the information trail I have an email in to the Greenwich Historical Society.  Stay tuned.

The sweater is currently for sale in Emily’s Etsy shop.  All the photos are copyright of Virgin Vintage.  Please do not copy.


Filed under Curiosities, Vintage Clothing

Misleading Labels – Mainbocher

Under certain circumstances, my reporting that I’d found a sweater with a Mainbocher label would be a cause for celebrating.  Main Rousseau Bocher was an American who stayed in Paris after WWI, changed his name to Mainbocher, and opened a couture house.  When WWII broke out he returned to the US and continued making clothes, including wonderfully decorated cashmere evening twin sets.

This sweater is not by THE Mainbocher, of course.  A quick search on the US Trademark site showed that this sweater is a product of Stein Mart, a “luxury discounter.”  They have had the Mainbocher name registered since 2005.

I’m not sure how this works, how a company can just take the name of a dead designer and slap it on random clothing.  I do understand revivals, where the label makes an attempt to channel the aesthetic of the designer into the new line (as in the Anne Fogarty revival) or Charles James, where the company actually has an agreement with his children.

I’m sure this happens all the time.  Feel free to share any misleading labels you’ve seen.  I know that about twenty years ago someone registered Claire McCardell’s name, but her family got that enterprise stopped through legal channels.  I noticed that her name has recently been registered as a trademark yet again.

I actually bought this sweater, because despite it being made in China, it is a nice, well-made garment.  It’s the type of thing I wear on a daily basis in colder months.  Somehow cashmere is just a bit more luxurious than sweatshirts.  I probably paid a dollar for it at the Goodwill outlet.

Nice full fashion knitting.  Most cheap sweaters are cut out from cashmere knit and then sewn.  In fully fashioned sweaters the pieces are knit to fit without cutting.

Not bad for a department store cashmere, but not quite couture!


Filed under Curiosities, Designers

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

Ad Campaign – Jantzen Sweaters, 1948

We want to pull some wonderful wool over your eyes… the finest !00% virgin worsted wool, to be exact!  We get it from Australia and we only patronize white sheep… we spin it, dye it in colors by the great color genius,  Dorothy Liebes, and knit it into luxurious sweaters… for you to give yourself and your best friends.

Jantzen was, of course, known first and foremost for their swimsuits, but starting in 1940 they also produced sportswear.  The sweaters shown were pretty typical of the types of things they made.

What I found to be surprising in this ad was the mention of Dorothy Liebes as the colorist.  Liebes was primarily a designer of home design textiles, producing textiles for the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright.  She was known for her innovative use of new materials.  She herself was a weaver, and at the time of this ad in 1948 she had a studio in San Francisco where she experimented with color and materials that were not generally thought to be the ingredients of textiles.  Things like leather strips, wood slats and metallic pieces.  She later moved her operation to New York and opened a studio on Lexington Avenue.

Liebes suffered from a heart condition and retired in 1970.  That same year the Museum of Contemporary Crafts did a retrospective of her work.  Unfortunately, Liebes died the following year.

Several years ago I ran across the catalog from the 1970 retrospective, so I read through it to see if there was any mention of Jantzen.  Sure enough, in the listing of positions she held over the years, it says she was a color consultant for Jantzen in 1947-48, and again in 1954-58.

I also learned that although Liebes is known mainly for her work in the home fashions textile industry, one of her last commissions was from designer Bonnie Cashin in 1969.

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Vintage Cashmere Buying Guide

Today I’ll be talking more about vintage cashmere.  The ad above is a great one to lead into the topic.  It is from 1955:  The slim and sinuous sweater that takes a fresh look at spring!

One of the great things about vintage cashmere sweaters is that there are so many different styles that most women are going to find some that match their taste.  Many collectors focus in on the fancy evening cardigans that were so popular in the 1950s and 60s.  Look for beautiful beading in stunning color combinations such as black on red, pastels on white and copper on tan.  There are lovely embroidered and appliquéd sweaters with flowers, fruits, insects and oriental motifs.  Many of these embroidered sweaters have matching or contrasting satin edge bindings. Many sweaters, especially the highly decorated ones, were made in Hong Kong.  In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Hong Kong not only produced beautifully decorated cashmere, but also high quality lambswool/angora blends that are almost as soft as cashmere.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference if the tags are missing.

If you wear fur, there are cardigans with big fur collars that snap on and off for cleaning. These cashmere-fur sweaters are commonly found in contrasting colors, such as a black sweater with a white collar.  Sometimes they are dyed to match, often in great colors such as deep green or royal blue.

For women with more classic taste, there are plenty of simpler options.  Solid color cardigans, jewel neck and collared pullovers, and turtlenecks can be found in practically any hue.  If you like patterns, you might look for intarsia designs.

Italian sweater from the 1960s showing the influence of Emilio Pucci

There have been hundreds of manufacturers of cashmere during the past seven decades.  “Made in Scotland” on the label is usually a sign of quality, as the Scottish mills such as Pringle, Ballentyne, Braemar and Lyle Scott produced (and in some cases, continue to produce) top-quality sweaters.  Supposedly, the water in Scotland in which the cashmere fiber is washed makes the fibers softer.  For whatever reason, it is hard to beat a cashmere sweater that originated in Scotland.

Cardigan made in Scotland by Braemar

The two biggest American labels were Dalton and Hadley.  It is fairly common to find Dalton sweaters that are two-tone; usually the sweater is a beautiful color with white or contracting trim.  They also made intarsia designs, often in three colors. Scalloped edges were another pretty detail used by Dalton; they also made beautiful appliquéd sweaters.

Hadley manufactured cashmere and camelhair sweaters for many major department stores.  They had one line in the 1960s and 70s they called “Cashmere Souffle” that was 6- or 8-ply, compared to the usual 2- or 3-ply yarns used in most sweaters.

Pat Baldwin for Hadley decorated cashmere cardigan

A very special find would be a cashmere sweater that was designed by one of the great designers of the period. Halston became known for his work in cashmere in the 1970s, but you should also look for the big names of the 1950s.  Schiaparelli licensed a line of evening sweaters in the 1950s and 1960s.  Some were cashmere with rhinestones or beads, but the same designs were also made in Orlon.  Bonnie Cashin designed cashmere sweaters and skirts for Ballentyne, and later, for her own company, The Knittery.  Tina Leser did lines for Dalton and Pringle.

Helen Bond Carruthers sweater decorated with Belgian embroidery

Many collectors look for sweaters by master decorators. Helen Bond Carruthers, Pat Baldwin and Edith Salzman are some of the best known and most highly collected.  Carruthers took the embroidery from old worn piano shawls from the 1920s and embroidered and lacy bits from antique Belgian linens, and attached the decorations like applique to the sweaters. Very often the entire sweater would be covered with decoration. She also often altered these sweaters, shortening both the sleeves and the torso. These sweaters are considered to be the ultimate in decorated cashmere. So look for the large label – it will be in the waist!

When shopping for vintage cashmere, be sure to check carefully for signs of wear and use. The most common problem with these great old sweaters is that moths love them too! Check the sweater carefully for holes. Tiny ones are easily fixed, but require the hand of an experienced mender.

One of the advantages vintage cashmere has over the cheap cashmere that is being produced today is that it was usually made of longer fiber wool, and thus does not readily form pills.  Pills are those annoying little balls of fur that appear wherever friction occurs.  A sweater that is heavily pilled will probably always produce pills.   Look under the armholes for additional signs of friction.  Sometimes sweaters look felted under the arms.

Check for stains, as old stains are difficult to remove, and harsh treatments such as oxygen powered cleaners are not good for the fur fibers.

Non-decorated cashmeres are easy to care for.  They can be hand washed in lukewarm water with a bit of conditioning shampoo added.  Squeeze out the water with towels (no wringing!) and lie flat to dry.   Appliqued or sequined sweaters and those with satin bindings cannot be hand washed.  They have to be dry cleaned, but don’t over-do it because repeated  drycleaning can make the fibers brittle .  I have known people who have successfully hand washed beaded sweaters, but I think that is risky and can’t recommend it!


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