Tag Archives: tennis

The Dress I’ll Not Be Buying

Very high on my wish list for a very long time has been a late 1920s white dress appropriate for tennis. The dresses above are from 1927, seen in a B.Altman catalog. It shows the type of thing I’ve been desiring for a long time.

These are hard to come by. It’s much easier to find a fantastically beaded evening dress from 1927 than it is to find a simple white linen or cotton frock. That does not keep me from looking. I have the usual hunting sites, like Etsy, eBay, and Ruby Lane, but occasionally I’ll venture into high price territory, in the hopes that a dress I can afford will magically appear.

So I went to one such high-priced site, and my search for “tennis dress” returned a list of five or six actual dresses, one of which was labeled as 1920s. Unfortunately,  labeling a dress “1920s” does not automatically make it so.

While old, the dress was not from the twenties, but was very similar to the third dress in this group. And this is from a 1931 B. Altman catalog. Still, it was a great dress, and the best part was a little tennis racket motif embroidered on the bodice. Yes, this was an actual tennis dress.

I’ll admit that at first glance I was smitten. I was charmed by the obviousness of the embroidery. Then I started reading the description and looking at the photos. There were numerous stains and even a tear in the fabric. But what really stopped me in my shopping tracks was a description of the underarms. They were described as having “authentic sweat stains”.  A look at the photos confirmed that yes, these sweat stains were indeed authentic.

I can’t remember ever having read an item description where sweat stains were spun into a good thing. Perhaps that helps explain the $1200 (plus $25 shipping) price tag.

For the most part, I don’t complain about what people choose to charge for their old stuff. I figure that the marketplace really does help establish prices. That said, there are definite trends even in vintage clothing that do affect pricing. I long for the old days when I could buy 1950s travel-themed skirts for $40, and when the competition for old sportswear was non-existent, but I realize these fads too shall pass. I can remember when plain Victorian white underwear brought hundreds of dollars, things that today bring less than fifty.

In the meantime the $1225 1920s-but-really-1930s tennis dress will not be added to my little collection.

 

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1920s Sports Bandeau

Sometimes it’s the smallest and simplest vintage item that is the hardest to find. I’ve written in the past about the popularity of the head band, or bandeau, for sports. They are very commonly seen in photos of women tennis players of the 1920s, but a search for one for my collection was proving to be almost impossible. For some time I’ve been coveting one Susan Langley pictured in her book, Roaring 20’s Fashion: Jazz. Her example was new and on the original sales card.

The problem with finding a 1920s sports bandeau is that it is obviously a stretchy knit band, and many women would recognize it as being for the head, but how many would see the specific purpose for which it was designed? I fear than many, when found, are not seen as item of significance. It’s just an old headband.

Thankfully, one etsy seller, O2Vintage, did recognize this little piece and listed it exactly as it is. Through some miracle I found it, and how I have the desired bandeau.

It’s finely knit of silk, and the five little decorative buttons are also made of silk thread wrapped around a base. The condition of this little piece is incredible, and I suspect the wearer was more into fashion than tennis!

Can you see where the band narrows slightly at the back? The wearer would not need nor want as much width where the bandeau is beneath the hair.

In this flat shot the width change is even more obvious. Sometimes we take something simple like a hair band for granted, but even the simplest object can be designed with improvement of use in mind.

From this early 1920s photo it looks as if I should have pulled the bandeau lower across the forehead of my mannequin. A quick look at the rest of my old photos show that these were worn just above the eyebrows, just as a cloche, the current style in hats, would have been worn.

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Ad Campaign – Virginia Slims, 1972

Back around the Turn of the Century, fashion dictated that you run around the tennis courts in layers upon layers of clothes.  That made you look elegant when you moved.  If you could move.

I can only imagine the thousands of words that have been written by scholars of women’s studies about the Virginia Slims ad campaign and their crazy mixed message of “You’ve come a long way,” and then, “baby.”  So I’ll leave that issue to others and just talk a bit about the clothes.

In case you are not old enough to actually remember the ads, they put a recreated scene from the past showing how it was for women in the “good old days,” and then the way it was in the early 70s after women got their own cigarette.  The recreated scenes showed an interesting mishmash of Edwardian looking clothing on women who were usually sneaking a smoke.

In the “old” photo above the two tennis players do look overdressed, so what were women wearing to play tennis in 1905?  According to tennis player Violet Sutton:

But it’s a wonder we could move at all.  Do you want to know what we wore?  A long undershirt, pair of drawers, two petticoats, white linen corset cover, duck shirt, shirtwaist, long white silk stockings, and a floppy hat.  We were soaking wet when we finished a match.*

So change these women into white stockings (and shoes as well) and it looks to be fairly close to Violet’s memories.

*Interview with Violet Sutton recounted in “The Sutton Sisters” by Jeane Hoffman, published in Fireside book of Tennis, 1974, quoted in When the Girls Came out to Play, Patricia Campbell Warner, 2006

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Early 1930s Tennis Dress

In the early 1930s as hemlines dropped on women’s dresses, they also dropped on sports dresses.  In 1927 a tennis dress would have its hem right at the knee, and it would have had a dropped waist as was the fashion.  In 1932 the typical tennis dress still mirrored the fashionable silhouette of the day.  There was a waist at the natural waistline, but there might also be a dropped waist as you see above. (I’ve read that before 1935, the waist pointed downward, and after 1935 it pointed upward.  This rule often holds true.)  The skirt was the length of a fashionable dress, quite a few inches below the knee.

In 1927 women tennis players were still wearing silk stockings, though some used roll garters and rolled the hose to the knee.  In the early 1930s the ankle sock appeared on the tennis court, having made the jump from school gym classes.

My dress dates from the early 1930s.  The waist had moved back to its natural spot, but there is still a dropped waist feature.  The sleeveless bodice and the V neckline are also holdovers from the 1920s.  There are no openings to help get the dress on; it fit over the head like a late Twenties dress.   It must have been a struggle, as I could not even get this dress on my tiny half-mannequin.

Even though the skirt is long, the three front pleats allow for plenty of movement.

The back also has the pointed dropped waist, but without the pleats.

There are no signs of labels, and this appears to be the work of a home sewer, most likely a fairly skilled one.  This would not have been an easy dress to make.  Note how the sewer had the ribbed fabric cut on the length for some pieces, but on the cross for others.

This 1935 Saks Fifth Avenue ad is a bit later than my dress, but you can see how the skirt was a fashionable long length.  By the end of the decade, tennis dresses diverged from the fashionable length, rising to above the knee.  Matching bloomers were worn beneath.  On more casual courts, some girls and women were even wearing shorts, something that still is frowned upon at some tennis clubs.

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Proper Tennis Dress, 1914

The roots of tennis date to the Middle Ages, but the modern game did not emerge until the 1870s.   First played on the great estates of England, the game quickly spread to the US where it retained its elitist air.  The game was played in private clubs, and in mixed sex company.  In fact, women themselves started playing the game.

In the nineteenth century the game was not the fast paced running game of today.  Players generally just passed the ball back and forth across the net, with little running required.  Women actually played in the fashionable dress of the day (including corsets) with few concessions to the sport.  Pre-1900 photos show women playing in swagged skirts, skin tight jackets and constricting sleeves.

There was a reason.  Private clubs and resorts where tennis was played were prime courting territory.   Young unmarried women  and men wanted to look like suitable marriage material, and that meant dressing in the proper manner.  Even though fashion magazines at the time showed proper tennis attire, the dresses were pretty much what a woman would have worn for any outdoor activity.

A big change in tennis wear for women happened around the turn of the twentieth century.  It was discovered that the dark skirt and white waist combination that was so popular with women was well suited to tennis.  The waist was blousy and loose, and the skirt was A shaped and allowed for movement.  The skirt was still long, but it no longer swept the ground.

About the same time, white dresses for summer became the style, and so before long the skirt was white as well.  According to Patricia Campbell Warner in her book When the Girls Came Out to Play, the choice of the color white also appealed to the elite.  It was hard to keep clean and required a lot of care in laundering, requiring time and resources limited to the well-to-do.

In 1914 tennis player and teacher Miriam Hall published a little book titled Tennis for Girls.  Tennis was becoming a fast paced game that required movement of the arms and freedom of the legs.  Ms. Hall gave suggestions on tennis dress in the book.

Clothing, light of weight, should be worn, enabling one to move freely.  There should be no restriction at the neck, and as little as possible at the waist.  To further this, it is wise to substitute for the corset, some good corded waist, or a boned brassiere, the stockings to be supported from the waist or shoulders.  The use of the round garter is worse than foolish – it is often dangerous, leading to the formation of varicose veins.

The sleeves should not extend below the elbows and the skirt should be wide enough to permit a broad lunge and not longer that five inches from the ground.  The best shoe is of soft canvas with a flexible, not too heavy, rubber sole.  If there is a tendency toward fallen arches, a light-weight leather support should be worn inside the tennis shoe.

In the photo Hall is wearing what looks to be a middy over a sports skirt, pretty much the same outfit that schoolgirls across the country were wearing to school each day.

It took a tennis star, Suzanne Lenglen, to bring short skirts and bare arms to the tennis dress.  When she first appeared in such an outfit at Wimbleton in 1919, it was scandalous.  Six years later women were wearing her look on the streets.

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What I Didn’t Buy – The Park Antique Tennis Racket

I’m sure you have spotted the problems with this elderly tennis racket, but I still was almost a victim to its charms.  It just stands to reason that a collector of sportswear would be attracted to the corresponding sports equipment, even if they would just be props.  I’ve been tempted before, and I’ve resisted, just as I resisted this great old racket.

Click to see the great logo.

The maker was Wright & Ditson, a sporting goods company started by baseball player George Wright and businessman Henry Ditson in 1871.  The company was bought in 1891 by Spalding, but the Wright & Ditson name was used until the 1930s.  Some sources say the the Spalding company bought up other sports equipment companies  and then continued to use the name of the acquired company in order to give the appearance of competition to consumers.  Today there is a “vintage” sports shirt company that uses the Wright & Ditson name.

The best I can tell, this racket was made in the very late 1800s, or in the first decade of the 1900s.  The oval shape was introduced around 1885, and a 1910 catalog shows an up-dated form of the tennis-player logo, so I’m pretty sure it dates within that range.

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1970s StagWhites Tennis Dress by White Stag

A few weeks ago I got an email from Janey at Atomic Redhead, asking if I’d like to have an early 1970s White Stag tennis dress.  That was a simple “yes” as you probably guessed already.  And I was really sold after seeing the embroidered stag on the pocket.

White Stag was one of those big sportswear companies that sort of lost its way in the late 1970s.  The cotton canvas togs of the past didn’t appeal in a polyester world, so they went polyester.   By then the  Hirsch family, founders of the company, had sold it to the giant corporation, Warnaco, which was interested in profits, not the heritage of White Stag.   They continued making ski and other sports clothing, but they were not able to compete in the increasingly more technical business of active sports clothing.  Eventually the company concentrated on making casual separates.  Today the label is owned by Walmart.

In the early to mid 1970s, Americans were really loving their red, white and blue.  Funny how the celebration of an historical event (the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence) helped shaped people’s color choices.  And I have the perfect red and blue tennis panties to go along with this sweet little dress.

Janey, many thanks for such a super gift!

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