Tag Archives: tennis

The First Use of a Zipper in Fashion?

Most of you know by now that I approach fashion as an historian, rather than, say as a designer or a marketer.  My BA is in American history, and the study of it has been a life-long passion.  My recreational reading is mainly books on history, or biographies or primary source material.  One thing I learned many years ago at the university was to always, always question the sources.

I’ve been reading M D C Crawford’s, Ways of Fashion, which was published in 1941.  This book is just the sort of thing I love; it’s full of information about and interviews with the designers of the day.  I was just finishing it up with a chapter called “The American Way.”  In that chapter, Crawford quotes Louise Barnes Gallagher at length.  Ms. Gallagher makes a very startling statement:

I am credited with the first ensembles, and I introduced the zipper in 1922. For two years the Talon Company confined it to me for women’s clothes.

I’m going to ignore the ensembles statement, but the part about the zipper is pretty stunning news to me.  There is a bit of controversy concerning the invention of the zipper, but you can see by the patent I’ve shown above that Gideon Sundback submitted his design for a zipper in 1914, and it was approved in 1917.  His design is considered by many to be the first modern zipper.   He was working for the Hookless Fastener Company, the company that later became Talon Zippers.

In the early days of the zipper, or the slide fastener as it was often called, the main use for it was on rubber galoshes.  You pretty much do not see any mention of the use of zippers in fashion until Elsa Schiaparelli used them in her 1935 winter collection.  The plastic zippers were not concealed in any way, becoming a design element in the garment, and they were widely discussed as being quite avant garde.

They didn’t stay that way, of course.  Here’s my 1937ish tennis dress with a non-concealed zipper, a la Schiaparelli.

So what about Ms. Gallagher’s claim to be using zippers in her clothing in 1922?   Whenever someone says they have a 1920s dress and then they say it has a zipper, one immediately knows that the dress is not 1920s at all – that it is probably a 1960s dress.  The possibility of a 1922 woman’s garment containing a zipper is just not in the realm of possibilities, but yet, there is Ms. Gallagher’s statement.

It is possible that this is a writing and editing mistake, but even if she meant 1932, that year is also early to see a zipper  in a woman’s garment.  And if it was a mistake, it went uncorrected in the 1948 edition of the book.   Perhaps Gallagher’s memory is faulty, but remember, this was written in 1941 when she was in her 40s.  It was not the memory of an old woman.

So, what’s the earliest you have seen zippers in women’s clothing?  Do you think it is possible that Gallagher was putting zippers in clothing in 1922?


Filed under Curiosities

Tennis, 1970s

This cute little tennis dress is from the 1970s, and is a good example of the direction tennis clothes were headed at that time.  For many years, white and only white was the color of tennis.  The tradition of tennis whites possibly goes back to Edwardian days, when people played in white cotton and linen because these fabrics were easy to launder.  At any rate, the tennis whites stuck, but in the early 70s color began to creep into the tennis wardrobe.

Of course, the amount of color one could get away with depended on where one played the game.  Many private clubs had strict dress rules, but the popularity of tennis in the early 70s lead to more public courts being built, where pretty much anything went.  In my own little town, the two public courts that went virtually unused for years were all of a sudden inadequate, and the town quickly began a building campaign to help ease the long wait times.

So why did tennis suddenly gain popularity in the early 70s?  A lot of it had to do with Chris Evert, who at 16, made a big splash at the US Open in 1971.  She became a media darling, and the game of tennis was the big winner.

This April, 1972 Harper’s Bazaar cover shows the young Evert with her famous two-handed backhand and her ruffled panties. She didn’t invent the ruffled tennis panties, that was glamourous Gussie Moran in 1949, but she did re-popularize them.

For years I’ve looked for a good pair to add to my collection, but I just couldn’t seem to find any on which the panty people didn’t run the price up.  I was lucky enough to spot two pairs of unworn “Poc-a-ball tennis panties”  recently, a pair in both red and blue.  There’s even a bit of ruffle!

 And as a bit of icing on this tennis cake, I also found a tennis themed bandana.  These were great for tying all that long hair back.  On this players feet you’ll find a pair of Tretorn tennis shoes. All I need are a couple of terry wrist bands and this outfit will be complete.


And a few final words…  This Virginia Slims ad from 1972 shows the trend toward color quite nicely.  There is no all-over color, just touches of it here and there.  And look closely, and you’ll see a super influence from the 1920s.  Her tee shirt has a John Held illustration printed on it.


Filed under Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Tennis Queen, 1930s Tennis Dress

I was delighted to find this late 1930s tennis dress recently as good sports dresses are getting harder and harder to come by.  Even better, this one has the bloomer shorts and the original tie belt.

Until the mid 1930s, tennis dresses were pretty much the same length as street wear.  In 1933 tennis  player Alice Marble wore shorts on the court.  And while shorts did not become acceptable  for competitive play, this did start a trend toward the shortening of the skirt.  By the late 1930s, many players were wearing a short skirt with shorts or bloomers beneath.

Made from a smooth rayon, the most obvious feature of my dress is the center-front zipper.  Zippers were just becoming popular for use in clothing in the late 30s.  Often, the maker made the zipper an important design element in the garment, the way the maker of this dress did.  Front and center, for all the world to see, the latest way to zip into one’s clothes.

The zipper in my dress is a Talon:  “…a gay, decorative accent… down the entire front of your new dress.”  1937 Talon ad

The cute little sleeve not only allowed for freedom of movement, it was also very stylish.


This shows the interior of the sleeve cap.  The band serves to accentuate the puffy sleeve, as sort of a forerunner of the shoulder pads that began to creep into women’s dresses and blouses.  Also note the serged, or overlocked,  seams.   Yes, the serger was around in the 1930s, but it was not commonly used.  Sportswear and swimsuit companies liked it though, as it made their seams better for active use.

The bloomers close with a placket and mother of pearl buttons.  How about that convenient little pocket!

Tennis Queen, Carlson-Hall Co. Los Angeles


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Tennis for Girls, 1914


Tennis for Girls is a slim volume, published in 1914 by a small press in San Francisco.  Miriam Hall, the author, was a tennis pro and teacher.  She felt that the teaching of tennis had been geared toward males, and so she set out to devise a system that capitalized on female strengths.  She must have been pretty good, as she gave private lessons for $3 an hour, or $65 in today’s inflated dollar.

Each page is carefully framed in a tennis themed border.  Note the rackets and ball at the top!  The end sheets feature a lightly printed scene of a doubles match.

Hall begins by describing the proper attire for a woman tennis player:

“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.”

Books like this one give valuable information about the clothing worn – not just what you can see in the photos, but what is worn beneath.  The part about the corset is very interesting, as tennis player Suzanne Lenglen is often credited with banishing the corset from the tennis court when she played without one in 1919.  Hall, however fails to mention the occasional nipping of brandy between sets, so the honor of creating that custom remains firmly with Lenglen.


This book was reproduced several years ago, and it available for download.  But there is just something special about an original, almost antique volume, especially when autographed by the author.

1 Comment

Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

The 1920s Sports Bandeau

Several weeks ago I showed a 1920s bathing bandeau that is in my collection, and I said I’d share some other sporting photos showing women wearing this headwear.  The bandeau was worn for many occasions during the 1920s, from sleeping to formal parties.  There were even bandeau-style hats, with the front brim turned back flat across the forehead.

The style became popular for sports after tennis star Suzanne Lenglen began wearing scarves tied bandeau-style during tennis matches.  It served to keep her bobbed hair out of her eyes, but it also fit in with the small, neat head of the times.  The look was soon adopted by other stylish women tennis players.   It’s interesting that Lenglen’s biggest competitor, Helen Wills, did not adopt the style, instead wearing a visor of her own making that is very similar to sports visors worn today.

In this clip of their only match-up, it is easy to tell which player is which due to their distinctive headwear!


From a 1922 Stix, Baer & Fuller of St. Louis catalog


Filed under Summer Sports

Why Were They Called Flappers?

The two young women above don’t fit into our modern day idea of the 1920s Flapper, but it is possible that the term has its roots in the appearance of the miss on the right.

In the 30 or so years that I’ve been studying the history of fashion I must have read a dozen or more different explanations of where the word actually originated.  Probably the most common is the galoshes theory.  It was said the the rebellious young things of the early 1920s took to wearing their galoshes unbuckled, and so the rubber shoes flapped back and forth as the girls walked about.

That may be true, but the term was in common use in the USA by 1920, when a film starring Olive Thomas titled The Flapper was released.  And it seems that the word was used even earlier in the UK; originally it was used to mean a young prostitute, but later, by the end of the 19th century, just to mean any high spirited teenage girl.  In particular, a girl young enough that her hair was not yet worn “up.”

One of the many theories is that girls in the 1910s tended to wear big floppy bows in their long hair, and that these bows flapped when the girls walked.  So, they were referred to as flappers.  And these young teens of 1915 grew up to be the wild young things of 1920 – the flappers as we know them.

Just for fun, two more tennis players of the 1910s, Minnie Glass and Ray Yingling:


Posted by becca fritschle:

What excellent theories! This is why I love “knowing you.” You are such a treasure of information both historical and fashionable–two of my loves!

Saturday, February 6th 2010 @ 6:07 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Oh, Becca, you are making me blush. I just love having a place to talk about historical fashion with people who get it. Thanks for reading and posting; it’s greatly appreciated!

Saturday, February 6th 2010 @ 6:20 PM

Posted by Scott:

I like the theory that it was because of the way they danced … “flapping” their arms and legs from side to side. Fun topic, and GREAT photos! Thanks!

Saturday, February 6th 2010 @ 6:48 PM

Posted by Christine H.:

Wow, how fascinating! I’ve heard the galoshes story a dozen times (even told as definitive fact by my costume history teacher), but I really like this theory. I do have a special affinity for those young girls with such large bows. 😀 I love learning little nuggets like this, thanks Lizzie!

Saturday, February 6th 2010 @ 8:22 PM

Posted by Sarah:

This is one of those cases where all kinds of dubious theories emerge and are repeated until they become accepted as fact!

If you search using the term ‘flapper’ at the excellent British Cartoon Archive, you get plenty of results but perhaps the most interesting are the cartoons by W.H. Haselden. Check the first result here:


It is dated 1907! The later ones, from 1915 on, show the pre-1920s flapper who shares a lot of characteristics with the flapper as we know her – feckless, frivolous, flirtatious, fun loving – she just hasn’t bobbed her hair yet!

This one seems typical:


There’s also an excellent book on the subject, which is worth seeking out: “Women and the popular imagination in the twenties: flappers and nymphs” by Billie Melman. I can no longer access our local university library to check it again, but I do remember it having some useful information about the origin of the word.

Sunday, February 7th 2010 @ 12:29 AM

Posted by Inky:

that’s very interesting – a question I never wondered about but now am happy to find the answer to!

Sunday, February 7th 2010 @ 10:29 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

It is really interesting how a theory can become accepted as fact. There is no doubt that the word was used WAY before the 1920s in the UK, but not until later here in the US. The answer is out there!

Sunday, February 7th 2010 @ 5:47 PM


Filed under Vintage Photographs

Tennis Whites

I’ve often wondered when tennis players started wearing all white.  Well now I know!  Until the turn of the 20th century, tennis costumes came in all colors and patterns.  Often, the clothes made for playing tennis were made using an “all purpose” sports costume patterns, and the same dress might be used for sailing as for tennis.

In the very early years of the 20th century, white became a most fashionable color for summer wear.  As a result, tennis wear became white.  But for some reason, tennis clothes remained white, even after the general fashion trend passed.

Several points about the girl on my snap fasteners card.  According to Patricia Warner, tennis attire was often ahead of the trends.  This girl’s shorter skirt and  short sleeves might seem to suggest the mid 1910s, but this is what college students were wearing to play tennis in by 1901.  Spectators would be wearing full length dresses and long sleeves, but the players themselves wore skirts that allowed more freedom of movement in the legs and arms.


Posted by Alina:

I think is funny how all these sporty women were wearing heels. You had another post with two girls hiking/power walking, they were also wearing heels. I also find it inspiring (as I do the whole 20s-30s-40s period). Not exactly comfortable, but a woman should do anything to look presentable, right? It’s all in the name of fashion!

Sunday, August 13th 2006 @ 9:57 AM

Posted by Lizzie Bramlett:

Yes, that really is funny that they are wearing heels. Scroll down to the Keds post, and you can see that even sports shoes had little heels! I’d break my neck!

Thursday, August 17th 2006 @ 10:03 AM

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Summer Sports