Ersatz – German Paper Fashions

The Great War caused great shortages of wool, leather, and linen – materials required for making uniforms and airplane wings. These materials were in especially short supply in Germany and Austria where paper was developed as a substitute textile for making civilian clothing.  

Before the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, American publications ran articles about Germany’s inventiveness in developing ersatz materials. In January 1917, the New York Sun reported that the Germans had developed paper-based threads for making “…girdles, doilies, aprons, working garments… the inventors have discovered a way to give the ‘paper cloth’ great resistance to dampness…” Paper cloth, woven from tightly twisted paper threads, resembled a coarse linen or hemp burlap that had been originally developed for making sacks.

German corset made of paper cloth, c. 1917 – 1920

Shortages did not end with the war in Germany and Austria, where paper clothing continued to be made. In 1920, the U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce imported a selection of Austrian paper clothing items to display on a tour around the country. When the Washington exhibit opened in September 1920, the Associated Press reported that “one suit is quoted at fifteen cents, and is washable…” The Washington, D.C., Evening Star reported, German-made suits were selling in London for the equivalent of 46 cents to $1.95, and that a man could buy a new suit each week of the year for less than the cost of a wool suit.

The U.S. trade publication Textile Worldnoted “It seems quite evident now that the German and Austrian manufacturers intend to cover the markets of the world with their paper substitutes for real clothing… Officials in Washington do not believe that this competition will ever be felt in the United States. The material used in the German product is too coarse and crude to meet with favor here to any extent unless many refinements are adopted.” 

close up of paper fabric

Although paper clothing piqued curiosity, the public remained unconvinced and consumers preferred to wear cloth made of traditional fibres. Ironically, rayon, which was made from chemically processed wood pulp (the same raw material as paper), became the best selling new fibre of the 1920s.

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Crime and Punishment and Sneakers

22 year old Brit Isaiah Hanson-Frost, is about to have his 55 pairs of designer sneakers, valued at about $30,000 Canadian, sold by the police. Last April, Hanson-Frost was sentenced to six years in jail after admitting to firing a gun at a car in November, 2017 during a gang feud over drugs.  

“We are keen to put a stop to anyone who is living a lavish lifestyle which has been funded through crime” said Detective Inspector Dave Shore-Nye of the Gloucestershire police.

Items seized after a criminal trial are often sold, especially if money raised from the sale can be used to help victims of those crimes. Proceeds from the sale of Hanson-Frost’s sneaker auction will go to the High Sheriff’s Fund, which encourages activities that divert minors from a life of crime.

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Mending bags and Minivans

This sack came to the museum with a donation of pre 1940 clothing. I am not sure of the sack’s original purpose, but it was being used as a mending/laundry bag. What attracted my interest was that it had no side seams – it had been loomed on a circular loom. After an online search it turned out this bag had something in common with my minivan.

Seamless mending/laundry bag, c. 1930s

Sakichi Toyoda was born in 1867 and learned carpentry from his father. His interest in machinery lead to him visiting a machinery exposition in Tokyo in 1890. The following year he patented a wooden hand loom that could be used with one hand that increased the speed and efficiency of weaving.

This was the first of many inventions and improvements in textile manufacturing technology that Toyoda developed through a company he founded in Nagoya in 1894. His circular loom that used a shuttle that inserted and beat the weft into place in one motion was developed in 1906. However, it was a steam-powered loom he developed that was his first big success. Toyoda’s talent was in creative development, not facility management, and in 1910 Toyoda resigned from his own company. 

In 1911, after a tour of the world to see other loom technology, Toyoda started another company that by 1918 was called the Toyoda Spinning and Weaving Co. Ltd. This time, however, he brought in his son-in-law to manage the company. The company was successful and expanded in 1921 with a facility in Shanghai.

Circular Loom in the Toyota Museum

Improvements to his circular loom technology were made in 1924. In 1926, Toyoda developed a better method for changing shuttles without any loss of speed during operation of standard looms that lead to his most successful patent – the ‘Type G’ automatic loom. This resulted in the founding of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd. In 1929, the Type G technology was bought by the Platt Brothers & Co. in England for international use. 

Sakichi Toyoda died in 1930, three years before the Toyoda company set up an automobile development department, that produced its first car in 1935. In 1937 the automobile department was separated from the rest of the company and called Toyota Motor Co. Ltd., the forerunner of today’s Toyota Motor Corporation.

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Fashion in Song – In These Shoes? (2000) by Kirsty MacColl

I once met a man with a sense of adventure
He was dressed to thrill wherever he went
He said: Let’s make love on a mountain top
Under the stars on a big hard rock
I said: In these shoes?
I don’t think so
I said: Honey, let’s do it here

So I’m siting at a bar in Guadalajara
In walks a guy with a faraway look in his eyes
He said: I’ve got a powerful horse outside
Climb on the back, I’ll take you for a ride
I know a little place, we can get there for the break of day
I said: In these shoes?
No way, Jose
I said: Honey, let’s stay right here

No le gusta caminar No puede montar a caballo
(I don’t like to dance, I can’t ride a horse)
Como se puede bailar? Es un escandolo
(How can I dance? It’s a scandal)

Then I met an Englishman
Oh, he said
Won’t you walk up and down my spine
It makes me feel strangely alive
I said: In these shoes?
I doubt you’d survive
I said: Honey, let’s do it
Let’s stay right here

No le gusta caminar No puede montar a caballo
(I don’t like to dance, I can’t ride a horse)
Como se puede bailar? Es un escandolo
(How can I dance? It’s a scandal)

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The $900.00 1913 wardrobe

About a year ago I came home to find a plastic bag on my door knob. No note or address from the donor, but inside the bag there were three small notebooks, each of them an account book for expenses dating between 1913 and 1918. One notebook accounts for general expenses (mortgage, furniture, coal, taxes…) one covers food, and one covers clothing and linens.

I wish I knew who the original keepers of these notebooks were and why the careful accounting for every penny spent – I suspect it was a newlywed wife’s household accounts. Unfortunately, I also don’t know her name, although she often refers to ‘Frank’, presumably her husband, in the accounts. They definitely lived in Halton county, and I think they lived in Oakville as there is a blotter from an Oakville dry goods store.

These are the accounts of a young middle class woman who shows frugality in her wardrobe, but still wants to remain up to date with fashion – all of which she sews herself. We don’t know what she already had in her wardrobe when she began keeping the accounts. In the first year of accounts (from May 1913 to April 1914) There was no winter coat purchase, so she presumably already had one. There were also no hat purchases, but there were purchases for ribbons and veiling, so she may have re-trimmed some older hats. If she was a newlywed, she probably had a good stock of underwear from her trousseau, which could explain why there was no corset or petticoat purchase, and the purchase of only three pairs of stockings during the entire year. There were also no shoe purchases during these 12 months.

Transcribing what she bought during the first year of her accounts, it is clear she made almost everything she wore. She bought fabric to sew two or three dresses in the spring/summer, a suit and blouse in the fall, and at least two dresses the following spring:
May 21/13 – 3 yards of dress muslin .45
June 19/13 – 3 7/8 yards of Cretonne (a heavy cotton, possibly for making skirt or suit) .48
July 21/13 – 4 yards Percale .60
August 14/13 – 1 1/8 yard print cotton .14
November 5/13 – 2 ½ yards vesting (woven patterned silk) .50
November 6/13 – 3 1/3 yards serge 3.33
November 6/13 – 3/8 yard net .47
November 6/13 – yard satin, ¼ yard lining .51
November 11/13 – 2 yards black sateen .40
November 20/13 – 1 yard cretonne .13
April 3/14 – 3 yards print cotton .38
April 10/14 – 2 ¼ yards cotton .28
April 21/14 – 6 ½ yards crepe 1.63

A page dated 1915 from the clothing accounts notebook, and a blotter from an Oakville shop

Notions purchased during the year to complete her home sewing projects include: 10 spools of cotton thread $.48; 1 spool silk thread $.10; 1 pair dress shields $.25; 2 ¼ yards of belting $.14; 1 dozen buttons, 10 pearl buttons, 3 dozen dome fasteners, sewing tape, 2 card collar supports, and a package of needles $.70; 3 ‘frills’ $.15; 2 lace collars $.75, and 1 embroidered collar $.25. There were many lengths of ribbon at various prices, some were marked ‘Xmas’ and were probably for gifts, others may have been for trimming hats as there was also veiling listed (1 ¼ yards) $.31.

Throughout the year she also purchased: 1 muffler $1.50, 2 pairs kid gloves $2.35; 2 pairs silk gloves $1.25; a ‘Traymore’ robe $3.00; 4 nightgowns (2 bought in December, which could mean they were Christmas presents) $4.00; 3 pairs of stockings .75; 3 pairs of drawers (aka bloomers) .75; 3 vests (I think she is referring to camisoles) .75; 4 pairs of braces (garters?) $1.50; and 15 handkerchiefs (2 marked as ‘Excelda’ brand), although they were all bought in December and some may have been purchased as gifts $2.50. Although I was surprised to see that she did not purchase any ready-made dresses, the month after this first year of accounts, in May 1914, she purchased a cotton housedress and crepe blouse, so she did buy ready-made clothing.

During the year she also bought some men’s clothing for husband(?) ‘Frank’, including 5 ties for $2.00, a ‘Christie’ brand hat for $2.50, 2 collars for $.25, and a night shirt for $1.00. I am guessing his clothing bills for suits and shirts didn’t go through his wife’s budget, and in fact the purchases she made may have been gifts.

In total she spent about $35.00 on herself (I am not including purchases for Frank), which is the equivalent of about $900.00 today. I don’t know who gave me these account books, but thank-you! They are fascinating!

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Deja-Views: Versace, 2000 and 2019

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Bloomer Costumes in Oneida New York

I came across this c. 1860 photo a long time ago that shows women wearing Bloomer costumes. I originally thought it was perhaps a girl’s school sporting activity, but I just found the backstory. Turns out it’s the Oneida community – a Christian communist sex club that existed in upstate New York between 1848 and 1880. While the group promoted equality between the sexes, eventually the free love utopia part didn’t work out and so in 1880 the group turned their energy towards industry and founded Oneida Flatware Ltd. 

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Tenth annual bulletin board

That time of year again for a collection of things that struck my fancy over the year…:

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Edith Strauss

Edith was born in Poland, the eldest of four children. Her father, Nathan Solomon, left Poland for Canada in 1928 to find work, and after eight years managed to have his family join him in Montreal.

At the age of 16, Edith began sewing to help support the family.  In 1947 she began working for a Montreal dress manufacturing company and worked her way up the ladder to become an executive designer.

After her husband’s career required a move to Toronto, he encouraged Edith to start her own fashion business. She launched her label in 1965 from the basement of their Willowdale home. The business eventually moved to a studio on Carlton Street.

Edith’s collection sold at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York in the 1970s, and in 1981 she became the first Canadian designer to sell a collection in Japan. In 1990, the city of Toronto recognized her accomplishments with the Fashion Industry Achievement Award.

Edith Strauss died March 20, 2008 in Toronto but was buried in Montreal.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Dayton Boots

1940s illustration of Dayton boots with caulked (spiked) soles

Dayton Boots was established in 1946 by C. H. (Charlie) Wohlford. Before becoming the manager of The Lumberman’s Social Club at 64 East Hastings street in Vancouver, Charlie had worked for Caterpillar Tractor Company, and as a young man had learned the craft of shoemaking.

During the Second World War (1939-1946), Wohlford developed a waterproofing dressing for logger’s boots he called OK Oil Watertight Compound. He also repaired the logger’s boots who came into his club, which lead to Charlie founding the Dayton Boot Company in 1946. The name was reportedly chosen for being easy to say and remember, unlike Wohlford. Charlie’s son Wayne joined the business and the first Dayton Boots hit the market in May 1947.

His initial product was a nailed soled logging boot style called ‘Dayton 64’, after the address of the Lumberman’s Social Club. Dayton boots quickly became popular with loggers, and without the caulked (spiked) soles, the style also became popular with construction workers, oil riggers, longshoremen, police and firemen.

Original 1949 Dayton neon sign

By 1962, Wohlford was using Goodyear welted soles (a stitched rather than nailed style of sole) to make a Western (cowboy) boot that eliminated inside seams on the leg of the boot to reduce chafing. ‘Black Beauty’ double-soled motorcycle boots with rubber tread soles were introduced in 1965. In the 1970s, Dayton purchased the rights to manufacture Pierre Paris & Sons boots – his rival Vancouver bootmaker established in 1907. In the 1980s and 1990s, women’s sizes were added to Dayton’s stock when the punk scene made heavy-soled footwear a hip fashion style.

The company is still in business, and still manufacturing in Vancouver.

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