Fashion Humour

Posted in Humour | Leave a comment

Canadian Fashion Connection – Williams, Greene & Rome

The Williams, Greene and Rome factory 1886 – 1912

Samuel James Williams was born March 13, 1853 in Madison, Indiana. In 1874 he went to New York and became a travelling salesman. He married Sarah Freeman in 1880, and continued working as a salesman until October 1881. He then moved to Toronto to establish his own company that made shirts, collars, and cuffs. In 1886 he moved the plant to Berlin, Ontario, and incorporated the business with two partners under the name of Williams, Greene & Rome with himself as president and general manager.

Twenty years later, in 1906, the company boasted it had 500 employees including fourteen travelling salesmen who sold their products across the country. The company also boasted their employees worked only 50 hours per week, with a 1 ½ day weekend (this was cutting edge for the time.)

In 1913 a new factory was constructed, but in 1920 Williams retired (he died in 1923) and the company was sold to Cluett, Peabody and Co., makers of Arrow brand collars and shirts, where they remained for 80 years. In 2011, the former factory was converted into loft condos.

The newer plant, built 1913, before being converted into loft condos, c. 1910

Posted in Canadian dress, Men's fashion | Tagged | Leave a comment

Canadian Fashion Connection – America’s First Hunk

Charles Beach was probably the model for both these men (the protruding chin is a give away), but Leyendecker changed the hair colour.

Charles Beach was born in Ontario, Canada (exact town unknown), in 1886. At the age of 16 he left home to go to New York to become an actor, but soon discovered he had no talent. Relying upon his tall, good looks and confident, charming disposition, he found work as an artist’s model, and soon became known as the sexiest man in America, thanks to Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

J. C. Leyendecker was born in 1874 in Germany and immigrated to Chicago with his family in 1882. He and his younger brother Frank studied art in Paris and upon their return to the U.S. in 1900, settled in New York to work as artists. They produced illustrations for magazines and books, although Joseph was clearly the more talented of the two brothers. In 1903 Charles Beach was hired to model, and although Joseph was short and shy, he was also cultured and the two became partners in love and business for the next 48 years.

Charles discovered he had a good business acumen and became Joseph’s manager, negotiating his work for higher prices, and convincing the publishers of Saturday Evening Post to create themed covers for national holidays (Leyendecker invented the New Year’s baby). But it was Beach’s chiseled jaw featured in Arrow shirt collar advertisements that became the most famous of Leyendecker’s work. Women sent love letters to the mystery Adonis – the first male sex symbol of American advertising.

By 1913, Saturday Evening Post was the best selling magazine in the U.S., which earned Leyendecker and Beach an annual salary of $50,000 per year (the equivalent of about a million dollars per year today.) Joseph built a house in New Rochelle, New York in 1914, and upon the death of Joseph’s father in 1916, Charles moved in. The two were famous hosts of extravagant parties during the 1920s but by the end of the 1930s, Leyendecker’s illustrations were falling from popularity. The new darling of American magazine illustration was Norman Rockwell.

In 1951, Joseph died at home of a heart attack at the age of 77, leaving Charles the house and $30,000, and a request that Charles destroy all written evidence of their relationship, which Charles did. The following year Charles died at the age of 66.

Beach was the model for the man on the right, but the darker features of the man on the left suggest Leyendecker may have used himself as a model.

Posted in Canadian dress, Men's fashion | Leave a comment

Canadian Fashion Connection – Lewis Lacey

Lewis Lacey, 1930s

Lewis Lacey was born in Montreal on February 17, 1887. In 1915 Lacey won the Argentine open in polo and became Argentina’s second 10-goal polo player. He then served for England during World War I before returning to Argentina to pursue his polo career.

In 1920, Lacey opened a sports shop in Buenos Aires, and continued to play polo, for both English and Argentinian teams until he retired in 1937. The short sleeved jersey shirts worn in the 1923 season by the Hurlingham Polo Team of Buenos Aires were created by Lacey and featured an emblem of a mounted polo player on the left breast. 

Polo player, c. 1910 (not the insignia used by Lacey)

In a similar manner, French Tennis star Rene Lacoste, known as ‘le Crocodile’ for his snappy style, began producing a polo shirt with a crocodile logo on the left breast in 1933. The shirts were marketed by Izod in the United States beginning in 1951.

In 1967, Ralph Lauren adopted the brand line ‘Polo’ for his men’s collection and first used a polo player motif in advertising in 1972, adding the emblem to all his polo shirts in 1978. However, Alberto Vannucci was selling shirts in Buenos Aires with a similar polo player motif. Lauren sued Vannucci, who proved his version predated Lauren’s because it was created in 1923 for Lewis Lacey. The polo line frequently ends up in court with the United States Polo Association over the right to use a polo player motif in the production of clothing and accessories.

Posted in Canadian dress, Classics, sportswear | Leave a comment

Ronald Bard, – 2018

I just found out that Ronald Bard passed away in Asheville, North Carolina on March 3, 2018. His name may not be well known today, but in the late 1960s, he was the leading spokesman for the paper dress industry. Bard was part owner, of the company Mars of Asheville, along with his sister Audrey, and her husband Robert Bayer, who worked as an engineer at Scott Paper. Mars of Asheville was the first company to manufacture paper dresses as a commercial enterprise. Bard was quoted as saying that in 1966 he was convinced that disposable clothing would become half of the clothing market by 1980. However, the paper dress fad faded into history by 1970.

I came across Bard’s obituary accidentally via a link from the Ramsey Library at the University of North Carolina. They have in their collection this Master Charge paper dress that was created by Mars of Asheville to advertise the launch of Master Charge in 1966 (renamed MasterCard in 1979). I thought I had seen all the paper dress prints ever made, but this one is new to me!

Posted in Fadshions | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A hat with pithy nuance

Critical tweets and hashtags quickly filled social media this past Friday when Melania Trump wore a pith helmet for a Safari tour in Kenya. The New York Times quoted Kim Yi Donne, a political-science professor who specializes in African politics at the University of California, “When people think of Africa, they have these standard narratives. Her attire is a signal of her understanding of what Africa is in 2018. It’s tired and its old and it’s inaccurate.”

Many feel the pith helmet is a symbol of European colonialism, but it wasn’t created as a means of expressing authority or repression, only as a way for Europeans to survive equatorial heat and tropical humidity. If the pith helmet is a symbol of hot climate imperialism, then a similar argument could be made for parkas and pack boots in former cold climate colonies.

The pith used in the helmet’s construction was acquired from the spongey core of the stem of the shola plant that grows abundantly in marshy areas of East India (West Bengal). The light-weight pith, which absorbs moisture and can be easily carved, was traditionally used for creating Bengali wedding headgear.

Sometime during the 1820s to 1840s, sun helmets (known as shola topee in Hindi) began to be made by Indians for Europeans who found their straw hats became sticky and limp in the high humidity and heat of the tropical Indian climate. Pith sun hats retained their shape while the hygroscopic qualities of the pith wicked sweat away from the head.

1858 design for pith helmet

In the 1850s the British army were still wearing shakos – a tall Napoleonic era hat style that survives today as part of the marching band uniform. To replace the shako, the pith helmet was adapted for military use. The helmet, which was covered in cotton, had a high crown to  prevent sweat buildup, and added ventilation holes on the side and top for air circulation. The helmets could be soaked in water so that on a hot day, the head was cooled as the water evaporated. A wide, sloping brim to keep sun and rain off the wearer’s face and neck also provided a place to fasten a leather or metal chin strap when not in use.

Soldiers in the Middle East quickly learned they were targets in their bright white helmets, so they dyed the cotton coverings with tea and dirtied them with ‘khak’ the Persian word for dirt from which we get the word khaki.

By the late 1860s, the military were making their helmets from cork or metal instead of pith. The Northwest Mounted Police in Canada even adopted the style in the 1870s (pictured right). A British style was standardized and became known as the Wolseley helmet in 1899, named after, but not designed by, Sir Garnet Wolseley. This modified version, had an apex at the front and back and is still worn by many regiments including the Queen’s Life Guards.

By the late 19thcentury, the genderless civilian style of pith helmet had a rounder shape and flatter top and was known as a ‘Bombay bowler’. Made in India for export, the hats were mostly worn by colonials, expats, missionaries and travellers around the equatorial world: Caribbean islands, The Amazon, Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia.

U.S. postal service helmet

The pith helmet style became a prototype for soldier’s ‘tin hats’ during World War I, workmen’s hard hats, and polo helmets, which in turn influenced the design of today’s bicycle helmets. The U.S. post office even adopted pith helmet styles for mail carriers that are part of the current uniform.

Dressed for Safari, c. 1930

Pith helmets fell from general use for two reasons. Firstly, as colonies gained independence after World War II, indigenous denizens wore their own traditional styles of headwear that predated the use of pith helmets: turbans, thobes, fezzes, kufis… Although, many of the newly independent countries retained pith helmets for their military and police uniforms. Secondly, travel changed in the postwar world. Extended holidays that began with long ocean voyages to exotic tropical locals were displaced by jetting off for short trips to air conditioned resorts.

The pith helmet is still being made and worn. One current manufacturer in Pakistan has been making them since 1928. This is a style that was not appropriated from any indigenous culture. It was gender non-specific, and was the result of scientific design to aid air movement, moisture wicking, and sun protection. It was not produced by slave labour, and it was never restricted to or from anyone who wanted to wear one. The style’s association with colonialism is superficial – based on it being originally made for and worn by primarily white people who did not have suitable headwear from their own wardrobes to wear in hot and humid climates.

Posted in Classics, Faux Pas, millinery, Myth Information, sportswear | Leave a comment

Myth Information – pockets

DANGEROUS COATS    by Sharon Owens
Someone clever once said
Women were not allowed pockets
In case they carried leaflets
To spread sedition
Which means unrest
To you & me
A grandiose word
For commonsense
Fairness
Kindness
Equality
So ladies, start sewing
Dangerous coats
Made of pockets & sedition

Pockets, like corsets, are getting mythical tales attached to them, but there was never a deliberate fashion plot to deny women of pockets, in fact they were invented for women’s fashion.

By the 17th century, women were wearing one or two pockets tied to a waistband and worn under the skirt (like the one Little Lucy lost) to hide money, handkerchiefs, jewellery, ribbons, pencils, sewing work, pins, love letters, pocket books, and even snacks, from highwaymen and pickpockets.

When clothes began to be cut closer to the body in the early 19th century (think Jane Austen’s heroines in little white dresses), drawstring bags called reticules began to displace the use of pockets. Both pockets and reticules held the same type of contents. Catherine Wilmot explained in a letter dated 13 December 1801 that “Reticules, are a species of little Workbag worn by the Ladies, containing snuff-boxes, Billet-doux, Purses, Handkerchiefs, Fans, Prayer-Books, Bon-Bons, Visiting tickets.” Definitely not the sort of things that could be concealed under a narrow, thin skirt.

When fashions returned to fuller styles, many clients requested their dressmakers to include a pocket in a waist, side or back skirt seam. This practice continued well into the 20th century as the museum has several examples of skirts with varying sizes of pockets tucked away, almost hidden, in seams. There was also a fashion for visible patch pockets, sometimes decorative – sometimes useful, on jackets and skirts in the 1870s.

High fashion couture and even most dressy ready-made clothes in the 20th century often didn’t include pockets, especially not large ones, because the bulging contents would ruin the svelte silhouette. However, some tailored clothes and a lot of sportswear, offered an alternative for lovers of pockets. Even in the 1970s and 1980s when skin tight designer jeans had little or no pockets, most jackets and coats compensated with deep pockets — however, a bag slung from the shoulder took more than any pocket could ever handle, and it left the hands free.

In recent years, a lack of pockets is due mostly to off-shore fast fashion manufacturers trying to save money – because its another element to sew into garments. As luxury purse brands are currently status symbol accessory statements, there hasn’t been a big demand for pockets in daywear (although pockets are showing up more frequently in evening wear instead of little bags that have no room for cell phones and car keys.) The problem of buying ‘off the rack’ is that if there is no demand by consumers, then there is no change. Men have used pockets for centuries to jangle coinage and secretly adjust their scrotums. If a manufacturer removed pockets from men’s pants, they would go out of business!

The Victoria & Albert Museum has some great research on pocket contents and thefts in the 18th century.

Posted in Myth Information | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The First Paper Clothing Fad: 1889 – 1893

The late 1960s fad for disposable paper clothing resulted in some mad, mod dresses in flower power prints, but this was the second time paper clothing was a fad. The first time was 80 years earlier, and it all began when there was a change in how paper was made.

Historically, paper had been made from recycled rags, usually cotton garments that were mechanically pulped into a slurry and dried into sheets. In 1843, wood pulp was used for the first time, and although the resulting paper was not as good quality as rag paper it was cheaper to produce because the raw material was abundant. By the 1870s, mechanical pulping was being displaced by chemical pulping that used sulphites to break down the wood pulp, resulting in a better quality paper.

The insulating qualities of paper were well known – it was a common practice to tuck newspapers inside a winter coat to keep the wind from cutting through the weave of the cloth. American entrepreneur R.C. Mudge and his business partner, Edgar Wasson thought the idea of using the new sulphite paper for making clothing for winter insulation had commercial possibilities. Mudge and Wasson applied for a patent for a paper vest in 1888, and in February 1889, the R. C. Mudge Paper Clothing Company began manufacturing paper vests in Detroit, Michigan. They hired John C. McLaughlin, who would go on to apply for Canadian and American patents for the process he developed to make sulphite wood pulp paper pliable by dampening it with a gelatin solution and rolling it between sets of corrugated rollers and then rubbing it by hand. This softening process allowed for the paper to be sewn, like a textile, but still retain its strength.

The new company displayed their goods at the Detroit International Exposition and Fair in 1889. A newspaper report in the Detroit Tribute extolled the virtues of Mudge’s products: “The men’s vest cost 50 cents, the ladies’ 75 cents and other goods come at corresponding prices.  These paper garments cannot be compared with inferior woolen garments.  Wind will blow through wool.  It simply can’t get through this paper, which, besides being warm is tough, standing a pull of 98 pounds to the inch without tearing.”

To promote his venture, Mudge commissioned J.E. Fancher to create a piece of music titled “The Paper Vest Gallop”, printed on the sulphite paper he used to make his paper garments. Mudge also promoted his goods by donating paper blankets to hospitals and paper vests to postmen.

Mudge didn’t have enough financial backing to support his fledgling business that he expanded too rapidly. Despite all the promotion and accolades, his venture failed. Mudge’s business and stock were sold under a mortgage to Henry McMorran and Wilbur Davidson of the Sulfite Fibre Works of Port Huron Michigan for $75,000. The new owners hired Mudge and McLaughlin to oversee the transition and continue to improve the manufacturing process. They also changed the name of their company to the Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Company. In July 1890, McLaughlin made suggestions on how to improve the quality of the paper with the addition of spring-loaded pounding machines, but left the company shortly afterwards. In 1891 Mudge also left the company and moved to Brooklyn where he became a Vaudeville stage manager.

The Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Company eventually failed sometime in 1893 and leased their property to the American Fibre-Chamois Company. By 1894, ladies’ dresses had taken on full balloon-shaped sleeves, and the American Fibre-Chamois Company found a new, viable market selling their paper as an interlining to give sleeves their desired fullness. In 1896, McLaughlin sued for patent infringement by the American Fibre-Chamois Company over their use of his process for making the paper pliable. The court found that McLaughlin had not been specific enough in his patent over details, like the strength of the gelatin solution used to dampen the paper, and his case was dismissed.

Concurrent with Mudge’s business was the New York Paper Clothing Manufacturing Company, founded by Charles G. Barrett at 290 Pearl Street in New York. Their ‘Zero’ vest for men and women was a paper interlined cloth vest that they advertised as being “…just the thing for cold weather. It is light, comfortable, soft and pliable and fits perfectly.” The Watertown Daily Times reported on October 27, 1890 that: “Anyone that is troubled with weak lungs can readily find relief by wearing a good chest protector. These goods… can be had at the W. H. Drug Store. We have… a line of paper vests, which are made by the New York Paper Clothing Company, which are used by many who are continually exposed to this cold climate and have given the greatest satisfaction.” However, like Mudge and the Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Co., this company also failed and was dissolved in 1893.

With thanks to Lynne Ranieri and other members of the VFG who uncovered this story.

Posted in Fadshions, Men's fashion, Patent fashions, Textiles | 2 Comments

Fashion in Dance! The Paper Vest Galop – 1889

The piano music for the Paper Vest Galop dance was written by John E. Fancher, and was published by the R. C. Mudge Paper Clothing Company of Port Huron, Michigan in 1889 to celebrate and promote the latest fashion – paper vests for winter wear!

Posted in Fashion in song | Leave a comment

FHM’s Tango Tea

Richard Powers and Kimber Rudo demonstrate the Tango

Tango Teas were a popular pastime in polite society from the early 1910s well into the early 1930s. Dressed for the afternoon in hats and gloves, ladies and gentlemen took tea in palm-filled hotel courts while viewing a fashion parade and demonstrations of the latest dances. It was a safe environment, free of vice and scandal.

This was the inspiration for the Fashion History Museum’s Fall event this year. Last year the FHM held a Regency Ball in honour of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, but this year the festivities skipped a century to honour the centennial of the end of the Great War, and of Canadian women winning the vote.

Emmeline Pankhurst, played by Diane Gallinger, convinces guests to support women’s rights to vote.

The event began with the tea, for those wanting something cold, coca-cola was offered in the classic curvy glass bottles, first marketed in 1916. A selection of finger sandwiches, including a period favourite of olive, walnut, and cream cheese for vegetarians (a growing trend in the 1910s), and sweets, which included chocolate squares (dubbed ‘brownies’ in 1906) and doughnuts – a popular treat offered servicemen by the Red Cross and other aid societies. U.S. soldiers liked doughtnuts so much, they became known as ‘doughboys’.

Next on the menu were a series of games: Name That Tune, a couple of product pricing games courtesy of The Price is Right, and a round of What’s My Line, with a special guest appearance by English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst – quickly identified by our panel after only two questions! Mrs. Pankhurst then gave a rousing speech for the women’s vote before we started into the featured event of the day.

Alys Mak-Pilsworth wearing her blue striped peg-top dress with pink sash – a dress she finished just hours before the event!

Richard Powers and Kimber Rudo were flown in from San Francisco to demonstrate and teach the popular dances of the decade. Two classes earlier in the day were offered for keeners, but we were assured that as long as you can walk and count, you can dance most of the 1910s dances. The afternoon included a mix of tangos, Castle Walks, and the Maxixe, as well as a zoo of novelty animal dances: The Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot, and the more familiar Foxtrot.

For those wanting to take a break from dancing, there were silent films in an adjacent room including the first film in which Charlie Chaplin appears as his Little Tramp character, as well as a couple of Suffragetto board games.

It was a fabulous bit of fun, and unknown to the guests, there were only a few backstage dramas, like a broken hot water urn, and forgotten teacups. The event would not have been possible without the help of the staff (Alys Mak-Pilsworth, Emily Jackson, Shany Engelhardt, and Bria Dietrich), and volunteers (Nikita Byrne-Mamahit, Fiona Thistle, Susan Walford, Diane Gallinger, and especially Rose Mak!)

I know there is a lot of interest in a 1920s event, and we will do one eventually, but I think for next year we are looking at either a WWII Victory dance, or maybe a Victorian cotillion… we are already working on the details.

Everyone gets into the One-step

Posted in Fashion History Museum | Leave a comment