Patent Fashions – 1934 Office Coat

While the label in this jacket suggests it is better for combating perspiration, the actual patent for the jacket has no such claim. The patent is for an additional underarm piece that resembles a dress shield, its purpose is to reinforce the underarm seaming of a lightweight coat or jacket designed for wear in an active working environment.

We forget that in the past many occupations required workers to wear jackets for employees outside of middle-management desk jobs – clerks and tradesmen also wore jackets. As this is called an office coat in the patent application, this would be worn by the likes of mailroom boys, and assistants in print rooms, photo labs, and delivery docks — really any office jobs that required activity.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Cougar

Walter Sedlbauer immigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1939 to work for the Bata Shoe Company at their newly opened manufacturing plant in Batawa, Ontario. In 1948 he, with business partner Anthony Ronza, founded Susan Footwear Industries in a former parachute factory in Burlington, Ontario.

A sneaker brand called Cougar became a breakout success for them in the early 1970s, rivalling adidas running shoe sales in Canada. Their next big success story came in 1976 with a snow boot style with a padded leg and red lining, called the Pillow Boot.

By the time Walter died in 1994, the company was running into hard times from foreign brands being dumped on the Canadian market. Most Canadian shoe companies didn’t survive the shift to the world market, including Bata. Wanting to keep the business going, Walter’s sons Steven and Ron bought the Cougar trademark out of bankruptcy in 1996. The brothers realized they had to play by the same rules as the modern shoemaking industry and revived the Cougar brand by moving manufacturing off shore. The new Cougar brand company found success in new designs based on Pillow Boot styles, updated for the contemporary market.

To read more about the Cougar brand, check out this article, and their web page.

Harry Parnass 1935 – 2021

Innovative Canadian fashion designer and architect, Harry Parnass died January 1, at the age of 85.  

Born in Germany, Harry’s parents immigrated to New York in 1936. He graduated with degrees in architecture from Columbia and Harvard universities and became a professor of architecture and urban design at the Université de Montreal from 1965 to 1991.  

While designing retail stores in 1977 for the Montreal firm of Le Chateau he met Nicola Pelly, an English-born Canadian fashion designer for Bagatelle in Montreal. The two launched their Parachute label in Montreal in March, 1978. A Toronto boutique followed in late 1979. Their New Wave concept of unisex futuristic tailoring was popular in the U.S. and Canada. Overwhelmed by how business was changing and consuming their lives in 1989, Pelly and Parnass slowly closed their business – the last store shut its doors in 1993. 

For more information about his architectural career, see this obituary.

Fashion in Song – Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs Murphy’s Chowder – 1898

There was a fondness for ‘Irish’ songs at the turn-of-the-century, although few were actually Irish melodies, but rather comic or sentimental songs with Irish themes or characters. This song was written by George L. Geifer in 1898 and originally recorded by Edward M. Favor in 1901. It was later recorded by Bing Crosby on December 6, 1945.

Mrs. Murphy gave a party ’bout a week ago
everything was plentiful the Murphys they’re not slow
they treated us like gentlemen we tried to act the same
except for what had happened well it was an awful shame
When Mrs. Murphy dished the chowder out she fainted on the spot
she found a pair of overalls at the bottom of the pot
Tim Nolan he got hoppin’ mad his eyes were bulging out
he jumped up om the piano and began to scream and shout

Who Threw The Overalls in Mrs, Murphy’s Chowder?
Nobody spoke so they shouted all the louder
it’s an Irish trick that’s true
I can lick the Mick that threw
the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder

Well they fished the pants from out the soup and laid them on the floor
every man swore up and down he’s ne’er seen them before
they were plastered up with morter and worn out at the knees
they had their manys ups and downs as we could plainly see
when Mrs. Murphy she “came to” she began to cry and pout
she had them in the wash that day and forgot to take them out
Tim Nolan had apologised for what he said that night
so we put the words to music and we sang with all our might OH ! CHORUS

A Hundred Years Ago – The World and Fashion in 1921

For Canada, 1921 was a better year than 1920: William Lyon McKenzie King, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister (and popular at the time), was voted in for the first time; Agnes Macphail became the first woman to be elected to Parliament; and University of Toronto biochemists Drs. Banting and Best announced the discovery of insulin for treating diabetes. Some Canadians were also happy that prohibition began to be repealed through plebiscites. However, for much of the rest of the world, 1921 was a difficult year.

In the United States, Warren G. Harding became president on March 4. In an effort to curb high unemployment, Harding signed the Emergency Quota Act that restricted the number of immigrants to three percent of those from countries already in the U.S. as of 1910. The Act especially limited Eastern and Southern European immigrants. As a result, Eastern European Jews began to immigrate to Palestine instead of the U.S.

Immigrants at Ellis Island, 1921

A race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma began with an accusation by a white woman of being assaulted by a black man. Although the charges were dismissed, sensationalist media coverage fueled fear and misinformation and the event escalated into a two day conflict that left the prosperous black neighbourhood of Greenwood a smouldering ruin with over 300 dead and a thousand injured. 

The Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (as it was known from 1917 to 1922) was in the midst of a civil war. In March 1921, a rebellion by Russian sailors in the city of Kronstradt ended with thousands of deaths. A famine brought about by a combination of the civil war, bad government policies, and a severe drought gripped the new country. It is estimated that by the time the famine ended in 1923, five million Russians had died.

World War I was finally concluded when a treaty between the United States and Germany was signed (the U.S. had not ratified the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.) Reparations were determined by the allies that required Germany to pay the equivalent of 2.5 billion gold marks per annum to a total of 132 billion gold marks. Germany printed money to make payments, which lead to hyperinflation, riots, and the assassination of the former Finance Minister. (the debt was finally paid off in 2010.) 

With general political unrest, Adolf Hitler became the chairman of the National Socialist German Workers Party. By the end of the year the Sturmabteilung (brownshirts or SA) had been established.

From 1921 to 1925 the Nazi Party offices were at 12 Corneliusstresse, Munich. This photo taken in 1921

For those looking for a median between extreme politics, the new word ‘centrism ’ was coined, although extremes seemed to be growing faster than middle-of-the-road politics. The International Working Union of Socialist Parties was founded in Vienna. Throughout the year Communist parties were established in Italy, Belgium, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Spain, and China (by founding member Mao Tse-tung.) In Italy, Mussolini founded the National Socialist Party, which won 29 seats in a parliamentary election that year.

There were labour strikes by miners in Britain, the United States, and South Africa, and a general strike in Norway. Unrest elsewhere led to the assassination of the Spanish Premier, as well as the Portuguese and Japanese prime ministers.

With anti-colonial riots in Egypt and home-rule battles in Ireland, Britain regrouped, creating the British Commonwealth of Nations. Afghanistan was given its sovereignty and Northern Ireland was created by an act of Parliament, paving the way for the creation of an Irish free state (Southern Ireland) with the signing of an Anglo-Irish treaty at the end of the year.

Anglo-Irish treaty envoys, 1921

Extreme weather events included: a summer heat wave in Europe, a geo-magnetic storm that caused extensive damage to electrical systems, especially along the Eastern seaboard of the U.S., and flash floods in Colorado that drowned 1500. A boll weevil infestation decimated Georgia cotton crops that led farmers to plant peanut crops instead.

The sinking of two ships, the Hong Koh in China and the Santa Isabel in Mexico, took over 1200 to their death, and a nitrate factory explosion in Oppau, Germany killed over 500. An outbreak of Sleeping Sickness in the U.S. claimed nearly 1,000 lives, and Franklin Roosevelt contracted Polio while swimming at Campobello, Nova Scotia, rendering him a paraplegic.  

Catching world attention was the trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-born anarchists who were convicted for the murder of two men and the robbery of a Massachusetts shoe company’s payroll. Conflicting evidence and recanted testimony did not sway the jury, and despite protests around the world, the cause celebres case ended with their eventual execution in 1927. 

The New York Yankees purchased 20 acres in the Bronx to build Yankee Stadium. Their star player, Babe Ruth hit his 138th home run in 1921 to become the all-time home run leader in Baseball. Ruth would go on to extend his home-run record to a total of 714 by the time he retired in 1935, a record that would stand until 1974. Also breaking records was boxing’s first million dollar gate to see Jack Dempsey knock out Georges Carpentier.

Babe Ruth in the 1921 World Series

A new dish introduced from Italy became popular – breaded and fried zucchini. Other new foods included: the Bloody Mary cocktail, sugared jelly candies, ‘iodized’ salt, and chocolate covered ice cream bars called ‘I-scream’ bars. They were soon renamed ‘Eskimo Pies’ and then renamed again in 2020 Edy’s pies (because Eskimo is now considered derogatory), after company founder Joseph Edy. New brands hit the grocery shelves: Wonder bread with its distinctive red, yellow and blue balloon-print packaging, Wheaties breakfast cereal, French’s mustard, and fictional company mascot and spokeswoman Betty Crocker for what would become General Mills Foods.

1921 also saw the birth of fast food with the creation of the White Castle hamburger chain. Founded in Wichita, Kansas, the steam fried hamburgers, 18 per pound of ground beef, were cooked on a bed of onions in an open kitchen where customers could see their food being prepared. The original burgers cost a nickel. At the higher end of dining, Sardi’s restaurant opened in New York City.

Top songs of the year included: Irving Berlin’s “All By Myself”; Marion Harris’ “I Ain’t Got Nobody”;  Eddie Cantor’s “Margie”; Al Jolson’s “Avalon”; Ethel Waters “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”, and a host of dance tunes recorded by the band leader Paul Whiteman including “Song of India”, “Say it with Music”, and “Cherie”. 

In theatre, the first major play of the Harlem Renaissance, “Shuffle Along,” debuted on Broadway, launching the career of Josephine Baker. In Prague, Karel Capek’s play “R.U.R”, which introduced the word “robot”, premiered.

British writer Agatha Christie published her first novel “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, which introduced her character Hercule Poirot. New York publishers, The Little Review, were convicted of obscenity charges for publishing “Ulysses” in its entirety. The Best-selling English language books of 1921 included Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, and the Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. 

The top grossing Hollywood film of 1921 was “The Kid”, a full length comedy-drama written, produced, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin in his Tramp character, with Jackie Coogan playing the kid. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and The Sheik made Rudolph Valentino an international heart-throb. Star of Brewster’s Millions, comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle was arrested for fatally injuring Virginia Rappe at a party. Although he was acquitted of rape and manslaughter, the scandal ended his career.

As the world entered the modern era, old companies adapted to making new products. Studebaker, stopped making wagons to concentrate on automobiles and Boeing ceased furniture production to specialize in airplanes. The first electric home refrigerators came on the market, and more stations were broadcasting through wireless telephony (radio) – 1921 saw the first radio broadcasts in the U.S. of religious services and sports events. The German company Braun, Japanese company Mitsubishi, and the American company Radio Shack were all founded in 1921 as radio parts manufacturers.

1921 firsts include: the Corgi and Shih-tzu dog breeds, the polygraph lie detector test, Dude ranch holidays, pogo sticks, the colour fuchsia, Jungle gyms, ‘penthouse’ apartments, and a growing trend for initialism (I.B.M., I.R.A., and I.Q. all appeared in print for the first time.)

In 1921 your patootie (girlfriend), might slenderize (diet) to wear a slinky (close-fitting, sexually attractive garment) dress. Other new words for the year include the slang: applesauce (nonsense); goofy (silly); check-up (doctor’s exam); hitchhike (get a ride); derogatory terms (fag, dyke, and hebe); insults (lame-brain, schizoid, basket-case, skid-row, and goon); and the exclamations (shush and phooey).

Idioms first appearing in print in 1921 include: “he was taken to the cleaners”; “Send it down the pipeline”; “For crying out loud”; “Go off the deep end”; “Wrong side of the tracks”; “Look down your nose”; “Hot and bothered”; “For the hell of It”; “From the horse’s mouth”; “A spanner in the works”; “Between a rock and a hard place”; “Blow-by blow”; and “Cold turkey”.

In fashion, women’s styles were a little shorter and looser than they had been in 1920. Tops bloused over lower waistlines, and necklines were becoming more open. Transparent chiffon blouses and dresses that exposed forearms and collarbones through sheer fabric were gaining popularity. 

scrapbook of fashions, 1921
Scrapbook of fashions, 1921

In Zion city, Illinois, openwork stockings, and bare necks and arms in public places were banned, with fines of up to $200. A woman visiting Zion who was wearing a dress of transparent material that exposed her collarbone and forearms was arrested at Zion’s train station. Also, in 1921, Sunbury Pennsylvania regulated women’s skirts to be not shorter than 4 inches below the knee. Ohio would not allow a décolletage deeper than two inches, and even though not enacted, discussions about regulating dress styles took place across the U.S.

With shorter hemlines, women stopped wearing boots for daytime. Bar strap shoes had been popular since the 1890s for dressier occasions, but in 1921, the Mary-Jane pump (named for the character who played Buster Brown’s girlfriend in shoe advertising from the Brown Shoe Co.) with its instep strap became the most popular daytime style of footwear for women. 

Men’s fashions changed little from the previous year, although the pant was becoming slightly fuller in cut. A new style – Plus Fours, were knickerbockers with an additional four inches in the leg to produce an overhang at the knee. It was popular at first with golfers, but the style caught on with collegiate-aged men for day wear. 

Thomas Armour, 1921

The problem with plagiarism of Paris couture was taken on by Madeleine Vionnet when she targeted copyists, especially in the US, with a campaign in 1921 that saw the creation of The Association for the Defence of Fine and Applied Arts. The purpose was to register models and pursue counterfeiters. This was the origin of numbering and registering haute couture dress designs.

The magazine L’Officiel, the official publication of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, was launched in 1921. This trade magazine was directed principally at international buyers, both corporate and individual, as well as those working in the fashion industry. In other fashion news, Chanel introduced her No. 5 perfume, and the luxury brand Gucci was founded in Florence.

Pierre Cardin 1922 – 2020

Pierre Cardin was born July 7, 1922, in a small town near Venice, Italy. When he was a child his family moved to Saint Étienne in central France, where Cardin went to school and was then apprenticed to a local tailor at age 14.

After the war he moved to Paris where he began working as an assistant at the House of Paquin. One of his first jobs was creating some of the costumes for Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film, Beauty and the Beast

Cardin then worked briefly with Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior before opening his own atelier in 1953. The following year he launched his ‘bubble’ dress, which brought him to the attention of the fashion media.

In 1959 Cardin made his first pret-a-porter collection for Paris’s Printemps department store – an initiative that got him temporarily kicked out of the Chambre Syndicale. Although he was allowed back in, Cardin eventually split from the Chambre Syndicale to create and show collections on his own terms. 

He, along with André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, Yves St. Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro, reshaped French couture in the 1960s for the younger woman. Textiles with modern art prints and man-made materials were embraced. Tailored mini dresses, pant suits, and car coats didn’t over-emphasize the female form but instead played up a liberated, Space-Age streamlined chic. 

By 1970, Cardin was licensing his name and focussing on ready to wear. “The numbers don’t lie,” Cardin said in a 1970 French television interview. “I earn more from the sale of a necktie than from the sale of a million-franc dress. It’s counterintuitive, but the accounts prove it. In the end, it’s all about the numbers.”

Throughout the 70s, as his name began to appear on everything from bed sheets to chocolates, Cardin invested his wealth into a massive portfolio of Paris real estate. Cardin was everywhere – in 1986 Cardin worked a deal in the Soviet Union to sell his clothes made in Russia under his label. By 2009, Cardin estimated his worth at 1.4 billion dollars. 

The Fine Arts Academy, of which he had been a member since 1992, announced his death on December 29, but the exact time, place, or cause of his death were not revealed.

Fashion in Song – Shoes (2005)

This song was originally written and recorded by Shania Twain to promote the second season return of the ABC television program Desperate Housewives (2004 – 2012). The song was not used and so Twain released it in September 2005. The song peaked at #29 in the Country Music charts in November, 2005.

Tell me about it… Ooh! Men.
Have you ever tried to figure them out?
Huh, me too, but I ain’t got no clue – how ’bout you? 

Men are like shoes
Made to confuse
Yeah, there’s so many of ’em
I don’t know which ones to choose
Ah, sing it to me
If you agree 

There’s the kind made for runnin’
The sneakers and the low down heels
The kind that will keep you on your toes
And every girl knows how that feels
Ouch, ah, sing it with me 

[Chorus:]
You’ve got your kickers and your ropers
Your everyday loafers, some that you can never find
You’ve got your slippers and your zippers
Your grabbers and your grippers
Man, don’t ya hate that kind?
Some you wear in, some you wear out
Some you wanna leave behind
Sometimes you hate ’em
And sometimes you love ’em
I guess it all depends on which way you rub ’em
But a girl can never have too many of ’em 

It’s amazing what a little polish will do…
Men are like shoes… 

Some make you feel ten feet tall
Some make you feel so small
Some you want to leave out in the hall
Or make you feel like kicking the wall 

Ah, sing it with me, girls
Ooh! Mmm.. 

Some can polish up pretty good…
Ah, men are like shoes.. 

It’s amazing what a little polish will do
Some clean up good, just like.new
Some you can’t afford, some are real cheap
Some are good for bummin’ around on the beach 

You’ve got your kickers and your ropers
Your everyday loafers, yeah some that you can never find
You’ve got your slippers and your zippers
Your grabbers and your grippers
And man, don’t ya hate that kind? 

I ain’t got time for the flip-flop kind…
Men are like shoes!

This Year in Fashion – 2020

The zoom meeting became a popular way of only half dressing for work…

Not since World War II has so little and so much happened at the same time to the world of fashion. Fashion has remained virtually unchanged this year – there has been too small an audience to make much of an impact. Some manufacturers will be even re-offering their spring 2020 collection in 2021. While luxury market sales plummeted, the fashion industry has been forever altered and COVID-19 can be blamed for much of the disruption but not for everything. 

There was already a growing awareness of how damaging every aspect of the fashion industry is to the environment. Wage inequality for those working in the fashion industry was heightened by reports from China of hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims being forced to pick cotton. It will be interesting to see if and how the fashion market will react because a ban on slave-cotton would lead to a global shortage of the textile.

COVID did bring traditional in-store shopping to a near standstill, expediting the death of many chain and department stores: Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Aldo, Le Chateau, Top Shop… Many of the chains were teetering for years and/or were unsustainable in expensive long-term leases. Department stores have been slowly dying since the 1980s, and the few who survive the full length of the pandemic will have to reinvent their business model. Some are reorganizing or have been bought out but in the current world of fashion, without fundamental changes any restructuring is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Fashion businesses that have survived have had online sales to thank, especially if they were purveyors of athleisure: yoga pants and leggings, T-shirts and fleece hoodies – the only part of the market that was unscathed by the pandemic lockdowns.

Dress of the Year at the Bath Fashion Museum – a hazmat suit, pink latex gloves and face mask, worn by Naomi Campbell for a transatlantic flight in March (paired up with a camel coloured cape)

The season-system of fashion collections was already fading. Dior and Chanel have asserted they will stay with traditional collection show launches, but more designers are switching to smaller online launches through social media that coincide with their collection’s availability.

What COVID-19 is doing to fashion is erasing a decade’s worth of gradual progress. Fashion is fast-forwarding to a new era where designers have to consider how to create and market their clothes in a new way. Where is the cloth sourced? Do the dyes pollute? Are living wages paid? Is the workplace inclusive? Do the clothes promote body positivity?

The globalism movement of the late 20th century inadvertently created a movement for cultural identity and individualism. This is made evident in the rise of nationalistic governments, but it has also resulted in the conscious consideration of others, ensuring everyone is heard, and reconciling past injustices. Fashion will be reflecting this even more in coming seasons.

Chromat, Spring/Summer 2020

The most common question I am asked as the curator of the Fashion History Museum is if I think fashion will become more casual, or if we will see a return to glamour. My answer is that both will happen as it becomes more acceptable to express yourself on your own terms – whether that’s in sweatpants or full drag.

2020 saw the passing of two important Japanese designers who shaped late 20th century fashion, Kenzo Takada, and Kansai Yamamoto, as well as Italian shoe magnate Sergio Rossi and Italian born French designer Pierre Cardin, who was the last of his generation of postwar French couturiers who steered fashion towards a more youthful chic in the 1960s. The year also saw the birth of a new garment that has entered virtually everybody’s wardrobe – the mask. It will be interesting to see how long face masks will continue after the pandemic has passed.

Hat Flirtations

I have posted before about fan and hankie and parasol flirtations that can supposedly be used to speak across a ballroom floor to engage a suitor. However, these were really just marketing opportunities by makers of the products, starting in the 1850s when George Duvelleroy, a Parisian fan maker, invented fan language and printed it up on cards. Here is a new one I had never heard of – hats. I found this undated reprint, probably from the early 20th century, online.

Glossary – Sewer or Sewist

Portrait of a Woman Sewing, by Charles-Antoine Coypel, France, 1746

I created a bit of a brouhaha on the FHM facebook page yesterday. I posted about the word ‘sewist’ with a reference to a New York Times (NYT) article on male sewers. The article was introduced with the tagline “The word “sewist” — an increasingly popular gender-neutral term for people who sew — appeared for the first time in The Times yesterday, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.” I took this statement to suggest two things. Firstly, that the word was created and/or becoming popular because it was gender-neutral and secondly, that the NYT were taking credit for being the first paper to print the word, thereby coining it into English language etymology.

I asked readers on the FHM facebook page if they felt other words to describe sewing were sexist. I couldn’t think of any terms that were specifically denoting gender, other than seamstress, but this word is now generally considered archaic, like murderess, authoress, and actress. Most words for needleworkers are already gender-neutral: sewer, stitcher, designer, pattern-maker, stylist, milliner, seamster… You might think dressmaker is gendered, but that’s the product not the maker, and tailor may be assumed to be male due to historical precedence and profiling, but a tailor is not always a man anymore than a nurse is always a woman.

One poster felt seamster was gendered because it was a masculine form of seamstress. Although her point was reasonable, feminized versions of words don’t necessarily suggest the non-feminized version applies only to men (ie: murderer, author, actor), but that didn’t seem to agree in the poster’s eyes. She was apparently offended as her comments then became more pointed and personal, ending the discussion.

Apparently I misunderstood the NYT navel gazing statement when it was pointed out that the NYT was only talking about the NYT printing the word for the first time. One poster found an article in the Los Angeles Times from 1986 that uses the word ‘sewist’, which makes me wonder why the NYT even bothered to point out that they used a 35 year old word for the first time…

In the end, Threads magazine (the ‘sewists’ bible) had the best explanation. In an article from 2012, Threads found the earliest usage of the word ‘sewist’ dates back to 1964. The word gained a popular following in the 2000s with online sewing bloggers who felt it elevated home sewing because it was created from a combination of the words ‘sewer’ and ‘artist’.

‘Sewist’ gained popularity because the most commonly used word ‘sewer’, which according to an etymological search has been around since the 14th century, can also be a conduit used for waste disposal – a 17th century use for the same heteronym (word that is spelled the same but pronounced differently).

So although the word ‘sewist’ is not gender-specific, that is not the reason it was created. However, no dictionary defines the word sewist, so you can’t use it in a game of scrabble.