Patent Fashions – Pantyhose

On November 9, 1956, Ernest G. Rice filed for a U.S. patent for a garment that combined stockings with an opaque panty. In his description he writes: “…a combination garment in which a pair of stockings and underpants are unitarily formed…that eliminates the need for garter attachments and belts.” His idea wasn’t new – dancers had been wearing tights for decades, however, his improvement was in the addition of an opaque panty, reinventing it for fashionable use. Sixteen months later, on March 18, 1958, Rice was granted his patent and pantyhose hit the market the following year. Sales shot up in the late 1960s when the miniskirt soared four inches above the knee, and until the late 1990s pantyhose were a staple of every woman’s wardrobe. In the process of researching pantyhose history, I came across this interesting website that is still in development but outlines a history of stockings.

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.

Patent Fashions – Sweater clip

The spring clip used on the back to hold a sweater in place over your shoulders are especially designed to hold firm but not snag the knit. The original design, (1,981,740) patented in 1934, was just a jaw and tended to bunch and snag the material. This improved patent (2.853,761) was applied for in October 1957 and granted in September 1958.

Hanger Games – The cardboard trouser protector 1952

You know those cardboard covers with the sticky strips to keep trousers from sliding off that goes over the crossbars of wire hangers? Last week a donation of a suit came on an old wire hanger that had one of these covers, but this one also had writing on it. The ‘Grippo’ with the U.S. patent # 2590738, filed in 1948 and granted on March 25, 1952.

Patent Fashions – Cantilevered Soles

The heeless pump style were invented by Romeo Griffi in 1958. That same year Griffi filed patents in Italy, England and the U.S. for his cantilevered sole idea. The style was designed to relieve the normal shock to the leg and spine incurred from walking in high heels by shifting the wearer’s weight from the heel to the ball of the foot. The American patent was granted on November 8, 1960.

Hanger Games — Louis M. Marble

I found this hanger in an antique mall today (I have a growing personal collection of early hangers…) but the label was very worn, and it was difficult to make out what any of the words were. However, I was able to read that it was patented on November 2, 1897. With that I managed to uncover a lot of history. Turns out the hanger was made by the Belmar Manufacturing Company in Canton, Pennsylvania, sometime between 1898 and 1902.

The Belmar Mfg. Co. began in a barn in 1897 shortly after Louis M. Marble patented his coat/trouser, skirt/bodice combination hanger. After a few months to develop the machines to make the hangers with the help of his business partner Matt Tabor, Marble incorporated the Belmar Manufacturing Company (Belmar is an anagram of Marble) and moved operations to a building on Washington Street in Canton. A fire in 1904 destroyed much of the original structure, but it was quickly rebuilt on a larger scale.

Starting with just five workers, many of the earliest employees stayed with the company for years. According to an article in the Nov 30, 1950 edition of the Canton Sentinel: George Dell worked at Belmar for more that fifty years; Elmer Rockwell, 47 years; George Goff, nearly 45 years; Charles Renstrom, more than 40 years and Leon Smith about 38 years. At its peak of operation in the late 1920s, the company employed nearly 350 and was the largest industry in Canton, Pennsylvania (population of about 2,000).

The combination coat and trouser hanger was made alongside other hanger styles. Marble patented more than a half dozen hanger innovations and improvements between 1897 and 1941. Coincidentally, his father, Edgar Marble, had been the Commissioner of Patents from 1880 to 1883, and worked as a patent lawyer until 1908.

Louis Marble had graduated from Cornell university in 1892 with a Bachelor of Science and was also interested in food preservation. During WWI, the Belmar plant maintained a dehydration plant and made potato flour and dehydrated vegetables for soup for the U. S. Government as their contribution to the war effort. 

Louis Marble remained active in the business until his death on November 27, 1944. In June 1945, the business was sold but continued to operate for many more years, although by 1950 the workforce had shrunk to 110 employees.

Belmar pant clip hanger, 1960s

Belmar made nearly 50 different styles of coat, dress and trouser hangers made from cherry, beech, and maple lumber that was kiln dried, cut, shaped and smoothed, and then varnished, waxed or painted. They were the largest wooden hanger manufacturer in the U.S. for decades, producing between 10 and 12 million hangers per year. The exact date of their closing is not known.