Thursday, March 19, 2009

Yikes, vintage Gym suits and Bloomers are kinfolk !!

Or, How to research a weird vintage garment.

So, a few months ago I found these:

All I could think of to call it was....gym clothes...bloomers...
I've lately been on a bloomers kick because this find started it last December when I was in the midst of whine-fest about how much I hate Winter (because I do)...

these are in my etsy shop, but I might reclaim them since they are So Cute!

So, I asked for help on the ebay Vintage Clothing board, and got tons of help, and the Thought of Gym Suit....stirred up a lot of painful, agonizing memories of Gym Class, and the Awful Gymsuit we were forced to wear in junior and high school. I suspect, that just at the moment when we are facing the horrifying changes our bodies go through in that time of our young lives, we are forced to wear the most universally unflattering garment ever for tampons (not really a garment) or The Burka...maybe wood clogs are worse....
Let me introduce Amelia Bloomer....

this pic is from

Research revealed that the spunky Amelia Bloomer encouraged the wearing of long baggy pants with ankle cuffs that were just dandy for enraging the menfolk and the uptight women who aligned with them, and for actually Enjoying Life unrestricted by 42 petticoats and 4 layers of wool skirts...and that's just from the waist down...horrors on the rib cage squashing corsets...(another post just for that!)

Though the puffy pants and shorts are now known as Bloomers, Mrs. Bloomer was influenced by 1850's era Women's Libber....Libby Miller and her cousin Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Exercise and sports were becoming quite popular about this time with the invention of the bicycle and baseball towards the end of the 19th century, and new clothing styles were invented, since catching ones petticoat in the spokes could lead to catastrophe.(google Isadora Duncan for a sickening lesson on Fashion as Unintentional Suicide)

Middies , Middy shirts and Bloomers
took over casual wear like wildfire because of comfort and cuteness. These 2 piece outfits for sports evolved to one piece for gymnasium wear and exercise. As things do, the middy lost its collar, tie and sleeves by the 30s, but kept the elastic bloomer leg. Buttons on the shoulder were the way in and out.
In the book linked above, School Sewing Based On Home Problems, published in 1916, we see a Middy gym suit, and a swimsuit with buttoned shoulders similar to mine.

I am koo koo for anything nautical, but I've never (to my knowledge) dated a Sailor. But I love middies, love nautical themes and love living near Big Water, aka Pacific Ocean.

(here's where I'll post some pics of mine...)

By the 40s, shirt styles with front buttons and collars with short sleeves were back in style.
These were paired with shorts, mostly without bloomers, but the bloomers were under the skirts or under the shorts.

In the 50s and 60s, they looked like this mostly.

A wonderful trip thru gymsuit land is here at Taffy's....

Take a look here at the Levittown High School reunion page for some gym suits, and lots of other fun 60s photos.

Here's a mid 30s label from a guy's gym suit...same as mine.

Another clue to the actual age of my vintage gymsuit (possibly a Teens swimsuit!) is the buttons on the shoulders. That is the only way in, or out. There's no zipper, no side snaps or buttons. That's another reason it's not 40s or 50s or later. The slimmer bloomer (say that fast 10 times) means they have escaped the madness of Big Bloomer Heaven that was the 20s, and moved on.
And, well, the color is either Jadeite, or Institutional Green, depending on your mood at the moment you view them.
Based on the label, the styling and the color, the history of bloomers and middies and the history of exercise and women's lib, I feel confident these are late 20s thru the 30s.

1 comment:

fuzzylizzie said...

Tressie, this is as you think, very late 20s, or early to mid 30s. Originally, it would have had a matching belt. The way the V-neckline is finished means that it was to be worn without a middy over it. I've seen photos of suits like this one with the girls wearing a white camp style blouse beneath. (A middy would have been too bulky.) I've also seen photos with no arm covering - just the gymsuit. In the 30s you see gymsuits in both short sleeve and sleeveless versions. The bloomers were on their way out by this time. Most schools were switching to regular shorts, or to a short skirt with attached panty/bloomers. But in the 40s, they went to a gym dress with little bloomer-like panties beneath.

All that is "generally speaking." More conservative communities and schools continued using longer bloomers into the early 60s, but that is the exception.

If you look at old school photographs from yearbooks, and catalogs, you can see how the gymsuit evolved. I have a page or 2 on my website from the research I did last summer for VFG showing how the gymsuit changed.

The poster who stated at ebay that there were not bloomers in the gym until the late 20s is incorrect. By that time bloomers were actually on their way out. I've seen photos dated of girls in bloomers, playing basketball in gyms as early as 1893. These were much longer than your piece - they were gathered right beneath the knee.

Check out the book, When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner. It's a wonderfully documented history of bloomers and the gymsuit.

Love the post! Lizzie