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Sportswear Workshop Part 2: Private Sports

Discussion in 'Sportswear 2008 by Fuzzylizzie' started by fuzzylizzie, Jun 1, 2008.

  1. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Thanks so much for your patience...Sorry to be so late.

    And a big thank you for all the participation in yesterday's session. I was overwhelmed! And I learned a thing or two myself.

    If you did not take in the historical background note yesterday, it really would be a good idea for you to read them. It helps knowing a bit about the world in which change was taking place!

    At the end of yesterday's talk about bathing suits I mentioned that the swimsuit was the only public, or social, sport in which wearing pants became totally acceptable before about 1910. And while pants were not accepted for "mixed company," They did start to show up in women-only arenas.

    Probably the first of these was the private gymnasium. The gymnastics movement began in Germany, and newly arrived immigrants started the first gyms in the USA. These were primarily for men, but as early as the 1830 there are references to women doing gymnastic exercises. By the 1860s it was being suggested that women wear a "gymnastic dress" while exercising.

    The gymnastic dress was very similar to the Amelia Bloomer costume. It was made of a loose-fitting blouse, a fitted but loose waist, and a gathered skirt. The dress was worn shorter than fashionable dress of the time, but usually about six inches or so from the floor. There are lots of period photos and drawings of girls and young women wearing this dress, and it is often mentioned in the literature of the time. But whether or not bloomers were usually worn beneath is not clear. They are not often mentioned, nor are they obvious in photos.

    The origin of the gymsuit as we know it goes back to the women's colleges that were being opened in the second half of the 19th century. Many of the colleges built gyms, as exercise was an important part of the schools' programs.

    By the 1880s, the gymnastic dress was sometimes replaced by very full, long bloomers, actually more like a full divided skirt that had the appearance of a skirt. This was worn with a loose-fitting blouse.

    It was the advent of organized team sports, in particular, basketball, that banished the skirt from the gym. Basketball was invented in 1891, and by mid-decade, the game was being played at most women's colleges. The sport was just too vigorous to be played in so many bulky clothes, so the skirt went, and the bloomers were shortened to just below the knee. Still, if leaving the gym, the women had to wear a skirt over the bloomers. It was just not acceptable to be seen wearing pants. (As a side note, this is the reason women's field hockey teams have always worn skirts. The game was played outside, and so a skirt must be worn.)

    By the turn of the century, gymsuits were pretty much uniform. Some colleges adopted an official gymnastic uniform which was worn by all. Before that, girls often wore a variety of homemade suits, even when playing on teams.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/swimgym1896.jpg>
    These 1896 drawings from Harper's Bazar show how similar gym suits and bathing suits were at that time.

    The early 20th century gymsuit was a big improvement over the dresses and skirts of the past, but there were still some major problems. The biggest one was the fabric. Gymsuits were being made from wool, a fabric that was heavy, hot and largely not washable. Not a pleasant combination, imo! Also, the top buttoned to the bloomers at the waist, which could gap open.
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/1912sears.jpg>

    A big leap forward, in terms of comfort and hygiene, happened around 1910 with the introduction of the middy blouse as exercise wear. Sailor-type tops had long been favored as playwear for little boys and girls, and in the late 1800 had been seen in women's reform dress. The middy was made from washable cotton duck, and could be paired with either short "sports skirts," or knee-length knickers, which were also soon to be made from cotton.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/bloomergym001.jpg>

    At about the same time, the middy and bloomer combination became standard "uniforms" at a new institution - the summer camp. The first camps for girls were opened in 1902, and within a few years they were located throughout the eastern US. Because these camps were for girls only, the prohibition against wearing pants in public did not apply, and in photos of even the earliest camps you see girls and young women wearing bloomers. By the 1920s middies and bloomers were standard wear at camp. In a 1920 list of articles to bring to Camp Keystone near Brevard, NC, girls were instructed to bring 8 middies, 4 bloomers and a heavy sweater. Skirts were not mentioned at all.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/camp/camp%20merrymeeting1920s.jpg>
    Camp Merry Meeting, circa 1925

    So the younger sisters, and even daughters, of the pioneering college students who first wore bloomers on a regular basis spent their summers attired in the relative freedom of middies and bloomers. And before long, this "uniform" was pretty much standard schoolgirl attire, although middies were worn with skirts outside the gymnasium. The girls of the teens became women in the Twenties and Thirties, and were the first to wear short and slacks in public. Not surprising, really.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/middydorothea.jpg>
    Middy outfit courtesy of Ang of Dorothea's Closet

    Besides school gyms and summer camps, there was one more place where women could wear bloomers - their own homes. During World War I, some women held jobs un which they wore work overalls. By war's end, seeing the practically of such a work garment, a type of bloomer-jumpsuit was being marketed as a "house-work bloomer dress." These were offered for sale in the large mass marketing catalogs like Sears, and patterns were available for home sewers. According to the 1918 Sears catalog, "Women's overalls have met with such popular favor and are now worn so commonly that further recommendation is scarcely necessary."

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/1919knickers.jpg>
    From a 1919 New Idea Quarterly pattern catalog

    As for the gymsuit, throughout the 1920s, the baggy bloomers became less voluminous and shorter, and the middy became streamlined and lost its long sleeves and collar.
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/spalding20sgym%20001.jpg>
    Late 1920s suit from Spaulding

    In the early 1930s gymsuits were either a shirt and shorts romper-like garment, sometimes with a detachable skirt, matching shirt and shorts, or were a very short dress with matching pantie-bloomers, much like a tennis dress. The romper-skirt combination also became very popular for regular casual wear, and remained so into the 1950s.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/gym40sang2.jpg><Img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/gym40sang.jpg>
    They were always trying to improve the gymsuit. This 1930s/40s suit tackles the problem of the shirt coming untucked in a two piece suit. Photos courtesy of Ang at Dorothea's Closet

    My mother, who was in high school in the 1940s, wore the dress-bloomers type. She talked about how girls would roll the bloomers up very short, and then tuck in the hem of the skirt. I suppose this was similar to the girls in my 1970s gym class who rolled the legs of our romper suits as short as possible.

    As late as the 1960s, women at co-ed colleges were required to wear a coat over their gymsuits when crossing campus. And in the early 1970s, my gym classes were still sex-segregated, though we often shared a field with the boys. This might help explain the rolled shorts legs!

    In the 1940s/50s gymsuit below, notice the embroidered initials. Many schools required the owner to embroider her name or initials on the gym suit. This may helped the teacher with identification and remembering names. But I can think of another reason the initials were required - to keep the girls from borrowing the suits from each other.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/40sgym002.jpg>

    When I was in school in the 1960s and 1970s, there were strict rules about taking the suit home to be washed. The problem was that we refused to take the nasty old things and carry them to our lockers, and then to carry them home. So whenever word got around that gymsuits were to be inspected, there was a rash of suit borrowing from more fastidious classmates.

    By the 1980s, gymsuits were becoming a garment of the past, largely replaced by shorts and tee shirts, and largely forgotten as the innovative garment that helped ease women into wearing pants.
  2. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Part 3 of Sportswear - the Workshop will be about sportswear worn in public - tennis, golf, skating, and so on. We'll see that the clothing for these activities were much more fashion oriented. I'll also talk about how the term sportswear came to be applied to what amounts to casual wear. Tomorrow, around noon.

    So, now you can share ~ if you dare ~ your own gymsuit trauma. I've looked for photos of mine, but mercifully none exist!
  3. lkranieri

    lkranieri VFG Member

    No gymsuit trauma here, but I was fascinated to learn of the association with women's field hockey uniforms. What a pleasure this is to read.
  4. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    If it were American, you would expect it to have a skirt, but this may be like swimsuits. European swimsuits for women "lost" their skirts before American ones because sex segregated bathing continued longer in Europe that it did on this side of the Pond. I collect antique and vintage photos of bathers, and one way you can tell that the older ones are European is by the lack of a skirt. They also gave up bathing stockings much earlier for the same reason.
  5. dorotheascloset

    dorotheascloset Registered Guest

    I love this workshop!!! Learning so much......thanks Lizzie!

  6. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Ang, is there a patent number anywhere on your gymsuit that I pictured above?
  7. joules

    joules VFG Member

    From the 1933 MGM film, "Dancing Lady", Hollywood's interpretation of gymnasium attire, worn by Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. Of course, they were portraying show biz types.
  8. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    That's interesting that she is wearing slacks! It would be a very casual occasion for a woman to be wearing slacks on screen in 1933. I can't remember who it was, but one director refused to work with Kate Hepburn because she wore slacks to the set in the early 30s!
  9. joules

    joules VFG Member

    Lizzie, I thought so as well. Of course, her character had been dancing in burlesque houses, prior to being hired by "Patch Gallagher" for his Broadway show. The sweatshirt she wears looks almost like the ones of today.
  10. Great workshop, and just in time for Wimbledon over here:

  11. cactusandcattails

    cactusandcattails VFG Member VFG Past President

    OK these are mens but gym shorts anyway.




    Can you imagine the guys wearing something like this today. Hmm...still looks a little like the ones Clark Gable is wearing.

    Im guessing 60s on these? early to mid
  12. Thanks so much Lizzie - this workshop is great!

    I hated those one piece bloomers for gym (and every other girl did too!). Unflattering. A few of us wore shorts one day and we were all suspended. We were being used as examples to try and stop the trend. My father thought the punishment did not fit the crime and a 3 day suspension was replaced by something else (but I can't remember what).

    Oddly enough, that same year - '69 or '70 I think - the student body held a sit in on the front lawn of the school to protest against school uniforms. And we won!
  13. The Vintage Merchant

    The Vintage Merchant Administrator Staff Member

    Brenda, those were worn into the 70's as well. (brothers)

    LIZZIE!!! i just love this workshop!!!
  14. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Brenda, one hint as to age would be when West Point and Pepperal merged. I'll look and see what I can find. Interestingly, I have a 1910s swimdress with that very same "Yale" label.

    Deborah, I had no idea you were such a rebel! Seriously, I graduated high school in 1973, and that was the year gym suits were abandoned. Students were questioning why girls had to wear them and not boys, and students but not teachers. When some brave souls started wearing shorts, nothing was said, and soon all the gymsuits were trashed!

    Thanks for the kind words, all!
  15. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Oh, and tomorrow I'll be mentioning Wimbledon several times!
  16. vintageclothesline

    vintageclothesline VFG Member VFG Past President

    Here is an advertisement from the 30s from a Sears sale catalog you may be interested in...


    Wish I could buy something like that now for 98 cents!

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