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Swimwear and Social Welfare

The Sage Collection was recently fortunate to acquire a large donation of clothing and printed/published artifacts that included early swimwear. One garment, a women's black wool 2-piece bathing suit from the 1910s, is very similar to these suits in the Library of Congress photograph below, circa 1906.

Library of Congress image found here:

While the Sage Collection already had in its holdings several wool bathing costumes with bloomers, this particular ensemble was unusual because the two piece braid-trimmed black wool bathing costume consisted of a one-piece suit with bloomers and a detachable overskirt. The other similar Sage Collection bathing ensembles were comprised of dresses with separate bloomers. The bathing costume also had this label sewn inside:

Sage Collection #2014.188 AB.

While International Ladies' Garment Workers Union labels (ILGWU) are familiar to researchers and collectors of later 20th century clothing, the National Consumers League label was a first for the Sage Collection.

ILGWU label 1959-1963 (courtesy of Cornell University ILR School).

These days, contemporary apparel-related activism is mainly focused on sustainable practices in manufacturing and employee rights and working conditions. While the emphasis on reducing waste and environmental impacts in the fashion industry may be fairly new, attempts to improve the working conditions and lives of those who make our clothing are not. The International Ladies' Garment Worker's Union (ILGWU) was founded in 1900 as an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and aimed to improve conditions for workers in the women's garment industry. Many remember the ILGWU television commercials in the 1970s, like this one, which addressed the movement of apparel manufacturing overseas in 1976.

The National Consumers League advocated for both the worker and the consumer. This private nonprofit advocacy group founded in 1899 promoted items made under a set of regulations. Members of the organization examined garments, and a white label attesting that the garment was "MADE UNDER CLEAN AND HEALTHFUL CONDITIONS" and could be affixed only after careful inspection: "USE OF LABEL AUTHORIZED AFTER INVESTIGATION". Like today, members of the National Consumers League sought to educate consumers about the harmful effects of sweatshop labor--though the sweatshops they were working to eliminate were at home, not overseas.

Ironically, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company was found to be using a counterfeit version of the National Consumers League white label in 1914, less than three years after the infamous and eponymous Fire at the garment factory that killed 140 women.

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Crazy about Quilts!

Crazy about Quilts!

In honor of upcoming National Quilting Day March 15, 2014, and the recent annual Indiana Heritage Quilt Show at the Bloomington Convention Center, we are sharing some quilted artifacts found in the Sage Collection.

At its most basic, a quilt is a textile “sandwich”, composed of a decorative top, an inner layer of batting for warmth, and a backing, held together with stitches called quilting stitches. Originally quilting was a small running stitch done by hand, but today, many contemporary quilters use sewing machines to expedite this last part of the quilt-making process. However, some quilts aren’t stitched at all, but tied at regular intervals with lengths of string or yarn. The techniques of quilting and patchwork are often incorporated into objects of clothing, for both practical and aesthetic reasons.

These silk, rabbit fur, and leather child's slippers dated to 1895, are quilted for warmth (Sage #1983.295 AB).
This Christian Dior coat from Fall 1998-Winter 1999 includes a quilted lining. The quilting stitches holds the warm middle layer in place and adds visual interest to the inside of the coat (Sage #2007.396).


Diamond-shaped quilting is a trademark of Chanel clothing and accessories (Sage #s 1998.168 and 2000.140 AB).
Horizontal quilting adds texture to this batik silk coat by Mary McFadden, circa 1980 (Sage #1984.161).
American quilts are popularly associated with patchwork, in which different colored or printed fabrics are cut out and stitched back together in a pattern.

This coat was pieced from multiple wool suiting fabrics as joke for a tailor's convention in the 1920s (Sage #1991.99 A).
Mass-market patchwork jeans feature different washes and colors of denim, the influence of deconstructionism in the exposed, frayed edges, and a low rise, popular in the early 2000s (Sage #2007.619).
Patchwork's possiblities of constrasting color and pattern perfectly fit the handmade hippie aesthetic of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yves Saint Laurent included patchwork pieces in collection from 1969.

Yves Saint Laurent patchwork dress, 1969. Courtesy of

Printed patchwork textiles were a less-expensive alternative to cut-and-sewn piecework as in this Lilly Pulitzer jacket.

Lilly Pulitizer men's jacket and fabric detail, circa 1977 (Sage 1998.871).
Finally, the crazy quilt was a Victorian-era phenomenon, most popular between 1880 and 1900. These quilts were more decorative than durable in nature, and featured fancy silks cut into irregular shapes and sewn together. The piece joins or edges were covered in elaborate embroidery stitches, and often included embroidered insects and floral elements.  The crazy quilt experienced a period of renewed popularity in the 1960s and 1970s with neo-Victorianism.

Crazy quilt coat, 1970s-1980s (quilt dated 1890) (Sage #2009.174).

Crazy quilt coat embroidered date and pictorial details (Sage #2009.174).


Gloria Vanderbilt at home in a crazy quilt coat/robe from


Purse designer Judith Leiber used the crazy quilt motif in this purse from 1989 (Sage #1992.58).

Patchwork as a design motif was explored earlier in the 20th century by Sonia Delauney and Elsa Schiaparelli.

Sonia Delauney patchwork dress, 1913, private collection. Courtesy of

Wool embroidery simulates patchwork in this coat from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Sonia Delaunay, Coat made for Gloria Swanson, 1923-24. via

Patchwork coat by Elsa Schiaparelli from 1939. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute.

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The Sage Collection, Serendipity, and Chanel’s Second Life

The Sage Collection, Serendipity, and Chanel's Second Life

An important and special part of the Sage Collection is published materials such as books, magazines, catalogues, and fashion plates dating from to the 1830s to the present. While moving some magazines a month or so ago, I ran across the October 1, 1961 (yes, October 1st—Vogue Magazine was published bi-monthly through 1973) issue of Vogue that featured a familiar suit on the cover:

Vogue Magazine, October 1, 1961

I recognized this ensemble as a luxuriously soft coral mohair /wool bouclé and orange and gold Lurex print suit from 1961. The identical suit is part of the Sage Collection, accessioned in 2004. This complete ensemble also includes the matching gold Lurex and orange print blouse and coordinated matching purse and pumps. (The color is off in my photographs. The suit really is more of a coral than the pink pictured here).

Chanel ensemble, 1961, 2004.70 A-C

Purse, 1961, 2004.70 D

Shoes, 1961, 2004.70 EF

The gold chain inside the jacket hem, which helps the jacket hang properly, has become a Chanel trademark.

Inside jacket detail, 1961, 2007.70 A

Close-up, pocket and cuff detail, 1961, 2004.70 A

This suit is a wonderful example of the second coming of Coco Chanel, who closed her business at the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939. Chanel’s hiatus lasted through 1954, when she re-launched her couture house in Paris, at more than seventy years of age. Inactive during the height of Dior’s opulent New Look that emphasized rounded hips and a hyperfeminine hourglass figure, Chanel’s updated versions of the smart and chic suits that she originally designed from jersey in 1917 became fashion classics in the late 1950s and 1960s, and remain so today. With shortened skirts, plenty of tweed, and wide braid trim, Chanel suits featuring superbly fitted but not overly constructed collarless jackets became favorites of women who appreciated the ensembles for their stripped-down modern lines, the perfect foil for Chanel’s favored faux pearls and costume jewelry gold chains.

Further investigation turns up these images of Chanel’s 1961 collection and this very suit (third from the left) featured in the September 1, 1961 issue of Life Magazine.

The double-breasted suit with the contrasting dark collar above was the model for Jackie Kennedy's pink suit that she was wearing when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. According to Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel archives reveal that the suit she was wearing on that fated day was an Oleg Cassini copy of the Chanel suit: read "Chanel Copy".

Karl Lagerfeld, designer for the House of Chanel since 1983, has kept the Chanel tradition alive, constantly reworking the pearl/chain/tweed/braid fashion idiom into designs incorporating such diverse looks as hot pants and Postapocalypto-Goth.

Photo: Monica Feudi/ at

Photo: Yannis Vlamos/ at

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Black and White

What’s black and white and fab all over? The windows at the Sage Collection designed by R309 Visual Merchandising students! R309: Strategies in Retail Promotion, taught by Professor Ashley Hasty in the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, is an introductory course that presents design elements and principles through the lens of visual display.

Students were challenged to produce an effective and eye-catching mini-exhibition utilizing Sage Collection artifacts organized around a black-and-white theme. The exhibit features jewelry, purses, fans, hats, gloves, scarves, and shoes, as well as two jackets by Indiana native Bill Blass and French designer Philippe Venet. The clothing examples exploit the very best qualities of positive and negative space in design. The Venet jacket is a masterful example of tailoring in double-face wool, with organic, ovoid-shaped black inset panels placed off-kilter on the jacket fronts, in contrast to the regular black-and-white striped effect on the sleeves. The loose-fitting, kimono-like silk satin jacket from Blass is a study in line—thick/thin, straight/curved, and horizontal/vertical.

Associated with mourning customs, clerical, academic, and ceremonial dress, the color black has been an essential part of every woman’s wardrobe only after World War I. Queen Victoria’s long period of visible mourning following the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861, the practicality of the dark color in an industrial, urban landscape, and the stylish ensembles available to the bereaved during The Great War all contributed to the acceptance of black as a viable everyday color option. Connotations of death, disaster, wickedness, witches, and violence have long been linked to black, which continues in our vocabulary today as a modifier in common phrases with negative overtones: black sheep, blackmail, black-hearted, blackball, blacklist.

Black’s opposite, white, is viewed as the color of innocence, purity, and new beginnings, associated most often with wedding gowns, and christening and baptismal dresses. However, in some cultures, such as China, white, not black, is the color of mourning. In 1938, the death of Queen Elizabeth’s mother five days before a critically important state visit to France to secure an alliance between the two nations when Naziism was looming on the horizon forced designer Norman Hartnell to re-design a colorful 30-piece wardrobe he had created for the state visit. The trip was postponed three weeks, and Hartnell and his workshop created a completely new white wardrobe for Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). This all-white wardrobe allowed Queen Elizabeth to pay her respects to her late mother, and was thought to be more appropriate to the visit’s purpose and the July heat. The romantic and fashionable white dresses designed by Hartnell won over the French, and secured Hartnell his place as the royal dressmaker to the Queen.

Mendes, Valerie. Dressed in Black. London: V&A Publications, 1999.

Reynolds, Nigel. "Royal Fashions that won over Paris go on display." The Telegraph. July 27, 2005.

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The Olympics at the Sage Collection


The social history focus of the Sage Collection means that our storage facilities hold much more than pretty designer dresses—though we have plenty of those! While the 2012 Summer Olympics take place in that most fashionable of cities, London, we celebrate our own bit of Olympics and Indiana University history here at Sage.

This wool and silk uniform was worn by gold medal winner Ivan Fuqua in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Fuqua, a 1935 graduate of Indiana University, was a member of the winning 4x400 meter relay team. Fuqua, who earned I.U.'s first Olympic gold medal, went to to coach track at Brown University from 1947 to 1973.

The embroidered shield patch on the upper left chest features the Olympic rings. The rings, designed in 1912, debuted at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. The five colors: blue, black, red, yellow, and green, on a white background, represent colors in the flags of participating nations. The wool knit tank top and loose-fitting silk shorts have a similar silhouette to the Nike uniforms worn by U.S. track athletes today. This 1932 uniform was made in the U.S. by Spalding, the well-known athletic gear manufacturer. Athletes in the 1936 Olympics wore similar uniforms, also made by Spalding, visible in this Olympic uniform slide show from The New York Times.

Sports apparel manufacturers continually make innovations in textile technology and design to facilitate faster times and better athletic performances. The Nike track-and-field uniforms worn by American athletes in the 2012 London games incorporate dimpled fabric (similar to the surface of a golf ball) in the shorts and tiny holes in the tight-fitting tops for increased aerodynamic efficiency. While the impact of this new technology remains to be seen (Track & Field trials start today, Friday, August 3), Nike's commitment to "considered design" may soften the company's impact on the Earth. On average, uniforms from the Nike Pro TurboSpeed collection incorporate 82% recycled polyester fabric from plastic bottles.

No word on where the Pro TurboSpeed collection is made, however. The Ralph Lauren-designed blazer-and-beret ensembles for the Olympic opening ceremonies drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans alike for being manufactured in China.

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Good Design is Always in Fashion

image by Kelsey Declue

Sage Collection curator Kate Rowold was featured in the article Good Design is Always in Fashion, in the December 2011 issue of She Magazine. She Magazine is a monthly magazine published by The Republic, the Columbus, Indiana newspaper.

Read the interview here.

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