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Vintage gymnastics and dancewear

Discussion in 'The Powder Room' started by ShrinkingViolet, Oct 29, 2008.

  1. ShrinkingViolet

    ShrinkingViolet A-List Customer

    Lately I've been obsessed with looking at old pictures of chorus girls, female gymnasts and sportswomen and the clothes they were wearing. It seems like there were very specific rules about the chorus girl tap dancing outfit of the 1920s and 1930s in particular - shorts, silky blouse or halter top, ankle or knee lenght socks.

    Which fabrics do you think were considered appropriate for physical exercises? Wool jersey and satin seems to have been used a lot. I'd love to see lots of pictures of vintage sportswear and dancewear posted here!

    I was also wondering if any of you are wearing vintage-y outfits when you work out, go to dance classes and so on? And have you chosen your type of exercise because of it's vintage-ness?

    I'll start of with these pictures of a 1930s costume that belonged to a British gymnast:

  2. I love the outfits in 42nd Street, when they're all rehearsing!

  3. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    My workouts include dance, weightlifting and, once in a while, walking and running on a treadmill. I chose those exercises because they keep me lean and fit, I can do them at home. I chose dancing as an aerobic exercise for those reasons, plus I enjoy it and it isn't hard on my body.

    No, I don't work out in vintage style clothes. Satin, especially, seems like it would be hot and would show every drop of sweat.
  4. The outfit you pictured is from the 'Womens league of health and beauty' I have the silver badge to go with it.
    A friend of mine here in the UK is selling an identical outfit with all the paperwork etc...

    I did have some 40s showgirls outfits, I sold them about 8 yrs ago and wish I hadn't now.

  5. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie One of the Regulars

    That Women's League set is incredible!

    In the forties and into the 50s, satin was often used for basketball uniforms. And a friend of mine attened college in the 50s, where she was on the "circus" team, and her outfit was satin.

    For the most part, starting in the late 1910s, exercise wear was cotton. Before then, gymsuits were made from wool.

    I've written some articles for my website, if anyone is interested:



  6. ShrinkingViolet

    ShrinkingViolet A-List Customer

    Kitty S., the gym suit may very well be the one your friend is selling - I thought it was so cool so I nicked the pictures from the auction! :) I'd love to hear the full story, how she got it and so on. Do you have any pictures left of those 40s showgirls outfits?

    Yes, it does seem that satin was mostly used for show purposes. If you look at the female athletes in Riefenstahl's "Olympia" they all seem to be wearing what looks like wool or cotton jersey, and I know that cyclists wore wool jerseys right up until the 1960s.

    Fuzzylizzie, your articles are so fascinating! It makes me wonder about the social implications of women and physical exercises. I've always assumed that women doing sports became more widespread and accepted earlier in the US compared to Europe. It also seems that in Europe in the 1910s-1930s there was more on stake ideologically, politization of the female body and so on in connections with sports and physical exercises.

    Here's a pic of some kind of circus or showgirl outfit that I saved on my computer long ago:

    BB in a ballet leotard, probably late 1950s:
  7. That showgirl outfit is the most amazing thing I've ever seen! OMG, so beautiful!
  8. The Women's League of Health and Beauty was a movement started by Mollie Bagot Stack in London in 1930 for all women, regardless of class, age or ability though highly trained teachers. They often joined together in large groups in public spaces to do exercises and demonstrations. It was all about graceful movement and flexibility.

    I have worn an outfit like the one in the first post. Having danced all my life I can't say I found it as comfortable as a modern leotard, especially the strange bit that comes between your legs under the knickers! However, I would say it was suitable for it's purpose, and certainly it's a bit prettier than modern lycra.

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