In honor of Woman’s History Month, a local vegan café held a Ladies Tea Brunch this past Sunday. When I read that hats and tea party attire were mandatory, I reserved a spot right away. Seeing as we just had a few feet of snow (and I had just watched two episodes of Land Girls on Hulu), I opted for the sober colors and warm fabrics of the 1940s.
First I had to revive this red velvet cap that I used to wear all the time in the 1980s. I removed the ratty netting and the ornamental buttons that were missing rhinestones. I then steamed and pressed it on to a mannequin head to get its shape back.
That accomplished, it was time to check on the dress, a donkey-brown wool number from the early 40s, again something I bought in the 80s and haven’t worn since.
I love the details: the gathers on the top and the pin tucks in the lower part of the sleeve, the tiny gold studs on the shoulders and triangular pockets, the gathered bodice and flared skirt.
The dress, hat, brooch on hat, necklace, gloves, and shoes are original 1940s. I've owned all of them for decades, except for the shoes, which are a recent acquistion.
The bag was made in India and purchased on the street in New York in the 1990s. I just tucked the handle inside to use it as a clutch. The stockings are the wrong color, but I was relying on what I already owned. The eyeglasses are new prescription ones, for which the jury is still out. They did work well with this outfit though.
I had worn this 1940s coat to the point of near disintegration in the 1980s and have been on the verge of throwing it out many times. I’m glad I hadn’t. It needed a few repairs to make it wearable for an afternoon, though. I teamed it with a scarf bought new in the 1980s.
The 1940s shoes were recently thrifted from Goodwill.
The label inside reads “Wilbur Coon.”
Wilbur Barry Coon (1870-1926) and a partner began making baby shoes in 1891 in Rochester, New York. By 1912, Coon had struck out on his own and founded what was to be a phenomenally successful company manufacturing babies, children’s and women’s shoes. After his death, his son Wilbur Levis Coon took over the business. The company sold shoes under their own label to more than 6,000 retailers. An online search has turned up ads for Wilbur Coon shoes from the 1920s to 1940s, but I haven’t found any information that would indicate when the company went out of business.
I have a hard time finding shoes that are comfortable. Turns out that comfort and fit were the two major selling points of Wilbur Coon shoes. One of their slogans was “A Made-to-Measure Fit in Ready-to-Wear Shoes. Sizes 1 to 11. Widths AAA to EEE.” According to a newspaper ad from 1935, there were special in-store fitting days (probably with a traveling rep from the company) and 149 sizes were available.
As you see from all the numbers inside the fit measurements were fairly complicated.
The baby’s foot is a perfect foot. And you don’t find foot troubles in adults in tribes that live barefooted. Foot troubles come from shoes that don’t fit.
The fault is only partly yours. Most shoes are made to fit the foot at two points only – length and ball. That method is as old as shoe-making. But, why keep on wearing a two-point shoe on a five-point foot? Wilbur Coon Shoes are made to fit all five points – length, ball, instep, waist, heel?
Another sizing innovation (although I don’t know if it originated with Wilbur Coon shoes) is that samples in children’s sizes were made in clear vinyl so one could actually see if the shoe fit properlyt. A pair sold on Etsy recently.
There are a number of advertising postcards for the company here.
I wish shoe companies offered a similar level of customization in sizing. With 149 different sizes, I was lucky to find a pair that fits as well as they do. The Wilbur Coon shoes I see currently for sale online are listed at anywhere from $40 to $169, so I was even more fortunate to find mine for 10 bucks.
The shoes alone deserve to be linked to Ta-dah! Tuesday.