Friday, November 1, 2013

Fashionable Memories: The Middy Blouse

Katie "Babe" Ives, circa 1920, photo in possession of author
Middy blouse illustrations of the era

     Katie Lois “Babe” Ives Eckerson was the youngest of six surviving children, born in 1904 to Charles A. and Mary Catherine Myers Ives.  Although her parents raised her in the Church of the Brethren, that didn't keep Babe from pushing the boundaries of the religion’s conservative dress code.  It also didn't keep her from enjoying a social life.
     As Babe was growing up, the “Middy” came into fashion.  This was a sailor style blouse, which got its name from the naval rank of “midshipman.”  With its comfortable, loose fit, it was a welcome departure from earlier styles.  It was generally accessorized by the addition of a tie in the front, often in a contrasting fabric.  Babe said that during this time, the ultimate fashion score a real naval tie obtained from an actual sailor.  Perhaps this was on her mind when she considered potential suitors. 
     Boyfriends, other than the man who was to become her husband, were rarely discussed.  I only remember one or two conversations of the kind, and she was rather embarrassed to admit having kept company with anyone before her husband.
     However, there was one young man, who became part of a memorable story.  He escorted Babe to a local fair.  I'm not sure whether the possibility of obtaining a naval tie was part of this young man's attraction or not.  Babe was an older teenager at this point, as she married in 1923 at the age of 19.  
     The fair featured various carnival games, including one known as the “High-Striker,” “Test Your Strength,” or “Strongman."  This is the one where a mallet is used to hit a lever; a winner rings the bell at the top.
     Babe and her swain proceeded to enjoy the amusements of the fair, and ended up arriving home late.  This wasn't unusual during her teenage years of pushing the fashion and courting boundaries.  On this occasion, however, her parents were somewhat conflicted as to whether to punish her for being late.  It turns out that farm girl Babe, in her loose-fitting Middy blouse, had taken a swing at the "High-Striker," and managed to win one of the top prizes.  This was long before the days of iPads or big-screen TVs.  No, this was something the family could really use:  a ham and a bucket of lard!