Friday, February 5, 2016

Bears, Bunnies, Blue and Lacy Lingerie - Teddy Roosevelt's Contributions to Playtime and Fashion

It is common knowledge that President Theodore Roosevelt had a stuffed animal named after him - the well-known, "Teddy Bear."

It is less well known that his daughter, Alice Roosevelt, also had a stuffed animal named after her - the all but unknown, "Alice Rabbit" or "Alice Bunny."

The two Roosevelts also left a lasting impression on the fashion industry; Alice had a color named after her, "Alice Blue," and Teddy had a woman's undergarment named (indirectly) for him, the "teddy."

Alice Bunny

As Easter approached in 1907, some marketing genius combined the Roosevelts' name recognition, the recent "Teddy Bear" craze, and the seasonal Easter Bunny frenzy; the result was the short-lived "Alice Bunny," named for Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice.

Despite the promising beginning, the disappearance of "Alice Bunny" from the print-fossil record suggests that it was more flop than fad:

Now the Alice Rabbit. A Competitor for Children’s Favor with the Teddy Bear.
From the New York Sun.

The Teddy bear has a rival in the Alice rabbit.  The latter is a creature of white fluff, with delicate pink ears and bright eyes.

It is made of white plush, its ears are lined with pink velvet, and its eyes are black beads.  It is making its debut now, because it is close on to Easter, when there is an excuse for rabbits.
The Alice rabbit has all the best qualities of the Teddy bear, namely, it will not break, looks alive, and snuggles beautifully.  It is jointed, too, like the bear, and will sit down or stand up, according to the way its limbs are manipulated.

Its long ears make an excellent handle for wee hands to grab.  Already the children are beginning to adopt the Alice rabbit, and when they can’t quite bring themselves to giver up the Teddy bear they compromise by tucking Teddy under one arm and Alice under the other.

The Washington Herald (Washington DC), April 7, 1907, page 6.

Omaha Daily Bee, March 9, 1907.

Alice Blue

In 1904, Alice Roosevelt picked out some nice, blue fabric at the St. Louis World's Fair.  In early 1905, her mother designed a dress, incorporating that fabric, for Alice to wear to her father's upcoming inauguration ceremonies.  The distinctive blue color quickly became known as "Alice Blue":

The Minneapolis Journal, February 20, 1905.

Women like pink, but American men prefer blue, as a rule, in feminine apparel.  Miss Alice Roosevelt established herself firmly in Washington last year by appearing in a number of prettily made gowns of light blue, so that “Alice blue” has become a feature of the department stores.

Western Kansas World (WaKeeney, Kansas), September 30, 1905, page 9.

The color was still popular ten years later:

The color achieved immortality in 1919, when it was used in the title of the popular song, Alice Blue Gown, in the Broadway show, Irene:

. . . and the 1940 film version of the same name:

Through the magic of YouTube, you can compare the original cast version of the song (Edith Day, 1920)with the film version (Anna Neagle, 1940), or compare them both with the decidedly hipper versions by a prosthetically "fat" Carol Burnett (1970ish) and a naturally va-va-voom Mitzi Gaynor (1973):

In 1987, "Alice Blue" was enshrined as one of the original X11 color names which became the basis for color description in web authoring.

"Teddy Bear" Combinations

Teddy Roosevelt's name inspired (indirectly, by way of "Teddy Bear") the name of the woman's undergarment, the "teddy."

When teddies first appeared on the scene in about 1913, they were referred to as, "Teddy Bear" combinations, or "Teddy Bear" chemises.  The early accounts of the garments are not necessarily consistent, or clear; but as a general rule, the various "Teddy Bears" were all one pieces, combining the functionality of a corset cover with a pair of drawers.

A "Teddy Bear combination" (or "chemipantaloon") was generally a sleeveless top with knee-length "knickers":

The Pensacola Journal (Florida), June 21, 1914, section 2, page 3.

The "Teddy Bear chemise" (or "envelope chemise") was generally a slip or chemise with draw legs, "formed by the continuation in panel form of the back of the garment, which is brought forward and buttoned onto the front":

The Bridgeport Evening Farmer (Connecticut), May 14, 1914, page 2.

The Evening World (New York), October 20, 1913, page 7.

By 1916, they might be advertised, simply, as "Teddys":

The Chickasha Daily Express (Oklahoma), January 5, 1916, page 3.
I have not found any specific explanation as to why combination top-bottom underwear earned the name, "Teddy Bear," but there are a few possible influences.  First, perhaps a person wearing the underwear might be considered, huggable, like a Teddy Bear.  Second, perhaps the single piece, with head, arms and legs sticking out, mimicked an articulated Teddy Bear, with arms, legs and head attached to a single body.  A third possibility, espoused by, is that the loose-fitting, formless shape of an envelope chemise was reminiscent of the "general outlines of a teddy bear."

The jury is still out.

[UPDATE - May 6, 2016: The Jury is In!  An unforeseen fourth possibility has reared its head.  The "Teddy Bear" chemise appears to have been designed and named by a Chicago clothing manufacturer named Theodore Bear.  He had previously used the name, "Teddy Bear," as the name of a line of boys' clothing.  His name brought him a certain amount of notoriety when Teddy bears became well known, and he was not shy about trading off the coincidental familiarity of his name.  See my Post: Teddy Bears and Teddies - the Surprisingly Literal Etymology of "Teddies" Lingerie.] 

Alice Blue Bunny Teddy

Now, if there were only some way to combine Alice Blue with a Bunny and a Teddy - then we might have something.

We could call it, The Roosevelt:

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