Saturday, November 26, 2011

I don't care what the weatherman says

At least I wouldn't, if I had rainwear as fabulous as this! From Sears & Roebuck, 1937.

So here's to bright colours for grey days.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Building a Vintage Wardrobe: Dresses

As much as we all love novelty print dresses, they're not terribly versatile as the print generally makes embellishment superfluous. As you start building your wardrobe it's worth investing in one or two so-called 'background' dresses - solid-colour dresses, which you can accessorize for a variety of looks.

"Background" doesn't have to mean "boring": The background dress's simplicity means it's a blank canvas, and you can go wild with different colour schemes and accessories for a different mood each time. You can play with eras (with dainty gloves and a snood that shirtwaist is 40s; switch those out for a wide-brimmed floppy hat and knee high boots, and it becomes 70s) and adapt it to a variety of occasions (changing your shoes and hairstyle take a swing dress from casual to cocktail).

Solanah's sweater dress ~ Casey's broderie Anglaise sundress ~ My coduroy shirtwaist

When it comes to prints, polka dots, ginghams and plaids (choose monochromatics - which isn't to say neutral - for maximum versatility) are always very wearable. Great novelty print dresses can often be expensive, so it's usually best to be more sure of your style before you start investing. Figure out what styles work on your body shape: A 1940s or 50s shirtwaist is generally a safe bet for most figures; on the other hand you may find that (for example) dropwaist styles, shift dresses, high necklines or puff sleeves do nothing for you, so you'll know to avoid them.

The Shirtwaist

When it first appeared in the late Victorian era, a shirtwaist was a type of women's blouse ("waist" meant bodice or blouse) inspired by men's tailoring and free from the elaborate ornamentation that was common at the time. Gradually the term came to mean a one-piece dress with a shirt-like, collared bodice. Shirtwaist dresses can button from neck to waist seam, or through to the hem. Traditionally they are daywear, though 1950s versions in silk and acetate taffetas made the transition to cocktail wear.

The Pinafore or Jumper Dress

As you can imagine, this style was originally conceived as workwear, essentially an apron intended to protect the frock underneath. By the 1930s it had evolved into a fashion garment in its own right. It was popular during the 1940s (it was a perfect "make do and mend" project) and through the 50s in both slim and full skirted styles. The pinafore had a complete makeover in the late 60s and early 70s at the hands of designers such as Mary Quant, who created A-line, mini length versions and daring cutaway variations. Whichever era you choose, a pinafore/jumper dress is great daywear, which will take you from early autumn through to next spring just by changing what you wear with it (blouse, cashmere sweater, cardigan). Mine (made from the 1950s pattern above, but I drafted a new neckline) is a wardrobe staple. New Look currently has a perfect 1960s style mini pinafore which is seriously tempting me to introduce some of the 60s into my wardrobe.

The Peplum Dress

The fashion peplum has its origins way back, as a detachable flounce intended to give a little extra emphasis to one's bustle. Some flapper frocks featured similar flounces to their dropwaist dresses in the 1920s to add swish to their charleston, and peplum styles continued into the 30s. The 1940s saw a real heyday for peplum dresses exaggerating the nipped-in waist, with short peplums, long peplums, asymmetrical peplums, flounced and flat, draped and tiered peplums, peplums which tied sarong-style at the waist. In the early 1950s the peplum one-piece dress all but disappeared, though peplum suit jackets were wildly popular. Peplum dresses enjoyed a huge resurgence in the 1980s, then faded into obscurity during the 90s, only to re-emerge once more in about 2009.

The Drop-waist Dress

Drop-waist dresses are of course most closely associated with the 1920s, but by no means did they end there. Towards the end of the 20s waistlines moved back up toward the natural waist, and remained there through the 30s, but in the mid-40s a new style of dropped waist emerged, slim fitting over the waist and hips then flaring into an A-line or gathered skirt. These fitted drop-waist styles remained popular through the 50s. Fashion started de-emphasising the waist once more in the late 50s in the boxy silhouette associated with the "Mad Men" period, paving the way for a revival of the 1920s loose-fitting drop-waist. Late 60s and early 70s mod fashions featured drop-waists as an alternative to the simple shift. The drop-waist enjoyed another resurgence in popularity during the 1980s.

Princess dresses

A princess dress is one in which the shaping is achieved through vertical panelled construction, with no waist seam.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Shoe Story: Spectators

Spectators, also known as Co-respondent shoes in British English (though I think Spectators sounds cooler), have been around for along time.

Early incarnations of the style came in the shape of an Oxford shoe with heel and toe welt, in the late Victorian era.


A recognisable Spectator style with contrast heel and toe - recommended "for spectator sport" - turned up in the early 30s.





By the early 40s the "Spectator" was an established style, and dominated the smart-casual shoe market. Spectators were available in pump, lace-up oxford, elasticated, sling-back and wedge variations.








The spectator's star faded during the 1950s and 60s, but returned with the 1930s revival in the 70s, and remained popular through the early 80s. Having again fallen from the fashion scene during the 90s the style has resurfaced once more in recent years, labelled as Brogues (often incorrectly, since the term actually refers to the pierced decoration of true brogues).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

M&S Vintagey Biscuit Tins

Have you seen the Marks & Spencer biscuit and shortbread tins for Christmas? I'm in love! I couldn't resist the midcentury-esque London bus tin.

Friday, November 18, 2011

World War Two Girls

Horrible Histories is a BBC history show for kids, and it's absolutely hilarious. The songs are the best - genius!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Building a Vintage Wardrobe: Blouses & Sweaters

Following up from the first Building a Vintage Wardrobe instalment on skirts and trousers, today we're going to address the question of what to wear with them.

Blouses and sweaters are everyday essentials for a vintage look. A simple blouse will go with all your skirts, for a variety of looks. Equally, simple knitwear is useful year-round: Button-up wool cardigans can be worn either over dresses and blouses, or as a pullover.

Unfortunately, original vintage blouses and sweaters can be hard to find - I guess they so often got worn to death! For this reason we often have to rely on thrifted or high street modern clothing, but it can be difficult figuring out which styles look the most 'vintage'. This guide will hopefully define what to look for when seeking out vintage-appropriate styles on the high street.

Blouse Collars

When it comes to blouses, Peter Pan collar, notched or convertible (can be worn open at the neck or buttoned up) collar, pussy bow tie neck and shawl collar are all vintage-y. The examples below are mostly from the 1940s-50s, since for styles any earlier than that you'll pretty much need to look at 'official' vintage repro, or sew your own.

Knitwear Necklines

In knitwear, the most typical neckline in the 30s-60s was jewel neck (very high, round neck); the lower round necklines you usually see in modern knitwear isn't very vintage-looking. But there were other necklines available - square neck, collared styles, tie-neck, slash neck and V-neck sweaters all appear in the Sears catalogues between the 30s and 50s (more pictures in my cold weather vintage post). In the 1950s very wide or even off-the-shoulder necklines were popular for summer and eveningwear.

Sleeve Styles

In both knitwear and blouses, puff sleeves were popular in the late 30s and early 40s, while the 50s favoured sloping shoulders so Raglan and Dolman styles were common. Note the difference between 30s/40s puff sleeves, which are puffed at the shoulder and narrow at the hem, contrasting to 50s puff sleeves, which are gathered at the cuff. Regular set-in sleeves are fairly universal, and ubiquitous today.


If you remember back to my History of Synthetics series, you can gauge the vintage-ness of the main synthetic fibres. For example, nylon has been around since the 1940s, so if I see a wool/nylon blend sweater, I consider it reasonably 'authentic'. Acrylic and polyester became commercially available in the early 50s and were both wildly popular, so it's not necessarily 'un-vintage' to buy an acrylic sweater or polycotton blouse.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Scarlet Lady

Don't you think the colour red has magic power? It goes with everything, it can lift your mood, and makes you feel more confident. Red lipstick makes me feel sophisticated. And while neutrals may be eternally cool, red never fails to make an outfit.

When I posted recently about winter-appropriate skirts, I didn't yet own a quilted circle skirt. I sweet-talked my darling into buying me this one so that my winter wardrobe would be complete. Isn't the ballet slipper applique adorable? The shoes are in black velvet, and you can't really see it but they've got red pompoms on the toes. The last time I wore it I teamed it with a black sweater, but this time I decided to go for RED.

Have I mentioned how awesome cashmere is? It's lightweight but very warm - perfect for autumn days - and isn't bulky, so won't add inches to your waistline.

I'm so pleased with my beehive! I know, I wear a beehive practically every time I don a circle skirt, I'm so unimaginative. But, meh - it's just so much fun playing Brigitte Bardot.

Also, believe it or not, this is with no backcombing at all - that's just how much volume my hair has. Sometimes it's good having thick hair.

1950s quilted circle skirt, etsy; Cashmere cardigan, Cath Kidston (hand-me-down from Mama); Hair flowers, New Look (I think - ages ago); Shoes, Marks & Spencer); Clutch bag, charity shop.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vintage Fully Fashioned Stockings for Sale

I recently acquired a large collection of vintage fully fashioned stockings dating from the late 50s to late 60s. I've been selling them in my ebay shop, but I'd like to offer them to blog readers at a discount on the normal buy-it-now price. As they all came from one (shopaholic!) lady, they are all in size 8 1/2 - 9 1/2. This will best fit a shoe size of UK 3-4.5 (approx. US 5.5-7), though I wear a UK 6 (about a US 8.5 or 9) and I wear the 9 1/2 because I prefer a snug fit.

There are lots of brands, from Aristoc to Bear Brand, Berkshire, Charnos, Pex and Wolsey, and I have both flat knit and non-run mesh stockings.

Lucky Dip (branded) fully fashioned (seamed) stockings: £8.50
Lucky Dip (unbranded) fully fashioned stockings: £5

Postage is £1.80 to UK and £8 signed-for / £3 regular airmail international.

If you have specific requirements regarding brand or colour etc., send me an email. I also have a few pairs in larger sizes, at £14 - email for details.

Building a Vintage Wardrobe: Skirts & Trousers

You can build an entire wardrobe around two or three basic skirts. I'd recommend neutral colours which go with everything, like black, navy and grey. My most hard-working garments - which come up time and time again in my outfit posts here on the blog - are my beige plaid pencil skirt, my black-and-white gingham full skirt, my black A-line skirt and (okay it's not a neutral) my red pencil skirt. I can wear any of these with every top I own (not all at once!).

Sears & Roebuck, 1957

Slim skirts to below-the-knee length are the most versatile, as they can be styled to 30s, 40s and 50s looks. A-line styles are great for 40s outfits, and of course the full swing skirt epitomises the 1950s. Look for on-the-waist or high waisted styles. In pencil skirts, kick pleats are more 'vintage' than a walking split.

Modern skirts usually aren't long enough to look authentically vintage (unless you're going for an early-mid 60s look); try shopping in the 'tall' section or choosing the 'long' cut for a couple of extra inches.

The timeline below briefly illustrates dominant skirt styles and lengths from the 1930s to early 60s (for more examples from each period see my 20th Century Fashion Eras post; to save space I've omitted the 1950s pencil skirt and early 60s full skirt styles). In the early-mid 30s, skirts were cut long (around mid-calf), slim and with a gentle flare. Later in the 30s hemlines rose to a few inches below the knee, and became more flared. Fabric restrictions in the early 1940s brought hems even higher, to around knee-length, in an A-line silhouette. Christian Dior's New Look in the late 40s abruptly took skirt lengths down to mid-calf, in a full A-line shape. During the 1950s skirts got both fuller and narrower, giving us the pencil and circle skirt; meanwhile hemlines gradually rose, until eventually the mini emerged in the late 60s.

Trousers and Jeans

Unfortunately, on-the-waist trousers seem to be a dying breed; all modern trousers seem to be designed to divide you horizontally across the widest part of your body. Um, no thanks.

Palazzo pants are among the exceptions; they're around all over the place at the moment, and can be styled in a 1930s way to great effect.

Vintage-looking modern jeans are basically impossible to find without going down the route of vintage repro (which can be on the pricey side), but some high-waisted 1980s styles could pass for 1950s if you style them right. Most ladies jeans in the 1940s and 50s featured a side zipper, but front fly closures have been around since the mid-fifties.


Note the dark denim, tapered leg (1940s jeans tended to be cut more straight in the leg than these late 50s styles), and turn-ups.

Next in the series: Blouses & Sweaters

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pursuit of Style

Source: My Vintage Vogue

Most of us in the vintage scene have a dedication to being as stylish as we can, but the pursuit of style seems to have fallen by the wayside in much of modern society. Yes, most people have at least a passing acquaintance with fashion, but that's not the same thing as style (indeed, in the case of certain fashions, one might conjecture the opposite): In the words of Coco Chanel, "fashions fade; style is eternal".

The inherent style and glamour in a lot of vintage clothing forms part of its appeal to many people. All Chichester looks forward to Goodwood Revival every year, because it gives them an opportunity to put on nice clothes, and see others do the same. But why can't everyone wear nice clothes all the time? Why must skirts and hats and high heels and hairstyles be reserved for special occasions? Why isn't stylishness a mainstream pursuit?

It could certainly be argued that caring about one's appearance is shallow, meaningless. What difference does it make if the average Jane on the street is spilling over the top of her jeans, or wobbling around in an ill-fitting bra under a shapeless tracksuit, or dressed in precisely the most unflattering combination of leggings and midriff tunic? Who am I to judge? Surely inner beauty and intelligence and kindness and integrity are more important than clothes, mere drapery, so what does it matter? Is style really important?

In the greater scheme of things no, style does not matter. It's not going to solve world hunger or win a war. Or is it? During World War II the government recognised the importance of looking good for morale, when they elected to spare from the rigours of fabric rationing both hats and narrow materials such as ribbon and lace, that ladies would still have access to some element of glamour. Of course, it's not possible to know how much difference the availability of half a yard of lace actually had on the country's morale. What is certain is that morale is of great importance: there's a reason for the concerted campaigns on either side designed specifically to target morale, both of troops and of civilians.

Self-presentation and morale are entwined: If you look good, you feel good, and feeling stylish and put-together makes you look even better. You stand straighter, and walk with confidence.

So when the call goes up for a "return to traditional values", let's not make it about the so-called "traditional family values" (what are they, anyway? A submissive wife fetching her husband's slippers while the children are caned if they incorrectly recite their Latin declensions?). Let's advocate a return to Style, to pride in one's appearance, to a world where it's normal for ladies to wear a frock to the supermarket and a hat to the park. Because what we wear is a form of self-expression whether you put thought into it or not, and making an effort with your appearance tells the world at large that you care enough about it to do so.

And the world notices, and respects you in turn. Style garners respect; respect leads to courtesy. Wouldn't we like to live in a more courteous society?

I say - Mr Cameron? I have a solution for your "Broken Britain"...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Remembrance Day

We ended up attending the Remembrance Day service in Chichester (not Brighton as planned). It was of course emotional. That "They shall grow not old" line in the Ode of Remembrance always gets me, as does seeing all those elderly chaps standing proud in their uniform.

I forgot to pin my poppy to my jacket, but at least I had one on my hat.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

{Vintage for Beginners} Shopping for Vintage

If you don't live in an area which has good vintage shops (or if all the vintage shops near you are expensive), ebay is a great place to pick up a vintage bargain.

When shopping for vintage, whether online or in person, keep in mind four important factors:
  • Price: Obviously the first consideration. It doesn't matter if it is a late 40s Dior suit, if you don't have the £1,000 asking price, move on and look for something you can actually afford. Consider also the 'cost per wear' - if it's a versatile piece which you can see yourself getting a lot of use out of, it may be worth spending a bit more; on the other hand how many taffeta cocktail dresses do you really need, even if it is only £25?

  • Condition: Look it over carefully - does it need work? If you will have to spend time repairing it, or pay someone else to fix it, you need to factor that into the price. If it's a beautiful silk gown that's disintigrating in your hands, seriously consider why you want it (because you can salvage the beaded neckline to use on a sewing project? Go for it. Because it's an interesting piece and you'd like to study the construction? Fine. Because you like the idea of having a 1920s dress in your wardrobe? Keep looking.)

  • Size: Is it actually going to fit? If it's not, can it be made to fit? It's reasonably straightforward to take in the side seams an inch or so (or let them out, if there's enough seam allowance). If it's truly incredible there are other ways in which you might be able to alter it (for example inserting contrast panels). If you'll need to pay someone else to do this for you, remember to factor in that cost (if the dress is £25 and the alteration £20 - can you find something similar that already fits, for that £45?). If there's really no way it's ever going to fit, put it back and resume the hunt.

  • Do you love it? Are you actually going to wear it? Just because you find a 1950s dress for £12 doesn't mean you have to buy it; if you're never going to wear a khaki-coloured jewel neck sheath dress, save your pennies to put towards something amazing.

You might be able to find a bargain from when older styles re-emerged in more recent times. For example, there were a lot of 1930s influences around in the 70s (but for authenticity, avoid crimplene!). Similarly, both 1940s and 50s styles had a revival during the 80s, and these can be had much cheaper - and often in larger sizes - than their original counterparts. Sometimes just removing the shoulder pads is enough to make an 80s dress pass for much earlier; other times it takes a little more work.

If you're shopping online, take time to figure out your measurements - and those of your clothes. Take measurements of items you already own which fit you well - these won't necessarily correspond to your actual body measurements, depending on how you prefer your clothes to fit. Like Marilyn (so I hear), I prefer a snug fit, so I'll choose items which have very close to my actual body measurements. Some styles are more forgiving than others, for example in circle skirts I can get away with a waist size slightly smaller than my actual measurement.

If you don't have unlimited funds and you don't live in an area which has lots of amazing and affordable vintage shops (i.e. most of us), you'll probably need to supplement your wardrobe with modern clothing, either brand new from the high street, or thrifted. Modern clothing also has the benefits of being less fragile, easier to care for, and less precious (so you won't be scared to wear it!) than original vintage. So what to look for in modern clothing to recreate an authentic vintage look? My next few posts in this series will cover just that.

Next in the series: Building a Vintage Wardrobe: Skirts & Trousers

Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day

I'm attending the Remembrance Day parade on Sunday so I'll save wittering about my own feelings on Remembrance Day for then. I can't think of anything to say today which seems able to live up to the significance of the date 11/11/11, so I'm passing the blogging baton to Major John McCrae, whose "In Flanders Fields" is one of the best known poems of World War I.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fairisle and Plaid

I scored this fairisle sweater from a charity shop a few months ago. At £6 it wasn't the bargain of the century, but still pretty good for 80% wool, and since fairisle sweaters always go for high prices on ebay I snapped it up. The neckline isn't especially vintagey, but it is more flattering than the more authentic jewel neck.

The outfit needed a little something to pep it up - give it a little colour and make it a bit more interesting - so I took my own advice and pulled out a scarf. In fact it's the taffeta sash I wore as a bridesmaid at my elder brother's wedding in about 1993 (there's repurposing for you). Rather than tie it at the front I wrapped it round my neck and tossed the ends over my shoulders (I think it elongates my neck, no?). To stop them falling forward I fastened the tails at the back with a brooch, which I thought was terribly clever. Then when I got to my sister's, she enquired whether I'd had my head on backwards when I put my scarf on. Hurrumph.

Sorry about the messy hair - it was a rush job. I really want a crochet bun cover, anyone know where I can get one? My step sister used to wear one for ballet, but I've never seen one since.

Oh, and here's the other side of the reversible cape I was wearing the other day. I love my capes. I can't remember the last time I wore a normal coat - I've just been living in my capes!

Vintage cape, charity shop; Skirt (so well-loved it's now in need of repair), M&S some years ago; Fairisle sweater, charity shop; Tartan sash (worn as a scarf), made as part of bridesmaid outfit; Shoes, charity shop (originally New Look); Vintage gloves, can't remember; Marcasite earrings, can't remember; Brooch, gift from Joanna.

PS: Thanks everyone for your response to my "Vintage for Beginners" series so far. Starting next week I'm going to be covering the topic of building a vintage wardrobe in more detail. I've also had requests for posts on vintage hair styles and make-up, and caring for / storing vintage clothes & accessories. These will take some time to prepare, but they'll follow after Building a Vintage Wardrobe. If there are any other Vintage for Beginners topics you'd like to see me address, do let me know and I'll do my best!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lovely Vintage Gloves

I don't know why, but for the first time ever I'm actually excited about autumn weather. Perhaps it's because we had that week of Indian summer to start it off. Or perhaps it's just because it's been so mild so far this autumn that I've been able to play with autumn looks without having to worry too much about actually keeping warm.

One reason to get excited about cooler weather is because it provides an opportunity to get out the vintage gloves. I love gloves. My growing and colourful collection of vintage gloves is now housed in one of the small suitcases I scored at a recent car boot sale. These are some of my favourites...

Of course day gloves can be worn year-round, but wearing gloves in summer does fairly shout VINTAGE. But as soon as it's officially autumn, they no longer look out of place and can easily be incorporated into your outfit. They're a great way to add instant vintage chic to your ensemble; they're also good for extending your colour scheme.

Plus, they can be had very affordably (though not all the time - when I went into one of Chichester's two vintage shops to enquire about their vintage gloves I was told they start - start - at £10! Er, no thanks). The most I've ever paid for a pair of gloves was I think £6 for the beaded pair below.

Good places to look for vintage gloves are antique shops, car boot sales / estate sales, vintage fairs and charity shops. You can sometimes find bundles of vintage gloves on ebay, which often make good bargains. Nylon gloves are by far the most common, but if you can find cotton gloves remember they can be dyed any colour with normal cold water dyes.


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