Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stehli Silks Americana Prints

As by now you well know, I'm absolutely nuts for novelty prints - the wilder the better. And (continuing my Art Deco theme) the Americana collection released by the Stehli Silks Corporation between 1925 and 1927 is an absolute bumper crop, featuring some ofo the most avant-garde and outlandish patterns of the day. The collection consisted of a large and stylistically varied group of patterns on American themes, commissioned from prominent artists, designers, cartoonists and celebrities. It was created to prove that America - specifically New York - could be a centre for fashion to rival Paris, and was received with some excitement. A New York Times article in 1925 hailed the collection as "Something new and distinctive in silk fabric designs [...] expressing the virility and color of the New World. The skyscraper, jazz and other modern notes of energetic America will be reflected in the designs."

Some of the most engaging novelty prints are the ones which aren't immediately obvious - the ones that look like abstract geometrics or florals until on closer inspection, like a magic eye picture, their true nature becomes clear. It's these that make the Americana collection especially awesome: an ostensibly abstract swirl transforms into a rollercoaster; a generic Deco floral becomes an umbrella-carrying crowd; a geometric reveals a jazz band or a group of tophatted gentlemen transfixed by a passing blonde. This is the genius of the novelty print.

The New York Times predicted that the biggest hit would be Clayton Knight's Manhattan, designed in a Futurist style "so modern that it suggests a view of all our skyscrapers piled up together, seen from an elevated train rounding a sharp curve".

Manhattan by Clayton Knight

Dresses in Clayton Knight's Manhattan print

April by Clayton Knight (I'm totally going to have to repro/recolour this at some point) update: I've finished the repro and you can buy this print from spoonflower in grey, olive green and slate blue colourways.

Map of Paris by Ralph Barton

Dress in Ralph Barton's Paris fabric

Tickertape by Charles Buckle Falls

Thrills by Dwight Taylor

Stadium by Dwight Taylor

The collection was intended to be absolutely of the moment, reflecting "the latest whims and fads [...] of the rapidly changing age to which they belong", and some of the designs were inspired by popular culture of the time. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by the cartoonist Ralph Barton referred to the novel by Anita Loos that Barton had recently illustrated; while John Held's depiction of a jazz band is titled Rhapsody as a nod to George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (which also happens to be one of my favourite pieces of music).

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Ralph Barton

Rhapsody by John Held

Celebrity contributors to the Americana Prints included Wimbledon tennis champion Helen Wills, who created two tennis-themed patterns.

Game of Tennis by Helen Wills

Game of Tennis II by Helen Wills

Accessories by fashion illustrator Helen Dryden

Which is your favourite?

Sources: Twentieth Century Pattern Design; Metropolitan Museum of Art; V&A Museum.

Monday, January 30, 2012

{Style Inspiration} John Frieda Hair Tutorials

Oops, this week's Style Inspiration Sunday comes a day late - I was away for the weekend visiting my sister and forgot to schedule the post before leaving.

A representative from John Frieda contacted me last week and asked me to take a look at their new set of hair tutorial videos on youtube. A couple have a somewhat retro inspiration, though in a very modern interpretation. Although I don't especially care for this "1950s updo" (which is neither 1950s nor, in fact, much of an updo), the techniques look like they could be applied to a more vintage looking faux bob type affair, which appeals to my current Art Deco mood.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In an Art Deco Mood

What with watching The Artist, hanging out at the Hoover Building and working on my entry for the Spoonflower Art Deco themed weekly contest, I'm in a very Deco mood this week. I've just spent a happy hour or so browsing the web for Art Deco inspiration, and I thought I'd share a few favourites with you. For loads more, check out the flickr groups Jazz Age in Print and Flapper Art.

Deco bridge tally (source)

Love the geometric prints on their clothes, and her rolled stocking tops! (source)

1920s "The Dance" magazine (source)

Check out those pompom shoes! (source)

"Metropolis" movie poster, 1927 (source)

Tennis bridge tally, 1920s (source)

1930s Blaupunkt Radio advertising poster (source)

Brighton travel poster, 1920s (source)

Deco Chicago poster stamp (source)

Royal Mail Line travel poster (source)

1920s greetings card (source)

Vanity Fair magazine, 1927 (source)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Skirt That Almost Never Was

Just a basic pencil skirt, one to replace my trusty Marks and Spencer number when it inevitably wears out. An "instant" skirt pattern. I started this shortly after completing the Apple Dress (autumn 2010), but for some reason I got discouraged (looking over the instructions, I think it may have been that the waistband stumped me) and the project was shelved, half-finished.

When I was drawing up my sewing schedule for the year I determined that I'd complete that skirt and so, finally, here it is. Although it's not quite the wiggle shape that I'd like in an ideal world, it's a very comfortable skirt, and easy to walk in thanks to the back kick pleat.

(that's not me "whipping my hair back and forth", it was the wind!)

Pattern: McCall's 4312 "Instant" one yard skirt

Fabric: Medium weight wool Prince of Wales check.

Alterations: Not much - just making a folded waistband interfaced with petersham instead of doing as the pattern directed, which was to face the waistband with ribbon and add an inner band of belting.

Techniques: Hemming with hem tape (it looks very neat and pretty).

Time to complete: Two years (!!)

Make again? For sure I'll make another pencil skirt (I NEED one in teal), so I might use the pattern again, though I'll probably adapt it to have side seams and taper slightly towards the hem. And make it just a touch smaller on the waist - I don't think I properly account for how snug I like things on the waist.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hula Hoopla


Okay so I'm maybe a decade late on this particular bandwagon but let me tell you, readers, I have a new addiction. I took my first hula hooping class (the modern exercise calls itself "hooping" to distance itself from retro kitsch, but I'll stick with the retro kitsch, thanks) two weeks ago, and I am officially hula-hooked! I bought a weighted exercise hoop and I've been practicing daily - trying to avoid hitting the walls of our little apartment. So far I can only move the hoop between spinning on the waist and hips, and do, like, turns and stuff - I'm currently attempting to learn knee-hooping (and have the bruises to show for it).


Although hula hooping has origins in the ancient world, the modern hula hooping phenomenon began when the toy manufacturer Wham-O (whose other great success was the frisbee) marketed a plastic hula hoop in the summer of 1958 - they'd got the idea from bamboo hoops used for gym classes in Australian schools.


The toy was an instant hit, selling twenty million $1.98 hoops in the first few months of production and igniting a worldwide craze. Within a couple of years sales totalled over 100 million. There were even songs written about it.


Do you hula too? Can you do any cool moves?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Vintage for the Full Bust

This is a topic I've touched upon before, but amazingly have never dedicated an actual post to.

Dressing vintage can sometimes present problems for the large of boob, with many styles from the 1930s-60s featuring high necklines, ruffles, frills, and all those things we've always been told to avoid like the plague. It's unfortunately very easy for the large-breasted to end up looking dreadfully matronly in styles which our smaller-chested sisters can carry off looking breezy and fresh. So, I've put together my style tips for dressing vintage and avoiding the pitfalls - this is by no means a definitive list, but it's the one I live (dress) by.

The Right Support

In vintage as with any other fashion arena, the right undergarments are of paramount import. I favour bullet bras both for the vintage silhouette and the 'minimising' effect that the shape creates by not allowing the breast to bulge out sideways.

Vintage bullet bras in large cup sizes are near impossible to find, and modern reproductions like What Katie Did only go up to an F cup. The Doreen bra by Triumph gives a good vintage silhouette, I've heard, and is available up to a J cup in some styles.

Choose your Neckline Wisely

You'll probably have read the advice that the most flattering necklines for a full bust are V, scoop and sweetheart necklines. These help break up the expanse of chest. Go for a medium V neck - a deep V is both un-vintage and a little too sexy. The good news is that although a Peter Pan collar is out, sailor collars are a go.

As I mentioned in my knitwear post, vintage and vintage-style knitwear very often comes with a high, round neck. Other styles were worn though, so you don't need to worry about looking inauthentic if you choose something a little more flattering to your figure.

Define Your Shape

Wrap tops and dresses are flattering to pretty much every figure type. They accentuate the waist and divide the bustline - an overall win. A camisole top underneath can be helpful if the wrap doesn't close tightly enough.

Tailoring is also key. Avoid waist-length boxy jackets, which will make you appear square and shapeless - though even shorter bolero jackets can be an exception, as they allow a fitted waistline to show. Choose fitted jackets with a deep V and small lapels, cut to hip length. The length elongates the legs and the V divides the chest.

I'm a huge fan of dresses with a fitted midriff section and pleats or shirring to give fullness to the bust. Gathered and ruched fabric over the bust is flattering because it gives the impression that the garment is looser - the opposite effect of having fabric straining across the chest. Lucky for this style was massively popular in the late 30s - early 40s, and can be also be seen in some shirtwaists of the 50s.

Create an Illusion

Sometimes - say, in winter for example - the idea of wearing a plunging neckline might not be so appealing. But you can still use the principle of breaking up the expanse. Try sweaters with a contrast yoke or false V-neck. Layer high necklines under V or scoop necklines. Break up the expanse of chest with a statement necklace or a scarf.

Find a workaround - or wear it anyway

If you're still desperate to wear a style less suited to your figure, it may be possible to find a workaround. For example, if you've always admired those sweet little Peter Pan collars, try wearing a detachable one as a necklace with a scoop neck.

There are also ways to minimise the unflattering effects of high necklines. Even just having sleeves can make a difference: A sleeveless turtleneck may look gamine and playful on the small chested, but when the bustline is the widest point it only serves to draw attention and amplify the size. Long sleeves help to balance the look. Better still, layer it under a pinafore (jumper) dress.

When it comes down to it, if you love something just go ahead and wear it - rules are made to be broken!

PS: If anyone would like to contribute a guest post on how to flatter a smaller bust in vintage I'd be delighted! I'd have a go myself, but since it's not my area of expertise I'd love to pass the baton to someone better versed in the topic than I.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

{Style Inspiration} Elvgren Pin-Ups

Pin-up art is usually noted more for the absence of clothing than its sartorial style, but there's actually a wealth of vintage fashion inspiration to be found here.

Gil Elvgren is generally recognised as the greatest ever pin-up artist - he was certainly among the most prolific, active from the 1930s through the late 70s!

Having graduated high school, the young Gillette A. Elvgren had initially wanted to be an architect - an ambition which his parents encouraged - and went to the University of Minnesota to study architecture and design. He also took art courses at the Minneapolis Art Institute, and it was there, in 1933, that he decided to pursue a career as an artist rather than architect.

He graduated at the age of 22 and was hired as an artist by Stevens and Gross, Chicago's most prestigious advertising agency, where he was taught by senior resident artist Haddon Sundblom (famous for his artwork for Coca Cola advertising campaigns).

In 1937, Gil began painting calendar pin-ups, and his career as a pin-up artist flourished from there. Elvgren's artist's eye bestowed his pin-ups with a great sense of colour and style, making them perfect vintage fashion study material. So for this week's Style Inspiration Sunday I thought I'd share some some of Gil Elvgren's best dressed gals.

A beautifully alliterative prim Peter Pan collar and puff shoulders with two-tone peeptoe shoes in 1939

Gorgeous lemon and burgundy colour scheme (and check out those shoes!), 1943

c. mid-1940s plaid jerkin and matching hat

1947 - little black dress (with the padded square shoulders of the pre- New Look period), big red hat.

1948 - classic gypsy blouse, full skirt and sash - clearly a favourite of Elvgren's, and a recurrent theme in his pin-up art. And again, the shooooes!

Go ahead and wear purple and red if you're an Elvgren pin-up! 1951

1953 - a faux V-neck or a V-neck layered over a round? Either way, I love it!

1959 prim pin-up in stripe blouse and red neckerchief.

1962 - sexy secretary style in button-down blouse (note the shape of the collar), red pencil skirt and matching red and white spectator pumps.

Classic nautical style - 1967

Resources: thepinupfiles.com, gilelvgren.com.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I'm Vintage Queen no. 79!

I'm delighted to be named Vintage Queen #79 by queensofvintage.com in their list of 100 vintage queens. This is a long-awaited honour for me - I was going to be nominated a queen way back in 2010, but then their editor left and Queens went on hiatus. Happily, editor Lena is now back at the helm, bringing daily vintage news, and finally allowing me to fulfil my ambition. So thanks, Lena and Queens of Vintage!


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