Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Fall has come to Indiana, and there's a chill in the air. It's my goal this year to find a great coat, because in the wintertime, people see you in your coat all the time, so you should feel fabulous. My current coat was a gift from my hubby, who is a painter. It's nice, and warm, and comfy, but it's had it's time.

I want to find (of course) a red coat. I can fully see myself wearing this one, especially view 1. Note that this coat has bracelet length sleeves, to accommodate the gloves that were all but mandatory -- I'm really shocked that the pattern doesn't show the women with lovely gloves on, but I do like that hat.

The wedding ring collar is beautiful, and I must say that although I'm not a fur person, the illustration is beautiful with the leopard trim. These days, it would have to be faux, since the big cats have been illegal to sell since the early 70s. So I'm sticking to View 1, in red wool and jeweled buttons -- and a fabulous hat.

From, most likely, 1962 (pattern is not dated)

Monday, September 28, 2009

WW2 Era Rayon

Rayon is a wonderful fabric. Did you realize that rayon is the first manufactured fiber? The French developed it in the 1880s as an alternative to silk. In the 20s, Dupont bought the rights to the process, and made it a staple of fashion.

I'm sure that the name Rayon came from Dupont, since they loved to name their products with -on suffixes, like Nylon, Antron, Teflon, etc. If it weren't for the chemists at Dupont, we may never have seen nylon stockings or perhaps even rubber girdles, since their scientists were the inventors of the first synthetic rubber, neoprene. And those beautiful Olga peignoirs that we all love? Could we imagine them made from anything but Antron?

In 1944, rayon was all the rage, and these little dresses are no exception. I wish that I could see these in color, because the one on the left top is a wonderful novelty print of lions, giraffes and baby carriages on a background of aqua or pink. How cute is that? By Spellbound.

Next, we see a two piece Paula Brooks Original. The jacket was available in aqua, lime or black "Salyna" rayon/cotton blend. The skirt in dotted aqua, lime or shocking print of the "Breathless" rayon skirt.

Here (above left) we see a button front dress from Mary Muffet (don't you just love the vintage names, with their alliterations?), again in "Salyna" rayon/cotton blend, and available in soft pink, aqua or white. I'd choose pink, myself!

Lastly, we see a black one piece peplum dress, from Gay Gibson, and made from "Yippi" rayon. The square neckline has a buttoned in band in bright turquoise that matches the peplum trimming.

It makes me so sad to think that most of the designs likely did not survive for us to enjoy now, as rayon is pretty unforgiving stuff, when it comes to aging. It's even more sad to consider that today's synthetic stuff will probably survive a nuclear war, but who would want to wear it? Give me vintage rayon any day of the week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When being on the couch is a good thing

The couture house of the 50's ' vendeuses' (saleswomen's) job was not an easy one. Vendeuses were responsible for their customer's orders, from making sure that the fabric was in stock, to supervising the fittings. They worked for years to make their way through the ranks, only to find themselves working long hours for a small base salary. They made more from their commission -- anywhere from 1-10% of the price of the dress, which sounds pretty good until you consider that the customer, being rich and fickle, could suddenly pull the plug on an almost finished dress which would never be bought.

The stories vendeuses could tell were, I'm sure, very harrowing, as the majority of their customers were mature women -- as time passed, the younger generations found themselves unwilling to pay the enormous prices for couture garments -- who knew how to play the game. The maturity of the customer brought a certain amount of entitlement and snobbery, but a vendeuse who irritated a customer could find herself without that customer or worse, without a job. They had to be masters at pleasing their uber-rich customers if they wanted to be successful.

One of the responsibilities that was fraught with peril for the vendeuse was the seating at the opening of a collection. There was no Bryant Park in the 50s -- shows were done in the couture houses which may have seating that was simply chairs in the salon. This was how Balenciaga and Gres chose to do their shows. Other couture houses, however, put one or two small couches amongst the chairs, and woe to the vendeuse who sat the wrong lady in a chair. A customer who wanted the seemingly more prestigous couch at the opening might bear a grudge against the couture house for years. Can you imagine the damage that could be done as these ladies lunched afterward? "Well, the nerve! Did you see that I was put on the chair in the second row? They will surely hear from me!" If those walls could talk......

Photo: design by Balenciaga.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wartime Hair Styles

World War II meant families sacrificed everything, including the ultimate sacrifice. My mother, the eighth of eighteen kids (yes, they are all borne of the same parents), lost her oldest brother in the war. Both of my parents remember rationing, blackouts, and Rosie the Riveter.

Rationing was widespread during the war. If you read magazines of the day, they talk about rationing of sugar, difficulties finding Jello in the stores, and more. During the war, even fabric was rationed, meaning that if you look at styles of the era, they are generally free of cuffs, wide hems, and other forms of frippery. Fabric rationing helped to open the door for Christian Dior in the late 40s, but the road to the New Look was free of frills.

Women, looking for new ways to embellish themselves whilst still staying within rationing, went to great lengths with their hair styling. Hair can generally be styled with supplies that they likely had before the war, with only the hairstyles themselves being changed. I suppose that when the men were away at war, women had more time on their hands to practice a new look. And once the hair was done, what better way to finish it off than with some ribbon? Since hats were nonexistent (again, rationing), a bit of leftover ribbon could become a date night look.

I used to spend Saturday evenings playing with my curling iron, trying to get Farrah's look. When I was in college in the early 80s, my hair stylist practically begged me to be a hair model, because I had wonderful wavy hair that would do virtually anything. I remember wearing hair combs -- what a pretty look they make! And while I was never one for bows in my hair (it's been worn too short for too many years now), I liked to play with ponytails, curls and braids. I do like these looks, especially the ribbon at the nape of the neck (below). Personally, I would match it with the pompadour (right), pull the back of the hair into a pony, then add the ribbon, but you decide.

from Good Housekeeping, 1943.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

To die for

I think that if I'd been born around in the 40s and 50s, you would've been hard pressed to get me to wear anything but Claire McCardell Clothes. The woman just got it, when it comes to America women. Not necessarily top of the line glamour, but stylish, comfortable and forward thinking, yes.

Think about it -- what other designer would think of the Pop-Over dress? It was a dress/apron that you could "pop over" your normal dress when you were cleaning. It even came with an attached mitt that you could use when you cleaned/cooked/gardened. Sold about a bazillion of them, and it kept showing up in her line, in different versions, over the years.

Claire McCardell was successful because she wore her own stuff -- sometimes for years before it went into a collection. She knew the beauty of simplicity of style, but the importance of things like embellishments, sashes, and the little things that give a garment some sass without being vulgar. She chose simple fabrics like cottons, but accented it with things like plaid. I really think I'd live and breathe Claire McCardell if I could.

A little McCardellism that you might not know: in 1955, Ms. McCardell, an avid skiier and sportswoman, was asked to serve on the board of a new magazine. The name? Sports Illustrated.

Pattern: McCalls 4292, from 1957. Created shortly before Claire McCardell's untimely death.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One degree of separation

It is said that Ceil Chapman designed Elizabeth Taylor's trousseau, for her first wedding to Nicky Hilton. Liz was just 18 years old, and wore this beautiful dress on May 6, 1950, when she entered not-so-eternal bliss that lasted only nine months. Now, I have generally thought of a trousseau as the going away outfit and such, and not always the wedding dress itself. If this is indeed a Ceil, it's not got the typical draped bodice look that she was known for, but hey, it's Elizabeth Taylor at her prime, so I'm ok with that.

I wonder what happened to the dress after the divorce.

Shortly after the divorce, Mamie Van Doren, a newly appointed sex goddess in Hollywood, found herself in need of a date for a film opening. Who did she land with, but Little Nicky who, nine months after his wedding, and at the age of twenty three, found himself divorced from Dame Elizabeth. And who would dress his new date? None other than Ceil Chapman herself!

Apparently all of this drama was too much for poor Nicky, who died in 1969, at the age of 42.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Red is the color of my true love's dress.

If you've ever read anything on my other blogs, you know that I love the color red. Did you know that red has a place in fashion history?

It was pretty well accepted that most couturiers would send a red dress down the runway as part of their collections in the 1950s, and possibly earlier. They might have 200 models in the collection, but at least one was red. Apparently, they felt that red stood out and that it photographed well which, if you have ever tried to photograph red, you will wonder about. I've always found red to be very, very difficult to photograph, but I'm not a professional.

The dresses would go down the runway, and for the next three weeks, photographers would vie for a chance to borrow both dress and model so that it could be photographed for print media like Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. Sometimes it would be artist renderings, as opposed to actual photographs, but it would nonethless not be unusual to walk down the Champs Elysees and see a photographer directing whilst a model contorted herself into positions only fit for a fashion magazine.

The best models were paid well, but could also destroy a planned shoot if they decided that they had plans for the day and refused to come to work. The photographers would not only have to get the model rescheduled, but would also have to get the dress back as well, lest he find himself with either a model without a dress, or a dress without a model!

The dress above, with its twisted capelet bodice, is from Simplicity's Spring line, #3035, from 1939.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Space Age

I was copying some pages from an old pattern catalog the other day. A customer had been looking for a certain group of patterns from 1965, and I finally found it amongst my huge collection of pattern catalogs. Turned out that the patterns were Courreges, from a collection he made for McCalls for the Fall/Winter edition of the pattern book. Groovy stuff it was.

Andre Courreges studied under Balenciaga, but once he struck out on his own, he found a style all his own. Where Balenciaga started with the sleeve, and designed from there, Courreges' style was named Space Age, for its unique style and materials. It was the beginning of mod, as we remember it, and it was some pretty fantastical stuff. The clean lines meant that it worked for the masses -- unless you looked at his cutout styles, meant to be worn bra-less and bare. Here, enjoy a couple of patterns from the McCall's Courreges collection, and a groovy video I found that is a montage of Courreges that is nothing short of spectacular.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fashions for fingers

Gloves were considered "correct" when found in solid colors and classic styles, but in 1952, colors and patterns began finding their way into the glove industry. 1951 actually was the beginning of the introduction of elbow length cottons and cotton copies of striped French gloves.
Note these interesting styles.

The curved glove was created in an attempt to avoid those deep creases in the arm, caused by bending the elbow with heavy opera length gloves. The curved glove shown on the left (in photo below) is by Desses. To the right is a glove by Mr John that features a slit on the straight side, where the hand is inserted.

The appliqued butterfly glove was actually designed by a 15 year old. The leather piped gloves (left) were by Van Raalte, and came in colors to match the spring shoe styles. My personal favorite are the striped cuffed gloves, below, by Dawnell. They were higher maintenance, however, because the stripes would bleed if they got wet. I'd love to have a pair in white and navy!

The model on the cover photo is Martha Boss, wearing confetti dot gloves and diagonal stripes, both by Crescndoes. Her hat is by Lilly Dache, and was made with white belting with a tiny rolled brim. Price? $65.50 in 1952. It was a perfect example of the smaller styled hats popular in 1952 -- the were made to cling to the side of the head. (I suspect that there was a hand model involved in the cover as well, since the hands look too odd to be Martha's.) Martha was considered a top bridal model during this time span, so she must've been accustomed to millinery of all kinds.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Strictest Set of Rules

According to Vogue's Book of Etiquette, 1948, here are the strictest rules of behavior, as to how women should conduct themselves around men. Brackets include bloggist's notes:

"1. Never dine alone with a married man, unless his wife is your great friend. [of course, if you continue to dine with him, she won't be your great friend for long]
2. Never accept an invitation through a man to the house of someone else.
3. If you have met a man and his wife together, and the man asks you to a party at his house, do not accept: his wife should invite you. If she is away, of course, there is no discourtesy implied, and if he invites you to a party, you may accept. [In other words, you can't go anywhere he invites you, unless his wife is out of town and doesn't know he's doing it.]
4. Never drink anything alcoholic, except sherry, or a glass of wine with dinner.
5. Never encourage stories that are risque.
6. Never allow a man to come into your apartment if you are alone in it, or to stay on when other guests have left.
7. Never go alone with a man to his apartment, or stay on in his apartment when other guests have gone.
8. Never go alone with a man to his hotel room, even if he has a sitting room.
9. Never acccept a valuable present from a beau or possible beau -- a very old rule and very sound.

If she follows the above rules, no young girl could conceivably be considered fast or cheap.

A more lenient set of rules:
1. Never dine repeatedly with the same married man.
2. Never drink enough alcohol to be even slightly affected by it. Even this should be limited. "She can certainly hold her liquor" is not a compliment.
3. Never allow a man to come into your apartment if you are alone in it, except in the daytime or before going out to dinner in the evening.
4. Never go to a man's apartment after the dinner hour if he is alone.
5. Never go alone with a man to his hotel room; if he has a sitting room, never go there after the dinner hour.

....and three rules are unchanged:
6. Never allow a man guest to stay on in your apartment after the other guests have gone.
7. Never stay on in a man's apartment after the other dinner guests have left.
8. Never accept a valuable present from a beau or possible beau."

I remember my mother telling me not to accept a gift from my admirer in seventh grade, in 1974, so the gift rule carried at least that far into our history. As for the rules about when to visit apartments and hotel rooms, I think that went out in large part when the bras started burning.

McCall pattern, 1948

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dovima and the Elephants

Dovima was an icon in modelling in the golden era of couture. Her photo, taken by Richard Avedon, of her posing in a Christian Dior dress, accompanied by circus elephants, is truly an icon of photography, despite the fact that Avedon was not satisfied with the placement of the sash. The juxtaposition of power and femininity is truly breathtaking, as is the model herself.

Dovima was a supermodel before the term was coined. Her modelling name was taking from her three first names: Dorothy Virginia Margaret. This got me thinking of what my modelling name would be. With my maiden name, it would be Lijomi, which has a wonderful ring to it. My married name would make it Lijout, which I would pronouce Li-joo, and people would promptly butcher. Nonetheless, either would be cool and mysterious. What would your modelling name be, if you followed that same formula?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

And the winner of the Mode Fabrics bag is.............

Quinn! Please email me at lisa@vintagefashionlibrary.com with your address, and I'll get your Mood Fabrics bag out to you. :-)

Thanks to everyone for your stories. I loved them!

Ladies on the Highway

From an article in a Standard Oil travel book, 1960 -- the girls go on the road, hit the beach, go to a dude ranch, and generally just have some fun.

I want the girl on the left's sunglasses.

Below, see the patio sets (also known as squaw sets, back in the day). They were two piece outfits, frequently embellished with metallic trim, and almost always really colorful -- and those full skirts are perfect for a night of twirling around the dance floor.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Egyptian Greek in Paris - Jean Desses

Yesterday's post showed a gorgeous couture gown by Jean Desses. Jean (as in Jon, the French version of John) Desses was not, as I had thought for a long time, French. He was, in fact, a man of Greek ancestry who just happened to be born in Egypt. His Greek ancestry is evident in his designs, however, with the goddess like draping and pleating that are his hallmark.

This dress originally had an overjacket, which is not shown. The overjacket is chiffon, with white cotton pique collar and cuffs. I wish I could see a photo of the two together, because I can only imagine how lovely they are together. I mean really -- look at the amazing pleating on the bodice. It's nothing short of amazing and was worn by whom? None other than Princess Margaret.

Desses opened his salon in 1937, and retired to Greece in 1963, where he continued to run a small boutique until his death in 1970. This dress is noted as a later work, in large part because of the color. His early works were earthtones: creams, beiges and pale pinks. It wasn't until later years that he found the brilliant reds that he became known for --- it's no wonder that Valentino was counted among his assistants, as Valentino later had a trademark shade of Valentino red.