Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Not so New Look, for men.

I came across this chart the other day, tucked into a box of patterns I was going through. I found it fascinating, as it's a list of what the fashionable man wears for semi-formal and formal occasions, circa 1948. Keep in mind that in 1948, the New Look was in full swing for the ladies but, as usual, menswear hadn't changed that much.

Patterns for men are difficult to find, especially in this time period. Suit patterns of the 40s are virtually impossible -- I've found lots of shirt patterns, some trousers, but I don't think I've ever seen a full suit pattern for men from the 40s. This could be because in general, fewer men's sewing patterns were printed because a) styles didn't change that much, so the same patterns were used over and over, or b) because of the war -- either because most men were in uniform, or because of rationing of fabric. In either event, if you find a 1940s men's suit pattern, let me know, because I want it.

To make the point of how mens' styles stay the same, think of the Chesterfield coat, seen in the photo above, circa 1840s. The Chesterfield was named after the GQ guy of the 1830s and 1840s, the 6th Earl of Chesterfield. It was popular in the late 1920s, again in the 40s, and you can still see men wearing them today, in single or double breasted style, with that black velvet collar that denotes the style. It'll never go out of style, really, but then again, other than perhaps 70s polyester leisure suits, what in menswear does?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Of all of the well known designers of the 40s and 50s, Joset Walker is right up there among my favorites. I've actually never seen anything of hers that I didn't think was really cute, so I'm not sure how she isn't better known now.

Joset was actually a roommate of Claire McCardell's when they were at Parsons Paris School of Art and Design in the late 20s. Claire, of course, went on to become an icon of American fashion, creating the very idea of sportswear. Joset was always there, creating designs that were both stylish and comfortable.

Considering they also shared a room at school with Mildred Orrick, I know this: that's one room where I would have paid good money to be a fly on the wall.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Chill Pill(box)

The pillbox hat has been around for a long time, and has been worn by everyone from organ grinder's monkeys to Canadian police. It gained new life, however, in 1961, when a fashion conspiracy too shape.

Jackie Kennedy wanted a style all her own as she took over the role of first lady. Oleg Cassini had been a friend of the Kennedy's for years, and he signed on for the monumental task of First Stylist, with one caveat: that he be the only one to supply her clothing. Jackie was concerned about this, as this meant that he not only had to create clothing for each event, but also coats, gloves, hats, handbags and shoes. Mr. Cassini assured her that he was up to the task, and a partnership was born.

How would one person do all this without losing his mind? First of all: outsource. Jackie's hats were all created by Marita, at Bergdorf Goodman's, which took the actual construction work away from Cassini's house. Next, the style. He decided that what Mrs Kennedy needed was a "non-hat:" a style that would set off the beautiful face of the president's wife, instead of focusing on the hat itself. A correctly styled hat should be an afterthought, he said. It is an accent, not a focal point, which is exactly what the pillbox style is. Add to it that the simplicity of the style meant that it could be made up by Bergdorf Goodman's without a national summit of what the hat would look like.

Look at what a properly worn pillbox hat looks like:

She looks radiant, does she not? Note that her face is the focus, and how the hat frames her face - almost like a halo. Perfect.

A couple of other well-done pillboxes:

Audrey Hepburn in "Charade," in 1963.

An almost pillbox, worn by Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954. The veil makes a nice accent, but is definitely more a focal point than a plain pillbox.

Carla Bruni, the French president's wife, and Queen Elizabeth II. Whose face are you looking at?

I doubt seriously that there is anyone who will look at a pillbox hat perched on the back of a woman's head and not be reminded of Jackie Kennedy, so the fashion conspiracy worked. Jackie took a simple style, made it all her own, and created fashion history in the meantime. And that is something that just doesn't happen every day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I love these 1920s McCall (no 's) pattern illustrations, with their brilliant colors, and their models with tiny little heads. Just look at this one - three dresses in different colors, all showing the dresses made with fabric that has a pattern. You don't see that kind of detail in a lot of the older patterns. And in these patterns, the illustration is actually glued to the front of the envelope. It's just plain cool, in my humble opinion.

And the styles in this one? It's what a stylish girl wore for the stock market crash of 1929. My only complaint is that I want to see the shoes!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Head-y stuff

Edith Head was a genius, and had a reign over the dressing of Hollywood, back in the day. She not only was a costumer for many a movie, but she had her own ventures, too. Smart cookie, this one.

She served as the official fashion consultant for members of the Academy or, as she called it "governor of hemlines and bodices," making sure that anyone associated with the Oscar awards, be it presenter, nominee or performer, showed up properly dressed. Cher even joked about this at the Oscars, some years later, saying that she had her postcard telling her how to "dress like a professional actress." (That was in the year of her Bob Mackie bikini - mohawk outfit, which would've given Ms. Head the vapors.)

Ms. Head also gave fashion advice on TV, on Art Linkletter's House Party show, and fashioned a line of teenaged clothing that was sold in department stores nationwide. Those outfits were inspired by Paramount's top movies of the day, and I'd sure love to see some of them, and match them up with the movie. But the most interesting thing that Edith Head did as a "side" job was to do housecalls to people like Barbara Stanwyck and Loretta Young, acting as their personal stylist. I must say, I'd love to open my door and see the bestectacled Edith Head standing there in her shades (which were not sunglasses, but pink hued, to help her see the clothing as the camera would), just waiting to dress me like a goddess.

She'd be here a while.

And Ms. Edith Head is the one we have to thank for what is probably my favorite Oscar dress of all time: this ice blue confection, worn by Grace Kelly in 1955 and cut from French silk that cost $4000 -- for the fabric alone! The aquamarine fabric is dusted with mother of pearl beads, but no sequins. As Edith Head said, "some people need sequins, others don't." Whether that pertained to Miss Kelly's beauty or Ms. Head's designing skills, I'm not sure, but I do know that what the master and her muse created is the stuff of legend.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Treasure found.

I came across this the other day, and am still pretty excited about it. I was reading about Jacqueline Kennedy's style, which was created primarily as a careful collaboration between her and Oleg Cassini. They wanted her to be a trend-setter, with every style she wore being fresh, and something never seen on anyone else first. The result was a style that is still instantly recognizable as Jackie.

Next, look at this pattern, which is McCall's 8332, from 1968, and is totally hot. I have a soft spot for bows anyway, but a cutout back? Love it. And the McCall's patterns from this particular time period have always been particularly attractive to me, and a lot of other people, because they are so glam. Then I realized why.


Same dress. Created by Oleg Cassini, and worn by none other than Jacqueline Kennedy.

I love it when I find a connection between a pattern and an ad, or a catalog, but this is the kind of thing that makes me do the happy dance. The only question is why the dress was being worn during the pre-1964 years of Camelot, and the dress pattern wasn't published till 1968.


(Click the photo to see the larger image)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bombshell Rule #2 - Never underestimate the power of the blouse

Rule #2 of the bombshell, according to the book, is that you must have a white beaded sleeveless dress like Dorothy Dandridge wore in Carmen Jones. Stole might be optional, but if you're going for the bombshell, it's not bad to have a prop.

I found a picture of Dorothy Dandridge in a white dress in a promo for the movie, but that was a poster -- the photo version shows the dress in red. It isn't the dress she mentions in the book, however, because there's no stole. Alas, I've not found it yet, but look at her, nonetheless. She's gorgeous. And this has to be around 1954, because those cap sleeve scoop neck tops were really popular then -- as they should be now. They are just innocently sexy.

Unlike the other pictures of Ms. Dandridge that I'll show you, just to give some examples of the bombshell aura she projected.

There is nothing more sexy than a trumpet hem. This one is a TRUE wiggle, instead of those fakes that everyone shows on ebay. If it doesn't make you wiggle when you walk, it ain't a wiggle dress. Wish I had a full length shot:

Just like I wish I knew who designed this top, so I could order one in every color of the rainbow. It's got a Ceil Chapman vibe to it, but could it really be that easy? Probably not. It's much more likely from Phyllis Dalton, who costumed this movie and did the wardrobe for Lawrence of Arabia five years later.(Photo from Island in the Sun, 1957)

No bombshell babe is complete without a beaded halter dress. Ms Dandridge does not disappoint.

Ms Dandridge set out to prove that women could play roles other than maids, prostitutes and slaves. She succeeded, even to the point of an Academy Award nomination. Sadly, the fame ate her up and she died of a drug overdose at the age of 42. What a loss.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bombshell Rule #1

I'm reading the Bombshell Manual of Style right now, which is quite a good read, if you want to know what makes bombshells tick.

#1 on her list of must-haves for a bombshell is a "white girdle-front one piece swimsuit, 3 inch ankle strap sandals, and an immense straw sun hat with a ribbon tie. This is not to be worn on the head, but slung over the back and tied at the neck." Sexy.

Her inspiration was Dolores Del Rio, a silent movie bombshell from back in the day. Being a Latina, I'm sure that a white swimsuit looked pretty darned hot, because she'd have a lovely tan. I, however, look sick in white, because I'm as pale as Scarlett O'Hara. So I went on a search looking for the photo that gave the author the inspiration. Alas, I've not been able to find it, but I did find the one at left, which, I'll admit is pretty nice. The viewpoint of the photo doesn't scream bombshell to me, but look at the next couple of examples of how a white "girdle-front" swimsuit can make it work.

The iconic Betty Grable