Archive for May, 2012

A lot of people ask where I get my vintage clothing. Well, many places but some of my best pieces have come from friends.

Since I’m known for sporting vintage threads, I have been gifted with coats, suits, hats, shoes, even a fabulous 1940s umbrella.

Most recently my friend Amy gave me two lovely pieces from her mother’s closet: a grass-green wool suit and a blue dress (pictured left). Both are from the early 1960s, which just happens to be one of my favorite eras.

They fit perfectly everywhere except the waist – too small. In the 1960s GIRDLE was the word, but my modern word is ALTERATION. Ample seam allowance is just one of the great things about vintage. Back in the day clothing was constructed with plenty of fabric in the seams to allow for ease of wear and letting out here and there, because of course, a lady held on to her well made garments. Not anymore. Hems are almost non-existent and seams are 1/4 of an inch, if you’re lucky. Why? It saves money and we’re just going to toss out our clothes anyway. Aren’t we?

My local seamstress, Gracie, has altered many a vintage find for me and this time she let out both the dress and the suit skirt as well as shortened the hems. Altering the dress could have been a bit tricky as it has pleats. But Gracie figured it out. Now both pieces fit like a glove and are proportioned to my figure like they were made for me. And they are comfortable to boot.

The suit was a big hit at my church choir on St. Patrick’s Day. I wore the dress also singing in the choir for Easter and most recently I wore it to a vintage fashion show.

Thank you, Amy and Betty. I promise to take care of these beautiful vintage garments and show them a good time.

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Image courtesy of University of New Orleans Press.

It was dirty. It was sloppy. Very often the manufacturers didn’t know exactly what they were doing or how to do it right, but it was a good time in New York, a good time in America. We hired people, people worked, they earned a living. It was honest and, in fairness, the wind was in our sails.

– Leonard S. Bernstein speaking about the New York Garment District of the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Bernstein took over his family’s children’s wear business in 1953, so he knows what he’s talking about.

Just published by Mr. Bernstein is a collection of short stories – The Man Who Wanted to Buy a Heart (University of New Orleans Press). Written on Mr. Bernstein’s manual typewriter, the stories center around the business of fashion in NYC back in its heyday.

I am always looking for well written fiction that includes a bit of fashion. From what I hear this one is excellent and I’m looking forward to reading it.

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What fun my sweetie, Richard, and I had the night of the Art Deco Preservation Ball at Bimbos in San Francisco. We danced and visited with like-minded people. We celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge and the recipients of the 2012 Art Deco Preservation Awards.

My favorite part was gazing at all the wonderfully dressed attendees in elegant ball gowns and vintage tuxedos. We admired top hats and tails, evening dresses of all kinds from beaded to satin to velvet. Many ladies donned the color of the bridge – International Orange.  What a treat to see everyone appropriately well dressed. This is a rare crowd that knows how to do it right.

In planning my look for the Ball, I wanted to somehow include the bridge in my ensemble and decided to make a fascinator. It took three months and quite a lot of thought.

I started in San Francisco souvenir shops looking for a miniature replica of the bridge. It turned out to be a bit of a challenge and I really only found one thing that would work – a refrigerator magnet. Then I went to Lacis in Berkeley for the fascinator form. They have many shapes but to properly show off the bridge I chose a simple round disk. For fabric I wanted something resembling water underneath the bridge. I used a blue speckled cotton from The Cotton Patch in Lafayette.

Assembling all the parts required careful thought. I sewed a round piece of the blue fabric to the form.  I sewed a round swatch of felt to the back of the form and then sewed hair clips (called Duck Clips) to the felt.

With the easy parts complete I took a couple of weeks pondering how best to attach the bridge. It’s a bit heavy and I knew I would be dancing, so I wanted to make sure it stayed in place. My mother suggested sewing it; a seamstress friend (thanks, Lauren!) thought perhaps snaps or velcro; Richard voted for hot glue. In the end I concluded Mom was once again right (she usually is) and sewing the bridge would provide the most security. Luckily, as with the actual bridge, there are little gaps along the span on my miniature version. Using red beading thread I sewed through the gaps in the middle attaching the bridge to the top of the form.

Richard had the clever idea of placing cotton balls around the bridge for fog, which also worked nicely to cover up the bobby pins I needed for extra attachment security. Voilà … I had my GGB fascinator. It was remarkably comfortable and it stayed in its place atop my head the entire night.

It’s worth noting that to our surprise most people didn’t really notice my fabulous fascinator. (But you did, Alice and Heather!) Someone standing next to me for quite some time finally commented. I mentioned to her that people didn’t seem to see it. She said her eye was drawn to the bright blue boa I was wearing. Undaunted, Richard and I started pointing it out (hey, we didn’t go to all that trouble to NOT get noticed). Word did get around and eventually  people came up to me saying, “We heard about your fascinator.”

I paired the fascinator with all cream including a lace 1930s-style gown, Amalfi shoes with a lace motif and Louis heel, a strand of pearls, and a lovely textured silk coat from Kiss of the Wolf.

Keeping with the spirit, Richard sported a pocket square made from the same blue fabric as on my fascinator and he pinned to his lapel a silhouette of the bridge, which originally was a key ring.

Click here and take a peek at more photos from the Ball.

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Image courtesy of Vidal Sassoon: The Movie.

My idea was to cut shape into the hair, to use it like fabric and take away everything that was superfluous.

Hairstylist Vidal Sassoon speaking about his iconic five-point haircut introduced in 1963.

We lost Mr. Sassoon on Wednesday May 9th, 2012. I recently watched a documentary on him and was quite taken with his life story. Talented and gracious, Sassoon studied hair styling because his mother thought that would be a good fit for him. Although initially he wasn’t all that interested, he embraced the opportunity to apprentice with an East End London hairdresser and went on to revolutionize hair and fashion for women.

Thank you, Mr. Sassoon for making us look so fabulous as we set out to conquer the world.

(I highly recommend the Sassoon film not just for a detailed look at him but also for a fun and informative romp into 1960s fashion and style. In addition to interviews with the stylist and his friends and colleagues there are photos, news broadcasts, and commercials from the era. It is a visual treat.)

Click here to see the trailers.

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Schiaparelli suit. Vogue, September 15, 1938. Photo: Regina Relans.

Dress designing … is to me not a profession but an art.

Elsa Schiaparelli






Miuccia Prada suit, autumn/winter 2004-05. Photo: Toby McFarlan Pond.

Fashion fosters clichés of beauty but I want to tear them apart.

– Miuccia Prada

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC just opened a new exhibit of designs by Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada. Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations runs now through August 19, 2012. If you can’t make it (sadly, I cannot) check it out online: http://www.metmuseum.org/impossibleconversations

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Together my mother and I have been through many a challenge, loss, and heartache. But we’ve had fun and funny times too. I admire Mom’s bright spirit and how she faces everything with grace and courage. She’s not angry or bitter. She laughs daily at the world and herself. My mother is an impressive pillar of strength.

Of course it goes without saying that Mom is my fashion role model. She has shown me how to be stylish yet unique, classic yet avant-garde. I like that she’s a master at taking current fashions mixing them up and making them uniquely her own.

The photo above was taken when I was around nine-years-old. Mom is wearing a dress-suit in one of her favorite colors – burgundy. You can just see the cream skirt which had a diagonal plaid. Around her neck she’s wearing her father’s Annapolis ring on a double gold chain. I’m sporting a silly face paired with a blue and white spring dress, which had a red ribbon belt. I remember I used to wear that dress with white tights and white patent leather Mary Janes. This must have been after a special occasion – perhaps a school choir performance.

No one loves us like our moms. Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and to all mothers!

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A lovely mother daughter photograph taken in 2005.

Meet Mary Ann Irwin and her daughter Cera Byer.  Mother and daughter chose to go classic black for their special photo. Cera has styled her hair in a glamorous up-do with a smashing red rose, which matches her lipstick.  Mary Ann added a bit of color shading  to her ensemble with a blue gossamer over-blouse from India. The most striking accessory is, of course, their smiles.

Mary Ann says: I am a historian who writes and teaches. Cera is fearless, a born performer. Since the time she was little she has had complete command of her body, voice, nerves, craft. I wish I had a tenth of her grace under pressure.

Thank you, Mary Ann and Cera. Happy Mother’s Day to you!

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This photo came to me from my friend Suzette Davidson. It’s was taken in 1957 in Vassalboro, Maine and includes left to right: Suzette’s Mom, Marjory Robbins Feeny with her mother Malvena Pearl Robbins holding Suzette’s older half-sister Robin Feeny and at the end is Suzette’s great-grandmother Edith Starrett Masse, who was the subject of Suzette’s senior thesis at Mills College.

Suzette says: My mother’s first husband, Joe Feeny, died of a heart attack when Mom was 3 months pregnant with Robin. Mom moved back in with her parents. She moved from Boston, back to the farm where she grew up, in Vassalboro, Maine. Robin was born in Maine. A few years after this photo of my family’s four generations of women was taken, my mother re-married a local widower who had three daughters. His name was Ronald Francois Lalime.

Marjory and Ronald went on to have two more children – Jody and Suzette.

Suzette adds – Mom is also an incredible cook. She was a dietician by trade,  who gave that up and built a beautiful gift shop on the coast of Maine. She ran the shop successfully for 20 years before her retirement.

The moms in our photo look so vibrant in various shades of blue. Marjory is very much of her era sporting a chic suit. Looks like she’s wearing a brooch that matches her earrings, which was also the done thing at the time.

Thank you, Suzette for sharing a bit of your family history with us. Please wish your mom a Happy Mother’s Day from Over Dressed for Life.

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I love this photo … I’m not in it, but I love it. It’s a snapshot of a mother and daughter looking simply chic in their winter threads. Probably one of those spontaneous shots, not staged and therefore completely charming.

Meet mother Louise Hart and daughter Kristen Caven circa 1969 in Boulder, CO.  Kristen is five years old and she recalls of that moment:  “My knees were cold.”

Louise remembers that the caps and gloves were made from a soft Angora wool and she knit the caps herself. Kristen regrets losing hers.  

This is what Kristen has to say about her mother: Mom and I became a writing team after college and have written several books together! She is really my biggest hero. She has always been a bit of a world-saver since about the time this photo was taken. She “grew up” (as I grew up) to teach hundreds of thousands of other parents good parenting skills through her lectures and books.

Mom Louise:  Kristen and I have an amazing relationship – the opposite of what I had with my mother. I am so grateful and we are so blessed. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the wonderful woman Kristen would become, or the rich multi-faceted relationship we would have! Currently we are writing a book on how parents can prevent bullying in their children for Hazelden Publishing.

Happy Mother’s Day, Louise and Kristen!

Readers, come back to Over Dressed for Life this week for more mother and daughter stories.

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Schiaparelli’s Shoe Hat, 1937.

We went through minimalism with everyone dressed in the same old dreary styles. People are returning to a more personal style. Surrealism is something that transports one into another world. And that is what we need these days.

Marisa Berenson, actress, model and Elsa Schiaparelli’s granddaughter.  

Readers, you will want to know (of you don’t already) that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a fashion  exhibit coming up – Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations – May 10th through August 19, 2012. The exhibit explores the similarities between fashion designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada.

Check out the website to learn more: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/impossible-conversations/introduction

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