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Tracey Thorn in her vintage dress and uber-mod Paul Weller. Circa 1983s. Photo from Tracey Thorn: Besit Disco Queen.

‘What are you gonna be wearing? ‘He asked. 

‘Um well, this,’ we said, pointing at the second-hand clothes we had on. I had chosen another slightly shabby 1950s print dress, and Ben was doing a kind of Jacques Brel look in a white shirt, jeans, and a corduroy cap. 

‘Oh,’ he said. “But, you know, it’s a gig. Maybe you should, like, dress up a bit.’

He himself was wearing a blue cotton short with a razor-sharp crease down the front, white socks, and bowling shoes. His hair was immaculate – spiky on top but sculpted around the ears. Every inch the uber-mod. In the photos I have of the night, I can see he was right, of course. We look a bit rubbish, and he looks fantastic. 

Tracey Thron, British leader singer/songwriter, Everything But the Girl.

Who remembers Everything But the Girl? Pop with a touch of jazz is how I’d (simply) describe the 80s/90s duo, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watts. This little anecdote is from the memoir, Tracey Thorn: Bedsit Disco Queen (Virago Press, 2013.) Ms. Thorn is talking about one of the first gigs she and Ben Watts had in the mid-1980s. The uber-mod is Paul Weller, former member of The Jam.

Clothing and modern music is a fascinating and diverse topic. There is well-clad Motown, showy disco, shabby rock & roll, even shabbier punk, anti-fashion grunge, and all kinds of subcategories in-between. All of which has influenced fashion over the years.

Ms. Thorn musical roots are deep in 70s punk and so her choice of a vintage dress fits. To her at the time that was “dressing up” while still avoiding a mainstream/commercial style.

Actually, I think the three look good together. Click here for a peek. 

And for some EBTG tunes click here.

 

 

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I spotted these unique women on a recent breezy Sunday afternoon, strolling down Sutter Street in downtown San Francisco.

What stands out most about these creative outfits is who is wearing them. Women of a certain age and I suspect, women who have been dressing this way since the 1980s.

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All white on a bright spring day is perfection. I like that there’s subtle interest in the billowy shirt, with extra long sleeves and cuffs. The black work boots add an edge and remind me of the pseudo-punk look of the 80s.

And then we have black on the right. A high-low skirt in lace is flirty and fun but kept ladylike with a knee length black skirt underneath. The platform sneakers are in patent leather and embellished with baubles on the toe – girly meets edgy! Our street style maven is sporting very long dangle earrings and she’s added a pop of color with a pink tote, not to mention her classic bob in a sort of plum color. What I’m not crazy about is the pedestrian blazer. It just does not go with the rest of the ensemble and it’s throwing off the proportions. She needs something shorter with a tighter fit. A motorcycle jacket comes to mind to lean into the edge and away from the girly she’s got going. If leather is too much, she could get a similar vibe with a short black hoodie.

Oh what a treat to find anything stylish on the streets of San Francisco.

Thanks, ladies. I hope you enjoyed your day out.

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Felicity Jones in a vintage 1950s dress at the BAFTA in 2011. 

I’ve always loved wearing black on the red carpet. It’s the color I wore to my first-ever awards show, and it’s the one I always come back to. Black is like Audrey Hepburn: absolutely classic. 

Felicity Jones – British actress.

You might recognize Ms. Jones from the 2014 movie The Theory of Everything, co-starring Eddie Redmayne, and for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. But I know her from earlier years as the voice of character Emma Grundy on the BBC Radio 4 drama series, The Archers.

It’s slightly unusual in the UK for an actor from a radio series to go on to Hollywood. The London stage, yes. British television, yes. But Ms. Jones has gone way beyond that and hit the big time with films such as True Story and Like Crazy. Now she gets to walk many a red carpet donning classic black.

I agree with Emma, ah … I mean Ms. Jones, about the versatility of black. It’s always an elegant choice.

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1920s dress on the mannequin.

I was a little late to the party, as they say, but still just in time to catch Pina: The Philippine Cloth of Pride, Endurance, and Passion at Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley. Now in the final days of its run this exhibit closes May 4th, 2018 and features the wondrous pina cloth, which is made from the pineapple plant.

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Christening gown.

Pineapples were brought to the Philippines by the Spanish during the 1500s conquest. Actually it’s the leaf of the pineapple plant that provides the fiber, originally hand extracted and then knotted to form filament threads. The process continued as weavers, on hand looms, created a lightweight sheer cloth that became the “must have” fabric for all fashionable ladies of the late 19th century/early 20th century with the means to purchase the expensive clothing and home decor items such as tablecloths, napkins, and runners.

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Detail of pina cloth with embroidery,

The exquisite pina cloth, its loose weave perfect for warm humid climates, was further enhanced by hand embroidery usually in white but sometimes in color.

Pina cloth was popular among the wealthy in the Philippines (with both men and women) up until the 1980s when tastes changed and shifted over to less expensive cotton. But current designers and stylists are showing pina cloth again, attracted to the history and beauty of the fabric. The prices, however, are still high since there are very few pina producers around. To keep costs down, often pina is blended with cotton or silk.

This exhibit itself is located inside Lacis expanded space off the main store and requires one of the staff members to escort visitors. Many pieces are mounted on a black background while a few dresses and blouses are displayed on mannequins allowing for an up-close look. It’s a no-frills presentation in a simple, small space giving the attention to the fabric. There are examples of pina cloth from the late 1800s up to the 1920s. Most from a private collection.

For anyone interested in textiles and/or fashion history this is a rare opportunity to see antique and vintage pina and well worth taking a peek, but hurry … it closes May 4th. There are guided tours for two or more visitors but at specific times and a reservation is required. (Check the website.)  While you’re there, also take time for the just opened exhibit of shawls – The Fringed Shawl: Transcending Generations and Cultures.

Pina: The Philippine Cloth of Pride, Endurance, and Passion at Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles, 2982 Adeline St., Berkeley.

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Notice Fran Lebowitz doesn’t try to soften her look at all with an accessory such as a brooch.

I’m interested in the profoundly superficial; people’s innermost thoughts are never as revealing as their jackets. 

Fran Lebowitz, American writer.

Fran Lebowitz is known for her signature style of suits paired with wingtip cowboy boots and button down shirts with french cuffs. Or on more casual days – Levi’s 501 jeans.

She found her style early in life as a twenty-something newbie to New York City. It was 1970 and she crossed paths with Andy Warhol, who soon asked her to write a column for his magazine – Interview.

In her youth she sported jeans, Oxford shirts, pullover sweaters, and penny loafers. A simple preppy look, which was not uncommon at the time. At some point she decided that was “too childish” so she dumped the sweaters and went looking for men’s jackets and suits. A foot problem led her to cowboy boots, which she has to have custom made as they don’t come in wingtips.

A social commentator with a sense of (dry) humor and a sharp wit, Ms. Lebowitz has written two books and numerous essays mostly on American society. Law and Order fans may have spotted her playing Judge Goldberg in several episodes.

She’s a regular at NYC Fashion Week and hobnobs with the likes of Carolina Herrera and Diane von Furstenberg. She shares her tailor, Anderson & Sheppard, with Prince Charles and her shirts are from Hilditch & Key on Jermyn Street in London. (If Beau Brummell were alive, he’d be impressed.)

In 2007 she was inducted into the Vanity Fair International Best Dressed Hall of Fame.

So what does Lebowitz’s suit jacket say about her?

  • She likes things just so.
  • She’s confident.
  • Willing to spend on quality.
  • She does things her way.
  • Completely committed to the masculine look.
  • She likes her jackets a little on the big side.

 

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IMG_20180325_113517751_HDRPeople laugh at fashion. ‘It’s just clothes,’ they say. Right. Just clothes. Except, not one of the people I’ve heard mock fashion was naked at the time. They all got dressed in the morning, picking clothes that said, ‘Hey, I’m a successful banker.’ Or, ‘I’m a tired teacher’ … a decorated soldier … a pompous judge … a cheeky barmaid … a lorry driver, a nurse … You could go on for ever. Clothes show you who you are, or who you want to be. 

Ella, 14 year-old character in the Young Adult novel, The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington.

The Red Ribbon tells the story of Ella, who as a prisoner of “Birchwood”  (a WWII concentration camp in Poland) struggles to keep hold of her dreams to become a dress designer. With her advanced skills as a seamstress she works in the camp’s sewing workshop where young women make clothing for the wives of Birchwood officials.

I heard an interview with author and costume historian Lucy Adlington on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. Promoting the book she talked about her research and the facts behind slave labor in the camps, including the making of beautiful clothing. Ms. Adlington based her novel on the true story of the Upper Tailoring Studio at Auschwitz, which was put in place by the Commandant’s wife, Hedwig Hoss. She had skilled women prisoners recruited  to make bespoke clothing for her, other officials’ wives, and female guards. Eventually there were 23 seamstresses working in the Upper Tailoring Studio, one of the better jobs to have in such a place.

This is a very interesting piece of fashion history woven into a well crafted novel of horror and hope. Although at times it’s shocking and upsetting, I highly recommend it for just that kind of truth.

I have also read Ms. Adlington’s non-fiction fashion history book, Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear (Random House UK, 2015). Another excellent read for those who love all things fashion history.

Check out her web-page: http://www.historywardrobe.com/index.html

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Easter Egg pendants by Faberge. Note the bunny in the middle. Image from The Art of Faberge by Alexander von Solodkoff.

Holiday jewelry can be fun, although, it has to be understated to be chic. I don’t really go for Christmas baubles but I do like to sport a collection of antique heart charms in February and this time of year I pull out my gold-filled Easter bunny pendant, which is a Faberge copy.

Carl Faberge was the jeweler to the Russian Tsars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known for exquisite quality, he favored enamel and opaque stones like jade and coral. His subjects were also unique –  flowers, animals, and eggs.

Russian royalty liked to give each other gifts at Easter. In 1885 Alexander III asked Faberge to make an egg as a special Easter gift to his wife. The very first egg was simple in white enamel with a surprise gold hen inside. A big hit, the Faberge Easter Egg gift became a tradition and carried on by Alexander’s son, Nicholas II. Over time the eggs became more and more elaborate.

 

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The first Faberge Easter Egg, 1885.

As well as the large eggs, miniature egg pendants were also created by Faberge and many other jewelers at the time. The pendants were popular small Easter gifts to distant family members and important friends.

IMG_20180328_112624My little bunny is a copy by the Museum of Modern Art for their 1996 Faberge in America exhibition. That exhibit came to the de Young (the old building) and my mother and I attended. I couldn’t resist this charming Easter bunny. I think he’s a quiet adornment to celebrate all that is new and fresh in spring.

(On a side note, click here to read a rather disdainful review of Faberge in America by Kenneth Baker for the San Francisco Chronicle.)

Wishing all OverDressedforLife readers a very Happy Easter. 

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