Posts Tagged ‘1930s fashions’

One stormy night, 87 year-old Nancy Drew found herself exploring the back roads of Farrington, PA in her sky blue roadster.

Nancy tossed back her blonde curls while pondering her blessed life and remarkable stamina after more than sixty years of solving crimes.

“I owe it all to my readers,” she thought. “They’ve kept me young and alive all these years.

Suddenly, out from the depths of obscurity came a figure standing right in the middle of the road. Nancy couldn’t make out the form in the dark and wet conditions. She screeched the roadster to a halt. Grabbing a flashlight from the glovebox, Nancy wasted no time hopping out of the car to investigate.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” came a sinister voice from the tall figure draped in a black cape.

“Are you a poor, helpless person in need of my selfless assistance?” Nancy asked.

“No, Nancy Drew,” the voice barked. “I am the victim of your perfection, slick style, and syndicated values. I am Judy Bolton and your time, Nancy Drew, has finally come.

I wrote this! In graduate school I studied children’s literature while pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Mills College. One semester I wrote a research paper titled Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton: Rival Girl Detectives of the 1930s. I wanted a fun way to start the paper so I came up with this exchange for my cover page.

The Nancy Drew series was created in1930 by syndicate publisher Edward Stratemeyer and written by Mildred Wirt under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Two years later the Judy Bolton series was published. (Created and written by Margaret Sutton.) What’s interesting about Judy is she ages over time and even gets married halfway through the 38-book series. Nancy stays forever a teenager.

My Nancy Drew costume. The dress is vintage 1960s from Bonwit Teller in NYC. (A classic silhouette works across the eras.) The hat is a vintage 20s cloche. The book is Nancy’s first – The Secret of the Old Clock.

Nancy crosses my mind every Halloween, probably because one year I dressed up as the girl detective. I wore a simple A-line dress in navy blue with red insets and a blue cloche hat, which is really a 1920s style, but she wears a cloche on the cover of her first book.

Nancy’s appealing fashions were depicted in the books with illustrations by Russel H. Tandy. In my paper I said that Tandy created for Nancy “sleek, simple, but elegant fashions.” Judy was no fashion slouch either, always well dressed in styles of the day.

This year will find me at home wearing a spooky jack-o-lantern black T-shirt and settled in for night of creepy old movies – like House of Wax with Vincent Price. How about you, readers? What are you up to this Halloween?

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Beverly Cleary, circa 1935.

… I unpacked my meager wardrobe: two woolen dresses, one brown serge and the other navy blue, the fabric cut from bolts of cloth that had lain for years on shelves in my grandfather’s general merchandise store … A skirt from a remnant, another that I had made from a pair of my father’s old gray pants. I had cut them off at the pockets, ripped the seams, washed and turned the fabric, which was perfectly good on the wrong side, and made myself a four-gored skirt to wear with a pink sweater I had knitted. A couple of cotton dresses; a bathing suit; a badly made skirt and jacket left over from high school; my precious bias-cut cream-colored satin formal, which made me feel like I was slinking around like Jean Harlow in the movies …

Beverly Cleary (1916-1921), American children’s literature author.

This quote is from Ms. Cleary’s memoir, My Own Two Feet (Morrow Junior Books, 1995).

I truly enjoy sartorial detail like this in a memoir.

At the height of the Depression, 1934, Ms. Cleary moved from her small hometown in Oregon to Ontario, CA to attend Chaffey Junior College. In those days, most people didn’t have big wardrobes. Nor did they toss away clothing like it was a used Starbucks cup. Clothing was kept and mended, altered, and refashioned. My great grandmother, who was a whiz at the sewing machine, made all of her daughters’ clothing, and anticipating future alterations, she always allowed for generous seams and hems.

Ms. Cleary’s sewing talents and thrift would be much appreciated today as we struggle to fight climate change while trying to find a path to sustainable fashion. I think one place to start is with this old goodie: Make do and mend!

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Matt Bomer and Lily Collins in The Last Tycoon.

Who’s watching The Last Tycoon on Amazon? I have only seen the pilot but I’m hooked.

It seems there’s a run on period series lately. It started with Mad Men then Downton Abbey, The Crown, The Feud, Outlander … did I miss any?

Those of us who love all fashions vintage are thrilled to be able immerse ourselves in the fabulous costuming of these series – finding endless sources of inspiration for our own creations.

Costumer for The Last Tycoon is Janie Bryant, who reached commercial success with her work on Mad Men. She tells WWD that after eight years on that show she was ready for something different. Another era will do!

She says:

Everything about the Thirties is so different from the architectural, minimalist Sixties. The cuts, the parts of the body that are accentuated, the color palette. The Thirties is about being very soft and dusty, and silk charmeuse-y. Really, it is about the facade of Hollywood that the studios created, and all of the glamour that entails. They made sure the actors were untouchable.

The Last Tycoon is based loosely on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel set in 1930s Hollywood. Bring on the glamour, the hats, the gloves, the impeccably dressed characters from movie moguls to stagehands to homeless Okies. I always enjoy seeing how poor people are costumed in period pieces. It must be a challenge as such people sported cheaper and slightly outdated versions of what the upper-classes wore. So any costumer has to strike a balance of a character trying to look their best with shabby clothing. There are interesting nuances to convey.

For the upper-crust main characters, Ms. Bryant was inspired by Hollywood stars of the era, such as Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, and Fred Astaire.

The costumes in The Last Tycoon are a visual treat. In particular Lily Collins – Phil Collins daughter – who plays Celia Brady is well suited to the 1930s, with a trim figure perfect for knit dresses and big eyes with full brows, which cannot be hidden under those adorable small hats of the era.

Ms. Collins is no stranger to the show’s sets. She tells WWD that Greystone Mansion (used as her character’s family home) was a childhood playhouse since her mother was quite active in historical building preservation. I was happy to see featured the Biltmore Hotel as I stayed there for the first time on a recent visit to LA. It is quite the period building (opened in 1923) with grand ballrooms, marble columns, murals, and a fabulous tile-lined pool. Indeed the Biltmore was one of the original venues for the Academy Awards.

Now that I’m all about The Last Tycoon, I want to see the 1976 version with Robert De Niero, costumes by Anna Hill Johnstone who also costumed The Godfather, Ragtime, and Dog Day Afternoon. She was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Time for a little compare and contrast.

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