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Posts Tagged ‘fashion history’

Photo by Ulysses Ortega.

I didn’t just want to be someone who bought clothes. I wanted to learn about them. So, I collected them, wrote about them, and have had a life of helping to get exhibitions off the ground.

Christine Suppes – fashion collector and the author of the book Electric Fashion (Skira), which is a photo documentary of her couture collection. Photos by fashion photographer Frederic Aranda.

This quote is from the article, The Collector’s Eye, by Alison S. Cohn, in Harper’s Bazaar, Dec. 2022/Jan. 2023.

Suppes, a resident of Palo Alto, CA recently donated more than 500 pieces of her couture fashion collection to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Her donation includes pieces by Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga. (And you heard it here first, in January 2024 the de Young Museum, inspired by Suppes donation, will open a fashion exhibition featuring the legacy of some of the Bay Area’s most fashionable women both past and present.)

As a member of Costume Society of America, I have heard and read discussions about museums accepting fashion donations. Should they? What should they accept? How and where will they preserve the clothing? It goes hand in hand with the general discussion over whether or not fashion belongs in museums at all. The biggest and much debated question – is fashion art?

The truth is fashion exhibits bring in money – especially those that include popular designer names. I would venture so say that a collection of couture clothing would be welcomed at any museum.

When I was in Seattle a few years ago for a fashion history conference, I attended a fashion exhibit at The Museum of History and Industry. This regional-focused exhibit, called Seattle Style: Fashion/Function, highlighted vintage and modern clothing owned by local people mostly purchased from local department stores and boutiques. It was by no means a spectacle exhibit and that’s why I enjoyed it so much. The fashions on display gave us a peek into what the people of Seattle wore in sunny weather and in rain; to the theater; to the 1962 World’s Fair; or just to work and the grocery store. Regional style, dictated by weather, culture, and tradition, is a fascinating subject and as much as I enjoy “big fashion” and the impeccable crafting of couture, I’m also interested in everyday fashion, particularly from past eras.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming de Young fashion exhibit and learning how Bay Area style is perceived.

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One day something magical happened. Something forbidden happened.

Polka Dot met Stripes and after that, fashionable life was never the same.

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(Love the socks!)

ODFL pauses to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Well, we are at the final day of our brooch adventure. I have so many brooches we could continue for another twelve days. But we’ll wrap it up with this lovely embroidered bird brooch.

This unique piece belonged to my mother, but she gave it to me some time ago. I have always loved it and I know that she bought it at a shop called White Duck Workshop on College and Ashby in Berkeley. WDWS was a boutique that sold handmade clothing for women. Known for a certain California aesthetic of the 1970s, WDSH created dresses and skirts in patchwork and appliqué corduroy. As times changed, so did their style. I remember by the 1980s they’d dropped the folk patchwork look for the oversized power look of the day, but still keeping the handmade Berkeley aesthetic.

The bird and flowers are embroidered on silk and I think perhaps the fabric was part of a larger piece – a kimono? – and was made into a brooch. Or it could have been a button. Either way, I suspect the fabric is antique. I think my mother bought the brooch in the 1970s or 1980s. She didn’t wear it often and I don’t either, as it looks delicate. But when I do, I pin it to a rust colored sweater that was also my mother’s and one of my favorite sweaters to wear on cold days.

This brings us to the end of The Twelve Days of Brooches. I hope ODFL readers enjoyed the series. Next year we will do it again with another vintage collection.

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Mid-century copper brooch.

Hello to Day Eight and a copper brooch. I found this at an outdoor antique market in Philadelphia for $5. It’s not marked but I know from the design and the fact that it’s copper that it dates to the 1950s.

Although sparkly chunky pieces with colored rhinestones are the iconic jewelry look of the 1950s, a more subtle Arts & Crafts style was also popular and copper was the perfect metal for that. There were two companies at the time making copper jewelry – Francisco Rebajes of New York and Jerry Fels, founder of both Renoir of California and Matisse Ltd., based in Southern California. Rebajes sold his pieces out of his store in NYC and Fel sold his work to department stores. Some of Fel’s pieces were enameled, the most recognizable is the painter’s palette. After much success, both companies closed in 1964.

I really like the atomic shape of this brooch as well as the texture. It lives permanently on the lapel of my wool blazer.

It’s January 1, 2023. Here’s to a new year with more opportunities for creativity and growth!

The Twelve Days of Brooches continues tomorrow. Day Nine … what will it be?

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It’s Day Three and today would have been my mother’s birthday. So, it seems fitting to feature a carved jet brooch. (I recently wrote a post about jet and its importance in Victorian England for mourning.)

This brooch is Victorian and is set in gold. I bought it from a fellow jet collector. She is also the accomplished seamstress and she made my 1831 ball gown back when I was attending formal Victorian balls. It was one of those moments where I saw it and had to have it. No hesitation because I hadn’t seen many carved jet pieces – still don’t. It’s not polished and therefore has a matte finish and since it’s small I liked to wear this with other jet brooches on the lapel of a jacket.

Happy Birthday, Mom. We are thinking of you.

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There is undeniably an old-fashioned air around brooches, but there are ways of wearing them to look more up-to-date. Wearing with knitwear rather than formal day dress can jazz up a plain jumper, or go big and bold a la Lady Gaga in Schiaparelli at the US inauguration, for a modern take on this most regal of accessories.

Alicia Healey – Former employee of Queen Elizabeth, regular contributor to The Spectator and author of Wardrobe Wisdom From a Royal Lady’s Maid (National Trust).

This quote is from The Art of the Brooch published in The Spectator magazine, July 25, 2022.

A collection of vintage crown brooches from Collectible Costume Jewelry (Collector Books). Wear one of these on a headband or pin it to a fabric handbag.

It does seem that brooches have slipped into obscurity. But not with some of us. I’m a big fan and I like to place my brooches in unexpected places. For example I wear a bee brooch on the cuff of my denim jacket. I have a big black and white butterfly brooch that sits atop a black beret. Any brooch placed on the shoulder of a sweater adds more interest that if worn elsewhere. Also, a collection of small brooches worn together on a lapel will catch the eye. Brooches offer a lot of style and can perk up any outfit. I think the key for a more modern look is to not to take them too seriously and just have fun. Think outside the brooch box.

Collection of whimsical insect brooches pictured in Collectible Costume Jewelry (Collector Books).

Brooches make excellent holiday gifts and interesting vintage brooches can be found at thrift stores for a reasonable price. There’s still time to hit your local thrift store and find a unique gift for some lucky person in your life, or you!

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Man’s suit circa 1950. Image from Survey of Historic Costume, 5th edition.

He knew that appearances made a difference in life – how one dressed, how one looked, how one displayed success. So he wore his perfectly tailored crisp white shirts and jacket from Grieves & Hawkes at No. 1 Savile Row and his perfectly polished and shined brogues from Barker Shoes in Jermyn Street, shops long frequented by his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him.

Alec McDonough – fictional character in the novel Bloomsbury Girls, by Natalie Jenner (St. Martin’s Press).

This quote reminds me of something a friend of mine told me. He said that when traveling he wears trousers with a blazer because he noticed that he receives better service and treatment in general when he’s dressed better. From the airport restaurant to the plane to the hotel – if he’s sporting a blazer rather than a sweatshirt, life is a little easier.

Tune in tomorrow for my review of Bloomsbury Girls.

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Photo by EVG Kowalievska on Pexels.com

There was a time when the iron was woven into the rumpled fabric of family life. This humble appliance would be brought out regularly – along with the ceremoniously popping into position of the ironing board – to smooth a church dress, crease a pair of work trousers or unwrinkle fancy cloth napkins. Now my iron is hidden on a high shelf in my laundry room. I no longer own an ironing board. While sales of irons are on the decline, garment steamers have picked up steam.

Christine Fellingham – a former editor at Glamour magazine.

Hold on a minute! The “humble” iron is a very important tool for anyone who sews, and FYI, I use cloth napkins, which means I’m ironing those too. I have several irons, one ironing board and I use them, depending how much sewing I’m doing, at least twice a month. Seamstresses use irons to press out wrinkles in fabric before cutting and sewing; crease seams; apply fusible interfacing, and a host of other things.

My textiles instructor in the Fashion Department at San Francisco City College once mentioned that most of her young students have no idea how to use an iron. Well, they quickly learn! Do you watch Project Runway? Ever noticed the designers are constantly running to the ironing board?

Irons can do what garment steamers cannot, although, steamers are great for quickly getting out wrinkles right before you run out the door. But the iron, just like the sewing machine, is a seamstress’ buddy.

Let’s have some respect for the humble iron.

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Carved jet bracelets from the mid-1800s. Image from Jet Jewelry and Ornaments, by Helen Muller (Shire Publications). How chic it would be today to where two or three of these at a time.

I have been collecting jet jewelry for decades. I learned about it through my mother who was an antique jewelry dealer. I’m attracted to the feel of polished jet and I appreciate its long history. I have beads, several brooches, a bracelet, and a fabulous carved jet ring. It’s getting harder and harder to find now, even in the UK.

Jet is a type of coal, a fossilized wood of an ancient tree that covered the earth in the Jurassic period (about 180 million years ago). Jet was used as a jewel and talisman by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Later in England and Europe, it was used in religious jewelry. In America, jet was found in Utah and Colorado and used by the Pueblo people in their jewelry.

Jet is black, lightweight, and although smooth, it has a bit of a tacky feel. Polished it reminds me of patent leather.

It was in Victorian England that jet became associated with mourning. Prince Albert died in 1861, after which Queen Victoria went into a deep and long period of mourning. She wore nothing but black, including jewelry. And with that, jet jewelry was all the rage.

Part of my collection of jet jewelry.

When my mother died in April, I searched my mind for a way to reflect my grief. In our modern world, there is no way to indicate one is in mourning. There used to be traditions – only black clothing for the first year, then mauve in the second year. Everyone wore black to funerals. Now no one does. A black band around the arm was an indication of mourning.

(I did notice that after Queen Elizabeth’s recent death, broadcasters in the UK and of course the royal family immediately started wearing black and some British citizens sported black bands.)

I thought about jet and how it had once been more than just lovely pieces of jewelry. Jet was used as a symbol. I pulled out my collection, chose a brooch and pinned it on to my dress. Every day since, I wear this jet brooch on my right shoulder as a reminder that I have lost someone important to me. No one knows what it means, but I do. The practice of pinning it on every morning is part of my grieving process and I find it comforting. I plan to wear it every day up until the first anniversary of my mother’s death.

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