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Posts Tagged ‘fashion history’

Like Esther in the novel The Bell Jar and perhaps author Sylvia Plath too, I’m also impressed with the idea of matching handbag dress/skirt/anything. Although, I know it’s a little too “put together” these days, that does not stop me.

I have two skirts with matching handbags that I made myself. One I made last year with a matching mask as well. I like the “matchy-matchy” look because it’s unexpected and the repetition of pattern and color appeals to me.

The first matchy-matchy that caught my eye was way back when I was maybe four-years-old; my mother had a summer outfit – a red and white gingham dress and a light blue coat with the same gingham fabric lining. I remember that outfit so well and the matching part has inspired me ever since.

How about other matches? My sis-in-law made for me a matching cap and cross-body bag (thanks, Lori). I have a beautiful bespoke outfit – 1920s style coat with a matching skirt and a blouse that matches the lining of the coat.

There are many ways to match: hat with handbag, handbag with shoes, dress with lining of coat, hat with jacket. How about socks with scarf? OK, now I’m getting silly.

Matchy-matchy gets a bad rap as does any look that’s too put together because being fashionable is supposed to also be effortless. Hmm, how does that work?

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The Intruder by Gabriel Metsu, circa 1660.

Dishevelment

A sweet disorder in the dress

Kindles in clothes a wantonness:

A lawn about the shoulders thrown

Into a fine distraction:

An erring lace, which here and there

Enthrals the crimson stomacher:

A cuff neglectfull, and thereby

Ribbands to flow confusedly:

A winning wave (deserving note)

In the tempestuous petticoat:

A careless shoe-string, in whose tie

I see a wild civility:

Do more bewitch me than when Art

Is too precise in every part.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674), English poet and cleric.

I found this poem in a book by fashion writer Tobi Tobias, Obsessed by Dress (Beacon Press). This great little book is a collection of quotes all about clothing and fashion from ancient times to modern day.

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Last week I dressed in some of my vintage favorites and headed over to Shadelands Ranch Museum in Walnut Creek to see their current exhibit: Fashion Through the Years.

Graduation dress.

Shadelands Ranch Museum is the Colonial Revival house built by Hiram Penniman in 1903 and now it’s home to the Walnut Creek Historical Society. The “ranch” was actually a fruit and nut farm owned and run by Mr. Penniman who had previously lived in Oakland with his wife and children. The story goes that to entice his wife, Carrie, to move to the boonies known as Walnut Creek, he built this grand two-story house. This is just the beginning of the Penniman/Shadelands story, but visitors can take the house tour and hear the whole tale from knowledgeable docents.

Edwardian day dress.

During the pandemic, the museum was closed but staff took advantage of the quiet time by going through all the stuff the museum had accumulated over the years, including donations of clothing. It soon became obvious that an exhibit of these frocks was in order.

On now through August 31, 2021 Fashion Through the Years displays in every room of the house fashions from the Victorian era to the 1980s as well as accessories such as handbags, gloves, and jewelry; all of it donated to the museum by generous local residents. The displays are such that we can get up close to study the fabrics and construction, although of course no touching!

Cotton ensemble with lace detail.

Among my favorites is an Edwardian day dress, a white cotton ensemble with lace detailing, and a lovely graduation dress from the early 1900s. There is much to see in the exhibit and more to learn about Shadelands Ranch Museum. I highly recommend this to ODFL locals looking for a summer excursion close to home. (Masks are required.)

Shadelands Ranch Museum is located at 2660 Ygnacio Valley Road, Walnut Creek and is open Wednesdays and Sundays, 1-4; sometimes they’re closed for special events. Check the website.

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Image: Harper’s Bazaar.

I always wanted one. For me the Birkin bag was the ultimate luxury item, and I knew I would never get bored of it. I convinced myself that I really needed one and thought I would eventually pass it on to my daughter.

Suzanne Koller, Austrian born stylist and fashion director of M Le Magazine du Monde.

This is a quote from an article in Harper’s Bazaar, March 2021.

In 1984 fashion model and singer Jane Birkin was on a flight from Paris to London when her basket bag flopped over, spilling its contents on the floor. The gentleman sitting next to Ms. Birkin, Jean-Louis Dumas, at the time the executive chairman of Hermès, noticed and he and his seatmate had a chat about the difficulties of finding a handbag large enough to carry all that the busy model and mother needed on any given day. Mr. Dumas immediately started sketching and voila, the Birkin bag was born.

Hermès asked if they could name the bag after Ms. Birkin and she agreed. Apparently she receives an annual royalty for the use of her name and she donates that money to charity.

Made of sturdy leather, the Birkin is a constructed carryall bag in rectangular shape with a flap. Its simplicity and versatility is its signature.

It takes Hermès craftspeople 15 to 20 hours to make each Birkin bag and every bag is made by one person. Add the design process (the design has slightly altered over the years), cutting and dyeing the leather, and we’re talking two years from prototype to finished product. Some Birkins are custom made with particular leathers and hardware. It takes time but quality always does. And the Birkin gives back, in that it will stand the test of time in style and wear. It’s an investment piece meant not to sit in the closet but to use every day. Some people use it as their gym bag, others throw groceries into their Birkin.

The Berkin can cost upwards of $15,000 and there’s a waiting list. If you’re not a celebrity, it’s a long wait. But that’s all part of the Birkin mojo.

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On a sunny morning in AD 79 the residents of Pompeii, a bustling Ancient Roman city located near the Bay of Naples, started the day like any other – opening shops, negotiating deals, preparing meals – unaware of what was headed their way. Although nearby Mount Vesuvius was sending clues in the form of earth tremors, people were used to those and paid little attention. Then, Vesuvius erupted. Before long the sun was completely blocked by thick gray smoke. From the black sky came pellets of pumice and rock, some rocks large enough to knock people out. Over the next 18 hours the volcano spewed 10 billion tons of pumice, rock, ash and poisonous gasses all over Pompeii and nearby villages, collapsing homes and killing thousands of people. By the time Mount Vesuvius had exhausted itself, the city was completely buried; preserved from the passage of time until its rediscovery centuries later.

Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave, on now at The Legion of Honor in San Francisco, exhibits artifacts from Pompeii excavations that give us a peek at people’s daily activities in Pompeii, particularly around food, which was of great cultural importance. With an abundance of all tasty edibles at an easy reach – seafood, grapes for wine, produce – food and dining were central to Pompeii lifestyle, much like it is in our modern times.

“Last Supper in Pompeii brings us into the world of ancient Rome by focusing on the particulars of everyday life, influenced by the extensive, rich, and complex relationships between food, drink, and society,” says Renee Dreyfus, Distinguished Curator and Curator in Charge of Ancient Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “The objects on view not only capture our imagination but also whet our appetite, informing us of the glory that once was Rome.”

Touring the galleries I sunk deep into imagining what life was like in Pompeii and I was struck by how, in some ways, it was similar to ours; much of their time (well, the time of their servants) was spent attending to, growing, gathering, preserving, serving, and consuming food. Food that we also enjoy today such as fish, bread, olives, nuts, fresh fruit, and of course wine. Some of the 150 objects displayed include kitchen utensils, dishware, mosaics, frescoes, and jewelry.

Image courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Visitors enter the exhibition greeted by a marble sculpture of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and fertility. Each gallery tells the story of food production and consumption. We see from the displayed frescoes that, like today, there were markets, shops, restaurants and taverns, although, they were frequented by the lower classes, who didn’t have the space to store and cook their own food. Eating at home was actually a luxury. Servants prepared and served food to the wealthy who liked to show off their wealth by hosting dinner parties.

Rather than sitting at tables, dinner party guests enjoyed meals reclining on couches like this (missing the soft parts). One can just imagine men in draped togas and women in layered tunics lounging on this couch nibbling on roasted dormice and sipping wine sweetened with honey and spices.

This mosaic, part of a larger piece, depicts the abundance of seafood available to the people of Pompeii.

Food + art = a favorite combination for the Romans. In this fresco we have pomegranates, figs, and a rooster.

In this fresco we see a baker selling bread? Or a high ranking citizen giving away bread? The clue is in what he’s wearing.

These women are wearing long tunics topped with a draped shawl, called “palla.”

Of course while I was walking the galleries I was on the lookout for images of people and what they’re wearing. In ancient Rome only male citizens were permitted to don the toga. Slaves, foreigners, and women wore tunics.

Much of what we see in Last Supper in Pompeii has traveled to the US for the first time. The original exhibition, organized by the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, has been adapted and expanded for Legion of Honor visitors.

What to know before you go:

  1. Tickets are timed to keep the crowds at safe numbers and ALL visitors are required to wear masks.
  2. I noticed that people have become a little casual about maintaining a distance, so if you’re like me and sensitive to personal space, be flexible and open to moving on from crowded areas when necessary and circle back.
  3. For now the Coat Room is closed, so travel light.
  4. Backpacks have to be hand held while inside the museum.

Click here for all the latest scoop on visiting the Legion of Honor.

Don’t miss this opportunity for a little “armchair travel” as well as time travel.

Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave is on through August 29, 2021.

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White buttons.
Yellow buttons,
The end result.

Visiting NY in fall 2019 (my last trip before the pandemic) I bought a vintage dress from Leroy’s Place, a must see art gallery in Park Slope, Brooklyn that offers original artwork, unique gifts, and a select array of clothing, including vintage. By the way, Leroy’s Place is a fun destination for kids – they love the friendly monster puppets, interactive installations, and all around fun to be had.

(Full disclosure, Leroy’s Place is owned by my niece.)

So, the dress came back with me and recently while I pondered what to wear at home as the weather heated up, I remembered the charming cotton dress and pulled it out. What a good choice for a “housedress.” But there was one thing bugging me – the buttons. Plain white didn’t do it. The grey dress needed pop. I often change buttons on new-to-me clothing, sometimes to perk it up, sometimes just to make it mine. I have a big collection of buttons and out they came. I considered going with black carved glass buttons as that would be elegant but also a bit dull for summer. Silver mother of pearl buttons were also in play but then, the yellow glass buttons caught my eye. Nice color for summer and certainly an unexpected choice against the grey. Yellow it is!

I changed the buttons and realized the yellow was so distinctive that the dress needed another yellow embellishment to tie the whole thing together. I love thinking about this stuff!

Initially I thought a big yellow flower but I couldn’t find one. Embroidering something came to mind, like my initial in yellow but, that felt too Laverne & Shirley. No. More buttons? No. I ventured out to do a little shopping and found a sunflower patch and a package of small yellow flowers. I bought both but soon decided on the small flowers – floating on one shoulder.

Now I’m ready for warm weekends on the patio, enjoying a good book and an afternoon cocktail. Pimm’s and Lemonade anyone?

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Housedresses of the 1930s. Image from The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish.

Made of cotton, housedresses were both washable and less expensive than business wear or clothing intended for social occasions. A woman could easily afford more than one. In fact, the average American middle-class woman in 1959 owned five housedresses, one for each weekday.

Linda Przybyszewski, history professor and author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (Basic Books, 2014).

It’s Housedress Week on ODFL. Come back tomorrow and read more.

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We all went up and found our garment bag and unzipped it and out popped twenty identical outfits: a double breasted houndstooth pattern jacket, a matching knee length pleated skirt, a rib knit turtleneck sweater, and a black beret. And we were expected to wear black and white saddle shoes and white knee-high socks. I was miserable. This getup was going to make me look like a cow.

Betsey Johnson, American fashion designer.

This quote is from Betsey Johnson: A Memoir (Viking, 2020).

Earlier this year while searching my local library’s online catalogue, I found this memoir in audiobook format. How perfect to listen to while working on various weekend sewing projects.

Ms. Johnson is the reader and generally speaking reading is not her forte, however, she has such earnestness and enthusiasm that I can’t imagine anyone else’s voice reading her story.

The quote I’ve used is about one of the many outfits that she and the other young ladies were to wear in1964 going out and about in New York City as the summer interns at Mademoiselle magazine. Like many other women before her (Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion) Ms. Johnson won a coveted place as a junior editor.

Born in 1942 in Connecticut, Ms. Johnson wanted initially to be an artist and she studied art in college, but it was her internship at Mademoiselle that led to the right connections that led to fashion design. Always ahead of her time in style and the way she lived her life, Ms. Johnson never let anything stop her from doing what she wanted, particularly not the conventions of her generation. A can-do approach combined with a lot of luck provided her an interesting if not always a rosy life.

There are so many fascinating tidbits in this memoir, including brushes with Andy Warhol and Eddie Sedgwick; hanging out with the guys from The Velvet Underground (she even married one of them); fabric research trips around the world. She was married three times, had a baby on her own, started and ran two fashion businesses, and survived breast cancer. Additionally, any fashion historian will enjoy hearing the many details of how the industry operated back in the day.

A fun yet informative read!

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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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She is dressed more formally than she would be for our shop, of course. She wears a smart, crisp suit in beige wool, with a short jacket, a straight skirt, and a silky purple blouse under it. Large silver hoops in her ears and an abstract silver pin in her lapel give her outfit just the slightest edge – businesslike, but still creative. Her attire makes perfect sense … Compared to Frieda’s chic ensemble, I realize that my getup – plain navy-blue dress, low heels, no jewelry save for the wedding set on my left hand – makes me look outmoded. But not fun artsy, who-cares-what-anyone-thinks outmoded, the way Kitty would dress. More conventional-housewife outmoded, the way Katharyn wouldThat restrained, sensible clothing collection in the big closet at home is long overdue for an overhaul.

Katharyn Andersson – fictional character in The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (Harper Collins).

The Bookseller takes place in 1962-1963 and it the story of Kitty Miller a 38-year-old single woman who co-owns a bookshop in downtown Denver, Colorado. When Kitty goes to sleep she dreams deeply of herself in another life, that of Katharyn Andersson, a married woman with triplets, a big suburban home, and a maid. The story goes back and forth between the two worlds as it moves forward in time, revealing clues as to how the story will resolve.

This book, published in 2015, has received mixed reviews by readers, many of whom found the story boring. What they didn’t like, I actually liked – great detail on 1960s Denver, mid-century decorating, and of course, fashion. Something I did find bothersome was the modern sensibilities of the protagonist. Some of her politically correct thoughts and concerns would not have occurred to a woman in that era. Much of the time, when we were in Kitty’s head, I had to remind myself that this was 1962 and in that regard she felt inauthentic. Still, this is a well crafted, complex story that explores marriage and singlehood for women at a time when to be unmarried was frowned upon.

I heard about The Bookseller from Miranda Mills, who discusses all things books, baking, and living in the English countryside on her YouTube Channel. It sounded like my cup of tea, so I checked it out of the library and every evening for the past couple of weeks I’ve looked forward to jumping into Kitty’s/Katharyn’s world. I don’t often say that.

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