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Posts Tagged ‘fashion history’

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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The pandemic has hit hard in all areas of life, but particularly restaurants, shops, theaters, and museums.

One of my favorite visits when I’m in London is the Fashion and Textile Museum located south of the Thames River in Bermondsey. Founded by fashion designer Dame Zandra Rhodes in 2003, FTM is now run by Newham College and offers unique fashion and textile exhibits, as well as workshops and classes. (I was privileged to view 1920s Jazz Age and write about it for Vintage Life Magazine.)

They even offer Events on Demand – for a small fee (5 pounds or approximately $7) you can watch recorded interviews and tours of exhibits.

As the only museum in the UK dedicated to featuring contemporary textile and fashion design, FTM is a rare and necessary resource for education and inspiration.

Unfortunately since March of 2020, they have lost more than 80 percent of their income and the future of the museum is “uncertain.” Yikes! FTM needs our help and to that end they have set up a crowdfunding campaign. Please consider making a donation to FTM. Any donation will help. And then put this fabulous museum on your Must Visit List when next in London.

Not familiar with FTM? You’re in for a treat. Click here.

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Several weeks ago a fashion colleague (and friend) of mine, Tyese Cooper contacted me and asked if she could interview me for her new blog post series. Of course I was happy to agree.

Based in Paris, Tyese is a sustainable fashion designer, business woman, and creative mentor/teacher. In her blog series, How to See, she talks to various artists and designers about creativity (I am honored to be included in this accomplished group).

On a certain day, Tyese and I successfully erased the time and miles between us by meeting on Zoom. Approaching the conversation in her own unique way, we began with the word start and what that word brings to mind. From there it was a wonderfully unexpected ride.

Click here to read my conversation with Tyese Cooper.

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We live surrounded by cloth. We are swaddled in it at birth and shrouds are drawn over our faces at death. And yet there persists a stubborn belief that clothing and cloth are frivolous subjects – unworthy of serious notice – despite their overwhelming importance to human evolution.

Kassia St. Clair, British journalist and author.

This is, in part, a quote by Ms. St. Clair from the inside jacket of her book The Golden Thread: How Fabric Change History (Liveright Publishing).

I’ve started off the new year with this book, dipping back into non-fiction after reading quite a lot of fiction in Pandemic 2020. Having taken a textiles class in 2017, some of the information in this book is a welcome refresher, but I’m learning new things too! Such as the Vikings used wool to fashion their ships’ sails. I’m looking forward to the chapter on lace and I’m very intrigued by “Rayon’s Dark Past.”

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OverDressedforLife wishes readers a Merry Christmas.

Take a break from the festivities tomorrow and tune in for the first day of The Twelve Days of Vintage Handbags.

Stay safe.

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Walking with The Muses is a compelling jaunt through the life of model Pat Cleveland, who hit the fashion runways when she was a teenager back in the late 1960s. Tall and strikingly attractive, she started modeling for Ebony and then went on the road with the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show for African American women.

While pursuing a career in modeling, Ms. Cleveland was also studying fashion design and making her own clothing. As she bopped around her native New York City, her unique style caught the eye of a Vogue magazine editor. Even Bendel’s department store bought some of her clothing, but fashion design and clothes-making hit a snag when Ms. Cleveland was unable to provide her designs in multiple sizes. So it was full steam ahead into modeling.

She went on to create a successful career as a runway and print model in Europe and the US. But there were rocky times, including not getting hired initially because she wasn’t a blue-eyed blonde. (She got her start in the industry as a fit model.) There was a disturbing incident while traveling in the south with the Fashion Fair, sexual harassment, and a violent stepfather. Still, Ms. Cleveland didn’t allow anything to keep her down; she knew what she wanted and kept going, taking knocks along the way as well as enjoying quite a few unusual adventures. Her bright spirit and inner strength is an inspiration.

During her decades-long life as a model, she worked and partied with the likes of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Karl Lagerfeld, Halston and even her long time crush – Warren Beatty. Each one of her encounters has a story and there’s where we find the fun. She worked for the biggies such as Valentino, Thierry Mugler, and de Givenchy and she became known for her signature way of walking the runway, which was part strut and part dance.

Along with Ms. Cleveland’s life, Walking with the Muses offers a peek into the world of mid-century fashion in all its splendor from mini-skirts to shoulder pads. A good read for those interested in fashion history or anyone just interested in reading about a fascinating life of a successful model.

I say this is an easy holiday gift choice.

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Photo: Charles Tracy

I’d learned to tailor from my mom, and that coat, with its forest-green satin lining, was our masterpiece. We defied any fashion-conscious person not to fall in love with it. Mom had taught me that when it comes to clothes, there’s no such think as timidity. The point is to show yourself off. My mom and my aunt had always done that; now it was my turn. If I could get people to love the clothes I made, then maybe my mom and aunt could have the fashion house they’d always fantasized about, like the ones my aunt saw when she was in Paris.

Pat Cleveland, American model.

This quote is from Ms. Cleveland’s memoir, Walking with the Muses (Atria Books), written by Ms. Cleveland with Lorraine Glennon.

These past few months I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, but my first love is biographies/memoirs, particularly of people in the fashion business. I had heard about Ms. Cleveland’s memoir on the fashion podcast Dressed. (If you don’t know about Dressed, you want to.)

Check back on Wednesday for my review of Walking with the Muses.

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When I was taking a fashion history course earlier this year, I was determined to avoid the Internet for any research I had to do. Why? Because I prefer books and thanks to the many fashion history books I’ve collected over the years, it was easy to keep the promise I made to myself.

One book I didn’t own (and it would have been quite handy) is 100 Years of Fashion by Cally Blackman (Laurence King Publishing, 2020).

Blackman, a fashion historian, university lecturer, and author, digs into fashion history from 1900 to circa 2000. She discusses high society, the everyday lady, designers, and all the trends from the S-Bend silhouette to Grunge.

The book is divided into two sections: 1901-1959 and 1960 onward, making the subject accessible for the serious student and the casual fashion admirer. Both sections include an overview of the fashion trends of each decade and the historical context for those trends. A complete index makes for quick and easy research.

Another reason I prefer fashion books to a search on the Internet is I can more easily study the provided photos. Similar to an exhibition catalogue the bulk of 100 Years of Fashion is photos and illustrations with captions. The over 400 images provide a visual documentation of twentieth century fashion history. Such examples are essential for fashion study, not to mention the eye candy factor.

The compact size of the book makes it a great choice to take on the road if attending a fashion conference or traveling to take a course (yes, one day the pandemic will be over).

I noticed while researching various fashion history topics that each book I went to offered a little different angle, giving me a more complete understanding. In other words, you cannot own too many books on fashion!

Books are on everyone’s gift list this year and 100 Years of Fashion is an excellent choice for anyone interested in fashion. Support your local independent book store! Most will special order whatever title you’re looking for.

Let the holiday shopping begin.

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Illustration by Nina Allender (1873-1957), American suffragist and political cartoonist.

Many suffragists spend more money on clothes than they can afford, rather than run the risk of being considered outré, and doing harm to the cause.

Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) – British suffragist.

In the early twentieth century, British suffragists chose to forgo pushing against contemporary fashion with practical masculine looks that were targeted in the press. Instead, they embraced the current trends and presented a fashionable feminine image. It made the movement less odd, more attractive and it soon became fashionable to identify with Votes for Women.

In 1908, Emily Pethick-Lawrence came up with a fashion branding idea – three colors for suffragists to wear to show their allegiance to the movement: purple for loyalty, white for purity, and green for hope. Tricolor ribbons were used on hats, belts, and badges.

American suffragists, following the lead of their British sisters, also branded the movement with three colors, but they switched out green for gold to honor the sunflower used in the 1867 Kansas referendum campaign. They wore white dresses to stand out in a crowd against men’s dark suits.

VOTEVOTEVOTE VOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTE

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