Posts Tagged ‘period costumes’

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It was paradoxical that fashion as a serious subject should have come to the fore in the context of feminism. One of the longest lasting and still very lively debates is that between feminism and fashion. Feminism became an established political movement in the nineteenth century. Many of those Victorian feminists, encumbered by the excesses of crinolines, corsets and bustles, saw fashion as central to their oppression. One argument deployed was that men were forcing them into elaborate outfits that crippled their bodies and restricted their movements, so that fashionable dress was a direct instrument of power.

Elizabeth Wilson – British feminist, author, and former professor at London College of Fashion.

This quote is from Wilson’s memoir Unfolding the Past (Bloomsbury).

Fashion for woman has always had its negative impacts from corsets to stilettos to Spanx. Oppression? Perhaps. Restricted or not, plenty of Victorian women enjoyed their fashions. Interestingly, today there are period costume groups recreating fashions of the 18th and 19th centuries complete with all the elements that hinder movement. Granted, these elaborate fashions really are just costumes worn for limited periods of time and then poof, back to leggings and t-shirts. Still, there seems to be a desire to don pretty feminine clothing of the past. And if not actually dress in such, definitely watch on screens given the popularity of shows such as the adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sanditon.

Please stop by ODFL tomorrow for a review of Unfolding the Past.

Speaking of women’s fashions, today is the Spring Equinox. Feminine clothing such as dresses and skirts, frilly tops and sweaters remind me of this time of year. In my area we have had a real winter so now we can appreciate the loveliness that is spring.

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Like many other happenings this pandemic year, Gatsby Summer Afternoon has been cancelled. This annual event, always held the second Sunday in September at the picturesque Dunsmuir Mansion in Oakland, is produced by the Art Deco Society of California and is one of the most popular period costume gatherings of the year. It attracts close to one thousand attendees all dressed in attire appropriate to the Art Deco era, 1920s-1940s.

To forgo this favorite event is disappointing, but safety is a priority! So, while we stay safe at home how about a visual revisit to Gatsby Summer Afternoons of the past?

We all look forward to gathering again in person hopefully next year. Save the date: Sunday, September 12, 2021.

This just in: The ADSC has announced a virtual version of Gatsby Summer Afternoon, complete with the usual contests and photo ops. Click here for the full scoop.

UPDATE: Due to unhealthy air quality, the virtual Gatsby Summer Afternoon has been rescheduled for next weekend, September 19-20, 2020.

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Gatsby Summer Afternoon 2018. Photo: Richard Aiello.

It was a record breaking year for the Art Deco Society of California Gatsby Summer Afternoon. Just over 1000 people gathered on Sunday, September 9th for an opportunity to live for a day the elegance of the 1920s/1930s.

Attendance to Gatsby Summer Afternoon has been on the increase for the past several years. I met many first timers.  One young woman heard about the event from Face Book and was happy to pull out her extensive collection of all things vintage. Quite a few attendees were from LA and a woman from the Sacramento Art Deco Society was very impressed with her first visit, commenting on how well organized the event was.

The costumes of course were fabulous. Everyone dressed to the nines in period appropriate clothing (1920s-30s). Here’s a look-see:



I like how this couple, Kim and Kenneth, coordinated their colors and gave a nod to the upcoming fall season with touches of orange.


Katie and Gregg toast the day. Katie made her dress and it turned out great!


This was Ann’s first Gatsby Summer Afternoon. Doesn’t she look lovely? Ann found her dress at Relic Vintage in SF.


IMG_20180909_161701659_HDR (1)

Jill (pictured right) was attending Gatsby Summer Afternoon for the first time with her old college chum, Amy. Jill told us that she remembers the very first invitation from 34 years ago. She wasn’t able to attend and for one reason or another hasn’t all these years since. But she wanted to and has been planning. Finally this was the year! She was so thrilled to win Best Petite Picnic Site her excitement and big smile made my day. Oh, and she made her dress!


And here’s yours truly. This is the third time I’ve worn this dress to Gatsby Summer Afternoon. I found it at Vintage Fashion Expo. The lace gloves came from Lacis in Berkeley. The purse was my grandmother’s and the pendant was my great grandmother’s. People often comment on my sunglasses, which are not period. They’re Liz Claiborne, circa 1990s.

It takes a lot of volunteers to put this day together. A round of applause for the committee and Event Co-Chairs Heather Ripley and Marie Riccobene. Gatsby Summer Afternoon was founded by Laurie Gordon.

We look forward to next year when the Art Deco Society of California will celebrate 35 years of Gatsby Summer Afternoon. See what all the buzz is about and join us, Sunday, September 8, 2019.

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Late last month I ventured to Woodland Hills, CA for my very first Costume College, which is an annual “costuming arts conference” brought to us by Costumer’s Guild West, Inc. Attendees enjoy three days of workshops and lectures on all things period costuming and history. There are also special events such as an opening night social, a grand ball with a red carpet! Afternoon tea, a small marketplace, an exhibit, photo ops, and I’m sure I’ve left out something. Each year has a theme and this year it was – Dressing the Royals.

Costume College has been around for 26 years and over time it has grown from a mostly local event to attracting people from all over the country and the world. In 2017 there were just over 400 attendees – this year CC topped out at around 650. That’s a big leap in one year.

It seems cosplay (big in the LA area) has sparked an interest in period costuming prompting people to check this out. I would also suggest that the current desire for “experiences” might also play a role. I spoke to a few people who were first timers. One woman from LA has been involved in reenactments but she had only recently heard about CC. Another is a regular at various cosplay events and wanted to expand her costuming adventures. There were young and not-so-young, women and men but mostly women. Almost all of the people I spoke with are serious sewists – the more complex the outfit the better.



The lobby on Friday morning.

Once upon a time I was into Victorian ballroom dancing and I had a local seamstress make a Victorian gown for me, but that’s as far as I went. Other than the 1920s-40s, I’m actually not that interested in costuming for myself. So at CC I focused on the fashion history lectures, which were a mixed bag. I noticed quickly that the quality varied. The presenters who were academics gave strong in-depth lectures on their subjects and were able to answer just about any question thrown at them. Lectures given by people who worked in or owned businesses that related to their topic, such as historical shoes, were excellent.  But there were some instructors that had simply chosen a topic they liked and done basic internet research and those presentations were thin. Given that everyone who works Costume College, including the instructors, are volunteers perhaps this is not surprising but nevertheless, disappointing.


Waiting to walk the Red Carpet.

Speaking of volunteers, I tip my hat to the board and every one of the volunteers who spent months putting CC together. I could see how much work it must be and it seemed on the surface to go smoothly. I also want to give a shout out to the Woodland Hills Marriott. I usually don’t care for big corporate hotels, but this one was a pleasure! I had a few minor problems over my stay and the staff were friendly and went out of their way for me. My room was spacious and clean. The two swimming pools were kept immaculate.

Back to CC. The organizers ask attendees if they’d like to take a volunteer shift over the weekend and I was happy to do that. At the last minute my original assignment was changed to crowd control at the Red Carpet. People in costume are invited to walk a red carpet on Saturday evening before the Grand Ball. My job was to direct them to a staging room before walking. It was an intense two hours as people in packs kept coming and coming off the elevators donning all array of costumes. Given the theme I spotted many a Queen Victoria. I also saw Renaissance, Regency, Georgian (a very popular choice), Victorian, Edwardian … even a 1920s flapper. There were Steampunk ensembles and a couple of odd sci-fi creature type costumes. After awhile the scene became a whirlwind of time travel, but the nearby Starbucks sign kept me grounded.


The Queen Victoria Trio.

What did I wear? For the daytime lectures I wore vintage inspired pieces that I made myself, or were custom made, paired with vintage accessories. My look was pretty consistent with what I wear everyday anyway – 1920s/30s. As I mentioned I’m not into extravagant period costumes so I avoided most of the special events. I did briefly pop into one or two and even though it is stressed that no one HAS to wear a costume, I felt pretty uncomfortable. Plus people who attend year after year know each other and kind of stick together. It’s tough for newbies.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one not into dressing up. After my volunteer shift I stopped into the Hospitality Suite for a bit of rest and refreshment, I chatted with a couple of women who told me that they enjoy making costumes but not dressing themselves. They explained that there are really two camps at CC – the making and the crafting and the dressing and showing.

I believe that! I noticed that some people had multiple elaborate costumes, a different one for every event. We are talking hoops, corsets, layers of undergarments, wigs, hats. Oh my! I kept thinking – how does one travel with all that stuff and indeed there was a lecture on that very topic. (On a side note, it was a visual shock Monday morning to see the same people roaming around the lobby in leggings and flip flops.)

Overall I enjoyed my first Costume College. I learned new things, met interesting people, and found inspiration here and there. I’d say it’s an experience worth the effort at least once.

Interested? The theme next year is: What’s That Fabric.



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Katie Baritell Photo: Provided

Gatsby Summer Afternoon is fast approaching! Brought to us by the Art Deco Society of California, this popular period event is always on the second Sunday of September, which this year is the 9th.

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting first timers Katie Baritell and her partner Gregg. It was a  birthday surprise for Katie from Gregg, who had heard about the event from his students. The couple are dancers and teach at The Beat in Berkeley. In addition to holding down a day job at Restoration Hardware, Katie is an avid tap dancer and admirer of the classic film Singing in the Rain. Over the past year, she has been further influenced by the ADSC and the various lectures and events they offer at the Bellevue Club.

New to sewing, she decided to make a dress for Gatsby Summer Afternoon with help from her mother. In between taps and stitches, Katie took time for a Q&A with OverDressedforLife.

What inspired you to make your own dress for this year’s Gatsby Summer Afternoon?

I saw so many impressive dresses and outfits last year and felt inspired to create an ensemble that was unique to me. That paired with learning how to sew this last year led me to think – why not make my own? I’ve been working more with costuming and learning to sew with my mom. She has been teaching, helping, and guiding me immensely. I could not do this without her … sewing is hard!

I agree! That’s lesson #1.

Are you using a pattern? Which one?

Yes. Browsing fabric books, I found a Butterick pattern. It’s a 1920s costume with a lace overlay. I decided to shorten the hem and use a lighter palette than that on the pattern’s image. It is now much better suited for daytime and dancing. I need to Charleston after all!

What are you enjoying about making your own dress? What’s not so fun?

I enjoy seeing it come together and working with my mom. It is satisfying to make something from scratch. I am learning skills – one I have had to improve on is patience! Working with chiffon as an over-skirt has been very difficult and trying. My mom noted to check in with her next time so we know what we’re getting ourselves into.

How will you style the rest of your ensemble?

I would like to make a headpiece with the fabric to match. I am also open to the idea of finding the perfect hat scouring vintage shops. I will wear brown shoes purchased years ago from Argentina. They are in the style of the 20s and great for dancing. Accessories to include Gregg’s great grandmother’s watch and my grandmother’s pearls.

I like that you’re using family pieces. That adds charm and authenticity.

What do you like the most about attending Gatsby Summer Afternoon?

Everything! Haha. I was amazed at the level of detail and enthusiasm around making the environment truly feel like a step back in time. Everything, down to the fork and knife, provided a delicious taste of the 20s. The Royal Society Jazz Orchestra and dancing could not have been more fun. I think that (fittingly) was my favorite part of the day.  Hope to see you on dance floor!

IMG_20180801_130000Thank you, Katie. We’ll make sure to catch you and Gregg out on the dance floor. Don’t forget to enter the Charleston dance contest AND the costume contest. 

Gatsby Summer Afternoon, Sunday September 9, 2018. Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate, 2960 Peralta Oaks Ct., Oakland, CA. Click here for more information.

See you there, old sport!

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Zack Pinsent. Photo: BBC

Why dress up in jeans and a t-shirt if you can go along to Tesco dressed as Napoleon or something?

Zack Pinsent, British tailor who specializes in Regency period clothing.

Zack dresses full time in period clothing. He’s a part of a new BBC television show, My Friend Jane, which is all about modern day fans of Jane Austen.

Speaking of period clothing, later this week I am on my way to Costume College. For the very first time I’ll be joining the ranks of other period clothing enthusiasts for three days of fashion history lectures and workshops such as:

  • Making the Phantom Bustle
  • 18th Century Coat Construction
  • How to Set an Authentic 16th Century Ruff

… just to mention a few.

I am most interested in fashion history so I’ll be headed to the lecture classes. I’m looking forward to learning about 18th century fabrics, changes in women’s fashions 1774-1784, Hanbok – modern historical Korean dress, and much much more!

Costume College is an annual “costuming arts conference” brought to us by Costumer’s Guild West, Inc.

You can be sure I’ll be writing about this and posting on Instagram.

Follow along #overdressed4life.

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SE14-beach-couple-romance-seasideOnce upon a time, quite recently, a couple from Washington State planned a wedding anniversary treat to visit Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. Excited and ready to enjoy their day, the pair showed up all decked out in what they say is everyday wear for them: head-to- toe Victorian. They were abruptly told Butchart Gardens has a “no costumes” policy and unless they wanted to change into some old clothes sitting around in the back, they had to leave. According to the couple’s lengthy blog post about the incident, there was a lot of discussion, both sides rigid in their positions:

– We don’t allow costumes here.

– These aren’t costumes … this is what we wear every day.

Well, you can’t wear them here, whatever you want to call them.

The reason for the policy, explained by a manager, is that it’s confusing to other attendees who might think the costumed people are staff employees.

In the end the couple had to leave but they were (after a lot of arguing, again according to the blog post) given their money back.

This story brings up very interesting issues: What is costume? Where and when are costumes appropriate? The American College Dictionary defines costume as: dress or garb belonging to another period, place, etc. 

People who sport period clothing outfits full time, a growing trend, will argue that what they are wearing is their regular clothing and therefore not costumes. OK, from their perspective. But it seems to me that these well-dressed individuals don’t understand that to most everyone else (dressed head-to-toe in ath-leisure) they do indeed look like they’re in costume and that’s what can pose problems for museums and other attractions. The historical silhouettes of the Victorian period in particular – bustles and top hats for example – are so far from what we know and have known for nearly two centuries, of course they’re costumes. I can understand the potential for confusion and the need for policies.

I think part of the costume problem is the variety of costumes that are popping up. It’s not just period clothing but also animals, comic book characters, and masks which are a security issue.  Apparently, Butchart Gardens had a person show up in a ladybug costume. A teenage girl dressed as Tinkerbell caused all kinds of confusion at Disneyland. Venues don’t want the distractions and I don’t blame them. They have to draw a line and stick to it and … it’s not personal.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to see and be among people dressed Victorian, Edwardian, or any past era of lovely clothing. It’s a far prettier picture than shorts, jeans, tank tops, baseball caps and flip flops. But I do think that those of us who dress in period clothing, whether all the time or just occasionally, should keep in mind that actually, we live in the 21 century and it’s rude to walk around in our garb insisting that the rules/policies shouldn’t apply to us. The fact is that our clothing choices to most of the world are costumes and perhaps we should take responsibility for that by checking out various venue policies ahead of time to avoid confrontation and disappointment. (The Buchart Gardens have their policy clearly posted on their website.)

Also, perhaps staff at these venues should be trained on how to handle people who are sporting costumes. Sneering and such is unnecessary and a very bad reflection on the individual staff member as well as the place of business.

Respect on both sides will go a long way.



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Helen Uffner (far right) and her helpers. Left to right: Chelsea Bjerk, Lauren Bostic, and Dan Travis. Photo: Richard Aiello.

Helen Uffner (far right) and her helpers. Left to right: Chelsea Bjerk, Lauren Bostic, and Dan Travis. Photo: Richard Aiello.

Helen Uffner is well-known around NYC and Hollywood for having the best old duds. She runs her own business renting period clothing and accessories for theater productions, films, television, magazine editorials, and book covers. 

I met Ms. Uffner over hats at the reception opening for the Milliner’s Guild exhibition. When I mentioned that I write about fashion and have a fondness for vintage, Ms. Uffner generously invited my partner and me to her warehouse.

Now that’s an offer I wasn’t going to refuse. Plans we had for the next day were forgotten as we hopped on the subway to Queens and knocked on the door of Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing, LLC.

It seemed a fun place to work. Vintage tunes played in the background as staff chatted with actors who were getting fitted for a local play. A woman visiting from Hollywood was sorting out costumes for an upcoming film. 

When not busy reorganizing or working with clients, the staff model some of the merchandise for Ms. Uffner’s Etsy site, Vintage Pickle. Apparently on some days they just can’t resist playing dress-up.

What started as a personal collection for Ms. Uffner is now a 6000-plus square foot warehouse of clothing for men, women, and children from the 1860s on.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Since she was a young teen, Ms. Uffner has been drawn to all things antique and vintage. Her first purchase was a 1920s beaded dress for $5, which she found at a flea market in Connecticut. “Then I went to a big antique faire,” she explains, “and I had to debate for about an hour and a half whether or not I could spend $20 on an Edwardian dress.” Good sense won out and she still has both of those dresses.

As a fine arts major in college, Ms. Uffner continued to collect but never with the thought of wearing her pieces. She preferred to study the fabric and construction of what she considers works of art. Everything she bought she hung or kept in boxes at home. Before long she became the go-to person for friends and friends-of-friends in need of a costume for this or that. One day the costume designer for Woody’s Allen’s film, Zelig came over and ended up buying just about everything Ms. Uffner had. (BTW, the film won an Academy Award in 1984 for Best Costumes.) It was then that she realized she could rent rather than sell, and a business was born.

In addition to basic clothing, Ms. Uffner has undergarments for men and women, hats, handbags, ties, shoes, anything needed for a complete period ensemble. Among her many clients are popular fashion designers who rent pieces to copy for their own lines.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Ms. Uffner stores everything on racks or shelving arranged by time period, then color and fabric. “We don’t quite do it by decade,” she explains, “but by how styles changed.” Interns are charged with sifting through the racks looking for misplaced pieces, which is a great way to learn about vintage details. Details that Ms. Uffner can rattle off the top of her head. Such as, button-fly trousers for men are Victorian to the early 1930s.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Over the past 35 years, Ms. Uffner has provided clothing for the films Fatal Attraction, Out of Africa, The Color Purple, Mona Lisa Smiles, Julie & Julia, Mildred Pierce (HBO), and Far From Heaven just to name a few. Currently staff is working on 42 and Behind the Candelabra. Theater productions include The Producers, The Seagull, Trip to Bountiful, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Oh, and Catherine Martin, costume designer for the new Great Gatsby film spent six months visiting the warehouse and renting various pieces for inspiration.

Ms. Uffner is still actively buying, both for the business and her collection. She says her personal favorites are not necessarily the pretty dressy pieces, but the character clothes – the faded, patched, lived-in and worn. “Because they have a story.”

Ms. Uffner spent two hours showing us around and answering our questions. It was a rare NYC treat for this vintage-lovin’ tourist.

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