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Posts Tagged ‘vintage fashion’

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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Clare Spera and RBG, circa 2010.

Now that my grandmother is gone, I am humbled and comforted when I wear her clothes. These items carry more than just a legacy of sartorial elegance; they are a tangible reminder of the woman underneath the judicial robe and of everything she taught me, from lessons in style to how best to continue to strive toward a “more perfect union.” Her thoughtful wardrobe choices – never an accessory out of place, a story behind every piece of clothing she wore – were but one aspect of her incredible mind and attention to detail.

Clara Spera, reproductive rights litigator at the American Civil Liberties Union.

This quote is taken from the essay, My Bubbie Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Ms. Spera in Harper’s Bazaar, Jan/Feb 2021. In her essay, Ms. Spera talks about the bond she had with her grandmother over clothing and fighting gender inequality.

I have long been fascinated with the idea that more is woven into our clothing than just fiber. There is memory, association, reflection, time, and place. It interests me that an article of clothing can, over time and wear, absorb so much of who we are. I have pieces of clothing that belonged to my mother in various stages of her fashion life. Entwined in each sweater, skirt, dress, coat, are scraps of her life and my childhood – her days as an urban mom at home, her fling with Hippie Style, and those challenging years she was a working mom. I even have clothing that hung in her closet before I was born, which has allowed for imaginings of an even younger woman who attended cocktail parties and wore a suit to shop downtown.

Like Ms. Spera, I take comfort in every piece of my mother’s clothing that I have. They are like time portals for me.

Today, March 15, would have been Ruth Bader Ginsburg 88th birthday.

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Barbara Jefford as Lady Lydia Eliott. Note Lydia’s collar, reminiscent of the 17th century Ruff.

She spends all that money on clothes and she still manages to look cheap. No doubt her latest young man tells her bad taste is all the rage.

Lady Lydia Eliott, fictional character played by Barbara Jefford in the British television series The House of Eliott.

A little “mean girl” humor.

The House of Eliott is one of my all time favorite British series. Created by Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh (Upstairs Downstairs), it features two sisters who face hardships as independent women fashion designers in 1920s London. I own the entire series on DVD and I watch it when I’m feeling low or just need an escape. Of course I pulled it out in Pandemic Year 2020 and that’s when I happened to catch this funny line.

I’m quite fond of Lady Lydia. She’s so biting, she’s hilarious, and Ms. Jefford is wonderful at balancing the cattiness of Lydia with her vulnerability. I think a good snooty character is great fun.

Click here for another post I wrote on The House of Eliott.

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It was a mask. Aggressively dazzling in self-protection. The first day I came to see Allendy I wore a draped costume and a Byzantine hat, and I succeeded in intimidating him by my strangeness … A desire to be more interesting, more accentuated. A role. I played the role of a sophistication which was not truly my own. In all this he seemed so right. I began to see how much of an armor my costumes had been. I remembered that to please Henry I wear for him softer and more youthful things, and that I hated when he decided to take me to Montparnasse to meet people in these puerile clothes. I wanted so much my draperies and Russian hat. Like an armor.

Anais Nin (1903-1977), French author.

This quote is taken from the diary of Ms. Nin written in 1932. I found it in an article by Gwendolyn M. Michel titled “A Woman with a Hundred Faces: The Dress and Appearance of Anis Nin, 1931-1932, published in Dress: The Journal of the Costume Society of America.

Ms. Nin refers to her therapist Dr. Rene Allendy, with whom she discussed her body image issues. She felt she was too skinny, flat chested, and not curvaceous enough. (Ironic, as she had the 1920s ideal figure.) Ms. Nin at the time was having an affair with American author Henry Miller, while also she was quite intrigued by his wife June. For a short time she tried to emulate June’s less fashionable more bohemian style. It didn’t work for her.

I think many of us use clothing as armor one way or another. When we dress-up or at least dress differently from the norm, we perhaps intimidate; prompt glances from afar but no actual communication. When we dress as everyone else does we blend in, hiding among the crowds. Both are a sort of protection.

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Recently I was going through papers looking for something that I didn’t find but I did unearth something else – a letter from me to my mother when I was in college.

Mom has kept pretty much every letter, card, and postcard I ever sent to her from college (I was in another state) and traveling. I wrote to her a lot and she to me. It was something we just did, regularly. We spoke on the phone as well but that was expensive so we kept calls to once a week or so.

Since my mother moved, all of this correspondence is now with me. Luckily, I am old enough to appreciate their value as a window through which to view the many stages of my own life. A few years earlier, into the recycle bin they would have gone.

This letter was written right before Thanksgiving back when a stamp cost 22 cents. In it I thanked her for a card she sent to me and ten dollars (it seemed I was always cash poor when I was in college, even though I had a part-time job). I told her about a paper I was working on for my British history class and the following:

I put together the most fabulous outfit. I wore the gold and black circle skirt I made (you remember) with the 40s satin jacket you gave me and sheer light green stockings and my brown 40s shoes I bought with you. My jewelry was perfect, a copper leaf pattern necklace that lays flat on my collar bone and these funky 40s (or 50s) drop earrings that are oranges. The whole outfit was just great. I got a lot of attention. You wouldn’t believe how perfectly that jacket goes with the skirt.

I mentioned that I put together this outfit for a reception at a furniture store that I attended with my then boyfriend. I don’t recall that night or the outfit and I don’t have a photo, but I do remember each element of the outfit.

I still have the satin jacket, which has a Don Loper label. I Love Lucy fans might recognize that name; Mr. Loper (1906-1972) was the Hollywood fashion and costume designer who played himself in a 1955 episode of Lucy titled The Fashion Show. I suspect my jacket originally had a matching skirt. (Wouldn’t that have been quite jazzy!)

The skirt I paired with the jacket was a cotton circle skirt that I made. It had a large abstract black stick figure pattern and patch pockets. It was somewhat ethnic looking and an odd match with the dressy jacket but that’s what made the outfit so interesting. I also still have the shoes – brown suede with a slight platform and a three inch heel. I often wear these shoes to period costume events.

The copper necklace (purchased at Emporium, the only vintage store in my college town) I have since passed along as well as the earrings, which were little oranges made of plastic. I like how I played with color and wasn’t afraid to do a mix up. I wish I had mentioned what handbag I chose.

Even though I don’t have a photo, I can still picture that outfit as if I had worn it yesterday and I’m so pleased to have stumbled upon the forgotten evening thanks to a simple letter to my mom.

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It’s not leggings and an oversized t-shirt, so it’s fashion.

Anonymous

While flipping through the September 2020 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, I came upon a photo spread that included the image to the right. Thinking out loud I said, “This is fine, but there’s nothing fashionable about it.”

I actually like this outfit. From the crewneck sweater layered over a button-down shirt to the brown leather clogs, it’s very much a retro 1970s look. It’s snappy and sporty, however, it’s not cutting edge or unique in any way and I don’t understand why the heck it was in the big September fashion issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

Perhaps my friend is right, that anything other than leggings and t-shirts is what passes for fashion these days.

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I was inspired by stylist Bella McFadden to sift through my closet and do some of my own 90s styling. Using a skirt of that era, I put together an outfit that I actually remember wearing to a family dinner, circa 1997. Then I thought about how someone like Ms. McFadden might take the same skirt and create an outfit for today adding other 90s pieces but creating a completely different look.

My original outfit includes a silk blouse by Kiss of the Wolf and a velvet quilted jacket with a mandarin collar. By then I was already in the habit of including vintage touches (1930s-60s), which I believe make any outfit much more interesting – in this case the 1940s shoes and handbag with a Lucite handle. I wore two strands of pearls, one in cream and one in grey, which matches the grey buttons on the blouse. The large Victorian jet ring is a favorite of mine that I wear more now than I did then. The bracelet is a 1930s faux pearl cuff. Adding the vintage pieces and wearing a simple jacket makes this outfit almost timeless. Almost. The skirt gives it away.

I had fun putting together a 90s retro outfit using the same skirt and other pieces I have in my wardrobe which date from that era. Back in the day, I would not have worn those shoes nor the fancy fishnets with that skirt but I was thinking Bella McFadden and what she might have done with the same pieces.

I layered the simple t-shirt with a camisole and added a couple of silver chains for a mix and match look. I pulled my hair up for a touch of quirky and those sunglasses are Anne Klein II from Macy’s. I’m not much of a belt person but this woven leather belt adds some needed edge as does the crossbody purse. Of course if I’m going to sport this ensemble today, I need a mask.

So there we have two completely different looks using the same skirt. It’s all down to the styling!

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This lovely Corde’ handbag is one of several that I own. Popular in the 1940s, Corde’ bags were made from rows of gimp (cord used for trim in clothing and furniture) stitched in interesting patterns to fabric backing. The inside label says “A Genuine Corde’ Registered Trademark. Made in England.”

I add a tulle bow for festive holiday outings.

A gift from my mother, I don’t save this handbag for just vintage events; I use it often for special occasions and evenings out. It holds quite a lot and the handle is just long enough to slip over my shoulder, which updates the look.

Tomorrow we come to the final day of The Twelve Days of Vintage Handbags. Don’t miss it!

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For our final vintage handbag of the series I present this lovely gold mesh evening bag by Whiting and Davis.

Most vintage enthusiasts have a Whiting and Davis in their collection and mine came to me from my grandmother. It’s in such excellent condition I can hardly believe it dates from the 1930s.

The Whiting and Davis plant in MA, c.1920.

Whiting and Davis was the leading manufacturer of mesh handbags after the company patented mesh making machines in 1912. Located in Norfolk, MA the main American plant designed and constructed dozens of different patterns from painted mesh to enamel to silver or gold plate.

In 1966 the company sold but it’s still around today, still making mesh bags that sell at high-end stores for upwards of $200.

My gold Whiting and Davis mesh evening bag was the perfect choice for the ADSC 2016 Preservation Ball.

I often sport my vintage W&D at Art Deco evening events such as the ADSC Preservation Ball. I look forward to using it again, hopefully later this year.

And with that, we are at the end of The Twelve Days of Vintage Handbags. I hope readers have enjoyed the holiday series as much as I have. There will be another one next season. Hmm … what will it be? Stay with us this year and find out.

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This one was among my first and best purchases while I was still a college student. At that time there was a vintage shop called Emporium located on Campus Corner near the university. My friend and I would go in regularly and I also tended to stop by on my way home from classes. I was pretty broke in college so I had to be careful but, when I saw this clutch I didn’t hesitate. I don’t even recall how much I paid but I do remember that this shop was very reasonable with their pricing.

The bag is from the 1920s, made of leather with whip stitching on the edges and gold metal inserts. Inside there are several different size pockets, including one just the right size for business cards. (There are still a few of my cards tucked into that pocket as I had a small business making brooches and bolos out of vintage buttons and watch faces.) It expands to hold surprisingly quite a lot and I really like the option of using the strap at the top. It was and still is in excellent condition.

I used it often back then for evenings out to plays (I reviewed plays and movies for the college newspaper) or dinner. It was just the right touch to make an outfit pop.

We are rolling along and tomorrow is day eleven. What will our handbag be? Come back to find out.

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