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Posts Tagged ‘vintage fashion’

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Not all vintage needs to be professionally cleaned. Many articles can be hand washed, and some can even go in the washing machine, although I almost never use a drier for my vintage. Hand-washable vintage includes simple cotton or linen dresses, skirts, and blouses; woolen sweaters (even cashmere); and knitwear that is unlined. Because vintage lingerie was made to be easily laundered at home, most is hand-washable, even silks and rayon.

Melody Fortier, a vintage clothing dealer and author of The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping: Insider Tips, Helpful Hints, Hip Shops (Quirk Books, 2009).

I have a confession – I love to hand wash. I like the hands-on cleaning, the smell of Woolite, and I particularly like hanging the clothing outside in the sun and fresh air. At the end of each season, I pile up the staples: sweaters, blouses, scarves, etc. and put them in my mending/washing cotton bag. I do any needed mending first and then off to the laundry room sink I go for some meditative hand washing.

As much as I enjoy this domestic task, it is now a luxury because we here in California are in the midst of a serious drought. Year after year since around 2010 we have had little to no rain. A ridge of high pressure just off the coast is to blame. It sits there sometimes for weeks blocking all the rain storms that we should get. It’s depressing.

It takes a lot of water to hand wash, so I fill up the tub less than half full and wash only what absolutely cannot go in the machine. To help keep my vintage (and all my clothing) fresh after a day of wear, I hang it in the bathroom or laundry room and air it out for a day or two. Often I’ll open a window and let the air circulate.

It never hurts to take good care of our clothing.

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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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A late 1940s shirtwaist housedress. Illustration from Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume & Style.

Housedresses are what women used to wear when they stayed at home. They didn’t flop around in their pajamas like we do today and sweats didn’t exist yet. People, both women and men, dressed at home, casually yes, but always presentable in fear of the unexpected guest.

Usually made of cotton, housedresses were a simple drop waist in the 1920s or a shirtwaist in the 1940s. The sheath silhouette in the 60s gave way to the billowy boho housedress of the 70s. Styles changed but the purpose didn’t – something nice to wear at home while doing housework or just lounging. (Men wore khaki slacks and a polo shirt, maybe jeans.) But by the 1980s women were working outside the home and the whole idea disappeared.

That is until Pandemic Year 2020. Stuck at home for months, by summertime last year women were looking for an alternative to leggings and tunics and designers were on it – the housedress.

Check back in with ODFL tomorrow when Housedress Week continues with a post about a vintage dress turned housedress.

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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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I have many of my late mother’s dresses from the 70s. Some are unraveling, but I feel close to her when I wear them around my house. There’s a red floral one that reminds me of summers in Oklahoma.

Sherri McMullen – boutique owner.

Originally from Oklahoma, Ms. McMullen owns the fashion boutique McMullen, located in downtown Oakland. Offering luxury clothing by designers from around the world, McMullen has been named among the top American boutiques by Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily.

I also own much of my mother’s clothing from the 50s to the 70s and I can relate to what Ms. McMullen is saying. These vintage pieces of fashion are woven with memories and images that connect us to our past. I think that’s of great value.

Sunday, May 9th is Mother’s Day. ODFL wishes all the moms out there a very happy day!

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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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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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