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Our selection of articles covering period fashion from the 1920s to the 1970s, fashion and designer history, style tips for putting together vintage looks.

Why a Good Seamstress is your Wardrobe’s Secret Weapon

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seamstress

Ask any couturier about the importance of a proper fit and they will all agree that it is absolutely essential. No matter how expensive the fabric or beautiful the design, without proper fit neither the garment, nor your figure,  will ever be presented in their best light .

On the other hand it doesn’t take a couture garment to make a woman look her best. Even off the rack clothing can be transformed with a bit of strategic alteration. The importance of flattering fit is absolute for the red carpet crowd and high society, right down to their jeans. After all, the paparazzi is ever present and it only takes one unflattering photo to get tongues wagging!

There was a time when the benefit of proper fit was understood by all walks of society.  But in our era of stretch fabrics and cheap throw away clothing it has become less important for the average person. Vintage clothing, on the other hand, was usually made of woven fabric, made to last and designed to enhance the figure, something that many of today’s fabrics do NOT do for most of us. And women back in the day were very aware of how much more flattering an outfit could be if it was tailored properly.

As a former dressmaker and current vintage dealer it frustrates me when I see a woman pass on a vintage garment she loves over fitting issues that could be easily resolved with a bit of expert alteration. A sagging shoulder line or an unaligned bust point can make a dress look frumpy. Yet a skilled seamstress can adjust these seams to create a more alluring line. She will also have an eye for the best hem length to suit your proportions or your best sleeve length. The majority of figures have different “size zones”…  shoulder width, bust, waist, hip.

In  many cases there is no need to give up on a garment you love just because one area is not fitting when the rest does. A decent dressmaker will be able to tell you what can and cannot be done. Many vintage garments often have enough seam allowance to let out bust, waist or hips and nipping in is almost always possible. Sometimes the fix is so easy you won’t believe it. Magic can happen just by moving buttons or tucking a strap. A customer I once had was utterly smitten with a vintage gown but when she came out of the fitting room she was nearly in tears. The color looked gorgeous on her, the waist and hips fit perfectly, even the length was right,  but the bodice drooped awkwardly. Since the gown had spaghetti straps all I had to do was pull them up a couple of inches and the bodice moved right into place. The alteration was simple but it made all the difference.

Below is a before and after of a dress that was originally a couple of sizes too large for the customer, and was altered smaller to fit her. You can see how a garment can be totally transformed in the hands of a good alteration specialist.

dress altered

So,  if you love authentic vintage, or even retro fashions,  and you want to wear it well,  I highly recommend you take the time to find a good dressmaker or seamstress. Recommendation by word of mouth is usually best.  But you can also call the alterations department at a better department store or bridal salon and ask there.

Here are three helpful tips for when you are having alterations done

1. There should be no guesswork involved. Your seamstress should have you in front of a mirror with the dress on as she pins you on BOTH sides. A proper pinning will give you a good idea of the results. If the garment needs to be let out she should measure how much. If the alteration is complicated a good seamstress knows to baste first which will require more than one fitting.

2. Dress hems should always be measured and marked all around not just in one spot. This will assure an even hemline. If your seamstress does not do this I would go elsewhere.

3. If you are having a garment let out, ask your seamstress if the old seam lines will be inconspicuous. You can’t always prevent all traces but you can usually minimize them enough so they are not obvious. Different fabrics are more forgiving than others and there are tricks of the trade to help. She should have some idea what to expect.

Of course, alterations add to the cost of the garment. But if you find a talented seamstress she can transform your clothes so they look more expensive and enhance your figure in ways you never dreamed possible.  Excellent reasons that certainly make it a worthy investment!

 

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Hello Easter Bonnet, Goodbye Winter!

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Easter hats and Joanne Woodward-Family Circle Magazine

Easter hats and Joanne Woodward-Family Circle Magazine-1958

Image source

Spring is springing and Easter is almost here! Many Easter traditions have their roots in pre-christian, ancient times, including the Easter bonnet.

During ancient times women wove crowns of fresh flowers to wear at Spring gatherings to celebrate the renewal of the earth and the end of winter. By the 16th century it had become customary to wear new clothing at Easter and in the 1870s the NYC Easter parade was established where couples strolled 5th avenue en mass, to show off their Easter finery. Competition was fierce and fashions were cutting edge. As hats were considered an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe, a fabulous Easter chapeaux became essential. Victorian women loaded theirs with ribbons, silk and flowers.

Easter hats-McCalls Magazine-1920

Spring  hats-McCalls Magazine-1920

 

Although hat trends changed drastically over the decades, the idea of the festive Easter bonnet remained steadfast. Even the simple cloche of the 1920s took a fanciful turn for Spring and during the depression of the 1930s, when most women were diligently pinching pennies, they still found a way to make or buy a new hat at Easter time. After WW11 women were more than ready to relax their frugal ways and the fashion industry was there to oblige. Styles became more feminine and lavish and the idea of a new outfit for Easter morphed from tradition to craze. Of course the “Easter Bonnet” took on special importance, with many women coordinating their entire ensemble around the hat they chose…gloves, purse, shoes, jewelry and dress or suit.

Easter bonnet-1945

Easter bonnet-1945

Back in the day women didn’t need much of an excuse to get dolled up, but today our closets are filled with jeans and T-shirts and dressing up is the exception instead of the rule. But weddings and Easter are two of the final hold outs where one can pull out all the stops to look like a million bucks. Dressing up for Easter is still pretty popular nowadays.  And although the Easter bonnet might not be as common as it once was , it’s still a fun way to herald Springs arrival.

Navy Saucer Hat

Navy Saucer Hat

Now the question is, how DOES one find a fabulous Easter hat, when milliners have become rare as hens teeth?  You really need to hit the vintage market.  The array of choices will astound you, as will the quality and prices.  Maybe a sweet pastel cloche from the 2os or perhaps a smart 40s tilt hat, bedecked with ribbons and veil. Like a bit of drama? Look for wide brim, portrait or platter hats. Want even more drama? The plain pillbox might be iconic of the 60s but there was a lot more going on in the hat world at the time.  Fashion was being pushed to the outer limits and bold, statement hats were having their day. Millinery might have been fading from popularity at the time but you can find some jaw dropping designs from this era.

Vintage Easter Bonnets

Vintage Easter Bonnets

1. 60s Pink chiffon and flowers hat  2. Pink 60s toque with netting and flowers
3. Vintage chiffon flowers half hat   4. Flower pillbox hat.

Too timid to wear a full hat?  I have a personal fondness for the little 50s  flowered half hats, or what is often referred to as  “cracked egg style” or shell bonnets. Or try a decorative vintage or retro headband or even a simple silk flower tucked behind your ear.

Whatever your choice, hello Easter Bonnet goodbye long cold winter!

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On Her Birthday-A Tribute to Doris Day’s Chic Ladylike Style

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Today is the lovely film icon Doris Day’s birthday. So I thought it was a good time to do a tribute to her fabulously chic  ladylike style.

I’ve always loved watching  her movies.  From her romantic comedies, like Pillow Talk to her more dramatic roles such as The Man Who Knew Too Much and Love Me or Leave Me,  Doris has always brought a special presence to the screen. Her sparkling blue eyes, beautiful blonde hair and sunny smile will always brighten my day!

Beside enjoying her acting and singing,  her stylish wardrobe has always been a sight to behold.  She has excelled at pulling off that perfect combination of wholesomeness, femininity and sex appeal.

This quote by her found on the very entertaining Heck Yeah Doris Day Tumblr blog says it best in regards to her outlook on appearance.

Sex is not a low-cut dress, no girdle look. You don’t have to wiggle on screen to be sexy. Nobody really knows what men like. I get fan mail from men who find me very sexy and I don’t wear low-cut clothes. That does not epitomize sex to me. It’s an inner quality. Sex has to come from within. It’s not what someone is wearing or how much she’s exposing.”

I think it’s great fashion advice that certainly still applies today!

It was hard to narrow it down, she has worn so many lovely things. But here are some of my favorites. Hope they inspire you to add a little Doris Day style to your wardrobe!

Doris Day in belted dress.

Belted shirtwaist dress with contrast cuffs and collar. Looks great with those cute Mary Jane style pumps with little bows!

Windowpane check suit.

Chic windowpane check dress suit smartly paired with black gloves, belt and neck scarf.          
White gown worn in Midnight Lace- Irene Lentz costume designer
White bugle bead encrusted evening gown worn in Midnight Lace designed by Irene Lentz. This is also the same dress Doris wore to the Academy Awards for her nomination for best actress in Pillow Talk.
Suit worn in The Man Who Knew Too Much-Edith Head costume designer
Chic tailored  suit worn in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Edith Head design.
Green floral dress worn in The Man Who Knew Too Much

Green floral dress worn in The Man Who Knew Too Much(1956). Edith Head costume designer.

Green silk coat and dress ensemble-Pillow Talk- Jean Louis Designer
Green satin coat and dress ensemble worn in Pillow Talk (1959). Designed by Jean Louis.
Double breasted dress with collar worn while singing I Speak To the Stars
Double breasted full skirt dress with portrait collar. Worn here while singing "I Speak to the Stars" from Lucky Me (1954). Moss Mabry, costume designer.
Black suit worn in Midnight Lace-Irene Lentz design
Gorgeous black belted coat ensemble worn in Midnight Lace (1960). Love the brooch accent and long leather gloves! Irene Lentz design.
Sexy black cigarette pants with black lace top worn in Midnight Lace-Irene Lentz design


Sexy black cigarette pants with lace top. Worn in Midnight Lace (1960). Irene Lentz design.


Shimmery 1940s halter neck gown


Doris looking vampish in fabulous 40s halter neck gown.

Images sourced from Heck Yeah Doris Day blog and IMBD.

Have a glamorous day!

 

 

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New Arrivals! Lace and Tulle Gowns with Glam 1930s Flair

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I absolutely adore the fashions from the 1930s. In the  1920s  the trend was toward a more loose fitting silhouette that reflected womens’ rebellion against the restrictive styles of the turn of the century. But when the 30s rolled around dresses became more form fitting with an emphasis on  the waistline and back.

Also, in the 1930s  designer Madliene Vionnet popularized the “bias cut”  with her sensual figure flattering gowns. Many of the glamorous silver screen stars at the time wore costumes of this style in their movies, fueling the trend for these looks.

Because of this, the fashions from the 1930s tend to be very feminine, sleek and body conscious, but in a very classy way.

Mary Brian actress

Mary Brian actress

Publicity still of Mary Brian in a Robert Kalloch gown, for the movie “Fog” in 1933
Image source

30s dresses like the one above inspired my latest offering of gowns. Capturing the romantic elegance and styling of this decade,  they’d make a lovely  choice for a spring or summer wedding for a vintage loving bride or  her wedding guests. Click on images for more information.

30s inspired champagne lace gown

30s inspired champagne lace gown

Ivory lace over palest champagne jersey. Shimmery beaded appliques decorate this 30’s inspired gown and matching capelet.  Available in Sizes Med-XXL  $279.00

Silver tulle and lace illusion bodice gown

Silver tulle and lace illusion bodice gown

Gold illusion bodice tulle and lace gown

Gold illusion bodice tulle and lace gown

Embroidered lace gown with tulle godets for a beautiful flared hem. Illusion bodice with sheer back. Waist enhancing bow belt.  Available in small-XL. $199.00  Comes in robins egg blue as well.

Have a glamorous day!

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What They Wore-1926 Spring Fashion

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Here’s a look at what the fashion trends were for spring 1926 as featured in Woman’s Home Companion. There were no glossy multi page fashion spreads with models back then. But the illustrations were beautiful!

The dropped waist silhouette was still popular, as were handkerchief hems, cloche hats, bobbed hair, capes and chiffon prints.

The 1920s was the first decade where young people started to really influence fashion.  From an article called “Where Do Styles Start?” in the editorial section, here is a quote referring to this new phenomenon.

“With  a bow in the direction of our fashion editors, at home and in Paris, we must concede much truth to a recent comment in the commercial news about style. It is that no designer can create a style trend. The only thing to do is to watch the young people.”

Chiffon print dresses 1926

Chiffon print dresses 1926

Above is an illustration by John La Gatta that features flower print chiffon dresses. The one on left has a skirt with fluttery pleated fans and jabots. The one on the right actually has a circular skirt.

Katherine Sturgis design

Katherine Sturgis design

A frock and fabric design called “Camillias” by Katharine Sturgis.

Dress with capes-1926

Dress with capes-1926

Dresses with matching capes sold at Neiman Marcus.
The one on left in black dragon satin. On right printed red, yellow, black and white crepe de chine.

 

1926 cape coats

1926 cape coats

Another trend was a coat with attached cape. From the article.
“It’s a silhouette for youth and swagger, for vivid novelty fabrics of the
tweed school.”

The one on the left is very interesting with it’s striped top and checkered bottom.

 

Chiffon dresses with handkerchief hems

Chiffon dresses with handkerchief hems

I love the band and tied collar attached above the V neckline on dress at left and the shoulder bow
with long sash on right.

Dresses from the Bella Hess Catalog 1926

Dresses from the Bella Hess Catalog

I am completely smitten with these dresses from the Spring/Summer Bellas Hess Catalog!
It was  one of the first of the big mail order companies and was based out of Greenwich Village
in New York.

Molyneux red and black crepe dress

Molyneux red and black crepe dress

An actual photograph of model wearing a red and black crepe dress by famous designer Edward Molyneux, who opened his own couture house in 1919. Known for his elegant, streamlined creations and exquisite fabrics, he was a favorite of  film stars and the high society set, including the Duchess of Windsor. Photograph by Paul O’Doye, Paris.

Hats in felt and taffeta

Hats in felt and taffeta

Felt cloche hats and  an adorable taffeta hat with upturned front brim  by Rollé.

These Jazz Era looks were chic, feminine and timeless.  Which ones would you consider wearing today?

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