Tag Archive | resortwear

Exotic Tina Leser Sundresses


Cotton print sundresses from the 40s and 50s are my favorite outfits to wear.  I guess living in Florida has something to do with my attraction to these dresses, since I get to wear them almost year round! 

And not too many people designed sundresses better than Tina Leser.  She was the pioneer of playclothes,  being one of the first to design ready to wear sportswear and resortwear for the casual American lifestyle. Her innovative designs were heavily influenced by her global travels,  since she travelled extensively through Europe, Africa and Asia.

She moved to Honoulu in 1935 with her husband, where she opened a boutique to sell her own designs. In the 1940’s she visited New York, bringing with her a playsuit she had designed from Phillipino cotton fabric.  Saks Fifth Avenue ordered 500 after they saw it.  She won a Neiman Marcus and Coty Fashion Award in 1945 and continued designing until 1982. You can read more about her in this great article written by Vintage Fashion Guild member, Lizzie Bramlett.  Another good source of information on Ms. Leser and other  talented mid-twentieth century designers is  "New York Fashion, The Evolution of American Style"  by Caroline Rennolds  Milbank.

I’m fortunate to have two of her amazing sundresses,  as it it pretty rare these days to find any of her clothing from the 40’s and 50’s. The first  is done in a gorgeous bright tomato red batik print.  I love the one shoulder style on the bodice and how she joined the two sections of fabric together with the tasselled tie.  She very often liked making her skirts look sarong like. On this dress yards of fabric were gathered at the left side of the waist, the folds creating an interesting focal point.


This lovely dress  is definitely influenced by her trip to India, with its exotic print,  metallic trim and sari like draping.



Both for sale right now at Blue Velvet Vintage .

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In Vogue- Newport Fashion Exhibit at Rosecliff


Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of visiting Rosecliff, another of Newport’s spectacular mansions. The tour was fantastic and included a fashion exhibit and lecture by the Newport Preservation Society’s dress historian, Rebecca Kelly, called "In Vogue-Newport and the American Fashion Press 1880-1920."

First of all, for some background and a picture of the famous ballroom, to give you an idea of what a romantic atmosphere it has. At the turn of the century, silver heiress Theresa Fair Oerlichs hosted lavish parties in Rosecliff’s 40 x 80 ballroom, the largest in Newport. Cole Porter, a frequent guest, played and composed music there. Scenes from several movies have been filmed at the mansion, including "The Great Gatsby", the tango scene with Arnold Schwarzzeneger in "True Lies" and the court scenes from "Amistad." Even today, many weddings are held there and photographers use it frequently as a backdrop for fashion shoots.


Though they wouldn’t let us take photos inside, I was able to find this picture of the ballroom at the Visit Rhode Island Website. Doors running the length of the room open up onto a massive porch overlooking a pool with a fountain, a huge expanse of lawn, then the ocean beyond.

Here’s a photo I took from the porch on the backside of ballroom.


Front entrance to mansion.


Garden fountain and front view of ballroom.


This years exhibit focuses on fashionable resort and sportswear, the evolution of which began at the turn of the century in vacation spots of the wealthy, such as Newport. Beside the collection of period costumes designed to accomodate women’s growing participation in outdoor activites, like horseback riding, yachting, golf and cycling(they called it wheeling back then), there was also a very interesting display of bathing costumes, including a wool Jantzen suit from the early 1900’s. I can just imagine how uncomfortable it felt when wearing it while wet, never mind it would probably make you sink like a rock! There was only one evening outfit in the display, but it was an amazing Worth gown from 1910. High waisted with a columnar shaped skirt, the popular silouette of that period. The skirt was comprised of tiers of fine red netting and beautiful red flowers with black centers were applied at the waist and bodice. It’s unfortunate they don’t allow anyone to take photos of anything inside these buildings, as it is really difficult to describe the beauty of this dress or anything else on display there, for that matter!!

The lecture tied in nicely with the clothing exhibit, covering how fashion periodicals, such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were the first to begin reporting on the what the fashionable leisure class was wearing while summering in Newport and the subsequent rise of the American womens’ sportswear apparel industry. The lecture was also accompanied by magazine photos and illustrations depicting the popular resortwear fashions of that time.

Though the lecture was for one day only, I believe the fashion exhibit can be viewed all year as part of the regular mansion tour.

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