Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A 60's moment

So I'm having a bit of a sixties moment in my own personal style at the moment. It all started with this little blue number I picked up when rifling through my motheers old clothes at Christmas;

She made it herself back in the 1960s, out of some cheap upholstery fabric she picked up somewhere. Back then of course, it was cheaper to buy some fabric and whip it up into a new outfit for the weekend than to go out and buy a ready made dress. That's sadly not so true in these days of Primarni.

I love this dress though, and luckily it's a perfect fit. I love it's simplicity and the little nipped in waist. Here's the back view;

I find it amusing that my mother insists she never wore skirts above the knee because she was a 'good church girl' who always wore modest clothes. Well, I'm only an inch or so taller than my mother, and this little dress comes quite a bit higher than knee high, so I suspect this was one of the times she tested the boundaries a bit as a young woman! It's funny now to think what a 'moral' issue the length of a skirt used to be - these days my only concerns when wearing a short skirt are purely practical ones!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Focus on: 1920's hat

I want to make sure that my new coat goes with one of my favourite items: this 1920's hat.

I've had this about five years, it having been a leaving gift from a previous job. Working in Islington, and my workmates knowing about my vintage obsession, I was taken on a little shopping trip to one of my favourite vintage shops in the area; Cloud Cuckoo Land in Camden Passage. I've spent very many happy lunch hours browsing in this wonderful shop, and on this occasion I came out with a twenties dress and this hat.

I'm thinking about trying to add decorations to the coat to match the hat, but the technique it's decorated in is a little tricky. Whilst from a distance it looks like it's beaded, it is in fact decorated with lengths of shiney piping sewn on in such a way that they reflect like beads.

Very pretty, but hard to replicate. Although somewhat delicate, it turns out. I do keep it in a hat box, but the very old stitching is starting to come away in a few places. It's quite small, just about ok for my head, but at times I have worn it over twenties style wigs, which I'm concerned might have put a bit too much strain on it. I'm considering how to go about mending it, but I may possibly just have to just wear it a lot less.

It has a makers label inside: 'Aileen, Paris, New York' but I've never been able to find any information about them.

1920s coat progress

So I've been stuck in bed with  stinking cold the last few days, and since trying to understand sewing patterns when you have a fever is generally a bad plan, I am now rather behind with putting my 1920s style coat together!

Still, I have managed to catch up today, and some good effort tomorrow should get me most of the way there. Cutting the pieces out seemed to take forever (cutting is my least favourite part of sewing);

But now I have managed to get the collar in, so just those tricky arms and lining still to do;

I have gone for cream brushed cotton (because it was cheaper than wool) with black velvet collar and cuffs. The idea is for it to both go with my original cream 1920s day dress and also my gorgeous original black cloche hat (which I shall show off later). In my head it works well, although I'm a little nervous about the reality - still, the proof will be in the pudding! so long as I get it finished in time...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A vintage valentines gentleman

This made me smile yesterday on a particularly horrible commute home last night;

I live in a rather lovely block of flats built in the 1930s, with lovely art deco style windows and doors. One of the other residents is a rather remarkable old gent (I hesitate to speculate on age, but he's certainly silvery haired) who can only be said to dress in exquisitely vintage gentleman's attire. In the winter, he goes out perfectly groomed with his grey pinstriped trousers, black overcoat umbrella and bowler hat. I wondered at first whether he was just one of those City workers who still dress in the old bankers uniform, but in the summer he instead appears in a blazer, boater and cane. He looks entirely fabulous in each, and the boater particularly always makes me smile, as I always imagine he is off to a tete-a-tete with some glamourous older lady.

Anyway, last night I was experiencing a horrendous journey home. The tubes and train were crammed with people either trying to get home for valentines evening or trying to get out for a valentines date, and then the Central line went down, causing massive overcrowding. When I finally got on a train home, the commuters were all, like me, in a thoroughy foul mood. Then there was some kind of 'incident' on a train ahead, and we were all trapped on a hugely crowded train stuck in the middle of no-where, being diverted to Staines.

Now, I was lucky enough to have a seat, but these commuter trains are a pretty horrendous experience if you're standing and it's crowded. I have fainted on them myself in the past, and seen others do so too. Some poor lass was apparently showing signs of doing just that, as suddenly a melifuous male voice insisted that this girl take his seat. I turned around to see that it was this very same fabulous old gent, despite being the elder of the two, offering, nay insisting that she take his seat, as she clearly needed it more. The poor girl protested but he was quite firm. Then, when a couple of stops later, she got off the train, he insisted one of the other ladies left standing take the seat despite her offering it to him.

So this perfectly attired gentleman (with a quite remarkable voicem it must be said!) proved himself to be a true gentleman in action as well (unlike any of the other blokes on the train, it has to be noted). This somehow pleases me immensley, and really does make the point that vintage is not just about age, it's about quality too.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Making time: 1920's coat

I'm heading off to a 1920's event next Friday which I've signed up to at the last minute. I've been having lots of fun digging out all my lovely twenties outfits, both original and replica and trying out different combinations, and starting to carefully pack them away in my georgeous portmantue. However - horror of horrors! - I can't find my twenties style coat any where!!

It's not an original, thank goodness, but I spent a long time tracking down a coat like this in charity shops all over the place. It's just simple black wool but the key part is that it had a lovely faux fur collor and was about the right shape to properly set off my 1920's outfits. Unfortunately never got many pictures of it, but his is one of the better photos of me in it (yes, I was trying to look all snooty on purpose!);

Anyway, I have a great fear that the last time we had a big flat clear out, the coat I said "yes you can chuck that one" to my husband may not have been the horrible old eighties coat I'd long gone off after all, but instead this much nicer one instead *sob*

So what to do? Well, I did take a wander around my favourite vintage shops, going goo-goo over the beautiful originals they had, but at prices starting around £200+ for good ones, I really can't justify the expenditure at the moment (one day, one day...!) So instead I am going for the option of making one instead.

after a bit of internet browsing, I fixed on this pattern:

planning to make the wide collared version. I was very impressed with Habithat, who got the pattern to me overnight. Having been whisked off for a romantic valentines weekend by my hubby (of which more later), I didn't get started on it this weekend, so I have just one weekend and 9 weekday evenings to get this made in. In my luch hour I trotted out and bought some creamy fabric and black velvet for the contrast collar and cuffs, so tonight I'll be getting started on the cutting. Will update on progress (or lack of it!) as I go... 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Vintage Radio

Unsurprisingly I also love old objects, so I need to froth about my new purchase: a 1959 Ekco Radio.

I found this in Camden Passage market today and ha to buy it. I have personal reasons: Ekco was a company founded by my grandfather. I dream of owning the most famous model they produced, the 1930s round set which is widely considered an icon of thirties design . Unfortunately they sell for around a thousand pounds, so are well out of my reach for now, so I'll have to make do with this more common model. I love it's Bakelite casing and cream frontage. The dealer said that it still works, but I've not tried turning it on yet as I want to do some more research into it first (I have read of old radios being turned on without being cleaned up first and basically therefore breaking). However, it's too early to have FM, so it will only be of use for when my hubby listens to the footie on medium wave! I think it will look lovely alongside my other fifties style accessories in the kitchen though.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Focus on: Black velvet 1940's dress

This is the first of a series of entries looking in detail at some of my favourite vintage dresses

I completely love this dress; when I wear it, I don't want to take it off! Unfortunately there aren't many opportunities to wear such a glamourous dress in our modern world...

I bought this from a friend last year. It had belonged to her grandmother, and she prefered that it go to a good home (knowing my obsession with vintage!) than be sold to some stranger.

I'm always very wary of buying vintage from friends, because it creates something of a conflict of interest: I would never want to rip off a friend by paying less than it's worth, but sometimes those not familiar with the vintage world over-value their dresses, or are mistaken about the age etc. This can be very awkward indeed!

In this case it was too beautiful a dress to pass up the chance, and having been her grandmothers, had good provenance for age. I offered what I thought was a reasonable price, and afterward I made a point of looking for similar items in good vintage shops to check the price they were asking for, to reassure myself I had made the right offer (which I was chuffed to find I had).

The up-side to buying from friends (or people connected to the original owner of the dress) is that you can get lots of information about its history and the character of its original owner. I talked to my friends mother about the dress and her mother in law. It ws lovely to get a feel for her personality, and also the gem that mother was always irritated by her mother-in-law always banging on about how great her personal dressmaker was! This told a lot about the dress in itself - dressmaker made to the grandmothers specific measurements, as many dresses were in that era, rather than home made or a specific brand.

Examination of the dress bears out that the boasting was well justified, because it is beautifully made - machine stitching with hand finishing, and the quality of manufacture combined with clearly having been looked after lovingly over the years means it's in very good condition.

It is I think the loveliest velvet I have ever come across - so soft and silky! I'm not 100% certain, but I think it may be silk velvet, very rare and expensive these days.

The details are lovely - a high neck with a rigid 'V' neckline that has kept it's shape well over these years due to this rigid interlining:

I also take delight in these perfectly formed pointed ends to the sleeves, held tightly to the wrist with a small popper;

The effect of the two together is somewhat vampish I think!

Another interesting feature is the zip fastening in the side of the garment. You will often hear people say that zips didn't come into use in dresses until after WW2, but this isn't entirely true. From my research, zippers started to be used in dresses in the 1930's, but then as rationing restrictions hit during the war, became less used, only to come back into use in a far more widespread fashion after the war. At this point most zippers were placed in the side seam, as with this dress, and it was in the 1950s that the usual placing moved to the centre back.

In the case of this dress, the zip is skillfully inserted so that the dress cinches in beautifully at the waist, creating a wonderful sillouettes, and is well disguised.

The presence of the zip left me with something of a conundrum with dateing. It would be easy to assume that the presence of the zip means that it's post war, and yet... The whole style of the dress is more reminiscent of the early forties, down to the bias cut of the skirt that is reminiscent of late thirties cut. I may be wrong, but apart from the zipper, every instinct tells me that it's early 1940s (clothes rationing came in in 1941, so probably before that). And if this glamorous lady was happy to pay for a good quality dressmaker and high quality fabric, it seems reasonable that she was willing to pay for a good quality zipper as well?

The one single 'bad' thing about this dress I can think of is that, being tall, it only comes to my ankle, and I suspect that on it's original owner, it may have been a more glamorous floor length. But other than that it fits so perfectly it could almost have been made for me. Vintage karma indeed. Now I just need to find some more glamorous occasions to wear it for!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Book review: The 1940s Look

'The 1940s Look: Recreating the fashions, hairstyles and make-up of the second world war' by Mike Brown

This was a Christmas present from my husband in the run up to a 1940s event. It is for the most part a pleasure to read and full of fascinating information. However, it is mostly useful as an excellent piece of social history, rather than a real guide to how to recreate it, so the title is somewhat misleading. Rather than giving any specific guidance on how to recreate the look in the modern day, such as details of how to style hair, apply make-up, or create an authentic outfit, it more focuses on the challenges that faced womens' dress in the during World War 2 and the ingenious methods they used to overcome them. Specific detail about year by year cut and style is not here, but plenty of social history is.

Luckily, my interest in the social history of clothes is one of the reasons I became so obsessed with vintage fashion in the first place, so I still enjoyed the book immensely. It is generally well written and engaging to read, although there are a few sections where the writer seems to get lazy and there are just lengthy direct quotations from magazines of the time without much exposition about them. However this use of primary sources is also one of the strengths of the book. There are plenty of things you can try out for yourself, such as an original pattern for a crocheted snood. My best friend got her crocheting mother to try it out: it came out enormous and we couldn't quite work out how to make it look right! But we are still persevering with it.

It is beautifully illustrated with lots of original photographs that make for great source material, and examples of 'make do and mend' information sheets, such as how to get 'extra wear from your rayon stockings'.

But the best thing about this book is the way it brings to life the difficulties that our grandparents faced on things we take for granted, and their creativeness in overcoming them. The book lays out the rationing system and how many clothes each person was expected to survive on each year. I told a friend about the limit of six stockings a year and she looked utterly horrified, exclaiming that she ladders her tights every time she wears them! The war effected every part of British life, great and small, and this is a wonderful reminder of that and a tribute to that past generation.

A trip to 1940

So a few weeks ago I went to the first in a series of 1940's set events. I had enormous fun preparing for this one, as although I already owned a number of forties items that I wear with pleasure, this was my first time at a full event spent in that era.

I was keen to recreate the look as authentically as possible, which meant getting the underwear, make-up and hair right as well as the clothes on top. In the end I used a combination of original items, authentic reproductions, and modern fashion items to get the right look.

My long time favourite 1940's dress had been this black peplum day dress. It has a lovely pattern in the wave of the fabric which is hard to make out in photographs, and lovely delicate little cream lace around the neckline. It's a little big for me so I used a slim white belt to pull it in, and added a cute little cream cardigan with crochet detail found very cheap in H&M to keep me warm on a very chilly January weekend!

But making it get the right shape, and more importantly feel authentic to wear, required the right underwear. I am something of an obsessive about vintage underwear, and already owned original camibockers and french knickers,  and a 1930's/40's peach pinstripe effect coreselet that I brought from Annie's in Islington a while ago. Whilst I did wear these during the weekend, I wanted a full set of underwear that I could wear all weekend. So I headed to the What Katy Did boutique in Portabello Market. I had long drooled over their underwear on their website ( ) but this was the first time I had been to the shop. It is a quite lovely place, and the staff were enormously helpful. Even better, they had a sale on! I came away with a bullet bra ( ), corselet, knickers, and two pairs of proper stockings for the price I had expected to pay for just the bra and a pair of stockings. I was a very happy girl.

I also made a skirt from the Vintage Vogue pattern v2885 ( ). It was a bit of a rush job, so didn't come out perfectly, but it is a lovely pattern and I highly recommend it. The only thing is that, being an American pattern I think, the skirt comes out probably a little bit long for what most Brits would be looking for in a WW2 skirt. It was worn with a simple blouse and the cream cardigan.

I will write about the other dresses I wore later, as they deserve a bit of attention to themselves, and the hair and make up another time, as sadly I didn't get any good photographs of the end result.