Category Archives: Viewpoint

Currently Reading: The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyszewski

I know I’m a bit late to the Lost Art party, but there is so much about this book that I’ve got to talk about that I’m hoping you all will humor me.

First, thanks so much for all the well wishes and kind thoughts extended during my recent surgery and convalescence.  I still have a lot of healing to do, but at least I can now do a bit of typing.  And all the downtime led to a lot of reading, and the luxury of time for reflection on what I was reading.

With The Lost Art of Dress, there was plenty of material for reflection.  In a nutshell, the book is about how women and girls were once taught that the principles of art could and should be applied to one’s manner of dressing.  From the beginning of the twentieth century until the 1960s women college professors, writers of sewing books, scientists that worked for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and others working under the home economics umbrella helped women and girls apply these principles to their wardrobes.  I loved the many profiles of these remarkable women who worked hard to apply the principles of art, and even science, to the way people dressed.

Przybyszewski also went into some detail in discussing what these principles of art are – things like proportion and color  and harmony – and gave examples on why these things are important when considering what to wear.   I think we all understand the power of color, and how the right one, or the wrong one for that matter, makes all the difference in how our clothes look.  I can remember the moment I tried on the perfect yellow linen blouse and looked in the mirror and learned the awful truth about yellow and me.

Other lessons are not so obvious.  While reading Przybyszewski’s words about proportion I suddenly realized why so many really cute, young bloggers look strange in their clothing.  The very popular skirt that looks like something from the ice skating rink is just too short and oddly out of proportion.  The same is true for 1950s full skirts and big printed 1970s maxi dresses that are chopped into minis.

Today if you want to talk about appropriateness of dress, you end up sounding like an old fogey.  But the home economists (Przybyszewski calls them the Dress Doctors) taught that in order to best present oneself, it is best to dress for the occasion.  The little girl who wears her party dress to school ends up feel uncomfortable.  The same is true of the woman who wears shows up at a party in slacks when all the others are in cocktail frocks.

One of the things from the book that rang so true to me was that we need to have a better sense of dressing appropriately.  I know that Przybyszewski sees the worst of dressing because she works on a university campus, but we all see people padding through Target in their jammies and slippers, people at funerals in shorts and tee shirts, and girls wearing shorts too short and boys wearing pants too low. We live in a time where people resent the imposition of rules.

It was interesting to read Przybyszewski’s thoughts about how the 1960s brought about the demise of home economics.  She makes the argument that the rise of Youthquake and the trend toward the mini skirt and other clothes that were suited for the young led to home ec becoming old fashioned.  The Sixties was a decade when rules were made to be broken, dress codes were challenged in court, and the young wanted to do things their own way.  By the time I took home ec in school in the early Seventies, the only art principle I remember being taught was that of color.  I guess they thought it was enough that they were getting us to sew.  In just a few years, the home ec program was called Family Life and the emphasis changed to sex ed.

Another thing that really struck me is how today the dressing ideal seems to be “sexy” where as in the middle of the twentieth century the ideal was “sophisticated,” or even ” attractive.”  I think Przybyszewski’s point that young women should aspire to something higher than being a sex object is well taken, but some reviews I’ve read of the book accuse her of “slut shaming” and say that this emphasis on clothing and rules is anti-feminist.

Look at it the way the Dress Doctors did.  They believed that knowing how to dress well was freeing for a woman.  It allowed her to get on with life without worrying if her clothing was right or appropriate.  And wearing smart, attractive clothing made a good impression in a time when women needed a hand up in the world.  But that would also be true today, would it not?

There are some things about The Lost Art of Dress that I feel are just too much.  Przybyszewski never misses an opportunity to remind us that people today are slobs, and at times I felt like I was a captive audience in her college classroom in her course, A Nation of Slobs.  And I do believe that there are some good things that have occurred in fashion since 1963, whereas Przybyszewski seemed to blame Mary Quant for all the world’s woes.  I’m exaggerating, of course, but it is easy to see her disdain for the fashion of the Sixties.

The book also suffers a real lack of pertinent illustrations.  There were two nice sections of color illustrations, but they were not cross-referenced with the text.  And some of her major points were not illustrated at all.

Still, this is a book that you need to read.  It is well researched and expertly referenced.  After starting the book I went to my own library to see if I had any of the books Przybyszewski refers to in her text.  To my surprise I have nine of them, including one of the first of these books, The Secrets of Distinctive Dress by Mary Brooks Picken which was published in 1918.  After finishing The Lost Art of Dress I immediately picked up Picken’s book to read, and was impressed with how true to the original thought and feel Przybyszewski managed to be in her own work.

Przybyszewski has gotten a lot of good press, and my hope is that her book will start a conversation on whether or not our anything goes attitude toward dressing is really in the best interest of the individual.  It is worth thinking about.

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June in Review

Wow, but that was fast.  I’m referring to the coming and the going of June.  It seems likes this happens every summer.  It will be snowing before we know it so let’s enjoy summer while we can.

A sparrow thought it was good idea to build her nest in a flowerpot at my local Lowe’s Home Center.  She choose her site well, as the workers at Lowe’s took great care to protect mother and babies.

The worst thing about having too much stuff is trying to find what you need when you need it.  After one such hunting expedition I went on an organization binge.

The best part was that I found this strip of photo booth pictures that have been lost for about ten years!  I’m on the left, and my friend Carolyn is on the right.  We were visiting the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and could not resist.  What I can’t get over is how much I actually look like Andy in that last photo.  I really hope Carolyn is not reading this because I remotely remember something about promising to destroy these.

I posted a link to this auction earlier, but I’m still not over the fact that someone paid $831 for one sewing pattern.

Of course I did a little bit of vintage shopping in June.  I love a good sports themed booth.

This statue is in the graveyard at the  St. John of the Wilderness Church in Flat Rock, NC.  For some reason, everywhere I went that day I was reminded of my sister.  Can you see the word “Sisters” on the plaque?  And what about those two little birds.  I was touched.

Yes, I do have a few scarves.  And yes, I do have a few blue scarves.

This is our dog Spooky.  Spooky is a very old guy – seventeen – and this is about as active as he gets these days.  Still, he’s a good old fellow.  He loves his vintage Scottie quilt.

My husband celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday in June.  I was glad to help him celebrate.

The end of the day, and of June.

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Betsey Johnson Meets the Spring Maid

A few weeks ago an Instagram friend, Carla, posted a photo of a Betsey Johnson dress that had a very familiar-looking print.  If you look carefully at the print above you’ll see young women, all of whom seem to be having a problem with their skirts flying up.

The print is, in fact, a redoing of the Springmaid girl, a topic I’ve written about quite a few times.  What started out as a risque ad campaign for Springs Mills fabrics and sheets was eventually made into a series of fabrics for the company.  Springs Mills not only decorated their corporate offices with the prints, they also had items made up for sale and they offered the fabrics to clothing manufacturers and home sewers.

So how did Betsey Johnson end up with a print that was designed for a bed sheet maker over sixty years ago?  I can’t possibly know for sure, but I have constructed a possible scenario.

A fabric “designer” is wandering through a flea market in search of inspiration.   The designer spots a sixty-year-old shirt made of the Springmaid fabric.  The designer buys the shirt and returns to her office where the Springmaid girls are cut apart and re-positioned, their clothes given a change of color, and then the new design is put on a black background.  The fabric is printed and someone from Betsey Johnson spots it at a wholesalers.  The fabric just screams “Betsey Johnson,” so it is bought and used to make dresses sometime in the 1990s.

Or I could be completely off base, and the fabric maker contacted Springs Mills and got permission to use their design.

Clothing design has no copyright protection in the US, but textile designs are protected.  Regardless, it is really quite common to see  vintage textiles reproduced in this way.  Tammis Keefe and Vested Gentress are two that I’ve written about in the past.  Like I said, it is possible that the maker of this fabric had permission to use the design.  That has been known to happen as in the case of fabric maker Michael Miller using Tammis Keefe designs.  Actually, Keefe has been dead many years and she left no heirs, but Michael Miller gave complete credit to Keefe, putting her signature on the fabrics.

So, no judgement, just an observation of one more thing that can be confusing, especially to newer buyers of vintage.  Yes, those Springmaid girls do look like they came from 1950, but the colors and label say otherwise.

Many thanks to Carla who graciously let me use her photos.

ADDITION:

It has occurred to me that there is a third possibility – that the fabric was actually made by Springmaid.  The company is still in business, and so it is possible.

AND MORE:

Ballyhoo Vintage has a hat lined in this fabric in the original colorway.

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May in Review

It’s time again to see what else is happening in my world.  One reader once called my life “Lizzie Land” which is as good as any way to describe my universe.

Above you see the dogwoods in bloom in the backyard of what we call the “Little House.”  We bought the Little House ten years ago after my mother-in-law’s house flooded and she needed a new home.  She never lived there, but I fell in love with it and today it houses my collection and sewing room.  We’ve also had some incredible parties there.

I bought a bunch of archival flat boxes, and so I spent quite a few days transferring clothing into them.  It was something I’d been needing to do for a long time, so it was a relief to get my collection in a safer environment.

May is the start of rhododendron time in the mountains.   This hedge belongs to the neighbors across the street, and is about fifteen feet high.  Rhododendron is beautiful, but the early settlers in the mountains called a rhododendron thicket a “hell” because it was so difficult to traverse one.

I spotted these ocean liner deck chairs at a local antique mall.  They were priced at $1200 each and the little plate identified them as being from RMS Queen Elizabeth.

 

And I continued with the Scotty obsession…

My next sewing project is a man’s cabana top for me.  I love this top, but somehow can’t imagine many men today who would wear such a garment.  Whatever happened to the adventurous male dressers of the 1960s?

Rainbow over Asheville.  Rainbows are truly a symbol of hope for me.

A good friend had to have surgery, and I was surprised to find a small display of old dresses being displayed as art on the hospital walls.  It was interesting, as there was no indication at all of the significance of the dresses.  And as much as I love having historical dress gain exposure, the conditions were less than ideal with both natural and strong artificial light being a factor.  And to make it worse, two of the three dresses were misdated.

The Carolina strawberries are in, and I celebrated by actually making a pie.  It was good.

I spent a day recently playing tourist in downtown Asheville.  We tend toward art of the obvious nature, as shown by this sculpture is in front of the Flatiron Building.

All these photos originally appeared on Instagram, which I will admit is a good idea after all.  I’m so sorry I used to bad-mouth it.

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Thoughts on Bathing Suits, and a Winner

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First, congratulations to the winner of the Popina Bathing Suit giveaway – Karen Antonowicz.  Karen, I’ll be in touch with the details.

I want to thank all who entered the giveaway.  I was really surprised at the number of entries considering that I did not post about the contest on any social media.  I really wanted this to be for Vintage Traveler readers.  Thanks for being my little vintage community.

From some of the comments, I gather that there is a bit of swimsuit anxiety among us.  I’ll admit to suffering from it.  As Jet Set Sewing put it in her comment, she’d  not model it online in case she won.  I can relate.

It’s no wonder really.  This time of year we are bombarded by ads and articles on getting a “bathing suit body.”  But one of my nieces put it all into perspective with something she posted somewhere online:  Take your body, put a bathing suit on it.  Instant bathing suit body.

I think we worry too much about what others might think of a bit of flab or sag or wrinkle instead of just putting on the bathing suit and enjoying the beach or pool or lake.  The truth is, I’m almost 60 years old, and covering my body from head to toe is not going to disguise that fact.  I’m reasonably fit, but I still have flabby and saggy bits.  But I’ve got a few wrinkles on my face and I’m not obsessed with covering it.

It’s summer.  I’m going to wear my shorts and short skirts and short sleeve tops and stay cool.  And if I’m lucky enough to encounter a large body of water, I’ll be wearing my bathing suit.

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April in Review

So to prove that I do more than sit around and think about old clothes all the time, here’s my month of April as seen on Instagram.  I love violets.  They always remind me of the walk between the houses of my great-aunts, Agnes, Mary, and Ethel, who all lived within hollering distance of each other.  There was a small field in the middle of the walk which every spring produced the most glorious long-stemmed violets.  I picked them by the hundreds.

I came across these fantastic skiing dolls in an antique mall in Asheville.  I’d never seen anything like them, but according the Sarah at TinTrunkVintage they were likely made by Roldan, a Spanish company.   Rexard and Klumpe made similar dolls.  The detail on these is just fabulous.

A visit to my favorite independent booksellers made me realize that we may have enough books about Coco Chanel in the world.

I’ve been reading Banners of Silk, by Rosalind Laker, a novel of which a major character is couturier Charles F. Worth.  It’s a bit melodramatic.

Here’s a bit of Scottie cuteness from my collection.  This is the corner of a card table cloth.

I did manage a sewing project, which I’ll be sharing in a few days.

Based on the antique sewing diaries and personal fabric collections I’ve seen in museums, I decided to start my own sewing diary.  I’m catching up with old projects.

This photo was taken at Elsewhere in Greensboro, which is a thrift store turned ongoing art project.   The old clothes are now hanging from the ceiling.  Nothing is for sale, no matter how much you beg.

I went to the Liberty Antiques Festival, a nice flea market that is held twice a year in a field.  It is probably my all-time favorite shopping venue.

And last of all, here I am in my natural habitat, the vintage clothing store.  A note about my hair:  Bumble & Bumble’s curling shampoo really does work.

 

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Ad Campaign – Aileen, 1957 UPDATE

The best suggestion of all? – Aileen’s mix-or-match cotton knit coordinates for career or campus…

In 1957 Aileen was the new brand in town.  The company was formed in 1956 as Aileen Knitwear.  In the early Sixties the company branched out with Aileen Girl and Aileen Teen, but my recollection of the brand starts with their junior line, The Red Eye.  It was my favorite brand in my high school years, and I spent my entire first paycheck at age sixteen on three matching knit pieces.

I think the best advice I ever gave my ten and eleven year old students was to never put to paper anything that they would not want the whole world (meaning their parents and friends) to know. I’m afraid these two young career women didn’t get such good advice!

I’ve been thinking a lot about communication over the past few days.  If I were to give the same advice to students today, I’d have to go beyond passing notes to include emails and texts and facebook posts.  For better or for worse, the way we communicate has changed.

One of the joys of writing The Vintage Traveler is all the communication I have with readers.  Whether it is comments here on the blog, emails, or comments on twitter or instagram, I’m always learning from the smart people who check in here.  And I’m appreciative of all the great ideas and suggestions I’ve received over the years. I consider The Vintage Traveler to truly be a group project.

I do need to remind readers that I do have a posting policy.  It is very rarely that I feel the need to remove a comment, but I will do so to maintain the positive atmosphere of The Vintage Traveler.  Most of the few comments that I’ve removed are on an old post about the American Pickers television program.   I understand people hating that show, but I still can’t allow comments that might be slanderous.

I get several emails a day from people wanting help with this or that label, or asking about something they have in their collection or for sale.  I welcome these questions, especially when a dialogue about the object results.

But lately I’m getting lots of question emails, and after I take the time to answer, I never hear another word from the questioner.  This is usually from an emailer who has stumbled on The Vintage Traveler through a google search of their item.  If a person can’t be bothered to take ten minutes to explore the site and try to figure who the human being behind it is, then that’s a pretty good indication that my answer to them will not be acknowledged.  

But then, there are those of you who have emailed me out of the blue, a conversation ensued, and I now count you among my true friends.  It’s all about the conversation.

UPDATE

In a world where so many clothing and textile businesses have closed, it’s nice that there are a few older businesses that are still alive and well.  Many of these have extensive archives can pretty much identify any of their vintage products.  Unfortunately, in the past year I’ve gotten emails from two of them, asking me not to publicize the existence of their archives due to excessive requests for information.

I’m sure that most of this is due to the fact that many of these archive departments are understaffed, and they simply don’t have the time to do the research.  But I can’t help but wonder if they are just tired of taking the time to answer questions for which they get no return acknowledgment.  I can’t say that I blame them.

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