No, It’s Not Just a Jacket

I can remember when my mother gave up and decided to just let me choose my own clothes. I was probably seven or eight, which by today’s standard is a bit old for this rite of passage, but in the 1960s my peers could not believe Mama let me do the picking. But she wisely knew that sooner or later I’d insist on it, and besides, she had another daughter to dress up in pink.

The truth is, all people in my culture (and probably yours as well) choose their clothes if they are over the age of five or so. Even people who claim to care nothing at all about what they wear, do, in fact, care. My father-in-law was a great example. He was a notoriously sloppy dresser, and repeatedly reminded us that clothes don’t make the man. The problem was that he had a long list of things he would not wear, and a very short one of what he chose to wear.

He had no jeans, but several pair of identical khakis. He had the same plaid button front shirt in twenty different plaids and colors. He never wore a pair of sneakers. He loved cardigan sweaters, but pullovers were verboten.

One year for Christmas we found what we thought was the perfect gift for him – a red cardigan with a big S applique that came from his alma mater, NC State. He seemed to like it, but we noticed that he never wore it. Some time later the cardigan reappeared, without the big S. He had carefully picked it off.  It then occurred to me that he thought wearing the sweater would look like bragging in a community where college graduates in his age group were rare. He knew that wearing a sweater that he thought advertised his education would make him look as though he was putting on airs.

John may have claimed that clothes do not matter, but he clearly did know that what we wear sends all kinds of messages to others.

Clothes don’t have to have letters, or even words, on them in order to send messages. It’s easy to sit on any park bench and watch people passing by, and make judgments about that people based on their clothes. Sometimes you will be right, and other times you will be wrong, but the message is sent never-the-less.

For centuries clothing has been a sign of social and economic status, a reflection of the position one holds, and even where one resides. When I travel to New York, I plan my clothing carefully, so as not to look so Southern (and out of place). In high school, the girls who had professional dads like doctors and lawyers carried Aigner handbags, while those of us whose fathers worked at the paper plant carried cheap imitations.

We just can’t get away from the fact that in our culture, clothes have meaning. They send messages. And the most obvious messages are those that are in print.

My old Merle Haggard shirt you see above dates from 1983 when Outlaw Country was an interesting alternative to Punk and New Wave. By then I was teaching and pushing thirty, and it seemed that Rock was dead anyway, so we started listening to Haggard and Cash and Nelson. I got the shirt at a concert in Asheville when Haggard was arrested for drinking onstage.

Over the years I’ve worn it when feeling particularly badass, and it never fails to send that message, at least it sends it to the many young folks who comment on it. It never fails to make me feel cool, though the truth is that I was merely lucky enough to have the money to attend a concert and buy the shirt way back in 1983.

But does that even matter? The message is sent, though I suspect that to some people the message is, “Why is that old lady wearing a Merle Haggard shirt?” It may not register with some that I was one a cool concert goer.

Today clothing with writing and logos is so common that one need not pay attention to all the other sartorial clues. At a glance you can tell what team that guy is rooting for, where his wife went on vacation, daughter’s favorite Disney princess, and the attitude of the teenage son. One thing I feel very confident in saying is that these messages are true. A  Red Sox fan does not wear a Yankees hat.

So when a public figure is seen wearing a jacket that says, “I really don’t care, do U?” you can be assured that the message was intended. Whatever she doesn’t care about, the message was sent, and the viewer uses his or her own experiences and perceptions of the wearer to decipher the message.

And who in their right mind wears a jacket in this heat?

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1960s Dulottes by Serbin

Well, it looks like I’m sort of back in business, with a shiny new laptop and a huge learning curve. A lot of changes have occurred to computing in the past eight years and I’m slowly figuring out how to work this new machine. I’m still trying to improve on my photo editing, so please excuse the below par pictures in this post.

I first spotted this great culotte dress on the Vintage Fashion Guild forum. Every week member sellers show off what is new in their shops in a feature called Fresh Vintage, and it’s a great way to see “new” things as they hit the stores. This came from the etsy shop of member Racked Vintage.

At first glance this looks to be a dress, but it is actually a culotte dress, and I’m pretty sure it was designed as a golfing outfit. The front of the skirt is a bit full, which tends to disguise that the skirt is divided.

The back goes even farther with the deception, as there is a skirt panel sewn over the culottes so that from the back it looks like a straight skirt.

My thinking is that the garment would have been very useful in places where the dress code required women to wear skirts in the clubhouse. It would also be useful in transforming from golf course to city street.

Another feature that shows the duo nature of this piece is the large removable pocket. It’s quite necessary when trying to keep up with the paraphernalia of golf, but off the course it just looks a bit odd. So the designer put the pocket on the belt where it slides off and on.

My photos are so poor color-wise. This dress is a very pretty yellow, and the birds, while not always accurately colored, are in nice shades of red, gold, blue and green.

I had never seen this label before this dress, and I love how it hints at the two functions of the dress. The owner got a duo of dresses in one.

I got a bit lucky in researching the label as Serbin had the name dulottes trademarked. At first glance this dress appears to be from the early 1960s, but according the the trademark application, the label was first used in 1967. There are often mistakes in trademark applications, due mainly to the passage of years between the time the name was first used and the time the application was made.  But in this case the first usage and the application both happened in August, 1967, so I’m sure it is correct.

In 1967 and 68 there was a softening of women’s fashion. The mod look was still going strong, especially among the young, but if you look at magazines from the later 60s you see a bit of traditional femininity returning in the form of gathered waists, soft collars, and even ruffles and lace. I’d put this dress in the spring of 1968. Now to find an ad to support that bold claim!

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Vintage Miscellany – June 17, 2018

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Finally, it really is summer, and we’ve got the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes to prove it. In this photo and the one below, extended family and friends in 1920 show us how to enjoy summer.

Things have improved on the computer front. My old one is indeed dead, but I’ve “borrowed” an old (but newer than my Ole Trusty) laptop from my husband. So far, so good, but I’ll probably need to bite the bullet and get a new one.

And now for the news…

    •   I’m sure you have heard about the death of accessories designer Kate Spade.  Lots of things have been written about her in the past two weeks, and one of my favorite articles is this one from The Atlantic. And even though she had nothing at all to do with the current Kate Spade brand, I was at a store last week, and she was honored with a large poster in the window that reminded people that Kate was the founder of a brand that continues to bring joy to many.
    •    I didn’t know about the New York Public Library’s Anti-prom, nor did I know of the Chelsea’s High School of Fashion Industries, but now that I do I love them both.
    •    There was another fashion designer death recently, that of Michael Vollbracht. Younger readers may not recognize the name, but he was a big deal in the 1980s. Early in his career he was chosen over Issey Miyake to design Geoffrey Beene’s junior line, Beene Bag.
    •    If you wore Mary Quant in the 1960s and 70s, and you have photos, the clothes, or even just memories, the V & A needs you.
    •    I’m pretty sure I’ve dropped this hint before, but one of my holy grails is an authentic uniform worn by a player for the  All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Read about the league here.
    •  The New York Historical Society has some artifacts from the life of photographer Bill Cunningham now on display. Best of all are the scrapbooks Bill kept from the time he was a milliner.
    •    There’s a new documentary about Andre Leon Talley, and this article makes me want to see it.
    •    In this podcast,  Amber Butchart discusses decoding fashion in art.
    •    And if you need something else to listen to, here’s one about the labor movement in the clothing industry.
    •    This article about the new Grand Egyptian Museum shows a restored pair of sandals belonging to King Tut. I’d love to have seen them before the restoration.  Thanks to Nann for the link.
    •    And my last link really has nothing to do with fashion, but it is interesting to anyone who loves art and old stuff.

 

lake1920picnic

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My Trusty Old Computer : Rest in Peace

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I’ll admit that I am a creature of habit when it comes to advancing technology. I’ve been content with the same old desktop computer for about ten years now. So I was a bit heartbroken to return from a little trip to find that Ole Trusty wouldn’t turn on.

This has pushed me to actually learning how to publish a post (this one) on my tablet and in the meanwhile I have discovered all sorts of wonderful things I should have already known about. You know, things like the Google cloud where all my photos from the beginning of time were just sitting there waiting for me. Next up in the learning queue is finding out how to send photos from my scanner to my mobile devices. At this rate I’ll be completely cordless by the time I am 65.

I realize that by the time I have mobile blogging all figured out Ole Trusty will be back from the computer fixer, or else will be in that great computer graveyard. Either way, this space will probably be quiet for the next few days, except for the Instagram feed to your right (if you, like me, are still clinging to your old desktop). Please join me on Instagram if you have not already done so.

Hopefully this will post all proper like. Let me know if you experience problems with it, not that I could fix it anyway.

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The Fairmont Anti-glare Shield – 1920s Sunglasses

For a while now I’ve been looking for some driving goggles. The problem with finding a pair is that I had to first educate myself on what was actually being made and worn for driving in the early days of the automobile. I’ve been collecting photos and catalog pages, but the minute I went to etsy to look at what was available, I became confused.

First of all, not all sunglasses are goggles, and not all goggles are sunglasses. Second, is Steampunk still a thing? Almost every pair of goggles I found were tagged steampunk.  And not all older goggles were meant for motoring. Many were intended for workers who needed eye protection, such as welders.

So what’s a goggle-desiring girl to do? I’ve learned to look at only the listings that have the original box. The great majority of the ones I found were made by the Willson Products Company of Reading, PA. They made eyeglasses, and then branched off into industrial eyewear. A lot can be learned by looking at the information on the boxes. I’ve determined that the great majority of goggles offered for sale on etsy are welding goggles.

But somewhere in my searching, I came across The Fairmont Anti-glare Shield.  Due to the presence of the fantastic box, there could be no question but that these are women’s 1920s driving and sun glasses.

I hope you can tell that the tinted plastic covers only about half of the surface inside the rims. The rest is open. The rims are almost half an inch tick, and are transparent as well.

I tried these on, and was actually surprised at how well I could see through them. The transparent rims distort the vision somewhat, but without them the field of vision would have been too narrow.

I was delighted to see this patent number. The US Patent Office database is completely online and searchable.

And here is the drawing that was submitted with the original patent application. The inventor was Jacob Hillson of Newton, MA. The patent was granted in February of 1925, and by November the Fairmont Optical Manufacturing Company of Boston was advertising the new product in newspapers and magazines nationwide.

The ad above was in the November 1925 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.

You’ll be happy to know that these glasses also worked when boating.

I’m really happy with these rare 1920s anti-glare shield glasses, but the search for goggles from the early days of motoring goes on.

And for all you dog lovers, here are Bud’s goggles. Bud accompanied Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker as they drove across the country in 1903. These are in the National Museum of American History in Washington.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Summer Sports

Vintage Miscellany – June 3, 2018

Yesterday I was bitten by the first mosquito of the season, so it is now officially summer here in the South. Hopefully the 1950s camp above was mosquito free.

And now for the news…

 

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Péro, by Aneeth Arora

I can pretty much count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I go shopping at retail. It’s usually when I’m in a bigger city that has the type of high-end stores that you are not going to find in Western North Carolina. In all fairness, I’m usually not shopping for real clothing, but rather, for ideas. It was when I was in Charleston, SC recently that I became aware of  Péro. I’d never heard of the brand, but I was so impressed by the beauty of the textiles that I wanted to see more.

Péro was started in 2009 by Aneeth Arora, and from the beginning, craft has been the driving force of the line.  All the fabrics are hand-loomed of natural fibers, and the garments are embroidered and finished by hand. It’s very labor intensive, the very opposite of what you might think garments made in India would be. This type of craft, quality, and skill is not cheap.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that the beauty of one indigo coat with embroidery made me almost ignore the price tag and cave into my desire to own that object.

But cooler heads prevailed, and I left the shop without the coat. But I could not forget about Péro, so when I returned home I began to read all I could find out about the line. Best of all is  Péro’s Instagram account, where employees and their stories are regularly featured. They tell where and how materials are sourced, and how they work with artisans across India.

photo copyright Barneys New York Warehouse

In all the reading and looking, I finally found a garment that is really in tune with the types of things I like to wear. Yes, I adore embroidery, but I’m really more of a stripes and solids lover, and the embroidered pieces are more than I wanted to pay. So the top above seemed like a good idea, especially since it was deeply discounted. I knew before I bought it that I’d be altering the sleeves, as that much fabric in the crook of my elbow would drive me crazy.

However, when the shirt arrived, I was shocked at just how over-sized it was. If you can’t read my yardstick, it reads 30″ across, for a bodice measurement of 60″! The altering job just got bigger, but I was confident I could made this work.

And I did. I apologize for the silly shirt on the floor photo, but I’m recovering from a week-long respiratory infection, and trust me, no photos of me are allowed at present. But I do promise a picture of me wearing this before the summer is over. It’s just too cute not to share.  I cut enough from the sides that I actually have enough fabric to make pockets. I’m going to wear it a few times before I decide if I need them.

So, now let’s look at what makes Péro so special.

The bottom edge is faced with a cotton fabric, and then the facing is hand hemmed. The stripe is linen. The care instructions call for dry clean only, probably due to the mix of fabrics, but I carefully washed this before beginning the alterations and there was no shrinkage in either fabric.

Even the labels are hand embroidered, as is the red hanging loop.

The seams are machine stitched, and all seams are flat fell or French seams.

Even the buttons are special. They are made by a local ceramic artist, and are hand-molded and hand-painted. Each one is different. And see if you can tell that even the buttonholes are hand-stitched.

We can’t all afford these incredible embroidered confections, but we can appreciate the beauty of them. We can see hope for the garment industry in that there are some brands that are working toward fair treatment of employees, and who promote skillful work.

Update: The little heart and flowers in the top photo were attached to the label of the shirt. The pouch holds extra buttons.

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Filed under Designers, Fashion Issues, Sewing