Adrian Firebird Dress, 1940s

Don’t get too excited for me, because this is not my dress.  It is in the shop of Guermantes Vintage.  This is a fantastic dress, but it gets even better because there is also a great story attached.

It all started when Guermantes Vintage posted photos of the dress on Instagram.  Jan always has the most incredible stuff, and so she has over 33,000 followers who stay tuned to see what her latest find happens to be.  A day or so ago, one of the persons tuning in was @jupeculotte, who is fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank.  Guermantes posted the photo above, which @jupeculotte recognized as an Adrian dress she has examined in the collection of the Smithsonian.  What makes this so fantastic is that Guermantes’s dress is missing its label, and so she did not know until Caroline commented on the photo that she actually had an Adrian dress.

Caroline then sent to Germantes the documentation on the dress she had photographed at the Smithsonian.  Above you can see the photo of the Smithsonian’s dress, along with the card from the museum catalog.  No doubt that this is the same model dress.

What is really interesting is that another person, Melissa of @meloovintage had this dress years ago, and it too was missing the label.   Could it be that the labels were sewn in a spot that was uncomfortable for the wearer?  Maybe the apprentice sewing in the labels did a poor job and they came loose and were lost?

And this is why I love Instagram.

With all the unpleasantness one encounters on the internet, it’s wonderful knowing that the fashion history and the vintage people seem to be in it for all the right reasons.  Sharing knowledge in this way helps educate us all

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Mount Airy, NC and The Andy Griffith Museum

Last week we found ourselves with a few hours to waste, and we happened to be near the small town of Mount Airy, NC.  Mount Airy is like thousands of other towns across the USA, except they have a big advantage in that an a celebrity, Andy Griffith, was born and reared there.  In the early 1960s Griffith had a hit TV program, The Andy Griffith Show, in which he starred as a sheriff in the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.

In case you aren’t familiar with the program, it is one of those that continues to live on in reruns, but more than that, it seems to symbolize to fans the small town America that so many people feel has been lost.  As such, the show still has many fans, most of whom seem to be of a certain age.

Of course this small town paradise, though actually based on the town of Mount Airy, was complete fiction.  It was the early and mid 1960s in the South, and most of American television showed few Blacks or other racial minorities, and Mayberry was no exception.  There were Black extras on the streets of Mayberry in many episodes, but not until the near of the end of the show’s run was a black actor actually cast in a guest role.

But what is authentic is that in the early 60s in most small towns in the South there would have been very little interaction between blacks and whites.  Andy would not have had a Black deputy and Black children would not have attended the same school as his son.  (I first attended school with Black children in 1966.) So like many other books, movies, and TV programs from the mid twentieth century, The Andy Griffith Show reflects a reality that most people would not find acceptable today.

It seems like I’ve been watching this show all my life.  I’m old enough that I watched the episodes when they first aired, in their original form.  Today when reruns are shown, the shows are cut so badly that much of what made it great has been lost.  Fans like to go on and on about how the program shows “a simpler time” but that isn’t what made the show great.  And it wasn’t the plots.  It was the tiny little interactions between the actors, and unfortunately, it’s those parts than tend to be replaced by ads for the latest miracle drug.

But back to Mount Airy.  It’s as though there is a complete Andy of Mayberry industry.  The downtown is full of businesses that sell souvenirs and memorabilia about the show.  There are the usual tee shirts and coffee mugs and such, but there are quite a few show-specific things that only a real fan of the show would understand.

This is a poster of a portrait that was in an episode about a haunted house.  That’s Old Man Rimshaw.

Another interesting item was this jar of pickles.  Aunt Bee was notorious for her horrible pickles.

Of course there is an Andy Griffith Museum, and I was quite amazed by some of the objects, even if presentation left a bit to be desired.  Especially interesting were the costumes.  The suit above was Barney Fife’s (as portrayed by actor Don Knotts) best suit, “the old salt and pepper” .  The suit has a label from the Cotroneo Costume Shop with Knott’s name typed on the label.

Andy Griffith almost always wore his sheriff’s uniform that included this shirt.  What a surprise to see that the shirt had a Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors label!

Probably the most interesting thing to me, though concerns two dresses worn by Maggie Peterson who played Charlene Darling in the program.  The dresses and matching shoes were not worn on the program, but were worn by Peterson on a variety show special in which she appeared with Griffith.

The museum also has the original sketches from designer Bob Mackie.  Who would have ever thought there would be Bob Mackie costumes in a small town in North Carolina?

A new exhibit at the museum features items from actress Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou, the girlfriend of Barney Fife.  Among the items she had donated to the museum are a USO uniform , trunk, and pistol she used while touring Asia near the end of WWII.  She was only seventeen when she joined the USO.

The museum was quite entertaining, but it really suffers from being in too small a space.  The walls are completely covered in memorabilia, much of which is redundant.  I’m pretty sure I saw the same photograph of Andy with his classmates in front of his school about three times.  Since visiting we learned that the museum will be in a larger space by the spring of 2017.  I sincerely hope so.

 

 

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Shopping with The Vintage Traveler – Hillsville, 2016

Well, it’s happened again.  I wake up to find my Instagram feed filled with photos from vintage friends in New England, showing off the delights of the Brimfield markets.  One of these days I will be there as well, making other people who are not so lucky very jealous.  In the meantime, I had to be content this past week with the big annual market in Hillsville, Virginia.

Hillsville does not pretend to be an antiques market.  It is a true flea, with everything for sale from great vintage items to downright junk.  It started back in the 1970s as a VFW sponsored gun show, and there are still enough guns being carried around to make one feel either very safe, or very uneasy.  I avoid the gun selling area.

Like many flea markets and antique shows, Hillsville has been shrinking.  I first went there at least ten years ago, and since that time one of the fields has closed completely, and I noted the VFW area is also smaller.  But the pleasant side is that it seems like there are just as many sellers who have the types of things I’m looking for.  More vintage photos and fewer tube socks is a big win.

One of my goals when shopping a big market like this one is to try and learn something new, usually in the form of seeing something I’ve never encountered.  There is so much old stuff out there that it always happens that I seen something new to me that I probably should have seen before.  Such was the case with the print above.  Dated 1903, I’m not sure what the Turkish Trophies actually were – a tobacco premium perhaps.  One seller had four of them, all showing young women engaged in sports.  I’d have bought them but the condition and the price did not match.  But I did have to take a photo of the ping pong player.

I see a lot of Daniel Green slippers, as it was a major maker.  But this pair of kid’s slippers embroidered with pups and kitties made me wish for a pair in my size.

On of the things I saw quite a bit of this time was children’s clothing.  One seller had what looked to be an entire wardrobe of a little girl, who would have been about four or five years old, all from the late 1920s or very early 30s.  All were in such wonderful condition that it made me wonder about the fate of the child who had worn them.  These were her slippers.

Another seller had this nice assortment of men’s swimsuits from the 1930s and 1940s.  Note the zipper at the bottom of the red tank.  In the early 30s, bathing suit makers added this zipper in case the wearer got up the nerve to go topless.

Of course there were Scotties.  I really should have brought this one home with me as I have its pink gingham twin.

This lovely illustration of a 1920s golfer decorated the cover of a book of healthy hints from a tonic company.  It made me wonder if there is a whole range of these illustrated booklets.

One seller had five or six tables piled high with a mix of vintage and modern fabrics.  Had I encountered this early in the day, I’d have plowed through the massive piles, but I had been on the hunt for hours, and so I had to pass on the fabrics.  I couldn’t help but think that the seller would have been more successful had she made a better effort to properly display her wares.

Enlarge

Maybe it is just that I’m easily distracted, but when there is this much stuff, I can’t seem to see the forest for the tress, or actually, it is the other way round!  I didn’t notice until I was looking at these photos that I actually own the basket bag near the center.

It was a button lover’s paradise.

These little booties were made of some sort of plastic coated paper.

I love seeing pillows made from pre-stamped and colored kits.  This is one I’d never seen before, from the early 1930s.

So there you have what I passed up, so I know you are wondered what I actually bought.  Photographs – lots and lots of photos of women in pants.  I also found the best 1940s hat ever, which I’ll be showing off later.  I also got a mid 1960s beach bag that may or may not have been a Coppertone suntan lotion item.   A woman sold me her mother’s Catalina swimsuit from the 1930s.  It’s always a treat to know who owned an item. And best of all, I found a late 1930s playsuit complete with matching skirt.

 

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Vintage Miscellany – September 4, 2016

“This is Nellie on the beach, Fla. 1941”

I can sympathize with Nellie. Labor Day is the symbolic end to summer, and I’m not happy about it.  She may be taking it lying down, but I am up and squeezing every bit of warmth out of these cool-ish days.  I love fall, but why does winter have to follow so closely?

While I’m trying to figure it all out, here are some stories from the past two weeks.

*  Major clothing companies continue in their refusal to learn more about the people making clothes for them.

*  Urban Outfitters had  more than $3.4 billion in sales in 2015, but still asked employees to give up their weekends to  volunteer at the company’s fulfillment center.  The CEO is worth $1.3 billion but salaried employees often work 16 hour days. And so on…

* “Jayne Shrimpton explains how photographs of our ancestors at leisure can give us an insight into their lives.”

* After being “lost” for 250 years, Clones Castle was found – “behind a Georgian terrace known as Castle Street, which contains a building called Castle House.”

* Here’s proof that bad human behavior does not happen only in museums.

* Clothing sales are suffering because people are beginning to recognize that the quality is bad.

* Are any of you watching The Collection on Amazon?  I am waiting for a rainy day.

* “Charred tatters that were part of one of Britain’s greatest tapestry collections are to be publicly displayed for the first time…”

* The conservation labs at the National Scottish Museums show the conservation of a rare dye laboratory book.

*  When a clothing exhibition focuses on the wearers rather than the clothing.

* Fast fashion is bad for us, article number 974.

 

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Carolina Herrera Exhibition at SCADFASH, Atlanta

I really love that SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) opened a branch museum in Atlanta.  Yesterday was my second visit, and there is so much that I love about SCADFASH and their approach to fashion exhibition.

The latest major show is a Carolina Herrera retrospective, celebrating her thirty-five years as a designer.  The clothes shown range from her first collection in 1981 to gowns from spring 2016, so it is a great look at her whole body of work.  The clothing was not arranged chronologically, though her work from the 1980s was clustered at the beginning of the show.  Otherwise, the clothes were arranged in clusters where one could plainly see some of the themes, colors, and garments that make Carolina Herrera the essence of Refined Irreverence.

The gown on the left in the above photo looks like a pretty dress made from an ordinary pink and white toile fabric.  Look a bit more closely and you’ll see that famous Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe in the circle just above her foot.   That dress is from 2007, and the blue and pink gown on the other end of the sofa is from 2003.

On thing I love about SCADFASH is the use of various means to show more than one side of a garment.  In the 1980s and 1990s part of the exhibition, mirrors were used to see both front and back of each garment.  This is a very effective way to show off the entire garment, but too many mirrors in a gallery can add to visual confusion.  This was the only section where mirrors were employed, all along one long wall, and it worked very well.

The gown above is made of black velvet and a yellow organza side ruffle.

From the fall 1989 collection, this silk jacket has a royal flush in sequins appliqued over the pocket.

Herrera is famous for her interpretation of the white shirt, a garment that she wears a lot of herself.  Along one wall were several versions, all framed like works of art.  I loved this one, as if you start at the top and see only the top half, you think it is just an ordinary white shirt.  But then the eye is drawn to the feathered hem with the little bit of sparkle from the sequins.  Lovely!

This is the detail of another blouse, this one from Resort 2007.  If you ever wonder why high-end ready-to-wear is so expensive, a lot of the cost is in the textiles, and in the work that goes into taking various bits like laces and trims to actually manufacture a textile from the parts.

I really try not to draw undue attention to myself, but this was one case where it was unavoidable.  I wore my only item of Carolina Herrera clothing, a simple cotton top made from the most amazing 1930s inspired swimming woman print.  This print was first used by Herrera in 2005, and you can see it on the mannequin behind me.  My top is from a 2014 reissue of the print.

SCADFASH has a great system where student docents are stationed around the exhibition with ipads that are loaded with photos of the clothes as they were worn on celebrities and shown in fashion magazines.  All these students had to show me a photo of JLo on the cover of Vogue wearing the 2005 dress.  It was really nice of them, and it showed how familiar they were with their content, and how interested they actually were in what they were showing.

Many of the displays were arranged so that the display area extended into the gallery, which is another way to show the garments from more than one angle.  Herrera is so well known for her gowns that its hard to remember that she also does separates.  One of my favorites in the entire show was the pants and top above.

And here it is from the front.  The 1960s inspiration is unmistakable.  It is from 2014.

I wish I had taken a better photo of the dress to the right.  It’s hard to tell, but this is actually a shirtwaist dress with the collar popped up.  Each tier of organza is accented with grosgrain ribbons in coral and black.  I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to the dress until later in the exhibition when there was a video set up showing the clothes in the exhibition as they came down the runway.  This dress moves like a dream.

One of the big issues in clothing display is how to get the museum viewers to see a static object on a mannequin as an object that is meant to move on a human body.  SCADFASH’s use of video and also of the ipad photos, really goes a long way toward solving this problem.

This interesting dress does not show well in my photo, mainly due to the chalky white mannequin.  While the black and colored clothes look great on the mannequins, some of the white and off-white garments seemed to mesh with the mannequins.

But look closely to see that this dress is constructed of cut out pieces stitched to a base of mesh or tulle.  What looks like a collar, pockets, and pleats at first glance, are actually pieces attached to the base.

Here you can see some more historical references.  The 1920s are represented in the beaded dress in the back left, while the dress in the front (which is stunning in person) looks like it is straight from a 1940s film noir.  The red dress with the asymmetrical top is from the fall 2003 Alfred Hitchcock Collection, and I could see one of Hitchcock’s 1950s blondes wearing it.

Here’s a better view of the red dress, and in front, another one of my favorites.  This amazing fabric is silk organza, with sparkly stars arranged in the constellations.  Chanel did a very similar dress in 1937, but hers was star-shaped sequins on tulle.  Herrera’s updated version even includes star and moon appliques.

There was a lot of black and white.

The lacy concoction is from the same collection as the lacy blouse shown earlier.  Note also that it is another version of Herrera’s beloved white shirt.

The dress in the back is from 2005, and could also have been from 1940.  The short dress in front is from 2007, and the description in the notes merely says, “Black and ivory cocktail dress.”

A closer look shows that this great little dress is constructed of strips of ribbon or trim.  I loved it.

A dress does not have to be over-complicated to be special, as in the case of this wonderful frock.  The asymmetrical stitching on the left side helps to form the first of a series of pleats below the pocket.

There was a section of wedding dresses, and of gowns that were used for a wedding, even though that was not the original intent of the designer.  I loved the blush pink dress, which is based on a trench coat.  The white dress on the pedestal looks like lace, but it is actually a lace design printed onto the silk organza.  And the golden sparkly extravaganza at the far right was worn by Jessica Simpson for her 2014 wedding.

There’s a lot of bustle action here, but what interested me was the textile.  This is one piece of dramatic striped fabric.

The last display contained some show-stopping ball gowns.  I just could not relate to this dress.  There was just too much going on!  And in the photo of the celebrity  (sorry, but I forgot who it was) wearing it, she looked extremely uncomfortable, as if she knew the dress was wearing her instead of the other way around.

I guess the lesson is that when using a dramatic print, the rest of the the design needs to be simple.

In all, there were ninety-nine looks in the exhibition, which really told the story of Herrera’s design history and aesthetic.  The clothes were arranged so that the visitor could get close enough to really examine them.  I’m looking forward to seeing what SCADFASH does next!

Through September 25  at SCADFASH in Atlanta.  Curated by Rafael Gomes.

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Public Service Announcement

Every so often I get so disgusted by the internet that I long for the good old days when people could only insult one another to their faces, or as is more likely, behind their backs.  If you really want to contemplate the difference between such unpleasantness in the face-to-face world and the typing-on-a-computer world, then you must read this article by Andrew Marantz in this week’s The New Yorker.

People talk about the on-line world as if it were not a real thing, that social media is made up of fake friends, and that one can choose, if they wish, to leave it as if it does not even exist.  But I’m sure that Leslie Jones would disagree with that.

To me, as an older woman who only follows fashion history and vintage sellers on Twitter and Instagram, the net usually seems like a safe place.  All the posters to this blog’s comments have nice things to say, and even when someone disagrees, it is said in a manner that is not disturbing.  That’s why I’ve been a bit concerned about two recent comments I’ve read on other blogs, where the commenters were just plain rude, and even condescending.

I know I’ve been lucky, but in the eleven years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had to delete only two comments, both of which were angry responses to other comments.  I love that we have a bit of a fashion history “community” where things can be said without the worry of someone else being a jerk.  So this is a not so subtle reminder to keep it that way, please.

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1930s Swimsuit with Stars and Rope

There have been a thousand (or more) articles on how to title a blog post, and after reading them all I still struggle with going with anything other than the obvious.  So because this post is about a new-to-me 1930s bathing suit, made from a great fabric of white and blue stars intertwined in a nautical-style rope, the title is pretty much a bare-bones description of the object.

The 1930s were a time of transition for women’s swimsuits.  At the beginning of the decade most suits were still being manufactured of wool knit, but by 1940 a great variety of materials were being used for bathing suits.  The invention of Lastex in 1931 was the first big change, with the elastic thread being added to the wool yarns.  By the middle of the decade Lastex was also being blended with rayon yarns.

Compared to the low-waisted styles of the 1920s, the shape of the 1930s put more emphasis on the bust.  You can see this even in bathing suits, as there is often a seam under the bustline, as you see in my suit above.

Another change one sees in 1930s bathing suits is the return to the use of woven fabrics.  Wool jersey knit made the “dressmaker” bathing suits of the 1910s and early 20 passé, but in the 1930s, the addition of a cotton jersey lining allowed for a good fit in woven fabrics.  The white shorts under the skirt of my suit is cotton jersey, as is the rest of the lining.

Because of the lack of stretch in the outer fabric, this bathing suit has a button closure on the back.  It also has a deeply scooped back to allow for suntanning.  Many evening dresses of the period also sported a deep scoop in the back, so one’s tan must match one’s gown.

At first I though the red had faded to the rusty color you see, but a close examination of unexposed areas of the fabric show that this is the original color.  And what about that texture?!

And talking about 1930s bathing suits, I just had to share this one, which is not, unfortunately, a part of my collection.  It is wool, made in Germany in the 30s.  You can see elements of both the 20s (skirt over matching trunks, all wool) and the 1930s (seam under the bust, neck ruffle).  The photo was sent to me by vintage store owner and vintage clothing collector Ingo Zahn.  Ingo owns Rocking Chair Vintage in Berlin, and was a big help when I needed a German translation a while back.  Thanks for sharing your photo, Ingo!

 

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