What I Didn’t Buy: Betsey Johnson Sweater, 1980s

There are several reasons I did not buy this Betsey Johnson sweater.  First of all, my collection stops around 1975, and this sweater dates from sometime in the 1980s.  It has the distinctive “punk” label which was used for about eight years, starting in 1978 when Betsey formed her own business.

More importantly, I did not buy this sweater because I do not like it.  Even if I collected the 80s I would not have bought it.  And that brings up the question of “taste” and where it fits into a collection.

When  I first started collecting I would buy anything I found that I thought was “important.”  I can tell you that for me, collecting that way led to a lot of mistakes.  It was not until I began to narrow the focus of my collection that I was able to chose a garment based on its merits, rather than the label.   And to me, part of the charm of an old garment is that it pleases me, aesthetically.

That is not to say that every item in my collection is beautiful, but given a choice between two similar objects, I know that my personal taste will play a part in which one I choose to add to my collection.  I recently met a seller who had dozens of late 1950s and early 60s casual women’s shirts.  I have been looking for some to pair with my novelty print skirts.  Because the shirts were all deadstock, the condition of all was equal.  I went almost entirely by which ones I liked when picking the ones I wanted to buy.

And this leads me to another thought – the mistaken idea that just because an item is old, it somehow has added worth.  I see a lot of old clothes, and so many of them are just ugly, to my eye anyway.  Others are poorly made, and yet others are in horrible condition.  These things might not matter if the item in question is an 1818 pelisse belonging to Jane Austin, but in a 1978 polyester dress from K-mart, they do definitely matter,

Sometimes I’m just amazed at how much clothing from the past has survived.  I grew up in a home where if an item wasn’t useful, it was sold for charity, so I’m often astounded to read about people who find houses with rooms full of multi-generational clothing.  I’m glad they do because it allows me to be very picky.

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Exhibition Journal: Pucci in America

Click to enlarge.

Last October I traveled to Athens, Georgia to the Georgia Museum of Art.  They were having a special exhibition on Emilio Pucci and the business relationships he had with firms in the United States.  Pucci had spent some time as a student at the University of Georgia, also located in Athens, and so an exhibition about his US relationships seemed appropriate.

While the museum did not allow photos for this show, they did provide a nice place to sit and sketch.  I’ve talked about sketching in museums before, and unfortunately,  it is not always possible to sit with a pencil and paper and draw.  Some museums don’t have benches, and others are so crowded that trying to sketch is impossible.

If I’m visiting a new-to-me museum, I will usually take my sketchbook and pencils, but I never know until I get inside if the place is drawer friendly.  I also take a small notebook, because sketchy notes are sometimes all that is possible.  From my notes and from photos (hopefully ones I was able to take) I then do my journal entry at home.  In this case I was able to do the main sketching onsite and then I finished it when I returned home.

There is an excellent article in the latest Dress journal from the Costume Society of America about fashion displays in museums and the problems associated with displaying on a static form clothing that was meant to be seen on a moving human body.  Author Ingrid Mida brings up some very interesting points about how different it is to see a garment on a mannequin than it is to see it on a human body.

In the not too distant past it was considered to be okay for museum garments to be worn by models, but today it is against museum and preservation standards.  Museums attempt to make the clothes more dynamic by showing video of the clothing in action, and even, as in the case of the recent John Paul Gautier exhibition, by using animated mannequins.  I can see why this would add to the understanding of a garment by people who are viewing it in a museum.

At this point I’ve been to dozens of fashion exhibitions, and to be honest, I just expect to see static forms displaying the clothing.  But then, I’m all about taking a close look at the garment and noting the details.  We all take something different from an exhibition, whether it be clothing or painting or furniture.  At this point I’m just glad that fashion is being seen as worthy of exhibition.  I can remember a time when clothing exhibitions were very rare indeed.

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Vintage Miscellany – June 14, 2015

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This week’s vintage photo comes from reader Paula, who thought my post of the cover of a 1930s French catalog looked familiar.  Then she realized it reminded her of a photo of her grandparents, Ellis and Gertrude Teeter, taken before their marriage in 1935.  They were dating, and the photo was taken sometime in 1933 or 34 in Pennsylvania.  Enlarge to photo to see just how great Gertrude’s outfit was.  Thanks so much to Paula for sharing.

*   A lot of people have been talking about courage over the past couple of weeks.  Bethann Hardison, model in the 1970s, and later owner of her own agency, has courage.

*   Smithsonian magazine has a nice feature on the lasting appeal of Claire McCardell’s designs.

*   Madame Carven, who is probably remembered more for her scarves and perfumes these days, died at the age of 105.  At one time she was a very big deal.

*   Authorities in Bangladesh have finally pressed murder charges against the owner of the Rana Plaza factory that collapsed in 2013, killing over 1,100 people.

*   Actress Melissa McCarthy’s new clothing line will be made in sizes 4 through 28, with the hopes that retailers will sell all the sizes in one spot in their stores, eliminating the designation, “Plus Sizes.”

*  Is the de-cluttering craze starting to experience a backlash?  Two recent articles explain that accumulating stuff is not necessarily a bad thing.  Let’s Celebrate the Art of Clutter and In defence of the well-stuffed closet.

*  Amber Butchart talks fashion – and in particular, British fashion – in an entertaining forty minute podcast.

*   Baltimore hairdresser Janet Stephens recreates the hairstyles of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  I loved this article because Ms. Stephens is a not a history professional, yet her research is highly regarded and has been published in scholarly journals.

*   And finally, an excellent article about textile technology and history, and why we take it for granted.

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Currently Reading – Nautical Chic by Amber Jane Butchart

I’ve been reading fashion history books for a very long time, and I’ve come to a conclusion:  the best books have a narrow focus that is meticulously researched combined with illustrations that clearly illustrate the author’s points.  So often books about “vintage fashion” or even overviews of fashion history fail to hit the mark because the author tries to cover too much territory in too few pages.  Of course, every fashion library needs to have a few volumes that are just fashion history overviews, but once the basics are covered, it is then time to narrow the focus.

Nautical Chic is such a tightly focused book.  I follow author Amber Jane Butchart on Twitter and Instagram, and over the past year or so I’ve read about her on-going research of the influence of the sea upon fashion.  You know a historian is really enjoying her topic when she can’t help but post the great information she is uncovering on twitter.

Butchart identified five major influences of nautical fashion: the officer, the sailor, the fisherman, the sportsman and the pirate. Each chapter is filled with information and illustrations from the seventeenth century through the twenty-first.  The illustrations are a mix of contemporary fashion photos, vintage advertising, historic  lithographs, old photos and photos of examples of vintage and modern clothing.

The officer influence can be seen both in a fashion plate from 1827 and in the work of Alexander McQueen, 1996.

The sailor gave us the middy, or midshipman’s blouse.  On the left you can see Elsa Schiaparelli’s 1928 sweater that incorporates  trompe l’oeil to depict the middy.  Beside it is a 1996 version from designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.  And on the right is a middy blouse from Yohji Yamamoto, 2007.

It seems like everyone loves a good Breton fisherman’s pullover shirt.  The one above is from French maker St. James.  On the right you see Coco Chanel in a sweater inspired by the chandails of fishermen from Normandy.  Beside it is Karl Lagerfeld’s updated version.

The yachtsman’s sporting attire was easily adapted to fashionable cruise and seashore clothing.  The yachtswoman on the left dates from 1899.  On the right is a fashion illustration from 1932.

And finally, the pirate influence dates from the 1600s, and today is probably most associated with Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano.  Above notice the 1920s “pirates” on the far left.  The modern day pirate is from Marni, 2010, and the two on the right are from 1966.

I love the mix of illustrations, pulled from many different sources.  So often in fashion history books one see the same old photos over and over, but in Nautical Chic there are just a handful that I’ve seen in other resources.  To me this is important.  If an author takes the time to insure that the illustrations are fresh, then it is a good sign that the research is as well.

I really enjoyed reading the text.  It was full of fascinating facts and connections that I’d never made.  For example, it was the Americans Gerald and Sara Murphy who introduced the striped marinière  to their fashionable friends in 1923.  These friends included Hemingway, Picasso, and the Scott Fitzgeralds.  Now we are all wearing the marinière in some form.

To someone like me who loves sportswear, and who loves the stories behind objects, Nautical Chic was a true delight.

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Of Suntanning and Pantalets

Photo found on Wikipedia

I have a really short attention span.  I can’t blame my age because I’ve always been this way.  I’ll be interested in one thing and then in my pursuit of it notice another, and so off I go in that direction.  I think that is why I like writing this blog.  I can chase whatever rainbow crosses my sky.

I might have mentioned here that I’m working on a program about women’s camp and hiking attire.  Since I was doing the work anyway I decided to expand the research in order to write a paper for possible presentation or publication.  And the topic is so interesting to me that I thought I’d have little trouble staying on track.

Wrong.  Everywhere I turn there I see another route I want to take, another fascinating fact to share, another article to read and think about.  And it is funny how when a topic gets into the consciousness, related topics tend to pop up as well.

Last week I went to the Metrolina Marketplace for a bit of recreational treasure hunting.  A women had her half-grown puppy there, and she was really making a spectacle of herself – the dog, not the owner.  This was a dog who knew how to command a crowd, and she was working the flea market with a very skilled paw.

Turns out the dog is a Coton de Tulear by the name of Coco Chanel.  The Coton de Tulear is a fairly rare breed, and I’m sure the owner chose the name because it symbolized glamour and fashion to her.  Frankly, I’d never name an animal for a notorious Nazi-lover, and it occurred to me that people must either not care that Chanel was such an odious person (her words, not mine), or they don’t actually know much about her.

But the encounter with the sweet dog with the sadly inappropriate name must have put Chanel in the forefront of my thoughts, because I keep finding her in my reading.

One of my finds from the weekend was a 1909 issue of McCall’s Magazine.  I usually don’t buy McCall’s, but this one had an article I knew would be helpful in my research, What Summer Camps Are Doing for Society Girls.  But that’s not the only gem in this issue, as I also noted Fashions for the Seaside, Suggestions for the Fair Traveler, and Packing for the Vacation Trip.  It’s almost as if those editors back in 1909 had me in mind when planning this issue.

One of the things that Chanel is almost always credited with is the popularization of the suntan.  I’ve read that nobody but nobody sported a tan before Chanel.  But here I found in this 1909 magazine a reference to tanning:

Poets have sung the charms of the “nut-brown maid” and it is not to be denied that a good coat of tan is very becoming to many people. If our annual seaside jaunt has no worse effect upon our tender skins than the transforming for a while to one of rich olive tone we should have very little to complain of.

The writer does go on to warn the reader of the burning effects of the sun, but the paragraph makes very clear that intentional suntanning was already being practiced and was considered to be desirable quite a few  years before Chanel supposedly introduced the practice to the world.

And that is one thing that bugs me about Chanel.  The stories told and retold about her border on myth.  I don’t understand why we can’t be content to let the woman’s real accomplishments – and there were many – be enough.

A day later I was reminded of Chanel again.  I was looking through my collection of pre-1930 vintage magazines to see if I could spot any references to pants being worn by women.  I expected to see beach pyjamas and knickers for skiing and breeches for riding, but I was completely surprised to find the image above in a 1924 Vogue.

Chanel makes a suit-dress of light grey Oxford cloth with a slightly fitting coat, a grey crepe bodice, and a skirt that may be worn buttoned or unbuttoned, over the grey crepe pantalets.

By the time this suit was conceived by Chanel, women had been wearing skirts over pants for biking and hiking for several decades.   It was not a new idea, but what was new was that this was not an ensemble that was intended for active sports.  This was a fashion garment, and the pants were meant to be seen.

I found another, similar example in a 1925 Vogue, but this idea must have been too outre for the mid 1920s.  Pants for women were strictly for sports and the boudoir and Chanel’s idea did not catch on.  But it does show us just how modern Chanel was, and how her ideas for women’s wear were on the cutting edge.  It seems a shame that she be remembered more for the little black dress and for suntanning than she is for the ideas that were truly forward-thinking.

 

 

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Mixed Messages – The Mini and the Midi

I’m not going to go into details about the great midi debacle of 1967-1970 because I wrote about it at length last year.  I wanted to show this set though to point out just how confusing the issue of dress length was at the time.

The set is from Ladybug, which might be surprising if you remember that label from the early to mid 1960s.  Ladybug, the junior division of The Villager, was known more for their conservative prints and preppy separates, not for pushing the fashion edge.  Maybe that is why they were hesitant to go full out midi, and instead compromised with the short/long look.

Without the vest, the dress looks a lot shorter.  It is a great little dress, made from wool tweed, or possibly a blend; this was the late 1960s after all.  The bias cut adds so much to the design, as does the leather trim.  But unfortunately, the leather is actually fake, and did not age well.

I can see that this is inspired by the work in leather and wool that Bonnie Cashin did for Philip Sills in the 1960s.  Unfortunately the real leather pieces of Cashin often did not fare any better than did this cheaper version.  Neither leather nor plastics age well without careful preservation.

I didn’t take a photo of just the vest, but I’m glad the set is still together so as to give an accurate picture of its story.  Without the matching dress, one would be tempted to place the vest later in the 1970s, as it is so reminiscent of Maude and her famous long vests.

And while I’m mentioning Ladybug, here is what comes to my mind when thinking of that label.  As I said, Ladybug was the younger version of The Villager, a brand famous for blouses and shirt dresses made of little prints.  Each Ladybug purchase came with a little stickpin in the form of a ladybug.

These pages are from a Ladybug catalog insert in a Seventeen magazine, 1965, and are very typical of what the brand had to offer.  It was the All-American college girl  look, which was fading fast in 1965 due to the Swinging London Mod girl look.

It does seem like so much of the study of  history is interconnected.  I’m currently reading Seven Sisters Style by Rebecca C. Tuite, a history of the clothing worn by the young women at the Seven Sisters colleges.  Villager and Ladybug were a big part of that look in the late 1950s and into the 60s.

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Vintage Shopping with the Vintage Traveler

My husband likes to remind me that it’s not shopping unless you buy something.  Maybe I should have titled this post Vintage Looking, because I do I lot more looking than I do buying.  I have learned that one does not have to buy all the great stuff in order to appreciate it.

Still, I often second guess myself, and the early 1930s hat above is a good example of that.  I love everything about it except the green color and the fact that it would not fit in neatly with my other early 30s things.

I can’t help but think about how handy this non-electric clothes dryer would be, not to mention the energy saving factor.

I’m really not very tempted by old Coca-Cola items, but I do love to see how they portrayed women in their sports attire.  Seems to me this model would be better off with a mug of hot cocoa than with the Coke.

I could use a bit of help with this dressage helmet. Any equestrians reading this, please enlighten me.

I recently bought a fantastic riding suit from the late 1930s or early 40s, and I’m now looking for a helmet.  They are quite commonly found, but I have no idea on how to put a date on them except to look at the interior construction and at the materials used.  Newer ones often have faux leather straps and plastic findings.  Does this one look 1930s to you experts?

I really don’t need another pair of 1950s pants, but these were tempting, mainly because of the hang tag.

Blue Bell was manufactured in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Maybe I was wrong to leave them behind.

Also interesting is the line on the tag, “Ask for my Color Mate.”  It appears that they were also making matching separates.

I had never even heard of this Asheville business, H. Redwood & Co.  The address no longer exists, as that stretch of Patton Avenue was demolished in the 1960s for the construction of the Northwestern Bank Building (now the BB&T Bank Building).

A visit to Asheville is not complete for the vintage lover without a peek into Magnolia Beauregard.  It’s worth it just to see the owner’s collection of mannequins and hat heads.

For a very short time in the mid 1960s, the surfer shirt was all the rage for boys and girls.  I really don’t see a lot of them, but a seller at Metrolina in Charlotte had this one.  That label and hang tag are everything.

If this had been one size larger, and if I was sure I could get the discoloration out, I’d have bought this one to wear.  Again, look at that great hang tag.

And finally, I thought this was a camping kit, but the tag identified it as some officer’s mess kit during WWII.  Still, wouldn’t this be great for a bit of vintage auto camping?

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