Vintage Miscellany – July 12, 2015

I’m sure this young woman was skirting the rules with her jumper unbuttoned to the waist and her shorts in plain view at the country club.  What a rebel!

*   Donna Karan is stepping down as designer of her label.  I can’t remember a time when she was not designing.  LVMH, the owners of the line have decided to cease production, and dozens will lose their jobs.

*   Here’s a happy look inside the Chanel Atelier.

*   Fashionista did a week-long series on fashion made in the USA.  There’s some real food for thought, and a bit of nonsense.

*   If you love WWI fashions, then you have to browse these online catalogs from 1916 and 1917.

*   The Costume Society is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, and the publisher of their journal has made 50 articles available for reading online for a short time.

*    Here’s an interesting story about how a woman kept after the V & A until they added her coat to their collection.

*   It’s never a good idea to assume that a certain designer “invented” a particular garment, or introduced a concept to the fashion world.

*   The Fashion History Museum has opened at their new home in Cambridge, Ontario.

*   Dumpster diving for beauty products is a real thing.

*   Lauren at Wearing History has posted a great look at WWII era women’s work overalls.

*  What designer Zandra Rhodes is doing to improve the working situation for textile workers in Bangladesh.

 

9 Comments

Filed under Vintage Miscellany

Currently Reading: Vintage Inspired Fiction

Those of you who have been reading The Vintage Traveler for a while might guess that I’m really not a reader of fiction.  It’s true, I’d rather read a great book about history than an historical novel, but I have a deep appreciation for a well-written novel, and my name is on the pre-order list for Go Set a Watchman.

That said, I’ve always had a problem with novels that have been written for the niche market, “people who like old clothes.”  I get the feeling that the writer did some market research, realized that a lot of people who like old clothes also like to read, and set about crafting a book for that market.  So in spite of my misgivings, I knew I had some hand surgery recovery time coming up so I bought the book above at the Goodwill, and I agreed to read another as a possible review.  I needed something light that would not be hard to catch up with if it put me to sleep.

A Vintage Affair is about a woman who owns a vintage clothing store.  She’s probably the luckiest vintage clothing store owner ever because lovely things just fall into her lap quite easily.  The inventory of the store sounds like a who’s who of British fashion and French couture: a 1957 Hardy Amies gown, a Balmain gown from the early 1960s, a Thea Porter kaftan, a Mary Quant dress, a Balenciaga coat,  a Jacques Fath coatdress, a Norman Hartnell cocktail dress, and on and on and on.  It’s an inventory most museums would envy, and it’s very unlikely that a small store would have all these treasures.

So without going into the story line except to say the main character finds love and resolves her guilt issues, let’s just say that unless you like designer name-dropping and the occasional fashion history lesson (such as, Marilyn Monroe was buried in her favorite Pucci) you probably want to skip this one.

I looked at book sites and realized that there are quite a few chick-lit books about vintage clothing store owners, most of whom double as solvers of mysteries.

The second book, The Dress Thief, actually has quite a bit to offer.  The book is set in 1937 Paris, and is concerned with the couture industry.  As the title suggests, this book is about the very real problem of fashion design theft that Elizabeth Hawes wrote about in her wonderful Fashion is Spinach in 1938.

The main character works for a fictional designer, and financial worries tempt her into stealing his designs and passing them on to someone who passes them on to a Seventh Avenue manufacturing business in New York.  After much hand-wringing, our heroine resolves her guilt issues and finds true love.  Unfortunately for her the book ends in 1939 and she is Jewish, but that’s for another book, I suppose.

Evans manages to skillfully merge the real and the imaginary with references to people like Chanel and Vionnet.  A person not familiar with fashion history would have a hard time telling who is real and who is not, were it not for the handy author’s note in the back of the book.

There is a disturbing scene where the main character is victim of something very similar to a date rape.  It made me squirm, but then I don’t need gratuitous sex in my books.

If you love pre-WWII history and fashion, you will find The Dress Thief to be of interest.  It really does help to know a bit about the era in understanding some of the plot lines.

I was given an e-book of The Dress Thief by the publisher.

20 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading

The Great British Sewing Bee on Youtube

I’m a little bit slow to this game, as I had been told that seasons 2 and 3 of The Great British Sewing Bee were now available online to all viewers on youtube. Thanks to an email this afternoon from Del, I had my memory jarred and I’ve now watched the first episode of season 2. Who knew that watching other people sew could be so much fun?

Due to a bit of minor hand surgery I’ve got some downtime coming up this week, so instead of posting here, I’ll be catching up on these episodes.  I couldn’t be away that long without giving you an alternative to my posts.  Enjoy!

6 Comments

Filed under Currently Viewing, Vintage Sewing

A Diary of Travels Abroad, 1958

There’s something sneaky about reading the journal of another, even if the journal in question is fifty-seven years old.  In 1958 Judy B. went on the “Imperial Tour of Europe.”  It lasted all summer and was surely the trip of a lifetime – the 1950s equivalent of the Victorian Grand Tour.

I first read parts of this journal when Donna of The Vintage Vendeuse started posting entries from the diary at the Vintage Fashion Guild.  She then made a website for the entries, which are now being posted as a day by day entry of what happened fifty-seven years ago.  There is a new site, which is great, with Judy’s entry followed by extra information and photos of the places she mentioned.  You can subscribe to get the daily entry, and I suggest you back up through the old ones to read about the ocean voyage and Judy’s adventures thus far.

If Judy is still alive she is eighty-one years old.  That’s hard to imagine when the diary is so full of the young men she met and the fashionable clothes she wore.  Or maybe not.  I’d like to think she is still traveling, and meeting boys and buying out the stores.

 

 

12 Comments

Filed under Vintage Travel

The Cowichan Indian Sweater

I pulled this great little booklet out of a Goodwill bin, along with some other vintage booklets about Native American textiles.  What really interested me about this one was the section on knitted goods made by Vancouver Island Indians.  I know that knitting is not what generally springs to mind when thinking of Native textiles, but the Cowichan sweater is a special story.

In the early days of ebay chat boards, I loved to read the Vintage Fashion Board.  This was in the late 1990s, or maybe early 2000s, long before any vintage blogs or other sources of information online.  It was the best vintage education I could have gotten because it was an open discussion about anything and everything about old clothes.

One discussion I remembered in particular involved Mary Maxim and Cowichan sweaters.  As ebay was growing (exploding, actually) one of the big concerns was using key words so buyers could find what they wanted through searching.  For some reason, probably due to some “expert” on the board giving bad information, sellers started using the term Cowichan to describe Mary Maxim sweaters.

The only things the two sweaters really have in common is the use of a heavy multi-ply yarn in their making and often, the depiction of wildlife.  Mary Maxim is a company that sold knitting charts and yarns to home knitters.  The patterns are pictorial in nature, with themes like fishing or bowling or airplanes, usually in bright colors on a tan background.  They are best described, I suppose, as novelty sweaters.  Cowichan sweaters are hand knit by Indians on Vancouver Island, often with geometric patterns, but also depicting local wildlife.  They are knit in neutral colors of wool.

In the course of the ebay discussion, some knowledgeable person finally showed up and set us all straight about the Cowichan.  To use the term Cowichan to describe any bulky hand knit was just wrong, and to be honest, ignorant.  It was a good lesson for me, not to rely on the word of people I don’t really know.  Do my own research and be careful with the details.  Of course it is much easier now, fifteen years later.  The amount  of information on the internet is far beyond anything I imagined in 2000.  And it helps that today I know many people online whose knowledge I can trust.

Following is the text from the booklet, Indian Weaving, Knitting, Basketry of the Northwest, by Elizabeth Hawkins.  It was published in 1978.

Knitting is a modern technique that was introduced by early Scottish settlers to Vancouver Island Indians.  Today, Native knitting is predominated by the Salish women knitting the famous Cowichan Indian sweaters, and to a lesser extent, tams, socks, mitts and ponchos.  Many women still spin and dye their own wool both because of the handcrafted touch it gives and to keep the cost down.  Many of the sweaters are knitted in the round using as many as eight needles and therefore produce a seamless garment.

There is such a demand today for these sweaters that I was recently told that on two of the Vancouver Island reserves every woman of age commercially knits.  While the southern Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley tribes are the predominant knitters the demand is encouraging a similar home industry in northern villages as well.

Design

Geometric patterns predominate in primitive Salish design but more modern designs often incorporate wildlife.  Thunderbird, eagle, killer whale and deer are crest figures often portrayed.

Duncan Fall Fair brings forth competition among Cowichan knitters.

I thought the spindles were really interesting.  I’ve never seen a spinning wheel adapted from an old treadle sewing machine.

Note the Scottish influence in the sweaters hanging behind the happy spinners.  I love that argyle.  The snowflake is interesting as well.  It looks like other knitting designs such as Scandinavian were being appropriated into the Cowichan.

13 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

On Books, Fame, and Other Things

 

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, mainly because the summer heat makes it hard to be motivated to do much else.  I’ve reread some old favorites, gotten serious about some new books in my long reading queue, thumbed through some magazines, and have even read a bit on the internet.  I love to read.

When I taught ten- and eleven-year-olds, one of the most common questions I got from parents was, “How do I get him/her to read?”  Then they would go on about how they had read to the child as a baby and toddler and how there was a room full of books at the kid’s disposal, but the kid refused to pick them up.  I’d let them talk, but eventually we’d get around to the subject of role models.  And what would come out ninety percent of the time was that the child never saw an adult in the house reading for pleasure.  The truth is, kids like to copy adult behavior.

Both of my parents were readers, especially my mother.  Even though she had four kids, she kept a very efficient house, and usually had all her work finished by noon.  The afternoons were for reading.  She’d shoo us out of the house and then pick up her book.  On hot summer days I’d take a book of my own, climb my favorite tree, get comfortable on a big limb, and get lost in my reading.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a public service announcement for reading, but there is a lesson in the story.  All my siblings are avid readers.

But getting back to original thought, I have been reading a lot, so expect more book reviews in the coming days.  Reader Maya asked if I got compensated by book publishers because I was making her buy lots of books.  I do occasionally get a free book for review, and I get free previews from a review service, but I buy 95% of the books I review.  And, no, I don’t get any money for reviews, nor would I take it.  As photographer Bill Cunningham famously says, “If you don’t take their money they can’t tell you what to say.”

The sad truth is that when someone gets something “free” they tend to feel obligated to the giver, and so the review is tempered somewhat.  A big shift occurred in fashion blogging after businesses started showering bloggers with gifts.  It’s hard to write bad things about a $300 handbag that was given to you.  So, if I’m given a book that I don’t like, I contact the publisher and offer to send it back.  I will do a less than positive review on an free e-book though.  I guess I don’t see the impersonal electronic transfer of a book as being a gift.

Even if I hate a book, I don’t like writing a bad review.  I know how much work goes into writing and how personal criticism can seem.  It is especially hard when I sort of know the writer through online interactions.  Right now I’ve been grappling with a review of a book I really wanted to love, but the truth is that the author just does not fulfill the promise of the topic.  And I have just about decided that editing is a lost art.  The book’s editor really let this author down.

Since I’m rambling on today, I have also had the idea of fame on my mind, and why it is that humans seem to be so obsessed with celebrities.  I usually don’t concern myself with the comings and goings of celebrities, but a post on the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum in London) Instagram irked me to the point that I unfollowed their account.  The offending photo was a picture of an unsmiling Kayne West standing beneath a quote at the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A.

The caption on the photo merely stated that Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian paid a special visit to see Savage Beauty.  But a quick leap to Kardashian’s account reveals that it was a #SupriseDateNight in an #AfterHoursVisit in a photo of an exhibition of which the public is not allowed to take photos.  I really have no opinion on the Wests, but this sort of flaunting their privilege is just tacky.  And to think the V&A not only participated, but publicized it shows just how powerful we think one image of a celebrity is.  All I can say is I hope Mr. West richly compensated the museum for his after hours tour, and that the V&A got more out of it than two Instagram photos.

So, what’s your beef this week?  Post away, but remember to be kind (sort of).

 

 

25 Comments

Filed under Viewpoint

Vintage Miscellany – June 28, 2015

Dingman’s Ferry, PA, 1927

Today is setting up to be one of those days that the local Chamber of Commerce likes to pretend is what we have three months of in the summer.  It’s cool and sunny, and that makes for perfect camping.  I hope the auto campers who set the scene in my photo were so lucky.

So get out and enjoy the day, but first, the news:

*   I think I’ve posted about Zady before, but it is worth reading this article about how the company is working hard to “make a T-shirt that does no harm.”

*  And this article about Patagonia shows how difficult that is to do, even when the company is trying very hard.

*   Is a two-year-old, or even a fourteen-year-old,  your style icon?

*   Make sure to talk to the young woman in the Christian Siriano gown.

*   Hilary Davidson carefully examined Jane Austin’s pelisse, and thanks to crowd funding we can all read the article she wrote about her findings.

*   I’ve always thought the women who wear high heels were a bit unbalanced, and science has proven me right.

*   The ultimate irony is when a designer’s representative states concerning one of her designs:  ‘For her part, Ms Isabel Marrant does not claim to be the author of this tunic and these designs’.

*   L.L. Bean’s boots are expected to be hot again this winter, and the factory is cranking them out as fast as it can.  Here’s a very interesting look inside their Maine factory.

*   PBS showed an interesting British show called Tales from the Royal Wardrobe.  It’s now available for watching on the PBS website.

*   We unruly Baby Boomers are taking over museums, and it ain’t pretty!

*   Crinoline mania, as seen through nineteenth century stereoscopes.

*   If Abercrombie & Fitch wants to survive, this article suggests they return to their past.  Haven’t I been saying that for years?

 

8 Comments

Filed under Vintage Miscellany