Tag Archives: Italy

Silk Mystery Outfit UPDATED

One of the most fun things about collecting old clothing is examining a garment to try and reveal its secrets.  It’s rare that I know anything at all about a piece that I buy unless I just happen to get it from the original owner or her family.  Even when you ask vintage sellers about the background of an item, it’s hard to get any information at all.  They either don’t know or they are reluctant to reveal their own buying secrets.

I found the above two-piece dress at a vintage show in Charlotte several months ago.   At first I spotted the wrap top, and inquired about it.  That’s when the seller told me there was a matching skirt.

When she produced it I was surprised to see that the waist was gathered with elastic.  I was certain that the top was from the 1950s, but while not completely unheard of, most gathered skirts in the 50s did not incorporate elastic.  I was puzzled but not put off, as the selling price was so reasonable,that even if it did turn out to be from the 1980s (which seemed possible at the time) I’d not be out much.  Besides, it was a great novelty print.

I hung the set up just so I could look at it, and after a month or so I decided it was time to get serious.  The blouse wraps and ties at the side.  The way the bodice is gathers into the side is very Claire McCardell.

The sleeves are three-quarters length, and are finished with these nifty pointed cuffs.

Under the arm is a triangular shaped gusset, a typical 1950s sleeve treatment.

The seams are about one-half inch, and are pinked.  This looks to me to be commercially made, though there are no labels.

All the signs in the blouse point to a 1950s manufacture, so why is it that one little element – the gathered waist – was making me doubt that?

Another odd thing about the skirt is the fringed hem.

A tarantella is an Italian folk dance that supposedly would cure one of the poison of a tarantula spider.   That looks like Mount Vesuvius in the background.

So, am I looking at this through 1950s glasses, trying to justify my purchase of a 1980s dress.  Or am I right, and it is a 1950s curiosity?

Update:

I wanted to add two close-ups of the print so it can be seen that the printing is quite good.  The picture part is actually only one and a half inches high.

Here is a view of the stitching of the elastic channels.   Interestingly, the sewing machine was threaded with white on one side and black on the other.  The sides of the skirt are also stitched in these too colors.  I am positive that this is the original waist treatment.  In fact, the only trace of alterations I can detect at all in the set is the addition of a snap closure at the front of the blouse.

I’m convinced that the dress is late 1950s.  Thanks to all of you who helped talk me through this!

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Remembering the Missonis

The Missoni family has had a very sad year.  First, son and company CEO Vittorio Missoni went missing while flying in South America, and then last week his father and company co-founder Ottavio Missoni died at the age of 92.

Ottavio and his wife Rosita formed their company in the early 1950s, not as a fashion company, but as a maker of knit sportswear.   This makes sense considering that Ottavio had been an Olympic runner, and  he had helped his trainer make woolen tracksuits for the Italian team in 1948.   In 1953 he married Rosita, and they set up a small wool knitting firm they called Maglificio Jolly.   Within a few years they were producing sweaters for stores in Italy.

In 1958 they changed the name of their company to Missoni.  It was a great time to be getting into the fashion business in Italy.  Italian designers such as Fabiani, Simonetta and Valentino were establishing a good reputation for Italian design, and Milan was becoming known as a fashion center.  Still, it was not until the late 1960s that the company gained international attention.  With the help of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, they began selling their knits in American stores, and in 1970 they opened their first boutique in the US inside Bloomingdales.

Ottavio claimed to be lazy, but it was he who was responsible for the design and distinctive look of the Missoni knits.  He would play with colors, and using a gridded paper he would color in lines to show the weavers how to set up the looms.   His design lab was full of books of color inspiration and he often turned to nature for his color schemes.

At first the Missonis only designed knits, but in 1962 they obtained machines that would produce a zigzag knit, and this became one of the trademark designs of the company.  They then added other geometrics, and were pioneers in making separates that coordinated in color, but were mismatched in design – dots with stripes for instance.

In the mid 1970s the work of the Missonis was very influential on knitwear.   In 1976 my boyfriend bought me a cotton pullover that was obviously Missoni inspired.  I liked it so much that I married him.

I’ve had this pantsuit for quite a few years, and it is a bit of a puzzle to me.  I thought it was from the 1970s, but the label looks much newer than that, with a newer Saks Fifth Avenue font and the absence of an oval that was seen on Missoni labels in the 1970s and 80s.  Have you any thoughts?

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1960s Sun Hat, Glasses Included

The 1960s may have been the time that women’s hats were on the wane, but they sure put out some wild and crazy beach hats.   Many were Italian straw creations, and were decorated in all sorts of ways, most of which reflected a tropical vibe.  There were hats that sprouted a straw palm tree on the crown, and hats covered with seashells.  I’ve even seen them covered with fishnet with tiny plastic fish caught beneath.

But my all time favorite is the beach hat with built-in sunglasses.  This hat came in lots of different color combinations and several different shapes, but this one in orange with blue lenses is a classic.

I tried in vain to find a reference to this hat in my collection of 1960s magazines, and an internet search was not much more fruitful. I found only two vintage images.  One was dated to 1965, and came from a Dutch magazine.  Since I was not sure of the origin of the scan I’ll not post the photo here, but it is my hat in red straw.  The other was not dated, but looks to be a bit earlier, and is the hat in tan.

As always, any additional information is greatly appreciated.

A couple of years ago an updated version of the sunglasses hat was available at Kate Spade.  Fell free to speak your mind, because I like the vintage one better too!

photo copyright Kate Spade New York

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The Romantic Flapper

I love how the 1920s woman is thought of as a throughly modern woman – a flapper who thought only of smoking and bootleg whisky.  But the reality is that the average 1920s woman was a rather romantic creature, with an eye to the past and the other on romantic locations.

How else do you explain the popularity of Lanvin’s Robe de Style, a throw-back to the panniered fashions of the 18th century?  And if you spend as much time as I do looking at 1920s fashion magazines and looking for 20s fashion items, you can’t help but notice that some of the biggest recurring thems are based on a romantic ideal.

Here’s my new favorite – a 1920s silk stocking box.  No flappers here, but romance abounds!  Venice seems to be a favored locale.

A few more examples:


Here’s another 1920s view of that Venetian icon, the gondola.  This is an embossed lithograph print that hangs above my computer desk.   It was really hard to photograph because it’s framed and behind glass, and there’s lots of shiny gold accents.  But it is a real beauty of a picture, and more proof of the romantic nature of the 1920s woman!

Tuesday is Mardi Gras, or Carnevale if you happen to be in Venice or Rio!  Carnevale was a popular theme during the 1920s, with the bright colors fitting in with many of the fashionable deco styles.  This print is the top of a serving tray.  The quality is not the same level as the print above, but it’s every bit as attractive!

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