The juniors department

Yes, this is another post about a suit. I just really love suits, okay?

Most of the time, if I see a juniors label in a piece of vintage clothing, I can pretty much be guaranteed that it's not going to fit my bust without even trying it on. Let's face it: I'm shapely.

Navy blue 1950s suit by Botany, Lord & Taylor Young New Yorker Shop Fifth Avenue, Melrose flea market • Necklace by Coro, etsy • Red slingback heels, FabGabs Portland • Oversized cateye sunglasses, TOMS

Navy blue 1950s suit by Botany, Lord & Taylor Young New Yorker Shop Fifth Avenue, Melrose flea market • Necklace by Coro, etsy • Red slingback heels, FabGabs Portland • Oversized cateye sunglasses, TOMS

I'm also short. So I am very glad that, when I found this suit for $20 at the Melrose flea market a couple years ago, I didn't bother looking at the label on the inside of the jacket. 

Because, damn. This thing fits extremely well.

OOTD: More big pants

I guess it was sort of reproduction day around here. When I first started buying vintage clothes, a major motivation I had for doing it was that I don't like creating waste, and also I value history so much that preserving items from the past is tremendously important to me. So it was critical that every piece I buy be true vintage, no exceptions. And I still feel largely that way, but as I began to develop my style, I realized that a big part of 1930s and 1940s fashion was pants. Big ones. And the more I looked in my regular sources - online, local vintage shops and shows - the more I realized that authentic vintage wide leg pants from the 30s and 40s are incredibly rare. In all the time I've been doing this, I've maybe come across just one or two pairs of wide leg, high waisted gabardine or jersey pants in my size. One you've seen here, and the other was out of my price range. I think it's probably because they were such a wardrobe staple for working women, and because depression and war forced people to make do and mend, that by the time the 50s rolled around no one wanted to hang on to them anymore, used and mended and worn. 

So, in this narrow situation, I admit to buying reproduction pants. 

1940s style swing trousers, Vivien of Holloway • vintage pink linen blouse, etsy • 1930s style rose gold heels, Remix

1940s style swing trousers, Vivien of Holloway • vintage pink linen blouse, etsy • 1930s style rose gold heels, Remix

I have tried three sources so far for 40s style pants: seller Allure Original Styles on etsy (who doesn't appear to be taking any custom orders at this time), seller Time Machine Vintage on etsy, and Vivien of Holloway, a UK-based repro company. I bought the Allure pants second-hand so they weren't custom made, and they were a little too big in the waist and tight in the hip - if you look at her samples for sale they're extremely slim-hipped for the waist measurement. I haven't gotten my Time Machine linen pants yet, but I can't say enough good things about the two pair I have from Vivien of Holloway. They're not made to order, but there is a solid 12-inch difference between the waist and hip measurement, which works out great for me. I'm short, so I always have to get them hemmed one cuff's worth, but the price is fantastic for the quality–I think they usually come out to around $80 and the construction and fabric are beautiful. They do sell out quickly of reasonable sizes, so if you see something you like, snag it before it goes out of stock. 

As if this reproduction transgression wasn't bad enough, I'm also wearing some fabulous 1930s style reproduction heels in a rose gold by Remix, a fun but pricey shop on Beverly Boulevard. I love this store, and I love their shoes. I do have several pairs of vintage heels and they're great, but they just aren't that comfortable for all-day wear or dancing. But these–these are perfect for that.

left to right, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s heels by Remix

left to right, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s heels by Remix

The top though. The top is vintage. 

Estate find: Edmund Kara for Athena (?)

Y'all. At the very same estate sale at which I found my colossal pants, I also found this amazing 1950s cocktail dress. 

I was afraid to steam this out any more in case it would damage the silk, but you can still get an idea of how incredible this is. The ruching, the construction, the design–it's really beautiful. All this ruching!

At first, I couldn't find a label in it. But then today as I was photographing it for etsy (It's way too small for me or I might keep it) I found this label:

Yes, this lining is crepe. Fabulous. 

Yes, this lining is crepe. Fabulous. 

When I saw this I thought, Aiheua? What the hell is that? But the columns tipped me off that it might be Athena, with the Greek thing and all. And then I hit a series of dead ends trying to research it, I guess because Athena is a kind of common word and also because it wasn't a very large shop. Eventually I found an address, next to two couturiers on Robertson Boulevard.


I didn't find a lot of other garments online with this Athena label, but this one is stunning:

And then I found this:

Seems pretty consistent, right? Except for the address being on a different part of Robertson. Maybe they moved; who knows. What's really interesting about this image is the source. A designer, artist and sculptor named Edmund Kara was working in New York in the late 1940s-early 1950s, as a designer for Lena Horne. After traveling around the world for a couple years, he moved to LA and began working as a freelance fashion designer around 1955.

One of the shops that used to make clothes for Lena was run by a woman named Athena, and she had a partner who was a rather well-known actress named Odette Myrtil. They owned a custom-made clothing shop on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and I became a designer for them. Athena was going into wholesale suit manufacturing, and I was a [ghost] designer for her company.
— Edmund Kara, interview by David Jay Brown, March 29, 1996

Robertson, Wilshire, what's the difference? So that might explain the lack of another label - Kara worked without a credit for Athena (and another label 'Jewel') and took a lot of other freelance design work before moving to Big Sur in 1962. He also did dresses, like this late 1950's example:

So yeah, turns out he can do draping pretty well too. I don't really know if my dress was designed by Edmund Kara, but it's still a stunning piece of history. Look for it in my etsy shop soon. 

Gym class

When I was in school in the 90s (and the 80s, for that matter), we had physical education classes. We ran around the playground, or the gym, we probably played tennis and basketball and many other things I wasn't any good at because my coordination is poor and they didn't interest me. I don't remember having uniforms, though it's completely possible we did. It is highly unlikely, however, that they were anywhere near as cute as this 1950s gym uniform I found on ebay:

The label indicates that it's "Sanforized," a common term in the mid-20th century for what we now might call "pre-shrunk." Developed in the 1920s by Sanford Lockwood Cluett, the process involves moistening, stretching, heating, and expanding until the fabric shrinks uniformly and can be made into garments (or whatever) that won't shrink a great deal when washed. 

tea-stained napkins

My honey and I are getting married in September. We've been doing a lot of planning and a lot of decision-making in the last 7 months, and it's funny how every small detail can matter. There are so many details to consider - what booze to serve? what glasses to serve it in? what plates, linens, silver? And for someone as visually-oriented as I am, all these details not only matter, but I love caring about them. 

Our colors are (roughly) blue, gold, and brown. So the bright white napkins I collected from estate sales and ebay were a little too high-contrast with the navy blue tablecloths (yes, I think about this). I didn't want to dye them and have it look kind of fake or forced, so I decided to stain them with black tea to get a subtle antique off-white. 

I have about a hundred of these napkins. Each pot can handle two, maybe three, and they take about ten minutes of soaking time to get a really solid stain. 

I'm about halfway through them. 

Lilli Ann part 4: short story

1950s Lilli Annette Diminutive suit, etsy • 1940s pink blouse, etsy

I'm short. At 5'4", modern clothes are almost always too tall for me, and I used to have to buy petites or adjust shoulders accordingly. While I haven't really had this problem with vintage clothing at all, sometimes if I see a petite in something vintage, I'll try it, because it might be more likely to fit me. When I found this suit on etsy, I was surprised that Lilli Ann made a petite line.

Lilli Annette Diminutive (petite) label in a 1950s suit.

I can find essentially zero information about it, like when it was produced and how many were in the line, but as far as I can tell, Lilli Annette suits seem to be fairly rare. I've only seen mine and two or three others, plus a couple of jackets. It seems as though the diminutive suits were not simply resized versions of the original, but new designs altogether. This suit fits marginally better than others from the same era from shoulder to waist, but really, my late 1950s non-diminutive suit fits better than this one does just because it's a smaller size. But if you're short, and you've tried unsuccessfully to wear a Lilli Ann, give the diminutive line a try. I noticed that the materials aren't quite as nice as the main tall-lady line - the wool feels a bit cheaper, and the lining is acetate instead of crepe or silk or satin like the others I have. 

I'm squinting because it was bright and I forgot to bring my sunglasses, not because I have a general disdain for everything.

I'm squinting because it was bright and I forgot to bring my sunglasses, not because I have a general disdain for everything.

And that's it for suit week and my four lovely Lilli Anns. 

dogs 'n' toms

Maggie and I were featured on the TOMS blog today, where I seem to be laughing maniacally for some reason I can't quite recall. Maggie's leash is from RESQ/CO, on the TOMS Marketplace

I think I paid around $20 for this incredible 1940s ivory crepe swing dress on ebay. The belt, which you can't really see all that well here, is a handmade satin beaded belt with a peacock in the middle. I'll get a better shot of it after I have it cleaned, but it's amazing, and it came from my grandmother or her sister. 

welcome to suit week

Man, I love a good suit. Sharp, tailored, almost restrictive, a suit will force you to stand up straight and look as elegant or intimidating as possible. Think about Madeleine's gray suit in Vertigo. 


Now, I realize that this is actually Vera Miles, not Kim Novak. Miles was originally cast in the role but her pregnancy interfered. Still, it's a great view of the costume itself. Stiff, straight and tailored. Kim felt nowhere near as happy to see it as Vera looks here.

When Edith Head showed me that gray suit, I said, “Oh, my god, that looks like it would be very hard to act in.  It’s very confining.’  Then, when we had the first fitting of the dress, it was even worse and I said, ‘This is so restrictive.’ 

Ultimately, she found it worked to her advantage.

They made that suit very stiff.   You constantly had to hold your shoulders back and stand erect.  But, oh that was so perfect.  That suit helped me find the tools for playing the role. 

(Read the entire interview here). 

Madeleine's suit was designed by Edith Head, and it was not unlike the suit fashions of the time. I recently acquired a number of pretty incredible suits (the fact that they all came at once was something of a coincidence). I'm going to wear them all this week, just for fun. Here is the first one:

This is me trying to do my best New Look pose and not quite nailing it. An exquisite 1950s Lilli Ann suit. 1940s-style platform heels by Remix–sorry, our dog ate my 1950s pumps.

This is me trying to do my best New Look pose and not quite nailing it. An exquisite 1950s Lilli Ann suit. 1940s-style platform heels by Remix–sorry, our dog ate my 1950s pumps.

 I'm not typically a sucker for designer labels. I buy what I like, because I like it and it looks good on me, not because it's a known designer. Also, I can't really afford known designers. But I recently have become obsessed with Lilli Ann suits. Impeccably tailored and sometimes wildly inventive, a suit by Lilli Ann, particularly from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, is quite the coveted item. Even at the time, the label was synonymous with high quality, excellent fit, and signature style, like extravagant peplum jackets and tight pencil skirts. Adolph Schuman, a native San Franciscan and the son of a Hungarian Jewish delivery truck driver, started his clothing business in San Francisco's Chinatown (later the Mission district at 17th and Harrison) some time around 1934. Schuman and his first wife Lillian created the label as her namesake. After World War II, Schuman imported much of the fabric for his suits and coats from Europe. 

Schuman showed European weavers how to modernize their methods, then placed orders with six mills for their entire output during certain months. The success of the whole plan, he believed, would depend on three rules: 1) buy abroad only what can not be obtained in the U.S.; 2) buy only in areas where the cloth has been made by craftsmen for years (i.e., broadcloth in Normandy, worsteds in (northern France); 3) insist that mills pay at least 75¢ an hour to their employees. Under the plan, Schuman had imported $2,225,000 worth of European fabrics by May of 1953, creating steady employment for many European textile workers. Additionally the mills were able to provide Schuman with top quality cloth at $2 to $4 less a yard than the European wholesale price, meaning the Lilli Ann customer got a gorgeous suit or coat made of high quality hand loomed fabric. (Source)

The company's factory was also located in San Francisco, in the South of Market district, and employed hundreds of local workers, thus the business was critical not only to European textile mills, but to the city it called home. Schuman was the business brain, but not the designer. According to her obituary, Lillian Schuman herself was the company's first designer, though it seems fairly clear from the company's "Original by Jean" label used through 1943 that Jean Miller was the head designer. In 1961, she (or someone else lost to history) was followed by  Jeanne Taylor, who remained head designer until the company closed by 2000. I find it kind of baffling that there is so little information on Jean Miller, whose designs are now so sought-after and celebrated, or if there was an additional designer that I can't even find any information about (like perhaps some anonymous designs by Balenciaga?). Similarly, it's difficult to tell when or why certain labels were used. From what I can tell, the square Lilli Ann label

was used in the 1940s and early 1950s, and the Paris labels were probably used from at least 1957 into the 1960s (though I have also read that "Paris" was added to the labels as soon as "following WWII"). 

The label in the jacket I'm wearing above.

The label in the jacket I'm wearing above.

This is sort of a guess though, because I've seen suits from late 1950s ads with square labels, so it might be related to where the fabric came from. Honestly, I have no idea. I just know this suit is awesome and it was made before 1964, because it has the National Recovery Board label used from 1938 to 1964. It probably dates from 1957-1960, as the post-1960 lines started to get a mod influence. Whatever. On to the advertising!

Vogue, August 15, 1950. 

This is actually an ad for Talon, "the quality zipper" used in Lilli Ann suits, but it's still a great image. It's 1950, and it's fall, so it's the college issue. The copy reads 

"See how deftly Lilli Ann of San Francisco manipulates fabric to minimize your waist and hips, to magnify the soft lines of a feminine suit... to glorify your figure whether you wear size 10 or 20! Masterfully tailored throughout in worsted gabardine–with such nicety of detail as the supple Talon fastener that zips up the skirt placket so smoothly, closes so securely–thanks to its exclusive automatic lock. About $70."

Just so we're clear on how exclusive these suits were, "about $70" in 1950 was almost $700. Then, five years later, a decidedly more grown up tone to the art and the copy:

I know, my scanner sucks.

I know, my scanner sucks.

This is from Vogue, September 1955. Dorian Leigh, the model wearing the Lilli Ann suit here, was possibly the most oft-photographed in their ads. Copy says

"Fabric-of-France 'Bamboo', extravagant blend of mohair, silk and worsted woven in France for Lilli Ann... for this suit-of-the-season... Sleeves are pleated... buckles are hand-cut Austrian rhinestones... red, green, cognac, lido blue, banana... About one hundred dollars... At all stores where young and exciting fashions are being sold."

Again, "about one hundred dollars" in 1955 was almost $900. These were not everyday suits. I have gone through all my magazines and all the images of ads I could find online and haven't found any of my suits, but I'll keep looking. What will I wear tomorrow?


the house!

Finally. After more than four months of moving, painting, refinishing (twice), Bryan and I have sort of gotten to a point where it feels great to walk in the door. I'm breaking a lot of my color rules here (warm sofa next to cool walls, for example), but we really tried to do all this on a budget. The only new piece of furniture we bought is the small red loveseat at the Long Beach flea market for $100, and the living room rug was a $60 craigslist find. All the paint I bought from the mistint pile or mixed myself from what I already had. 

When we first looked at the house, it was covered in the same butter-colored paint and off-white carpet... everywhere. The first thing we did was rip up the carpet, a difficult and stressful process that involved sanding, putting down coats of polyurethane, and being really irritated with each other. It looked great until about a month's worth of foot traffic, canine (x4) and human (x2), scratched the finish so badly that we were peeling it off in strips. Eventually, we re-sanded the entire floor and put down two coats of oil and two coats of wax, and the result is more beautiful and (so far) durable than the shiny poly finish. 

Okay okay, enough chatter. Before:


and the same room after:


We had a slight battle of the dining tables here. Bryan and I both found dining tables years ago on craigslist, and we both refinished them ourselves, and we both liked ours better than the other. In the end, Bryan's table won, because it fit in the room and mine didn't.

Here's the bedroom before:


And while it's really difficult to get a good shot of this room because it's so small, here are two:


The kitchen doesn't look a whole lot different yet, but we did score this awesome 1930's stove off craigslist:


Eventually, we'll want to upgrade the flooring situation here, as well as the cabinets. The tile is either original or it's from the 40's, but either way we want to keep it. The bathrooms aren't really worth showing yet, and neither is the back den/office or the outside of the house (the previous owner had gardeners and it looked lush and wonderful, but we're too broke and have too many dogs so the flora has gone downhill quickly). Bryan is out back right now raking the leaves, which helps, but the poor grass just can't withstand sixteen paws giving it a beating every day. 

Now that we're pretty far removed from the house hunting and negotiating part, it feels good. It's great to have no regrets about how everything went down, and to genuinely feel like we got a wonderful house at a good price. The views from this neighborhood are really stunning, and rival those of mega-pricey Echo Park because yes, you can see downtown, but you can also see the ocean. And that feels good on any day.

Claycraft tile fireplace

claycraft-cottage-fireplace Slowly, and not at all surely, we're moving in. This has been complicated somewhat by getting our two dog families used to living together and several weekend events - family visiting, friends' wedding, oh, and, you know, getting engaged ourselves, and the mess of excitement and activity that comes along with that. It's only been two weeks and we already have a caterer, a venue, a dress, and a DJ.

What does this have to do with Claycraft tile? Nothing. But this tiny space around our fireplace is still the only area of the house that's clean enough to photograph.


Milo's really happy about it too. When we first looked at the house, we thought it might be Batchelder tile, because Batchelder is the only California fireplace tile maker in the early 20th century that we knew of. Turns out there were other tile companies firing quality at the same time. Claycraft was one of them. They were only around for a relatively short period of time - from 1921 to about 1939 (the last city directory reference I could find is in the 1939 directory, below).


Our tile is a cottage scene:



I don't know if this tile was stained over, or if it's just dirty. Apparently, it's supposed to look more like the version this other LA homeowner found when researching her own fireplace.

That's about all I can muster at the moment. I can't promise that this blog won't devolve into vintage wedding planning. Fair warning.