Vintage (and/or cheap) Holiday Gifts

There are about two days of online shopping left and one more flea market weekend before Christmas. I admit that this year, due to some major unexpected changes and events, we are really behind on the whole holiday thing. I purchased some Silk Holiday Nog a few days ago, draped one small string of lights over a bookcase, and went back to looking for work and caring for my laid-up husband. 

Typically though, I’m a big fan of Christmas. I will probably buy a very small tree tomorrow and start to bring in some holiday spirit, because it is absolutely my favorite time of year. Although we’re not in a position financially to buy gifts this year, these are some of my past years’ greatest vintage gift ideas.

Sidenote: why vintage gifts? Same reason I wear vintage clothes and furnish our home with vintage furniture and art. I’m of the mind that reducing waste is good, appreciating history is good, and bringing new products into existence should be done only with good reason and process. And since making that determination is difficult with the lack of transparency involved in today’s global manufacturing landscape, I prefer to support the market and circulation of goods already in existence. Let’s move on.

For sports-type dads and dudes: vintage memorabilia.

My dad was a big sports guy, and specifically, he was inexplicably obsessed with the Dallas Cowboys. One year, I bought him a pennant and and old game program from the 60s and whoa was he stoked. He was also golf-obsessed, and there are a lot of fun/silly/cheap golf-related vintage goods out there. There are some old ticket stubs and press passes floating around on eBay that are also great little graphic design time capsules and could be collaged to tell the story of a team or player.

Cowboys vs Browns ticket stub, $16 on eBay; USC vs Navy ticket stub, $20 on eBay; Field photographer pass, $13 on eBay; 1972 press pass, $12 on eBay; Army vs Navy ticket stub, $40 on eBay

For bakers, specifically pie enthusiasts

My husband likes to bake pies.  Last year I bought him a deep dish pie plate, as well as a cute vintage pie bird on eBay. Vintage cooking utensils are everywhere, and they’re cheap, and they’re useful. Put together a vintage pie kit and include a homemade spice blend and old family recipe.

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Vintage metal pie plate, $10 on ebay; vintage ceramic pie vent, $40 on etsy (there are lots of cheaper ones on eBay, I just loved this one); vintage pie crust crimper with painted wood handle, $13 on eBay; 1940s rosewood handle pie server, $50 on etsy 

For moms and girlfriends:

I love vintage accessories, yet I don’t often buy them for myself. Estate sales almost always offer some chic vintage gloves for a few bucks, and so do flea markets. It’s also pretty easy to find a necklace or bracelet online or in person. 

For friends and neighbors:

Vintage board games. Snag a vintage Scrabble or monopoly board and start a neighborhood game night. 

General things people seem to like:

Notebooks and vintage boxes. People always have more ideas, plans, and small objects than they know what to do with, so providing a place to put them is always welcome.

People like me:

Vintage fashion magazines. I adore Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar issues from the 40s and 50s. 

Family: 

Scanned, enlarged and framed family photographs. I inherited a lot of great photos from my grandmother, and my mom is always asking if she can have a copy. It's not hard, but it takes a little time and effort, so now is a great time to make it happen. Sometimes you can even have these made locally instead of waiting for them to print and ship. This is the route we took this year... though there is one flea market left, so who knows? 

Merry happy Christmas holiday giving!

DIY wedding invitations

I've been a graphic designer for about eight years now (ten if you count freelancing in law school), and about 2% of that time has been spent making things with actual paper. I'm fairly crafty and somewhat capable with my hands, but printing on paper is something at which I never really became adept. I also like to do things the hard way sometimes, and I value that which is unique, therefore it made little sense for me to design our invitations and send them off to a printer. I decided to do the only reasonable thing and make each invitation by hand.

I always thought cyanotypes were lovely, and the blue worked so well with our theme. I was inspired by the hauntingly beautiful Photographs of British Algae by Anna Atkins, published in 1843. Though her prints of sea life are quite beautiful–

what really intrigued me was the tiny type and details and I thought, I could do that. Feminist bonus: this book represents the first photographic work of a woman, and the first book produced entirely by photographic means. 

First, I started by creating a transparency. No–first, I started by finding 150 blue and gold envelopes at Blick in the clearance section for $3.00 which determined the size of the actual invitations. Then I designed the thing in Photoshop and printed it out on a sheet of transparent film.

Pretty soon I got wise and realized I could get the job done three times as fast if I printed three of them on one sheet. In hindsight, I probably could have done four, but thisll work out. Next, I bought four large sheets of paper in varying shades, textures and weights just for fun, along with some light-sensitive dye, wash, and a cheap paintbrush. The whole thing cost me about $30, not counting the envelopes. 

How it works

First, I go to a dark place (physically, not metaphorically) and brush the dye onto the paper. It's kind of tough to see where the dye is going (and to photograph, see first photo in post) because it goes on pretty clear and, well, you're sort of in the dark. But I got the hang of it after a while, and I kind of like the areas in the finished product where you can see some of the brush strokes. Next, it's important to let the paper dry a little. The transparent film doesn't breathe, and if too much moisture is trapped between the film and the paper, the dye just runs during exposure and separates from the film and nothing is legible. Once I'm confident that the paper is just right, I place the film on top, slide it inside of a folded-up mailing box to keep it dark, take it outside and place it on top of the cardboard in a sunny place. A sheet of glass leftover from repairing a broken window holds it all in place. Then, we wait.

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When it's done, it's critical that the unexposed dye be rinsed out as best as possible. This is tricky, because if the paper gets too wet, the dye will run and the text won't be legible. But if you don't rinse it well enough, the unexposed bits will gradually turn blue. Not as deep as the rest of the paper, but a faint blue nonetheless. This isn't horrible, but it wasn't what I had in mind. So I prepared a bath of hot water and soap (not sure if any soap will do, but I'm kind of a sucker so I bought the special SolarFast rinse that goes with it), laid the exposed side down flat in the bath and kind of skated it on the surface for a minute, then rinsed it with hot water.

Some of them turned out beautifully–

and some were more imperfect. And I think that's what I love about them; I love the brushstrokes and the variation in color. I got a matching stamp and some silver ink to dress up the envelopes a little. 

These are also imperfect. At least our guests knew what to expect.

Meet a Designer: Dorothy O'Hara

I'm kind of obsessed with this woman's dresses. Her ability to drape and flatter the body are legendary, and once I discovered her work, I wanted to know more about her. I also wanted to wear her dresses as often as possible. This one might be my favorite:

1950s navy blue jersey draped cocktail dress by Dorothy O'Hara, ebay

1950s navy blue jersey draped cocktail dress by Dorothy O'Hara, ebay

But her draping style kind of evolved from some more broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped designs of the 1940s. A couple examples:

New York Sun, 1946. Advertised at $35, about $450 in today's dollars.

New York Sun, 1946. Advertised at $35, about $450 in today's dollars.

Mid-1940s steel grey crepe cocktail dress by Dorothy O'Hara

Mid-1940s steel grey crepe cocktail dress by Dorothy O'Hara

LA Times, 1947. Approximately $475 in today's dollars. 

LA Times, 1947. Approximately $475 in today's dollars. 

One of the things I love about her designs is that they're all step-in, even her dresses that looked like suits or two-piece outfits. 

Dorothy O’Hara endorses the slim silhouette, exclusively, Her distinctive signature, the “all-in-one-piece” drapery, places this designer in a class of her own. She literally wraps the body in fabric and her ingenuity makes the most of a woman’s figure.
Working with the grain of the fabric and molding it to give depth to the bust and minimize the waistline, the “poured-into” style is nevertheless a step-in dress in every case. The woman can slip easily into her clothes after hairdo and makeup.
— Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1954

So that's a bit about her designs, but I found her story to be just as enthralling. Dorothy and her brother Kenneth were born in Los Angeles in 1911 and 1913, respectively. Their mother, Blanche, was a dressmaker from Ohio and married James O'Hara around 1907. It appears that he was something of an unsavory character, at least in his younger years. He worked in the mining industry, probably dealing with oil. He had two children with his first wife Rose in Colorado, then moved to Los Angeles and married Blanche, but had moved on to Texas and remarried by 1917. (Lest we get judgy, he married a woman who already had seven children, and he remained with them until his death in 1939.)

At any rate, Blanche was left in Los Angeles with two very young children, and continued to work as a dressmaker. It appears that they moved around a great deal, because each year in the city directory they have a different address. Incidentally, Blanche listed herself as a widow in the city directories after James left, although he didn't actually die until 1939. Given the stigma of divorce or separation at the time, one can't exactly blame her, and it's likely that she didn't know he was alive. 

Dorothy learned from her mother, who worked as a dressmaker most of her life. In 1934, Dorothy married Henry (Hank) J. Lunney, though she continued to use her maiden name professionally. Their son Falcon was born in 1935. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Dorothy worked for some small dress manufacturers in Los Angeles, including the Malouf Dress Corporation and Hunt Broughton & Hunt.

Broadway in the 1930s was an exciting place to be. Next door is the United Artists theater, which is now the Ace Hotel.

Broadway in the 1930s was an exciting place to be. Next door is the United Artists theater, which is now the Ace Hotel.

By 1945, her career had started to really take off. Dorothy and Hank established Fashion Forecast (later Dorothy O'Hara Inc.), their own manufacturing firm. She was working for Paramount as a costume designer when she showed her first collection at the St. Regis Hotel in New York for Arnold Constable, at that point a long-established high-end department store. From a 1945 New York Sun article by Mabel Greene:

Dorothy O’Hara, youthful and talented California designer whom Arnold Constable introduced yesterday to the NewYork press, entered her profession through her widowed mother’s custom order dressmaking workrooms.

Chestnut-haired Miss O’Hara has been a designer for Paramount Studios for two years and recently was re-signed on a four-year contract, with the added privilege of designing clothes for clients outside the motion picture studios. Yesterday the collection she has created for fall wear, which will be available about August 1 exclusively in New York at Arnold Constable Fifth Avenue[.]
— Mabel Greene, New York Sun, April 20, 1945

This dress was part of this initial collection:

Advertisement, Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1945

Her style evolved to even more feminine and flattering shapes.

Advertisement, New York Evening Post, June 19, 1946

Advertisement, Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1950

"Dorothy O'hara inimitably drapes a crepe sheath creating prophetic fashion with her distinctive signature." Advertisement in Vogue, March 1, 1956

By the mid-1950s, her designs appear in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, in both editorial and advertisement. In 1953, she designed her first complete evening wear collection. She also designed the dresses in which the daughters of the Governor of California would meet Queen Elizabeth. 

Dorothy and her husband and son moved from Beverly Hills (the house or apartment building they lived in at 8717 Burton Way has since been replaced) to Newport Beach. Specifically, they built a home on Lido Isle, a small man-made island in the Newport Beach harbor, built from an existing mudflat and developed for residential use in the early 1920s to resemble a European resort. Their single-story home was designed by Hank and architect Theodore Pletach in true California style, built around a central lanai for year-round outdoor living. A 1954 LA Times article shows pictures of the interior, but the online copies are so poor that it's impossible to make out any detail. Dorothy died in 1963 at the young age of 51.

Again, from the 1945 article, which sums it up pretty well:

If this writer were asked to describe her excellent work in a single phrase, it would be: “No gingerbread.” Miss O’Hara learned her job the hard way, starting as a model and working her way through the pattern and fitting departments. Her evaluation of feminine fashions obviously includes some solid basic conclusions that some other designers might well copy, i. e., that ornateness is not fashion and that simplicity is its own elegance.
— New York Sun, April 20, 1945

reunited

There are several Lilli Ann suit jackets out there. There are fewer suits, and it's pretty difficult to find a skirt to match an existing jacket. So when I found a matched set to replace a jacket I already had, I was thrilled.

I've seen this jacket a number of times, both in black and brown, and I've never seen the same button twice. This one is my favorite; it's a bakelite-type large black button with a caramel-colored stripe. Very chic. How do you know if you find a Lilli Ann skirt? They're half lined, or; they're quarter-lined – a panel of silk, crepe or acetate in the backside that doesn't quite go all the way to the hem. They have no label, so it's often tough to match up orphan jackets and skirts. To be honest, I've never actually done that before, but I assume it's possible.

Happy Friday!

(and thanks so much to reader Janet who alerted me to this incredible suit!)

Bellciano

As you may know, I'm obsessed with 1950s suits. So when a while back, at the Vintage Clothing & Textile Show in Burbank from seller crown chic, I found this crazy awesome suit jacket by Bellciano I could not pass it up, even though it had no matching skirt. The asymmetric closure and collar are so unusual, and I had to learn more about the label.

There are three labels in this jacket. In the collar is the store label, Haggarty's. This was a pretty high end Los Angeles department store, with shops in downtown LA and Beverly Hills, later (post 1964) in Pasadena, Palm Springs, Santa Ana, Lakewood, Bakersfield, Glendale, and Canoga Park. At the time this jacket was made, though – probably around 1954 – only the downtown and Beverly Hills stores were around. Here's the Beverly Hills store , circa 1952:

And the same location today:

There's also an "imported fabric" label and the designer label, "original Bellciano New York". The construction, quality and condition of this jacket are exquisite.  This 1954 ad from the Los Angeles Times is as close as I could come to find this suit advertised.

The suit shown here was advertised at a retail price of $125, about $1000 today. 

The earliest reference to the label I could find was a 1936 Syracuse newspaper advertisement featuring a “Bellciano original… Three-piece suit is feather cloth with blouse and tunic coat.” On sale for $95.60, about $1500 in 1936. It seems that at first, Bellciano was carried almost exclusively in the high end department store The Addis Co. but by the mid-1940s, the label was carried in several fine stores across the country. It appears to be founded by David Bellsey, who emigrated from Russia with his parents in 1894 at the age of about two. He grew up and worked in New York, designing and manufacturing women's coats and suits. The Addis Co., a New York department store, was the first to carry his suits and coats, though by the mid 1940s they were carried in fine department stores across the country – like Haggarty's in Los Angeles.

Obviously, the sleeves on this jacket are too long for me. They launched a petite line, Bellciette, in 1954, which at 5’4”, I can certainly appreciate. A fashion reporter for a local paper says “Bellsley [sic] stresses understated elegance, with fine workmanship and fabrics, such as the tweeds woven especially for this house in England. 

"A knockout in this group was a black broadcloth belted suit with a giant white beaver collar. Bellsley [sic] has turned his back on the little-things-for-little-people idea. He favors large dramatic collars, which looked extra smart on his pint-sized models.”

I believe they do.


Claire McCardell

Today was rough. Well, let's be real: the last many months have been rough for me. I'm stuck in a job that doesn't want me and I feel professionally useless. But today I was told off in a humiliating way that I was surprisingly unprepared for, and I'm left feeling on one hand like I'm a wasted resource, and on the other so broken in my confidence that I feel like I have nothing to offer. Intellectually I know and hope that this isn't the case; I hope that someone sees value in my brain and my eye enough to offer me some money in exchange for them. What does this have to do with Claire McCardell? Not much, except that this dress that I'm wearing today is like a hug. I felt sad and scared going to work this morning, and I wanted to wear the softest, most comfortable garment I own. For some people this would mean an old sweatshirt. For me, it means a full-length gown in the softest wool possible, designed by Claire McCardell for Townley.

For a long time, I assumed that McCardell was a California designer. I saw so many examples of her work on the beach, or 1940s playsuits shot by Louise Dahl-Wolfe that were SO California that I assumed she had to be from Los Angeles. 

 

Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe for Harper's Bazaar, 1946

Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe for Harper's Bazaar, 1946

So when I learned she was firmly a New York designer, I was surprised, I guess because I associate her so much with resort wear. But yeah, turns out she was educated and lived and worked in New York her whole career. There are plenty of good biographies of her on the internet, so I won't go into too much detail here, except to say that the fact she eschewed absorbing the Paris collections helped her pioneer American design through World War II. She created and perfected the wrap dress, utilized unconventional fastening materials, like hooks (seen above) and belts rather than zippers, and expertly used draping and gathering to accentuate the body. 

Navy wool dress, Claire McCardell clothes by Townley, $38 on ebay

Navy wool dress, Claire McCardell clothes by Townley, $38 on ebay

Sidenote - I paid about $40 for this dress, because it had been dyed. The label is the same navy blue as the dress. But it's still a soft hug and exactly what I needed today.

It's supposed to be 80 degrees this week.

But it's so cold in the morning that I leave with coat, gloves and hat.

Hat, Long Beach Flea Market • sunglasses, TOMS • copper 50s blouse and black/tan reversible jacket, Playclothes in Burbank • black silk 50s pants, Reese's Vintage Pieces • ballet flats, TOMS

Detail of the stitching on this jaunty cap

Detail of the stitching on this jaunty cap

Thanks for the weekend, fall. It was fun while it lasted. 

Can I just talk about this dress for a minute?

You guys. If you don't follow me on instagram (and you should! it's fun!), you missed the incredible awesomeness that is my outfit today:

Dress and redingote from Blue Fennel Vintage on etsy, shoes by Remix

Dress and redingote from Blue Fennel Vintage on etsy, shoes by Remix

I enjoy having a fairly extreme hourglass figure. But I have never enjoyed it more than when I saw the measurements for this ensemble go up on etsy (sidenote: she's having a sale right now! go!) because it's pretty rare that something is exactly my size. I admit that I've been feeling pretty crummy about myself post-wedding. For me, post-wedding is not unlike post-holiday: a lot of high-calorie food and beverages were consumed in the name of celebration, and not a lot of shits were given about it at the time. And I wasn't one of these brides who struggled to lose a lot of weight for the big day. I just noticed I was putting on a few pounds and bought a new dress (or two). So I didn't leave myself a lot of wiggle dress room after the fact, and honestly, there were a few days where I felt like Regina George when all I could wear were my knit suits (sidenote #2: Mean Girls is ten years old? wtf?). 

The point is, when the heavens opened and this set appeared, I knew I was about to feel pretty good about myself. No, I don't believe the entirety of my self-worth depends on my appearance, and I vehemently do not believe I have to be a certain size in order to experience confidence. But damn, if it doesn't feel good to find something like this and walk around all day feeling polished and perfect. 

Let's move on, shall we? This ensemble is comprised of two pieces: the silk patterned dress and the redingote. I, too, had to ask what the hell a redingote is and whether it was a real word. Turns out it is a real word, and it makes more sense if you say the words "riding coat" in an Americanized French accent. See? So it's a kind of coat that was originally designed for riding, similar to a princess coat in that it's fitted at the waist and flared toward the hem, but divided in the middle so that it flows gracefully when you're riding through the countryside on horseback. Or something. But the dress is crazy awesome in its own right.

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I had a pretty good day today, owing in no small part to this ensemble. Thanks, Stephanie!

An interesting piece of fashion history

Lately, I've been staying up late researching a department store that went out of business in 1959. Why? I like staying up late, and I like solving mysteries, and I have a mystery I've been trying to, if not solve, then at least shed some light on. Remember the Lilli Ann copy I bought a few months ago? To recap, it was a beautiful navy blue suit with white trim and amazing tiny pockets:

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Through a little research, I determined that this suit, made by Jovon Fashions, was possibly/probably a copy of a Lilli Ann. In fact, the Lilli Ann company sued Jovon for directly copying their designs and marketing them as Lilli Ann copies, so it seemed likely that there was an original counterpart out there somewhere.

And I then I found one. 

The Lilli Ann original is on the left, the copy by Jovon is on the right. 

The Lilli Ann original is on the left, the copy by Jovon is on the right. 

Now, there was one thing wrong with this alleged original. All the Lilli Ann suit jackets I've seen in person place the label top center, in the collar. I have never, in the dozens of Lilli Ann suit jackets I've seen (which admittedly isn't a whole lot), seen a late 1940s/early 50s label, the squareish one, placed anywhere else. This jacket has a store label in that place, and the Lilli Ann label is placed in the jacket flap, not inconspicuously. 

This label is placed in the inside neck of the jacket, where one usually finds the Lilli Ann label.

This label is placed in the inside neck of the jacket, where one usually finds the Lilli Ann label.

In both jackets, the makers' labels are placed just below the buttonholes inside the jacket flap. An odd coincidence?

In both jackets, the makers' labels are placed just below the buttonholes inside the jacket flap. An odd coincidence?

I asked around in the Vintage Fashion Guild forums, and the response was generally, yeah, that's not a typical placement, it was moved at some point, but it could still be original, and with a jacket this awesome, who cares? Which is a totally valid response, unless you're sort of new to this and extremely curious and into solving mysteries. I want stories. So I set out to determine if this store a) was the type of store that would sell Lilli Ann suits, and b) routinely placed their store label inside center top of the jacket, moving any maker's label. 

But the first thing I had to determine when I got the alleged original was whether it differed enough from the copy so as to be from a different manufacturer. There was pretty much no question about this. The fabric was completely different; the Jovon suit was a smooth gabardine, and the original had a texture that matched another Lilli Ann jacket I already had.

Alleged Lilli Ann on the left, confirmed on the right

Alleged Lilli Ann on the left, confirmed on the right

The star-shaped pockets are also constructed somewhat differently:

The buttons on the new jacket exactly matched another confirmed Lilli Ann (though the Jovon jacket's buttons were extremely close, about an eighth of an inch smaller). The stitching around the collar was much finer on the alleged original, and the white trim appears to be one piece, whereas on the Jovon jacket they're separate pieces sewn together. 

One of the other interesting differences between the two jackets is the placement of the union label. As you can see above, the copy has the label placed on a seam that would be visible if the wearer unbuttoned the jacket, whereas the alleged original (and all the other Liili Ann jackets I've seen) have it placed on an internal seam so as to be more hidden. As far as I know, the numbers on these union labels are unhelpful as a tool for identifying both makers and date of manufacture.

Once I determined that the jackets were probably not manufactured by the same company, I then tried to determine if the store whose label was in the jacket ever sold Lilli Ann suits. It's entirely possible that Jovon, the label that copied Lilli Ann designs, also copied other labels, and this Lilli Ann label was added either nefariously or innocently at some point in time. I have to admit that I pretty much came up short on this point. I did find evidence that the store, Mawson DeMany, sold ladies' suits, through these two old listings. But all of the newspaper advertisements showed almost exclusively their fur coats, which was clearly the vast majority of their business. 

One interesting bit of information I came across while trying to determine if a store would move or replace a Lilli Ann label is this thread. Essentially, it shows a Lilli Ann jacket with a store label in the inside collar of the jacket, just where mine is. 

So. From all this, I'm going to go ahead and conclude that the alleged original Lilli Ann jacket IS probably an original, and the store probably moved the label. Why does this matter? After all, I bought my suit knowing it wasn't a Lilli Ann, so what difference does it make? I think that more information is good, and every piece of it I uncover helps inform my judgment both in terms of buying and selling vintage and just knowing and appreciating history. And there aren't a whole lot of other principles I'm guided by besides appreciating history. Also, I just love suits. 

Getting married, vintage style (part II)

As promised, some clothing details from our recent wedding. I did two costume changes during the party, which could maybe have been dumb/crazy/excessive, but I was glad I did it. I actually changed back into my favorite dress at the end of the night because I was drunk and it was my favorite so there. 

Speaking of favorites, my friend Missy is a genius with hair, especially vintage styles. She styled me and my bridesmaids and I'm pretty sure we all looked fabulous. I also go to her for all my regular cuts and colors. 

I made my own veil, bandeau style, out of a piece of french netting, a blue velvet millinery leaf, and some brass hair pieces I found on Etsy. I will eventually list all the netting I have, along with my dresses that did and did not work out, in the bridal section of my shop. 

Dresses that did not work out. Yes. This happened, several times. For some reason, while I was engaged, I was obsessed with wedding shows on Netflix, particularly a TLC confection where women go to a high-end bridal salon to shop for wedding dresses. Maybe I was obsessed with this show because it was so far out of my experience, and I remember cackling maniacally whenever one of the consultants or fashion-type people would say something like "NEVER buy a wedding gown online." I grew oddly fond of these people, so what I'm about to say I say with all sincere friendly fondness: bitch, please. I bought a total of six dresses for the wedding, three that worked out and three that didn't, and one of the yes dresses I bought online. I think it helps that I'm a veteran vintage online shopper, so I kind of know how to interpret listings and what styles will look good on me. Two of the dresses I bought in real life ended up being no dresses, but only because I put on too much weight in the months before the wedding. One was this one:

I love this dress. It sort of fit me when I bought it at the Long Beach Flea Market oh, three weeks after getting engaged? But then over the course of the next year I proceeded to gain eight pounds, slowly, as one does, so that by the time I admitted it wasn't going to fit I had to buy a new dress. 

Sidenote: if you're curious why I didn't just wear one dress, there are three main points to consider. One, most of the dresses I bought were in the $40-$100 range. It's not like I was selling kidneys to bankroll my gown obsession. Two, there were three distinct phases to the wedding: the pre-ceremony cocktail hour, the ceremony and food time, and the dancing phase. I knew that my ceremony dress was very special, and I really wanted to wow people when I came down the stairs, and I didn't want my groom to see that dress during our opening cocktail hour. I also couldn't dance in it, since we were doing a swing dance that necessitated a short swingy skirt. Third, why not seize the opportunity to continue looking at dresses after you've already purchased a dress? I have no regrets. 

These 1930s navy blue crepe dancing shoes came from The Greatest Brick & Mortar Vintage Store in LA: Playclothes. They have silver heels and silver faux laces on the toe. 

I never really considered myself a ball gown girl. They're cumbersome and expected. But I bought this dress on Etsy from one of my favorite sellers, Beckiy of Trunk of Dresses, and I loved it. I don't think it was actually intended to be a ball gown, but the woman for whom this dress was originally made was at least three inches taller than me. The dress was a little too tall in the torso and in the skirt, and because it was too late to get it altered - originally I wanted to wear a 1930s silk gown for cocktail hour, but the aforementioned weight gain made that impractical, and I had to find something else at the last minute. So I bought a giant crinoline petticoat thing and made it work. 

1950s floral satin halter gown, by Mercia

1950s floral satin halter gown, by Mercia

I wasn't able to find out a great deal about the label, Mercia, other than it was a high end bridal salon in London. This dress is the same fabric, different style:

1951, John Chaloner Woods

1951, John Chaloner Woods

So I doubt my gown was even meant to be a ball gown, but at 5'4", it couldn't be helped. 

And OH RIGHT my groom was the most dapper. There's a funny quirk about my husband. He only wears blue and brown. Typically this manifests into blue on top and brown on the bottom, though sometimes the brown can be worn on top as well. White is acceptable as an accent. He is also tall, and wanted to wear a tailcoat (blue, natch) and generally be as close to 1930s as possible. 

Vintage Dior shirt, reproduction vest.

My dad's shoes.

My father in law was so well dressed that people asked me if he was hired as a period character.

My father in law was so well dressed that people asked me if he was hired as a period character.

We found the navy blue tailcoat and the pants on eBay. The tailcoat was 80s, but it was blue so we didn't care. I replaced the cheap plastic buttons with vintage brass ones, and because he got a little overzealous with his chest workouts, I sewed a brass chain on the front to make the open jacked look intentional. The pants are vintage 1930s but were gray, so I soaked them in cold coffee for hours until they became brown enough for him to wear. 

They're all waiting for me to come down the stairs in dress #2 for the ceremony. Bryan bought his groomsman vintage flasks and kept one for himself.

1930s silk charmeuse bias cut gown in ivory, violet and black floral print. From Nakia's Vintashee. 

Me with our amazing photographer, Suzy Fahmy.

My dancing dress was a 1960s lace tea length with a giant skirt that worked perfectly with our swing outs and passes. I originally purchased it at Paper Moon on Hollywood, a really wonderful shop with great stuff at great prices. A lot of early 20th century pieces, plus all decades through the 1960s. I became obsessed with having a vintage paper moon photo booth, a service they offer to weddings and parties (and hell, just your backyard on a Tuesday afternoon if you can afford it), but ultimately I couldn't afford it. Still a fun and fashionable party. I will be listing this dress eventually as well so someone else can experience this kind of joy. Dancing shoes are from Remix

And that's it! It was by far the most magical, fashionable and thrilling evening of my life. And, because all good things must come to and end, I'm happy it's over and grateful it was so perfect.

This is a Lilli Ann

A few times a year, there are vintage clothing shows in Los Angeles, where vendors from the city and surrounding regions (sometimes as far as Washington or Texas) sell clothing and accessories, generally spanning the entire 20th century. Even though I was financially challenged in the last year because I was saving for the wedding, I still went to a few of these. The trouble with this is that I inevitably found something fabulous that I couldn't afford: for example, an insanely amazing Lilli Ann suit. I had to make the grown up choice to save the money for the wedding and not buy it, even though it fit me perfectly. I think it was this one:

Vogue, September 1956

Vogue, September 1956

Trust, I felt in this suit exactly like she does. Blissful, adored, graceful, ready to receive flowers and experience romance. I don't have a picture of me wearing this suit because I didn't want to want it even more, but I did become overly preoccupied with the idea of finding another one that fit me as well and was either less expensive or found after the wedding had been paid for. It's funny, because when I first got into vintage clothes, I didn't really care about designers or labels. But after a couple years of research and figuring out what I really like, I started to get more obsessed with having a few pieces from some recognizable names like Ceil Chapman, Claire McCardell, Don Loper and, of course, Lilli Ann. I think part of this has to do with my fondness for finding treasures, the thrill of the hunt and all that. It has to do with wanting quality pieces. But as a designer (of pixels, not clothes) it also has to do with recognizing talent and giving due credit. So when I wrote a really whiny post a while back about buying what I considered to be a knockoff suit, I was mostly focused on 1) being upset that work had been copied for profit, and 2) manifesting my guilt over treating myself to a beautiful suit while I was supposed to be saving for the wedding.

Now that the wedding is over and everyone got paid and I don't have to feel so guilty anymore, I realize that I missed an opportunity to appreciate both the shops and the garment itself. Regardless of who made it, that piece is still stunning and worth every penny. It's well made and I look fabulous in it, and I'm glad I got it. I had basically come to this conclusion quietly on my own (in fact, I went back to the store a few weeks later to buy an incredible Kahala two piece playsuit). But when I ran into the perpetually elegant couple that owns Joyride and Elsewhere Vintage at the expo yesterday, it finally dawned on me that I had publicly been a total jerk about it. Well, I'm not a jerk (at least I hope not), and I didn't make this clear enough before: these people know their stuff, offer incredible quality at very reasonable prices, and visiting their shops is fun enough that I happily made the 1+ hour drive more than once in a month. Also, what other shop in Southern California offers exclusively high quality vintage menswear and excellent customer service? There might be one, but I haven't been to it.  I don't know if I was just being a stressed out bride, or I assumed no one would read it (actually that's true), but when I bought another suit from them yesterday, I realized how dumb I'd been and that I had to make amends somehow. So this is me trying to do that. Oh, and here's the new suit - no misguided buyer's remorse this time:

Lilli Ann asymmetric brown wool fleck suit, circa 1958

Right? Perfectly tailored, incredible condition, everything you want to see in a Lilli Ann. Details, details:

Originally, this little tail probably had a fox trim on the end, like this:

From Harper's Bazaar, 1958

From Harper's Bazaar, 1958

but the fact that mine doesn't works out great for me, since I can't bring myself to buy or wear fur anyway. 

 

So. Turns out I got the lesson wrong before. While I didn't end up being able to afford some of the things I'd wanted for the wedding, like the 1920's themed photo booth and rented vintage lounge furniture, the party was full of joy and beauty and missing these things ultimately didn't matter. At the end of the day, I have two fabulous suits and an interesting piece of fashion history, and the memories of basically the best wedding ever. 

Getting married, vintage style

A few weeks ago, I married my husband. I mean, he wasn't my husband before, but he is now. I now want a career in wedding and event planning and styling, like 83% of other brides with a modicum of taste and organizational skills. But I can specialize in vintage style weddings maybe? Anyway, when we first started planning, we knew that we wanted the whole thing to feel like a swanky 1930s cocktail party, with live jazz, liquor, decadent food and yes, resplendent 1930s fashion. I think we pretty much nailed it. 

The foyer of the house is where most of the action took place.

The venue we chose is The Maxwell House (aka Western Justice Center) in Pasadena. After looking at a few historic venues in Los Angeles, we quickly realized we couldn't afford any of them. Our budget for a venue was $3000 at most and we needed to bring in our own catering, and this eliminated places like Castle Green, The Langham Huntington, The Oviatt Penthouse, The Cicada Club, et cetera. The Maxwell House fit all our requirements: small but able to accommodate 120 guests, outside catering okay, tables and chairs provided, historic venue, within budget, and so beautiful that we didn't really need to do much in the way of decorations.

The house was built by George and Carrie Maxwell in 1929, a wealthy Boston couple who used the Mediterranean-style vacation home as a winter respite and entertaining space. Today, it serves as the offices for the Western Justice Center as well as an entertaining space - they maintain offices upstairs and rent out the restored first floor for weddings and parties. They were extremely easy to work with, and it was the perfect venue for us. 

The band that played: The Icy Hot Club. If you can check these guys out live and you're at all interested in gypsy jazz, do it. They were fantastic. We also went to go see them at Dapper Day two weeks before the wedding so we could actually get some dancing in. Worth it. So good. 

Speaking of dancing, it was really important to us (okay, me) to do a rad first dance. It didn't end up being our first dance, because we took some time before and during the wedding to practice. But it ended up being the best dance, and the best we'd ever done it. In fact, we'd never been able to make it successfully through the song without stopping until we did it for real. To learn what the hell we were doing, we took two months of private lessons from Dax Hock of the Lindy Loft. Not only are Dax and his wife Sarah incredible dancers, but incredible teachers as well. The group classes are fun, and the social dancing is fun, but what we really valued a ton were the one hour lessons we took each week, not only because we learned to dance (which we did) and we had fun (again, check) but because it was scheduled together time where we had to communicate, solve problems, and build skills together. Another thing that was so worth it and so good. 

wedding-table.jpg

I spent basically the whole year of our engagement collecting pieces of metal and glass for the tables. A lot of brass and glass, plus some special copper pieces, for florals and candles to line these tables and to serve as centerpieces for the large round tables in the indoor dining area. The flowers we bought at the downtown LA flower market - we did 26 table arrangements, plus the bar and buffet area, for about $340. Each table also had a few vintage Pasadena postcards for guests to leave us notes, and many did. 

I collected vintage postcards of the area to serve as a sort of guestbook, and designed a custom stamp for these little tent cards. 

Next time, the fashion.

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.

athena-beverly-hills.png

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. 

This is not a Lilli Ann

This weekend, I took a road trip to Orange to attempt to find my groom some clothes for our impending nuptials. While I have more dresses than I need, we've had some difficulty finding him a complete outfit. So I heard about Joyride and decided to see if could find some pants.

Joyride men's vintage store, located at 133 W Chapman Ave, Orange.

Joyride men's vintage store, located at 133 W Chapman Ave, Orange.

Well, we did find some pants, which was a relief. Unfortunately, I also found this incredible suit at the women's vintage store, Elsewhere Vintage, a couple doors down. I say unfortunately because, duh, I'm trying to save money for the wedding and not buy more suits. 

Hat, Playclothes Vintage in Burbank, California • suit, Elsewhere Vintage in Orange • shoes, Remix

Hat, Playclothes Vintage in Burbank, California • suit, Elsewhere Vintage in Orange • shoes, Remix

When I first saw this suit at the vintage fashion expo downtown this spring, I immediately assumed it was a Lilli Ann. The tiny accented waist, the peplum, the incredible detailing on the pockets and neckline - everything pointed to Lilli Ann's signature style. And the seller was similarly surprised - the label read "Lilli Ann style." It fit so well that I bought it despite my better judgment, and when I got it home I began to research the label, Jovon Fashions.

At first, I couldn't find much - a couple other suits on etsy that had long since sold, but also looked like Lilli Anns. But then I found a newspaper article dated October 11, 1956 which reported a $4 million lawsuit by Lilli Ann against Jovon Fashions for spying and ripping off their designs. 

Lilli Ann Corp. of California charged in the action that Jovon Fashions, Inc. of New York had used unfair trade practices by inducing Lilli Ann employees to deliver sketches of models and extracting details of Lilli Ann models from buyers pledged to secrecy. The suit charged that Jovon also represented its models as copies of Lilli Ann coats and suits.
— Corona Daily Independent, October 11, 1956

Gross, right? I love the way I look in this suit, but not the way I feel. It has sort of a Slugworth kind of air about it. And if you're thinking something along the lines of "But wait, maybe Jovon designed these particular suits themselves, and the suit was frivolous?" If only it were so. 

Jovon's argument wasn't that their designs were original, but that copying was a totally accepted and common practice in the fashion industry, and since clothing isn't eligible for copyright (this is true - it's considered a "useful article" and useful articles are not able to be copyrighted. I got a B in copyright law so I pretty much know), they are free to copy their designs all they want and it's totally fine, don't even worry about it. WTF, Jovan? Ugh. I have no idea how this lawsuit turned out, since I gave up my Lexis-Nexis password to become a graphic designer. I guess that I will still wear this suit. It fits me better than my Lilli Anns. But I won't feel good about it. 

But look at these pockets! THEY'RE LITTLE STARS Y'ALL

What's the lesson here? If you're saving for a major life goal that is really important, don't let yourself be wooed by counterfeit suits. I understand that's a really specific lesson, but maybe it will help someone from making the same mistake. 

 

UPDATE: I've since become less of a brat! Read my updated post here.

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. 

what I wore today: the biggest pants ever

Oh wow. I found these incredible 1940s rayon pants at an estate sale in Beverly Hills last week for $25. Each colossal pant leg measures a ridiculous 50" in circumference. It seems like these giant pants were the evolution of yesterday's beach pajamas. 

Gene Tierney, 1940s

Gene Tierney, 1940s

The wide-legged pants of the 1930s were tight on the hip and flared out straight from there, but in the 40s the silhouette became more relaxed, emphasizing a small waist rather than hips, which works out for big-assed me. 

Shoes and eyewear by TOMS • top from Playclothes 

NADA Fashions for Best & Co.

I think I mean to keep up with this blog more often, but turns out when you work full time and do some freelance stuff and are planning a wedding that will happen in three months, plus take care of four dogs and try to keep the house clean, time is kind of tight. And even though I wanted to write about vintage swimsuits next, it didn't actually end up being hot enough outside to be considered swim weather yet. So instead here is a random good find: a 1930s beach pajamas/jumpsuit/pantsuit/whatever thing that I wore as overalls today because going backless off the beach feels weird. 

To be honest, I'm kind of obsessed with beach pajamas (google 30s beach pajamas if you have no idea what I'm talking about). These loose-fitting, open-backed one-piece (or matching two-piece) jumpsuits became fashion-forward evening wear in the late 1920s (thanks in part to Hollywood designer Gilbert Adrian) and omnipresent in the 1930s as resort loungewear.

They're also very popular right now, and I've seen them at vintage shows and online anywhere from $175 to $600. So, when I saw these on ebay with a starting bid of $40, I didn't really comprehend what I was looking at. The seller had them styled as overalls (like I'm doing here) and put them in the WWII category as a Rosie the Riveter style. It wasn't until I got them home and looked at the label that I began to realize these were a little older than that.

I haven't been able to find out a great deal about the NADA Fashions label, but from what I can tell, it was an in-house exclusive label by Best & Co., a children's and ladieswear brand established in New York in 1879. From 1908 to 1944, their flagship store was on Fifth Avenue at 35th:

Photo Irving Underhill, 1917.

Photo Irving Underhill, 1917.

The interesting thing about Best & Co. was that they were possibly the only upscale retailer that specialized in children's and young women's clothing. They did also design for misses and ladies' sportswear, but their main focus was the younger set. One common reference for the NADA label is Claire McCardell's 1938 Monastic Dress, marketed by Best & Co. as the "NADA Frock."

I also found these great advertisements for their Spring line in the Vassar school newspaper, from NADA's 1924 launch:

From these, it's pretty clear that Bests' goal for NADA was to appeal to upper-class young women by providing exclusive, on-trend quality sportswear. I love that they had previews/reviews with live models, but I do wish I could find some images from those fashion shows. From other label research it seems like Best shifted from the old English we see here to a more open script in the 1930s, which makes me think that maybe my loungewear here is possibly late 1920s or early 1930s. Aside from a couple split seams and some missing buttons, it's in great condition. Not bad for $50. 

Just a dress.

This dress was a total impulse buy on ebay a few weeks ago. I think the starting bid was something like $35 and the measurements seemed right, so I bid and won and was completely delighted with it. It's pretty old and has some staining I need to address, and the first time I wore it, I sneezed and the whole side seam split open. No more lentil chips for me. 

Shoes were a great find from honeytalkvintage on etsy. Normally I couldn't afford their shoes, but these were in pretty bad shape, dry and cracking. Lots of coconut oil later they're lovely and wearable.

Shoes were a great find from honeytalkvintage on etsy. Normally I couldn't afford their shoes, but these were in pretty bad shape, dry and cracking. Lots of coconut oil later they're lovely and wearable.

A detail of the print, the rhinestone buttons, and the matching belt. 

I have to give props/a shout out/credit to my amazing photographer (and friend) Suzy Fahmy for her perpetual willingness and ability to capture me in such good light.