Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Vintage Tips for Summer City Style

1950s summer ensembles, via

"Clothes crises, like dog days, have a curious affinity for the summer months."
American Vogue, 1 June 1961

Clothes crisis? Not me, I thought as - at the first sign of summer - I went skipping off into the London sunshine wearing blue, red and white striped top accessorised with my matching headband with white open-toed sandals.

I had to think again when I read Ann Freeman-Saunders critique of British summertime dressing in The Intelligent Women's Guide to Good Taste, published in 1958:

"I can only suppose that the Englishwoman is basically downright miserly about clothes. Only meanness could account for the kind of clothes she bursts out with exuberantly the moment the sun shines – balloon-skirted monsters in Union Jack colours topped by winter jackets or mackintoshes. Please."

Red, white and blue 1946 summer fashions from the Kay's Catalogue, via

And I had to reassess entirely when I read former Vogue editor Edna Woolman Chase's address to the Shoe Fashion Guild in 1939:

"Open-toed shoes may be worn for dress occasions, afternoon, dinner and evening. Also for resort and country wear. Not for walking in the city if you have understanding of the true essence of smartness of which the first essential is suitability. They are inappropriate, unsightly and dirty."

So, if I wasn't dressed in true summer style, what should I be wearing? I now really was having a clothes crisis. I turned to my vintage fashion books and magazines to try and glean some direction on what a stylish woman should be wearing in the city. I looked at over 80 years of advice. And what did I learn? That I should wear sandals. That I shouldn't wear sandals. That I should wear shorts. That I shouldn't. That I would look best in black. Or white. Or pineapple.

Want to decide for yourself? Here are some of my favourite (and often contradictory) pieces of advice. Let's start with the shoes:

1940s shoe fashions, via

"From the beginning of this fashion in 1937, when women first began to appear on the city streets with their toes sticking out of their shoes, I have felt it was distinctly bad style."
Edna Woolman Chase's address to the Shoe Fashion Guild, 1939, quoted in Always in Vogue

"I couldn’t believe what I saw. In the summer, every woman wore diamond clips on crepe de chine dresses. And they all wore silk stockings – this was before nylons – under these hideous strappy high heels ... It was unbelievable. For years in Europe I’d been bare-legged and thong-sandaled once the heat came on."
Diana Vreeland, talking about the 1940s, in D.V., 1984

"My personal bias in shoes is for courts with lowish heels- those high-heeled strappy things are exhausting to walk in, not cool at all, and rub blisters on the toes."
Ann Freeman-Saunders, The Intelligent Women's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

"Go barefoot when you can, or barely sandalled."
'Real Life Dressing ... The Real Cool', American Vogue, 1 June 1971

"Summer is full of wonderful distractions, but co-workers' toes shouldn't be one of them."
Emily Post 'What Not to Wear to Work in the Summer', accessed 2013.

Two Women in White Shorts, New York City, 1973.  Photo by Paul McDonough, via

"As for flagrant bad taste, there aren't too many examples. Shorts on a city street … shows a lack of self-respect and a contempt for the people who are properly dressed."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"You can go to town in bare legs and a short short skirt ... Here you are with those all-American legs of yours getting nice and brown ... and you haven't worn shorts in town yet? Don't let another minute go by! There's never been a season when shorts - and short, short skirts - looked so absolutely correct and adorable."
'Real Life Dressing ... The Real Cool', American Vogue, 1 June 1971

"She typified the girls who are wearing shorts in town this summer. She was asserting to wear them with such militancy that it was clear she had not thought to pause and wonder whether her legs should merit such display."
Kennedy Fraser, 'On the Avenue', 1971, reproduced in The Fashionable Mind

"Many workplaces adopt a casual dress code for summer months but, even so, there is a list of hot-weather wardrobe wipeouts that lead to certain self-sabotage: shorts, runnings shoes, sweats, logo t-shirts, cut off jeans, overall, mini skirts, low-cut or see-through tops and high, strappy sandals."
Robin Keeler, 'Wardrobe Consultant: Summer Dressing in the City, National Post, 2011

Horrockses Fashions advert 1951, via

"In spite of the great competition of cotton, I think linen is the top material of summer. It is cool and fresh and at the same time just as rich as silk or wool."
Christian Dior, Little Dictionary of Fashion, 1954

"White organdie; this 1955 summer evening essential is not 'just for debutantes' any more - it has a worldly new look, a wonderful new authority since the Paris spring collections."
'Vogue's 1955 Summer Textbook', American Vogue, 1 May 1955

"If you must have the kind of summer outfit which will pass muster on the Costa Brava and Bond Street both (a feat which is almost impossible) choose a straight sheath in heavy, crease-resisting cotton or linen, in a dark/clear colour, and wear it with a matching jacket, caraco, or some such, to cover up the bareness."
Ann Freeman-Saunders, The Intelligent Women's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

"Velvet with cotton is my favourite combination for midsummer city chic."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"Wearing a pure-cotton skirt in summer, with bare legs and sandals, is one of the coolest ways to make it through a hot city day. The cotton dirndl skirts designed in the fifties for dancing at the hop, walking along the boardwalk, or meeting a date for a soda can be updated and worn now. The fitted waists, bright colours, and lengths – from just below the knee to above the ankle – make for breezy dressing."
Harriet Love's Guide to Vintage Chic, 1982

Betty Barclay dresses, 1951, via

"In hot weather for town wear nothing is nicer than a linen suit in a dark colour."
Christian Dior, Little Dictionary of Fashion, 1954

"A new pastel way of dressing (for town, particularly) that started this spring with pale-tinted tweeds and pearly chiffons; that, in pineapple tints, will be a basic fashion fact by the end of the summer."
'Pineapple, Slicing Through Summer Fashion', American Vogue, 15 April 1955

"In the evening, for dining in a good London restaurant or hotel, you will need New York clothes too, with perhaps fewer black dresses, more coloured ones, bright or pale. An Englishwoman we know explains it thus: 'we have such a short summer in England that when it is summertime, we like to wear colours. There's plenty of time to wear black the rest of the year'."
American Vogue, 1 June 1960

Ingeborg Day extols the virtues of white for summer in Cheap Chic, 1975, via

"White shoes are out of place in most big cities unless they match a white dress."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"In the summer I don’t buy things that have to be dry-cleaned. If you wear white and have three of each thing you can manage, even writing the subway and bus every day. I bought a white hat and a white skirt, and I wear white espadrilles. White is more practical than yellow, brown or even black, because you can use nurse’s white shoe polish on the canvas – with any other color, there’s nothing you can do if you spill something on them or someone steps on your feet."
Ingeborg Day, office worker quoted in Cheap Chic, 1975

"A dressier lace camisole with a white petticoat can be the answer to an afternoon wedding or a garden party."
Harriet Love's Guide to Vintage Chic, 1982

1950s summer dresses, via

"Ideas change about city summer clothes ... Very often, the only difference between a town dress and an out-and-out country one lies in its accessories. By your hat (which is a classic shape), by your gloves and jewels, you identify the locality as - town."
'In Town This Summer' American Vogue, 1 June 1947

"A resort dress is a resort dress. It cannot be worn in the city with that bane of the British, a cardigan, added for the sake of modesty."
Ann Freeman-Saunders, The Intelligent Women's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

"If a dress is strapless, it's either a cocktail dress that should be worn after five or else it's a sun-dress and should stay in the sun."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"London in August is quite a different city from London at any other time of year … More particularly there is a slackening in dress. …. In Brook Street, Grosvenor Street, and Berkeley Square, the usually silken-sheathed, stiletto-heeled executives walk to their office in cotton dresses and resort shoes, giving the impression they have just been called back from Spain to an urgent conference … In the privileged residential districts expensive looking wives step out to the florist’s or delicatessen wearing the slacks and sandals they wore in Palermo earlier in the year, with beach bags for their shopping."
Alison Adburgham, 'London in August', the Guardian, 4 August 1961

"The appearance of bare backs and midriffs this summer marks the death of the principle that clothes appropriate to city life are quite distinct from those for the beach."
Kennedy Fraser, 'On the Avenue', 1971, reproduced in The Fashionable Mind

"This is the season of the dress – but most are not office appropriate. Generally, dresses that breeze in at the beach should never appear in the boardroom."
Robin Keeler, 'Wardrobe Consultant: Summer Dressing in the CityNational Post, 2011


Really, after all this reading, what I learnt was that anything goes in summertime dressing, and I shouldn't really listen too much to other people's opinions - in the heat of the summer, it's only likely to make you even more hot and bothered. But I'm still open to suggestions: what are your personal rules on summer dressing?



  1. This is hands down the coolest thing I've read on the internet all day. I love it when people post really unique stuff like this!


    1. Thank you very much - I hope you found something to inspire your summer dressing!

  2. Brilliant! The way I deal with fashion advice is that I follow the advice I agree with, and someone is always going to agree if I look long enough.

    I live in a small town where just about anything goes, so it puts me in a quandary whenever I have to go to a city in summer. Most of my summer things are very casual, as in jeans shorts and tee shirts. But even going to the small city nearby I do up my game to a cotton skirt and sandals instead of tennies.

    1. Yes - I think all the advice I found proved you could wear whatever you liked and one person would think you looked wonderful, and someone else would think you look entirely inappropriate.

      I think there's some things I feel like comfortable with, whether that's in work, or on public transport, mainly for practical level. I do have a proper case of 'summer' summer clothes which only get worn on holidays (mainly because they're so scruffy now after years of wear) - I probably have more self-imposed rules than I imagine!

  3. such a fun and original post:) i have to agree with Dior on the linen, though I love cotton.
    congrats on being featured in this weeks roundup for IFB. that's where I found your post as I was featured too:)

    1. Thanks Carly, linen or cotton are my some of my favourites too for trying to feel vaguely cool and look okay in the heat! I think a simple cotton sundress manages to look pretty good, whatever decade it comes from.

      And thank you - congratulations to you too! I really enjoyed the interview that you did.

  4. Frances,
    sundresses are ALWAYS a favorite of mine in the summer too:) thanks for stopping by my blog. will stop back by your blog soon~~


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