Wednesday, 31 July 2013

1950s travel packing tips

1959, via

" ... This leads me to the raft of so-called "Basic Travel Wardrobes" available from department stores, airlines, travel bureaus, and so on. I don't know who writes these macabre little guides, but they are either men who wear the same suit for ten years or women who have never travelled."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

I intended to do a post in the style of my vintage summer style post - a range of advice on how to pack for your travels from throughout 60 plus years. But, as I worked my way through my books, I realised that, with the exception of Frances Patiky Stein's typically detailed travel wardrobe, all the examples I had found came from the 1950s. I imagine this might because it's the point where foreign travel for amusement reaches a wide-enough market to make it worth writing about, but is still a unique enough experience to require specific advice. By the time you get to Cheap Chic in 1975, the advice is all about what clothes to bring back from each corner of the world, rather than what you should take with you.

My three 1950s sources all have a great pedigree - there's designers Anne Fogarty, writing in 1959's The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife, and Claire McCardell in her What Shall I Wear? from 1956, who each devote a chapter to what to pack for your vacation. Representing the Brits, Madge Garland - founder of the fashion course at the RCA - writes a chapter on holiday packing for 1958's The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste. And, perhaps it should be her advice we trust the most as, after all, Christian Dior comments in his 1954 Little Dictionary of Fashion:

"I think British women know perfectly how to dress for sports and holiday. For these occasions all the world has to learn from them."

The advice is much more uniform than that offered by the tips on summer city dressing, even looking at a limited period (think of Vreeland vs Woolman Chase's difference of opinion on open-toed sandals, for example). Could this be because these three were all women who thought about designing for other women, and so more practical advice wins out? Though I think practicality - in twenty-first century terms at least - definitely goes out of the window when it comes to their thoughts on baggage allowance - those bits of advice definitely weren't written in Easyjet times!

1951, via

Take it away ladies:


"Cold ruthlessness and steely nerves - the unseen but much-felt basic requisites for planning a travel wardrobe."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"It take imagination to pack for a trip. Dream about the things that will never happen - they might."
Claire McCardell, What Shall I Wear?, 1956

"Among the many qualities required by the successful traveller two stand out as essential - imagination and resource ... try to imagine what you will do, where you will go, and count up the possible demands on your wardrobe. The 'oh, I never thought' traveller is one who often debars herself from pleasure and you stand to miss delightful opportunities of a bathe or a ball because you had not imagined what you might do and need."
Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

"Make travel broadening not burdening. You can live out of a suitcase if you've packed with care and imagination."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959


"There are six important S's in your travel wardrobe: Shirts, Skirts, Slack, Shorts, Scarves and Shoes, and the more interchangeable they are the better dressed and carefree you will be."
Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

"Travel with clothes that can take it: jersey, good wool, cotton. Don't think that everything has to be nylon. Some nylon is a godsend but cotton can stand wear and tear and still look fine and clean. I think of those first nylon dresses that went to Europe in '52 and '53. Those poor marked women - it didn't take long for everyone to know they had only one dress to be washed each night and worn again the next day."
Claire McCardell, What Shall I Wear?, 1956

"Choose materials which will co-operate with you and crease as little as possible. This does not mean an all-nylon wardrobe - far from it. Avoid transparent nylon dresses as you would the devil. They achieve nothing, for since they are transparent you are not covered and another layer is required beneath them; they are not warm, so you want extra woolies and coats to go over them; but neither are the cool and so can never ben worn in a really hot climate, so where are you? Better start with a fabric that fulfils at least one useful function and does something more than expose your underwear and shoulder straps to the gaze of the uncharitable."
Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

"Travel irons cause more arguments than politics."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"Shorts are a matter between you and your mirror."
Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958


"Your suitcase should be the length of your skirt so that no skirt (except a long evening one) need ever be folded in half."
Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

"Once at rock-bottom minimum ... add the few goodies that will really make your travel wardrobe ... Don't leave behind with regret something important to you, even if it doesn't belong in the accepted travel wardrobes we read and hear so much about."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

1957, via


"Bring too many changes rather than too few."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"It's amazing to me how many people will spend thousands - or at least hundreds - on a vacation yet limit their baggage to the prescribed forty-four or sixty-six pounds. The point is that these weight restrictions are for free transportation. If you're willing to pay for the extra poundage, you can take as much as you like. The added cost should be regarded as a legitimate travel expense, not something to be avoided at all costs. Magical places lose their magic if you know you're not dressed as well as you might be because of the weight limit."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"If your holiday will be spoilt because you have run out of reading matter, or you wish you had your embroidery with you, or you have missed the ideal moment to deal with your accumulated correspondence for lack of your typewriter, then be brave, pay the extra few pounds and take everything you want."
Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958


"Don't forget that the moment you leave the privacy of your own home, you are in the public eye. Travel, like the goldfish bowl, removes privacy. You are instantly subjected to the critical eye of station masters, porters, hotel clerks, stewards, bellboys. And what a really educated eye they have when it comes to appraising a traveler!"
Claire McCardell, What Shall I Wear?, 1956

"Do not make your first appearance everywhere clutching a heterogeneous collection of odd receptacles."
Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958


"Travel has its codes, rather rigid ones, and if you don't conform you may be inconvenienced or downright embarrassed."
Claire McCardell, What Shall I Wear?, 1956

"As for clothes etiquette in general, Americans have a reputation for scantiness which is rightly resented."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959


"Whatever the season, carry a heavy topcoat. Weather is almost as tricky as political situations."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959 (on travel in Europe)

"Bed socks and a warm nightie might be advisable for touring Britain, even in summer."
Anne Fogarty, The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, 1959

"No country is too hot for a good Scotch woolly."
 Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958


"Always pack a collapsable canvas duffel bag at the bottom of your suitcase; this will save you the mortification of bulging packages and will come in handy for the extra things you are bound to acquire, the winter wrap you no longer need, the damp suit from a last-minute bathe, or a delightful unknown cheese which you could not pack with your clothes."
Madge Garland, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Good Taste, 1958

Any favourite travel tips of your own? And do you pack an extra bag for cheese?! 


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Monday, 29 July 2013

Early 1940s fashions in A Time to be Born by Dawn Powell

"The ominous smell of gunpowder was matched by a rising cloud of Schiaparelli’s Shocking."

As soon as I read this line in Liebemarlene’s post about Dawn Powell’s 1943 book A Time to Be Born, I knew I’d have to order myself a copy. I’m so glad that I did. A satirical snapshot into life as a woman in New York in the early days of World War II, it’s the sharpest thing I’ve read for a long time, and a completely fascinating insight into fashion, and ideas about fashion, in the early 1940s.

Vicky Haven arrives in the city from her hometown of Lakeville, Ohio. “This was a time when writers dared not write of Vicky Haven or of simple young women like her”, says Powell at the very start of the book, but that’s exactly what she goes on to do. Published in 1942, Powell clearly wrote the city as she saw it then – there was no lag to give time for reflection or nostalgic reminiscences. And she viewed the city as a woman, which perhaps accounts for the part fashion plays in the book. The clothes are straight out of a 1941 edition of Vogue, and are as subject to her satire as much as the morals of the people wearing them. "This was a time when the true signs of war were the lavish plumage of the women", she writes. "Look at the jewels, the rare pelts, the gaudy birds on elaborate hair-dress and know that war was here; already the women had inherited the earth."

1941 fashions, via 

The characters in the book are dressed in variations of the fashions Woolman Chase describes in Always In Vogue, when she says, “the crisis of 1938 was faced with the upswept look, wedgies, and padded, manly shoulders.” This is almost exactly Miss Finkelstein, Vicky Haven’s secretary at Peabody magazine, who is an astonishingly modern creature: "Her black glossy hair was brushed up to an impeccable topknot of curls, her eyebrows were thin pencilled arcs of perpetual surprise, her mouth was wide and not too noticeably rebuilt., while her skin was a masterpiece of beige wax that looked more like a glossy magazine cover than human skin. She wore a severe, elegant green tweed dress with a row of wooden charms around the neck, and all that could be said of her legs, stretched out in sandalled ‘wedgies,’ was at least they were freely exposed."

Miss Finkelstein embodies the aspiring young New York woman, eager to be like the society girls who are used as the glamorous face of the magazine (think Daisy Fellowes at Harper’s Bazaar). Soon after arrival in the city, Vicky wants to shed her air of the provinces, to “plunge into glamour” and to fit in: "There was no use in seeking an original style for herself because what she wanted right now was to look exactly like everybody else, so that no one would look at her twice."

One of Vicky’s first moves in her glamorous make-over is to colour her hair, inspired by the "breath-taking things the 'front' girls did to their hair – bars of dyed gold in brown hair, blue-gray tuft over the left temple, scrolls of curls as carefully dyed as a permanent work of art … yes, she too would have her hair to made to look suitably artificial." In The World of Carmel Snow, Snow describes how in 1939 Elinor Neff, Bazaar’s beauty editor, asks if she could do a piece on hair-dye. Snow shocked response is that "no ladies dye their hair". But the article goes ahead, the first magazine to cover the trend. Vicky is undeniably of the moment, and possibly also bordering on the edge of propriety.

1940s New York fashions, via 

Many of the outfits and trends covered in the book seem to skirt the edges of respectability; indeed when Vicky says she spends “every cent” on her back, even the action of spending money on beautifying yourself at a time of crisis could be questionable. In complete contrast is another book I recently read – Summer at Tiffany, Marjorie Hart’s memoir of a summer spent working in New York in 1944. She’s also from a small town, and she too is working in a luxury world, employed at Tiffany & Co. However, while A Time To Be Born is brittle and spiky, Summer at Tiffany is soft and entirely sweet-centred. As Marjorie and her roommate are preparing to go out to a dance and despairing of their clothes, they are reminded of what good young women should be doing: "You girls look darling – and don’t you worry … you look better than those debutantes flouncing around in formals who’ve forgotten there’s a war going on." Marjorie concludes that "she was right. The patriotic thing to do was to make do with what we already had in our closets."

There’s a different sort of logic going on with the women in A Time To Be Born, and perhaps it’s more of an accurate depiction of the period. After all, a 1943 Life article describes how spending in New York, "is far beyond that of the lushest 1920s." Vicky recounts (with some self-awareness) the reasoning of the Peabody girls, how her shopping gives her "all the more to donate to Bundles for Britain … And then I charge everything because, with inflation, money won’t be worth anything anyway. So that leaves me cash for massages and rhumba lessons and perfume that drives men mad."

This strange mixture of glamour alongside charitable works runs through magazines of the period. In a October 1941 Vogue article on "famous hands that have moulded careers", Mrs Wales Latham, organiser of Bundles for Britain, is photographed by Horst, tying up one of the bundles. She’s adorned with a Tiffany & Co. bracelet, while her fingernails ("busy fingers must have short, round nails”) are painted with Revlon’s – how I’m sure Dawn Powell must have smirked at this name – “rosy future” shade (Again in contrast, good little Marjorie Hart in Summer at Tiffany is very suspicious of nail varnish, noting the “lurid red fingernails” of a “snooty saleslady”.)

In the same Vogue article we meet Clare Boothe, who “takes all her jewels from her hands before she write.” Clare is actually a very important person to be introduced to as, apparently, she serves as the model for perhaps the most interesting woman in A Time To Be Born, Amanda Keeler. Amanda is also from Lakeville and is the small town girl made good. She’s written a best seller and, now married to a powerful publishing magnate, pens important state of the nation articles that are actually written by her staff. She’s also known, for better or for worse, for using her beautiful looks to win her way into the hearts of the American people, and for getting exactly what she wants from men. In short, Amanda epitomises the triumph of style over substance.

Still from The Women, 1939. The film was based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce. Via. 

Yet Amanda, though arguably the least-truthful woman in the book, doesn’t carry her artificiality through to her manner of dress (though she’s not above a quick Elizabeth Arden facial before addressing some of her adoring fans). When Vicky bumps into her in a department store, Amanda is wearing a "simple sport suit" and "black felt tailored hat … pulled over her blonde hair in rather collegiate style" to striking effect: "The other ladies in the elevator, furred and feathered as they were, shrank back from this lesson in elegance." Clare Boothe (or Clare Boothe Luce, once she married her husband, the – what a coincidence – publishing magnate, Henry Luce) was considered equally chic, reaching the dizzy heights of Eleanor Lambert’s Best Dressed List in 1943.

Just as Amanda doesn’t play by the rules in life, she doesn’t confirm to the demands of fashion either. While Vicky dresses up to impress her friends by sporting javelin-style earrings, “cunningly devised to give an impression of stabbing through the upper to the lower lobes of the ear, a picture of self-torture that magnetized every eye and was very smart that month”; Powell’s depiction of Amanda is perhaps influenced by descriptions of Clare Boothe such as this one which appeared in Vogue in December 1940:

"For behind the palpable femininity of her clothes, her hairbows, her attractive furs, her light perfumes, she has either by calculation or instinct worked out a formula for getting the mental attention of the important men and women of her day."

Clare Boothe Luce speaking at a Republican Convention in 1944, via

Dawn Powell very subtly plays with society's fear in the 1940s that women might actually – the horror! – inherit the earth. But she cleverly makes clear it’s not the women dressed with “padded, manly shoulders” or the weapon-like jewellery who should be watched carefully.


I enjoyed A Time To be Born so much that I’ve already ordered another book by Dawn Powell, The Wicked Pavilion. I’d also love to learn more about this period in fashion too. If you have any reading recommendations, either fiction or non-fiction, please let me know!

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Friday, 26 July 2013

Last-Week Links: 26 July 2013

Not just one, but two weeks of links to catch up on due to Latitude-related time lag. Only four days without the internet (imagine!), but I've still lost track of what's old news and what's simply news. Humour me as I attempt to get up to speed again.

It's still hot, hot, hot in London, no-one knows what they should be wearing, and I keep being reminded of the vintage tips on summer city style. This set of Life photos showing the "New York Look" in the hot summer of 1969 were also great fun to flick through, along with the accompanying editorial: "New York City is a costume party for the young this summer, a party that is taking place outdoors, on the streets and in the parks. Long hair, long legs. The party is not always elegant, but it is completely alive."

However they lose the prize for being the coolest looking people I've seen strolling the street of New York recently to Karlie Kloss and Daft Punk photographed in their Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent suits for US Vogue. (Contrast the glamour of both the 60s and the NY 2013 images with Bob Mazzer's pictures of the London Tube in the 1980s.)

Half of this blog is about the reworking and reinterpretations of different fashion periods so, naturally, I love Antipodium's Teddy Boy-inspired Resort 2014 collection. It's another classic style that's apparently "the dress of the summer" according to Fashion Editor At Large and "the frock of the moment" as stated by the FT: the 40s-style tea dress. There does seem to be something in the water tea at the moment - entirely coincidentally my vintage column for Domestic Sluttery this month was also devoted to tea, and featured many pretty dresses.

What if these look stop being reinterpretations and start becoming cut-and-paste versions of the past? That's the interesting question posed by this piece on The Business of Fashion. What seems to stop designs becoming too literal is the space for interpretations, and personal memories. That seems like a good time to link to this film by Showstudio, created on the occasion of Suzy Menkes's auction (as mentioned in my last set of links). Picture is an Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell design mentioned in the discussion. The panel don't reach any startling revelations about the subject of fashion and memory but it's an engaging ride.

The discussion ends with Menkes urging people to buy her clothes and give them a second life - to go out and have fun in them. Hilary Alexander also encourages people to wear clothes they love, not purely because they are in fashion. Logical, you'd think, but a remark greeted with a round of applause because, somehow, this seems to have been forgotten somewhere. I found this interview with Betty Halbreich, personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman for 36 years, equally refreshing: "People ask her if 'they’re allowed' to wear the same dress twice. 'Are you kidding? At these prices you turn it inside out and wear it backwards if you have to.'" If only we were allowed to know what she said about the "Russian Czarinas unleashing the black Amexes downstairs in accessories"

A while ago, I started reading Michael Gross's Model but gave up on it when I reached the bit where the industry headed over to Milan and seemed to collapse under a weight of sleaze. John Casablancas, who died earlier this week, was one of the people who figured large in the book as founder of Elite Model, and someone who skated very close to the edge of some of the scandals surrounding modelling. Perhaps one day I'll be able to stomach picking up the book again and get up to Casablancas's role in the creation of the "supermodel".

Links aside, I'm happy to see the weekend ahead. What does it hold for you? It's my birthday on Monday, so I'm planning a little seaside adventure on Sunday to mark the occasion. And because it's my birthday, I also get to post this piece of pure 90s nostalgia. Enjoy!

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Friday, 12 July 2013

Last-Week Links: 12 July 2013

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm in a bit of shock at the moment as the UK seems to be having an actual summer for the first time in ages. With that comes the realisation that heat combined with staring at your computer for hours or sitting in a stuffy office isn't terribly fun. Cue more holiday fantasies. I love this shoot by Tom Craig for Vogue Russia, found thanks to Hannah Hayes. Yes, I'd like to look like Arizona Muse in a Dior skirt in Sicily please. Lots more dreamy summer imagery in the typically wonderful Gems's Summer Girls collection.

Also as previously referenced, I went to the opening of the Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 80s exhibition at the V&A on Monday. I think the show will do a lot to shift people's assessment of this period in fashion, and I love the wealth of different designers and styles covered by the show. It really manages to capture a sense of creative DIY. There's a really nice interview with the instigator of the show, Wendy Dagworthy, in the Telegraph - I especially love the story behind her bangles. And, self-promo no.1, I wrote a piece about the show for Metro blogs which you can read here.

Meanwhile, Zandra Rhodes has been mouthing off about Vivienne Westwood (and just about everything else) according to the Daily Mail; Jean Paul Gaultier has "hit back" at Tim Blanks. You might think they both had exhibitions to promote or something. Oh wait.

New book, The Astronaut Wives Club, focus on the women in the lives of some of America's most famous space travellers, and judging from this piece in T Magazine will be a fascinating read. This photograph shows one of the astronaut wives, Jane Conrad, in her custom-made Pucci for the launch of Apollo 12.

Talking of the truly glamorous of the period, I was fascinated to stumble across Jackie Kennedy's receipt for services received at Lilly Daché's salon. The cost on the bill is $150, while it's selling for $345 - make of that what you will.

Finally, in my retro glamour section, Last-Week Link regular Carmen dell'Orefice was interviewed for the Daily Mail (again, sorry!), full of the wisdom gleaned over 70 years of modelling, and a longing for what has been lost: "These young models are taught to walk a certain way – it’s all about sex", she says. "There is a lack of refinement, there is no romance. Everything is a vulgar description of life – it is so sad."

More Pucci (the sunshine must really be getting to me), though this little number is from the collection of Suzy Menkes's clothes currently being sold in an online auction at Christies. The 80 lots include masses of Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb, Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent and, according to Menkes in this interview with the Independent, the clothes are an "expression of the joy and fun of fashion – with a bit of English eccentricity thrown in". This dress has a starting bid of £150 ... tempting!

Not quite so glam but definitely retro, who would have thought there could be anything more to say about Bill Cosby's sweater now the Cosby Sweater project exists? But thanks to Furcoat and her tip-off on this Collector's Weekly Article, I've realised they are more interesting than I ever would have imagined.

And to finish up, in self-promo no.2, I had the joy of being asked about my favourite vintage London tips to London On The Inside. Read it to find out makes for my perfect London day and to see a rather large picture of my head...! Terrifying.

On to the weekend. What are you up to? I'm most excited about swooning over Richard Hawley in the gorgeous setting of Somerset House, on what looks set to be a beautiful weekend overall. I'm also getting very excited about heading over to Suffolk for the Latitude festival next weekend, so this will be my last set of links for a couple of weeks. Hope you have weekends and weeks full of lovely plans and sunshine too.

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Thursday, 11 July 2013

Last-Year Buys: Black and White Delights: Workers for Freedom, Kat Maconie and ASOS

After weeks of dreaming about Hawaiian holidays, and inventing imaginary travel wardrobes, now that we've had a week of proper summer weather, for some reason everything I've bought recently is in the not-so-tropical shades of black and white.

Like this midi check-print skirt which I bought almost immediately after seeing it in one of Domestic Sluttery's sales round-ups. All the skirts I buy these days seem to be midi length - I like the feel of all that fabric swishing around me (I can imagine why how skirts of Dior's New Look felt so deliciously good). I wore this to the opening of the Club to Catwalk 80s London Fashion exhibition on Monday as my own mini-nod to some of the wonderful designers such as Body Map and The Cloth who enjoyed working in black and white. 

This coat was purchased as a direct result of that exhibition as well. It's by Workers For Freedom, some of the designers featured in the show, and when I saw it hanging in a charity shop, I couldn't leave it behind. I know it looks like nothing in this shot but it's great fun to wear - when I put it on I instantly feel like a cool kid, skulking around after my art class. 

It also makes me long to grow my hair long to emulate the style of the very stylish woman in their rather wonderful label. I think this dates my coat to the early 1990s.

Finally the shoes are by Kat Maconie, a designer who I stalk on Ebay. While she does have a very popular line in huge towering heels, it's the unusual details on her flats I love, such as the gold-bar covered elastics on the side of these shoes. Her padded soles makes them fantastically comfortable to wear too. My stalking paid off as these were an Ebay steal: £20 and in immaculate condition.

As well as all being black and white, my purchases are also linked by the fact they were all bargains. Good news for me, as it means more money to go towards summer holidays. Or, at least, a proper summer holiday wardrobe.

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Monday, 8 July 2013

My Favourite Last-Year Buy: The Villager striped playsuit

What's my favourite vintage piece? When I saw this question posed as the latest IFB project, my mind flicked through the wardrobes full of vintage I've worn, loved and sometimes, sadly, lost. Is it one of my more expensive pieces, extravagant 1950s dresses that only get worn to weddings? Or my brightly coloured dress bought on a sunny holiday in Portugal which makes strangers run up to me to ask me where it's from? Maybe it's one of the pieces bought back when I was a student that helped shape my personal style? Or one of the simple cotton dresses I live in as soon as summer hits?

Making my list, I realised that all my favourite items were tied up with some sense of occasion, where I bought it or where I'd worn it and, often, both. Which is when I remembered this.

This striped cotton playsuit is my favourite vintage piece.

I bought it about four years ago but it nearly wasn't to be. I was at a jumble sale in a pub in a cool but grimy area of London. I saw it on the rail and took it to the bathroom to try on - I had to stand on the toilet lid and contort myself into strange shapes just to try and see if it suited me (this was surely an omen of all the future hours I'd waste in pubs and clubs climbing in and out of the thing every time I needed the bathroom). Perhaps because I couldn't see myself properly, or perhaps because of the piece's obvious impracticalities, or perhaps because of the £15 price tag, I don't know, but I decided to put it back, and continued on my way.

About halfway round the hall I regretted my decision, only to return to the stall to see it being taken off to the loos by another girl. And now I knew I really had made a mistake - I needed this playsuit in my life. When the girl returned, shaking her head at the stallholder, it was all I could do not to snatch it straight out of her hands. So I waited another nanosecond and then I bought it.

I really don't know how I could have contemplated turning it down. It fitted me perfectly, with a neatly tailored bust and waist, and decorated with my favourite pattern of stripes. That evening, I took it out dancing.

Other than the near-miss, one reason this playsuit means to much to me is because I remember so clearly how I was feeling when I bought it. I was trying to recover from a really painful break-up from a boyfriend a few months before. I was exhausted, I wasn't sleeping and I'd lost too much weight. Going to that jumble sale, finding a wonderful item of clothing that could have been made for me, and then wearing it to go out with some of my wonderful friends, seemed like a significant step towards feeling like myself again. It was also about this time that I started this blog.

And, of course, I've worn the playsuit many times since. I was actually wearing it when I met my subsequent boyfriend, while this picture was taken when I wore it for a birthday outing. This playsuit and I have had a lot of good times together.

Perhaps because it means so much to me on a personal level, I'd never actually looked up the label inside the playsuit until this weekend. It's by The Villager. From The Vintage Fashion Guild, I've learnt this was a Philadelphia company who specialised in separates and, thanks to Sammy Davis vintage, that it was a brand who was popular with Junior-aged girls in the 1960s and 70s. There's also a great article on the New Yorker about the writer's longing for the brand as a schoolgirl in the 1960s.

My piece doesn't seem to fit with many of the descriptions given in the information about the company: it's a one piece for starters. There's no collar, and it's a bold stripe, not a ditzy floral or a small print. I've found a couple of its distant relations on the internet such as this 1970s striped skirt or these romper shorts (though I'm pleased to say my playsuit is lovely thick cotton not polyester) but, for me, it still feels like a one-off.

I wore it out on Sunday for no special occasion other than I'd been thinking about this post. It was the hottest weekend of the year in the UK. As I passed girls dressing for the weather in floaty florals or hacked-off denim shorts, I remembered how wearing this playsuit instantly makes me feel smart and pulled together and - more importantly - it makes me feel uniquely me. As all the best vintage pieces should do.

This is a submission for IFB Project #103

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Friday, 5 July 2013

Last-Week Links: 5 July 2013

Irving Penn and Steven Meisel, via Part Nouveau

The recycling and reworking of art and fashion imagery isn't anything new but that doesn't mean it's not interesting, as the clever Part Nouveau blog regularly demonstrates. I felt like that blog had got into my head this week with this pairing of Jean Patchett, photographed by Irving Penn, with Steven Meisel's reworking using Natalia Vodianova. I'd been thinking about the Penn photograph as it's one of the images cited by Grace Mirabella in In and Out of Vogue as an early forerunner of the "perfectly beautiful casual moment" she wanted to see in the pages of her Vogue, rather than classically-poised and styled perfection. I wonder what she'd make of the Meisel photograph, with a model who looks fearlessly at the camera, but one that's definitely an artificial studio shot, far removed from real life.

The concept of couture is far removed from most people's everyday lives too. The Schiaparelli presentation at couture week pushed that even further: 18 creations by Christian Lacroix for this relaunched house created not for purchase but for display only. Raf Simons at Dior meanwhile attempted to create a show based around four different geographical realms. As this Guardian article points out, it's making explicit that the couture shows are more about global brand building than selling clothes. With Schiaparelli a name beloved of fashion historians but not one that is currently a household name, they seemed to take this brand building to an extreme, presumably establishing what the owners think are the key selling points of the Schiaparelli "brand": a mixture of artistry and unconventionality. Net-a-Porter are also reaching to the art world to attach some cultural legitimacy to their brands, commissioning artists to create one-off fashion/art pieces. All very fascinating stuff though - for all these brands - the question it finally seems to boil down to is, will it help to sell handbags?

Moving away from the rarefied world of couture and into the realms of doing it yourself, thanks to this Guardian article, I remembered how inspiring I found the Riot Grrrl movement. Aged 12, I wasn't changing the world from my Lincolnshire school by scrawling their names onto my pencil case (and most of the music went far over my head), but the thought of that possibility was thrilling. I also enjoyed the secret history of tattooed women on the New Yorker (found via Got a Girl Crush) and a non controversy-courting Vice article on Brazil's Tropicália movement. As a result of this piece, I've been listening to a lot of Os Mutantes this week.

For this week's eye candy, I love the look of Richard Heep's Man's Ruin exhibition. They were taken by the UK-based photographer on his travels around the States from 2001-09, and the use of  end-of-the-line films, combined with an outsider affection for americana, creates some fascinatingly ambiguous imagery.

And these time capsule houses shared on Oh So Lovely gave me a rush of nostalgia, especially this turquoise-topped kitchen. The house I grew up in was something of a novelty in North-East Lincolnshire. It was built by an American couple and, when my family moved in, was full of classic 1950s touches - from a pink bathroom to a turquoise kitchen. That's all now gone, as my parents have gradually renovated the house but, looking at this photo, I definitely feel like I've spent some time in this kitchen!

I'm sure I have some more hankerings for 1950s turquoises and pinks, as I'm finally going to see Populaire this weekend. I've also made a date to do some work on my shocking knowledge of classic films - I'm finally watching Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And then I'm definitely going to make sure I get out the house to enjoy some of this beautiful sunshine while we have it. Hope you have lovely weekend plans too.

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Thursday, 4 July 2013

Last-Year Reads: In and Out of Vogue by Grace Mirabella

I didn’t think I would like Grace Mirabella – replacement for Diana Vreeland as editor of American Vogue, and responsible for bringing real life into the magazine's pages. That’s partly because I don’t think I’m a huge fan of real life in the pages of fashion magazines. I chuckle indulgently at when they try and do everyday fashion in Vogue, with £250 so-called cheap buys, and immediately flick onto the glossy couture shoots. I’d take that any time over the blandness of Glamour or the bitchiness of Grazia.

My reading of In and Out of Vogue, Grace Mirabella’s autobiography, has undoubtedly been coloured by the Pamflet Salon I went to on Tuesday, where Amanda Mackenzie Stuart spoke about her biography of Diana Vreeland. Reading this book, it’s hard not to see Mirabella squaring up against the legend of Vreeland, to paraphrase Mirabella herself, Vreeland’s “dress-up fantasy” taking on her “real life”. It’s certainly a judgement many used against Mirabella when her editorship was announced in 1971: Hebe Dorsey’s of the International Herald Tribune proclaimed, “fashion will never be the same” while Andy Warhol bitched that she would make the magazine middle class (the horror!). Yet over the course of her editorship, she took readership from the shrinking 400,000 at the end of Vreeland’s command to over 1.2 million by the time she was sacked in 1988.

It’s hard not to be won over by Mirabella’s less-than-glamorous assessment of herself. She was the outsider from New Jersey. She found fashion shoots hard. She didn’t have the easy moneyed society background typical of Vogue girls. People liked her because she was a straight-talker, she was loyal and worked hard. And, for a new generation of working woman, striving to assert themselves professionally, they could see themselves in the version of Vogue she created.

You can see it in the text from her very first issue as editor in July 1971: "What we want to say first about the clothes you find in these pages is: just that", it proclaims. "You-are-going-to-find-clothes!! And you are going to find the clothes you’ve been looking for clothes you can see your lawyer in or your lover or go to the park in when the rest of the company is wearing 3 to 6X. Clothes to enjoy yourself in.” Compare this to the tone of a Vreeland-in-charge editorial from the month before (as quoted in my Vintage Tips for Summer City Style post): "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." I certainly know whom I’d rather be dressed by when going to see my lawyer.

But it’s not really a case of Vreeland vs Mirabella. Mirabella is open in her praise for her predecessor. When she was struggling to find her niche within the magazine in the 1960s, it was Vreeland who tells her honestly and directly, “You belong at Vogue. We will just have to find the right place for you” before promoting Mirabella to be her executive assistant, responsible for making sure the fantasies could be interpreted into reality. Working with her, Mirabella soon “began to hear the thought behind the fantasy … I also saw the woman I’d twice half perceived and mistrusted – the straight, honest, perceptive woman I’d talked about in the hall and at lunch about my job future – was real, more real in fact, than the frothy concoction she whipped into action every morning to keep the game of being herself going.”

Mirabella goes further and criticizes the “official guardians”, such as Carrie Donovan, Polly Mellen and Andre Leon Talley, for only allowing the D.V. the legend to remain. “It’s been heartbreaking for me to see Vreeland reduced to a caricature”, she writes, “her humanity lost in public memory. But that seems to be what fashion demands.” I found this statement so fascinating that I asked Mackenzie Stuart if this was what she’d encountered when she was speaking to people during her research for the Vreeland biography. It wasn’t, she said – in fact, it had almost gone the other way – that people were now eager to dismiss this caricature. Perhaps our legends are now allowed to be endowed with some intelligence as well as great style.

Mackenzie Stuart also said Grace Mirabella had been wonderfully generous in assisting her research. I can’t help but think this seems to be one way of readdressing the caricature or, in part, her way of apologizing to Vreeland. For, as happened when Carmel Snow betrayed Edna Woolman Chase and Conde Nast, when Mirabella was announced as editor, Vreeland “disappeared” from her life. Mirabella notes this isn’t something she was proud of but “professionally I had no choice but to make Vreeland disappear.”

As Vreeland’s character perfectly suited the mood of the 1960s, Mirabella was able to shift the mood of the magazine to match the changing world of the 70s. It was a moment where Mirabella’s desire for ease and comfort for a new active generation of women what matched by American sportswear coming into its own, when “a new generation of designers stripped the idea of casual dressing down to its barest ingredients and came up with a new style of dressing that was so pure, so light, and so true to the move and contour of a woman’s boy that they redefined the entire notion of clothes.”

And so, as the 1970s shifted into the 80s and designers became personalities and empires, Wall Street became home to the “Masters of the Universe”, and Christian Lacroix started creating extravagant puffball skirts, Mirabella found herself out of sympathy with the mood of the period and no longer to be Vogue’s editor for the times. Despite the impressive readership figures, she found herself unceremoniously booted out in favour of Anna Wintour, and her new vision for the magazine.

Mirabella went on to set-up and edit Mirabella (see what they did with the title?) for Rupert Murdoch’s empire (which eventually folded in 2000). Her aim, she states in the book, was not a fashion magazine with other things in it, but an intelligent magazine for a woman’s world, with fashion as one part of its overall remit. That aim seems laudable but, sadly, I don’t think we’re anywhere nearer to it with today’s mainstream magazines. So possibly it was fantasy that won over "real life" in the end … and I finished the book thinking that might not be such a good thing after all.

Isn’t it possible to have both? To address real life wants and needs, while embracing the pleasures of some delicious fantasy and creativity? To prove they might not be as far apart as they sometimes appear to be, I wanted to finish on this quote on style. It’s from In and Out of Vogue and it’s the words of Grace Mirabella:

“What I’ve always cared about, passionately, is style. Style is how a woman carries herself and approaches the world. It’s about how she wears her clothes and it’s more: an attitude about living. Dressing up in the most expensive thing around has nothing to do with style. Style transcends money, fashion trends, “prettiness”.

Couldn’t it equally sum up the philosophy of Diana Vreeland?

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