Saturday, October 22, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part Four

A gaggle of flappers
What follows is the conclusion of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure. Still concerned with "popularity", I was obviously getting tired of my subject.

1910 -1920
Women wore "hobble skirts" with wide-brimmed hats. Colors were bright, but they turned darker towards 1920. Waistlines were lower by 1920, also.

Nothing much had changed with men's clothes. The Prince Albert or Frock coat was worn. High, tight white collars were popular.

Sailor suits were popular with children. Middy blouses were also popular towards the end of the period.

Theda Bara barely influencing '20s fashion

1920-1930 is commonly known as the "Flapper Age". The movie "vamp" had a strong influence on women's clothes and styles. "Flapper" was originally a name given to girls between the ages of 14 and 20, because they were at their "awkward" age. This name originated in England.

Still stunning after all these years

Women wore low-cut hats, ropes and ropes of pearls, low-cut necklines and short, short skirts. Shoes with accommodations for the big toes only were very popular. All in all, women had no shape at all.  Longer skirts came into being towards 1930.

Straw boaters were popular with men. Tweeds were a favorite material.

 *   *   *

Future clothes? How should I know about future clothes? Maybe someday we'll wear the caveman's clothes again.

Emily Post was once asked "What makes a brilliant party?", and she answered "Clothes".

The End

Reflections from the future: Not sure why I decided to ignore the '30s and '40s (aside from having met the assignment's required length). I probably thought they were like the '90s now— just not worth talking about (though I've been hearing '90s whispers lately). How could I ever have imagined the Youthquake '60s, the Hippie '70s and the Disco '80s, all just ahead but over many mountains?

In so many ways I am indeed still that twelve-year-old girl— vocal, opinionated, wanting to share my not-always-correct grip on the facts— all while dressing for that brilliant party. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

No Debate About It

Further proof of the Power of Fashion (if you needed any): Hillary's white suit at last night's final debate. Designed by Ralph Lauren, it echoed the white theme of the suit she wore to accept the Democratic presidential nomination and completed the patriotic trio of red, blue and white worn for the debates.

I thought then— and think now— that this was a winner's choice worn by a woman with supreme purpose and confidence. You know how hard it is to wear all white (unless you're the bride). Never do I feel more conspicuous than when I wear white pants, let alone white top and bottom.

Hillary has worn Ralph Lauren throughout (but not exclusively) this campaign. He's always a woman's friend. No one, especially Hillary, should choose an outfit other than to feel wonderful and flattered. Her choice last night spoke loud and clear:
I'm Hillary Clinton, and I approve this message.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part Three

The Gibson Girl... and guy

What follows is part three of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure. I think I may have gotten tired of writing as everything became a popularity contest.

1890 - 1900
Tubed pants for men were very popular. Women looked much older than they really were because they wore entirely too heavy and too bulky kinds of clothes. The colors and styles that were popular definitely didn't grace the woman of the 1890s. Sewing machines were cheaperizing clothes. The poor continued to copy the rich people's clothes. The famed Ballon and Leg-of-Mutton sleeves were very popular. The bell-shape look took the place of the hour-glass. As you've probably gathered, the late Victorians were so busy with their money that they didn't have time for anything else, let alone clothes.

Legs of mutton and bells on parade

The dinner jacket was introduced at Monte Carlo because the men gambling there complained of the discomfort in wearing a stuffy Frock coat all evening. There was a complete change in men's clothes because of the artist Charles Dana Gibson. Men's clothes were becoming masculine again. Maybe you've seen some of Gibson's drawings; his men were heavy and muscular, and they had extremely square jaws.

Color harmony was popular in women's dress. Trains were worn at night. Cheapness was desired everywhere. The result was poor dyes and cheap materials. Starch was used as a face-powder.

Victim of Little Lord Fauntleroy

This was another age for boys— the ridiculous "Little Lord Fauntleroy" look. Sailor suits, the exact replica of HRM Navy were also quite popular.

1900 - 1910
The hour-glass look was back and the Gibson Girl look was still popular.  Women wore odd goggles for automobiling. Kimono gowns and other Japanese modes were popular.

Fashionable mourning dresses were popular with women. Deaths were almost pleasant because then a woman could go buy a new dress for the funeral. The soft, flowing silhouette was popular. Skirts were tight around the hips. Bolero dresses were worn at the beginning of the period. High, wired necks are characteristic of the early 1900s. 1,106 yards less material than was needed fifty years before was used.  At the death of Edward VII in 1910, the reign of lingerie and corsets came to an abrupt halt.

Evelyn Nesbit, 1900s "it" girl

Mother Hubbard dresses were introduced. These were loose-fitting house dresses— not too beautiful but very comfortable. Cartwheel hats were popular.  There was a tremendous "Merry Widow" influence. Feather boas, properly saturated with lavender were worn over dresses like stoles are today.

Red flannel undies were very popular with men. Also popular was a big, loose coat with a heavy, padded shoulder. Dark colors— mostly blues, blacks, browns and dark green were worn.

Buster and his dog Tige

This was still another age for children's clothes, however this time it affected the girls, too. This was the age of the comics character Buster Brown. Boys wore suits with wide starched collars and topped off with a "dashing" gigantic bow-tie. The girls wore low-waisted dresses which vaguely resembled a Chinaman's coat. Girls wore big bows on their hair.
Sally, Ida and Jean—my aunts and my mother (in the middle)
to be continued...

Friday, October 7, 2016

My Velvet Crush

I've predicted a few successes in my life. I knew Elvis would not be passing fad and Simon and Garfunkel had what it takes. I also think I can sniff out fashion trends. Last winter I was positively possessed to own a pair of lace-up ghillies before they were Everywhere. Ghillies are still cute, but I'm not as driven. I may not start trends, but I like to be an early adapter. This fall I'm in the velvet zone, and today's shopping excursion proved I'm not alone. There was plenty of velvet to be found.

Fortuny velvet tunic

Today's velvet is not the smooth stuff of party dresses past or Santa's suit. It's a mottled, crushy fabric that looks a bit smashed and mashed, as if it had been crammed into a trunk for 40 years. This is velvet as meticulously crafted by the Spanish master Fortuny, who worked in Italy. Today's manufacturing processes make playing with velvet a snap. Colors are softer and richer than we've seen, in somber jewel tones of teal, ochre, gray, persimmon and more.

I've already snapped up these three pieces that I look forward to mixing and switching with what's already in my closet:

Zara $49.90
Zara 22.90
Anthropologie $148

I'm hoping I can stop, but this is a serious crush.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sewing Up "The Dressmaker"

Kate and her trusty Singer
I went to see "The Dressmaker" yesterday, despite mediocre reviews and the beautiful weather. As a fashion-possessed WOACA who sewed her way through the 1950s, why wouldn't I want to see even a bodice-ripper starring Kate Winslet and a bunch of '50s frocks?

You need to know this is above all a black comedy. The characters are drawn with very bold strokes. At times the audience knows more than they do, which is less unfortunate than you may think. It allows the viewer to feel smart and in cahoots with the filmmakers. It does nothing to prepare for the twist of an ending. There's romance, pathos and Kate Winslet having a grand time filling out couture-style clothing.

We know little about her character, Tillie, between a hardscrabble childhood in the down-trodden Australian outback and her return as an adult. We know she worked for Vionnet and Balenciaga. For those of us in the know, they are credentials enough. There is a silly scene of the entranced townswomen swanning about in Tillie's creations. That's where I expected a break out in song like "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". Coincidentally Hugo Weaving, a principal from "Priscilla", also has a major role here. Oh and some of the eye candy is Liam Hemsworth not wearing much.

Though truly not the point of "The Dressmaker"— it's more about retribution, truth and love— there is no doubt about the transformative power of clothes. That surprise ending I mentioned? Skillfully fashioned. "Nuff said.

Friday, September 23, 2016

What's a Picture Worth?

Mary Russell by Lobravico

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I've always thought fashion illustration tells the story as well or better than a photograph. It ups the fantasy level (when fashion was a little more fantastical) and really fires your imagination. That may not hold true today, when we supposedly want to "shop the runway" before Anna Wintour's chair is even cold.

Once upon a time... and I've written about this before... using illustration was not the rare choice it is today. Proof would be a legal size (better to hold those oversize pages) folder I unearthed in an effort to finally clean out the boxes I packed 13 years ago when we moved to Texas.

Once upon a time I wanted to be a fashion illustrator. Most of my illustrations were just doodles for my own pleasure. Although I did turn out some illustrations for Glamour Magazine once I started working there, I was never comfortable in my line and was always looking over my shoulder or under the ink bottle for inspiration. Drawing, much as I loved it, didn't come naturally.

Really just a doodle
Published work!

 Talk to anyone in the arts, and I'll bet they will say what they do comes from a gut place that totally absorbs them. It's the passion that tells them "practice, practice, practice" and the thing that tells Sleep "just one more paragraph/stanza/pirouette...". Though we may dabble (or more) in what we love (Florence Foster Jenkins anyone?) we admire the ones who've got it (DG you know who you are). To that end I've long collected clips of fashion illustration.

Alas, paper doesn't last. My clippings (magazine or newsprint) are brittle if not actually fraying. Just looking at them left a trail of paper chips all over the room. It's time to say goodbye but not before a last hurrah.

A gaggle by the great Antonio

The biggest stash are drawings by Antonio Lopez, mostly from 1966 and 1967. He was an amazingly prolific illustrator. This was before he was elevated to royalty in the Studio 54 era. His girls were more young and innocent-looking in my clips than those in his later work. He worked a lot for Glamour back then too. I've written before how, being in charge of art department clean-out, I threw away reams of his alternate submissions and never saved a one. But I saved the printed pages! Go figure.

Betsy could draw too

Did you know that Betsy Johnson drew fashion illustration for Mademoiselle Magazine before she left to become a designer? She also worked in their art department, which was on the floor below Glamour's. She had a bigger passion.

I wanted to be an Arkin girl

My favorite illustrator of all-time was Erica Perl. She drew for Glamour in the '50s (before my time) and for a manufacturer named Arkin. She seemed to stop in the '60s as I never saw her work after that. Her illustrations are the most realistic of the bunch. I poured over all the details. If I could have morphed into one of them I would gladly have done so. Ironically I found out many years later she had lived just a few miles from our house in the New York City suburbs.

So maybe not goodbye to all of them, just au revoir. I'm sure I have room for one more box...

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part Two

All aboard the train...

What follows is part two of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure.

1870 - 1880
There were two important reforms in dress made during these years. The Aesthetic and Man-Woman dress were their names. They were not too successful but a step in the right direction anyway.

Aesthetic style
Oscar Wilde

The Aesthetic reformers tried to popularize the Greek style and lovely colors. There was also a strong Japanese influence in their modes. Their chief leader was the author Oscar Wilde. The Man-Woman dress was hideous. The dress consisted of an ankle-length belted coat topped with a bowler hat. This outfit was worn by both sexes.

However the majority of people during these years didn't adopt the Aesthetic or Man-Woman dresses. The women wore trains which swept up anything from orange peels to cat food. One thoughtful observer made this notation of what a lady had swept up in her train:
> Two cigar ends
> Nine cigarette butts
> A portion of pork pie
> Four toothpicks
> Two hairpins
> One stem of a clay pipe
> One slice of cat's meat
> Half a sole of a boot
> One plug of tobacco (chewed)
> Straw, mud, scraps of paper, etc.

It was the crinoline's end and the beginning of the bustle age. These bustles lessened towards 1880. The hour-glass shape and the nineteen-inch waist were popular. Dark shades and harmonious colors were worn.

Men wore frock coats and narrow plaid trousers. Bell-bottomed pants were introduced. Top hats, very high and narrow, were popular.

Children's clothes were very elaborate. This was the age of the monkey suit for boys. Big bows were worn on the backs of girls' dresses. Their pantaloons showed.

1880 - 1890
This period is known as the "hideous Eighties", possibly the worst period for women's dress. By now the hour glass was too popular. Women were ruining their health as well as their figures.

Men wore frock coats, and a long-waisted overcoat was a great favorite. Tails were worn for evening. A lounging jacket called a Norfolk jacket was also introduced.

The Norfolk jacket
Women's bodices came to a "V" in front, and there was a huge bow at the back of the skirt. Trains were worn only at night. Capes and tight-fitting coats were popular. Muffs and bonnets were also popular at this time. The picture hat was first introduced. Bright colors (especially shades of blue and purple) were worn. Women used no make-up, so if you've ever seen your mother right after she gets up, you know how bad they looked.

A worthy Worth
Charles Worth was a prominent designer during the reign of Empress Eugenie. He started out as a small tailor and eventually bought the tailor shop. He then named it the "House of Worth". After his death Worth's children, Jean and Gaston, took over his Paris establishment. This was the year 1884.

Children's clothes were fancy and very frilly, and they clearly showed the popular "bandaged-up" look. 

Timeless advice from Oscar Wilde
to be continued...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Madame Predicts the Fall Trends


Will this be my new wardrobe? Is it 300 thread count? Make that a couture sheet, please.

Yes, this is part of the fall campaign 2016 for Balenciaga in your favorite glossy fashion magazines. Four full pages do not come cheap. It isn't as if they were making a statement. Balenciaga is not going out of business or suggesting togas. Their offerings this year would be right at home in Grayson Perry's closet.


I'm not here to make fun of Balenciaga as there is a statement, just perhaps not the one they intended. Fall offerings this year are so discombobulated and all over the place that a sheet (or staying home) would seem the best answer. Madame (that's me) likes to report on the trends each season. I'm just so bored with the same-old-and-then-some I can't whip up the effort. We've seen all these trends before. In order to make them different, everything is supersized or cross-polinated. Think Biker with lace and Boho with studs. And forget what Chanel said about removing the last accessory. For Fall 2016, add one on.

 If you insist, here they are:
> Pretty and edgy
> Luxe eclectic
> Dark romance
> Sporty cool
> Menswear
> Boho 1970s
> Military

All the fashion reporting has identified the same trends (with slightly different monikers). You might think that amazing, but the fall trends are every trend we've seen trending for eons— except minimal. If you want to be a fashion trend-setter, that might be the way to go.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dear Hillary...

First Democratic presidential debate

Dear Hillary,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter. Please believe I wouldn't bother if I didn't care.  I want you to look your best as you go out to slay the Jabberwacky (as your opponent is referred to in this household). But lately you've been looking a little frowsy around the edges. Too many bad hair days and reruns of the dreaded colorful pantsuits.

Slaying the Jabberwocky

When I saw you on the first Democratic presidential debate, you looked so great I wrote about it. You were wearing a lovely outfit, and your hair and makeup were flawless. I was so happy you finally hired the right stylist and/or you were listening to her/him.

I can't even imagine what constantly being on the campaign trail is like. You must barely have time to eat and sleep let alone pick three pieces to make an outfit. The Jabberwacky only has to hoist that red tie around his necks, and he's done. He can even doff a baseball cap and get away with it.

This does not go without notice. Even a male friend (who will probably vote for you anyway) said, "I hate her pantsuits!"

Exhibits P (pantsuits) and H (hair)

You may not like my suggestions, but I think you need to add a permanent hairdresser to your entourage. It may cost the taxpayers, but it would be worth it. You also need a stylist to throw out the crayola pantsuits and dress you like the strong woman you are, not like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass. Look what happened to her.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Backstory

Unless these gals plan to back out of that party, at some point they are going to turn around, and this not so pretty picture will be the result. We so forget we have a back side as well as a backside. If anything would entice you to invest in a three way mirror, it might be this photo.

I'd like to think I don't have back fat or panty lines or tan lines, but I'm not so sure. Okay, I'm sure about the tan lines. I'm always aware how a customer (at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work) looks from the back  as that's my job. I feel I've saved many a lass in love with a dress from the front by showing her how is just isn't fitting or flattering from the back. But who tells me??? And you, in the privacy of your own dressing inner sanctum? Could this call for a selfie stick?

Obviously certain types of outfits will be more susceptible to scrutiny than others. Bathing suits would be one, party clothes another. And while we can forgive a lot of what we see on the beach (not wanting to be first to throw stones), a special evening calls for special attention to detail.

Besides, a three-way mirror is cheaper than growing eyes in the back of your head. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part One

What follows is part one of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. This is what I meant when I told you "I've always been this way". I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure.

This got an A from a very generous teacher. She did wish the material could have been "a bit more condensed". 


Have you wondered who wore the first clothes? The caveman was probably first. His wardrobe consisted mostly of sheep and tiger skins, maybe some mink if he was wealthy.

Now I'll skip a few thousand years and begin at 1850. This year approximately begins the Victorian era which was perhaps the ugliest period of the centuries. Meaningless ornament and veneer were applied to a design of already poor taste. Colors were crude; bonnets frankly hideous.

It was necessary to wear heavily padded petticoats until the steel-rigged crinoline, or hoop-skirt, was invented. Horsehair and crin stuffing were used. The crinoline got its name from this stuffing. Since its invention in 1530, designers have tried to revive the crinoline about the middle of each century thereafter, but it never quite reached its exaggerated shape of the 1850s.

Often it took 1,100 yards of material to make a dress in vogue at this time. Materials were cheap and gauze-like. The Empress Eugenie of France popularized silk from Lyons, but it was too heavy and you couldn't take the preferred short gliding step when walking. Most dresses were worn only once because its beauty depended upon the freshness of the material.

Style star Eugenie
Many petticoats were worn, and this is a list of what you'd have to get into before you put your dress on:
1) Lace trimmed drawers
2) Horsehair lined under-petticoat
3) Flannel petticoat
4) Three and 1/2 yards of horsehair
5) Calico petticoat stiffened with cords
6) Wheel of thick plaited horsehair
7) Three starched muslin petticoats
Rather bulky, wouldn't you say? All this weight was a terrible threat to good health.

Billowy skirts with flounces upon flounces were popular. Sleeves got larger until they were very wide at the elbow. Another popular type of sleeve was called the "Pagoda" sleeve. Dresses were adorned heavily with the customary junk and bric-a-brac.

It was impossible for ladies to get into overcoats, so shawls and mantillas had to be adopted.
Poke bonnets and leghorns made of straw were popular. Heavy gold jewelry was worn by both men and women, and so were vests. These vests were worn with a Russian Zouave coat by women. Kid slippers (especially black) were very popular. No heels were worn on ladies' shoes.


There were many difficulties in wearing these clothes. Actresses had to wear them even in medieval and Greek plays. This was thought to be the cause of the skirt's downfall. These dresses were too thin and inflammable. At one great church rally over three thousand women were burned alive when the place caught fire, because the dresses were so thin.

Empress Eugenie is said to have taken 250 dresses with her to the three-day opening of the Suez canal.

Men wore frock coats (especially plaids and checks) and a starched shirt with a little frill. A huge bow tie was popular for evening, along with very tight trousers. Silk top hats were popular, also the straw boater. The bowler hat was first introduced.

Children's clothes were much like that of their parents'. Boys' clothes were very un-masculine. Styles for children were fancy and frilly. However, simpler clothes were designed for the country. The girls wore hoops and crinolines too. The pantalets didn't show yet, but a bit of petticoat sticking out was considered fashionable.

Boys wore skirts to the age of nine. Older boys wore feminine laced pants.

Frolicking in the fifties
to be continued...

Friday, August 26, 2016

French Without Tears

Sonia Rykiel flashing a rare smile
Sonia Rykiel died in Paris this week at age 86. I came of age in the '60s and Sonia Rykiel spoke to my generation of young women, full of confidence in ourselves to handle careers, husbands (or lovers), chidren and family (if we wanted) or complete independence. We felt like pioneers because we were.

Sonia was one of the few French designers whose work reflected this new freedom. Her designs were more wearable and affordable than French couture. Most notably her innovations (the poor boy sweater, culottes, flowing lines in knitwear, subdued but romantic dresses, minimal ornamentation) were widely copied and filtered down to those of us who, sadly, could not quite afford to shop at her left bank boutique.

Early Rykiel

It has always surprised me that French women have the reputation for being austere and disciplined dressers. While her designs eschewed frippery, they were always easy and playful. Sonia came up with innovative touches like reversible dresses and jackets, exposed seams and hemlines with frayed edges. She whipped up delicious inky hues one year and switched to hot tones the next. She always chose basic black for herself, capped with a head of flaming red hair worn with her trademark "fringe". We also have Sonia to thank (or blame) for being first to add words like mode or amour onto her designs.

Sonia's La Belle Parisienne

Sonia Rykiel embraced womanhood and designed her clothing to be worn by women of all ages. Interviewed in 1987, she said "We are working women. Also we have the problem of children, of men, to take care of our houses, so many things. I try to explain that in my clothes. They are clothes for everyday life." It probably sounded better in French.

Although she retired in 2009, Sonia's daughter Nathalie had long worked with her and the brand is still going strong.

Fall 2016 campaign