Friday, April 30, 2010

Famolare, Whoa-oh

Children of the 70s had so many privileges specific to the decade it's almost unkind to subsequent generations to list them. John Belushi, doing weekly comedy live. Let that sink in. Boston, fresh out of the box. Yago Sangria (and being legal at 18 to drink it). But the list has to end somewhere. For fashion purposes, why don't we stop at Famolares, which, while decidedly done and dusty today, were at the time some of the coolest shoes going for high school girls whose moms wouldn't let them wear Candies.

These shoes wouldn't knock Manolos or Choos off any pedestals with their wavy crepe soles (designed to help you Get There!), but they outstyled the similarly trendy Earth Shoes by miles. Plus they had the advantage of the energetic marketing of Joe Famolare, a shoe dynasty heir turned Broadway dance-shoe designer whose own charisma and showmanship went a long way toward getting the shoes on young women's feet.

You can find a nice trove of vintage Famolares on Etsy. The prices tend to be higher than you'd expect for the old and the worn, but if you had as much fun in yours as I did in mine, simply seeing these pairs again is priceless.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Master Class: Betty Wears a Scarf Clip

Was catching up on Mad Men last night, and saw the episode Souvenir. While Betty's dolca vita dress/earrings/updo for the scene in the outdoor cafe in Rome was extraordinary, I was even more taken with her look for the Junior League contingent's appearance at the the town planning meeting.

A cream sheath dress. Transparent cream gloves. A royal blue-and-cream scarf. A gold chain belt. A big statement scarf clip.

While the gloves are over the top for everyday wear today, all the rest could work brilliantly.

Vintage scarf clips are easy to find online. Here's a nice one from Etsy.

The great thing about these little devices is that they take away all the foofing around trying to get a nice knot. Three simple elements, and you're done. Thanks again Mad Men costumers, you're all geniuses.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vintage Mysteries Solved: How to Replace a Missing Trenchcoat Belt

Those of us who routinely shop in vintage outlets know that some of the most covetable garments available are there because something is missing . . . a button off a Givenchy jacket, a forgiving extra hole in a slightly-too-snug belt, or today's very typical example, a belt off an otherwise wonderful old trench coat.

It doesn't matter if it's Burberry, Daks, or London Fog -- great trenches look only halfway there without their belts, which is why a missing one is such a dealbreaker. But it needn't be. Here's what you can do to fill those loops if the original tie has gone AWOL.

1) I'd advise against trying to find a stand-alone trench belt online: scans typically do not show true colors and if you get a near-match rather than an exact one, it will look decidedly imperfect. Alternately you could sift through options in secondhand shops bringing the coat along as opposite number, but to my mind this is looking for a needle in a haystack. There are better ways to go.

2) If the coat is an authentic Burberry or other big-name brand, you could contact your nearest branch, asking if they can replace the belt for you. They may ask you to send pictures of the garment and any labels. There may or may not be a charge involved.

3) Forget about matching the belt entirely and put the loops to use to display a beautiful silk scarf that you'd otherwise never wear.

4) Or find a belt that isn't a trenchcoat or mac belt per se but nonetheless looks like it was purpose-made. Here, I think the ideal (and fairly easy to find) solution are belts that combine leather and taupe canvas, which have enough of a military air about them to perfectly play into the trenchcoat's combat origins. The canvas should approximately match the color of the fabric, and the leather should ideally tone into any browns in the coat's buttons.

I pulled this belt straight out of my closet--if you have a good look online you should find the equivalent fairly easily; such belts are also fairly readily found at extremely reasonable prices in charity shops/thrift stores. Good luck!

Monday, April 26, 2010

How to Find Top-Quality Vintage Online, Part 1

It's not easy when you can't see the interior, feel the fabric, or appreciate the workmanship as a whole (which together amount to the best way to find fantastic vintage when it's right under your nose).

However, there are some tactics an online shopper can deploy to cut through the middling pieces on the vast virtual rail.

One is to search using keywords that point directly to clothes that were made with great care.

Example. Have a look at socialite Babe Paley's jacket above. It's by London couturier Digby Morton, 1946. Might such an item ever appear on eBay or Etsy? Possibly. But if you keyword "couture" to find it, you'll call up a warehouse worth of dodgy merchandise, from pantihose to pet collars, that have nothing to do with finely tailored clothing.

Instead of going for the obvious, you need to think sideways. Like . . . look at the flapped pocket on Babe's jacket. How it's placed, sitting almost horizontal to the waistline. This is a couture detail: in which the ordinary is tweaked into extraordinary because there's the design inspiration, sewing talent, time, and above all, money to do so.

This pocket is quietly dramatic, everything a couture detail ought to be. Bing! I jumped onto eBay and keyworded "diagonal pocket" and "vintage", just to see what would come up.

Result: nothing ultra-extraordinary, but two things really quite nice indeed, the old-school plaid hacking jacket below from Jaeger, which is a great autumn piece for somebody looking to look poshly countrified.

Even more interesting, the highly tailored cocktail dress from Givenchy, labeled couture (almost certainly not haute couture, which would have been hand tailored for an individual, but high-end ready to wear. I'm guessing it dates to the late 80s, in the twilight years before Galliano, McQueen, and Tisci were brought in to revivify the brand). The dress looks quiet in the photo but I bet is absolutely the bomb when it's on the right figure, dressed up Parisian style with sheer black stockings and very high stilettos.

The point? It's the details that count, again and again. I never would have found these two items without the help of just the right keywords. We'll look at some others as the week goes on.

(photo of Babe Paley by Clifford Coffin for British Vogue, 1946)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to Wear a Falcon, by Lucian Freud

Another off-topic entry about a man nicely accessorized by a beast, this time Lucian Freud in his younger years (who today is considered one of our greatest painters).

One might fairly ask "dude what are you doing with that bird in the house"--a question the artist would dismiss as tediously bourgeois.

His grandfather Sigmund might diagnose it to be a symbol of some kind. I'll leave to you puzzle out what.

Back tomorrow with on-topic fashion.

(photo Lucian Freud 1947, by Clifford Still, from British Vogue 1948)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to Wear a Cougar, By Steve McQueen

So it has nothing to do with vintage fashion (unless you're talking one million years bc)--but saw this and couldn't resist . . . could you?

What I like best? There is something about his mouth that says "this is BULLSHIT, but yeah, this time I'll play along . . ."

(photo from The Selvedge Yard, a brilliant repository of photos on the subject of fashion, sport, rock stars, bikers, and pretty much all things cool and male)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to Wear: Off-the-Shoulder Blouse

Little doubt in anyone's mind that Sophia Loren could front an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse with authority, as she does above in her first English-language film, The Pride and the Passion.

But one need not be a Mediterranean bomba to pull the look off, as Doris Day proves below.

The simple necessities are these:

1) Glossy skin
2) Not a lot of froufrou at the neckline--a skinny chain at best. Hoop earrings would be great, though.
3) A relatively covered-up bottom half. If you wore short-shorts with a blouse like this, the impact of the shoulders would be lost.
3) A blouse whose edging draws attention to the lovely boundary of clothed and unclothed, example from eBay below.

Image of Sophia Loren from Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans, many thanks. Image of Doris Day from the fab Unofficially Doris: The Doris Day Web Forum, many thanks too!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Day at the Races: But which Hat?

Just learned that after 15 years of living in England, I'm finally getting the opportunity to attend Royal Ascot, a day of racing in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, and arguably the high point of the British social calendar.

Here, from Ascot's own website, are tips (meaning instructions) on what to wear:

Her Majesty’s Representative wishes to point out that only formal day dress with a hat or substantial fascinator will be acceptable. Off the shoulder, halter neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch and miniskirts are considered unsuitable. Midriffs must be covered and trouser suits must be full length and of matching material and colour. Gentlemen are required to wear either black or grey morning dress, including a waistcoat, with a top hat. A gentleman may remove his top hat within a restaurant, a private box, a private club or that facility’s terrace, balcony or garden. Hats may also be removed within any enclosed external seating area within the Royal Enclosure Garden.

OK, enough about the men, who cares, back onto the ladies. How to pick a hat for such a chapeau-centric event? What decade? What style? What price?

Whether you're attending Ascot, the Kentucky Derby, a splashy wedding, or garden party, I think the answer ought to be vintage, but more importantly, think less about making a "statement" with the hat (which is likely to come off as cartoonish) and more about looking amazingly gorgeous in it. This means knowing what kinds of hats suit you. This further means going to a vintage fair or large vintage shop, or a good department store, or even a mall accessories outlet like Claire's (US) or Accessorize (UK) and trying on a bazillion different hats to see what works, as a first step.

If you're lucky, you'll find the perfect hat this way, but if nothing is quite right and you'd like to have a go at the much wider and typically far-better-priced offerings of the online vintage world, more steps are necessary. First, measure your head's circumference around the brow with a tapemeasure, and write this down. Never buy a hat that does not meet or slightly exceed this measure, for it will drive you mad otherwise. Now you are ready to consider shopping for a hat online.

What sort of hats suit you? I know I can't wear: pillboxes, cloches, sculptural caps, black. Wide and medium brims work, but not too wide, because you need to be model-tall to carry these off. While I love the idea of hats of lots of old vintage trim, this can very often looked faded and tatty with age and the effect is less garden party than Miss Havisham gone to seed.

After a long troll through eBay and Etsy, I came up with these candidates . . .

The hat at top, a vintage number from Atlantic City, appeals because it is such a feral hybrid of a top hat and an old-lady floral. The colors are great too. If I could look half as good in it as the flipping hat dummy, I'd be doing very well with this item.

The middle entry is not terribly old--from the 80s, and the freshness really shows. Plus, its construction is immaculate, and as picture hats go, it's dramatic without veering into ridiculous (you should see some of the gear they wear at this event). The slight downside is the price, which is probably more than I would consider for an item I couldn't try on.

I'm very much in love with the feather headdress at bottom, which looks like it would rest like a cloud upon your head. And I have to admit the seller is doing no wrong by evoking church ladies and their magnificent hats in her title for the entry.

Decisions, decisions. But what happy ones.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Crime Against Caninity or . . .

. . . shaggin' wagon styling comes full circle?

More photos here. Why the New York Times put the article in the Sports section instead of Style is one of the many other mysteries of this subgenre of dog grooming.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What's Black and White and Cool All Over?

I have a such a weakness for shoes that are mirror images of each other: left, meet right, ooh you're getting along so well!

In terms of vintage history, these most typically source from the Mod era of the early 60s, when the graphic geometries of circle, square, triangle and rectangle found their ultimate expression in the similarly absolute hues of black and white.

Throw in a matching bag, and the deal is sealed, no? If the shoe fits, and you've got a hip wedding to go to, you could build the entire outfit around this very ensemble; white sheath for day, black for night.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not Strictly Ballroom: A Closer Look at Tango Purses

*sigh* . . . . I've been looking at images of tango for an hour and am this close to boarding a steamer for Buenos Aires to spend a year or so learning this marvelous dance . . .

. . . . but will settle with showing you these graceful accessories from the 1920s, which are variously known as tango purses, tango compacts, dance purses, vanity compacts, and quite a few other terms. This makes them a finagle to search out with keywords, but ultimately define:

a) a compact intended to hold powder, a puff, and a mirror, held on the wrist by a snug strap or chain
b) a purse for small necessities, likewise worn close to the wrist
c) far less commonly, a small compact or clutch held in the hand, which would have been unhelpful in an actual tango situation, where both hands must cling tight to preclude being thrown to the floor
d) one of the above, with a small case for lipstick soldered on to the chain handle

It's the latter detail I especially love--and the implied notion that the lipstick would be smoked, drunk, and kissed away over the course of a late night in the dancehall.

Vintage compact above, from Buenos Aires, here. Compact below, Copyright (C) 2009, Grandma's Jewellery Box.
from Ruby Lane, here, with many thanks.

(Tango illustration at top here, with thanks.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

These Little Piggies Went to Market: A Tale of Two Shoes

As threatened yesterday, more dreadfully ugly shoes. If you are of a delicate aesthetic sensibility, avert your eyes NOW.

Oops too late! Behold, a FiveFingers sandal from Vibram. (editor's note: they look marginally worse in the photo than they do in real life). If you are an outdoorsy sort you may have heard about, seen, or even own a pair of these non-ballet toe shoes, which are about as close as you can get to going barefoot if you haven't developed the calluses of an individual who must walk unshod several miles a day to meet basic human needs. Such an individual might happily join in to the general derision of this footwear, but I don't care. They feel fantastic on.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the closet, deliberately snubbing the gauche FiveFingers, are these vintage ghillie-style oxfords from Rangoni. (Ghillie: a shoe with decorative lacing up the instep and no tongue).

I'm so pleased with the shoes, which just came in from Etsy for the reasonable price of $54/£34. Canvas and leather, practically unworn, from a shoemaker whose name really deserves to be more widely known, for the craftsmanship is exceptional. Rangoni Firenze is a Florence, Italy-based shoemaker that has been a family business since 1933. They were one of the first Italian firms to export shoes to the US, and created handcrafted designs for Christian Dior.

My only niggle is that the toebox is narrow in that smug Italian way, which will certainly be felt after a few hours. The canvas will stretch. More importantly, at the other side of the closet, the FiveFingers will be waiting to pamper my poor toes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hideous Shoes We Secretly Adore

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that there is something about a godawful ugly shoe, that, like a truly unlovely pooch, is all the more charming for its flinch factor.

There are lots of contenders out there (shoes, I mean)--many with a "functional" element that gurneys the shoe into the ICU of eyesores, apparel division.

Below, a contemporary example: slippers, sadly no longer available for sale, that in their heyday performed the handy dual role of a) keeping your feet warm; b) dusting the floor as you shamble from fridge to sofa. This is how the shoes look fresh out of the box. Imagine these bad boys with a few dust bunnies swept in and you can begin to appreciate their full repellence.

Next up, an old favorite that ought to appeal to the mendicant guru in all of us: vintage Birks with little rubber fingers atop the footbed, offering what amounts to a Reiki treatment on the go. Truth be told, I would love to have a pair of these, but I've done worse in the ugly footwear department (see entry above) and can't countenance more than one pair like this in the closet (plus they're the wrong size).

To be continued, tomorrow . . .

See fugly slippers and much more at the brilliant site Toxel, which scours the globe in search of inspired design of all kinds. Many thanks to Etsy seller JunqueGypsy for the photo of the vintage Super-Noppy Birks.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Style a Skinny Belt: Cross Hitch

Back on the blog after a few weeks away: missed you!!

Here's a fresh way to style a favorite old snakeskin belt, or a new one picked up for pennies secondhand, or even another type of belt altogether, like the one on your trench. It's little tricks like these that make a look "effortlessly" chic (and as anyone who looks effortlessly chic will tell you, it takes many tricks indeed).

Take one skinny belt, thread the shank through the top of the buckle, around, and cross over and back through the buckle below (click on the photo to enlarge to see closer and work it out from that, much easier than trying to follow the instructions . . . )

This look is especially great if the outfit is essentially monochrome, as here.

Brilliant styling by the UK's Red magazine, April 2010, many thanks, more from this editorial later this week.