Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fashion and Fabrics: Sewing Vintage Styles from the 1960s

The image above from the early 1960's illustrates how a girl could plan her wardrobe around a single sewing pattern or style, just by using assorted fabrics and accessories.  Getting mileage out of a simple, classic silhouette was seen in many features of that time.  These examples are great ways to find inspiration today when sewing, and to help date an outfit from the early 1960's by the garment cut, silhouette, fabric and trim.

Taking simple trims, like the lace motifs shown here was popular throughout the 60's.  With only a simple sheath, a great fashion statement can be created.   These spring and summer looks sport crisp linen fabrics with sharp white lace applique and linear trim texture for an 'icing' effect.

 These fun looks are part of a 2 dart shift or 4 dart bodice dress designs.  The placement of linear applique was selected to elongate the figure and add slimming lines to looser styles.  These easy to sew silhouettes were the backbone of any girl's wardrobe--a "make it in one day" styles. 

When looking for vintage patterns, those new to sewing should seek out these styles.  They often have great instructions, which can be used with a good sewing manual to create great outfits more easily. For advanced sewing projects, upgrade the textiles, lining and trims for a sophisticated style that can be easily altered for a perfect fit. 

The pattern styles shown above may seem vintage, but they can be found currently in modern sewing patterns that have a more current fit with a wider range in sizes.  The following patterns are currently available in the Butterick catalog.  Pattern  5746 is a classic darted bodice with fitted skirt (you add the sash).   This pattern can also be used to create a perfect fit body pattern, which is something you may want to have if you sew from vintage patterns and need to make alterations.  Patterns 5277  and 5407 are also darted, but without waistline seam, and the addition of cap sleeves.  Other fitted sheath dresses can be found in  Butterick 4386 and 5235.  These have both bust and torso darts for a slender fit. A classic shift silhouette is Butterick 3880, that has a bustline dart for upper body fit.  Looser shift styles without darts can be found in Butterick 5211, and 5269.

You will find cool fabrics from the vintage sellers on Etsy and my own online vintage sewing shop: Pintuck Sew.  Drop by, you may find the inspiration to sew up a quick dress!

illustrations are from: Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book: 1961 and 1970.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bonnie Cashin: Turn locks

Bonnie Cashin turn locks are enough to make you want fall weather year round. There's something in that nifty brass setting that really gives her luxurious jackets and coats a bit of down to earth practicality. I can't begin to imagine the "Eureka" moment when she realized she could apply them to her jackets, after seeing the twist locks in a more utilitarian application.

Soft pastel suede? Sounds nice, now pop in a twist lock. It's better than a button any day. Zipper? you ask. That's an abutted front seam, but our dear twist locks allow us our overlapped front closure. Casual and elegant at the same time.

Signature loopy wool with leather binding frames a brass twister at the neckline. It seems so logical, this industrial fastening. Without it, we would have gotten bored years ago.

Now you get the picture! Sporty and simple, with a twist of fun. How brilliant, how logical. A master invention for the 20th century.

All Bonnie Cashin jackets featured are part of a private collection and are not offered for sale.
This is the first part of a series on the 20th century American fashion designer, Bonnie Cashin.
Please do not reprint these images without prior permission, thank you.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lilli Ann: Vintage Suits from the 1950's & early 1960's

Two examples of Lilli Ann suits, showing the span of a decade: 1950 to 1960.

The well tailored suit jacket became an important element for Lilli Ann designs between the late 1940's and early 1960's. During this decade, the overall silhouette was not be altered significantly, but details were many and varied considerably. Jackets showed a smooth fit in the torso, with long narrow or 3/4 length sleeves. The hip was fitted and hems were short or long. In general, the suit skirt remained narrow and unadorned.

The brown wool suit pictured above from the early 1950's has a mock bolero with self bow tie. The face is framed by a wing collar. Bolero shaping sets off the small hourglass waistline which is emphasized even more by a single button.

In this creamy aqua crepe suit from about 1960, a variation in small pleating is used to frame the face with drama. The use of an asymmetrical front is seen. Lilli Ann would use this popular design devise often during this era.

A Lilli Ann advertisement from early 1960 shows several versions of suits from the collection of that year. Continuing the trend that Dior began over a decade earlier, jackets appear to be derived from a basic fitted New Look silhouette. The body is then altered with many styles of collar and neckline drapery. Overall, the look is very feminine and dignified, spiced with details in texture and trim.

Following this collection in 1960, the design of Lilli Ann makes a notable swing towards more current fashion trends of the day. This was a move to showcase a younger, exciting and innovative look to the Lilli Ann customer. An updated silhouette left behind the New Look styles that Lilli Ann had promoted for more than a decade.

This article is third in a series on Lilli Ann fashions.
Earlier articles may be found in the links to the right.

Do not copy text or images from this article without permission.
You may contact us at the email address posted on this site,
thank you

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How to Clean and Press Vintage Clothing

How to Clean and Press Cotton, Linen and Rayon fashions is something that every vintage lover should master. Ironing was a skill most young girls learned as late as the 1980's, but once casual wear, polyester and Lycra fabrics dominated the wardrobe,this technique became unnecessary.

The following suggestions should help anyone wash, iron or press their fashions, along with some tips for wear. Please note that no technique is fool proof. Some fabrics and garments may appear washable, such as the blue 1950's dress above, but are not. It is important to learn how to identify delicate garments. Even so, some fashions will 'fail' when cleaned, and may not be salvageable. Select garments carefully, and learn how to work with vintage. It is worth the effort!

Vintage fashions can become very wrinkled after washing or wearing. Knowing how to keep those wrinkles under control can help maintain the garment's good looks.

Garments with tailoring or delicate details should be dry cleaned, but simple dresses are often washable. Test a bit of fabric first. Avoid washing dark colors or shiny rayons (these tips are for the linen-looking rayons). Also avoid washing garments with loose or raveling seam allowances inside the garment. It is also important to identify the lining, and may be easier to send lined garments to be dry cleaned.

Whites were traditionally washed, and were often called 'wash dresses' in the early decades of the 20th century. Some vintage garments are not color fast, and contrast details such as bias trim, braid, ribbons and stitching may run or bleed into the main fabric. Avoid washing these, and use dry cleaning instead.

Cold water and baby shampoo will make a good wash for natural fabrics. Rinse out the soap after hand washing, and hang the wet garment up to drip dry (try your shower head as a hanging 'rack'). You may find it easiest to wash in a bowl or bucket in your bath tub, then hand the dripping wet dress there.

If using a washing machine, select a gentle cycle and cold water. You may want to test your machine first with a simple garment to be certain that the agitation is not too rough on the fabric and seams. You also may want to pull it out before the spin cycle, as that can wring it with many tight wrinkles. If you want a damp garment, try rolling it in a big beach towel and pressing out the water.

Press natural fibers while they are damp. This might be towards the end of the hang dry period. If that is not possible, use a spray bottle with water to completely dampen the fabric again. The skirt on the brown print Mad Men era dress above was pressed from the inside for a smooth look.

Spray bottle:
Dampen the entire garment and let is sit to absorb the water. You can also use the spray bottle to dampen specific areas that need pressing. To start, press from the inside of the garment first. This will prevent shiny areas of the good side of the outfit at hems and facings.

Flip to the good side of the garment for details such as collars, bows and tucks. You may want to 'spritz' the fabric damp again before pressing these areas. Prevent shine by using a press cloth.

Press cloth:
A linen tea towel or heavy linen handkerchief is a good press cloth. This is usually placed over the area before pressing, to prevent the iron from touching the fashion fabric. The 1950's cotton plaid dress above used a press cloth to keep it clean while we pressed. Press cloths can be soaked in water and laid damp over a stubborn area. When applying the iron, clouds of hot steam may occur, which can burn if you aren't careful. Damp press cloths will be best on thick areas as well.

When the garment has been pressed, it may still be damp. Hang on a padded hanger to dry completely. A regular hanger with a towel folded over the top like a shawl makes a great padded hanger for damp garments. If you have a shaded area outside, that may help the drying process. Keep colored fabrics out of direct sunlight (try hanging from under a patio umbrella).

Body heat can wrinkle these fabrics very easily. It is recommended that a full length slip be worn as a layer between the dress and body. If a linen garment is tightly fitting, traditional foundation garments are important. Correct under garments are very crucial when wearing fashions designed before about 1965. Getting a close fit will require a girdle (or Spanks) and a sleek fitting bra or bustier. Wearing these under garments will prevent most waistline and hip wrinkles.

Hang your dress immediately after wearing. It used to be common to hang a dress outside the closet overnight, before re-hanging in a closed closet. A padded hanger will keep many stress wrinkles from developing. Very special dresses may do well on a shaped 1/2 body used for displays. This female form has only the front half of the body, but the shoulder and bustline shaping help soft dresses keep their shape. The navy 1940's style dress above would be a good style to hang on a padded hanger or form.

Keep your storage dark, dry, cool (think: Egyptian pyramids).
Prevent: moths and bugs, dust, mildew, and other weather problems.

Flat: some items will store better flat, than hung. Sure, you may have to iron before wearing, but keeping shoulders and bodices from stretching is worth the effort.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lilli Ann Suits: the late 1940's, Vintage Suits with Fashion Flare

Popular vintage fashion, Lilli Ann suits from the 1940’s show style trends of that era. Fitted waistlines and peplums to the hip level were part of most jacket silhouettes. Jackets could sport double breasted buttons with wide bishop sleeves. Other suits were styled with tie belts or sashed like belted tunics.

Wide skirted coats with buttons down the full length of the back were seen, a men’s wear inspiration from the 1800’s. Wide flared peplum jackets that stood away from a narrow mid-calf length skirt grew in popularity.

Fur was often used to trim jackets. Wide sleeves of fur are shown worn with a slender skirt. $50 to $60 was an average suit price during the mid-1940’s.

After WWII, some ads show Lilli Ann suits being worn for weddings, instead of a long white wedding gown. This was a popular trend at a time when the expense for a gown was considered too high, and a new suit would be a wardrobe investment. As a special part of the bride’s life, many suits from this period are with us today, well cared for and neatly stored for decades.

Schulman actively promoted Lilli Ann’s company image as being a provider of elegance and high fashion wool suitings from San Francisco. Company advertising conveys the target customer as being a perfectionist who is sophisticated and smart.

California as well as San Francisco are mentioned in many of the advertisements in the 1940’s. Drama is also promoted within these ads. During this era, buttons and trims were produced by Lidz and H. Pomerantz & Co, and are listed in the ad copy as a significant trim. Celanse acetate linings were also advertised during this time.

French (Blin and Blin) and other European wools were imported by Schulman after WWII as part of the rebuilding efforts. This fine fabric became important in his campaign to promote Lilli Ann as a luxury suit line. Suits from the wools were priced from $70 to $80.

As the post WWII ‘New Look’ took hold, the Princess style of coat became popular. Lilli Ann coats had wide shoulders and narrow waistline over a full skirt for several years. As 1950 neared, a more slender silhouette would enter the scene, replacing wide shoulders with unpadded ones. The narrowing of shoulders would introduce the slender suit, so popular during the 1950’s.

(This is the second article in a series posted on Lilli Ann. The first article was posted on July 20, 2009. )

Saturday, August 1, 2009

House Dresses: Fashion at home, cottony and cute

A stepchild of fashion, the humble house dress has been worn in one form or another for centuries. When women's fashionable gowns were silk, this was even more so. Wearing 'wash dresses' of cotton calico allowed mothers and maids to get their chores done, while wearing something cool, comfortable, and easy to launder. The sketch here is from 1928 and shows a simple to sew house dress pattern at a time when home sewing was on the upswing in a growing suburban culture.

Following World War II, a flood of changes affected fashion. The availability of fabrics, both natural and synthetic soared. Add to this the availability of the zipper. This innovation had become popular in apparel during the 1930's, but the war years put a stop to that. After the war, the zipper became a 'must have' element in all apparel. During the late 1940's and through the 1950's, zipper use was at an all time high, as women happily abandoned their buttons for the convenience of a zipper. This house dress pictured above of cotton calico sports a sweetheart neckline and pockets edged in looped trim. A long center front zipper is set between full length rows of tiny pintucks (label: Nip'N'Tuck).

House dresses changed from being softly fit to becoming more fashion aware during the 1950's and 60's. The sporty rust red version shown here is by "Swirl". This wrapped house dress has huge patch pockets embellished with large appliques of fruit, veggies and kitchen kitch. The back wraps around and snaps at the waistband for a great flexible fit.

This cute polka dot dress is by another popular label "Models Coat". Originally a cover up for fit and runway models, it has similar 'easy to wear' features as other house dresses.

As young women moved from dresses into pants for day wear during the late 1960's and 1970's, the house dress lost its position in the housewive's wardrobe. Jeans, blouses and 'T' shirts took its place to become the prefered apparel for chores and leisure activities at home.

More on House Dresses:
Fuzzy Lizzie Vintage Clothing: overview of 'Swirl' house dresses
Eda Danese: The House Dress

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lilli Ann Suits from the 1940's: the early years

The history of the Lilli Ann company is interesting to American fashion. It was important to the economic development of San Francisco, as well as a large producer of woman's suitings from the 1940's through the 1980's. The early years show design creativity and luxury in style. Knowing the general silhouette and costume type will help the vintage collector to identify age of their Lilli Ann. This post profiles the early years.

In 1934, an apparel company called "Lilli Ann" was originated by Adolph Schuman and named for his wife Lillian. Originally this apparel company was a typical sort of start-up operation, with two used sewing machines and two part-time employees working in a tiny studio in the Chinatown district of San Francisco. Throughout the life of the company, it would be identified with San Francisco, both in advertising and in its economic and political influence in that city.

These early ads from 1941 through 1944 show suits and coat outfits advertised as a "costume suit". Silver fox fur and other furs are often combined with wool fabric to create a sense of luxury.

The dark costume suit above from 1941 (pre-WWII) has wide sleeves with silver fox fur trim, and was priced at $55. The fit and flared princess silhouette was typical of Lilli Ann's very feminine look during that era. The second coat from 1943 has silver fox trim around the hemline. Paired with a fez style hat, this has a Russian influence to the overall ensemble. Again, the costume suit has a fit and flare 'A' silhouette made distinctive by a draped collar.

In this second set of illustrations, coat and suit ensembles are shown. Both coats have a button pleated revere lapel (both are essentially the same coat), although the light coat is from March 1943, and the darker set is wool from Spring 1944.

The suits worn beneath the top coats are form fitting, with sculptural seam lines. The light suit has a classic princess pattern draft that "V" points into the waistline button for a very slender illusion. The second suit has "V" details on each side of the waistline. The front is closed with 3 buttons that match those on the coat. It is also fun to notice how the original suit was accessorized with hat and gloves.

At upper right corner is a view of the "Lilli Ann" garment label used during that time.

Both outfits shown above are from 1943. More fox is seen, this time as a large collar that is a style carry-over from the 1930's. On the other suit, leopard fur is used on lapels, buttons and toque hat. These details create visual interest in what are classic suit patterns. It is important to notice that a 6 gore straight skirt is shown with all suits during this era. The first skirt from 1941 was 'A' line in silhouette.

All through the war years, luxury was seen in Lilli Ann suits and coats. Excess use of textiles was controlled, as required, but luxury was available none the less. After WWII, Adolph Schuman would move to put his San Francisco suit company on the map with increased national advertising in "Vogue" magazine, along with some innovative political involvements. This began an important era for Lilli Ann company.

This advertisement shows the makers label used by Lilli Ann company through 1943 (important to notice that it does not list "Lilli Ann" name in that label). It does show "a California Costume" at a time when this from of regionalism was popular.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The SWIMSUIT, A fashion history book by Sarah Kennedy

Summer seems like a good time to review this book on the history of fashion swimwear, "The Swimsuit" by Sarah Kennedy.

A small sized book, here are over 300 pages of great info packed into that small size. The chapters are arranged to start with earliest forms of swim gear. Every chapter is packed with great photos, posters, postcards, fashion photos and advertisements. These are supported by photos of actual swimsuits of the period. They are displayed on neutral body forms, so the emphasis is on the suit, and not the model.

For both the collector and student of fashion, this book provides probably the most comprehensive collection of images on the subject. This will be useful in dating existing garments, as well as learning more about the subject. Not only are swimsuits shown by decade, but style and regional trends are depicted as well. The book ends with a list of designer biographies, Index, and Bibliography (great list of other swimsuit texts) along with picture credits.

It's a fun read for both the seasoned collector and the fashion novice.

title: The Swimsuit
author: Sarah Kennedy
Carlton Book, London
isbn: 978 1 84442 079 7

We purchased this book online at an independent book seller)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Never on Sunday: Vintage 1960, How to dress like Melina Mercouri as Ilya

In 1960, Theoni V. Aldredge (Deni Vachliotov) as costumer, designed fabulous outfits for Melina Mercouri, the leading lady in "Never on Sunday" (Pote tin Kyriaki). Ilya, the smart and sexy character played by Melina Mercouri is a Greek sea port's leading lady of the evening. To showcase her long, lean build, Ms. Aldredge created simple yet dramatic garments designed to make an impact and support the character's profile as a happy hooker with a heart of gold.

It is possible today to revive these terrific looks, as the styles are so currant. There is also a tone of sophistication and drama that is hard to find in most fashion. The first dress is a smashing 'little back dress' that fits like a dream (possible when you have a staff of studio seamstresses to make that happen). It has a plunging "V" neckline in front, which may have been held together by a decorative band at the bra level (or is that the bra we are seeing?). A "V" neckline is one that appears several times in Ilya's wardrobe. This first dress is simply a well fit sheath, with a deep "V" neckline. Altering an existing round or square neck on a dress is always possible if you want to create this well cut neckline.

If you are creative, I have collected sewing patterns that approximate the looks best.

We can create our own version using a form fitting sheath without a waistline sash or belt. Depending on your figure type, either princess seam lines or darted body patterns are available. The dramatic deeply cut "V" neckline will have to be of your own design, as it does not exist in commercial patterns.

For the fitted sheath dress, we like the straight forward cut of darted body line in New Look 6643. The princess seamlines in Burda 7972, would make fitting curvy shapes better than darts. Vogue has two wonderful versions of "V" necklines in slender silhouettes. Vogue 9668 has a great midriff panel, that adds to the visual interest of the sheath look. Vogue 8532 has a dramatic collar at the "V" neckline, with an empire waistline to throw focus to the upper body (and skim any waistline flaws).

The second outfit is simply a tank top and a soft circle skirt. The skirt has sunburst pleating to create a smooth fit over the hips and accent movement. A wide white belt pulls this look together. Blanket stitch in white edges the top for a cute style detail.

For Ilya's birthday party, she has chosen a shiny white blouse that is wraped across the front for a neat fit. The slender skirt in black is cinched by a wide black belt with a large black buckle for a super small waistline.

This amazing matte jersey dress symbolizes Ilya's Greekness, in its use of lovely draping. She IS a goddess! This sheath has a narrow flat panel down the center front, from the neckline to the hem. Along this edge, the dress is shirred to drape over her curves. A cute beaded fringe tassel is set into the narrow band at the dress hemline. The shoulders have a narrow double strap, that often falls off her shoulder in a sweet way.

Did a striped tank top ever look this good? Ilya's take on the sailor's jersey, this fitted knit top is exactly waist length, and worn with a contrast straight skirt. This low square neckline is possible with careful cutting to fit the demi bra that is worn under it.

This black knit top has elbow length sleeves cut in one with the body. A "V" neckline in cut in both front and back, for dramatic exposure. Probably bodice darts make it fit neatly into the waistline of her skirt. The vintage sewing patterns I have seen in this cut have zippers in the side seams and bra strap snap loops at the shoulder seam to keep the neckline from sliding down the shoulder. As accents, her bracelets and jewelry really give this outfit punch.

So what is the overall idea in trying to get this sophisticated vintage look?
Fit, fit, fit.
Achieving a great fit is the start of a dramatic silhouette. By working with slender garments, mostly solid fabrics, limited details, and punched up jewelry, a great 1960's look is possible!

Pote tin Kyriaki (Never on Sunday)

Costume: Theoni V. Aldredge (Deni Vachliotov)
Melina Mercouri: Ilya

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bustle Dresses in the 1950s

Bustle-style dresses in the 1950's are easy to spot. Dresses with the most Victorian influences had a ruffle, drape or bow detail at the back. The wide crinoline styles of Christian Dior are well known, but what is fun to spot are the slender bustle influences that also show up during this decade.

Twentieth century fashion saw a revival of Victorian fashion by the 1930's, with little back drapes topping crepe skirts in 1937 (see "The Women" by Adrian for examples). After WWII, Dior's "New Look" brought in a re-discovery of the hourglass figure, and a deep influence from 1850's and 1860's fashion.
The bustle styles from 1870 and 1880 decades were a natural development during the 1950's as fashion explored the slender silhouette. Often these dresses are nearly plain in the front view, saving the fuss for the back.

We were excited to find these two examples from the 1950's with charming back details. The blue lace dress is an amazing example of pattern design, and it is collectable for that alone. We love the floating back panel that is set at a flattering hip level in back, with layers of cascade ruffles from hip to hem.
Our plaid example has that school girl charm so familiar from movies such as "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944) and "Gigi" (1958). The dropped waistline in 1958 may have been the influence here.

Both dresses are available at our Etsy shop online: (or click on our photo display at the right),
or drop by the shop to try one one (we are also happy to have you just look at them and take in their gorgeous details).