Friday, December 6, 2013

1938 High School Year Book: the Senior's Story

1938 School Yearbook for Long Beach, CA
Poly High Schhol's new campus built following the great Long Beach earthquake a few years earlier

This summer I came across an old yearbook in the stacks at a thrift store. Yearbooks have value for dating apparel, hairstyles and noting trends for a certain time. In this case, I was more than interested because it was from the Long Beach, CA school district, published for the Class of 1938, a time when the entire city published one annual for all schools, including junior high with high school. I am guessing this was an economic measure, in part because 1938 was still the "Great Depression" and this book needed to be affordable to all.

In 1938, seniors were probably born about 1920, a few years following the First World War. They would have been the fore-runners of the big baby boom that surged the US population during the 1920's, following the return of soldiers from the war. Unfortunately for this group, life wouldn't be easy for them. When they were nine, the economy crashed, leaving many homeless and often without money for food, let alone clothing.

This annual dates from nine years into that era of hard living. These kids knew nothing else. Long Beach had been a mecca for hope during the 1920's, when during the mid-decade new house starts were historically high, as palm lined avenues were paved and the sunny beach city grew out into the fields behind the bay with Mediterranean style bungalows and apartment buildings.

Only a few years after the big crash, something worse happened: the largest earthquake since San Francisco fell at the turn of the century rocked this seaport city, tumbling homes, businesses and setting the surrounding hillside oil derricks aflame. The population fled inland and up into Los Angeles for safety. Many left town while others stayed to rebuild it.

The high schoolers we see here probably owned only the shoes that you see them wearing. Many of the girls wear dark skirts, which may have been hand-me-downs from a sister or cousin. These basics could be worn with several blouses to make up their school wardrobe. Yet there is a diversity in style and personality that shows how creative they could be on a very limited budget.

Sports programs for young women were in full swing, with modern uniforms often 'checked out' to each girls by the PE department. It's also easy to see that these students are enjoying themselves, and seem to be happy. In our own time, when shopping is recreational and having more than we can use is so common, it's a reminder how unimportant owning things can be.

In looking at this yearbook, I also had another treasure to dig for within its pages. I knew someone who would have been there, and I was hoping to find her. In the roster of senior photos, there she was, known as "Midge", Mary Ellen Hill lived a block from the great new high school, leaving for UCLA after graduation. There she enjoyed a degree in music and the company of her sorority sisters before joining the military and serving on the east coast.

Like everyone else in these photos, within a few years the second great war would encompass their lives, changing their directions and re-orienting their viewpoints from the secure world of high school as we see it depicted here. (Doing a bit of quick math, these students are about 93 years old now, and it's amazing how many are still here to tell us their stories, if we want to hear them.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

1944 RBW Fashion Illustration: Davidow Suits

This ink wash fashion illustration is by RBW and shows Davidow suits for winter, 1944. The signature Davidow soft tailoring is already in evidence by the soft belting and shirt-style jackets pictured here.

I include this Davidow set to reference earlier designs from this label (see previous Davidow post HERE). I also have an earlier post on RBW, the sign-off for Count Rene Bouet-Wilaumez, whose illustrations during the 1930's through 1950's were a signature look for "Vogue" magazine, HERE. On Pinterest I am building a Davidow board with both advertisements and garment photos.

Elsewhere online you can find Davidow posts at "The Vintage Traveler" HERE and at "Past Perfect Vintage" HERE.

Monday, December 2, 2013

18th Century Hair Fashion & A Story of Changing Portraits

The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, has a wealth of artwork dating from the 1700's. From this collection, a recent article discussed how these paintings depict women's hairstyles from the 1700's, and that these silhouettes are known for becoming more fanciful and extreme as the years progressed. Starting with a close fitting hair silhouette at mid-century, hairstyles gained height over the years, becoming the topic of conversation, jokes and public outrage. Feathers, ornaments and hats topped these towering structures.

A unique viewpoint on this topic is brought up in the recent article "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow" by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, "Huntington Frontiers", Fall/Winter 2013. In this study, the author shows how hairstyles changed during this time, mentioning the influences of both British and French trendsetters of that era. She notes how hair fashion was transforming more quickly than apparel fashion. Of most importance was that the trending hair silhouettes became a problem when it came to portraits. While the artist may have painted the subject in the height of fashion, these portraits were usually out-dated only a few years later by the inclusion of an extreme hair style.

The out-dated paintings were brought up to date with more current hairstyles when possible. Ideally, the original artist painted over the earlier hairstyle, transforming it into a more acceptable silhouette. The range of success in this technique varied. Today these alterations can be seen using modern technology that allows us to rediscover the original layers.

"Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow" is fascinating reading for both the costumer as well as the general fashion buff. It sheds light on past styles and how fashion trends moved quickly, even in the late 1700's.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Davidow: early 1960's Couture Suits

Davidow suits from the early 1960s are vintage gems. While they have great diversity in cut and style, the quality of textile makes them standout among other suits from this era.

I wanted to share a copy of the Davidow brochure for Spring 1960. This issue shows what we might consider to be very conservative styling: simple jacket silhouettes and narrow skirts that hide the knees are the norm here. I have included the decriptions too as they contribute more detailed information.

These brochure pages show the Chanel style suits that Davidow was famous for producing. Made from imported wools, Davidow uses the "Chanel" name in many references and advertisements when describing their brand of suiting. A press review from a 1971 New York Couture press fashion show stated that "Davidow has been a leading practitioner of the "Art of Chanel", among them the famous Chanel sweater suits... Davidow is apt to set a new wave of Chanel. Those who loved her clothes should consider a Davidow for fall and winter. They were highly acclaimed by all of the fashion press."

My old scrap books from the first half of the 1960's include Davidow advertisements. Most are from I. Magnin's or Bullock's Wilshire promotions. When available, I have included the descriptions that give details for the fabric, size range and prices.

The caption for the set of suits on the left above states that they are "destined to be your through-summer delights...rounded collar suits in red, yellow, blue, toast and turquoise...convertible collar style in red, yellow, blue...sizes 10 to 20...$129.. from a collection of new Davidows".

In the first half of the 1960's, with prices that ranged from $129 up to $198, it's easy to see why these suits were considered 'couture'. Southern California stores that sold the Davidow label were leading department stores such as Bullock's Wilshire, I.Magnin, and others. The collections were offered each season at 'trunk shows' where a rack of sample suits were made available at a showing supervised by a company sales representative. Clients were able to see the samples, try them on, and then order a suit that would be made to measure for them.

Don't miss my follow-up post on Davidow HERE.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Scrapbooking 1960 style: Clippings of Fashions & Advertisements

The Ceil Chapman dress advertisement I posted yesterday came from a fashion scrapbook that was probably assembled in the early 1960's.

Sometimes a great source for research and design shows up in unexpected places. What looked to me like a child's paper scrapbook collection turned out to be newspaper clippings from fashion advertisements during the early 1960's. While few dates appear, and few brands, designers, or store names are included, sometimes the scrapbooker would cut out that information with the fashion illustration. I.Magnins, the Broadway, Bullock's Wilshire, Bullock's, and other southern California department stores are represented.

The image above is not edited, and shows how dark and faded the paper pages and illustrations have become. Below are those individual pages shown in the scrapbook above.  They are darkly yellowed and fume faded, sometimes having glue spots.  However, the illustrations are a gold mine of fashion illustration styles, dress and suit silhouettes and pattern design from this era.

I plan to share more of these fun scrapbook clippings in future posts as I research this historical resource further.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ceil Chapman: 1960's Advertisement & Illustration

This advertisement for a Ceil Chapman cocktail dress comes from the first few years of the 1960's. It was pasted into an old undated scrapbook of newspaper fashion ads that appear to be early 60's.

The Ceil Chapman sheath presents several interesting features that when combined create a very figure flattering silhouette most women would love to wear. The wide neckline and extended shoulder line create a visual widening of the upper body which balances hiplines that are wider than the shoulders. It is also a great look for any figure with narrow shoulders.

The cross-draped waistline detail helps to create an impression of a slender waistline because it is narrowed down by those diagonal folds. This design technique also hides most waistline 'chubb' and torso folds. It also tends to visually shape a smaller waistline silhouette, even when the body is straight or plump.

It's interesting that this advertisement is probably from the designer's catalog, since it includes the style number and a back view (very basic and unadorned). The fabric is probably a lightweight silk, such as crepe or faille.

Such a simple dress, with so much to offer. No wonder this designer is considered a genius!

post script: Since publishing this post, it was suggested that the illustration is the cover for a Spadea sewing pattern #1257, designed by Ceil Chapman from about 1961. The cover information states: "A supple sheath with loose drapery softly crisscrossing the midsection and caught into the side seams above and below the waistline. The charming boat neck curves wide and away to a minimum of shoulder covering. Darts smoothly shape the zippered back, small pleats are release for ease in the skirt front."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Researching Lilly Pulitzer: Dating Vintage Fashion

When trying to date or locate resources for vintage fashion, seeking out originals of the same style from actual vintage documents can be difficult. One great resource for dating 20th century fashion are the many home sewing patterns published through out the century.

The photo of Lilly Pulitzer above shows her wearing a cotton long muu muu dress with matching cotton print 'babushka' head scarf. It is a style that shows up also in sewing pattern Simplicity 6445 from 1966. The original photo is dated about 1963, so we know that any dress will probably be withing this range, especially considering how home sewing patterns can stay in print for a few years. Lilly's own style tends to not fluctuate, so it is easily possible that 1966 is a good date for a dress with this style of sleeve.

This photo of Lilly jumping from a plane is great because we can clearly see how the banding on her shift is placed along the side slit with a bow at the top. The sewing pattern Simplicity 7091 from 1966 has this same side slit silhouette. Simplicity 5455 dates from 1964, so we can see that a side slit shift is a strong look during this era.

This is a Lilly catalog illustration without a date. The patterns shown above show similar silhouette shapes and handkerchief head scarfs that were often part of Lilly's ensembles. Sewing pattern Simplicity 7529 (1968) has this look.

With the popularity of caftans during most of the 1970's, we can find quite a few caftan sewing patterns. This by Simplicity 6390 (1974) is a great example of how closely Lilly's own caftans kept this classic style during this time. We can expect her caftans to have this same look.

Locating vintage patterns can be easy to do, with Pinterest, Etsy, and Google images showing many examples to choose from. The images here come from the online site: Wikipedia, -- where you will find many pattern covers archived.

Friday, November 15, 2013

House of Shroyers: Vintage Dress Label

This "House of Shroyers" advertisement from 1960 shows dresses that seem typical for that era. The company was a long standing manufacturer of women's styles during the early to mid-twentieth century. I became interested in the label after finding a dress with this brand that was in excellent 'dead stock' condition.

My research led me to the Pennsylvania mining town, Shamokin. It seems that while the "House of Shroyers" label was produced there, several other apparel manufacturers were in town as well. The company that made this brand was the Shamokin Dress Company. It closed in 1984 and press releases at that time stated it had been in business for 70 years.

House of Shroyers workers, a partial view from the entire company portrait, 1946

The company produced an early brand, the Climax Dress Manufacturing Company, a label that was known for simple house dresses. The "House of Shroyers" logo was patented in 1949. A large employer for the town, at its height in the 1950's it employed over 600 people, mostly women. During the entire time, this business was owned by John E. Shroyer and family of Shamokin, who began at first by producing cotton bib front aprons that postal workers wore to sort mail.

The company produced both private label (for companies such as Leslie Faye) and their own "House of Shroyer". The private label dresses sold for considerably more than the company's own label. Locals still tell stories about their experiences working at this major regional employer.

While there is no mention of a designer, it is easy to see that this brand tended to focus on the half-size customer. The styles are not progressive, and seem to be created for an older customer base, both in silhouette and design.

The dress shown above is currently listed in my shop, HERE. <

This blog post has become a very popular article on my blog. If you are reading this from Shamokin or know more about Shroyers, please feel free to leave a comment here, thanks!"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lilly Pulitzer: Close-up

Lilly Pulitzer fabrics and fashions made a transition during the later half of the 1960's to include white trimmings that were heavy and textured. She used the popular caftan shapes that were constructed with vertical seam lines and slash necklines to create 'outlines' and seam accents.

She had been using cotton fabric around edges, and expanded on that with shirred trims, ruffles and ruched panels cut from the dress fabric for texture.

These close-up view of her trims and textiles show how she used contrast and texture to create additional new looks and add a fresh face to her well known shift dresses in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Her textile design color palette was based on citrus and tropical brights. She continued to make that her brand identification, rarely including other hues. During the 1970's she did work with deeper brights along the lines of then popular Pucci prints, as shown above.

The themes and images that she used in her designs tended to have a sea and surf motif. Usually there are identifiable images within each design, rarely using all abstract shapes. Floral are dominate, along with fish, frogs and other water creatures.

When trying to date her dresses, it is important to find examples that 'match up' to what you have found. With Lilly designs, due to her use of classic silhouettes and prints, this can be difficult to do, since some styles span a decade or more. In her early career, it is possible to find photos of her wearing her designs that date to the early and mid-1960s. Often she is shown wearing a triangle scarf to match the dress.

The 1960's dresses have a simple cut with popular details such as patch pockets and a deep side slit with contrast white banding and a bow. Contrast rick-rack or banding is also seen around the necklines and armholes. This might be due to the garment construction where under-lining or flat-lining is used to support the thin cottons she printed on. This technique requires that the seam allowances are pressed open and are not hidden behind a lining 'shell'. Rather than loose facings she seems to have chosen contrast binding, rick-rack or piping around the edges, most often in white as you can see in the photos.

Some primary sources are her advertisements (often in "Vogue"), catalogs, press photos, and magazine editorials. Because well known personalities such as Jackie Kennedy wore her dresses, photos are available with dates (note that Jackie favored simple gingham shifts, rather than bold prints).

I have found quite a few examples and have saved them in a Pinterest board "Lilly Pulitzer" for research reference. Feel free to let me know if you locate additional images.


the New York Times

Palm Beach Daily News

Huffington Post

This post is part of a three-part series. Part one: "Lilly Pulitzer and Her Dresses" can be seen HERE. Pinterest photo album can be found HERE

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lilly Pulitzer & Her Dresses

The Lilly Pulitzer revival continued this year with a small but punched up exhibition of her dresses and other designs for both men and women. It was a good opportunity to view the diversity of her work over the span of her career, with many examples of silhouette and style all created from her textile designs.

Lilly dresses from the 1960s and 1970s are like those from other well know textile designers such as Pucci, Vera, and Marimekko designs: the fabric is first and foremost, while the garment structure is often the vehicle for the textile, rather than the other way around.

The photos here show some of the garments that were in the exhibition, and I offer them as an example of her diversity as a designer of fabric who found a way to marry those splashes of color with simple garment silhouettes. In a second post I'll share more detail photos and textiles close-up.

One important fact that is seldom emphasized about Lilly Pulitzer (1931 - 2013) is that she wasn't a homely Florida orange grove owner's wife selling juice, as the myth is often told. She was a socialite married to a Pulitzer publishing heir, living in Palm Beach, Florida. She was socially connected and knew the major characters who resided in Palm Beach as well as most of the east coast as well. That Jackie O was a former room mate at boarding school who owned and wore her dresses for a magazine cover photo attests to how easy it was for Lilly's company to gain popularity and success. The design business that she began in 1959 included a partner who had been a fashion editor, so she was given great advice along with expert assistance. Her brand is also a story of how a creative individual with drive can become a success especially if they are part of the established upper class system where their work is easily accepted and promoted.

Sadly, I can't give you the dates or descriptions for the garments in the exhibition because nothing was labeled. More to the point, this show appeared to be mounted for entertainment, rather than education, with odd and inappropriate accessories and pairing of garments. All of this aside, it was great to see her diversity when it came to textile design.

These photos were taken at the southern California exhibition "Loving Lilly: Lilly Pulitzer From the Keni Valenti Collection" on view late this summer. All garments shown are from the collection of Keni Valenti, a Miami-based vintage clothing collector.