Sunday, November 27, 2016

Barbara Hulanicki and Biba

The design impact of the Biba brand by designer Barbara Hulanicki during the late 1960's and early 1970's on the more progressive fashion scene cannot be underestimated. Her 1920's and 1930's Art Deco influences helped to create a whole world of style that is iconic for that era.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

James Galanos: Documentary Video "Galanos by Galanos"

In 1996, a retrospective exhibition "Galanos" of the life works of James Galanos was shown by the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It featured a wide range of his fashions, from his early career through the later pieces.

Friday, November 11, 2016

James Galanos: California Couture, Part I

James Galanos will be known, not only as a California designer for the stars and first lady, Nancy Reagan, but also as one of the few American couture designers.  In light of Mr. Galanos recent passing, I am sharing this biography that was written as part of my graduate thesis.  I have divided it into two parts, to make this post less lengthy.

Monday, November 7, 2016

House Dresses: Swirl, Model's Coat and the Pop Over Dress

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.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Betty Barclay: Vintage 1950's Dress

This sweet 1950's dress with the "Betty Barclay" label is a follow-up to the "Hourglass Corsage Silhouettes" post on vintage dresses with fitted bodices that hint at a corset shaping.  I have a few examples of this style, and thought it might be fun to take a look.

This "Betty Barclay" design was a junior division of the Jonathan Logan group. I wrote an earlier post that included this dress, and have wanted to give it a full review ever since.

This close up view of the front and collar shows the cute butterfly print clearly. It seems to be screen printed on a fabric with some sheen that is probably acetate. Tiny rhinestones are scattered on the collar. With these details, I'm guessing it was not an everyday school dress, but something special for dates and family events.

The bodice is closely fitted in both front and back, without a belt or seam around the waist. It closes up the back with a simple metal zipper, which was common at the time. The gathered skirt is emphasized by the lower dropped level seam line. This creates the corsage fit and hourglass silhouette.

The small Peter Pan collar provides a demure look that was very popular.  The sleeves are cut in one with the bodice (small kimono style sleeves) and they have a narrow turned back cuff to compliment the collar detail.

The simple cut of this dress would have made it cheaper to manufacture for the junior budget.  While the rhinestones are few, they provide a bit of embellishment on a conservative collar.  Overall it's a very cute look, perfect for a high school girl to wear.

Bust: 35" / 89
Waist: 26" / 66
Hips: full skirt 
Length: 35.5" / 90 from shoulder/over bust/to hem

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Vintage 1950s Sewing: Pattern Measurement Chart for Women

If you want to learn how to sew vintage fashion, you will want to understand pattern measurements.  Using vintage patterns will differ because 50s sizes aren't the same as current sizes. This 1950s measurement chart is from the same McCall's pattern magazine featured in my last post.  I thought that this chart might help to give a better understanding of how dresses from the mid-1950s are a different fit from today's dresses.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Halloween Circle Skirt: 50's Rock N Roll!

I hope your holiday circle skirt collection has something as fun as this for you to wear. If not, a glue gun and some colored felt could make this a fast last-minute project!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2016

1950s Vintage Fashion: Hourglass Corsage Silhouettes

1950s Vintage Fashion: Hourglass Corsage Silhouette

In the mid-1950’s, the Hourglass silhouette had a popular style termed “corsage”. This look was worn by fashionable women with slender waistlines. It had a fitted bodice or corsage that is not as tightly boned like a corset. I wanted to look closer at these dresses to learn more about how they are both similar and diverse.

When spotting this style, (such as the illustration above from 1956 advertisement for Burlington that showcases McCalls 3458), look first for a horizontal seamline, either just below the bust line, or around the upper hip level, somewhat in the same location as a corset edge. These seam lines are often accented with wide sashes, cuff-like belting, or a trim to emphasize the body fit.

This illustration shows the corsage fit in both a hip emphasis and under-bust shaping. Princess seam dresses are often part of the pattern design used to create this look without a defined waistline seam that has a strong hourglass silhouette.

The illustrations shown here again feature McCalls 3458, and come from a McCall’s spring 1956 pattern magazine, however many of the patterns in this issue seem to be dated 1955. This helps us to know that this look was a long term, strong and popular design feature.

A typical novelty print fabric with tiny houses is shown using patterns 3434, a true princess seam dress, and 3494, a drop waist corsage with an easy to sew darted bodice. The dramatic red sheath is pattern 3493, and shows an under bust seam that comes to a point at center front.

This shapely corsage style in the rose print is a separate skirt and top set, 3511 and 3512. The geometric print dress was not labeled with pattern, but it could be 3458 that has a similar cuff style hip band.

This magazine issue lists many similar patterns that create the corsage fit. I tracked down several to show original sewing pattern cover art. I find pattern covers are an excellent source for fabric color and print as well as accessories, hair and makeup.

3497: a modification of the princess seamed dress that shows a bustline seam
3434: a true princess shaped dress that has flared and shaped panels from neckline to hem

This set of patterns show the modifications of the princess pattern with addition of the hip level seam and applied gathered skirt. In this case I found both an all around skirt, 3479, and another with a smooth front and gathered sides, 3492. This style recalls the silhouette of Marie Antoinette and the 1700’s, creating a romantic air.

3492: the hip skirt has a wide sash sewn into the seam line with bows to emphasize the hips, the corsage is fit with curved bust seams into the armscye
3479: this simple version clearly shows the princess seams to shoulder in the corsage

This look was considered a youthful style, and can be found in many of the Givenchy designs for Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina, Funny Face, Love in the Afternoon).  These were among the early styles produced by 'junior' style houses that catered to the growing teenage consumer population.  Look for these additional corsage patterns by McCalls:

3499 (V front seam), 3478 (under bust seam), 3477 (fitted midriff), 3481 (knit top), 3467 (low waist, full skirt), 3355 (V waist jumper), 3432 (V waist dress), 3433 (shaped hip sash), 3523 (low waist, full skirt),

The patterns shown here are available at the following online vintage pattern shops, show your support and take a look:

3434: Pattern Shop
3479: The Perfect Pattern
3492: Midvale Cottage
3497: The Spectrum

Monday, September 5, 2016

Judy's Shops: L.A. Fashion Innovator Marcia Israel-Curley, a Book Review

Judy's was an innovative fashion shop for juniors that opened in Los Angeles in 1948. The brain child of Marcia Israel-Curley, the first tiny shop (12' x 7') would grow to become a national influencer in the fashion trade. I found a wealth of information on this retailer and her shops in the autobiography by her, "Defying the Odds".

Saturday, August 6, 2016

YInMn: A New Blue for Fashion!

When a new pigment color is invented, like the brilliant blue of YInMn, it's a big deal.  It's truely a new blue for fashion.  In the past, vintage fashion, textiles and even illustrations were confined to the blues available at that time. Many were made from precious resources, such as the first blue created by the Egyptians. Lapis lazuli produces a blue that has been used for centuries.

The problem with most blues is that they are not permanent. They fume fade to pink or lavender. They bleed out in water and oil. Finding a bright blue that is fade resistant is news worthy. Recently a blue was discovered through an unrelated science research. You will want to read more about this news story, it's amazing to think that we now have a new color!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Don Loper: Inside a 1950's Cocktail Dress

Don Loper's dresses are popular 1950's styles with vintage collectors. They come in a wide range of silhouettes and textiles, so there's quite a variety to choose from. Looking inside a 50s cocktail dress can show so many great vintage sewing details.  This one is a gem, made from silk taffeta, hand draped and constructed with couture and hand techniques.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Vintage & Modern Sizes: Measurement Chart

How can you find your size in vintage fashion?  Interesting fact: did you know that there are NO STANDARD sizes in the US?  That's right!  Every brand can use their own sizing.  But many brands have sizes that are almost the same, and that's what I used for the MEASUREMENT CHART here.

Friday, May 20, 2016

HOW TO: Wash & Iron a Dress: Caring for Fashion, Wash & Press Techniques

How to clean and iron a dress or other styles of fashion is something we should all know. Although pressing was a skill most young girls learned as late as the 1980's, few people are taught this today.  Once casual wear, polyester and Lycra fabrics dominated the wardrobe, these techniques became unnecessary and forgotten.

The following suggestions should help anyone to learn how to wash, iron or press their favorite fashions, including vintage.  Please note that no technique is fool proof. Some fabrics and garments may appear washable, 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 care for them. It is worth the effort.

1--Details:  Garments with tailoring or delicate details should be dry cleaned, while more simple dresses are often washable.  This gingham dress was washed and pressed.

Fiber:  What kind of fabric is it?  For the past 30+ years, apparel has had fiber content and care labels.  But these can be cut off, worn down or if it is vintage, not present.  Check the chart at the end of this post for more details about fiber, because learning to 'know what it is' can be essential when facing laundry tasks.

Fabric Color and Print: You'll want to test a bit of fabric first by wetting a hidden area with a damp wash cloth, looking to see if the fabric color rubs off.  Avoid washing dark colors or shiny fabrics like vintage acetate and rayons.  Luxury fabrics such as velvet, brocades and satins are not washable in most cases.

3--Seamlines: Check inside the garment to see if the inner seam lines are wide and not un-raveling.  Avoid washing garments with loose or raveling seam allowances inside the garment.

4--Linings: It may be safer to send lined garments to be dry cleaned because some linings can often shrink or wrinkle more than the outer fashion fabric.  Tailored jackets, vests, men's pants and women's lined skirts are best dry cleaned to preserve the inner tailoring.

5--Whites: Bleached cottons and linens 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.


For modern ready to wear, medium water temperature in a washing machine will be fine. But for vintage, washing by hand in cold water and baby shampoo will make a good wash for natural and older 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.

Use a plastic hanger or a padded one and hang up to dry away from direct sunlight.  I have used an umbrella on sunny days to hang clothes outside.  On breezy days, hanging clothes to dry from the curtain rod of an open window works well too.  For soft delicate fabrics, try wrapping a towel around the hanger like a shawl first to create absorbent padded shoulders.  Long items can be dried if you throw a big beach towel over the top of an open door, then drape your dress over that, usually the waistline can be placed along the door's top edge.  This method also works for sweaters and jeans.

Press natural fibers such as linen, cotton, silk and wool while they are damp. This might be towards the end of the hang dry period. If that is not possible, after drying use a spray bottle with water to completely dampen the fabric again.

Using a Spray bottle or Steam iron:
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.

Using a steam iron can replace the spray bottle.  Be careful not to over steam or 'shrink' some fabrics.

Using a Press Cloth:
Prevent shine and get a wrinkle free skirt by using a press cloth.  This can be an old linen or cotton napkin, dish cloth or washed fabric.  Wet the press cloth and wring out the excess water.  Lay this out smooth over the garment fabric.  Lift and press with the iron, being careful to avoid the hot steam.

When the garment has been pressed, it may still be damp. Hang on a padded hanger to dry completely before wearing or placing in a closet.

These methods will keep your fashion garments and vintage in great shape, and help to avoid damages to your favorite pieces.


Natural fibers are available in several forms, the most popular are listed here.

Wool, cashmere:  Protein yarns made from animal fur.  Treat this in the same way your do human hair, so wash it in cold water using baby shampoo and hang to dry.  Press using steam iron or mist.  Press or seam while damp.  Use a hair dryer to dry damp spots.  Dark or bright colors can sometimes 'bleed' or  'run' into the wash water.  Fabric will shrink under hot washing and 'felt' or thicken under hot water agitation.  Store in dry, dark place and avoid moth or bug infestations that cause holes.

Silk: Protein yarns made from silk worm cucoons.  Treat this fabric like wool.  Colored fabric may fade or run in washing.  Laundry may wash out crisp texture and make it softer.  It can shrink in hot water.

Cotton and Linen: Cellulose yarns made from plant fiber.  These these are sturdy fabrics.  They will shrink in hot water.  Older washed garments most likely were shrunk when originally worn.  Older colors and prints may bleed color when washed.  Bright prints may fade in sunlight or repeated hard washing.  Press with steam or mist.  Avoid hot dry iron that may 'scorch' or burn fabric.  White only fabrics can be bleached.

Synthetic fibers come in many forms.

Rayon and Acetate: Cellulose fibers that are a by-product of wood pulp production.  These act somewhat like natural cellulose fabrics (cotton and linen) in that they absorb water and wrinkle.  Fibers can break more easily and seam lines may unravel.  These will shrink in washing and colors may 'bleed' into the wash water.  These are best dry cleaned, but many garments such as Hawaiian shirts are home washed.  Bamboo fabric is in this same category.  Older acetate and rayon fabrics are prone to fade easily, so keep away from light ans store in the dark.

Nylon: This will turn yellow with age.  It can be washed and hung to dry.  Be very careful about temperature while pressing, as this fabric can melt easily.

Polyester:  This is a byproduct of the oil industry, and it will attract oil stains that may not be removed easily (or at all).  This can be washed warm in a machine and dryed on warm setting.  Press using a light mix of water and white vinegar to remove wrinkles or press open seams flat.  Avoid a hot iron that will melt the plastic fibers.  When sewing a ball point needle may be required to avoid skipped stitches.

I hope this helps you to learn more about fashion fabrics and how to keep them clean and pressed!

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Close Up Look: 1930's Silk Party Dress

This wonderful silk print floor length dress dates from the pre-WWII era, late 1930's. Silk chiffon is printed in vibrant colors, and cut with a balanced symmetry, so that the design image is the same on both sides of this gown.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cover Up Styles in Vintage Fashions

At one time a cover up was essential to wear over strapless and sleeveless dresses. This design from 1960 by the California designer Pat Primo is an example of how cocktail dresses might have been worn, with a little matching cover up to wear over a bare neckline.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Spring 1967 Fashions: Butterick Patterns for Junior Styles

Vintage fashion scrapbooks are a gold mine of trends and ideas for inspiration.  They are also a great way to see how accessories were worn, hem lengths, hair and makeup.  For getting a good idea of fashion from a specific time period, they are perfect.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The "Sabrina" Little Black Dress for Audrey: How to Make It

Audrey Hepburn was seen in "Sabrina" in one of the most iconic gowns designed for her by Hubert de Givenchy, a little black dress with a signature 'bateau' neckline and shoulder ties.

Sewing your own copy of the "Sabrina" dress isn't really that difficult for a sewist with experience in sewing dresses.  Classic and undated, it is a style as fresh today as it was when the movie was filmed.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

How to Knock Off or Copy a Vintage Dress

How can a dress be copied? How can a pattern be made from your favorite fashion? If you have ever loved a vintage dress and wanted to sew another, then knowing some basic techniques for copying garments would be helpful.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Fashion Library: Most Loved Vintage Sewing Books

When people who sew get together, it's likely that one of these books is part of that gathering. Assembled here are probably the best loved sewing books, trusted for their depth, organization, and clear, concise instruction.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

1930's Evening Gown: Grecian Drapery in Mint Chiffon

1930's evening dress, green

In the late 1930's the softer silhouette retained a Grecian style for many evening style.  This gown is probably a silk charmeuse.  It gathers up the center front into a narrow placket and skirt fullness is released at the end of that placket.  The draped sleeves have a bit of fullness to give her shoulders fashionable width.

I don't have the date or source, this picture is from an undated fashion scrapbook.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Vintage Bridal & Cocktail: Cashmere Sweaters from Pringles

Pringle sweaters
Cashmere and Pringle sweaters are a great combination that is getting harder to find. The weight and texture has made them a favorite knit and it's become impossible to pass up a vintage cashmere while cruising a good estate sale.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Victorian Tailor: Costume & Fashion Library

Vintage menswear tailoring, especially Victorian which is so popular right now, has always been short on reference books to use as guides while re-creating that period look. It is essential to build a shelf of titles to choose from and refer to, rather than hoping only one text will do the job. "The Victorian Tailor" covers this subject with some detail. I find the pattern drafts sufficient, and the original period illustrations helpful.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Peggy Hamilton: 1920's Hollywood Socialite and Los Angeles Fashion Icon

The 1920's in Hollywood and Los Angeles was a boom town era, complete with dramatic socialites and actresses wearing the latest fashions to wild parties in massive mansions and ballrooms. Peggy Hamilton (Mae Bedloe Armstrong: 1892 – 1984)) first made her mark in Hollywood as a costume designer for well-known company, Triangle films. Her name as an actress was mentioned as early as 1916. Peggy began her fashion career in New York, but she followed the move to new Hollywood with Triangle Studios soon after that.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Color Trends for Vintage: Summer 2016

Current color trends for Summer 2016, as forecast by Pantone show tones that appear in wearable vintage fashions. By grouping a few vintage fashions into the color groups for summer, it's easy to see how fashions from the past can keep up with current trends.

Friday, March 11, 2016

1958 Sack Back Dress

The Sack Back dress spent a brief moment in time on the 1950s fashion scene. While couture silhouettes flirted with this silhouette earlier that decade, it wasn't until 1958 that the general public gave this style a try. Clearly it was a departure from the ongoing hour glass silhouettes that had continued for a decade. It was time for something new, and maybe a draped back might be it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fashion Detail: Chanel Haute Couture and Vintage Details

What makes French Haute Couture different from ready to wear? For me it is the lavish application of handwork, draping and other labor intensive techniques. But sometimes, when looking at vintage fashion, I find examples that have wonderful details, often applied by hand, that set the dress or suit apart from other vintage or contemporary fashions and create an aura of couture.