Friday, September 30, 2011

Pork Pie Hats Plus a DIY Hat Reconditioning

 At Literary Orange in 2011 with the Brothers K

I bought this wonderful pork pie hat from my usual source for lovely cheap hats: The Bon Marche thrift store in Sonoma, CA. This tiny tucked-away hole-in-the-wall thrift store seems to have one or two people who donate a great deal of vintage, often only in need of a good cleaning and a little TLC. I got this black pork pie hat for $7!


Pork pies are so called because of their close resemblance to the self-same delicious food item.

Halston hat ca. 1957 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 They made their big splash in the 1940s and carried on through the 50s and even the 60s. They came smaller ~ perching on top of the head to the front tuna-can size (pill box), and bigger ~ sitting around and to the back of the head, and slightly squished and off to one side like a beret.


When I first purchased my little baby, she needed some help. Here's what I did.

The original.

Decorations removed and cleaned thoroughly with a lint brush.

Added black velvet ribbon band. Pinned ot hold properly in place.

Adhered using the trusty glue gun.

Existing, ribbon folded down and fixed with pins, before also being glued (back or side) depending on how I wear the hat.

Inside reenforced with a rolled tissue paper, to help it hold it's shape.

Pok pies then . . .

Cristobal Balenciaga hat ca. 1964 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Knitted Tops: Part 2, Patterns

I stick to a couple of hard and fast rules when shopping for patterned tops, whether knitted or not.

Generally speaking, smaller uniform patterns are better. Do make certain they do not stretch over the rack so much they distort and thus emphasize that area, both a color pattern and a texture pattern (like cables or open-work crochet) can do this. I prefer geometric over flowers and flat pattern to a textured one.


Don't be afraid of stripes. As with color blocking, you can actually use the stripe, or any pattern for that matter, as you would a bright color ~ to draw attention away form your larger areas. For example if you are self conscious about your chect or stomach, pick something that emphasizes your arms and face.


You can achieve something similar to the above with a patterned blouse and solid colored vest or knitted sweater-vest (that sexy librarian look). Also, please note that the knit in both the above examples is stretching over the chest in a "white" way.


Here I am making that very grave mistake. Solution ~ with colors darker than your skin tone, wear a matched undershirt, in this case I should have worn red. In cases where the top is lighter than your skin tone wear a nude top that matches it. Also make certain you don't just look at yourself inside. Natural light and flash photography can cause "rack reveal" issues.


Here are two of my favorite modern sweaters, the stripes about the shoulders and the details at the neck draw the attention upwards. (Sorry about the wrinkles, haven't worn them recently as it's too hot.)

For heaven's sake, just don't op for the following version of stripes and solids!


Draws attention to exactly the wrong area, is also bulky and too long. Looks great on her, but then I'm not shaped like her. That said, for those of my readership who have the opposite problem from me, (taller, smaller chested types) this is a great look!

 Here's another example of a vintage piece and a retro version of the same 1950's style pattern blocked knit top that be great on a fuller figure.


From Diary of a Vintage Girl Blog

This second version is better for she of the broader shoulders.

You can also reverse it, as white tends to widen and put a darker smaller pattern over the bust.


Things that break up the the eye and torso will tend to divert attention, so something like this lovely check number would also work.


Please note that, as usual, I'm opting for sweaters that finish right about the waist. These are hard to find in the modern age, a great sadness to me, so I tend to shop for vintage tops whenever possible. Given my wool allergy and the general destructive nature of moths vintage sweaters are hard to find. That said, since sweaters have stretch, sometimes I've been able to buy retro and get a nice cotton or acrylic from a discount store.

These two came from Ross and Kohls, respectively, probably around $15 each. Junior's larges, both of them. 

I've yet to successfully shorten a sweater, I know it can be done but as a seamstress I have issues with stretch and I don't knit so it frightens me.

Cold Comfort Farm

That said, you can find a longer finely patterned sweater and belt it. I suggest using my "safety pin at the seam" trick to kep it from riding around. A nice skinny belt gives a very vintage look, a wider belt is more modern.


Here's another great way to block a pattern. This is one whole piece. Binding the cardigan to the front panel allows you to do as she has done, curve the cardy inwards over the rack, something that never naturally occurs and thus makes you look smaller. Also that long block of one straight line, particularly if it is a lighter color, makes you look long and lean. There's a DIY project in here with a thrifted cardy and a knit vest and someone (not me) who can mod knitwear.

Lastly, if you are still afraid of pattern remember you can pair a small neutral colored pattern like a faint window-pain plaid, check, houndstooth, or tweed with a nice bright pencil or full skirt, and this will definitely de-emphasize the rack. But if you still don't like that idea, you could try color blocking your knits instead.

Note the buttons at the neck, again drawing attention to the face. Nice detail.

Please if you have images of yourself in knitwear, or want to tackle the aforementioned DIY project, feel free to share on the Retro Rack Facebook Page.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Not for the Rack: Bulky Tops


It should go without saying that this style of bulky knit sweater, so prevalent on the runways this season, is not for a Lady of Substantial Means. Trust me, you are not covering anything up, you are adding weight and bulk up top and thus look even more top heavy. Instead, opt for a nice structured jacket: leather or tweed or even plaid. I cannot say enough good things about a structured jacket. Even if you believe you do not have a waist, the structured jacket can give you the illusion of one.


It's not only chunky knits and cables that's bad for the boobs. Sweaters that are too fuzzy and those that have added and unnecessary detailing around the chest area are also bad.

The thing to remember is that all fabrics, not just knits, can add bulk up top if they are cut wrong, layered or draped too thick, or pleated too much.

 1911-1912 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wiener Werkstätte dress ca. 1917 via The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Really, best to avoid anything from the 19-teens, if you ask me. Terribly unreliable fashion time period.I shudder to even recall it. And don't get me started on the 1920s . . . but that's a future blog post.

Crepe, crepe is bad. Crepes, on the other hand are very very tasty, and a breakfast skill I have only recently mastered.


 Oh, I am reminded that Los Gatos Cafe's pumpkin chiffon crepes with fresh cranberries are soon to make their fall appearance. I must make a road trip. Oh, dear, derailed, where was I? Oh yes, bulky tops.
 
The modern age of architectural fashion has given us some amazing art, and some lovely looks. I happen to be a big fan of the architectural approach, but mostly they won't work on us more generously endowed ladies.  Sometimes they will work in a jersey, but that's a whole other post. Here's what not to go for . . .

1990s Issey Miyake dress via The Indianapolis Museum of Art

All in all, avoid the bulk up-top. Here we have an example of everything bad in one top, including a sneak peak at my next offender . .  shear.

Monday, September 26, 2011

FenCon Ivy Hat Contest

For your edification, some of the hats from the Ivy Hisselpenny hat contest.






Detail from the above Tea Party Garden Hat.



And this was the one I chose to win, it was just to very . . . Ivy.


Joe Dalek in the Ivy Hat

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Not for the Rack: Backless Tops

The second in our multi-part installment on what not to wear if you are a Lady of Substantial Means (as it were).

Boob abuse!

I have a mug of tea, Fashionable Reader. I'm packed for FenCon. I'm ready to blog. (On the subject of FenCon I have managed to pack everything into a carry-on and a tote ~ although not the tote. Amazing. I never do that. The result is a sinking suspicion that I have forgotten something.)


So here we go, more on what's . . .

Bad for Boobs: Backless

In honor of the recent Emmy Red Carpet and the fact that the backless dress shows its elegent head all too often, I take this moment to remind all the well endowed of my readership that not matter how much we may like it, backlessness is not for us.


And here's why . . . No matter how much I may hate the hunt, no matter how much I may hate the heat rash and the red marks and the groves in my shoulders and the extra fabric ~ I wear a bra in public. Period. No questions, no contest, and with very very few (fully supportive) exceptions.

Backless dresses do not allow for a proper bra.


I do love the backless dress. I think it is a way to be sexy without being trashy. It certainly suits the well-toned back and nice little A or B cup, but the rest of us require support. Pasties and low-back halter-top under-wires just don't provide enough.

Hubert de Givenchy dress ca. 1958 via The Indianapolis Museum of Art

There are some lovely vintage looks that are backless, sadly I simply have to resist. I will sometimes opt for something with a lower back that I can still wear with a bra. But otherwise I suggest one leaves this style to the smaller chested amongst us.


On the bright side, my dears. For those of us shaped like Alexia, there certainly is a style to suit, it just happens to be over a hundred years old.

1880-1882 via Manchester City Galleries

I leave you with this ray of hope. Lady Christina showed the world at the Emmys this year that a lady with curves and an aversion to sun can rock the red carpet, making all those overly-tan size twos look, frankly, a little sad.

Monday, September 19, 2011

All About Oxfords! DIY Bonus ~ Going Spectator Style

Oxfords  1895-1905  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Oxfords happen to be my all time favorite way to wear flats. Although, as you will see, the humble oxford comes in all shapes and sizes these days. You have so many glorious options!

 My collection of plain flat oxfords. Cream (BP Nordstrom Rack $50), black patent, and tobacco brown (both from Marshalls on super-sale last week $10. Score!)

Sporting my favorite cream oxfords three different ways.

I realized, because men's style shoes use men's terminology, I was lacking knowledge on the subject of oxfords versus spectators versus wingtips. So I did some research.

Despite the terminology I use above and elsewhere in this blog, oxford is technically a specific cut of men's shoe with enclosed lacing, like so . . .
Classic Men's Oxford and a Women's Oxford Pump in Grey by Aerosole

Sometimes called balmorals and originally quite plain, the (temporally) later style bluchers or derbys were the ones that had open lacing, like so . . .
Women's Derby Peep Toe Stiletto in Red

In modern times we mostly call all of the above oxfords regardless of lacing technique. Such shoes often also have a piece of leather stitched over the toe section making them oxford caps.

Wingtip is the American term for brogue style mens shoe with the classic W pattern over the cap toe.

Men's Oxford Wingtip and a Women's Derby Wingtip in Distressed Brown by Me Too

Thus you can have a wingtip oxford, although a plain oxford is considered more formal. However, you can also have a wingtip loafer with no lacing at all.

 1944 Wingtip Spectator Derbys

Spectator is a term used for any shoe with two colors/textures in blocks following the cut of the shoe, whether tonal or contrasting, for men or women. I happen to be a huge fan of this style of shoe. I have no idea why, I just am.

Derby Wingtip Spectator open-toe Pump in tones of grey. Spectator mary jane pump w/ strap in textures of black


Wingtip Spectator Pump in Black & White, Oxford Wingtip Spectator Stiletto Platform in Tones of Brown, Derby Spectator Pump in Distressed Cream & Black

Spectators appeared first on men's oxfords in England in the late 1860s, but had their heyday in the 1930s. I put Lord Akeldama in a pair of black and white spectators in one scene in my books (1870s setting) and Alexia is quite shocked by him wearing such a shoe. For women, they were probably most popular in the 1940s and 1950s.

  My collection of spectators. Clockwise from 12 o'clock: Via Spiga grey & black pumps (gift); Via Spiga black & white stilettos ($50 Nordstrom Rack); BP brown & mushroom flats (dyed by me, see bellow, Nordstrom $50, bought after the cream ones above because I was wearing those so much); unknown brand grey & black flats (Crossroads Trading, Haight Street, SF $15); black & white swing dance shoes that I had soled for street walking when I gave up competitive dance (I have two pairs the other pair is in getting dyed to black & red); and finally Via Spiga black & red stilettos ($50 Nordstrom Rack, they started life brown tones, I had them dyed red and then did the black myself, see DIY bellow.)


 So oxford is the cut, wingtip is the style, and spectator is the color pattern.

Now, this kind-of reverse spectator was wildly popular in the 1950s, the saddle shoe. 


And not all spectators have to be wingtips, nor do all wingtips have to be spectators, and neither has to be an oxford. I know, I know, so confusing.

Wingtip spectator flats that are not oxfords; spectator non-wingtip non-oxford mary jane peep-toe platform stiletto; Hill & Novis in 1935 wingtip derbys.

Some ultra-modern takes on this classic shoe.

Lace and black spectator oxfords; Lautre brown python spectator platform mary jane pumps; black patent wingtip brogue boots; silver derbys; spatter-painted black and white derbys; and Oscar De La Renta's black & clear spectator derby sandals on the 2012 runway (a new one on me!)

What I love about plain oxfords is because they are menswear they can be tough or cute, retro or modern. You can use them to add a pop of color to an otherwise severe outfit. They are good with tights, socks, nylons or bare legs. They work with maxi-skirts, short skirts, or trousers. They are comfortable for walking long distances, and if you get the right ones, they pack down small and light for travel. Most of them offer more support than a ballet-style flat with more versatility in styling. They are also my airport shoe of choice.
What I like about the pump version is that because of the retro and menswear style you don't have to go with a high heel. In fact, you can pretty much get away with any variation on a heel ~ from stacked to pump to stiletto to small one-incher to hourglass Victoriana. Whatever your heel comfort level you can wear it (and quite probably find it) in an oxford pump.

Some vintage 1940s cuteness.

The DIY section of our presentation.

How to turn plain oxfords into spectators . . .

I have two pairs of shoes I have done this to:


Here's how I do it, with Kiwi shine and a paint brush. This limits me to black and brown on top of whatever base color I already have. (Here's more on dying your own shoes other colors from New Vintage Lady. She appears to order her dye from Spain. I don't know of any other way to get good colored leather dye, so please don't ask me.) If I want a red base, for example, I have a Miracle Shoe Guy who I take the shoes in to, and for $10 or so he dyes them any color I'd like. This is what I did with the red stilettos.

But, back to spectatoring.



The starting shoes, mushroom colored, removed laces and stuffed with tissue paper for protection. I suggest trying first with a pair you don't care about, say from the thrift store, but they do have to be leather, and preferably matt and untreated (with Scotch guard, for example). Plastics are really hard to work with, and I don't. I try to only wear leather shoes for comfort, wear, and smell reasons.



Because I like the vintage look, I'm not too concerned with getting the dyed section perfectly even. Still, it takes at least three coats to make certain you have no obvious brush marks. As you do one section, the others dry quite fast, so you don't have to wait at all between coats. It took me about an hour to dye the shoes. Here you can see one coat around the laces and two on the wingtip caps. I like to leave the holes but you don't have to, just a personal preference. You have to have a pretty steady hand because if you get dye in the wrong part of the shoe it's hard to clean off. I use a standard small paintbrush which can be washed clean with water. I poor the dye into the cap and just dip in and go for it. I use a baby wipe or wet one to clean any mistakes.



The final product. For the brown I used Kiwi Scuff Cover Instant Wax Shine in brown. I ordered it off of Amazon for $6, but you might find it at a local craft store. Kiwi also makes a white version which is good for covering scuff marks on my black & white spectators. For black I use Kiwi Honor Guard High Gloss Instant Spit-Shine. It's brilliant and better than their Scuff Cover but only comes in black. I also use it for repairing the scuff marks on my leather jackets. One little bottle has so far lasted me some ten years and I've a good deal of black leather. I suggest leaving the shoes to dry thoroughly overnight before wearing or packing. You can buff them up with a soft cloth if you like.

On care and feeding of your spectators . . .

Generally speaking, I spray all my leather shoes with Scotch Guard (or the equivalent) when I get them home the first time and (after a cleaning) each fall. However, I haven't yet done it with any of the spectators I dyed myself. I'm scared they will spot. But I'm going to have to do it soon, winter is coming. I'll let you know how it goes. It is nice to know I still have the dyes and if anything happens I can just give them a new coat.