Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gail Carriger WorldCon 2010 Retrospective: 1940s Black Pencil Skirt

Black Pencil Skirt, mid length, kick pleated back, black & white lining.
Cashmere poly blend, Tahari, Nordstrom's Rack $75.

The infamous black pencil skirt.

I know, it's wrinkled in the picture, but trust me, this skirt is great. I am a huge advocate of the black pencil skirt. In fact, I would say it is almost more important to a wardrobe than the Little Black Dress. If you are of the pear shape and self conscious about a pencil, then by all means go for an A-line instead (I have one of those too, future blog in the works).

World Fantasy San Jose, Soulless Launch Party, 2009.

So perhaps this skirt is a little tight. But my goodness I love it. And honestly, I'm in my 30's I've made peace with the dreaded girl tum. Frankly, I'm a chick and I'm curvy and I have a tum because I'm not an airbrushed model. Besides, I don't want to be one of those crazy razor sharp Hollywood women who do 800 sit-ups a day and look like they not only live on endives but might actually turn into an endive at any moment.

Gail & Marilyn, real women with girl tums. A model who is not.

Katy Perry with Girl Tum

 So while I can still zip up the darn thing, I'm going to wear it. For World Fantasy in 2009 I paired it with a pink blouse (which I no longer own) to match the cover of Soulless, and some Irregular Choice shoes.

Jet tassel necklace from Dark Garden at Dickens Fair, $30; matched earrings $10 PantheaCon dealers room; black simulated leather opera gloves, inherited from Grandma; Irregular Choice shoes, Haight Street San Francisco, gift.

Irregular Choice makes the most wonderful looking shoes on the planet . . . and possibly the most painful. Mine are wedges (unlike the ones above) and I love them, but I can't wear them for more than a few hours even with inserts. Sadness.

However, Fashionable Reader, this is meant to be a WorldCon retrospective and so here I am, in the black pencil skirt at WorldCon 2008 . . .

Gail and Lawrence Person in the Con Suite.

This time I wore it with a gray silk sailor blouse and gray spectator pumps.

Vintage gray blouse, possibly 1940s Thrifted $15, Via Spiga spectators, gift

I have several other black pencil skirts but this one sits apart because of the length. Normally, I do not go for a mid length skirt, in this case several inches below the knee. Nor do I recommend it for any but the very tall. For that reason I always wear this skirt with the highest heals possible.

Vintage wise, this length is best suited to a 1940's Dior look. That said, the black pencil is a staple that always seems to show up on the fall/winter runways and this year was no exception. I even spotted a few in this, a more vintage, length.

Fall 2011 runway; Sarah Jessica Parker in Marc Jacobs; Christina Ricci

More on the black skirt in future, I have several different versions and I intend to go into the relative merits of each.


  1. You look Mahvelous, dahling. Very Jane Russell. I like pencil skirts in that longer length. I think it makes the skirt more versatile. You can pair it with a button down business shirt and low heels for day, then wear a slinky, sexy top, sky-hi heels and the right jewelry for evening.

    I have those Via Spiga spectators in lilac and brown. Aren't they the greatest shoes!

  2. I was wondering if you could tell us the difference between an A-line and a pencil. Being an hour glass shape what do you suggest? I'm also pretty petite (5'3") and I dread heels because I always seem to buy the most painful ones out there. Even though I could definitely benefit from their help.

    I do love that vintage look and being the right shape for it I feel like I should take advantage of those cuts but I'm a little lost on where to begin.

    Future blog post maybe: How can a laid-back (I'm from Portland and it's rare for people to be seen in public in anything other than jeans and a sweatshirt or spandex 'shiver') petite, curvy girl get the vintage look without going all out in dresses and heels. Though I do love that look, all put together, I just don't have the lifestyle that will allow me to wear heels for 8 hours straight.

  3. Oh...Oh dear. Those grey spectator pumps....They are so stunning. I must say I am in love with them. Also, you look faaaabulous in that black pencil skirt. I'm with you on the whole girl tum acceptance. It happens. I'm 5'8" and I have real-people curves. I will not apologize for not being Barbie.

  4. My dear Emma, the final skirt in the blog is an A-line. An A-line nips in at the waist and then flows out gradually, without too much material or volume.

    I tend to think that an A line, in your case hemmed just above the knee (shorter girls can wear shorter skirts) suits most any figure. You can pair this with a cute blouse (knit is easiest for a girl with a rack, particularly in Portland) and ballet flats. Add a little head scarf and you have retro low key, no frills, and Portland casual. Add some nice pattern tights in winter.

    I promise I'll do future blogs on more casual retro looks (like skirts and tops) and less all out event wear. I do try to include some "street retro" shots when I manage to find them.

    Also, thank you for the suggestion on a blog tailored to shorter ladies. I hadn't considered that.

  5. Thanks so much Gail!.... Now I just have to go out and find and A-line that will fit.... or do as you do and tailor it!

  6. Wow. You and Marilyn look glamorous, girls tums and all, while the model looks like a very tall prepubescent boy. That collection of Images really puts the obsession with skinny into a whole new perspective. And as another short gal, might I second Emma's suggestion? Designers seem to think all women need to be over 5'8" to wear anything. Anything.

  7. That's what you call it? A girl tum? Love the term. And have one. :) Looking forward to the possible "short ladies" post in the future...

  8. Looking forward to reading more

  9. (OMG... I often thought that Marilyn's dress from The Prince and the Showgirl was what I wanted as my wedding dress if I had time to plan, but I actually got married in an emergency Suzy Wong white dress I got for $15 off Ebay when the then-boyfriend and I took our first trip to Vegas)

    You can't argue with the pencil skirt. And no matter what your shape as long as it is tight in the hips and goes sleek to the knees... no man will ever notice anything like a tum when you have one on.

  10. Va Va Voom! Wow you rock that pencil skirt. And I sadly am very jealous:) Apple shapes do not lend themselves well to that silouhuette. Thanks for sharing your wonderful fashion style with us.


  11. I am supremely envious of women who can wear pencil skirts. Sadly, I have weirdly muscular thighs, so anything that's tight over the hips looks like I'm smuggling a pair of turkey legs in my underwear. It's all A-lines all the time for me. I comfort myself with the fact that A line skirts are much easier to sew.

    Those spectators are amazing. I wish you had more full length pictures of your outfits, as I sort of feel like we're being cheated by not getting a shot of your fabulous shoes in action.

  12. I wish I had full length pictures of my outfits too! I travel alone most of the time and never remember to ask in the hall if someone will take a photo. Even when I'm with a friend there is so much else goign on I just forget to take a picture of myself. I've noticed on faire circuit, there is also this strange habit of photographing people without feet. Except for Steampunk, steampunkers are all about the complete outfit. Which is my case is funny, as you can't see my shoes!

  13. I would respectfully disagree with frostfire about designers believing that women need to be at least 5'8" to wear anything. Clothing seems to be made for "the average person," who, being an amalgamation of the measurements of everyone, doesn't actually exist.

    At six feet flat, and generally a size 6-8, I have as much trouble as everyone else finding clothing. At least, if one is on the more normal side of height, one can hem things. It is more difficult to lengthen clothes (sleeve lengths are the bane of my fashion existence).

  14. Oh, how much do I love pencil skirts? I only just discovered them a few years ago. I'm a supremely curvy girl with a high natural waist and always just assumed I was too "fat" for cute clothes until someone bought me a pencil skirt and it changed my life. After years of trying to fit my curvy hips into the cuts that were popular, it had never occurred to me that I actually had a small waist, just not in the place most clothes wanted it to be in.

    That particular skirt is awesome and you always have the best shoes. I covet almost every pair you've ever posted ;D

  15. It may be a bit on the snug side, but that pencil skirt looks perfect on you! The gloves are a lovely touch as well. :)

  16. elzebrook, I know you're right, intellectually. But when shopping as a lady of 5'2" it certainly feels like everything is made for somebody 6" taller. Especially since the term "petite" seems to mean "short, yes, but only under size 12" in the world of clothing stores. It's all terribly disheartening.

    And I agree with the sentiment that sleeves are the bane of civilized existence. If they're not to long, or too short, they're too tight. The number of tops I've had to give up on because the sleeves didn't fit beggars the imagination. Even on clothes for larger gals, the sleeves are still too tight half the time. But you do have a valid point on the hems. Even I, sewing failure that I am, can fake a hem.

  17. @FF - Or too many things are sleeveless. I have those dreaded batwings - and some stretch marks under the arms. (It's actually one of the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. You get bright purple stretch marks just about anywhere.) I also have a tattoo I wish now I had never gotten. So I never go sleeveless. Yet it seems everything is sleeveless now adays. Or capped sleeves. Both of which only make fat arms look fatter. (Just wander over to the site PeopleOfWalMart.com sometime. You'll see a lot of fashion don'ts for us fatties there.) Or there's those sleeves that on the underside slash inwards towards the armpits. So not only do batwings show, but they bunch under the pit and cut into the flesh - even if you're like me and wear your clothing a size or two too large.

    I actually did a small amount of research on clothes for short people since I'm only 5' 3". Most stores don't stock them - you can only get them on the internet - because they sell the tall sizes more. So because of that, we short people tend to buy tall sizes - I always get burned on internet purchases for clothing - and get them altered, which means the taller people can't find diddly squat.

  18. @JS,
    Maybe it's just me, but I'll take sleeveless over too tight sleeves every single time. I've got a bit of the wobbly arm myself, but I guess it's just not to the point of wanting to hide them at all costs. But I understand the frustration on capped sleeves. They're not enough to really count as proper sleeves, but they can still ruin the fit of a shirt. Although I've started to see some that are stretchy on the underside, which may be a bit of an improvement. I've not tried any on though, so maybe it's just as bad as without. A girl can hope though.

    And I don't really understand stores not stocking items for shorter gals. Some hints just don't alter well, and would really benefit from having better length options. And why do so many stores think that short and petite only matters in the legs? I've run into plenty of tops that are clearly cut for someone at least 4-6 inches taller than me. When fitted styles nip in at the wrong spots, you either have to skip it or hope that it can be altered. I somehow manage to be too short in the leg, the arm, *and* the torso. Fancy dresses are, more often than not, an exercise in futility. I suppose it's just as well that I never really need fancy gear ...

  19. @FF - Top lengths are another issue for me. I have the classic "PCOS Belly" - that's where the stomach sags and looks like your butt is in the front - some people call it a "gunt" - a combo of "gut" and "c**t." So my tops have to hide that, but most tops are only 27 inches long. Fine for a woman who's an A-C cup, but at a 38 DDD the belly shows because my huge boobs take up so much space up top. Yet when I find something long enough to hide the gut the shoulder seams are halfway down my arms.

    I really wish I knew how to sew.

    And of course there's my current frustration with finding dressy clothing. As a singer I need to have some really dressy stuff for some performances - especially weddings and funerals. I finally got a good endocrinologist for my PCOS and am finally losing weight. (Considering I used to be 295 pounds and am now 238.6 pounds I'm doing pretty good.) So now a lot of my dressier clothing is too large for me even with my preference for looser fitting clothing. Yet there's just nothing good out there for plus size gals. I was just on the Nordstroms site last night and they actually have this long dress that's not only sleeveless, but has horizontal stripes the entire way down it! The poor model who IRL probably weights 150 at the most (that's one thing about Nordstroms, they actually get some overweight women to model their plus sized clothing) looks to be around 200 pounds and her arms look like barrels. Not to mention it's black and white so she looks like some stereotype of an escaped convict. (You know, the old black and white striped prison uniforms you see in old cartoons?)

    The one halfway decent one they have looks like it was made for a woman who's 80 years old.

    I finally got so frustrated that I wrote Nordstroms a really stern letter and printed off pictures of the worse offenders, writing comments on each one. Let's hope they listen. I know they're restricted according to what designers make but still they could say "No, we're not subjecting our customers to that!"

    I love looking at vintage clothing but I know that the vast majority won't fit me because people have altered them over the years. So something might have started it's life as being able to fit me, but now it would be lucky if Kate Moss could fit in it. In fact, my favorite online vintage site, LA Vintage (which is where I got my beloved disco dress), now only has one plus size item - a miniskirt made to look like a golf course.

    I really wish I knew how to sew. I never should have let mom and dad talk me out of taking sewing classes in high school. I've looked into ones for adults but they're expensive or on nights when I work.

    So lately I've been in a really rotten mood. Too bad Lord Akeldama isn't real. I bet even if he couldn't help me find the perfect dress, at least he'd help me get out of this rotten mood I've been in lately.

  20. @JS,
    Ah, the "huge boobs" problem. I recently went through my wardrobe and was forced to conclude that nearly a dozen of my shirts, usually of the button down variety, were no longer able to survive the cleavage. And most of them had fit well enough a year ago. Either shirts no longer button up properly, or they're actually coming up short and bunching around the waist instead of falling to the hips properly. Of course, I may just be too accustomed to shirts being long on me. But piles of fabric bunching at the waist is *not* a good look. Also, I miss button down shirts that were either split or cut away at the sides to allow for women's hips.

    How it is that I can be slowly losing weight while simultaneously having my boobs get even more ridiculous completely escapes me. But congratulations on your weight loss. It may be making your life a little problematic in the area of formal wear, but maybe a trip to the tailor might be a better choice at this point?

  21. I just want to pop in and say that I, too, would love some posts about retro clothes for petite, curvy ladies. That would be most helpful.

  22. Add my congratulations on the weight loss, JS!

    My body is a mess. I'm short, and I inherited my bone structure from the farming side of the family. It makes buying clothing an adventure. I finally had to brush up on my sewing skills so I could learn to make and alter my clothing.

  23. JS, do you own a sewing machine already? If not, I highly recommend checking in your area for a locally owned store that sells sewing machines. My mother has worked at one for 20+ years and as long as the person buys their sewing machine and any accessories they need for it (even the cheapest machines in the shop), she will spend HOURS working with someone on how to use the machine. I know she has had women come back after they started working on a project and need a little help figuring out new stitches or how to get a particular look. Plus there are a great many books/videos out on the market that could teach a great deal about sewing techniques. I'm sure finding someone in your area that can help may take visiting a few stores, but I am sure there are other people out there like my mother.

    Now off to find my own pencil skirt as I think I could rock one.


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