Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rebel Without A Cause

When I found this faux leather jacket, I knew I wanted to do a shoot inspired by James Dean's look in Rebel Without A Cause (1955).  When I saw the gorgeous architecture of the Providence Public Library, I knew I'd found my location.  What better place to rebel than an institution for learning, right?

Since Dean's look is rough-and-tumble less-is-more, I went really basic here, pulling the color from Dean's jacket for the skirt. Only the blouse is vintage, but I think it really goes to show you don't need head-to-toe vintage clothing to put together an era-specific outfit.

By and large, I prefer to take my own photos, using a tripod. With few exceptions, I feel a lot less self-conscious doing self-portraits than with a friend taking my picture. Honestly, I get a little Ricky Bobby about it--suddenly I have no idea what to do with my hands.  What do I do with my hands?!

It's definitely not the most time-effective way to do shoots, but it works for me--or at least it did before coming to Providence.  I don't know if I was just spoiled by how hard it is to impress New Yorkers ("Lady taking her own photograph? Whatever."), but I've been really shocked at how people in Providence seem to handle photo shoots.  I've been hollered at every time I've gone out. While I was snapping photos of my Sew for Victory blouse, a stranger stopped in his tracks to watch me until I met his eye; during the tuxedo pants shoot, people shouted at me (dare I say heckled?); during this shoot, someone walked all the way up the steps to see what I was doing, and then spent the next 20 minutes staring at me while I worked.  I will say, it definitely helped with the rebellious, don't-mess-with-me mood I was trying to evoke, but man it felt weird. 

Sideways glances and brief stares are totally normal--I'm used to getting double-takes when I'm out and about--but we're talking lingering to the point of loitering.  I'm sure nobody meant active harm, but I wish people were a little aware of how it feels, as a woman by herself, to be confronted and stared at.  Honestly it might not be such a big deal, had anyone's tone been just kind or curious, rather than demanding and vaguely hostile.  The solution might lie in just not taking photos in the city center anymore, but it's sort of a bummer.  Getting a comment now and then, or a few brief stares, sort of comes with the territory of dressing out of the mainstream fashion, and I get that.  But I'm not sure feeling uneasy is part of the deal.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A "Sew for Victory" Victory!

It's been quiet on the blog frontier, but I promise, I have good reason-- the show I've been working on had its premiere this weekend!  I'd meant to get some shots of what I wore that evening, particularly since I got to wear the bird's nest headpiece I got for a wedding this past fall, but I spent nearly every moment before curtain working on my Sew for Victory blouse-- and it's done!

When Frances visited a few weeks ago, she found this terrific 1940s pattern, but since she already had something similar, she handed it to me, and I'm so happy she did.  I'd been hoping to take part in Sew for Victory, using a dress pattern I bought before I could even sew (hey, it was motivation!), but since I'm still a beginner, I figured it might be nice to ease on into the world of barely-marked patterns, rather than diving in head-first.

I decided on View C for this go-round.

The envelope is missing two pattern pieces, one of which I didn't need for the particular blouse I chose, but the other of which was pretty important--the front facing where the buttons/buttonholes go.   Since it's essentially a long rectangle, I was able to reconstruct it by measuring the dimensions of another pattern piece, comparing it to the piece as illustrated in the instructions, and using those numbers to scale out the dimensions of the missing piece. Guys, I haven't done that much math since the GRE.

So many numbers.

As the pieces are only marked by different-sized circles--extremely different than the patterns I've been using from the 1960s and today, which are pretty thoroughly marked and explained-- I thought it'd be a pretty tough sew, but to my surprise and relief, it actually sewed up pretty easily. The toughest part was actually the shoulder pads. Fun to make, hard to install.

Tracing out the pattern for the shoulder pads
Me + making shoulder pads. The shortest love affair that ever was.
I'm really, really happy with how well it came out--it fits really well, and I lucked out in picking a very comfortable cotton fabric.  Honestly, I'm just so proud I managed to make something cool out of fabric and thread.

There's two pleats on either side, both extend below the waistband.
I really dig the shoulder gathers.
There's four pleats on the back.

Just before I started, I thought about switching the neckline to include the jabot, but I'm glad I didn't. The light color of the fabric makes the pleats and tucks really visible, and I think the softness of a jabot would've been jarring against the visible architecture of the pleats. I like the pattern so much, though, that I'm already thinking about doing that neckline in a print, which I think might balance out a little better.

And, now that I've conquered one 1940s pattern, I'll be doing the dress next! I'm hoping to make it in time for another wedding, this one in Baton Rouge in less than a month (eek!).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Outfit Oops: What I Wore and Why It Didn't Work

This weekend, I had a bit of a dilemma. The lovely Frances from Polka Polish paid me a visit, and we had a great day of shopping and kvetching before taking a few photos for our respective blogs--and herein lay my dilemma. I don't like what I wore.

Frances looking adorable!
Photo courtesy of Polka Polish
In theory, this outfit ought to work-- it has texture, a focal point, and an unexpected fun piece-- but it just doesn't. And as I looked at the terrific photos Frances sent my way, I wondered, what should I do with beautiful photos of an outfit I don't like?

Photo courtesy of Polka Polish

It hit me that this is actually a great opportunity. It's always really inspiring to see gorgeous photos of outfits that work wonderfully-- they're great how-to's. But sometimes it can be useful, particularly when you're still trying to find your "look," to see gorgeous photos of an outfit that doesn't work: a "how-not-to," if you will. So, though I hope it won't be an often-occurring series, I thought I'd write a breakdown of a look that's just a little 'off,' and talk about why it doesn't work.  Besides, it's good for my vanity, and a reminder that hey, not everyone can bring their A game every day of the week!

So close!
Photo courtesy of Polka Polish
I think the impetus for this outfit came out of two things: the weather, which has been dreary despite technically being Spring, and an awareness of the balance of menswear/femme-wear I've been posting. It felt like I might be trending a little far on the tux/suit end of the spectrum, so I decided I'd femme it up a little by wearing a springtime skirt that, thanks to its silk makeup, has to be worn during the more brisk weeks of the season.  To keep the flowers as the focal point, I thought it'd be best to go with a cream shade on top, and to add texture, I decided on a cashmere sweater. Finally, since I felt I might look a fool wearing 100% springtime in 40-degree weather, and because I like mixing in unexpected elements, I added one of my favorite winter hats.

The result was almost-but-not-quite, and I think you can tell in my posture, it doesn't feel right.  Why?  Because these ideas work--for someone else.

I think there's three structural reasons it doesn't work on me:

1. Shape: 

Because I don't have an hourglass shape, wearing monochrome with no cinch at the waist actually padded out my waistline. It also flattened out my er, already small bust line. I think this is an important lesson in color blocking--it can be used to glide over trouble spots, or it can bring attention right to them. Use with care!

2. Shoes:

Wearing laced shoes with a longer skirt can sometimes make the already-short line of the leg look more fragmented, and this seems to be particularly true due to the pattern at the bottom of this skirt. Essentially, the shoes, combined with the single color from shoulders to hips, shortened and widened the figure. Ouch.

3. Hair:

Totally works in isolation! With everything else, though...Photo courtesy of Polka Polish
This is partly a mix of eras that doesn't work-- a 30s bob with a 50s skirt-- but I don't totally subscribe to single-era dressing.  I think the issue here, for me at least, is that a 30s bob is playing on androgyny, and the rest of my outfit is out-and-out femme. It makes for a slightly odd gender presentation. I've talked off and on about gender presentation, and how as a queer lady, wearing menswear or feminine dresses project very different messages about my identity. Since I feel somewhere towards the middle of the spectrum, I like to play with both styles, and I'm pretty comfortable with androgynous looks as well.  But for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, blending androgyny and femme doesn't work as well as femme/masculine or out-and-out androgyny.

The outfit I'm wearing here would be more ideally suited to someone with a fuller bust, slightly longer legs, and a looser wave set.  But body type and hair style aside, the outfit also totally conflicts with my own sense of style.

When I put this together, I thought a little too much about what I should present.  I thought I was being too androgynous, so I went femme, when really I'm much more comfortable wearing a blend of masculine and feminine.  So here is what I wish I'd worn:

As you can see, I stuck to my guns about the fur hat and floral skirt combo, and it's quirky, but I think it works. What I switched out were my shirt and shoes: I swapped the feminine cashmere for a more structured, collared shirt, and the laced shoes for heels that helped ground the blue stripes of the shirt.

A defined waistline and more spare detailing at the foot make a huge difference.

  Is it period-perfect? Well, no. But I think it's much more figure-flattering, thanks to the visible ribbon at the waist, and the vertical stripes that help elongate a more defined torso.  Basically, the top and bottom halves are balanced, rather than dragging attention from the shoulders straight down to the hem.

It seems paradoxical, but pairing the skirt with another pattern actually makes the florals pop more than they did against a neutral.

Comparing these two outfits, for me at least, teaches a great lesson about silhouette and styling. It also highlights one of the very most important rules of life and style: To thine own self be true. Wear what you like and what makes you feel good, and you'll look good.

Though I'd always prefer to demonstrate a look that works, I hope parsing out why something didn't work is helpful as you put together your own outfits.  And if and when I slip up again, I'll be sure to show you how and why!  

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Dior "Bar" Suit: A Neiman Marcus Copy

There's no look more iconic than the Dior "Bar" suit of 1947.  The exaggerated silhouette and free use of fabric galvanized a fashion industry that had faced strict wartime rationing, and ushered in the post-World War II era.

Christian Dior, "Bar" suit,Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The look was widely copied, and this Christmas, my brother gave me a suit jacket that's very clearly modeled on the "Bar" suit.

The label, which indicates it was made for Neiman Marcus' flagship store in Dallas, is of the style used in the post-war 1940s, meaning the jacket must have been made shortly after Dior's groundbreaking debut.  I've said it before, I'll say it again, vintage labels are a godsend, and so is the Vintage Fashion Guild.

Beyond being just a terrific guild for a vintage clothing hound, it means a lot to me-- it's from the same store my brother and I went to when I visited him in Dallas.  I love having pieces created in the same city in which I've found them, so on many levels, I'm so thrilled to have this jacket.

To mimic the "Bar" suit silhouette, I paired it with a long wool Pendleton skirt, and added a crinoline underneath to give it just a little volume.  The hat--from the same place as the suit jacket!--is also from Neiman Marcus' Dallas store, made only a few years after the jacket.

I wanted to photograph this so much earlier, but man, the holidays are not the time to try and fit into a Dior-inspired suit--especially since I don't have a waist cincher.  As it is, I took these right after a breakfast of French toast.  ...I've had better ideas.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cambridge Vintage: Oona's Experienced Clothing

I tell you what, this winter just won't quit. My blogging schedule's gotten off a little, partly because of the weather-- between the cold and the wind, it's been really hard to get photos, or to even want to go outside for photos.  But this past weekend I bundled up and went to visit one of my oldest friends in my old stamping grounds of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and made a few stops at some of my favorite vintage spots.

A lot has changed since I lived in Cambridge, including the vintage scene-- one of the best stores around closed, and another one went the route of modern clothing consignment-- so I was relieved when I arrived at Oona's Experienced Clothing.  

Circa 2010, Oona's was a small shop packed to the gills with clothing that ran the gamut, in terms of quality, and the experience bordered on overwhelming.  Since then, the owner's given Oona a complete makeover: it's spacious, beautifully decorated, and features a much more carefully curated selection of clothing, from vintage to modern. The prices are beyond reasonable--my finds, below, put me back about $50 total!

Beautiful mural outside the store's entrance
Accessories and perfume
Dresses and HATS!
Oona's has a huge men's collection.

I will now be on the lookout for one of these glove stands, as my gloves are
currently housed in a shoe organizer. Not very ladylike.
My finds! Two hats--a 60s turban-esque pillbox, an equestrian-themed
topper, and a really pretty Italian mosaic brooch.
One store I never actually visited while I lived in Cambridge was the Garment District. It's a two-story affair, with clothing by the pound in the lower level, and sorted modern and vintage above. I have never been brave enough to wade into a by-the-pound store, so I went right upstairs.  Though there was a very large selection of clothes, I was a little disappointed by how damaged a lot of the stock was-- dresses rarely came with their belts, and were often threadbare--but I will say there were definitely beautiful items to be found.  Case in point: a Ship 'n Shore blouse I found, with tags!

In fact, the tag is the only reason I'm making a point of posting this blouse, and you'll see why below:

It's a bubble tag! Finding New Old Stock with tags attached is always such a thrill, and I'm really happy to have found a Ship 'n Shore in particular. I've had one of their blouses for about three years now, and I can attest, it is indeed unconditionally washable!

What's the best NOS item you've found, or hope to find one day?