Thursday, November 29, 2007

Polyvore of the Day: Plaid & Flannel

One of the few definitive trends in "street" vintage this year seems to be plaid flannel. When I think of plaid flannel, I'm immediately whisked back to my days as a grunger in the early 90's, but the history of this snuggly fashion goes back MUCH further than that. Technically speaking, kilts are the ancestor, but you can also look to the godfather of the woolen plaid shirt - Pendleton. Here's a snippet from Pendleton's website about the history of said shirt:

Wool shirts for men were largely utility items in the early 20th century. Drab in design and color, they were worn for warmth and protection from the elements by those who worked outdoors. Clarence Morton (C.M.) Bishop had a vision for wool shirts in vivid colors and intricate patterns. The production of woolen shirting material was a natural extension of the mill's capabilities. In 1924, the legendary Pendleton virgin wool men's shirt was born. By 1929, Pendleton was making a full line of men's virgin wool sportswear...

...A new thread was woven into the Pendleton corporate cloth in 1949 - womenswear manufacturing. Market research identified a need and an opportunity for branded virgin wool classic sportswear for women. Nevertheless, no one could have predicted the enormous success of a single garment introduced with the Pendleton womenswear line that year. The 49er jacket gained instant popularity. Its simple, casual styling and intrinsic value were a perfect match for the emerging suburban lifestyle of postwar America.

Now, don't get confused. If you're in the market for a TRUE 49er jacket, then it must be labeled "Pendleton." I've included an advertisement from 1954 below to give you an idea of what one looks like. Here are some other features to look for:

General Features:

* hip length
* shell buttons down the front
* offset diagonal patch pockets on the front

For early jackets:

* notched collar
* flanged at the shoulders
* shell buttons at the cuffs

If you are looking for a Pendleton manufactured piece, the plaids should be matched up at the seams. If you find one where the plaids seem to be off, then it may be a home sewn piece. Pendleton often sold their fabric to home seamstresses and provided a tag as well.

Also, keep in mind that if you want an early 49er jacket from the 40's or 50's, then you'll need to do some research on what the original tags look like AND what mid-century materials feel like. 49ers post-dating 1964 will have the wool symbol on the tag. Pretty soon, our sister site,, is going to be launching a label resource that will be able to guide you on these matters.

If you're just in the mood for something remniscent of the style, and you're itching to get your hands on some vintage plaids for your wardrobe, I've found a few for you already (you can find them at the bottom of this post!) My tip is to avoid paying big bucks for common 80's flannels and stick to the real deal. Or, if you're gonna go newer and non-Pendleton, try a variation on the plaid theme with items like plaid wool coats, accessories and tailored tops. Trust me, quality gets you more bang for your buck - especially with woolens.

All of this brings me to the Polyvore of the Day, brought to you by Yannisa*. This particular Polyvore is a great example of how the modern woman might actually wear a plaid piece.

Where to get the Look:

1. Original Composition: 1970's Pendleton 49er Jacket @ Bustown Modern
2. Variation on a Theme: mid 1990's Vivienne Westwood Belt @ VintageCouture

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

MYYYY Polyvore of the Day!

I made this one a few days ago - it's reflective of my job as vintage clothing hunter extraordinaire!

Polyvore of the Day!

In case you've never heard of it, is a nifty little site that lets you design fashion layouts or "sets" using found objects on the web. You can even upload items from your vintage store into the system, and someone might use them in one of his/her sets! So, the Polyvore pick-of-the-day of the day goes to to a set by Meomiao. The sweater in the set definitely has a vintage feel to it.

Ali Ben Haggin: High Priest of Costume

So you're back, eh? This post will be educational. However, it involves such tantalizing topics as nudity, so I'm sure you'll like it.

Clearing throat, organizing cue cards....

Recently, I find I have a renewed interest in early 20th century burlesque. True, there is something magical about burlesque in general, but I just want to talk about the costumes. While doing a bit of reading on the Ziegfeld Follies, the same three names kept popping up: The first - Erte - I had heard of and already knew to be a costume designer; The second - Lady Duff Gordon (otherwise known as Lucille) - I had heard of, but not in association with costumes; and the third - Ali Ben Haggin (or alternatively Ben Ali Haggin) - I had never heard of at all. Who was this mystery man/woman?

As soon as I found out the following about HIM, I immediately developed a fondness for the man. Apparently, during the height of the Follies, New York laws forbade the combination of nudity AND movement on stage. Since nudity of the non-moving kind was still allowed, Haggin decided to stage a series of elaborate tableaux, also known as tableaux vivant. Not only did Haggin stage these frozen melodramas, he often costumed them and elaborately so .The tableaux became a smash hit with Follies patrons as they depicted sweeping historical scenes, half-naked women, and patriotism, which we all know Americans love. This excerpt from Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show by Rachel Schteir illustrates this last bit brilliantly:

As the war intenstified, posing undressed began to be considered patriotic. If a woman stood naked posed as the Statue of Liberty, she was doing her duty for the American troops. Indeed, a record number of woman volunteered to be "undraped" in the 1917 edition's centerpiece. In the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918, which opened after the United States had joined the war, the curtain opened on a darkened stage to reveal a huge, revolving globe with Kay Laurell perched on top, breast exposed. Little French girls in rags, a dying soldier attended by Red Cross volunteers, and a trench over which doughboys charged amid devastating gunfire completed the scene. Gazing down on a Ben Ali Haggin set piece designed to look like the world burning, Laurell was supposed to represent the spirit of France, strangle inspiring the choreographer Ned Wayburn to dub her "the American Venus." (p. 66)

Whoa. Pretty juicy and thought-provoking stuff in my opinion. But I thought you said Ali was a costume designer?!?

Well, I'm getting to that. Apparently our little Ali was quite the Renaissance man - society portrait painter, director, set designer, costume designer, and most importantly, flamboy-ant!

He's an elusive figure, and I can't find much in the way of photographs of his designs, but I think this teeny tiny reference to him in a NY Times article dating from April 24th, 1921 says it all. I've posted the article in its entirety because it is so very interesting:

The young woman who wore the legend "Honi soit qui mal y pense" on her left shoulder and displayed an almost naive disregard of costume, proved at the Fakirs' Ball in the Commodore Hotel last night that conventions are only relative. As Professor Einstein, who is living at the same hotel, would put it, speed and motion and even the density of covering matter can be judged only by relation to surrounding objects, and when there is only one long Queen Anne skirt present such voluminous drapery becomes abnormal.

So it happened that eyes smiled upon the legend, dropped, and the smiles grew broader, and then turned to the girls dressed as the mad hatter and the court page and the white rabbit. There were costumes which cannot be classified, but which caused chuckles of appreciation, and caused one girl to shift her hand to a bejeweled waist and mutter, "Well, I'll be darned." And when one asked where the rest of the costume was she said sweetly: " My dear, there isn't any more; that's all there is." But, as was said, these things were mere matters of relativity, and for lack of contrast nobody paid much attention to anybody else except to laugh, and who ever said mirth was immoral?

And if more proof were needed a dozen plain clothes men stalked through the corridors and ballroom like blue law Judges and did not even blink an official eye. One or two were actually seen to smile. The blue laws were relegated to the limbo of forgotten things early in the evening. There was a huge tomb built in the center of the dimly lighted ballroom, at the corners of which glowed orange and blue lights. On top was the blue book of doom, and promptly at midnight a ghoulish figure climbed up to it and turned its pages while 200 persons hissed a long, shrill whistle of disapproval. Whereupon the figure straightened up with a laugh, cast off its dismal robes and stepped out in white, shimmering tights and bade the dance go on. All blue laws were promptly forgotten.

Swirling around the tomb until 4 o'clock in the morning were Assyrian and Egyptian priests, tramps and "rubes," little girls and Cossacks, and just girls with more or less, generally less drapery. The little French maid with the legend on her shoulder was typical, for in front she appeared a French maid, but from another direction she was just girl. Neysa McMein was one of the most Goyaesque Cossacks who ever stepped out of a painting, and Ruth Martin wore one of those costumes which no feller can describe. There was Ben Ali Haggin, stalking about in an Egyptian priest's garments, and George Casey of Life, and Reginald Vanderbilt, who had one of the merriest parties in the boxes. Somewhere in the dancing crowd were others from Fifth Avenue as well as Greenwich Village; but what do names matter when all that could be seen were laughing faces; flopping short skirts, silken knickerbockers and sometimes a bare leg that was lost in a second as the dance went on?

When the music ended at four o clock there were roars of protest, for a Fakirs' ball was never known to end until the sun came up. The crowd scattered to their apartments, and all over town until the day was well started there were parties of revelers who would not be denied their full night of frolic. And it is said by a few choice spirits that some of their number were seen in full regalia as late as 11 o'clock yesterday morning refusing to let the ball become a memory.

Well, very interesting indeed. If anyone can track down some pictures of Haggin's designs, I would be thrilled to see them. Until then, I'm going to scour the web for more information on the indicators of his work. My next educational blog will be devoted to design drawings from Erte, Lucille, and Haggin.

- VaVa

Here is the costume that inspired my research on this subject:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

To Vintage or not to Vintage...

Before I write my very first blog, I just want you to make sure that you're in the right place. Sooooo, I thought I'd devise a little test.

Read the following statements, and rate each on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being "no, this doesn't describe me at all (followed by a look of disgust) and 5 being "yes this is me EXACTLY, all makes sense now" (followed by a long, deep sleep.)

Here we go:

1. After extolling the virtues of vintage clothing, someone in the vicinity usually slaps you and tells you to snap out of it. Huh. Didn't realize you looked so crazed, DID you?

2. Instead of curing your boredom at work with a game of Solitaire (otherwise known as Crack-taire), you figure out how many words you can make from the letters in "Vintage." Weird.

3. You know how sometimes late at night, you wish you could have pizza delivered...directly to your mouth? Strangely, this is also how you feel about vintage clothing. Except for the whole mouth part.

4. You know the detailed history of every major fashion house going all the way back to the time when there were such things as giant sloths and tiny 2 foot tall horses.

5. You reference old-school designers out of context so often that your "uneducated" friends think Charles James is your great uncle and Vionnet is your pet guinea pig.

Ok. How did you do? If you answered mostly 5's, then you stay right here. no, no. DON'T get distracted by something less fun.

If you answered mostly 1's, then you get the heck out of here. Or stick it out, and just make yourself a stiff drink. Now would be a good time.

If you answered somewhere in the middle, then I will have to Jedi mind-trick you a bit into staying. Or you could also just make yourself a stiff drink. Whichever.

Moving on...

Waiiiiit, okay, just one more little test. I know, I know, you're beginning to feel like a CIA recruit, but I promise this test involves pictures, which we both know are MUCH more fun than words.

The name of the next test is "How Vintage am I?"

Rate the following images on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being "I'm not vintage at all and this test is stupid" and 5 being "I'm so vintage I speak in a dialect that's no longer even used today. Like Sanskrit or something."

Annnnnnd go.


Take your time. These are tough.

Good, good. Alright, here's the next one:


(Insert jeopardy music here.)

Okay, yes. And now for the next one:

WHOA! What. Giant Sloth?

Well, at least I have your attention now. You're probably starting to realize that all of those little tests were really just a ploy to get you to stick around and read this whole blog. If the giant sloth didn't scare you away, and you want to see more of the pretties above, then maybe you'll be back. Because for next time, I PROMISE it will be something really rockin' - as in, over the next 2 weeks, I'm going to chronicle the very best vintage dresses on the web. I'm going to scour high an low to find you the most stunning, most exciting, most unusual and MOST vintage frocks available. So stick around for the whole series because it's gonna be rad.

And in the meantime, check out my vintage picks from eBay on our sister site, - a brand new (still under construction) vintage clothing resource for buyers AND sellers.