Vintage Finds at the Newberry Library Book Fair

A major highlight of summer for me is the Newberry Library Book Fair. I went a leeeeeetle crazy this year (well, every year) and ended up with a couple of armloads of books. I can’t help it—I’m an addict.

With a background in graphic design and English, I love visual communication from pretty much every angle. And I’m completely fascinated by first editions and primary sources; the content AND the design (deliberate choices of size, format, font, photography or illustration style, printing method, color palette, paper stock, etc)—combine to tell a larger story about a very specific moment in time. And if there are notes in the margins or train tickets stuck between the pages… well, be still my heart.

I thought I’d share a few of my finds that are the most interesting—at least visually and sociologically.

Vintage Paperbacks, including a couple of Penguin books—icons in the book design world.Vintage_Novels

A collection of Today’s Secretary magazines from the 1960s, a blank shorthand notepad, and a file box.Secretary_Montage

The magazines are weirdly fascinating—some sections are printed entirely in shorthand—and the cover art would leave one to believe that all secretaries of the time were young, pretty brunettes with flippy hairstyles. Basically Megan Draper.

Note the encouragement to vote in the Nixon/Kennedy election on the cover of the November 1960 issue.Secretary_Montage_2

A selection of 1940s–60s ballet programs for the Bolshoi Ballet, Ballet Theatre, Sadler’s Wells Ballet and Ballet Russe feature vastly different styles of cover art.Ballet_Program_Covers

Inside, caricatures for Margot Fonteyn and Frederick Ashton:Cinderella

Arresting black-and-white photography:Ballet_Photos

And beautiful and/or amusing ads that act as individual time capsules themselves:Perfume_Ads

I might end up framing the Dior ad below.
Dior

My one complaint about this sale is that there always seems to be an inexplicable lack of sewing books. I did find the below magazine: Lady’s Circle: Instant Skirts. Which is pretty awesome.Instant_Skirts

Inside: Inspiration photos and instructions for drafting and making all types of skirts…MakeanA

…including this gem. Oktoberfest at the convent was never so much fun.Skirts

I could maybe get in to a maxi skirt though.SkirtsB

Anyway, if this is kind of thing is your jam too, check out the Book Fair’s hashtag on Instagram, #nlbf15, to see other book lovers’ finds. Now I have to wait a whole nother year… sigh.

Faux Fur Shrug

Back in November, I resolved to make a shrug from this vintage pattern (Advance 6184).

VintagePattern Advance 6184

Now, the finished garment!

Shrug_Outlined

I did not originally intend to make this jacket so… fluffy. But then I found this fabric, and I couldn’t resist.

Fabric

It’s an exceptionally soft and cozy faux fur, and it makes me feel over-the-top ridiculous in the best possible way. If you squint really hard, maybe you can imagine Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe in something similar (only real, obviously), accessorized with long white gloves and some sass.

GraceMarilyn

Grace Kelly, Hola Magazine | Source
Marilyn Monroe | Source

Production Notes:

  • Working with vintage patterns is sometimes tricky on account of what the heck are they even talking about. So I did what I usually do in such cases: I cut out the pattern pieces and put them together in the way that made the most sense to me.
  • The fabric was mildly inconvenient to work with—it disintegrated a bit with every cut. I still might be inhaling fabric shreds.
  • In this case, using a traditional lining fabric seemed completely counterproductive to me. Why turn the soft, warm, faux-furry goodness outwards towards the elements, only to place a shiny, cool-to-the-touch shell next to my skin? Crazy. Instead, I used the faux fur to line the shrug too. So much cozier this way!

shrug1

I’m quite pleased with how this turned out, and I wore it—happy and snuggily—to a couple of black tie affairs that I attended in December (I know—la-dee-dah).

But it is also the kind of thing you can really only get away with around the holidays, when everyone goes about in a spiced-wine-induced haze of Good Will Toward Men, and velvet and lamé suddenly become acceptable life choices.

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Glamour personified. If you squint really hard, maybe you can imagine that I’m not such a goober.

The Lost Art of Dress

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Art-Dress-America-Stylish/dp/0465036716/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416362700&sr=1-1&keywords=the+lost+art+of+dress&pebp=1416362704565

 

Last week I was privileged to attend a small dinner at which Linda Przybyszewski briefly spoke about her new book The Lost Art of Dress. In preparation, I’d already devoured said book from cover to cover the week prior. I’m not a big history/non-fiction reader, but I read it in about four days, pulling it out at my desk over lunch breaks, and re-reading my favorite parts once I had finished.

Nerd.

From the inside front flap: “In the first half of the twentieth century, a remarkable group of women—the so-called Dress Doctors—taught American women how to stretch each yard of fabric and dress well on a budget.” Part American History, part Women’s Studies, part Art Foundations, and part History of Fashion, The Lost Art of Dress is just that—an in-depth overview of the rules by which people—particularly women—dressed themselves in the 20th Century. Rules which, post 1970s feminism, largely were deemed irrelevant and so were forgotten.

At first, I was a bit skeptical of the book’s message—The Dress Doctors (and Przybyszewski, seemingly) found fault with everything from the sheath dress (it’s confining) to the mixing of prints (it’s disorienting) to the shapeless silhouette of the 60s and 70s (it’s juvenile and unflattering). Other people have to look at you, so dress courteously, missy. Whereas my approach tends to be no judgement, dude. Dress for yourself.

But the more I read—and especially after listening to Przybyszewski speak (she’s very funny!)—the more I became persuaded that maybe I’ve been doing this whole Getting Dressed thing wrong all along.

So here are my key takeaways, thoughts that I’ve been mulling over this week:

  • Women used to shop for (and make!) a cohesive wardrobe with an emphasis on beauty, practicality, appropriateness, economy, and quality over quantity (cough-Forever 21-cough). How many garments do I own that fit comfortably into all of those categories? Pitifully few, and most of those that do are vintage.
  • As a former art/architecture student, I recognize that there are historically-established principles of beauty. As an individual born into postmodernism, I take it for granted that these principles can be ignored. But it’s not necessarily true that they should be ignored.
  • I suppose this is very obvious, but it’s something I never really thought to question: there’s a serious double-standard of dress for men and women. This week Australian TV presenter Karl Stefanovic proved it—women’s appearances are under much more scrutiny than men’s. Additionally, men aren’t compelled to sex it up in order to feel and/or be perceived as attractive. Women are. For formal occasions, men don more articles of clothing—women get nakeder. Przybyszewski writes at the end of her book: “Dress for the people you love… Flesh exposed all the time has far less effect than flesh revealed for a privileged few. People who receive privileges should be appropriately grateful.” Isn’t that wise? I am resolved to bear this in mind from now on.
  • The Dress Doctors embraced aging, recognizing that wisdom comes with experience, and reserving more elaborate styles for older, more sophisticated women. Again, how lovely.
  • I bought copies of the book for both my mom and my grandma for Christmas—and I can’t wait to hear their personal takes on how dressing has evolved during their lifetimes. Mandatory Family Book Club! Yay!

As a (VERY) amateur seamstress, lover of all most things vintage, and a frequent patron of used bookstores, I’ve started accumulating quite a collection of old sewing books, patterns and magazines. I enjoy looking at the retro pictures—there are some hilariously terrible diy ideas and groovy decorating tips. I also actually use them for reference if I run into any technical problems while working on a project: What’s a French seam again? How do you make a buttonhole?

But The Lost Art of Dress has given me insight into the historical context of these books—and to what these books likely meant to their former owners.

This Singer Sewing Book from 1951 was written by Mary Brooks Picken, who Przybyszewski cites as being the first of the Dress Doctors. In addition to introducing hand and machine sewing vocabulary and techniques, this volume includes a range of practical advice from color theory to how best to decorate a studio apartment.

SingerSewingBook

My mom found this collection of pamphlets from the 1930s and 40s at an estate sale (I think)—some of them were produced by the US Department of Agriculture | Bureau of Home Economics (The Dress Doctors strike again!) The subject: how to buy things. Something I’ve never had a problem with, har har har,

BetterBuymanship

I was amused by the idea of these pamphlets at first—how hard is it to buy hosiery?—but I hadn’t given them much of a second look due to a serious lack of pretty pictures combined with a serious lack of attention span.

But the thought that very evidently went into shopping at this time (post-depression/early WWII) is truly impressive. Clothes were an investment, something special and cherished.

For example, Better Buymanship No. 23: Fabrics, a 40-page pamphlet of goodness brought to you in 1940 by the Household Finance Corporation and Subsidiaries, takes great pains to differentiate between “worsted” and “woolen,” to detail the different qualities of cotton, to explain silk dye regulations, to talk about how different fabrics are made, how they will age and how to care for them. It’s a vocabulary that’s been all but eradicated from the life of the average consumer today.
BuyingGuide

The below spread from Farmers’ Bulletin No. 1851: Women’s Dresses and Slips, A Buying Guide, written in 1940 by Clarice Louisa Scott from the Bureau of Home Economics, illustrates the many activities you must anticipate when trying on a dress (sitting is hard sometimes, y’all). Scott also warns of sizing discrepancies: there is “no assurance that any two dresses marked the same will fit the same.” Sound familiar?

Fun fact: this particular pamphlet also at one point belonged to someone named Norma.

SizeAndFit

This article in the January 1955 issue of Ladies Home Journal details how to take a single dress (that you’ve made yourself, obvi) and style it seven different ways simply by switching out the accessories (that you’ve also made yourself, obvi).

Add a “bias fold of white pique” and a few carnations. How about a “crisp white dickey” and red cummerbund? Or “an amusing overskirt of navy organdy embroidered with white dots”? All the necessary patterns are listed for easy reference. Pinterest Shminterest.

Can you imagine any magazine—any magazine that isn’t strictly a sewing magazine, that is—including a feature like this today?

LadiesHomeJournal

Similarly, “The Casual Look for Spring” cover photo and story from this March 1964 issue of Woman’s Day is actually a sewing lesson—”More clothes for less money: A Spring Wardrobe for Less than $70.00.” That’s right, the cover photo of a major magazine features garments “homemade” from Simplicity patterns.

Woman'sDayCombo

Moving forward in time, Przybyszewski references—with disdain, of course—The Illustrated Hassle-Free Make Your Own Clothes Book by Sharon Rosenberg and Joan Wiener. This is pretty much exactly the opposite of the teachings of the Dress Doctors, in every way imaginable. I gleefully uncovered this in a used bookstore last summer, but at around $12, even I thought it was way overpriced. So I snapped a photo, and made a note of my favorite quote: “What this book won’t help you do is make clothing that has stuff like darts… We don’t use darts because we don’t use bras.”

Classic.

10511114_10101314042989167_1191092197891063935_n

Anyway, the final feeling I took from both The Lost Art of Dress and the lecture was incredibly empowering. Przybyszewski writes in her last chapter: “Dressmaking offers worlds of creation and imagination… Dressmaking is a form of engineering. And in order to make the final product look good from the outside, a dress is put together inside out. Show me a bridge builder who’s been asked to that.” Buoyed up by a message like that, I can’t wait to dig into my stockpile of vintage patterns and tackle my next sewing project, paltry skills be damned.

I have a few formal occasions coming up around the holidays, to which I was planning to wear a long, backless dress. For the sake of modesty—and warmth!—wouldn’t this jacket (Advance 6184) be a lovely addition? I think the Dress Doctors would approve.

VintagePattern

Two-piece Dress

Two-piece-Dress(Thanks to my lovely sister—above—who is a much better and more enthusiastic model than I am.)

I knew at the beginning of the summer that I wanted to make a two-piece dress. Preferably of the non-midrift-bearing variety.

Inspirationa) Legend & Song Dutch Wax Separates at Anthropologie
b) Thakoon RTW Spring 2015
c) Disco Floral Matching Separates at Pixie Market

I had a pretty good idea of the silhouette I wanted to create: a looser top, and a gathered skirt with a high waistband. I went through my vintage patterns and found this juniors dress from the 60s (Simplicity 3541). The vest-thing (shown over a dress on the pattern envelope) worked perfectly as my top.

pattern

And… I just winged (past-tense of wing?) the skirt. It’s very basic: two rectangles of fabric (one for the waistband and one for the skirt itself) and a zipper in the back. This is a good tutorial for making this type of skirt without a pre-existing pattern.

2-piece-dress-side-by-side

The material itself is a cotton print that I picked up at a thrift store. The back of the top wraps around to the front and snaps in place. The snaps are hidden by two vintage buttons that I purchased at an antique store.

two-piece-dress_detail

The best part? Because this dress is technically separates, it’s easy to mix and match them with other pieces:

separates_filter

Yellow Wrap Dress

Welp, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything new. Not to worry, I’ve been working all year on various projects—I’ve just been muy terrible at recording them.

Here is a wrap dress I finished a couple of months ago. This project is notable mostly because it was the first time I didn’t have to rip anything apart and start over. Yaaaayyyy progress!!

Pattern: McCall’s 9612, 1969

Wrap_Dress_Pattern

Yellow_Dress_Detail

Oh hello, mixing prints in one garment. So on trend. I definitely totally did that on purpose.

Yellow Wrap Dress Front and Back

In reality, because I was using material that I’d picked up from a thrift store, I didn’t have quite enough to make the whole dress out of one print. I knew I didn’t want to compromise the length, so I improvised and used two different fabrics to create the bodice. It was actually fairly easy—I just added a seam straight across the front and back pattern pieces, above the bustline.

From the back, you can see how the two fabrics come together, as well as the dramatic width of the sash. It’s not as wonky in real life as it kind of looks in the photo.

Yellow_Wrap_Dress

Thanks to my lovely sis for photographing me and accurately capturing the awkward.

Pink Toile Dress

I think I originally chose this pattern because of the sleeve, which, instead of having to be set, is actually combined with the bodice into a single pattern piece. It seemed like little work to create a kind of complicated-looking dress. I also liked the skirt: it’s hard to tell from the photos, but there is a large yoke, flat panels in the front and back, and then gathered sections on the sides.

Unknown-2

Unknown-1

DSCN4931_v2

Pattern: Butterick 6946, I’m guessing from the 50s.

Obviously I was going for something shorter than the actual pattern. But I think I probably cut it TOO short. AGAIN. One of these days I will make something that I can actually wear to work.

DSCN4924_v2

Fabric: pink toile

Pink Toile Dress

The trickiest part was the collar. It was not completely clear to me how exactly the piece was supposed to fit with the back of the dress – I used my best judgement – and then ironed it like crazy. Also unusual: the zipper starts about halfway down the back of the dress instead of at the neckline.

Unknown-4

With a belt.

Unknown-3

How I will probably wear it.

Less is More

Julia Bobbin's Mad Men Challenge
After seeing Julia Bobbin’s Mad Men challenge, I decided to create a look inspired by Megan Draper’s bold, graphic day dresses.

megan-draper

Geometric and colorful.

This bright print seemed perfect.

Fabric: geometric, striped cotton

Fabric: geometric, striped cotton

I picked out a pattern from 1970. I know, I know. MadMen is only up to the late 1960s. But this illustration is enough in line with Megan’s style not to seem anachronistic.

I think.

McCall's 2386, 1970

Pattern: McCall’s 2386, 1970

Anyway, I started to make Option A, the dress on the far right with the high collar and sleeves.

It did not go well.

original

Even with only one sleeve half way done, I could tell that this dress was going to be crazy ugly.

Hells no.

I removed the sleeves and collar and decided to simplify. I used the facing pattern pieces to make up a Peter Pan collar. It didn’t turn out half bad.
8ab615d91da0316ba8b349d8002d45

Mad Men dress

I originally thought I would belt the dress, as in the pattern illustration. Then I accidentally hemmed it kind of short (as I have a tendency to do), and now I think the proportion works better just as a trapeze dress.

DSCN4483_v2

Peter Pan Collar

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Perfect for summer shopping. Assuming summer eventually makes an appearance.

60s Shift Dress

60s shift dress

I’ve been working on this 60s shift dress on and off for the past few months.
Finally finished!

Pattern McCall's 9406 from 1968

Pattern
McCall’s 9406 from 1968

Fabric Black and red boucle that I found on sale at Hancock Fabrics in Madison, WI. This was probably a really poor choice—it unraveled instantaneously, was difficult to work with, and shed shreds all over my apartment. I decided to make the neck facings and finish the sleeves with a cotton paisley, because the boucle was so bulky.

Fabric
Black and red boucle that I found on sale at Hancock Fabrics in Madison. This was a terrible idea. It unraveled instantaneously, was difficult to work with, and disintegrated into shreds all over my apartment. Because the boucle was so bulky, I decided to make the neck facings and finish the sleeves with a red cotton paisley.

Voila.

In addition to the fabric struggles, there was one supremely terrifying moment when, just after deliberately and painstakingly installing the zipper, I pulled the zipper tab right off the top of the unfinished garment. A panic attack, a temper tantrum, and a few zipper-repair youtube videos later, I managed to re-thread the zipper from the bottom. I only had to snip a few stitches. HUGE sigh of relief.

In addition to the fabric struggles, there was one supremely terrifying moment when, just after deliberately and painstakingly installing the zipper, I pulled the zipper tab right off the top of the unfinished garment. A panic attack, a temper tantrum, and a few youtube videos on zipper repair later, I managed to rethread the zipper from the bottom. Huge sigh of relief.

Voila – finished product.

I really do like how it finally turned out though!

I really do like how it finally turned out!

Muy Megan Draper, no?

Labor Day Shorts

Finished up these retro, high-waisted shorts just in time for the long weekend.

Fabric
Remnants from the vintage fabric that my mom used to make Fourth of July porch cushions

Pattern
5633 Simplicity Pattern from 1973

This is the first pair of shorts I’ve made, and I’m still figuring out the whole proper zipper insertion thing. I’ll be honest—I ended up adding some extra snaps to help ensure that the front fit properly and laid flat. I think overall, not too bad though.

Kind of like Gidget or Marcia Brady.