Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tuesday Shoes-day: 1920s Shoes Inspiration

Lately I've been working on the second collection for Royal Vintage Shoes.

Wait, what? You haven't even seen the first collection yet!

I know, don't worry! I'm having to adjust to fashion-industry-norms and design and prototype new collections way in advance of when they'll actually arrive. It might seem crazy, but right now I'm working on next Summer's collection!

And it's gonna be 1920s, woo!  So here's what's inspiring me...

Mary, Rose, and Edith from Downton Abbey. How can these gals not be inspiring? Particularly it's Rose's shoes in the middle that are so stunning.
Shoe Icons: 1920s mary jane in green and ivory. This is typical of the fancy applique look of the '20s.
1925 Sears Catalog
Simplicityisbliss on Etsy - another great Mary Jane with a cutout/split strap. Again, very typical of the '20s.
The Met: Oxfords, 1920s
Shoe Icons - reptile skin and leather with cutouts. These are sophisticated, no?
Dollhouse Bettie - modern shoes in metallic leather and black sequins. I like the deco t-strap on these.
Vintage Dancer - 1929 catalog
There's certainly no lack of interesting original designs to choose from. I'm planning 4 designs in two colorways each, for a total of 8 options of the most iconic and beautiful 1920s shoes. Some will be for evening (think metallic leathers), others for day (spectators, oxfords, a nice basic mary jane).

Now I have a lot of work to do!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Wear Vintage Menswear Without Looking Like a Man

Marlene Dietrich - famous for many things, one of which was rocking this look
For centuries, women have been working elements of masculine dress into their wardrobes. Clear back to the 16th century there are plenty accounts of the scandalous dress of women wearing high-necked doublets. Then and even forward it is well known that women's riding habits took after men's and were made by tailors, not mantua-makers. We're all also very aware of the 20th century triumph of women in pants, to go along with our suffrage, work, and social advancements outside the home (a work in progress still).

So none of this is new, and that's wonderful, and that's to be celebrated and continued. This topic is often a quagmire, though. I find myself asking why I choose more masculine clothing over feminine, and what this says about how I view femininity. Is it okay to dress this way if you're a feminist, or am I rejecting femininity?....and on and on. Ultimately, though, I just wear what I like, and I believe that anyone should have the choice to do so without clothing being reserved just for men or just for women.

My personal aim is not to obfuscate my gender, just to bend it a little. If you're somewhere on this spectrum too, here are my tips for rocking the masculine look without looking like a man:

Marlene Dietrich mixing a mannish double-breasted coat with a skirt and high heels. Perfect example of juxtaposition
0. Juxtaposition

Pair mannish elements with feminine ones. Mix and match any and all of the following style elements. Do as much or as little as you like. It's the juxtaposition that creates a menswear look without losing your femininity.

1. Cut, Fit, and Proportion

No matter what century you're in, there are items of women's clothing that are derived from menswear. The materials, construction, and trimmings may all be found on a man's garment, but the cut, fit, and proportion is for a woman.

All of my outfit is made for a woman, but done in a menswear fashion.
Blouse & Trousers - made by me, from 1940s patterns
Hat - vintage
Shoes - Restricted (see similar)
Glasses - Forever 21
Example - my most recent 1940s trousers are made from a women's pattern. My shirt is for a woman, my shoes are for a woman, my jacket is for a woman. What I mean when I say "for a woman" is to do with size, cut, and fit: The blouse has darts for the bust; the pants are cut to accommodate hips; the shoulder width across the back of the jacket is narrow. The whole look put together is masculine but still sized and cut for a female body.

When choosing patterns, choose women's patterns and make them up in classic menswear materials - or do the opposite! Choose men's patterns and make them in classic feminine colors and materials. Either way, make sure the clothing fits you well - room in the bust, tailored through the waist, not too wide across the back, proper sleeve lengths, etc.

Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall" - vest, tie, slacks, hat, but all worn in a way that is her own and very feminine.
2. Pieces

In men's formal clothing we tend to see the same items throughout time - pants, waistcoat, jacket, collared shirt, tie/bow tie/cravat/stock.

They don't all have to be worn together. These days men often don't wear a waistcoat with a suit. It's common for men to omit the tie. It's also common to not wear the jacket. These are various levels of formality.

Easiest way to achieve a menswear look? Put on a tie. Next easiest way to achieve a menswear look? Put on a vest.

And nothing has to match. Any combination of these items in a classically mannish material will work, but you can also create these items in feminine prints or colors to skew the norms a bit.

Miss Phryne Fisher and her friend Dr. Mac - Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
3. Materials

Men's clothing is usually made from heavier materials than women's, and seldom has any stretch. This does not mean you have to wear "hard" cotton shirts or bullet-proof jeans, though. Try mixing-and-matching a soft silk blouse with well-pressed wool trousers, or a starched cotton shirt with more drapey, pleated linen pants.

Example - If you're making a '40s style women's suit with tailored blazer and skirt, try it in a structured pinstripe suiting. The material choice will give it the menswear vibe despite the feminine design and cut.

Good choices for menswear materials:
  • Wool suiting - solid or subtle stripes, herringbone, tweed, small houndstooth
  • Denim - heavier weight than women's jeans
  • Twill - heavier weight than women's garments
  • Corduroy
  • Linen - crispier and heavier than on women's garments
  • Cotton - crispier and heavier than on women's blouses
I don't know who this is, but she's my heroine. Great example of mixing and matching lots of different traditionally menswear fabrics, colors, and patterns.
4. Color Palette

We're all very aware of the modern "pink is for girls, blue is for boys" division in our Western society. Play with this idea.

Color alone can create wonderful juxtaposition. For example, if you're making a very mannish three piece suit, what if you used a smokey lavender wool? Conversely, if you're making a 1950s frock, what if you used an olive green or brown tweed?

Menswear tends to favor darker, earthy colors, such as:
  • Browns and Black
  • Navy, Dark Green, Olive Green
  • Gray, Charcoal, Heathered Earthtones.
  • White, Ivory
We don't see a lot of pastels or very bright, saturated colors in men's clothing (exception: accessories like ties and scarves, riding coats, dandy fashion, certain historical periods where loud suits were the thing - think Incroyables, 1840s plaids, 1940s zoot suits)

The Danish Girl - This was one of my favorite outfits from the film - it's a transitional ensemble helping to tell the story of Einar becoming Lily. It's 1920s menswear because of the pieces - blazer, trousers - but it's feminine because of the cut, drape, and pairing with the wide-collared silk blouse. On a man or on a woman this outfit blurs the lines.
5. Accessories

I mentioned the tie or bow tie before, but some other accessories that ad a little menswear spin to your outfit are:
You can also use accessories in reverse - wear a cloche hat, silk scarf, brooch,and high-heeled shoes with a very masculine outfit.

Louise Brooks in menswear and accessories, but wearing strong 1920s makeup.
6. Trims

Depending where in history you are, masculine trim changes. For instance, lace and ruffles, metallic braidwork, floral embroidery were all the rage for men in the 16th - 19th century, but not in the 20th century. Interestingly, all of those things have become exclusively feminine.

You can use these elements, though, to create ... say it with me ... juxtaposition. Just like with the accessories, the way you trim parts of your outfit will balance your look between Venus and Mars.

Katharine Hepburn in a pantsuit. She juxtaposes the suit with her fabulous hair and makeup
7. Hair and Makeup

I put this far down on the list, but this is one of my most important. Whenever I dress in a masculine way, I always do my makeup. It doesn't have to be heavy makeup, but I make sure my brows are arched, my eyelashes are mascara'd, and I've got lipstick on. I focus a bit more on makeup because I have short hair, but for those of you with long hair, wearing a very feminine hairstyle will instantly offset the  masculinity of your outfit.

Annie Lennox - a suit and super short hair, but strong makeup.
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These are just tips, guidelines, ideas, musings. There are no rules - I want to stress that. Your personal style is about what makes you feel "you." Have fun with it! Express yourself! Don't be afraid. Whatever juxtapositions you might choose, rock it. After all, confidence is always in style.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

6 Reasons to Watch and Love Canadian WWII Drama "XCompany"


We history geeks sure do love a good costume drama, but these days *good* costume dramas seems harder and harder to find. It might have good costumes but a terrible plot; it might have terrible costumes and a great plot; it might have terrible costumes, terrible plot, great acting; or it might just be terrible.

I'll admit I'm picky. Nearly all of the period dramas I watch are European, English, or Canadian, each with their own cultural flavor in how they portray historical events.

One of my favorites is "X-Company", a World War II "behind enemy lines" spy thriller, and it's Canadian. The story follows a tight-knit unit infiltrating and sabotaging Nazi operations in occupied France while also helping Jews escape and training French resistance.

And it's awesome.

Evelyne Brochu as Aurora, commander of the spy squad.
Here are 6 Reasons I'm obsessed with X-Company:

1. Good Writing
X-Company is incredibly well written, with multiple story lines happening simultaneously. Some stories begin and end in one episode ("blow up the depot; steal the secret plans"), some are over-arching the whole season, and then within that there are the individual character's development. Since X-Company is an ensemble cast with no lead character, we the audience get insights and information about all of them, which humanizes these fictional people and adds depth to what could otherwise be a predictable show.

2. Good Costuming
Watching a costume drama can be painful (zipper up the back, are you kidding me!?), but the mark of a great historically-set show is when the costuming does not distract but supports.

In X-Company we see plenty of uniforms, both German and Canadian, but also French city and country clothes. Clothing plays an important role tied to what the spies are doing, whom they are meeting, where they are going, etc: commander Aurora wears a well-tailored suit for a specific mission in Paris; Tom wears a pin-striped suit to meet with a doctor; Neil and Harry are in tweeds and flatcaps to blend into provincial townships and not raise suspicions.

The clothes themselves are often real vintage and always well-patina'd. Nothing is too new, shiny, or bright. The color palette uses muted, natural tones that extend through to the locations, lighting, and post processing of the film. Everything visual works together.

Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) targets Sabine, Nazi wife, in an effort to turn her.
3. It's Exciting and Dramatic Without Being Silly
No episode of X-Company allows me to drift off to my smartphone. It's just too exciting. Things are blowing up, people are captured and then escape, there's peril at every turn.

But you know what isn't happening? Nobody is flying through the air in a slow motion kung fu kick. Nobody's is bending over backwards dodging bullets with otherworldy yoga positions. Nobody is wearing leather pants.

It's not silly, which makes it believable. I genuinely believe these events could have taken place and I care about the characters. It's good acting, complicated human emotions, relatable and realistc action that glues me to the screen, not an excess of blood, out-of-place sex scenes, or superhuman MMA fighting skills.

Aurora and Oberfuhrer Franz Faber (award-winning German actor Torben Liebrecht) come face to face after a season and a half of parallel storylines.
4. It's Canadian
As an American, I love this aspect of X-Company because I know *nothing* about Canada's role in WWII. Nothing. Naturally, I have the American perspective. I know the American history. I know the before, during, and after of America in the War.

But Canada? Not a bit.

X-Company is a dramatization, sure, but what we can take away from it as American viewers is as much about how the current Canadian culture thinks of this period of history as the story itself. (Think about how WWII is portrayed in American TV shows and movies...what does this say about our culture/entertainment/storytelling/expectations/view of history today?) I notice a pretty big difference between the Canadian shows (Bomb Girls is another one you might enjoy) and the American ones, and it reminds me that though we speak the same language and share a border, Canada is an entirely different culture with its own history, pride, beliefs, struggles, humor, and identity.

Harry (Connor Price), Neil (Warren Brown), and Alfred (Jack Laskey) scoping things out in the bushes
5. Languages and Subtitles
X-Company deals with three different languages - English, French, and German - which are cleverly used to sculpt the story and characters. When the spies speak as themselves, it's in their normal accents (flat Canadian/American sound), but when they're posing as French nationals, they speak English with a French accent.

However, the German characters speak subtitled German, and when our valiant spies are speaking to the Germans....yup, they're speaking German. My theory on why the show runners did this is to create a feeling of division in the audience between the good guys and the bad guys - the good guys are like us, they speak English, we understand them; the bad guys are "alien."

It's subtle but has a profound psychological impact on the viewer. For instance, the first time we hear one of the German characters speak in English (with a French accent) is when daring spy Aurora begins to turn her. I'm willing to bet that the first time we hear Oberfuhrer Franz Faber speak in English will be when he starts to turn to the good guys too (at least that's what I hope is going to happen!).

The Germans speak German. What a revelation!
6. Everyone In X-Company Is Hot
Seriously. I don't think I've ever seen a cast this big that looks this good. Evelyne Brochu (Orphan Black) opposite Francois Arnaud (The Borgias); English super-talents Jack Laskey (Endeavor) and Warren Brown (Good Cop, Luther). Torben Liebrecht, Connor Price, Dustin Milligan. Crikey. Even if you watch it on "mute," it's worth it.

Tom (Dustin Milligan) and Neil (Warren Brown) doing secret spy things on Parisian rooftops, and looking lovely in waistcoats.
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I don't think I need to convince you further. If you'd like to learn more about X-Company, check out the CBC website, and follow @xcompany on Twitter. Season 1 is available on DVD on Amazon. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Truth About Real Women's 1940s Pants

Joan Bennet 
When the present interprets the past, it always adds its own ideals on top.

This is how we can identify "70s does 30s" and "80s does 40s" - it's because there's just something so 70s, or 80s, about those revival pieces, even when there's also just something so 30s, or 40s.

In our current retro revival, at-waist pants are all the rage. Rightly so when these days women tend to wear bifurcated bottoms more than skirts or dresses. Many retro/repro brands have trousers or jeans available, and they're really cute............but they're not 1940s pants.

If anything, these throwback trousers are more 1930s, with wide legs draped from the hips, or even flared a bit, but the high crotches and tight rumps plant them firmly in the 20teens.

How do I know this? Enter the magical rabbit hole of original vintage patterns.

Advance 4168 - 1946 pattern for women's jacket and trousers. Click through for the Vintage Pattern Wiki listing.
I've made a lot of pants recently. I've made pants from new retro patterns developed from originals, from 1970s patterns with that retro vibe, and now from an original 1946 pattern. The difference between the three has been profound, and it answers my questions as to why the retro revival stuff never really gets it right.

Pants from 1946. If you can't find originals, or don't want to wear them, make yourself a pair from an original pattern! Also, don't go out for photos when it's blowing 60 mph and a snowstorm is coming.
So here's the truth about real vintage 1940s pants:

1. Crotch Depth - you've probably heard this one before. 1940s trousers have a very low crotch. Mine have a good 4" extra depth. This makes them very comfortable, but also a bit puffy in that region.

2. Wide Hips - 1940s trousers are very baggy in the hips. Very. There's a lot of width across there. The waist on mine is taken up in the back with darts, in the front with pleats, which is very common on both men's and women's trousers of this period. I altered my trousers to make shaped pockets rather than in-seam pockets because the in-seam pockets made the hips even baggier and I felt that wasn't flattering (there's my modern ideals!). Even with that change, I've got tons of room across the front and back in the hip and bum region.

3. Tapered Legs* - This is the biggest difference you'll find between real 1940s pants and our modern idea of them. Real 1940s trousers have a tapered leg, not a straight leg, so you get this interesting silhouette between the wide baggy hips and the slim lower leg. It's a gradual taper, though, not like skinny pants or peg legged trousers - there's still a lot of volume in the leg.

*Note - The 1940s have a clear transition between wide-legged trousers of the '30s and tapered, narrow trousers of the '50s. My pants are from 1946, so the legs taper more than an earlier pattern would.

4. Length - Real 1940s pants were worn shorter than we like to wear our pants today. A slouch or too much of a break at the top of the foot throws the whole silhouette off and makes the pants look horribly unflattering. I found this out when I hemmed my pants according to my modern ideals, then re-hemmed them to shorten them. Once I'd corrected the length, they became flattering again.

5. The Crease - 1940s pants need that vertical crease on the center of each leg, front and back. Without that crease you look like a hobo. With the crease, the bagginess is tamed and the silhouette works.

6. Women's 1940s Pants are Basically Men's 1940s Pants. My pattern called for a side zip, only ever used in women's trousers, but I converted it to a center zip fly. My pattern also has darts in the back, whereas men's trousers don't. Other than that the silhouette is the same, which ties in with what we all know about women's fashion in the '40s drawing on menswear.

This diagram shows the difference in pattern shapes from the late 30s through the late 40s, and compared to today. For a more in-depth look check out Wearing History's vintage pants primer.

As I was making these trousers I had concerns about how flattering they would be. I nearly dropped the project after my first try-on, because I just couldn't see how these pants were going to end up alright, but you know what? They turned out great! It's another example of how you sometimes need to push through to finish something completely, then put it on with all the right stuff (for my shoot I wore a 1940s rayon blouse and oxford shoes), and suddenly it all works.

Front view (after I've been wearing them all day, so please excuse the wrinkles) - very loose hips and crotch, tapered leg, cuffs. I added dropped belt loops to the waistband, another '40s and '50s thing which gives a cute extra-high-waist look. The top is a rayon blouse also made from an original 1940s pattern - these trousers are the first thing I have put this blouse with where it's actually looked flattering/correct. Just goes to show...
Now I'm in love. I'm sitting here right now wearing these pants, blogging about these pants, and I don't want to take them off. I do, however, want to make more shirts, vests, and jackets to go with them because I love them so much.

Back View - very wide and loose across the bum. Darts at the waist. No back pockets on the ladies' pants.
The moral of the story is - if you're into vintage style pants, try an original pattern. Compare it to your repro pants and to younger patterns to see the differences, and geek out on this experimental archaeology with me.


Monday, March 7, 2016

What It's Like to Be an Extra on a Historical Documentary, pt.1


This time last year I was cast in a Weather Channel documentary on The Donner Party, filming right here in Northern Nevada where the ordeal took place.

Casting

It was an interesting process - on a whim a group of us Great Basin Costume Society gals went to the cattle casting call and stood outside for hours waiting to have a mugshot headshot taken.

Some weeks later a couple of us were called back and told we were on the short list for certain characters. I was up for Margaret Reed, and tried really hard to learn my lines and be all natural and stuff, but when the time came to read for the part I was absolute crap. Like whoa, crap.  Needless to say, I was not cast in that part.

This is what I wore to my callback reading, but it wasn't enough to save my terrible terrible lines!
I was, however, cast as the illustrious Wagon Train Woman #2.

Yup. Wagon Train Woman......#2.

The day came for costume fitting and I died a little inside. As Wagon Train Woman (#2), I wasn't expecting nice clothes, so I quietly wore what they gave me, but couldn't fit the shoes. Thankfully they let me wear my own.

So I wore Gettysburgs, and was proud to have the most authentic piece of costume on the entire production.

Gettysburg getting a proper proper test. (one is waxed and one isn't, to see if it made a difference)
Except for the poor local re-enactor guy who wore his own gear...but we'll talk more about him later.

Filming Days

Filming was both hectic and boring. I was "on call" for two days, not knowing if I had to be somewhere the next morning until 11 pm the night before. The call times were super early, too, in locations about an hour and a half away.

Once there, everyone dressed out of the back of a moving van, and then the waiting began. Those who had been on this sort of thing before were well-equipped with magazines and games, but noobs like me...well, we just sat around eating snacks for hours. There was a certain camaraderie that developed among us extras very quickly, though, which made it rather fun. Wagon Train Woman #1 and I became fast friends.

Wagon Train Women #1 and #2 "on set" in the dry alkaline lake bed - Day 1. It was early in the day; we were still smiling.
The "set" was quite stunning, once we were called to perform. For this part of the journey, we the Donners, et al, were to cross a dry alkaline lake bed, attending three covered wagons pulled by the most enormous oxen. The production crew asked us all to walk across the lakebed for about a quarter mile and they'd film on the ground and also with a drone in the air. Easy, right?

The oxen were enormous and moo'd a lot. They were wrangled by Portuguese ranchers.
Wrong. We spent hours walking at a snail's pace across this piece of land. The oxen moved incredibly slowly. We ambled. If the Donner Party really did walk that slowly across the country, no wonder they got stuck in the early winter snows.



It was hot, slow, endless drudgery, complete with sunburn both real and fake, and makeup artists spraying glycerin in everyone's faces throughout the day. At the very end, the crew created a mud pit for us all to slop through, so add four pounds of alkaline mud onto your feet, along with the real dirt, fake dirt, real sweat, and fake sweat, and it was dirty, dirty work. I had thought earlier how nice it would have been to wear my own costume and be authentic, but by the end of that first day, covered in grime and with our clothes being roughed up by the costume crew, I was so happy I hadn't worn my own stuff. The other reenactor looked none too pleased at the state his carefully-compiled kit was now in. There's patina...and then there's Donner-destructo.

Guess who wasn't happy about his clothes being Donnerated?
But you know what did just fine? My shoes. On my feet for 16 hours walking across rocks, dirt, salt, and mud, and my feet didn't hurt and my Gettysburgs were holding together like fierce 1840s warrior booties. They looked terrible, but I had zero problems with them. I can't think of a more thorough test than Donnering for two days in the desert.

After The Ordeal - on the left is the waxed Gettysburg boot, which retained plenty of white salty playa. I washed, waxed, and oiled these after it was all over and they look great. Soles are still on and in tact. They look rather like originals now.
1840s Warrior Boots. They carried me through the desert faithfully. Talk about a test!
I got home at 9:30 pm. I haven't been that tired in years, and at that moment I swore I would never underestimate the work and effort actors put in to any kind of film production. The principle actors had been on set all day and all evening, doing the same scenes over and over again. They had it so much worse than us extras, and I will never...ever...think an actor's job is a cushy one.

11:30 pm and there's the call time in my email for Day 2...be on location at 7:00 am. I seriously had thoughts about ignoring it, but I signed up for this and where would they be without Wagon Train Woman #2? I couldn't let the team down, my suffering brethren on film, so I set my alarm for 4:30 am.

...to be continued...

What will become of Wagon Train Woman #2?



Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I'm No Pinup

The actual me: I can't draw a cat eye; I don't often wear dresses; my car isn't vintage; I'm covered in dog hair.
I've been into vintage fashion a long time now. I first became interested in it in high school, around 1999, but I didn't have the guts to actually wear vintage clothing, only to admire those who did.

In college I found Rockabilly, and started wearing Things With Polka Dots. I even dated a guy who wore jean jackets and drove a '68 Camaro. We had a beautiful, temporal Summer of sunshine and Tiger Army. The relationship with the boy didn't last, but I did carry on with the vintage love, getting my first sewing machine around 2003 and churning out one substandard skirt, dress, or retro blouse after another. I even had a cardigan from Daddy-O's with cherry skulls on it, because who didn't?

Fast forward a decade and here we are. I've made scads of vintage dresses, blouses, jackets, coats, skirts, pants, even hats. To say it's not a true-blue part of me would be a lie. So why don't I feel comfortable, really myself, in these clothes now?

Since joining Instagram to help spread the word about my new retro shoe shop, Royal Vintage Shoes, I've followed and admired hundreds of women from around the world who do vintage really really well. Whether they're into 1950s pinup or 1930s glam, the hair, the makeup, the never-ending closets of clothing...all are perfect, and constant, and intimidating.

This is usually how my cat eye eyeliner comes out, and let's not even attempt a 1940s style lip shape...
Yes, intimidating! I know that Instagram photos are carefully posed and selected and edited to create the very best image possible, but I still get caught up in the "how is that pin curl set so perfect? How does she afford all these dresses, and where does she put them all?! How come my cat eye never looks this good?"

These women are real, and wonderful, and supportive, and amazing, and skilled. I'm just not one of them, and my trap is that I'm trying to be. I somehow feel that my own personal style of vintage isn't the right one to attract a large Instagram following. I somehow feel that people don't want to see awkward selfies of a 30-something woman dressed like Robert Redford in "The Sting."

I'm actually not very feminine in real life. Is that okay?
But in trying to be something other than me, I'm failing on all fronts. What people really don't want to see is trying-too-hard selfies of a 30-something woman wearing badly drawn eyeliner and a wiggle dress that doesn't fit - in other words, me trying to be somebody other than just me.

So it's time to get back in touch with the real me...my inner (and outer) Robert Redford. Trying to be like everyone else will never work. My advice to myself and to all of you is to do YOU really well. That's unique and interesting and different.

So I'm no pinup, and I ought not to be. And that's OK.

Do you ever feel this way? Let's chat in the comments below, or on Facebook.