1960s Bullet Bra Beachwear

Growing up, my brother and I were very fortunate to have a backyard pool for basically every summer I can remember. We would spend long afternoons pretending to be adrift in an endless sea, bouncing up and down in our inner tubes to make small nauseating waves, and hanging over the edge to warm ourselves on the inflatable ring.

I learned how much I enjoyed not just being in the water but actually swimming laps when I got to college. I don’t have the best form, but I’m fast (sometimes) and have a decent amount of stamina (at least more than I do running). I began flashing my ID to the freshman lifeguard and flip-flopping to the locker room when my schedule allowed. It didn’t matter what I looked like doing it, if I’d had an awful morning, or if finals were fast approaching. Everything emptied from me when I swam. I simply allowed myself to be there, to get tired, and to leave feeling refreshed, lighter.

With its minor age-related wear, I hesitate to stress this suit by taking it for a swim, but I believe it would have held up quite well in its day as an active piece. Many modern pieces of swimwear that I’ve encountered are designed less for athletics than they are for style. With wide straps, a relatively high neckline, and fitted bottoms, it’s not hard to imagine taking this one from the sand or pool edge into the water.

This swimsuit is likely from the early sixties, as retains some of the charms of the previous decade–something that was common for early sixties fashion. The one-piece cuts a girlish figure and is conventionally modest, with a fitted micro skirt attached to the bottoms. The back is rather low, coming into a scoop cut just below the waist.

The straps feature two clear buttons that could be readjusted to alter the length, but are more practically just decorative. A series of intricate topstitches and darts fan out from the underbust, helping to add to the hourglass shape. This of course, is also emphasized by what is known as the “bullet bra,” a look that was popularized in the 1940s. While this garment is far from the extreme of pointed bras of the era, it does have a slight conical appearance.

Large peach colored flowers and chartreuse leaves and stems make up the cheerful pattern of the suit. I would consider this style a subtle predecessor to the flower power looks that would have been popular just a few years later in the late 1960s. The colors offer a sweetness that feels, as with the beginning of the decade, like early summer: green grass, lemonade, and youthfulness.

It invigorates and inspires me that I am far from the first woman to enjoy swimming (just read up on Esther Williams). To feel both playful and strong, perhaps even beautiful (in a stringy-haired, wide-eyed, shivering, carefree sort of way) in the water is a tremendous set of feelings. While it may not be the most accessible activity these days, splashing around and propelling through the water holds a special place in my heart and I relish any chance to become so fashionably saturated.

1970s Lilac Grecian Gown

Sometimes a dress has a way of shaking up a wardrobe and boiling it down to its essence. This one simmers in ideas of romance and mystery, flowing fabrics and soft colors, contentedness and joy. It relishes both the old and the new.

As a girl, I long had a curious feeling that I’d never be–Big enough? Old enough?–grown enough to achieve the same glamour I saw in princesses or brides or prom-goers. I’ve come to learn, though, that there is true delight to be found in my own sort of glamour. It is one that is most authentic to who I am, even when–perhaps especially when– branching out.

In my research I’ve found other dresses of the same era that also have the Dessy or Dessy Creations label. However, some of the first search results to appear are a modern line of bridesmaid dresses. I’m curious as to whether there is some relation and, if so, if the brand has reinvented itself with a niche market in the 21st century or if these dresses have always been intended as bridesmaids dresses. It’s not unlikely, but to consider that they are noticeably absent of puff sleeves, crinoline, or all over floral print is impressive.

In contrast, this dress is simple in its elegance but intricate in its minor structuring. The v-neck and surplice bodice are followed by minor pleating at the elastic waist. The skirt then flows into a shape reminiscent of a tulip: the fabric is cut so that it flows from one hip down to the center of the dress to form a wrap skirt with a high-low hem. The cascading at both the hip and where the skirt opens creates a petal effect. The ends of the simple tie belt have a rounded point to them. This is almost identical to the structure of the dress’s shoulder straps, which are created by a layering of two fabrics rather than being one solid piece.

Through my love of vintage, I’ve learned a great deal about myself, not least of all my relationship with my body and my own ideas of body positivity. Among other things, this dress’s softness and arm-baring nature lend it a carefree, accepting quality: something that can at times be difficult to cultivate.

The vintage community, lovely as it is, is simply a more stylized microcosm of the same societal pressures of our own age: emphasis on vintage make-up, vintage hair, vintage undergarments. It’s a very easy world in which to compare oneself to others. That is where my own brand of glamour comes in. Because it’s mine, it is in part defined by a resistance to look like anyone else and tempered by a desire to fit in. It is lankiness, a feeling of imbalance, a fear of appearing mousy. But more than those insecurities it is an air of confidence in my color combinations, a spark of curiosity for historic magnificence, a lightness that has come with practice of letting the right things go. For the better, my glamour is constantly being altered.

Additionally, ideas about “the perfect shape” have changed by slight degrees through the years but have done little other than cause strife for those coming in under, over or right at those perfect measurements. What I’ve learned about my own measurements is that knowing them is entirely utilitarian: one has to have a relatively precise idea of their numbers to shop for vintage clothing, especially online, as many vintage pieces lack size labels; when they are present, they are generally skewed significantly when compared to modern sizing.

Because I love it for its timelessness and that it already defies certain social norms, vintage also allows me to wear garments I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. It’s a good reminder that a sleeveless dress isn’t automatically less classy; that a short dress isn’t necessarily scandalous. There is freedom in knowing that grace–physical or spiritual–isn’t dictated by the clothes on our bodies (or whether or not those bodies have farmer’s tans [see below]) but by what lives in our hearts.

1970s Butterfly Beauty and 1960s Sweet Pink Boucle

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Can you tell that there’s something special about this dress? It’s not a designer label or, as far as I know, a real rarity. (In fact, I recently spotted its twin for sale on Instagram, something that practically never happens for me.) But special is just the way I’d describe it. Why? Just look at those colors. Can you see butterflies like that and not smile? I can’t. This dress is easily one of the most bold in my collection and is one that timelessly transcends the notion of the casual versus formal setting.

The astonishingly bright colors in this dress have aged well: both physically with no visible fading and stylistically. Its playful neon hues are reminiscent not only of the original vibrant late 1960s color palette, but that of the 1990s’ Lisa Frank coloring books and stationary, found in many a young girls’ desk, mine included.

It’s refreshing, too, to see the colors make a resurgence with particular circles of vintage enthusiasts. For many, a vintage passion is a way to recreate (on the daily) a very particular style, often influenced by the victory suits of the 1940s or the full-skirted shirtwaist dresses of the 1950s. Others, however, might appreciate vintage piece by piece for what it adds to their individual style and otherwise modern wardrobes. This is the camp I more often fall into, one that mixes styles and decades, with colors more characteristic of the sixties and a fashion playfulness associated with the seventies and eighties. It truly serves as a reminder that vintage is for everyone, no matter their tastes.

And despite the show that the bright colors put on, black and white might prove to be the most important hues. The crisp white of the dress is the perfect canvas from which those winged beauties might take flight. However, the white background isn’t quite as plain as one might imagine. The dress is actually deeply textured, a floral embossing giving it depth and grounding the flighty piece in something substantial. Along with the contrasting shape and pattern, this is an element that adds sophistication to such a fun number. It’s also a weighty but breathable cotton, which means the dress has infinite possibilities for when-to-wear weather.

The butterflies themselves have a whimsical, hand-painted look to them. Their colors bleed together imperfectly and even escape the faint black outlines of the wings. The sharp black is a striking contrast to the vibrant rainbow of colors, and though the black details are small, an accessory such as a black shoe makes it stand out even more than the other colors.

There are two large white plastic buttons at each cuff and six more down the bodice of the dress which close high on the neck and meet a large, dramatic collar. A simple tie belt, unattached and very similar in nature to the my much-adored pocket watch dress makes an appearance as well.

The union-made bubble gum pink coat is a wool boucle. Its generous length and lightweight drape make for an excellent early spring garment. Double-breasted, its closures are four brass buttons, each imprinted with a regal crest-like image.

A truly unique feeling feature of this piece of outerwear is an triangular-shaped panel attached to the collar near the inside of the left shoulder. The panel snaps to a closure on the other side and acts as a sort of dickey. Fully buttoned, it provides an added layer of warmth to the chest on cool, breezy day. It can also remain tucked inconspicuously under the collar. Horizontal false flaps sit above spacious true pockets on both sides of the coat, making it a continually functional garment.

Each of these pieces is bold in its own right, and together they allow me to re-evaluate the nature of my vintage journey: finding the pretty, the strange, the exciting, and welcoming them into my life with gusto. In the end, I believe the most special thing about the dress is simply that I like it. I think that’s a pretty sweet deal.

1970s Stunning Paisley Starlet

Has there every been a wilder, more dreamy dress than this? Those were exactly my thoughts when I ran my hands over its silky fabric as it hung from its antique store rack.

It’s bold; it’s shiny. It’s not me at all, and yet, somehow, it absolutely is. In all its chaos, it quietly echoes a restrained elegance.

The jewel tones are something that I was immediately drawn to. Not only are the rich reds and teals and deep blacks decadent (not to mention that delightful cream color), but the way each color reflects light? Divine. There is somewhat of a shimmery threading to the dress, too, a delicate gold woven through the patterns. It’s a beautiful contrast to the silver threaded spots that dance throughout the dress, almost giving off the impression of tiny mirrors.

Which leads me to wonder where this dress–and the person who once wore it–may have felt most at home. A disco? It feels a bit more formal than that, I suppose. A dinner party guest? Perhaps. One of the things most intriguing about vintage is the idea that a piece may have meant one or many things to a person over their lifetime with it.

It’s part of what makes me feel so very connected to the pasts of these dresses in my own wearing them. There are dresses I wear frequently that have over the years become heavily rotated items in my wardrobe. There are pieces that I’ve bought for special occasions and some (like this one) that I’ve not yet had the pleasure of wearing out at all.

I don’t believe that any one collector’s motivations are exactly the same as another’s, whether that’s clothing or stamps, books or records. Functionality (or “fit”), aesthetic, rarity–all are possible factors in the hunt and an item’s eventual place in a collection. But I think that at its best, it’s much more than that. It’s not about idolizing a possession, but rather seeking clarity, connection to people or to history. It’s an opportunity to appreciate craftsmanship, inspiration, and humanity.

We create because we feel connected to something greater than ourselves, and I believe collecting is not entirely different from that.

On that note of creation, I’d like to return to the idea of this dress’s personal function. Without tags and as the dress is a bit thin–the inside hems even somewhat unfinished looking–I am lead to believe there’s a good chance this dress was handmade. To me, this means it could have fulfilled any and all desires the person had in mind when creating their handiwork.

Proportionately the dress is a bit odd on my frame. Its slightly larger waist, full bust, shortish sleeves, and yet generous length could be another indication of a tailor-made piece. A large quasi-waistband sits high on one’s middle at about five inches in thickness. This section of fabric then meets up with the surplice-style wrap bodice and a classic v-neckline. At the back, a simple black zipper remains perfectly hidden, and the dress is finally secured with a metal clasp.

Another reason I suspect it could be one of a kind is that in my searching, I’ve not come across anything else like it. You can find hints of what might have been inspirations for this dress–paisley motifs, metallic threading, rich colors–but nothing that combines all those things in the structure this one does.

I date it as being from the ’70s because while maxi dresses of this style might have made their debut in the 1960s, the darker, more earthy tones feel more reminiscent of the 1970s’ sultry color palette. There’s even a chance that it could be from the 80s, but I’m much more apt to say that it is anywhere from the mid- to late-70s.

I hope someday to really give this dress the outing it so deserves, and perhaps, misses. There may be no end in sight to this gown’s light-chasing, dream-hopping days.

1970s Watercolor Bouquets

Each time I encounter this dress it’s such an entirely sweet surprise. It’s one of my most treasured articles of clothing–vintage or otherwise–because it was a gift from a dear friend and pastor’s wife.

I’m always a bit overwhelmed by the splash of color this seemingly understated dress brings to the table. Its perfectly faint blending of flowers in salmon, teal, periwinkle, white, and egg yolk yellow are a welcome visit from spring any time of the year.

This dress was folded up so neatly when I first saw it after service one Sunday that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what it was. My friend took it out of the paper bag she’d brought it to church in and, knowing I loved and collected vintage, told me she’d hung onto it. She told me she didn’t know if I’d like it or not and that I could do with it whatever I pleased. She had bought it, in I believe the early 1970s, when she and her husband moved to Texas where he began his career as a pastor. I was overcome with gratitude, and it’s safe to say that this lovely lady gave me something I only continue to love more and more.

The dress has so many little nuances to itself, from top to bottom. (I’ve not been able to locate any information on the Melissa Lane label, but there is enough about this dress to prove exciting without.) The dramatic pointed collar is a sharp contrast to the softness of the dress, both aesthetically and in its soft polyester material. (On that note, the dress’s fabric is quite comfortable in its slight stretch and both warm enough and cool enough in its light yet supple weight.) The pintucking just below the shoulder add to the texture of the dress, which, though the pattern might suggest otherwise, is a very smooth piece.

The patterns and colors overlap each other in way that reminds me of watercolors–or even stained glass or colored lenses–in that they create new colors rather than simply being an opaque layering. The splotches of pink are easily the most eye-catching of the colors, as they are the most prominent.

Five near-translucent pink buttons make up the closure of the bodice, and, unlike many pieces where a top button is optional and typically uncomfortable, this one is really more stylistically mandatory and with plenty of neck room.

The skirt of the dress has a unique center seam, where, at about two-thirds of the way up the dress, begins a hidden zipper. The delicate pink zipper pull ends just below the waist, and above it sits a small metal closure. The waist ties come together to create a polished little bow that masks all the little mechanics. The ties could simply be knotted, but don’t seem to present quite as nicely as the feminine bow.

For a mid-spring writers’ festival on my college campus (yet another connection she and I have in that both we and our husbands  attended the school), I chose to wear none other than this lovely piece. I had the surreal opportunity to read a poem I’d written and won a contest with, and this dress was the perfect choice for the semi-formal event. I felt dressed up, but in the most playful, stand-out way. I felt like my own sort of poetry. The following Sunday I was elated to show my friend a picture my husband had taken of me at the event.

I feel that each time I remember the sweet history of this dress or share another photo with her, another lovely line is written in the dress’s latest stanza. Winter or spring, it’s a treasure for the ages.

1960s Chic Shift

shoot71Few garments I own can compete with the absolute glamour of this dress: understated black. A simple shape. An alluring neckline. The most exquisite collar. 

I like to believe that this dress delights in a thinking-on-your-feet attitude. It’s a suitable personification, as it was a mad-dash find after an afternoon of shopping with my mom. I’d planned on hitting up a favorite antique store on my drive home, and, knowing I might be close to missing them, I called ahead of time to make sure they’d still be open. To my good fortune, they were.shoot713.JPG

When I arrived, though, about ten minutes before the expected closing time, they were already locking up. They were happy to let me in, however, and so, graciously, I bypassed all the old Reader’s Digests and Coke memorabilia, the tall shelves of old perfumes and Shrek glassware, the low ones of assorted salt and pepper shaker sets–one, a pair of braying donkeys that I always seem to forget having pointed out the last time. I knew exactly where I was  headed.

shoot73I flew to my haven of vintage, a little space with an antique mirror decked out in hats, and, opposite that, a shelf covered in purses and gloves, a hand mirror, and a swimming cap. In the center stood the two racks: the round one, filled usually with military pieces and heavy hand-knit sweaters, and the one flush against the wall that held an assortment of dresses. I began flipping through the tight space when my hand ran over the smooth black rayon. There is was: my diamond in the rough; the ultimate Little Black Dress.

It was stunning.

I peered at the label–Elegant Miss of California–and, noting its paper lot and size tag, as well as the shift cut of the dress, quickly dated it to the sixties.

(The shift was a resurgence of the 1920s flapper style, a look that was considered unfeminine in both decades. It caught on after–and in deep contrast to–the nipped waist and full skirt of Dior’s 1947 “New Look,”  which set the stylistic tone for much of the following decade.)shoot74

By this point, I’d developed an eye for whether a garment would fit me just by holding it up. Still, with the store’s No Returns policy flashing in my head, (and the commitment to buy something from the kind older couple who let me in) I was a bit nervous. But with the clock ticking, I determined that my appraisal was good enough.

When I got home, I quickly tried it on, sending a quick snapshot to my mom of the gem that I’d found.

I adored the way the dress skimmed over me, smartly giving itself its much-deserved attention, rather than the wearer. Can a dress make a person feel like an accessory? If one can, it’s this one, that carries its wearer through lunch, through crowds, through sights. Its slim lining slows down a very breathable, functional garment. It’s as if it’s saying, “Relax, I’ve got this.”shoot7

I hung it neatly and placed it in my closet, knowing it’d find it’s time to shine eventually.

And it did–one of the most fun occasions a collegiate media luncheon and awards ceremony. I threw a dusty-rose colored shrug over it to day-time the look up a little, and my outfit was near complete. The rhinestone-set collar makes for such a smashing statement piece that only a simple pair of stud earrings were needed for me to finish accessorizing.

Such compromise, such understanding of the other almost says to the dress, “Let me do the talking.” 

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1970s Timepiece Dime

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One of the things I love finding most in a vintage piece is polished quirk. If this dress doesn’t fit that definition, I don’t know what does.

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In it I feel inspired to take on tasks and stories and the whole of what’s out there to do. I can’t say for certain if that has more to do with the secretarial feel of the dress, the ticking pocket watches urging me along, or the deep green fabric whose feel and color both soothe and invigorate. 

In a neat and well-ordered sort of way, the dress is awash with personality and inspired notes from top to bottom.

Pointed collars were a prominent look of the 70s, and in this instance, the way the collar splays out towards the shoulders gives an elongating effect.

The elevated charm factor for any dress, vintage or modern, is an answer in the affirmative as to whether or not it has pockets.

While this dress does, their awkward position is useful for little more than a stick of gum. However, sticking your hands in them does make for a nice dramatic slump-y pose, one that feels befitting for something of the 70s. The left breast pocket is similarly decorative.

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The white stitching on the pockets, collar, and around the buttons at the bodice gives the dress a sort of animated look, a stand-out effect in a piece where nothing is lost. The buttons themselves, two-toned, are similar in nature and adorn not only the front of the dress but the sleeve cuffs as well.

I wear this dress most often in the spring and fall; long sleeves and a moderately short skirt call for weather conditions to be rather specific. The fabric itself, polyester, is rather cool, but with the sleeves it’s a bit weighty.

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Though I never have, the dress could be worn without its tie belt. It would make the dress appear more tent-like. As it is, the belt–too short to be tied in much more than a simple knot–gives the waist a clean, slightly nipped in look. It’s not the type of dress you want to wear to do many rigorous activities (I’ve had to mend a seam break in the side and under the arm.) but it does hold up quite well in everyday buzzing about.

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I ordered the dress from an Instagram seller–one of my first times to complete such a transaction–and was struck with a slight feeling of surprise when the package arrived and I opened it. It’s not that it looked any different from the pictures (all my online vintage purchasing experiences have been sublime). I simply wondered if I could pull the dress off, make it work for me. It was, after all, considerably bolder than most pieces in my closet.

I will say, though, that I’m terribly happy to have given the dress a chance. I tried it on shortly after receiving it and was immediately taken with just how different a dress it was. It feels like such a complete look, one that requires little accessorizing. And I can pull it off. In fact, the dress is me, a sort of signature look in my rotations at this point.

The pocket watch faces, all set to 12:10, are, obviously, the biggest and most unique feature of the dress. In all its originality, I wouldn’t be surprised to one day find that one was set to a completely different time. That, I think, would be the only thing that could make me love this dress more.

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