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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1950s Sweet Silhouette

Elegance, soft and simple.

Occasionally, when it comes time to write about a particular dress, I fear there aren’t enough details to describe the piece–not a rich enough story lying between the seams. But amid the flurry of these doubts I’m reminded of why I love andPics33 wear it myself.

 

I came to fall for this 1950s shirtwaist dress in a similar way that it falls on and around me.

It’s unlike any other I own in the way it drapes over the shoulders and again at the waist after being primly nipped in. In a word, the dress is easy.

And comfortable. The skirt–roomy but not necessarily full or heavy–skims just below the knee. Unlike slimmer or shorter styles, it never seems to be inhibitive.

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It’s fashioned from cotton, with an intricate leafy embroidery throughout the bodice and skirt in alternating black and white. The grayscale tones of the dress lend a posh feel to a piece that feels unashamedly domestic. It’s cheery without being particularly girlish. 

The five large buttons on the bodice and collar contrast this in a slightly whimsical way. The buttons themselves are likely bakelite, an early plastic, and are in very good condition. In fact, for one of my older pieces, the dress is still in relatively good shape.

It does, however, have a small spattering of damage to the fabric in the back, but it isn’t terribly noticeable. I think of this dress as one of my best scores: three sold in an as-is lot on Instagram for $15.

As I’ve said before, a bit of wear and tear is just part of the story; no reason to love something any less.

Pics8Another interesting note of the dress’s structure is what almost resembles a panel in the center of the bodice, starting around the unique and slightly low collar and trailing to the waist, where one of the embroidered seams is only as wide as the panel.

Credit is due here to the metal side zipper of this dress.

 

I rarely pay mind to the pros of having one; they are significantly less common after the 1940s and 50s. This one–as many likely do–helps to avoid the break-up of pattern that a back zipper might cause. It gives such a singular motion to the dress, one not split by the inconvenience of a metallic seam. 

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In the end, to worry that this dress could be found uninteresting is simply unjustified. I have to ask myself: would the person who first loved this dress be concerned of how many others appreciated it? Maybe, but maybe not.

Maybe she had a similar memory of going out for ice cream in it as I have: surrounded by her college friends (future husband included) celebrating the finish line of a four day theatre run, orange lights dancing off the bakelite and waffle cone crumbling away in her teeth.Pics4

1950s Delicate Gold Dream

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Picture for yourself what it was like to enter those vast, magical, engulfing places as a child: a library, an old relative’s home–the like. Places that because of one thing or another seemed far too big compared to the space you occupied.

Think back too, if you will, to those stories of youth and adventure that find some unwitting main character stumbling upon a treasure.

If you can do those things, you may have a sense of what I felt when finding this dress, and perhaps, the fairy tale it’s been putting it on each time since.

It wasn’t long after moving back to my college town to start a new semester (a little over a year ago) that I popped into an antique store I’d been in just a couple times before. I took my time, anticipating the back of the store where I knew there had once been a few vintage pieces.

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This was early in my vintage journey: this would be only my third dress to buy, and antique stores were still the only places I’d acquired them.

When I finally reached a little nook in the back of the store, I gave a sweeping glance over the heavy furniture and a few clearly too small vintage pieces. Then I saw it.

On a slightly tucked away mannequin, glimmering faintly under the soft light, sat a dream in peach and gold lace.

I was awestruck. Though I’d never seen anything like it, I knew it was something I’d always wanted. By the length and cut it appeared to be from the 1950s: tea-length, full skirt and with a fitted bodice and delicate neckline.

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Looking at it now still gives me the same delighted feelings as when I first saw it.

The beauty is done in a peach lining with a gold floral lace overlay, giving the dress a yellow-orange glow with pink undertones. Across the bodice are two satin straps that cross and meet in a slim bow. The straps are detailed with rhinestones and pearl flowers.

The dress’s condition is rather good, except for a few moth holes in the silk lining at the shoulder and the hem. However, there seems to be no damage to the lace and very little to the tulle lining, the zipper functions smoothly, and all the bead work is completely intact.

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Inside the dress was a small tag noting the size, marked a 14, which to my delight in learning was the equivalent of a modern 8. I’d learn this shortly after buying the dress, from an incredible resource titled Vintage Fashion Complete by Nicky Albrechtsen.

Excitedly, I unzipped the dress and removed it from the mannequin. I figured by looking that it would fit me, but I wanted to be sure.

I glanced towards the front of the near-empty store, making sure no one would mind if I slipped it on over my jeans and t-shirt.

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No questionable looks and no one to give them, so I moved quickly, taking extra care that I not overstretch (especially with a second layer of clothing underneath) and rip the dress.

It fit.

I twirled around a bit before removing it and placing it back in it’s original position. I tossed around the idea of purchasing it, not sure if it were something it’d be worth buying. Again, moth holes. And besides, college. Books. Things I need.

I left the store telling myself that if it were still on my mind–and still in the store–I’d come back for it the next day. I did, and the rest is not so much history, as it is another adventure awaiting.

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1970s Whimsical Meshing of Styles

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A vintage collector I may be, but a label hunter I am not.

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Once in a while, however, a piece appears with a recognizable label that’s hard to ignore.

In this instance it was a Gunne Sax dress, picked up from the same local thrift store at which I bought the nautical day dress of my first post.

I recognized some very distinct characteristics to the label when I saw the dress hanging on a separate rack, away from the shop’s other vintage and costume pieces.

The first things I noticed were its
shape and personality. The dress, made of a poly-cotton blend, is long and flowing and gives off an interesting prairie/Edwardian vibe: the signature look of Gunne Sax.

The dress is a cream, off-white color with decorative vertical stitching on the bodice and the sleeves. Though not quite an empire waist, it does come in a bit higher than the natural waist.

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The bodice itself was significantly tight on me, specifically in the ribs (a measurement I’ve never bothered to take). Other than that, the dress is rather comfortable.

Floral lace is a repeated element of this dress, both in its sleeves and shawl-like capelet. The sleeves take on a bell shape and the shawl ties at the center of the bust.

A smaller sampling of lace is present around the tier at the bottom of the dress, around the waist, and at the elbows. In these three places, the lace is accompanied by a simple but colorful floral pattern–one that surprisingly grounds the dress in reality.

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After going through a mental checklist of all things Gunne Sax (very similar to all the above stated), I took a closer look a the dress. Upon this inspection, I found that sure enough there was a silky gold and brown label inside the dress with the Gunne Sax name printed neatly amongst a cluster of flora. 

The same label once accompanied top-of-the-line formal dresses (most notably prom attire) for young women in the late 1960s and through part of the ’80s. You can read more about the label itself and the designer by following these links.

I was astounded to have found such a well-known label for as low a price as I did ($9), especially considering Gunne Sax dresses sell on Etsy from around $40 and sometimes well into the $100s.

The dress in many ways is a rather peculiar thing. It’s not something I can see wearing casually, and it has a very transportive nature for a more formal look.

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It’s interesting for a vintage piece to call so far back as to almost appear antique, but that’s what this dress does.

The whimsical nature of the sleeves, the lace detailing, and the use of tiers brings an other-worldly quality to the dress that just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in a modern setting.

Sometimes, though, that’s just enough for a dress to stand out to me and find its way into my closet. Label or not, this dress has character. This means of course, that it’s easily found a place with me.

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1940s Detail-rich Day Dress

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The 1940s was a decade of ornately disguised simplicity, as evidenced by this near-perfect Kay Allison dress and the time period surrounding it.

According the Smithsonian Institute, war production in the 1940s took priority when it came to fibers such as cotton and wool, which led to the popularity of rayon, the material showcased here.

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This darling day dress holds a special place in my wardrobe as my (historically) oldest piece. Its deep midnight blue is adorned with a number of intricate details: decorative seaming on the wrap bodice, ornamental buttons, and the sweetest velvet ribbon—meant to be tied in a bow at the collar.

The collar itself boasts completely intact lace-like bead work, deserving of applause for a dress that is well over 60 years old.

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The astounding number of details on the dress’s bodice contrast nicely with the sleek, practical nature of the skirt. The length and simple A-line shape of the skirt are another result of government regulations, specifically 1942’s regulation L-85, which restricted usage of fabrics and certain fashion features.

Because of this and the number of details on the dress, I would assume it was manufactured after WWII but before 1950. Regulations for things such as cuff details and zippers had likely been lifted when the dress was made, but it still shared the overall length and shape of war-time pieces.

When I made this purchase (through Instagram, a process worth explaining in a later post), there were no additional accessories that went with it, but I quickly realized the dress had belt loops.

I thought this was interesting because of the amount of details on the bust and wondered how busy it would look with a belt. I ended up incorporating a simple brown leather belt that had come with a modern dress I had recently purchased.

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Though I have no real way of knowing whether the belt is anything at all like what was originally paired with the dress (wouldn’t it be something if it had matched the velvet ribbon?), I believe it went with the overall style rather well. It served another purpose by cinching in the waist to a nice shape, as I was concerned the garment otherwise appeared too large on me.

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The mechanical features of the dress—a snap closure on the wrap bodice and a side zipper—are both in very good shape. Overall, the dress is in remarkable condition and was obviously well cared for. There is only a small moth hole in the left sleeve and a slight unstitching of one side of the collar. But as I am prone to do with vintage pieces, I pay it little mind.

For me, part of the experience of buying and wearing vintage is embracing the very flaws that one would completely avoid in a new article of clothing. Small tears, alterations, discolorations, even (sometimes) a particular smell—they all add to the mystery and character of a piece. I tend to think of a garment as happy to be worn, seeing another day in the sun.

Of course, finding an utterly flawless piece is always an accomplishment, but so also is finding one with a story. To imagine who may have worn this dress—and even if she herself had played a part in the war effort—is a fascinating picture.

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1970s Does 1940s Glamour

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One thing that can be said about fashion is that it’s cyclical: styles often are inspired by previous decades, and when they are, the results are timeless.

Take for example this 1970s Miss Elliette California gown. With its glamorous lines and elegant cut, it flows similarly to styles belonging to Hollywood starlets of the 1940s.

Pictured here in images republished by Marie Claire are Bette Davis (left, 1943) and Claudette Colbert (right, 1942).

Designs similar to these actresses’ looks could easily have been of inspiration to designer Elliette Ellis, who, according to the Vintage Fashion Guild, favored feminine looks and began her company in 1952.

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Like the subject of my previous post, this dress was also a first for me in that it was the first vintage piece I purchased online. This is unlike other formal dresses in my collection, which all have been sourced by way of thrift and antique stores.

This Miss Elliette, however, (a label with which I was completely unfamiliar at the time), called to me and seemingly ensured red carpet-readiness if ever I needed such styling.

Besides exuding glamour, some of the label’s most simple and recognizable characteristics come together in this piece. Pleats, chiffon, and equally matched elements of both grace and whimsy are all present.

The gown is periwinkle in color, with an icy glow in its poly-satin bodice and sleeves.

The skirt—a somewhat lighter hue due to its airy material—is composed of a chiffon overlay, detached from the skirt’s lining and done in accordion pleats. This gives the dress motion and allows the slightly ruffled hem to swirl about the wearer’s feet when walking.

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The dress has a very liquid-like quality and lacks any harsh or heavy construction. The relatively high zipper in the back coupled with shoulder ruching creates a narrow space for the lower neckline.

The waist sits above the natural line, but it’s difficult to call it an empire waist, which would traditionally come just under the bust. In this case, the sash that separates the rest of the bodice from the skirt begins there, a few inches below the edge of the neckline. From the center, however, it flows downward and out towards the hips.

Part-way up the zipper at the sash-like section are two sets of hook-and-eye closures. They are, in my experience, impossible to clasp on one’s own, but leaving them undone seems unnoticeable and creates no issues.

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Not a single flaw can be found in this dress except for a very small hole hidden somewhere in the top layer of fabric. The label, of course, is still intact, as are care instructions, which seem to be rather difficult to come across with vintage pieces.

As shown by the popularity of similar styles from decades past, a design such as this is classic and utterly timeless. While I’ve yet to don it to an event, I have confidence that when I do, it will call back to days past while at the same time looking refreshingly “in.”

Has calling things “in” cycled back into being cool yet?

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1960s Nautical Mod

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One of my most loved and frequently rotated vintage dresses was the first non-formal piece to enter my collection. I snagged it from my local thrift store for a whopping $4 in the chill of fall last year, eager to wear it in the warmer months.

With its incredible fit, adorable details, and fantastic construction, it’s changed the way I think about wearing vintage in an every-day setting.

This “mod” nautical-inspired piece dates to the 1960s. Without much information on the Lois Young Dallas label, it’s difficult to say for sure, but I would place this in the early to mid-60s, based on trends of the decade.

My guess is that the material is a sort of poly-cotton blend, as it has some stretch and is thick but rather breathable. It features a mock neck, darted bust, and nipped-in waist. The dress also hits just above the knee, a comfortable length for someone like myself with a bit of height (an added benefit of vintage and a post for another day).

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The stripes of the dress’s top are matched with a more subtle pattern in the skirt, one composed of tiny diamond shapes. The colors are vibrant but not flashy or overwhelming: the off white complements the bright red, even blending with it in the skirt to create an almost coral color.

The skirt itself is an interesting feature of the dress, with a wrap-like pleat over the left thigh. This adds a three-dimensional aspect to the garment, as do the three anchor-embossed (non-functional) buttons down the pleat.

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The dress showcases both youth and class: an interesting and appealing combination that has, in a way, set a precedent for many of my future finds.

My closet is now home to a number of vintage dresses that feature personality-filled details, quirky patterns, and, above all, uniqueness. From polka dots and accent bows, to pointed collars and frilly hems, my casual vintage pieces have given way to refined yet subtly playful looks.

For a dress that is likely at least 50 years old, this one is in rather remarkable, even pristine, condition, boasting unflawed fabric and a perfect zipper and hook-and-eye closure. The one repair I’ve had to make to the dress–an easy fix–was the re-stitching of two separated seams at the underarm. (Who doesn’t love a good tree climb?)

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While it may be slightly constricting—mostly in the shoulders, hence the ripped seam—this doesn’t take away from away from the fact that it’s an incredibly wearable piece. While it obviously looks to be in its element when surrounded by water, it certainly wouldn’t be out of place in the classroom or in a relaxed office environment either. 

This is precisely how such a remarkable $4 find took vintage to new heights for me. Gone were (and are) they days when garments of decades past were restricted to old photos and television shows. Vintage pieces, even those with a theme such as this dress, no longer seemed costume-y or out of reach.

Instead, vintage–beginning with this dress of course–became inviting, calling attention to detail and individuality. They now are pieces that have become incorporated into my “modern” wardrobe confidently and happily and with a beautiful fit.

Accessible, joyful pieces will never go out of style, and to me, this dress is proof of that.

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