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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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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