1
Apr
2014
Posted by Nicole in 1970s, Australian Fashion, Vintage 101 8 Comments

I’m fascinated by sub-cultures: the ways that a group of people bond, and how they present themselves to the world.

The first sub-culture I became aware of was in 1976. Chocolate brown skivvies were all the rage but the shop wasn’t well lit and mum brought me home a black version. Everyone knew you couldn’t wear black: only Rockers wore black and I was sure to get beaten up for crossing the code.

In my sheltered Perth world there were only two sub-cultures: Mods and Rockers. They hated each other and the rest of us tried to keep out of the way of the carnage that resulted when they met. Think Quadrophenia. I didn’t know any Rockers of course, and never did so I can’t be sure it was true.

In 1979 I moved to Scarborough High School, close to Scarborough Beach where the legendary Snake Pit was home to Bodgies and Widgies. Or rather, it had been in the ’50s. In the ’70s it was all about Surfs and the Snake Pit was a smelly old cafe with pinball machines in the dark backroom. Soon it would be gone, demolished as the strip became upmarket and the beach ruined by a Gold Coast style tower.

I’ve never met a Bodgie or a Widgie but Surfs were so commonplace in Scarborough, I hesitate to call them a sub-culture but Puberty Blues (the original book) was the story of my early teens. Tradition dictated you’d lose your virginity in the back of a panel van in a beach car park. I was very unhappy: it wasn’t my scene. I couldn’t even manage a decent tan despite the daily beach visits. I read that book until the pages all fell out and then I sticky taped them back in.

The Sharpies passed me by – I thought they were a Melbourne only group until Catherine Deveny put up this clip from a Daddy Cool gig in ’75:


If you’re reading this via email, click here to see the clip.

What a dance! I love that this group had their own unique style. Australia generally follows the Northern hemisphere in most things but here was something uniquely our own. It’s an easy to learn dance with plenty of scope for different tempos or levels of enthusiasm. It can be both flirtatious for women and aggressive for men. It’s also rather comical. If you want to see more, just ask youtube for “Sharpie dancing”. There are some great examples.

The Sharpies started off in the ’60s, influenced by English Mods and created by post-War migrants who would bring out European fashions when they arrived in Australia. They had a taste for Italian style, especially in tailoring and knitwear, hence their name: Sharpie came from “sharp” dressers.

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Sharpies 1972 – from “Top Fellas” by Tadqh Taylor. Very Mod.

As fashions changed through the ’60s, so did they, and by the time they reach the era of their fame, the ’70s, there was a uniform: fine knit jumpers and cardigans with stripes plus high waisted tight jeans or pinstripe trousers. Sometimes very wide legged and long, covering their clomping big boots or shoes: platforms or clogs.

Sharpie shoes

Sharpie fashion. Photo source: “Skins n Sharps”

The girls (known as “Brushes”) wore jeans, denim mini skirts or pinafores with the highest chunky shoes they could: often with cork bases. Or “treads”, shoes with a sole made of old tyres.

The distinctive fashion item was the striped knitwear called the “Connie”, originally the “Conti” as they were made by Thornbury tailor Mr Conti. Here you could either choose one from the shelf or custom made to the colours and stripes of your choice. They didn’t come cheap – almost a week’s wages for a teenager – but they were very prized.

Punk Journey Sharpie clothing - Peter BRookes cropped

Photo source: Facebook

At Circa, I’m often asked for Connies but sadly, I’ve never seen one to buy. They seem to be kept (hopefully well protected) by their original owners, who still value them. Either that, or perhaps they were worn to shreds, or shrank a little too much in a too hot wash. If I do find one, it will go into the private collection for use in talks etc – the Sharpies are becoming an affectionate part of Australian social history.

The Sharpie style is very similar to the current fashions of the time, incorporating elements of Glam Rock and roller skating culture, but with a harder edge. The ’70s was a very body conscious decade, and they wore the clothes small and tight. The Connies were worn especially small and tight, resembling midriff tops at times, with three quarter length sleeves. The hairstyles were reminiscent of Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust, although when others grew their hair long the Sharpies kept it short.

Music was important to the Sharpies and back then when you couldn’t get band t-shirts, they’d get their favourite artist’s name made up in flocked velvet letters on a t-shirt. Bowie and Slade were favourites (soon to become B wie and Sl de when the letters peeled off in the wash). They loved Aussie rock with Lobby Lloyd and Billy Thorpe amongst their favourites.

The t-shirts also declared the name of their gang based on their suburb or even their street. They congregated in large groups, often at gigs or train stations and were very violent, often scrapping with rival gangs. Apparently even the police were scared of them.

Perfect Sound Forever
Photo source: “Skins n Sharps” Love the lumber jacket in the front: for when the Connie wasn’t warm enough.

Sharpies have been compared a lot with skinheads and there seems to have been a certain degree of overlap – the best site for Sharpie information is “Skins n Sharps” but for me, there was always a difference. Although I didn’t know any Sharpies, many of my friends dressed similarly and some of the girls even danced in that idiosyncratic way – I’ve never seen a man dance like that though. A pity.

Sharpies seemed to vanish in about ’79 just when punks, mods and skinheads were taking over – those were the groups I knew. The skins were very violent and we all knew to keep away from them in groups. I was once chased through the dark streets of North Perth by a skinhead with a knife after I looked at him the “wrong” way in 1984.

So if you do see any Connies, treat them tenderly and stash them away: you’re looking at a piece of Australian sub-culture history. Here’s some Connie style in this House of Merivale striped jumper:

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Striped woolen jumper by the House of Merivale, mid ’70s.

Original Connie short sleeved cardigan
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Photo source: “Skins n Sharps”

The same colours have been used used in this House of Merivale jumper. I love how the stripes only go around the front.

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Striped woolen jumper by the House of Merivale, mid ’70s.


29
Nov
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1960s, 1970s, Designers, Vintage 101 5 Comments

Today I’ve been looking into a new outfit, that’s just gone online – this “two piece dress” or top and skirt set by Melbourne designer Noeleen King.

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Noeleen was born in Ireland about 1933 and first learnt her trade under fashion designer Sybill Connolly. After migrating to Australia in the mid ’50s, she worked as a salegirl for five years before setting up her own label in Flinders Lane making “street dresses” with a small workroom and three machinists.

The following year she started making evening and cocktail wear, which sold better. True success came to her after five years, in 1965. With her Vidal Sassoon Eton crop hairstyle and lashings of mascara, her style was very young and hip. She was compared to Norma Tullo in importance for the era.

Noeleen and models Aus Womens Weekly 1965
Noeleen and models, Australian Women’s Weekly 1965.

Noeleen’s label primarily produced clothes she wanted to wear herself, and was described as “Medieval Mod”. Her customers were mostly teenagers and women in their early 20s – the largest size she stocked was SSW (Small, small woman, roughly equivalent to a modern size 8!). You can see the medieval influence in the outfit above, and sure enough, the size is “XXSSW” – equivalent to a modern 4 but don’t worry, we replaced the elastic in the tiny waist (it had deteriorated) now making it a size 8. It’s a very unusual style, with it’s double puffed, Renaissance style sleeves.

Aus Womens Weekly 1966
Jean Shrimpton in Noeleen King, Australian Women’s Weekly 1966.

Mary Quant was a friend and fan of Noeleen’s designs, and authorised Noeleen to produce her designs in Australia, under licence. The Vintage Fashion Guild have a copy of the Mary Quant/Noeleen King label if you’d like to see it.

Noeleen’s skirts came in three lengths: day (just above the knee), cafe (mid calf) and evening (touching the instep) – another way of saying “mini, midi and maxi”. The one above must be “evening length”. The long maxi skirt with a wide ruffle to the hem is quite fashion forward – this style was influenced by the ’40s fashions and became very popular in the mid ’70s.

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Nicole de la Marge in printed cotton dress with tiered collar by Noeleen King, photo by Norman Eales, May 1965 Photo source here.

In 1965 Noeleen was shipping her designs to the US and the UK from her factory of 80 machinists in the basement of 45 Flinders Lane and warehouse at 23 Lincoln Square South, Carlton. She lived in a South Yarra maisonette with her husband Ron (also her production manager).

Aus Womens Weekly 1965
The Australian Women’s Weekly 1965

Aus Womens Weekly 1969
The Australian Women’s Weekly 1969

Noeleen King label late '60s
Noeleen King label from the late 1960s.

Noeleen’s old factory in Flinders Lane is now a theatre and earlier this year a production was staged there about Noeleen’s life and label! I’m not sure when the label ceased, but I suspect it was the late ’70s – certainly, I can’t find any references to the company or fashions after then.

Thank you, Noeleen, I’ll be looking out for more of your beautiful fashions from the ’60s and ’70s.


28
Nov
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1950s, 1960s, Designers, Vintage 101 1 Comment

The other day I listed a new frock on the webshop, a beautiful and very well made dress by Sharene Creations.

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I’ve seen a few Sharenes and it’s an unusual name so with the help of Lesley Sharon Rosenthal’s excellent book “Schmattes” and the internet, I learnt a thing or two about the owner, Simon Shinberg.

He was “mature, worldly, sophisticated, well groomed and elegant” and “a lively energetic person” according to the young model who later became his wife.

Shinberg’s parents were well established with their own fashion business “Paulinette”, which had shops in Howie Court (Melbourne), Chapel Street (Windsor) and Carnegie. Simon started designing costumes for the Princess Theatre in the ’40s and then set up his first label “Simonette” in the back of Paulinette’s Chapel Street shop.

His first styles were the “shortie” swing coats that were fashionable in the late ’40s and he sold them to major department stores in Sydney like Mark Foys, Snows, David Jones and Farmers.

His father suggested he learn about making dresses so together they set up a manufacturing company called “Shinberg Manufacturing” producing tailored fashions for the Kay Dunhill label at the Myer Emporium, amongst others.

In the early ’50s Shinberg opened his next label – Sharene Creations.

In 1957 he produced costumes for the British performer Sabrina for her Australian tour and she was photographed many times in his fashions – here she is in one of her Sharene Creations gowns.

Sabrina (Norma Sykes)
Photo source and more information here.

Mr Shinberg travelled to Paris, and like many young designers visited the couturier shows to learn about the latest styles. With the help of a capable pattern maker, he was inspired to interpret the trends for Australians.

He was amongst the first to bring Givenchy’s new style “Le Sacque” to Australia and David Jones sold 8,000 of his Sack dresses in 1958! The Sack dress was a major change in silhouette from the heavily waisted dresses of the ’40s and ’50s and the waistless silhouette came to dominate the next decade.

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The Age, 1953 – the dress on the right has a very similar silhouette to my dress, with the sloping extended shoulder sleeve and skirt.

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The Age, December 1957 – Sharen’s Sack dress on the left won the top prize in the wool awards.

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Australian Women’s Weekly, 1961. Wool Gold Medal Award Contest: You can win a 350 pound wardrobe! You can see by the prices that Sharene was a quality label.

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The Age, 1964

In about 1964 Mr Shinberg started up a third label called “Mr Simon”, which produced the young and groovy fashions sought by the daughters of his original Sharene wearers – Mr Simon grew and became a major label through the ’70s and ’80s. I hope to cover that label in a second blog post with some examples of his work!

I was sad to discover that Simon only passed away a few weeks ago – he certainly left his mark on our cultural landscape. His clothes were beautiful. I’ll add more Sharenes as I find them, and you’re welcome to send any pics you have of your Sharenes too. In particular, I’d love to find a sack dress!

Sharene Creations label 1950s


7
Nov
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, Vintage 101 5 Comments

Yesterday I listed a beautiful 1920s silk velvet coat of purple velvet with grey silk lining on the webshop.

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The quality was self-evident: the lushness of the fabric, the generosity of the cut, the detail in the construction. The silk lining is unbelievably soft: more luxurious than any modern silk. The original label was inside and also, spoke of quality.

Robinson's label

This exceptional piece sold quickly and prior to packing her up and sending her to her new home, I did a little googling about the maker.

We all know that Regent St in London is one of the best shopping destinations – the border between Mayfair and Soho. Home to Hamley’s and the beautiful Liberty, and many other major retailers. Not surprisingly, every building in the street is heritage listed.

A business that occupied numbers 252 to 264 would be a very large and successful one – today these shops are occupied by many retailers including Monsoon and Natwest. It’s right near Oxford Circus, and I walked past these buildings every day when I worked around the corner for a fashion wholesaler in 1992.

I discovered that in the 19th century this part of Regent Street was the home of mourning dress with many shops dedicated to its wares. Peter Robinson’s was one of the largest – originally occupying the whole block from 250 to 264, and as demand changed, so did the shops: in 1894 they occupied 256-264 and in 1909 it could be found at 252-264. This suggests the garment was made after 1909.

The cocoon coat is such a distinctive style: introduced by Paul Poiret in 1913, this one could be from the ‘teens or it could be the early ’20s – I always date pieces as the most recent possible, to err on the side of caution but the construction, materials and label suggest this one is probably from the earlier end of that spectrum. It came from the wardrobe of a lady who also wore Poiret and Chanel.

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An advert for Peter Robinson’s from the Illustrated London News 1885.

The Victorians were big on mourning and the proper fashion: for a period of up to several years they would wear black after the death of a loved one, followed by a period of “half-morning” when the colours of grey and purple would be introduced. Here’s a half-mourning dress in the collection of the Victoria and Albert museum in London.

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This beautiful – and rather modern looking gown – was worn by Heather Firbank in 1910-1912 and designed by Redfern. It’s featured in the excellent V&A publication “Black in Fashion” by Valerie Mendes.

So with this in mind, the colours of the cocoon coat no longer look like fashion and more likely are to be the later stages of mourning – when a lady is re-emerging back into Society and ready to enjoy herself again. Further information could be obtained by enquiring from the original owner, who may be able to recall or research when family members passed away, helping to pin down a date.

I applied this knowledge to another ensemble in my collection – this luxurious skirt suit, that came to me via the Banana Room, a legendary vintage clothing shop in Adelaide. Like the cocoon coat, it features the colours of purple and pale grey – this time in reverse with a silver grey devore velvet stripe lined in purple silk crepe.

Like many older items, it’s a mysterious suit with style elements from many eras: the glass and enamel buttons look Victorian, the fabric could be too, and it has been meticulously hand tailored by experts.

At first sight I thought it must be late 19th century or early ’20 century were it not for the skirt length: but skirts are often updated when fashions change. Most telling are the large structured shoulder pads. I am not aware of ladies wearing shoulder pads prior to 1933, hence my dating of this suit as ’30s but there is no reason why a fashion innovator could not have requested such a detail earlier: perhaps she had admired those in her husband’s jackets and seen how they could rectify her own rounded shoulders? Perhaps they were inserted in later, although I doubt it as the jacket is so well made and shows no signs of alterations – you can always tell when shoulder pads have been added or removed, because the structure is built to accommodate them. Or not.

Margot Riley of Sydney’s State Library was in recently and recalled seeing the suit in the Banana Room collection: it was originally going to be part of the auction in 2005 but was withdrawn. Margot is of the opinion that it dates to the late ‘teens and is half-mourning. Margot, I think you’re right.

This is what I love most about vintage and antique fashion: there is so much to discover and learn, and how it adds depths to garments that we, in the modern age, can choose to wear as we wish. These were treasured pieces, worn for a transitional time in their original wearer’s lives but they’ve both experienced so much more since then and due to careful care, are now ready to be worn again or enjoyed as beautiful collectables of social and cultural history.

If you’re interested in mourning dress, the NGV had a wonderful exhibition on Black in fashion in 2008 with some great examples of mourning dress. Their publication should still be available from the NGV shop.

UPDATE: I think I have another item of half-mourning dress on the webshop – check out this beautiful crushed velvet purple cape with light grey cotton chenille flowers.


4
Oct
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1940s, Shop talk, Vintage 101 7 Comments

Have you noticed that I run a home for lost frocks? Since 1980 I’ve adopted dirty, damaged and downright neglected frocks. Frocks that were once beautiful and have fallen on hard times – abandoned by everyone else, I’ve sheltered them from harm and promised to one day return them to their days of glory.

It’s a good thing that you don’t see them as they come to me – many are in a very sad state. Most of my collection is more than fifty years old and that invariably seems to mean they’ve spent a spell out in the wild – stored in a leaky shed or attic, or perhaps crushed in boxes under beds. As long as the fabric is strong, I can help them though.

There’s an enormous pleasure to be derived from taking something that looks like it’s fit for the rag bin and turning it back into a thing of beauty to be enjoyed.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been going through hundreds of pieces, selecting items for tomorrow’s online garage sale and this little darling was sheltering amongst them.

Dress 6

It had been scrunched up in a ball, and stored somewhere damp. Long since dried out, it shows scars and stains from its ordeal.

The fabric is a sharkskin style shot taffeta, with a self-spot. Silk or rayon, a crisp fabric that needs to be dry cleaned. Generally I send frocks like this straight off to the cleaner but I haven’t had much success in them getting stains out so I thought perhaps it could go into the garage sale instead. I gave it a good pressing, but soon uncovered more issues.

Dress 1

Can you see the issues? It’s a beautiful and flattering dancing dress from the very late 1940s with a full circle skirt. The buttons are missing their rhinestones and the belt is missing too but this is an eminently wearable dress, even in its current condition – would look lovely with a crinoline petticoat for extra swoosh.

Are you ready? Look carefully for the large watermark stains, tinged with yellow and brown.

Dress 2

Dress 3

Dress 4

I can soak all of those out with an oxywash cleaner – warm water, and repeated soaks and they will come out. I’ll remove the buttons first (they already need their rhinestone centres replacing) and the dress will look much better – except that the taffeta will crease and lose its crispness and the dress might become floppy like a cotton.

However, on looking at these photos, you can see that the dress is already very crumpled after its adventures over the past sixty odd years so maybe it’s a risk worth taking? I’m going to give it a shot.

If you’re wondering why I don’t spot clean it, it’s because I’ve had too many bad experiences with the dye fading under modern products so I always treat the whole dress.

So this is one frock that won’t be going into the garage sale, but there are many more – it opens tomorrow, is only online (not in the salon) and I hope you find something lovely. There are sizes 2 to 18, from a hundred years of fashion and even some menswear all priced to clear. If you’d like to save the shipping you can pick your orders up from the shop in the week starting October 15th – Circa will be closed next week.

Dress 5

I’ll let you know how I go with the dress!


26
Sep
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1920s, Vintage 101 7 Comments

Tonight. Quick – what to wear?

I get a lot of people coming to see me because they are looking for help for a ’20s themed event. The real 1920s authentic fashions are wonderful but a little problematic: firstly, they’re not that easy to get. Circa is one of only a handful of shops in Australia that stock original ’20s. Secondly: we might not have the style you’re looking for – or in your size or preferred colour.

This is the downside of authentic fashions – we’re limited to what people wore, and how well it was preserved and how well we can restore it now. Fashions from this decade are almost a century old – we wouldn’t expect to find a Model T in our local car yard and so it is the same with ’20s fashions. Even if you find that Model T, it may not be up for a night hooning around with your mates. Fashion is the same: they’re often fragile or easily damaged and deserving of gentle treatment. You can wear them (and I do my best to make my ’20s wearable) but it’s not the same as wearing modern clothes.

For this reason I generally recommend two things for parties:
1 – Costume Hire.
2 – Creating the look with ’20s style items from other eras, especially accessories.

I love dress up events and I have a little advantage that most people don’t have: a vintage shop to dip into – here are some ways you can create a ’20s look without investing a lot in an outfit that might be in shreds by the end of the evening, and enjoy yourself at the same time.

Firstly, there are two things to consider:
1 – What does the event call for? Where will it be held? Inside or outside? Is there a theme? Day or evening? Will you be sitting, standing, dancing?
2 – What would you feel good wearing? There’s no point dressing up in something you feel terrible or uncomfortable in – the whole purpose of these events is to enjoy yourself, so you still need to preserve an aspect of yourself, even if it’s only a little one.

For my event tonight, it’s a Murder Mystery hosted by Secret Squirrel Productions set in 1927 Chicago. Yes, there will be gangsters! It’s held in a Fitzroy cocktail bar and there will be drinks and canapes – I imagine there will be places to sit but we’re probably going to stand for a lot of the evening, so I need to consider my shoes and how comfortable I will be in them.

My character, Marjorie, is a brothel Madam – so she’ll probably be wearing something dark, something sexy but business-like. Her style will be mature and glamourous. Being the ’20s, her dress will be fairly shapeless, with no cleavage or waist and the emphasis on the hips and legs.

The character suits me, but the ’20s style does not suit my figure – I like to emphasis my curves, not downplay them. I’ll create this look by using a dark but glitzy colour palette.

Firstly – research: I reached for my convenient copy of “Jazz Age Beauties” with many beautiful photos by Alfred Cheney Johnston, and I posted a few nice ones to Instagram.

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Then I bobbed my hair. Don’t worry, I wanted to cut it short anyway, so this was a good excuse.

Generally I dress from the shoes up, especially if I’m likely to be standing a lot – I love Mary Jane style shoes and have lots, so it was easy to pick out a couple of pairs.

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But these are the ones I’d really like to wear: Edwardian style lace up boots. Custom made when we were in Paris last.

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Perfect for a contrast stocking underneath, so you can see all the lacing – ideally I’d like an Edwardian style stocking with vertical stripes but alas, not in fashion currently so I bought a selection.

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Now that I had my shoes and stockings sorted, I added some headwear: this piece was made by Louise Black who has a wonderful sense of dark ’20s style.

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Lots of beads are needed too…..

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I’m going to wear a simple black dress and the accessories will do the work, but I need something to go on top – perhaps one of these jackets, now available from the salon, and coming soon to the webshop.

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Or a silk knit ’20s cardigan.

If you need a dress, you could wear a ’20s revival dress from the ’60s or the ’80s – here’s one available now from the webshop.

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Lastly, here’s what I wore to the NGV Deco exhibition opening – can you believe this was more than five years ago? I’m wearing a black silk ’20s dress, ’30s silk velvet jacket and Deco dress clips…and blonde hair! Sometimes I forget that pink isn’t my natural colour.

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The important thing with your ’20s party is to look fabulous and have a wonderful time! If I can be of service in helping create your look, come and see me.


30
Aug
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1960s, 1970s, Costume Collections, Designers, Vintage 101 8 Comments

There’s nothing new under the sun, is there?

I’m reminded of this constantly when I see contemporary fashion ranges because they’re always similar to something that has been done before – currently we’re seeing a lot of the late ’70s to early ’80s and a smattering of early to mid ’90s.

For me, all of it was more interesting the first time around so it works best when a new spin or twist can be applied.

Today I read this:

Len Vogue 1974 3

It sounds like the current crisis, doesn’t it? Except that this is old news from The Age in 1974!

I was researching Len Vogue – because I find lots of Len Vogues and I wanted to know more.

Len Vogue opened in 1965 and closed in 1975 and supplied over 1,000 retailers around Australia including their own shops.

They became successful because instead of the usual system of the time, whereby retailers would order from sample ranges and wait for delivery, Len Vogue produced stock daily and kept a large amount available at all times.

They started off as Len Vogue Industries, and developed into Len Vogue Distribution as their grew their list of customers – and had a team of fashion designers and researchers to produce up to 30,000 garments a week from forty factories!

That’s a lot of frocks!

They were based at 31 Wangaratta Street, Richmond, tucked behind the Corner Hotel and a stone’s throw from Richmond Train station.

Because fashion styles go in and out, I really appreciate the certainties in the fashion world and if you can pin down the dates that a label operated, it can be very useful.

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I have this Len Vogue ensemble, just listed on the web shop today.

Dress and jacket ensembles came in during the ’30s and again in the ’50s to early ’60s and at first I wondered if this was from that later era? It has the princess seams, and shift silhouette that was popular in the early part of the ’60s but the candy stripe reminded me of this dress in the Darnell Collection, that is featured in my book “Love Vintage” and also last year’s “Fashion Meets Fiction” exhibition.

So I wondered if my ensemble could be late ’60s too? A google through the newspaper archives found the relevant dates so now I’m happy on when it was probably made.

This style is perfect for the races or a wedding, especially with some nice accessories.

Have you found any Len Vogues during your vintage adventures?

Len Vogue label

Update: Shel has sent in pics of her Len Vogue ’60s dress and label – thank you Shel. I love it! Readers, you’re always welcome to send me pics when I post about fashion houses – the more designs we can see of a label, the more it contributes to our knowledge of them.

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Photo reproduced courtesy Shel Wang.

Update: Rachelle has sent in a pic of her Len Vogue early ’70s sundress, and some articles from the Australian Women’s Weekly.

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Photo reproduced courtesy Rachelle Summers.

AWW 1968
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Australian Women’s Weekly – 1968

AWW 1972

Australian Women’s Weekly – 1972


29
Aug
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1940s, 1950s, Vintage 101 3 Comments

When I ran Sydney vintage clothing shop “Albert and Gladys” in the late ’80s one of the biggest sellers were ’50s rope petticoats – and they’re still the biggest nostalgia item at Circa, as older ladies see them and get taken back to another time.

They seem to have been de rigueur for a certain era, and were more popular than the big, boofy nylon tulle crinolines trimmed in lace and satin. If you’ve worn both types you’ll know what I’m talking about – the tulle petticoats are lovely but the scratchy nylon puts little rips into your stockings so it’s best to wear a slip underneath them, plus they tend to rip easily.

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They do look fabulous though: here’s a nice example from Mags Rags – I’m sure this one won’t hurt your stockings.

yellow crinoline
Image source

We have one at Circa we use for photo shoots and it often needs little repairs. Vintage versions are often shabby if they’ve been worn – I still have all of my old crinolines, that I wore under floral cotton dresses in the ’80s but they’re no longer in good enough condition for resale, so I keep them for old time’s sake.

Cotton rope petticoats on the other hand, are incredibly robust – ladies boiled them up and starched them so they stuck right out, and even when you ripped them badly, they were easy to mend or patch. I’ve often wondered why more haven’t survived, but during the ’60s they were probably thrown out.

Rope (or corded as our American friends call them) petticoats are very full and have rows of rope sewn into casings, to produce a stiffness. They were an early form of hooped petticoat, and go back a long way, as rope has always been an easy to acquire product and they’re simple to make – ladies wore them during the Renaissance and Regency/early Victorian eras before steel hoops came in but in modern times, they’re associated with the late ’40s and ’50s.

One row of rope will give weight to a hem, which will then hang straightly but swing out when dancing, as evidenced here in this late ’40s ballgown worn by Candice DeVille in a fashion parade for the launch of “Our Girls” a book by Madeleine Hamilton.

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I’ve sewn many rope petticoats and dresses, and the key is to sew the rope in very tightly. If the casing is too loose, the rope becomes floppy. Sometimes you get many rows of rope, sewn together in parallel rows – as in this re-enactment petticoat found on Pinterest.

corded petticoat 475
Image source

For mid century petticoats the ropes are generally further apart in as in a tiered peasant-style petticoat, as they are in this late ’40s skirt, now available in the web shop.

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Wearing petticoats feels wonderful, you just want to swish around in them – and dancing is even better. Once you’ve tried it, I guarantee you’ll want to wear them more often!

I used to wear two or three at a time and once had trouble at a party, when my skirts were too wide to fit down the hallway of a Newtown Victorian terrace house. Ah, that was a great night :)


15
Aug
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1950s, 1960s, Vintage 101 8 Comments

Today I’m listing part of a collection of fabulous beaded cardigans from Empire Vintage.

I consider beaded cardigans to be an vintage fashion essential, but they’re getting harder and harder to find in good condition these days.

When I first started out collecting,, wearing vintage fashion I befriended all the lovely old ladies who worked in the local op shops. A particular favourite was a North Perth op shop which seemed to be full of treasures: the darling ladies would put presents aside for me.

One of their gifts ended up in my book “Love Vintage” – a ’50s cardigan with embroidered grub roses. It was a particular favourite because it went so well with my floral ’50s frocks and I wore it and mended it until it was in shreds – in fact, the condition is now so poor that Tira and I weren’t able to take a full photo of it for the book, it’s that shabby, so what you see is a detail of the embroidery. Even though I’ll never wear it again I can’t bear to part with it. It holds too many personal stories.

I like to say that I’ve made all the vintage fashion mistakes, so that you don’t have to and this story is particularly embarrassing – those wonderful old dears in North Perth, who did a great deal to help me on my voyage of vintage education, one day presented me with a beaded ’50s cardigan. It was cream with diamantes and pearls and other beads and quite wonderful…but beaded cardigans were very much out of fashion at the time and it seemed too fancy for my teenage wardrobe so being a sewer, I did something awful of which I’m still very ashamed of: I removed all of the beads and threw the cardigan away.

Are you horrified at me? Can I mention that I was only fifteen? Needless to say, I never did get around to using those beads and shame of shames, I still have the bag – it’s a very big bag, there are a lot of beads on a decent ’50s cardigan – but maybe now in my role as vintage vendeuse and restorer I can use those beads to fix up other cardigans and pay penance?

I’m still shocked at myself.

Back to beaded cardigans – I’ve had many since then, including a black one that I was wearing in my UK passport photo in 1991, along with an angora scarf and an early ’40s princess line coat with shoulders like rocket launchers – I still have the coat, although it quickly proved too heavy to wear so was substituted with a ’60s peacoat from Camden markets that I liked in crimson silk. The beaded cardigan was worn until it was in shreds. You can’t say I don’t love my vintage.

But really, back to beaded cardigans. It’s a common myth that they are a ’50s fashion but most of them were made during the hey day of beaded fashions: the ’60s. I’ve heard there were big workshops holding as many as a hundred Chinese ladies in Hong Kong, meticulously hand sewing beads on Western fashions – a forefront of our current “Made in China” days. They were made in standard designs or to order, and sold to fashion companies around the world who put their own labels in them: this is why you’ll find similar designs from different designers.

The last time beaded fashions were so popular was the ’20s, when the best work came from Paris but the French were doing them mostly with beading machines. It horrifies me to think of those poor Chinese ladies, hand beading – which is a slow and laborious task – when there were machines that could have done the job. Their wages were cheap of course, but I do worry about the toll it took on their hands and their eyes.

I can’t do much to prevent the exploitation of workers in other countries – other than purchase responsibly – especially when it was fifty years ago, but I can cherish the work that these ladies have left us with, and preserve it for a future generation.

Here are some things you may not know about beaded cardigans:

1950s beaded cardigans
- tend to have more shape (difference in size between the bust and waist)
- sit on the waist rather than the hips.
- sleeves are more likely to be shorter too: bracelet or three quarter length, to show off gloves and bracelets.
- colours and designs show more variation, with soft pastel shades popular.
- usually just the body is lined, but not the sleeves.

1960s beaded cardigans
- are boxier in shape (less difference between the bust and waist)
- sit on the hips rather than the waist.
- sleeves are long, to the wrist.
- colours and designs are more standardised: instead of pastels they tend to come in cream or black.
- fully lined with the sleeves and body.



How to look after your beaded cardigan:

- Firstly, gently hand wash in luke warm water and wool wash or dry clean. You need be sure that there aren’t any critters in it, as moths love the soft fibres.

- If you can’t launder or dry clean right away, put into the freezer for a week – especially if you find any moth nibbles.

- Dry flat on a towel: the beads are heavy especially when the garment is wet and can pull it out of shape if you line dry.

- Press with a warm iron, carefully avoiding the beads and pearly buttons if present.

- If you’re missing pearly buttons, they can usually be found at haberdashers or craft shops. I keep a stash as they’re very handy.

- Check for loose beads and secure using a beading needle (very thin and long, see your haberdasher) and a strand of matching thread.

- If there is only minimal bead loss, simply securing the existing beads will probably be all that you need to do but if there are visible patches, replacement beads can be found at bead shops, haberdashers or online. Many vintage beads of the ’50s and ’60s are indistinguishable from modern versions and come in a wide range of colours.

- another option for larger bead loss is to apply a beaded applique.

- beads and appliques also are great for covering mends, moth holes and marks, not just for beaded cardigans but in general.


5
Jun
2013
Posted by Nicole in Vintage 101 3 Comments

Often mentioned in hushed tones, the mysterious process of shattering silk is one of the major issues that you’re likely to come across during your adventures in vintage and antique fashions.

It’s a rather misunderstood issue and will often be used as a generic term for fabric that is falling apart, forming rips or holes or turning to dust in your hands. Deterioration might indicate shattering or it could be dry rot or iron mordant that is eating your beloved dress.

Better quality silks are heavier and so historically silk was sold by weight. Some manufacturers introduced metallic salts into the process to make it heavier, and receive a higher price. Additionally, adding the salts (which usually contained iron or tin) created a fabric with a pleasing rustling noise, for example silk taffetas and satins. These were particularly popular during the 19th century in ladies eveningwear, but also mens accessories like bow ties and cravats.

Over time, the salts damage the fabric, producing small tears that become big tears. The effect is rather as if someone has taken a razor to the garment. Here’s a stunning capelet from the 1890s that was sold in the recent National Trust vintage clothing sale.


Please excuse the less than ideal iphone pics.

In this case, the shattering process is well underway and has affected most of the fabric – creating a striking effect that almost looks like a design feature. When a large amount of shattering is present, it can be quite beautiful.

This capelet is made of shot silk, where the warp threads are black and the weft are green, producing a rich two-tone effect. The black appears in the shattered rips – it almost looks like ribbons.

The garment in this case, is quite wearable although continued wear and exposure to light will increase the deterioration until it’s completely shredded. The black panels are made of a different fabric, so are not affected. I really like the look, although we’re looking at advanced decay.

Victorian and Edwardian garments are the most affected but there are many 20th century fashions that are also afflicted: the most recent that I’ve seen was an evening gown with red roses printed on black from about 1957 – stunning dress, but a heart-breaker.

Shattering generally appears along the weave, so the rips will appear mostly in the same direction – or where the fabric has been folded due to the stress placed on the fabric. Mostly they will be random, and that’s one of the give-aways: dry rot and iron mordant affect certain areas, but shattering is indiscriminate.

There is no way to stop the shattering process, so it’s best to avoid acquiring an afflicted garment unless your plans are for a short term use or like me, you love the fragile beauty of it.

Of course, if you happen to have in your collection something fabulous like a 1939 Balenciaga “Infanta” gown, like the National Gallery of Victoria – you will do your best to restore it.

Backing the delicate textile onto a material can strengthen the fabric and controlling light and stress will help too. For professional textile restorers there are a range of products available.

Here is a photo of the NGV’s gown – reproduced with thanks. No damage is visible so it’s likely to be slight, which is very good news. I do hope that one day we can see it on display. It’s silk satin trimmed in velvet.

This post is part of the Vintage 101 series – you can see more posts in the series here.


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