24
Dec
2014
Posted by Nicole in General, Vintage 101, Vintage Fabric 4 Comments

More than seven years and 620 blog posts later, I think it could be time to write an informative blog post for those starting out in vintage – what to look for, and how to date fashion.

Here’s the disclaimer:
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There is an unlimited amount of information you can know on this topic. It’s been my focus for almost 35 years and I still find items that give me pause for thought. That’s a big part of why I love it: you could never be bored with vintage fashion, there is so much to see and learn. What I hope to offer is a solid starting point for you to explore from.
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Circa Vintage Webshop 194
Silk devore’ velvet 1920s opera jacket modelled by St Clare.

Identifying vintage is like looking at a jigsaw puzzle and putting the pieces together in the right way to come to the most likely conclusion about what it is. There are a few different elements to consider and weight needs to be given to each:

1 – Fabric
2 – Construction
3 – Style
4 – Detailing (if any)
5 – Labels (if any)
6 – Openings and Fastenings (if any)

Circa Vintage Webshop 10a 2014 197
Wool lace featured in an early 1960s afternoon coat, modelled by Becky Lou.

General notes on dating items:
– I always date items as the most recent they could be, because the likelihood is towards recent over older. Older garments have had more time to wear out or be thrown away and so rarity increases.

– Certainties are rare in fashion so they always outweigh other factors.

– Never rely on a seller’s opinion of a date, not even if she wore it “back in the day” or is an expert. There’s an enormous quantity of mis-dated or even fraudulent vintage available and it’s best to increase your knowledge so you can feel confident of your own opinion. This is particularly important for expensive items. If in doubt, ask questions or seek a second opinion.

Circa Vintage Webshop 12a details 2014 039
Cotton with machine applied soutache cording and pin-tucking, from a 1950s day dress.

1 – Fabric.
Vintage fabric is one of the best things about vintage fashion: often luxury materials are used that are sought after and expensive. Many fabrics aren’t even made any more. Your enjoyment wearing it will be dictated to a large degree by how nice the material is.

Here’s where technology is important – when a fabric was invented or introduced is a certainty. For example, if nylon wasn’t used until ’47, then that cute little nylon ’20s dress is not going to be a real ’20s dress (so it should be priced accordingly). Likewise a Victorian dress made of polyester must be a more modern revival style.

Pay particular attention to fabric when you acquire an item because if you want to wear it, or invest in it as a collectable it is imperative than the condition be good.

Sometimes in vintage you will find “deadstock” or “new old stock” – these are vintage pieces that have not been worn. They’re more sought after and collectable but their condition reflects their storage, not their wear, and it’s not uncommon for these items to show stains, rips and other deterioration.

Any deterioration can provide clues to age but more importantly, diminish the value and life of the garment. Think carefully before buying anything that either needs major work, or can not be repaired. If you don’t sew, you might like to consider every missing button or stitch as well, as it can get costly to replace and repair these items if you’re paying someone else.

Don’t take the sellers word for it when they say “an easy fix” because they often lack the skill and experience to know what’s involved and leave it up to you to take the risk.

Circa Vintage Webshop Sept 2014 172

Hand beaded and embroidered alaskine (silk and wool mix) evening dress from the 1960s.

On the other hand, if you’re okay with flaws (or handy with a needle and thread) you can pick up some serious bargains because a high proportion of vintage is damaged, and should be priced significantly cheaper for it.

Every fabric is comprised of the fibre (or textile) and the weave (what the fibre is made into). For example, silk satin – silk is the fibre and satin is the weave, so you can also get polyester satin and rayon satin.

An effective way to test for fabric composition is to (carefully) burn a snippet – Instructions and results can be found at the Vintage Fashion Guild.

Another way is to build up your knowledge through touching fabrics and looking at the labels, but as many fabrics are mixes of fibres, the burn test will provide more accurate results.

Here’s a quick low down on fibre types:

Natural fibres (cottons, wools, silks, rubber, linens, leathers, furs etc)
Available during any time period, although the weaves vary with fashion and can help with dating eg, silk shantung had a real moment in the early ’60s especially in teal and orange colours.

Silk organza was popular in the ’50s. Silk crepe was a staple of ’30s dinner dresses, and silk chiffon often found in ’20s beaded evening dresses.

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Silk organza and rayon lace from an early 1950s party dress

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Cotton lace from a late 1940s fitted dress.

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Printed rubber embossed with a jacquard texture, from a 1950s raincoat

Note that natural fibres are the most comfortable to wear and easy to restore, but are more expensive to buy, especially new.

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Silk satin with hand beaded and sequinned design, from a 1960s cheong sam dress.

Man-made fibres (rayons and viscoses)
Invented in the late Victorian era as “artificial silk” or “art silk”, rayon (also called viscose, especially in the UK) developed into a wide range of natural fibre fabric imitators in the ’30s, when they were particularly popular during the Great Depression and later during WW2. Eg, faux linen, faux silk.

Circa Vintage Webshop 001
Rayon lace and tulle, from a 1930s lace blouse.

Pre ’50s rayons have a different composition than post ’50s rayons and require hand-washing (or in the case of crepe, dry cleaning). Rayons mirror the nice qualities of natural fibres and you can soak out stains – unless they’re crepe, which will shrink and rip – but lack their strenth so be gentle especially if they’re very old.

They’re beautiful fabrics though, and many of us seek them out.

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Rayon crepe from a 1930s tea gown – modelled by Kelly Ann.

Underarm protectors (small crescent shaped shields that are affixed to the interior and washed between uses, available from haberdashers) are recommended to best preserve the underarms, which rip when they’ve absorbed perspiration. Swing dancers take note please!

Rayons are named for the slight sheen their fibres can produce, although it’s hard to see in some weaves.

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Rayon shantung and guipure lace from an early 1960s dress ensemble set.

Synthetic fibres (nylons, polyesters, polyamids, lycras etc)
Nylon first appeared as a silk substitute in the late ’30s for hosiery and was developed into fashion fabrics for clothes post WW2 (1947 was when the industry got back into the swing).


I’ll confess that I originally dated this dress as late ’30s but a burn test revealed its late ’40s origins.

Polyesters were introduced into ladieswear in the ’50s and quickly become popular in the U.S.A. but were rarely used in Australia until the next decade when they really took off.

Until the mid ’60s each factory used its own trademarked name for the fibre: Dacron (an early acrylic which imitates wool), Terylene, Crimplene….if you find a fabric name on a label you don’t recognise, it’s likely to be a type of polyester, the umbrella term that was introduced in the ’60s.

Circa Vintage Webshop 112 2014 122
Metallic and synthetic brocade evening gown with fins, early 1960s.

There is an issue with early synthetics in that they’re prone to breaking down, especially when in sponge forms, linings and paddings like bras and swimwear, hats and furs. I recommend my blog post on Devil Dust - the grainy red or brownish-orange coloured residue that can form is unpleasant and irreversible. If your garment shows any sign of this effect, tread with caution. Many sensational ’60s frocks have been lost to this issue, at all levels of quality. I can only hope that they’ve solved the problem or we’ll all be drowning in Devil Dust in a few decades.

In recent years we also see polyamids. Most modern garments are made of synthetics: they’re generally robust but prone to pilling and hard to remove oil-based stains. From an investment point of view, they don’t hold their value as well as natural fibres or early man-made fibres either. It’s no secret that I prefer natural fibres.

Synthetics feel warmer to the touch than natural or man-made materials, but can otherwise imitate other fibres. Modern synthetics can be quite luxurious too: they’ve come a long way from Crimplene.

More on the other topics – Construction, Style, Detailing, Labels and Openings and Fastenings – soon!

Here are some useful links:
– If you’d like to look at more specific fabric deterioration topics like shattering, dry rot and iron mordant please check out my series of Vintage 101 posts.

– If you’d like to know more about particular fabrics and how to identify them, please see the Vintage Fashion Guild’s excellent Fabric Resource.

Lucas Nyaloc


9
Aug
2014
Posted by Nicole in 1940s, 1950s, Vintage 101 1 Comment

One of the questions I most frequently encounter is that of vintage versus reproduction fashion.

Now, as we know – real vintage is an authentic creation from a previous era. Reproduction is modern, brand new fashion, usually mass-produced and based on the style of a previous era. It can be a little confusing these days as some (contemporary) designers call their wares “vintage” when really they’re repros, and that with sufficient passing of time, the repros themselves become vintage.

From the in-box:

What do you think about modern companies reproducing vintage textiles? I just sold two excellent print dresses to the lady who runs a popular fashion label and am somewhat concerned/intrigued about the copyright of such images. I wonder if it is similar to book copyright dissolving 50-years after the author’s death. Do you know if designs go into the public domain?

Fashion is considered utilitarian and not subject to copyright except for in exceptional circumstances where a designer can prove that they have created a new innovation. Then they need to spend the time and money to obtain legal protection, whereupon they can defend their design from copyists. This is a fraught process and rarely undertaken (much to the frustration of fashion designers everywhere). It also offers even less protection in the modern world thanks to our global internet driven trade, where what happens in other countries is mostly beyond your control.

It’s almost as if you know you’re succeeding as a designer if someone, somewhere is reproducing your designs, claiming credit for them and selling them for less money (probably at a lesser quality), perhaps even using your images. Awful, isn’t it? Etsy in particular, is trawled by the unethical and considered a showroom for stealing other’s creativity.

There are advantages to the lack of legal protections though, and if you’re interested I encourage you to view this excellent TED talk by Johanna Blakely, which explains it in much greater detail.


Note: if you’re reading this on email, click here to see the video.

Now what of the actual reproductions themselves and how do they compare to real vintage? There are two types of reproductions: the true reproductions and the inspirations.

True Reproductions are where a designer takes an original vintage piece and copies it – generally this means that the design will be very close to the original with small concessions to a modern wearer, for example, shorter skirt length or more comfortable fit.

More noticeably, there will be differences in fabric and construction – for example, here is a ’50s style dress made by J.Peterman.

JPeterman

Whilst this dress faithfully reproduces the vintage print, fabric and style, the skirt is noticeably shorter and it features a centre back invisible zipper and a plain fabric belt – the original would have had a side or centre back metal zipper and the belt would have been made of the same print. The faux-wrap may also be a modern design concession, as you rarely see this in ’50s day dresses (more often in evening wear).

Here’s a dress available through local label Vicious Venus – based on Hawaiian sarong dresses of the ’40s.

ViciousVenus

It looks very authentic but it’s slightly shorter than an original and the “stretch cotton sateen” is a cotton and Spandex mix to give it a little stretch, whereas the ’40s version would be soft cottony rayon like this one.

Another good example of a reproduction label is Heyday and here is vintage fashion blogger Fleur deGuerre modelling a ’40s style dress.

Heyday

Heyday take their vintage seriously and have done a great job of faithfully reproducing this dress including the gingham fabric, vintage style buttons and ric rac. When it was introduced Fleur described how the authentic style was tweaked slightly for modern fit – not that you can tell, it looks very authentic.

I haven’t seen this dress in person but I suspect it would offer a challenge to someone trying to determine if it was real ’40s or not. Thankfully it will have modern labels which will include sizing and care information. If those were removed you could look to modern construction, with overlocking, polyester thread and modern plastic buttons. The seams and hem allowance probably won’t be as generous its WW2 original. If you want to get really finicky, the quality of the gingham also won’t be as good as the earlier version, and may crease a little more (earlier cottons tend to be thicker and more robust) – you can see it’s a little sheer against the sun too, suggesting lightness. It would definitely pass muster for your recreation event, especially if you accessorise it well. Bonus points for UK manufacture too.

Now we have the “vintage inspirations”, which – let’s face it – are almost all fashion out there because thanks to the cycle of fashion, designers are constantly dipping into the past for something fresh.

Designers like to design, and (with the exception of the faithful recreations like those above) generally take something that has been done before and give it a twist, modernise or personalise it. So you see combinations of elements from different eras.

Most vintage reproduction labels fall into this category because although they might call their dresses “1940s” or “1950s”, our grandmothers wouldn’t have recognised them. They also feature modern construction techniques, fabrics and detailing.

Here’s a dress from Stop Staring, worn by fashion blogger Forever Amber – the sweetheart neckline hints at the ’40s whilst the fitted, wiggle shape is a ’50s design. Polka dots and the pale blue contribute to the ’50s look too. The hemline is early ’60s and the cap sleeves are modern.

Stop Staring

It’s a darling, but very different to real vintage – it also features a modern style keyhole cutout back and probably a nylon zipper and no seam allowances.

Even more improbable as real vintage, are dresses like this cutie from Faster Pussycat.

Faster Pussycat

A ’50s style dress with extra short skirt and centre front faux buttons, it includes a ’40s style elastic shirring waistband and is made of chiffon (probably easy care polyester). The real giveaway to its modern origin is the incredible Mexican-inspired print: cameos with zombie skulls, roses and black widow spiders.

This is one of the many things I love about vintage: seeing how it is reinvented and is constantly inspiring new things. We live in the modern world and we’re fortunate in that we can pick and choose what we want from the past.

Repro fashion comes in a range of sizes, probably colours and perhaps fabrics and requires less care to look after than true vintage, which offers better quality, unique fabrics and detailing as well as that lovely thrill of knowing that there’s probably only one of your item and you never need worry about walking into a party to see someone wearing your frock. Also, it’s the greenest of all fashion: more win.

Regardless of whether you’re wearing authentic vintage, vintage reproduction or vintage inspired, the style is only one component – look out for good quality, as cheaply made fashions won’t look good or last the distance.

Personally, I love vintage, real vintage of the sort that was made a long time ago and looked after properly, you’ll still be wearing and appreciating for many years to come. Of course!


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.

Subbaculture from Top Fellas
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
Sharps n Skins 1

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.

nicole-de-la-marge-in-printed-cotton-dress-with-tiered-collar-by-noeleen-king-photo-by-norman-eales-may-1965-b
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.

Sharene Creations dress 1950s 475

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.

Sharene Creations label 1950s

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.

Simple for summer 475
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.

Aus Womens Weekly 1961
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.

The Age 1964 475
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.

Mr Simon 60s label
Late ’60s label, photo courtesy Wendy of Mint Condition vintage boutique.

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!


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.

01A6C7YH
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.

VAM half mourning 475

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 :)


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