A Sparkling Vintage Life

Style

What is style?


Style is not applying make-up in public, indulging in a passion for ornament, or rushing out to purchase the latest design in a fashion product. Nor is style the ignoring of social conventions, such as going without a hat or gloves on city streets or other places good taste indicates they should be worn. Style is not wearing slacks or shorts, or head scarves, or going without hose on these same city streets. Style is not wearing our evening finery during working hours. Style is not wearing hair curlers and unattractive garments among family members so that one can be a ravishing beauty for strangers.” (Grace Margaret Morton, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance, 1943)

Some days I think thank goodness those days are over. Who wants to feel they have to wear hose to be decently dressed? Other days I think how far we have fallen. It will come as no surprise to readers of A Sparkling VIntage Life that much of modern life grates on my last nerve. I think tight yoga pants worn outside of the yoga studio without something draped over top are pretty much an abomination on most human shapes. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to vintage-style clothing and attitudes. And yet, my own wardrobe too often contains the drab, the unflattering, and the shabby, because I’m “too busy” to think about clothes or “too comfortable” to rouse myself to put on something with a proper zipper.

What are we saying out ourselves as a society when we not only give our own selves a pass on slovenliness, but admire it in others as some sort of virtue signaling?

I don’t have the answer. Just a question that’s been banging around in my head recently. Feel free to weigh in.

Y is for Yardley

One of the oldest soap, toiletries, and cosmetics companies in the world is Yardley of London. Established in 1770 by the Cleaver family, and named for a William Yardley who purchased the company in 1823, Yardley was a major producer of soaps, perfumes, powders, and hair pomades throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The company’s signature scent, English Lavender, was launched in 1873. The company supplied toiletries to several British monarchs. In the Swinging Sixties, Yardley got a big boost in the American markets with the so-called “British Invasion” which revered all things Brit, including music by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Carnaby Street fashions, and the model Twiggy, who became the “face” of Yardley. Today Yardley is owned by Wipro of India. (Source: Wikipedia)

W is for Wasp-Waist

At the turn of the twentieth century, the feminine ideal, at least in the United States, was the Gibson Girl. Drawn by artist Charles Dana Gibson, the Gibson Girl was recognized by her pouffy updo, high-necked blouses, swan neck, and proportionately small waist. This silhouette was sometimes called a “wasp waist” because of it’s narrowness in proportion to the rest of the body … like a wasp. This look was achieved with the aid of a tight corset. Looks very elegant, had to have been uncomfortable at times. By the late 1910s, waistlines were more natural, until by the 1920s the look was boyish, straight up and down, with no waist definition at all. I think most women look best with some waist definition, but not as exaggerated as the Edwardians liked it. After all, a girl’s gotta breathe!

U is for Umbrella

It’s been an unusually rainy spring here in North Idaho. I try not to complain too much, as lots of moisture now will lessen the fire hazards of summer. Nevertheless, it’s dreary to look out on gray skies and raindrops day after day.

To the rescue: a cheery umbrella! Or brolly, as the Brits say. There are so many cute ones on the market nowadays, it’s enough to make a girl wish for rain just to be able to carry one. (So we’re clear, an umbrella is carried in the rain. A parasol protects from the sun.)

Looking forward to the parasol days to come! In the meantime, I’m looking for the sort of umbrella that will make me want to sing in the rain!

S is for Skirts

I love to wear skirts. I think they’re so much more comfortable and flattering than jeans or slacks (on my admittedly zaftig shape). I like the way skirts swish around my legs in summer, creating their own breeze when I walk. I like tucking my legs up underneath for warmth when I sit (of course, it has to be the right kind of skirt for this kind of maneuver … a pencil skirt won’t do the trick).

Skirts are versatile. In 1964, Genevieve Dariaux wrote, “With several skirts, blouses, sweaters, and an assortment of belts it is possible to be very attractively dressed and even to create the impression of possessing a rather vast wardrobe, all for a minimum investment.”

But for a reason I can’t fathom, she goes on to say “a skirt can be worn with a sweater or blouse day in, day out, from one end of the year to the other, almost anywhere at all–except on a city street (unless it is covered by a coat). What? Why would a skirt be considered inappropriate on a city street in 1964? That makes no sense to me. If anyone knows the answer to that puzzling statement, please post it in the comments.

Q is for Quality

Quality, when applied to clothes, is another of those words that can sound fusty and outdated to a modern ear. In an age of fast fashion, cheap materials, and instant everything, who has time to bother about quality? I’ve certainly worn my share of “great deals” that faded or fell apart after two or three washings, or shoes that looked fabulous only on the shoe rack and were sheer torture to wear.

In Ain’t Misbehavin’, Dot Rodgers experiences something similar: “Dot caught the bride glancing her way and lifted her rouged lips in what she hoped was a brilliant smile, all the while striving to rise above the scratchy lace trim torturing her collarbone. This gown is the absolute limit. The dainty shoes, too, that had looked so scrumptious in the footwear display at Marshall Field’s, proved no match for the length of Pastor Rooney’s droning remarks about the blessings of holy matrimony and whatnot.”

The question of high quality vs. cheap is not a new one. In The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance (1943) Grace Margaret Morton wrote, “The importance of good fabrics cannot be overemphasized, as good lines cannot be achieved in cheap or shoddy materials. As fabrics play an important role in style, so do fit and workmanship; cheap workmanship and poor fit can never be concealed.”

Veronica Dengle (1946) says it more colorfully: “Do not buy clothes of such poor material that they are ‘sleazy looking’ and out of shape after a few wearings. Cheap materials come back from the cleaner with crooked hems, shrunken sleeves, and gaping necklines. Learn the difference between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive.’ ”

Money doesn’t necessarily equal quality, though. There’s plenty of high-priced schlock out there, as well as sturdy, well-crafted bargains. Genevieve Dariaux (1964) reminds us, “A dress marked down to half price and worn only once is sheer extravagance, while a perfect little custom-made suit costing six times as much and worn with confidence day in and day out during eight months a year for several years is an outstanding bargain.”

(If you’re interested in looking more deeply into cheap fashion and its surprising impact on our closets, our economy, and our world, pick up the excellent book Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline.)

With a practiced eye, it’s possible to find well-made clothes at less-than-vertigo-inducing prices. Just be patient, watch for sales, and learn to recognize signs of quality when you shop, such as straight seams and hems, securely sewn buttons, easy-gliding zippers, no weird gaps or puckers in the construction. When you find yourself reaching for your favorite garments week after week, you’ll be glad you did.

M is for Mascara (and Maybelline)

Image source: retro-advertising.com

If there’s one cosmetic I hate to leave the house without, it’s mascara. Unadorned, my pale lashes cause people to ask if I’m feeling a bit peaked, to use  an antique euphemism for you look like death warmed over.

Today on M-day I’m lumping “mascara” and “Maybelline” together because, for many years, the two words were synonymous. According to The Maybelline Story, a book written by Sharrie Williams (grandniece of Maybelline’s founder), in 1915 Tom Lyle Williams developed a compound to help his sister, Mabel, who had singed her eyebrows and eyelashes in a kitchen accident. Tom observed how she mixed coal dust with Vaseline petroleum jelly to darken the remaining hairs. Armed with a rudimentary chemistry set, Tom worked https://www.amazon.com/Maybelline-Spirited-Family-Dynasty-Behind-ebook/dp/B008RDGIVCout a more suitable substitute. Ultimately the final product–not yet called mascara but simply “Maybelline,” as in “Wait here while I put on my Maybelline”–was manufactured by the Parke-Davis Laboratories in Michigan. Tom Lyle (always the two names together) named his company after Mabel, the product’s inspiration, who was employed at the company, along with several other family members.

While some sources credit Frenchman Edouard Rimmel, a perfumer, with the inventing the product. Rimmel’s mascara also was a mixture of coal dust and Vaseline, Maybelline surely did invent the cake mascara, which consisted of a solid cake of mascara in a tin, accompanied by a tiny applicator brush. (Today Besame Cosmetics makes an up-to-date version of cake mascara, which is surprisingly versatile as an eye liner and brow darkener as well. I’ve been using it with excellent results.) Revlon, a company founded by Charles Revson, later invented the wand-type mascara in a tube we’re familiar with today.

One of the obstacles the Williams family had to overcome in the World War I years was the negative reaction to eye makeup, which at the time was associated with theater people and prostitutes, not “nice” ladies. The company helped change attitudes by hiring wholesome-looking models and film stars in their advertising. In the 1920s, the public warmed to eye makeup as the flapper darkened her brows and lashes. And mascara has been with us ever since. Great Lash, Maybelline’s want mascara in the iconic pink-and-green tube, has been a bestseller since it’s introduction in the Sixties.

I was surprised to learn that Maybelline was headquartered in Chicago for decades. Chances are my fictional characters Marjorie and Dot would have “put on their Maybelline” in the 1920s! In 1967 Maybelline was sold to L’Oreal and today is known as “Maybelline New York.”

 

G is for Genteel

From the dusty archive of antique descriptions we don’t hear much anymore:

Genteel (jen-teel)/adj. From the Middle French gentil = gentle. a: Having an aristocratic quality or flavor; stylish. b: of or relating to the gentry or upper class  c: elegant or graceful in manner, appearance, or shape

It all sounds very Downton Abbey. Is “genteel” a word you ever find occasion to use? Do you know anyone personally who fits the description?

 

With the right lipstick, who needs a time-travel machine?

I don’t do a lot of product reviews on this blog (well, except for books, lol) but I feel compelled to share something that has gladdened my vintage-loving heart, and I thought some of you might get a kick out of it, too.

It’s a cosmetics company called Bésame, out of California. Founded by artist and cosmetic historian Gabriela Hernandez, Bésame produces cosmetics that replicate shades and formulas from the early- to mid-twentieth century (updated to today’s product-safety standards, and all products are cruelty-free and paraben-free).

I’d heard about Bésame a while back, but held off purchasing because the prices seemed a little high for my admittedly modest make-up budget. But I joined the mailing list, and it turns out they offer some great deals now and then that let me try some products without straining the piggy bank. I suppose I should mention here that I have no connection to the company, and any product I review, I purchased with my own money.

The items came packaged with a fun faux-“newspaper,” the Bésame Bugle, that describes not only the products and how to use them, but other newsy tidbits. For example, an article introducing their 1937 “Snow White” collection explains how the color palette was chosen based on the original animated film. Another article tells about Adriana Caselotti, the teenage Italian-American opera singer who voiced Snow White (described as “the perfect mix of child-like innocence with a strong operatic singing voice”). There’s even a word-search puzzle that had me hunting for “Evil Queen” and “True Loves Kiss”! Be still, my heart. These “newspapers” are a great example of how a company can promote its products and philosophy without being sales-y.

Back to the products. First off, the packaging is lovely–burgundy and gold in an Art Nouveau floral motif. Just looking at them on my shelf makes me happy. Two shades of lipstick I’ve tried are Victory Red (a vivid patriotic red–I believe it was a special edition, as I no longer find it on the website) and American Beauty (a softer berry red). The formula is more matte than glossy, which is good for me because gloss never seems to last too long on my lips. The instructions explain how to apply with the angled tip and blot with a tissue, which is exactly how I remember my mother applying her lipstick, back in the day.

I also remember my mom using cake mascara before the advent of the applicator-in-a-tube. Hers came in a little red box from Maybelline and was applied with a tiny brush that looked like something a doll would use. Bésame’s comes in a red-and-gold tin containing a cake of mascara and its own tiny brush. So far I’ve been a little too clumsy with the brush to make a success of it on my lashes, but I’ve found that I love using it as eye liner. I wet a narrow brush with water, brush it over the cake, and apply a thin line right next to my lashes. Works great!

Next I tried Cashmere Foundation in True Beige. It comes in stick form and takes a bit of blending, but I like how well it covers the redness in my face. I tend not to apply it all over, just in the areas where it’s needed, and I blend, blend, blend (sponge or fingers work well). Then I set it with Vanilla Brightening Powder, which comes with it’s own darling little puff. although I prefer a fluffy brush. It’s a finely-milled powder in a light, translucent color with a delicate vanilla scent. There are, of course, multiple shades to choose from, even color-correcting rose and violet. There are several cream and powder rouges available, too, but I usually skip rouge because of the aforementioned redness.

Finally, I picked up a sample set called “Decades of Fragrance.” The set contains six sample-size vials of colognes named–get this, vintage lovers–1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, and 1960! According to the company website, each scent “uses familiar ingredients from each period to create an impression of a decade of time.” (Note: The vials came packaged in a small cardboard box, not in the red velvet bag shown in the photo above. The bag is my own–but what a cute way to package them for Christmas, dontcha think?)

To wrap up, I feel like this company really “gets” me, as a customer and a fellow lover of all things vintage. I’m eager to try other products as needs arise and the coffers allow. Even if I’d just bought one lipstick, I would have enjoyed feeling transported back to the grace and elegance of an earlier era, connected somehow to generations of ladies who came before us. If that sounds like your kind of travel, visit Bésame and check out what they have to offer.

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When Yoga Pants Intrude on the Human Eyeball’s Safe Space

yoga-pants-protest

Photo source: Boston Globe/Jim Davis

Here’s a shout-out in support of Alan Sorrentino.

In case you haven’t heard of Alan Sorrentino, he’s a Rhode Island man who ignited a firestorm of protest when he wrote a letter to the editor of his local paper. The letter criticized the widespread practice of women wearing tight yoga pants in public. To register their disapproval of Mr. Sorrentino’s opinion, a coterie of ladies decided to parade past his house wearing yoga pants. Because, of course, they are more than entitled to adorn their backsides with unflattering clothing, and heaven help anyone whose opinion differs from theirs.*

As an aid to those who don’t get out much, yoga pants are extremely tight-fitting pants that aren’t so much figure-flattering as figure-outlining. They leave little of the female anatomy to the imagination. In their proper place–i.e., a yoga studio–they are stretchy and comfortable and help instructors observe that poses are being done correctly, that the proper muscles are being engaged, etc., –similar to why ballet students wear leotards and tights. Except that leotards and tights have never caught on as a fashion trend for grown women, unless gracefully covered by a skirt or wrap when the wearer leaves the studio. Yoga pants, on the other hand, have been embraced as an everyday clothing choice by women everywhere–meaning that eyeballs everywhere have been  subject to some pretty blush-inducing views.

I wrote about yoga pants nearly two years ago, which would indicate that the trend isn’t fleeting. As they are the antithesis of Sparkling Vintage style, no regular reader of this blog should be surprised at which side of the debate garners my sympathies.

Good for you, Alan Sorrentino, for expressing your opinion. A few years ago, I expressed mine concerning the disconnection between young girls’ clothing choices and their desire not to be “objectified” by males. At that time I suggested that if they (or their parents) did not want men to view them as sexual creatures, perhaps they should not dress in a way that flaunted their sexual characteristics. I was subsequently accused of everything from being hopelessly old-fashioned (okay, guilty) and a wizened old prude who wants to restrict everyone’s Freedom to Be Themselves, to downright hating women and letting myself be manipulated as an unthinking tool of the patriarchy. A few people told me privately that they agreed with me, but they did not wish to say so publicly so as not to be similarly tarred and feathered.

So that’s why I’m standing up for Alan Sorrentino today. Kudos to you, Mr. Sorrentino, for having the courage to state your opinion. Thank you for expressing a wish to see both women AND men dress with dignity. The only place where we disagree is that you think women “over twenty” should not wear them in public, while I don’t think any woman should wear them in public, unless with a shirt long enough to cover the aforementioned area. My feelings about the matter have little to do with how much they flatter or frumpify a woman’s figure and everything to do with how they smash her grace, modesty, and dignity to smithereens.

Sparklers, what do you think of yoga pants worn in public?

*(As an aside, I find it puzzling that people have a “right” to wear whatever they want, but other people don’t have the “right” to object to the trend. What’s up with that? And when did the concept of “rights” degrade this far? This is what our forefathers and foremothers–or rather, our nongendered, inclusive forecaretakers–fought for?)

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