Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

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The rightness of white for summer

white suit

Christian Dior, 1952

Inspired by this post by Jessica Cangiano over at Chronically Vintage about wearing white, I’ve got white on my mind as we swoop toward summer and, in particular, Memorial Day–the traditional kickoff to the season of wearing white, at least here in the U.S. Although this “rule” is no longer strictly adhered to, there is something fresh and clean about white that belongs to summer.

White calls to mind fluffy clouds blown about by warm breezes, damp cotton flapping in the sunshine, June brides, sails on boats skimming over blue lakes, thick cream poured over fresh berries, and great bowls of vanilla ice cream (my favorite!). White was the favored choice for Edwardian tea gowns and nightgowns. And who can forget the “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes” immortalized in the song, “My Favorite Things” from The

"Young woman in a white dress" by Harry Watson

“Young woman in a white dress” by Harry Watson

Sound of Music?

That said, I admit that there’s not a lot of white hanging in my closet at the moment. Just the stray shirt or tank-top. Why is that? I tend to steer clear of white on the bottom because of my size (white enlarges, visually). And white worn on top can seem impractical, an invitation to spills and stains.But the more I think about it, the more I want to incorporate more white in my wardrobe this summer, even if it does require a little extra care and vigilance.

Source: modcloth.com

Source: modcloth.com

 

What do you think about white?

 

Does this car match my lipstick?

car and driverI have stumbled upon the most amazing treasure–a book written in 1917 called Woman as Decoration by Emily Burbank, a visual artist’s point of view about how to complement one’s surroundings by what one puts on one’s body–what to wear while sitting in your sun-room, say, or walking in your garden, or ice skating, to form a pretty picture for anyone who happens to be looking. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I must confess, I’m having a hard time putting it down. I’m dying to share more tidbits from this book with you, and I will, but in the interest of time I will begin with this brief but delightful description of what to wear while motoring, to expand on my earlier post about the well-dressed motorist. Just something to keep in mind as you zip around town in your mini-van or Range Rover this weekend!

car and driver2

WOMAN DECORATIVE IN HER MOTOR CAR

IT is not easy to be decorative in your automobile now that the manufacturers are going in for gay colour schemes both in upholstery and outside painting. A putty-coloured touring car lined with red leather is very stunning in itself, but the woman who would look well when sitting in it does not carelessly don any bright motor coat at hand. She knows very well that to show up to advantage against red, and be in harmony with the putty-colour paint, her tweed coat should blend with the car, also her furs. Black is smart with everything, but fancy how impossible mustard, cerise and some shades of green would look against that scarlet leather!

An orange car with black top, mud-guards and upholstery calls for a costume of white, black, brown, tawny grey, or, if one would be a poster, royal blue.

Some twenty-five years ago the writer watched the first automobile in her experience driven down the Champs Elysées. It seemed an uncanny, horseless carriage, built to carry four people and making a good deal of fuss about it.

A few days later, while lunching at the Café de Reservoir, Versailles, we were told that some men were starting back to Paris by automobile, and if we went to a window giving on to the court, we might see the astonishing vehicle make its start. It was as thrilling as the first near view of an aëroplane, and all-excitement we watched the two Frenchmen getting ready for the drive. Their elaborate preparation to face the current of air to be encountered en route was not unlike the preparation to-day for flying. It was Spring—June, at that—but those Frenchmen wearing very English tweeds and smoking English pipes, each drew on extra cloth trousers and coats and over these a complete outfit of leather! We saw them get into the things in the public courtyard, arrange huge goggles, draw down cloth caps, and set out at a speed of about fifteen miles an hour!

The above seems incredible, now that we have passed through the various stages of motor car improvements and motor clothes creations. The rapid development of the automobile, with its windshields, limousine tops, shock absorbers, perfected engines and springs, has brought us to the point where no more preparation is needed for a thousand-mile run across country with an average speed of thirty miles an hour, than if we were boarding a train. One dresses for a motor as one would for driving in a carriage and those dun-colored, lineless monstrosities invented for motor use have vanished from view. More than this, woman to-day considers her decorative value against the electric blue velvet or lovely chintz lining of her limousine, exactly as she does when planning clothes for her salon. And why not? The manufacturers of cars are taking seriously their interior decoration as well as outside painting; and many women interior decorators specialise along this line and devote their time to inventing colour schemes calculated to reflect the personality of the owner of the car.

Special orders have raised the standard of the entire industry, so that at the recent New York automobile show, many effects in cars were offered to the public. Besides the putty-coloured roadster lined with scarlet, black lined with russet yellow, orange lined with black; there were limousines painted a delicate custard colour, with top and rim of wheels, chassis and lamps of the same Nattier Blue as the velvet lining, cushions and curtains. A beautiful and luxurious background and how easy to be decorative against it to one who knows how!

Another popular colour scheme was a mauve body with top of canopy and rims of wheels white, the entire lining of mauve, like the body. Imagine your woman with a decorative instinct in this car. So obvious an opportunity would never escape her, and one can see the vision on a Summer day, as she appears in simple white, softest blue or pale pink, or better still, treating herself as a quaint nosegay of blush roses, forget-me-nots, lilies and mignonette, with her chiffons and silks or sheerest of lawns.

“But how about me?” one hears from the girl of the open car—a racer perhaps, which she drives herself. You are easiest of all, we assure you; to begin with, your car being a racer, is  painted and lined with durable dark colours—battleship grey, dust colour, or some shade which does not show dirt and wear. The consequence is, you will be decorative in any of the smart coats, close hats and scarfs in brilliant and lovely hues,—silk or wool.

(In case you thought I was kidding about the lipstick thing, here's an actual ad from the 1960s about that very thing.)

(In case you thought I was kidding about the lipstick thing, here’s an actual ad from the 1960s about that very thing.)

Down to Business: Are you the Executive Type (circa 1943)?

lord&taylor4

WHO IS SHE That woman always seen lunching at smart restaurants–charmingly unaware of the interest she excites. She’s the woman who has traveled, whose leisure allows her wide cultural activities. She throws her time and energy into drives for her favorite charities, she encourages the opera, the ballet, the symphony, art exhibits. She’s the influence behind the fashions that have carried our designers’ names around the world. SHE’S SO AMERICAN (Lord & Taylor ad from the 1940s, reflecting patriotism of the war years)

From “Personality Plus” by Veronica Dengel:

“The executive type is the brisk, energetic, matter-of-fact woman, entirely capable of handling any situation, Purposeful in every movement and thought, there is no ‘nonsense’ about her. …

In the office, make yourself the girl who is trimmest, neatest, smartest in appearance. You can do it by choosing dark colors, accented with fresh neckwear, simple suits with soft blouses. Two or three basic dresses will see you through several seasons, but vary their appearance. . . . If you are going out socially direct from the office, either bring other clothes with you or else accessories that will dress up your office frock. But do not come to business all dressed up in a cocktail-time dress with the excuse, ‘I’m going to a party.’ You will be out of palce and ill at ease all day, and besides, your employer won’t like it.”

Here are Miss Dengel’s clothing suggestions for the ‘executive type’:

Colors: Clear, cool colors. Black or other dark shades.

Fabrics: Hard surfaces. Heavy “knobby” fabrics in crepes or wools. No chiffons or transparent fabrics.

Necklines: Tailored neckline, high or low. Pique, linen, or hard-surfaced silks.

Underwear: Fine tailored pajamas, initialed. Combination of silk and satin trimmed underwear, or bit of lace.

Shoes: Heavy leathers for daytime; fabric or suede for dress. Medium or low heels.

Hose: Two or three thread. neutral to darker tones.

Sports clothes: Slack suits, matching jacket. Cotton dresses.

Daytime clothes: Fine tweeds, man-tailored suits, severe blouses in broadcloth or silk. Plain, smart wool or crepe dresses.

Dress clothes: Thin wool or crepe ‘dinner dress.’ Preferably black or navy. Occasional pastel wool, tailored.

Coats: Fitted or semi-fitted; dark colors for dress. Fine ‘travel type’ in blended tweeds for sports.

Hats: Extreme; smart lines; very little, if any, trimming. Small, bright colored hat with veil for dress.

Gloves: Suede, leather in dark color. Pigskin or heavy calf for sports.

Furs: Mink, beaver, seal, Persian lamb. Scarves of stone or baum marten [Editor’s note: I had to look this up. “Stone marten” and “baum marten” (another name for “Pine marten“) are WAY too cute to kill and wear. As are most animals, IMO. Just not a fan of fur, I guess]. Silver fox if tall.

Bags: Large envelope type in leather. Pigskin, calf or grained.

What about you? Are you the ‘executive type’? I’m afraid I’m not…but never fear, we’ll be discussion some other ‘types’ in the near future.

Fashionable Friday: A Thought from Lucy Maud Montgomery

lm montgomery2
“My day for the frilly gowns of organdy and lace is over–henceforth I must wear the richer hues and materials of the matron. But I shall never be indifferent to dress. It is a very foolish woman who is–just as foolish as the one who makes it the foremost and only thing. Both are badly mistaken.”

L. M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery is best known for writing Anne of Green Gables and its sequels, but she wrote many other books. (My personal favorite of hers is The Blue Castle.) I love her attitude toward clothes. She acknowledges that some types of clothing are more suitable for mature women than others, and that there is nothing wrong with this. There’s no need for a woman in her fifties to try to look twenty-five.The old expression “mutton dressed as lamb” is just as applicable today as it was in Lucy Maud’s day.

In this quote, Miss Montgomery also affirms that caring about what we wear is a good thing, when not taken to extremes. A woman who cares about her clothes is not automatically a shallow and vain clotheshorse, and a woman who pays no attention to her clothes does not automatically have the moral high ground. There is a lot of middle ground between the two extremes. As in most things, moderation is key.

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