A Sparkling Vintage Life

Monthly Archives: April 2018

Z is for Zephyr

By Publisher: Lyman Cox-Photograph: Western Pacific Railroad. – eBay itemcard frontcard backeBay itemcard front, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18202438

In casting about for a good Z-word, I landed on “zephyr,” which means “a gentle breeze from the west” or “any of various lightweight fabrics and articles of clothing.” It comes from the Greek god Zephyrus, god of the west wind.I thought that second definition was especially appealing; I’d never heard of “zephyr” in relation to clothing. In my research I found little information about the clothing-type zephyr, but I did chance upon the California Zephyr, and that will suit just dandy as we close out the AtoZ Challenge for this month.

The California Zephyr had its origins in 1939 with a train called the Exposition Flyer, which carried passengers to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. At first the Flyer was meant to be temporary, but it proved so popular that it was kept in operation. In 1949 it was updated and given the name California Zephyr. The hostesses were called “Zephyrettes.” A joint project of the CB&Q, Denver and Rio Grande Western, and Western Pacific Railroads, the California Zephyr ran from Chicago to Denver to Salt Lake City to Oakland. It ceased operations for a time in 1970. Today’s California Zephyr, run by Amtrak, follows largely the same route as the original east to Salt Lake City.

Here’s a delightful travelogue of the luxurious California Zephyr. in the 1950s.

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)

X is for Xerox

Okay, so this one’s a bit of a stretch. Hey, “X” words are hard!

Anyway, those of us who’ve worked in offices have much for which to thank the Xerox Corporation, namely the invention of the photocopier. Prior to that marvelous machine, typists had to make carbon copies, which involved stacking sheets of carbon paper between sheets of regular paper in order to type up several copies at a crack. In my first job at a bank, I remember stacking sheets of pink, yellow, green, and blue carbon paper behind the original stationery. Each color went into a different file, for a different purpose.

Prior to photocopiers, there were mimeograph machines, which made copies using stencils, and ditto machines, which used a chemical process. I’ve never used either of those machines, but my elementary school used a ditto machine and purple ink. I thought the chemical smell on freshly-printed copies was heavenly! But the ink fades over time, making dittos a poor choice for any kind of archival use.

The trade name Xerox is so associated with the photocopier that it’s become a noun (“I’m going to make a xerox of that page”) and even a verb (“Please xerox ten copies of this paper”). Of course now many other companies make photocopiers, too.

Have you ever used anything but a photocopier to make multiple copies?

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!

T is for Tonic

I became interested recently in the concept of a “spring tonic,” something I’d run across now and then in historical fiction, but was never too sure what it was. So, belatedly, I looked it up. One of the dictionary definitions of “tonic” is “something that invigorates, restores, refreshes or stimulates.”


So I dug further. Turns out a “spring tonic” is a tincture, tea, or soup made by boiling the early greens of spring, such as dandelions, rhubarb, sassafrass, and nettle. According to the trusty Farmer’s Almanac, “The early settlers were firm believers in the tonic effects of eating spring greens: they were said to stimulate the digestion, purify the blood, cure scurvy and ague, combat rheumatism, and repel kidney stones after a long cold winter of inactivity.

“Rich in vitamins and trace minerals, these cleansing greens and roots were prepared and drunk in early spring, providing much-needed nourishment and energy after a nutrient-poor winter. Tonics also stimulated the appetite, the circulation, and bodily functions as settlers got ready for physical farm labor.”

If you’d like to try making a spring tonic of your own, the Internet abounds with simple recipes. Just be sure you know what you’re doing; don’t use chemically-treated plants, and use only the stalks of rhubarb, never the leaves, as the leaves are poisonous.

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.

R is for Roses

I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”
–Emma Goldman

You won’t see many quotes from anarchist political agitator Emma Goldman on this blog, but on this point, I have to agree.

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.

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