September 6, 2013

The abc's of vintage fashion


A few months ago, the thoroughly lovely Mary of Out of My Front Door wrote a post called The Alphabet According to Me! in which she listed a different fact about herself for each and every letter of the alphabet. I thought this was a charmingly delightful idea and tucked it away to put my own spin on come September.





Why September, you may ask? Excellent question! The reason is that there's no other time of the year that I associate more with the alphabet than the early days of this month, when school returns to session once more and countless children the world over peer up at alphabets bordering their classrooms.

School days and the alphabet go hand-in-hand like chalkboards and erasers, and so today I'm going to run with Mary's idea, instead shifting the focus from myself and instead onto the world of vintage fashion.

I'm not the first person to whip up a vintage fashion alphabet (some people, such as Charlotte from Apple Menina, for example, have even turned their alphabets into 26 part series, devoting one post to each letter), and make no claims as such, but just because something's been done before is no reason not to give it a go yourself, too, and that's precisely what I'm going to do here.

While some letters of the alphabet have throngs of possible choices that could be assigned to represent them, when it comes to certain others (say, "x" or "z"), the pickings (in English at least) are considerably slimmer, so I decided that it would be best to select just one item for each letter of the alphabet (a choice that was also influenced by the fact that Mary stuck with one entry for each letter in her post, too).


The abc's of vintage fashion





A is for aprons: whether practical and hard working, stylish and all but for show, or somewhere in between, aprons have a been a fashion mainstay for countless generations, and were especially popular with mid-century ladies from all walks of life.




B is for bullet bras: Love or loath what they do to the shape of one's chest, bullet bras burst onto the scene in the 1940s, rising to the peak (both literally and figuratively!) of their popularity during the 1950s, when they were sported by glamorous Hollywood bombshells and real world ladies alike.




C is for crinoline: The history of crinolines stretches back for centuries, however when many people think of this classic undergarment, it is the circle and poodle skirt filled years of the 1950s that spring to mind first (and indeed, crinolines of varying lengths, thicknesses, designs and colours were frequently employed be girls and women of the era to help give their skirts and dresses extra volume).




D is for dickies: Though they still exist today, few people include dickies (a false shirt front garment worn under other another item of clothing, such as a sweater or dress) in their wardrobes (unless perhaps they're fan of vintage fashion). However back in the day (especially during the forties), they were a popular, often inexpensive way to help stretch your wardrobe.




E is for Elsa Schiaparelli and her whimsical, gorgeous fashions: Whether creating her own shade of shocking pink, adorning evening dresses with images of lobsters, or collaborating with DalĂ­, Elsa Schiaparelli was an incredibly creative, forward thinking, original, dynamic designer whose works will always stand out as some of the most unique, innovative, and beautiful of their time.




F is for furs: No matter your stance or fur (be it vintage or modern), there is no denying that the first half of the twentieth century was rife with the wearing of fur. Whether a glamorous full length mink coat or a wee touch of fur on one's cuffs, for example, very few women of the era didn't at least aspire to include a bit of genuine fur in her wardrobe.




G is for gloves: Gloves saw their last great hurrah as a wardrobe staple in the mid-twentieth century, during which time they were worn by almost every women, many of whom had extensive collections and enjoyed matching (or fashionably contrasting) their gloves with the rest of their ensemble. To this day, gloves remain one of the best ways to instantly inject a hearty dose of vintage style into one's yesteryear wardrobe.




H is for hoods: Be they to guard against the elements or merely as a chic fashion element, hoods have been around for hundreds upon hundreds of years, featuring into various mid-century styles in the process - two personal favourites of which are 1930s evening capes and 1930s/40s hooded beachwear.




I is for I. Magnin & Company: This once popular west coast chain of department stores (that specialized in high-end fashion) was founded in 1876 by a Mary Ann Magnin who named it after her husband Isaac. Popular with stylish ladies for decades, I. Magnin catered to a elegant, smartly attired, often well-to-do crowd and the fashions they sold during the mid-twentieth century exemplified this fact to a tee.




J is for for Jantzen: Launched in 1916, Jantzen quickly rose to popularity as one of the world's most beloved swimwear lines of all-time, with their ads a mainstay in scores of fashion and women's lifestyle magazines for decades. Though the brand dabbled in other garments (such as sweaters, too), they are without a doubt, best know for their wonderful swimsuits.




K is for Kerrybroke: If you've ever flipped from a Sears vintage catalog from the 30s, 40s or 50s, chances are you're familiar with this in-house brand, which included fashions for everyone from Juniors to "Graceful Ladies" (a diplomatic term the company used to appeal to their senior citizen demographic).




L is for Lucite: Whether used for handbag, shoe heels, umbrella handles, jewelry, buttons, sunglasses or myriad other purposes, Lucite was a very popular material all across the vintage fashion spectrum, and pieces made from (or including) this synthetic compound are highly collectable today.




M is for (hand) muffs: A winter wardrobe staple throughout much of the 19th and early to mid-20th century (in particular), muffs were a beautiful, functional way for ladies to keep their hands warm during the coldest days of the year (and indeed still are, should you happen to be lucky enough to find a vintage muff in good, wearable condition).




N is for (Dior's) New Look: A groundbreaking post-war style that shocked and outraged some, but more often than not found fans in women the world over. Dior's wildly iconic new look (often typified by his classic Bar Suit, pictured above) thrust women out of nearly a decade of garments made with moderate amounts of war rationed fabric into meter after meter of elegant, figure hugging style once more.




O is for overshoes: Much like gloves and muffs, overshoes aren't a modern fashion mainstay any more, but once just a few decades ago, they were a smart, stylish, thoroughly practical way to help keep your (less weatherproof) shoes safe from harsh elements like rain, snow and ice.



P is for Pendleton 49er Coats: If you close your eyes and envision a generously sized plaid coat, chances are you're thinking about a Pendleton 49. This cozy, fashionable coat entered the garment marketplace in 1949 and was an instant hit, with thousands upon thousands being purchased and worn to all manner of outdoors and casual events in the decade to come (and beyond).




Q is for quilted garments: During the 1950s in particular, quilted skirts and to a lesser extent other daywear garments (such as dresses, vests, and jackets) marched their way into vogue, with this stitchery technique appearing most often of all on circle skirts.




R is for rayon: With roots stretching back to the 1850s, rayon was one of the first successful semi-synthetic fabrics, and its use and popularity only continued to expand as time went, with a particular high point being during the 1940s, when it was called into duty to help make up for the shortages in various other (often natural) fabrics that were needed for the war effort (for more on the history of rayon, see this great article by Charlotte from Tuppence Ha'penny). If you're a collector (and wearer) of 1940s garments in particular, it's very likely you find yourself sporting all manner of wonderful 1940s rayon dresses, blouses, slips, gloves and other various other wardrobe staples.




S is for shirtwaist dresses: Loved as much today by vintage fashionistas the world over as they were back a few decades ago, the classic shirtwaist dress will always stand as one of the garments that best represents the 1940s and (especially) 50s.




T is for t-strap heels: Without a doubt one of the most iconic shoe styles of the 1920s and 30s, t-strap heels gained rapid popularity as it became more socially acceptable for women to expose their feet and ankles (and as such were an especially big hit with the flapper crowd, though the style was by no means limited to nightlife loving youngsters). While those years were the heyday of t-straps, once can easily find examples of this classic style from the 40s, 50s and every decade since as well.




U is for umbrellas: Vintage umbrellas were often terrifically lovely works of solidly constructed art, with ornate handles, feminine patterns, slender (when closed) silhouettes, and outfit making sophistication. Whether for show or function, a genuine vintage umbrella is the kind of accessory every mid-century loving gal should try to invest in at some point.




V is for (hats with) veils: Veils and veiling are an age old lady's accessory, whose popularity has waxed and waned over the course of time. During the years that spanned the 1930s-early 60s, veiled hats came back into vogue, with some toppers boasting just a wee hint of netting/veiling and other's fully cloaking the wearer's face in (usually) tulle, as well as hats featuring veils of every length in between. To this day they remain a gorgeous, endlessly chic way to inject sophistication into any vintage look.


W is for wedges: A truly beloved wardrobe staple amongst vintage fans the world over today, the wedge heel (or sandal) began its speedy rise to fame in the 1930s and it hasn't let up since, though certain decades (such as the 1940s and 70s) have seen a particular interest in this height elevating, often easy to walk in, warm weather staple.




X is for x-ray beauty contest: Ok, this is a bit of a creative stretch, but there are an exceedingly small number of vintage fashion related words beginning with the letter x. Without a doubt one of the most unique of vintage beauty contests, this 1950s Chiropractic sponsored competition saw participants being judged on the healthy appearance of their spines (as viewed in x-rays).




Y is for yachting and boating inspired fashion: Nautical inspired ladies wear was a big hit throughout much of the last century, though certain eras (i.e., 1910s, 1940s, 50s) really excelled at creating sweet, youthful, fantastic garments that channeled a sense of the boating life and all things seafaring related.





Z is for zippers: As you may recall from this post last autumn, the modern zipper was born in the last Edwardian era and quickly gained popularity with clothing manufactures everywhere (giving them a handy alternative, or addition, to buttons, ties, or other types of closures on a garment). Whenever I think of the words vintage fashion and zipper together at the same time, my mind flashes instantly to thoughts of charming 1940s and 50s house/day dresses, which often featured a long zipper running up their front.


{To learn more a specific image, please click on it to be taken to its respective source.}



♥ ♥ ♥



In most cases, I opted for the first old school fashion related word that sprang to mind when I thought of a particular letter, but for others I debated through several choices and went with whichever was my very favourite in that moment. Save perhaps for a few of those aforementioned uncommon letters, this really is the kind of exercise one could repeat every now and then, if they so wanted, using new vintage fashion words each time.

Though the days of learning my abc's are well behind me (and then some!), I'll never grow old of enjoying the alphabet and various ways of depicting and exploring it letter-by-letter.

I hope you had fun hopping through all twenty-six letters here today and that, who knows, perhaps just as Mary did for me, I'll inspire you to create your own alphabet related post this September.

53 comments:

  1. The X-Ray beauty contest is crazy! What a strange but kind of fun idea.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's a great ABC! Loved reading it!

    ReplyDelete
  3. My goodness, I'm so lucky to have found your blog. Posts like this are not only immensely entertaining but right down my alley. A strike thrown with the exact kind of spin that appeals to me personally. I never expected to find a blog that reaches so deeply into my soul.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Such a creative and informative post!:))
    I would like to more of these fashion items would be more accessible (not many options to get original vintage, where I live) - particularly gloves, clothes in style of Dior's New Look and quilted skirts :D

    ReplyDelete
  5. WOW, Informative and a lot of information and inspiration. This must have been time consuming, Thank you for putting together and sharing. Love each one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My absolute pleasure, dear lady, many thanks in turn for your wonderfully nice comment. It did take a few hours to put together, but I enjoyed every second of the process. I love writing and spending time on my posts, and this was one of the most enjoyable this year, so it didn't feel like time consuming work in the slightest.

      Thank you again & have a beautiful weekend,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  6. Love those Lucite heels. Miss L Fire has something similar in the Autumn/Winter 2013 collection :)
    How utterly gorgeous is the New Look Dior outfit, and the coats with the muff. An overload of loveliness in this post. I need to keep scrolling back and forth to take it all in.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you Jessica, for putting together this post! It is very educational, and I found loads of good reading in the links!

    Great effort, dear gal ;)

    ReplyDelete
  8. *squeals* What a lot of gorgeousness packed into one post!

    Your little note at the end about inspiring us to do posts of our own got me thinking.....yes, yes-- but I wouldn't do a vintage post per se. See, I'm training myself to be a children's illustrator, and often I lack inspiration.....what if, oh! what if I did an illustration for each letter of the alphabet! *looks excited* Yes!

    :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why Dolly, I think that would be a positively fabulous idea, dear gal!!! I just love that you're training to be a children's book illustrator, what an awesome path to pursue (I can't draw to save my life - I like to joke that my stick people don't even look like stick people - and have always yearned to have that talent). An illustrated alphabet would be such a great way to get your creative juice flowing like the Nile river. I'd be honoured to see some (or all) of your letters, if you do create such a project.

      Big hugs!
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  9. This was such fun and a joy to read! I love all of the vintage ads and drawings. Oh how I wish I had a pair of each of those wedges in all the primary colors. Maybe some day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, honey, it was a total blast to put together. I almost always enjoy writing blog posts, but some are stand out as being especially enjoyable, and this vintage alphabet definitely falls into that camp. Agreed! I swoon at the mere thought of having a pair of all those gorgeous wedges.

      Big hugs!
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  10. I.love.this. So many great images and great history!! I'm sort of craving a Pendleton 49 now. On to the wish list!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. great vintage alphabet I loved every letter

    kate the old fashioned way

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Jessica! very interesting post, love all the pictures!

    ReplyDelete
  13. What a cute idea! I love your choices for the vintage alphabet, and I must congratulate you on coming up with something neat for X. That's a really creative one :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, honey! I'll admit, it took a bit of pondering when I reached X, that's for sure. I kept going to the end and then came back to it, and in doing so, remembered the pictures from this rather unique beauty contest that I'd seen a few months back. As no other X words sprang out at me, that it was - and I'm glad I thought of it, because I don't think I've encountered any other words since that start with an X and apply to vintage fashion.

      Thanks again & have a terrific weekend!
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  14. Such a fabulous A-Z of vintage, you're so clever lovely friend. I've always wanted to get myself a bullet bra but I fear I might take someone's eye out if I did!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you you very much, dear Emalina, that really means a lot coming from a creative and perpetually clever soul such as yourself. I hear you there for sure, but not all bullet bras are as equally torpedo-esque. I personally veer towards those with a bit of an iconic point, but a more rounded center (like the one I had on under this outfit: http://www.chronicallyvintage.com/2013/07/vintage-plaid-and-straw-for-windswept.html), so that I can also wear them under some 40s (not just 50s) fashions, if so desired.

      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  15. Oh, dear Jessica! I have to thank you doubly by this post! Once a joy to my eye for all those precious images and a second time for the help with my poor vocabulary for vintage in your precious language. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so very much, dearest Rosy! Aww, I'm touched that you see my post as a way of helping you bolster your English (which, it should be noted, is absolutely terrific, fear not). That's a really meaningful compliment, my sweet friend.

      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  16. This is awesome! Love it! ❤
    ~xoxo, CoriLynn

    ReplyDelete
  17. How fun is this post! I was totally wondering what you'd come up with when x came up:) I love the idea of an x-ray beauty contest! How fun! Gosh there are some tremendous outfits and inspiration in this post! Maybe it is fall coming but I find myself gravitating towards the structural outfits of the early 50s so I just love the ad with the umbrella!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't it fascinating how our inclination towards wearing the looks of certain decades, or even segments of a given decade, change with the seasons? I was so into the early 40s this summer, and couldn't get enough of things like snoods and cotton house dresses. I'm still in quite a 40s mindset, but perhaps because (our beloved) suit season shall be kicking into high gear again soon, I'm also wafting more into the 50s again these days. :)

      Thank you very much for your wonderful comment - big hugs!
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  18. I love this! Vintage is my favourite ABC. ;)

    It's interesting to see what you chose for each letter. I would've chosen quite a few the same but some others would be different. Mostly due to our geographical locations!

    ReplyDelete
  19. What a wonderful post—I don't even know where to begin, though seeing I. Magnin always makes me smile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, dear Jen! I love I. Magnin's offerings, especially those from the 40s and 50s (I'd love to add some of these timelessly elegant suits from that era to my wardrobe one day).

      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  20. Once again your creative genius shines! Fabulous post, definitely a favorite:) Loved the X/ x-ray contest info!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is so terrifically sweet of you to say, thank you very much, honey.

      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  21. What a delightful post!!

    xoxo
    -Janey

    ReplyDelete
  22. Dear Jessica,
    thanks for this nice vintage abc=)
    It was a lot of fun to read it, that rocks.
    love Jen

    ReplyDelete
  23. Lady, this is an awesome, epic post.

    ReplyDelete
  24. What an absolutely delightful and insightful post (as usual, my dear! :D). So many intersting tidbits here (and drool-worthy photos!).
    I hope that you have the most lovely weekend!! :D

    ReplyDelete
  25. How much fun this must have been for you to put together! I certainly enjoyed reading it!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Jessica, loved this post! So fun, thoroughly entertaining and informative to boot. In particular I learned about the 49er jacket and zip front day dresses. In the H for hoodies, I see the familiar fit and flare dress popular in the 90's. Fashion certainly repeats itself over and over. I look forward to more alphabet fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, dearest Ronda! I didn't time this as such, it's just a neat bit of serendipity, but my next vintage outfit post (this coming Thursday) features one of my absolute favourite vintage zip front dresses. I hope you'll this it's cute and like it as much as I do. :)

      Big hugs,
      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  27. Fantastic post Jessica! I really enjoyed reading through your A-Z you chose some great things to include. xxx

    ReplyDelete
  28. Jessica,
    This post is simply OVERWHELMING!
    I have been looking at it over and over - it's stunning. And what better timing for doing the ABC post, than the start of the new school year (yes, we're ALL done with our school days, but the feeling remained.. or is it just me?) :)

    Have a great week, dear!

    Marija

    ReplyDelete
  29. wow, you did a fantastic job here. this post is so fun and interesting. the pictures you chose are beautiful and i love the informations you share.
    thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, my sweet friend. This really was one of the most enjoyable posts I've written in a long time, and I'm so happy to know you liked it.

      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  30. Love this post. The photos and info are great!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, dear Chrissy! I'm delighted to know that you enjoyed it. I had such a blast putting it together and coming up with subjects to shine the spotlight on for each letter.

      ♥ Jessica

      Delete
  31. Love this post! Creating a vintage alphabet is a really great idea! I might write one of my own... It was really fun to read through it and I definitely learned some new things about different aspects of the vintage world.

    Thank you for this entertaining post!

    ~ Sesame

    daysofscarlet.com

    ReplyDelete
  32. This is such a fun post. The wheels are already turning for me, I think I have to do a post on this as well! :)

    ReplyDelete
  33. Your post of today is a masterpiece! I loved to learn something more about vintage. You did a great job, dear!!

    ReplyDelete
  34. What an interesting post! I've loved reading through this and the images are lovely! I particularly giggled at the X-Ray contest - so much fun!!! :D

    ReplyDelete
  35. I loved this.
    It also made me remember i have a book by ELsa Schiaparelli i have yet to read.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I loved this post! It is chocked full of inspiration and information. Thank you for all the time it must have taken to put this together =)

    ReplyDelete
  37. I needed a break from my household chores, and read your alphabet. What an elaborate post this is, I truly enjoyed it. Thank you for making it. :)

    ReplyDelete