Thursday, March 31, 2011

What I'm Reading Now...

  1. Fashion: The Century of the Designer, 1900-1999 by Charlotte Seeling

  2. In a Glamorous Fashion: The Fabulous Years of Hollywood Fashion Design by W. Robert La Vine

  3. Couture: an Illustrated History of the Great Paris Designers and Their Creations by Ruth Lynam

  4. Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label by Christian Esquevin

  5. Lucien Lelong by Jacqueline Demornex

Luckily, my college has a fashion school, which means that the university library has a more than decent collection of books on fashion. They have a paucity of the latest books, but they have older ones (pre-1990) galore.

My favorite of the five is the first book about fashion designers from the years 1900 to 1999. Not only does the book examine the designers known in each decade but it also contains pieces on the general look, cosmetics, and specific fads worn during each. There is even a day-in-the-life of a model in the early 1960s.

I only regret I didn't have access to the Adrian book when writing his profile for my series at Colette, but I can't wait to go back for more books. I've already searched the card catalog online and chosen my wish list. For some reason, all the good ones have been checked out by fashion majors! The nerve! ; )

Friday, March 25, 2011

Some Pretty Pretty For the Weekend

Jean Patou creation, 1957.

Yup, I'm in the middle of researching and sourcing photos for more fashion designer profiles for Colette Pattern's blog. I'm finally moving on from the 1940s to the 1960s. Wait and see.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vera Maxwell - Uniform Style

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Vera Huppe Maxwell (1903-1995) American

Photo by Frances McLaughlin-Gill, 1952.

Vera Maxwell is another nearly forgotten designer from the same 1940′s period as McCardell, Cashin, and Hawes. Similar to their ideas, her fashion philosophy involved her designs being both fashionable and functional. According to a 1964 New York Times article, Maxwell’s clothes were described as “handsome, interesting, and eminently wearable”.

Wool ensemble, 1958.

Maxwell came to fashion in a unique way because she was a showroom model first. Her individual style and her homemade garments were noticed and then sought out by department stores Lord & Taylor and Best Co. Interestingly, her first real fashion job was with Alder & Alder in 1936,  where Bonnie Cashin had also once worked. She joined Brows, Jacobson & Linde in 1937 to design activewear for sports such as skiing and horseback riding and eventually, in 1947, she went into business for herself under the name of Vera Maxwell Originals.

Tweed skirt and cape, late 1950s.

 "Fencer" suit, 1945.

Besides activewear, during WWII she began designing more utilitarian items like the coveralls she created for female factory workers at the Sperry Gyroscope Corporation. She considered them to be the first jumpsuits for women.

Jumpsuit/coveralls, 1945.

The coveralls were not the only uniform-like garment that Maxwell would design. In fact, she was responsible for the design of many uniforms that were put into use by the military and by the service industry, such as her proposed design for the Lincoln Center docent uniforms.

Unused Lincoln Center design

Promo image by O. Philip Roedel, 1965.

Her more fashionable designs were similar to these uniforms by the fact that they also had a practical purpose. One of her favored creations was the travel suit. Usually made of comfortable wool jersey, the suit had separate pieces that could be intermixed to make travel packing easier. As she said, “Clothes should be beautiful, adaptable and sound.” She would continue to create variations on the travel suit throughout her career.

Wool tweed, silk, and leather travel suit, 1948.

Detail of hidden storage pockets.

Especially designed for traveling, this particular suit consisted of an Irish tweed coat with a large pocket lined in plastic with zippered compartments meant to carry washcloths and a toothbrush. Worn with a coordinating blouse and pants in wool jersey, one would be ready to go straight from the plane after a convenient freshening up.

Spadea American Designers' Patterns no. 702.

Home Sewing connection: Vera Maxwell designed a few patterns for the Spadea American Designer' Patterns label in the 1950s.

Painted Tussah silk, 1962.

Her style, innovations, and lasting influence on fashion:
  • She designed several female war worker uniforms in the early 1940s.
  • Maxwell has been given two retrospectives; one at the Smithsonian Institution in 1970 and one at the Museum of the City of New York in 1978.
  • In 1971, she was one of the first designers to heavily invest in a new material from Japan called Ultrasuede. The fabric became linked to her designs.
  • Before becoming a model, she danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet from 1919 to 1924.
  • She was personal friends with Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco after meeting at a fashion awards show.
Images: Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art,,

Sources: Who’s Who in Fashion (2008) Anne Stegemeyer; 1995 Obituary, New York Times.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tonal Colors

Again, a look I'm really black or nearly no black color combinations in clothing. As a girl who has been wearing black forever, I really think as I get older I want to bring more color into my wardrobe. I already have it all over my home, so why not? These examples are from APiece Apart.

Update: Today I am wearing a chocolate brown skirt, royal purple turtleneck, mossy green jacket and the only black I'm wearing are my tall boots. Hurrah!

Fall/Winter 2009

Spring/Summer 2010

Fall 2011 (my fave!)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bonnie Cashin - American Pioneer

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Bonnie Cashin (1915-2000) – American

Plaid mohair sweater and leather pants, 1958.

While many of us may know the name of Claire McCardell, the work of Bonnie Cashin is not as well known to modern lovers of fashion. Yet Cashin was honored with the 2003 Fashion Institute of Technology exhibition, “Bonnie Cashin: Practical Dreamer.” Cashin did not use unnecessary adornment or details, her clothes were fun and luxurious while still being quite practical and comfortable.

Wool and leather ensemble, 1962-63.

Like many female designers, she made clothes that she herself wanted to wear or as she said, “fashion evolved from need.” She designed for women like herself who were smart, active, self-aware and independent.

Bonnie Cashin.

Cashin introduced the concept of functional layers of clothing into Western fashion. These layers would consist of togas, funnel-necked sweaters, hooded jersey dresses and oversized coats. Her signature Noh coat was an unlined T-shaped coat with deeply cut armholes that could be worn by itself or under a poncho or cape.

Wool and leather coat, 1964-65.

Coats and capes.

She worked for the ready-to-wear firm Adler and Adler for twelve years before freelancing as Bonnie Cashin Designs, Inc. in 1953. In the early 1960s, she was designer of the early Coach bags.

Cashin sketch.

Some of her signature details, such as the leather bound edges and metal toggle closures are still in use today.  Some of the first bags she designed for Coach were known as “Cashin-Carry” bags.

Coach bags by Cashin.

The colors that Cashin liked to use were dark, misty, natural, almost fall-like colors: loden, russet, saffron, pumpkin, teal, earth tones but no primary colors or pastels. She sometimes added vivid accents.

Green day ensemble, 1952.

Swing jacket complete suit, 1967.

Gene Tierney in Laura with Vincent Price.

Hollywood Connection: From 1942 until 1948, she was a contracted costume designer for such Twentieth Century-Fox films as Anna and the King of Siam (1946) with Irene Dunne, Cluny Brown (1946) with Jennifer Jones, and Laura with Gene Tierney (1944).

Leather cocktail dress, 1954.

Her patio wall graffiti.

    Her style, innovations, and lasting influence on fashion:

    Living room walls of inspiration.

  • Walls in her living spaces were transformed with large painted squares emblazoned with inspirational words written in marker.
  • She never worked with fabric on a dress form, instead designing on paper only.
  • Her use of leather or linen piping to trim edges on suede, wool, knit, and even organdy evening garments.
  • Cashin hallmarks were the use of long-lasting fabrics such as leather, industrial-size zippers, large pockets, and pairing fabrics such as tweeds with tartan plaid and suede.
Mohair ensemble with hitch, Fall 1964. 
  • She was known for her use of toggle closures on jackets and coats and dog leash hitches for lifting and securing long skirts.
  • She coordinated her clothing pieces with hoods, bags, belts and boots of her own design.
Images: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum of Los Angeles; Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Arizona Costume Institute,

Bonnie Cashin by Stephanie Lake.

Sources: Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It (2016) Stephanie Lake; “In Cashin Fashion,” by Stephanie Iverson, Victoria magazine; Fashion (2003) Christopher Breward;  “Design for Living” by Amy Spindler, New York Times; 2000 Obituary, New York Times; Who’s Who in Fashion (2008) Anne Stegemeyer; the Bonnie Cashin Foundation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Home Sick

But at least there was a little treat. A showing of "Cover Girl" with Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth on regular TV, featuring Eve Arden (looking fabulous!) and gowns by Travis Banton!!

I was still miserable, but the eye candy was appreciated. It could have been an entire afternoon of Real Housewives of New Jersey!

Elizabeth Hawes - Fashion Radical

Originally posted on Coletterie blog.

Elizabeth Hawes (1903 – 1971) American

Elizabeth Hawes

Elizabeth Hawes was born in New Jersey and started sewing as a teenager. In 1932, Dorothy Shaver promoted Elizabeth Hawes and a few other female designers to the media as leading American designers. Like Claire McCardell, her fashion contemporary, Hawes created simple bias-cut comfortable garments with deep armholes and natural shoulders that would be worn with flat-soled shoes. However, while McCardell’s style was somewhat suburban, Hawes was more part of the arty and sophisticated city set.

"Styx" gown, 1936.

Hawes felt that the body and its clothes must work together. She thought that American women should not accept French fashion as the standard. Her goal was to bring stylish clothing with an American sensibility to the masses and believed that all women deserved to have beautiful and functional clothes.

"The Tarts" dress, 1937.

Her career beginnings were suspect; her first job upon arriving in Paris was as a copyist for a high-end French “knock-off” copy house. She worked there for over a year eventually receiving a position in the legitimate fashion industry by apprenticing with Nicole Groult, the sister of designer Paul Poiret.

 "The Moonstone," 1938.

"Dry Goods Economist," 1935.

While still in Paris, she started her own fashion news service for Americans under the pseudonym “Parisite.” She also wrote columns for The New Yorker, Women’s Home Companion and PM magazine.

"It Is My Own Invention," 1937.
"Jolanthe" dress, 1932. 

While considered famous in her time, she was never featured in Vogue or Harpers Bazaar because of her unconventionality which alienated fashion industry leaders. One of the reasons you may not have heard of Hawes is because of her unpopular stance on US mass production.

"Alimony" dress, 1937.

Hawes believed in mass production and believed that the US could learn from the French process. But the purely businesslike approach upset her and she was unwilling to make the compromises needed for American mass production. Despite this, her fashion career lasted fifteen years. After a stint working in an aviation factory during the war, she turned to studying and writing about female factory workers and the conditions they worked under.

"Diamond Horseshoe" detail, 1936.

Hollywood Connection: None, she opposed the growing idea of Hollywood being considered the capital of American fashion.

"Le Gaulois" evening dress, 1938.
Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:

Fashion Is Spinach
  • She is the author of nine books on fashion, the most famous ones being Fashion is Spinach (1938) and Men Can Take It (1939), which advocates for more freedom in fashion choices for men. Note: The book is available to read or download at the link above.
  • She would use details such as elaborate insets of suede on her garments.
  • Hawes would give her dresses unique names such as "The People’s Choice", "Five Year Plan", "Rubicon", "Alimony", and "Misadventure".
  • Her personal uniform consisted of a turtleneck or buttoned-down shirt underneath suspenders and deep-pocketed trousers worn with flat, flexible shoes.
Sources: Radical by Design: The Life and Style of Elizabeth Hawes (1988) Bettina Berch; Women of Fashion (1991) Valerie Steele.

Text by Lisa/lsaspacey

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Claire McCardell - The American Look

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Claire McCardell (1905- 1958) American

TIME magazine, 1955.

Claire McCardell was a well known fashion designer who revolutionized women’s fashion in America. She was the cover subject of an article on the emergence of American fashion in the May 2, 1955 issue of Time magazine.

Day dress, 1952.

McCardell was inspired by Vionnet and Chanel when studying in Paris in 1926. She designed clothes for her own lifestyle, much as Chanel did before her. As she was quoted in the Time article, “I’ve always designed things I needed myself. It just turns out that other people need them too.” Many of her pieces were created out of necessity: shivering aboard a yacht she created a wrap in tweed, skiing with cold ears, she designed a wool jersey hood. Most importantly, when hampered with too much luggage on a European trip, she created separates by designing dresses in parts with interchangeable tops and skirts. In addition, the tops could also be worn with pants. Her wardrobe was based on jersey halter neck tops and jersey skirts.

Her heavy hitters.

She first worked as a sketch artist for Townley Frocks, left to work for Hattie Carnegie, then returned to Townley for a few years as their head designer and eventually became a partner in the company. 9,831 of her sketches created during this time are now archived in the Fashion Design History Collection at the New School in New York.

Cotton dress, 1956.

Silk gown for Townley Frocks.

Her clothes were functional and simple with clean lines. They were considered subtly sexy with functional decorations. She utilized details from men’s work clothing, such as large pockets, denim fabric, blue-jean topstitching, metal rivets and trouser pleats.

McCall's 4292

McCall's 4494

Home Sewing connection: She designed a few patterns for McCall’s and Spadea pattern companies.

Wool ensemble, late 1940s.

Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
  • Her 1938 “Monastic” dress, a bias cut, tent-like garment with a rope tied waist that once on the body molded to it, could be worn day or evening.
  • The idea of separates, in coordinating colors and creating endless configurations was revolutionary, because of its practicality and economy.
Cotton sundress, 1945.

  • Her unusual use of jersey, rayon, calico, seersucker, gingham, and cotton voile for evening wear.
  • She heavily utilized easy and accessible fasteners in her clothing, from zippers, to toggles, to rope.
  • Introduced the concept of adult “play clothes,” as seen in the jersey “diaper” bathing suit, the “bubble” swimsuit, harem pajamas, and other easy to wear costumes.
  • Popularized the use of Capezio ballet slippers as “ballerina” flats in 1944.
The "Popover" dress plus pot holder, 1942.
  • The “Popover” dress, a more stylish take on the common housedress, and the “kitchen-dinner” dress made of silk with an apron to match were both her inventions. These were made for women who entertained but could not afford servants.
  • In 1956, she wrote “What Shall I Wear,” a book that became so popular and coveted over the years that there has been talk of a reissue.
Images: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sources: Fashion (2003) Christopher Breward; 100 Dresses, (2010) Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art;  “Fashion: The American Look,” Time (1955); Who’s Who in Fashion (2008) Anne Stegemeyer.