Monday, July 27, 2009

Vintage Sewing Pattern Buying Bonanza

I'm going on a bit of a vintage dress pattern buying bonanza this week. I'm going to Canada next week and can order items and get them shipped there, hence saving me money on shipping to my home in New Zealand. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

eBay Vintage Dress Patterns

I also have to admit that, up until last week, I had never used eBay.

This is mainly because I find the interface entirely muddled, badly designed and confusing (compare it to the lovely clean design of - our New Zealand equivalent), but also because shipping costs to New Zealand and the terrible US/NZ dollar exchange rate push the costs of most things in the 'luxury' category for me.


I've been looking around for vintage sewing patterns and there are precious few to find locally, but I've discovered a treasure trove of patterns on eBay for pretty good prices (US$5.99 and only a few dollars for shipping).

So I've now made my first ever eBay purchase - two lovely 1940s sewing patterns:

1940s dress vintage sewing pattern from eBay

1940s blouse and dress pattern from eBay

I'm also bidding on a third dress which finishes in a few days, and a very cool book from 1935 on dress design (which I don't think I'll get, as there seem to be a number of other very interested bidders with deeper pockets and less exchange rate woes).

There are quite a few websites around selling vintage sewing patterns, but with some asking upwards of US$40 per pattern, I think eBay is a great place to find things at a much better price if you're willing to trawl around a bit more.

Vintage Pattern Lending Library

Another recent online discovery is the Vintage Pattern Lending Library, a lovely institution that preserves and recreates vintage sewing patterns.

You can join as a member and borrow patterns (hence the name), but non-members can also purchase copies of patterns (they are around US$12-15 each for non-members).

I've got my eye on these two and am wondering whether to spluge...

1920s dress pattern from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library

1930s dress pattern from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library

Decades of Style

And, of course, people who read this blog will know I've been a fan of the Decades of Style site and am keen to try out their patterns. There are so many lovely items to choose from, like the 1930s button dress, the 1940s empire waist trousers and the 1940s New England dress.

I love them all - it's so hard to choose!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

1920s Flapper Fashion: the Bob hairstyle

The ‘Bob’ is the archetypal 1920s women’s hairstyle.

If you want to pull off a classic 1920s look you simply must have a bobbed hairstyle. A short, simple cut, the hair is generally level with the bottoms of the ears or chin, and is worn straight or waved, with or without bangs.

The bob started during WWII when women who took on jobs in factories or driving ambulances cut their hair short for practicality. When famous dancing star Irene Castle lopped her hair in 1915, her huge popularity meant her new short style, which came to be knows as the ‘Castle Bob’, kicked off the bob’s emergence as a true trend of fashion rather than functionality.

Irene Castle sporting her stylish 'Castle Bob'

A first simply a blunt, short haircut, the bob symbolizes ease of maintenance and functional modernism. This was a drastic departure from the long feminine locks of the ‘Gibson Girl’, the feminine ideal of beauty at the turn of the century.
The 'Gibson Girl' look - the long, whimsical hairstyle
that preceded the flapper look, and represented the feminine ideal
of beauty that 'modern' 1920s flappers rebelled against

Younger women in the 1920s rejected the high-maintenance, physically restrictive corseted fashions of the Gibson Girl in favor of the bolder, sleeker and modern styling of what would become known as the ‘flapper’ look, which in turn reflects the zeitgeist of discarding old social conventions and embracing the new modernism.

In 1920 famous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald's published a short story titled "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" in the Saturday Evening Post, and in the early ‘20s famous fashion designer Coco Chanel and actresses Clara Bow and Louise Brooks all cut their hair short. Scores of women followed suit, and the major fashion hairstyle trend for the decade came into being.

Cover of Pictorial Review in 1925

Silent film star Louise Brooks and her famous 'helmet' style bob

A somewhat cheesy video on achieving a Louise Brooks style haircut

As hairdressers became more experienced with the bobbed style, they developed new varieties such as the Shingle Bob and the Eton Crop.

The Shingle Bob dates from 1923 and features a V-shaped wedge cut into the hair at the nape of the neck. The hair is flat and covers the ears.

Actress Gloria Swanson

From around 1926-1928 a more daring and extreme haircut came into vogue: The Eton Crop. This style featured slicked-down and short-all-over haircut that left the entire ear exposed. Brylcreem could be used to make the hair slick and shiny – this was the style worn by famous entertainer Josephine Baker.

Josephine Baker with her 'barely there' hair

While some bobs were worn with straight hair, others were waved. The prominent styles of waving were the Marcel Wave and the Fingerwave, which both have a similar look but use different methods.

The Marcel Wave utilised a hot curling iron (revolutionary at the time!) to create waves in the hair, while fingerwaving uses (you guessed it) the fingers to create S-shaped waves while the hair is still wet, and setting lotion is used to lock the wave in place.

Here's a great little demo of fingerwaving

To learn more about the Marcel Wave, fingerwaving and 1920s haircuts in more detail, visit the fantastic site - you can also purchase and download inexpensive how-to instruction books for the various hairstyling techniques.

Most good hairdressers will be able to do vintage-style waves in your hair. Bring pictures with you and get a fancy 1920s wave for your next dress-up party!

Want to achieve a 1920s bobbed look without cutting off your long hair? Check out this great video tutorial:

Hairstyle photo references of 1920s silent film stars:
Mary Pickford

Lillian Gish

Gloria Swanson

Marion Davies

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Vintage Sewing Patterns from Decades of Style

Vintage pattern reproduction company Decades of Style has recently released three new 1940s sewing patterns: a skirt, a dress and a western-inspired 'Rodeo Gal' shirt.

My fave is the 1940s New England dress, complete with mock bib with button detailing on both the bodice and skirt.

If you're not yet familiar with the Decades of Style website and you're a keen vintage sewer I suggest you check out their range of patterns - I haven't made any yet myself but have been told by a Diamond Dame reader that the patterns are very well constructed and run up beautifully.

Friday, July 3, 2009

1920s Charleston Dance Craze: video

Last night I taught a 1920s solo Charleston dance class. A few people had learned some steps previously, and for a few this was their first experience of the Charleston - the dance that took American popular culture by storm in the 1920s.

One thing about the 1920s Charleston (that sets it apart from other vintage dance styles like Lindy Hop) is that it takes no time at all to learn the basics. If you can walk backwards and forwards, you can do the Charleston.

The class was an hour long, in which we covered the basic step plus 6 other fun variation moves, and then put them all together in a routine at the end. It was tons of fun.

My closing comment to the class is something I think is important to convey to people interested in learning the Charleston:

Back in the 1920s, the Charleston was not just danced by dancers performing on stage - it was danced by everybody. You didn't have to have fabulous technique, excellent balance, or flawless timing. You just had to have a sense of fun - THAT'S the true spirit of the Charleston.

Eight-term Member of the House, Thomas McMillan
of South Carolina does the Charleston dance on
the steps of the Cannon House Office Building
(Photo from Library of Congress)

Below is one of my favourite YouTube videos - a montage of 1920s dancing featuring lots of Charleston stuff. For me this video really captures the essence and spirit of the dance, and the utter sense of joy and abandon on the faces of the people doing it. Enjoy!

Interested in the history of the Charleston and other early 20th Century American jazz dances? Check out this book: