Winters Past

20th Century Fashion from Deco to Disco

July 22, 2017
by Winters Past

1930’s Bias Cut Dresses: Sexy Screen Siren Style

Remember that really bad Rod Stewart song from the 80’s, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? I’m assuming you’ll agree it was terrible because I think it is. In truth, what’s a catchy tune or an ear worm, what’s bland or delicious, what is sexy or not is entirely subjective.

Except for 1930’s ladies in their fabulous bias cut gowns-I think we can all agree that these are pretty sexy:

Bias cut gowns

Thirties Hollywood Bombshells in Bias Cut Gowns

Fashion of the 1930s was, surprisingly, very sensual.  They featured sinuous shapes and fabrics that draped daringly over the body, allowing women the freedom to move with ease while being caressed by fine silk cloth.

Before stretchy fabrics were available, the “bias cut” was used for body-hugging silhouettes. In 1927, Parisian designer Madeleine Vionette developed this technique by changing the direction that pattern pieces were laid out in relation to the grain of fabric.

What is the advantage of a bias cut gown? It drapes over and highlights the body. Gowns cut on the true bias hug and cling to the hips and midriff then fall beautifully. Many times they seem like a second skin. Colors newly available in silk at that time included soft flesh tones like champagne, fawn and blush, which added to their sensual appeal.

Worn with very little underneath, this style was scandalously close to naked, replacing the layers of chemises, knickers, corsets, corset covers and petticoats that had encompassed the Western female form for generations.

Hollywood of the thirties greatly influenced  what women thought about what was fashionable, what was acceptable, and what was sexy. In contrast to the realities of the depression, costume design  was quite lavish.  Exemplified by Jean Harlow’s iconic white satin bias cut dresses, the Hollywood look featured dramatic lines that played best to camera.  The minimally embellished slip-like gown  was emblematic of Hollywood of that decade.

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow in her signature look

Thirties films were “Pre-Code”, meaning they were made after the introduction of sound and before the enforcement of strict censorship rules (the “Hays Code”). Pre-Code films were bawdy, risque and irreverent, exploring  lesbian relationships,  drug use, divorce, sex work and extramarital affairs.  Women -married or not-were frankly sexual, and their outfit of choice was the bias cut gown.

Bias cut gowns

Bias cut gowns draw attention to the curve of the hip

I have quite a few bias cut gowns in the shop and I am amazed by the quality of the fabric, still draping and flowing 80 years later.

July 8, 2017
by Winters Past

How About a Vintage Clutch Bag for Daytime?

The world is an anxiety provoking place. People (and by that I mean me) seem a bit on edge lately. It’s calming to focus on enjoying some small, pleasing things that are within our control. This thought process led me to pull over on the side of the road yesterday, lay on my stomach  in a glorious yellow riot of buttercups in the median, and snap an I-phone photo of a single perfect flower.

It also helps me that my work involves finding lovely objects from the past and figuring out how to enjoy them in the present.

Which leads me to think about using a vintage clutch bag with casual daytime clothes.

Here’s why daytime clutch bags make so much sense :

  1. They look modern
  2. They look minimal
  3. They look different
  4. They are unfussy
  5. They are kind to your neck and shoulders
  6. They force you to carry fewer items
  7. You need a style change

The clutch can add a surprising element of color or texture or shape to a simple outfit.

Here are some ladies doing the daytime clutch with casual flair:

wear a vintage clutch bag with casual clothes

wear a vintage clutch bag with casual clothes

And here are just a few of the vintage daytime clutch bags I have in the shop right now:

vintage clutch bags

vintage clutch bags

vintage clutch bags

June 30, 2017
by Winters Past

Some Thoughts on Vintage Costume Jewelry

So what’s the story on costume jewelry anyway?

First, a few pieces from the Winters Past collection:

 vintage costume jewelry

Some stellar examples of vintage costume jewelry

A little history: back before the style revolution that was the 1920’s, women of means had fine jewelry that they wore with pretty much everything. Then came Coco Chanel. She turned this idea upside down by proclaiming that wearing precious jewelry in public was vulgar. Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and others created bold, fabulous jewelry designed to go with your “costume” (meaning outfit). Jewelry became something to wear for fun and as art and self-expression but not to signify wealth.

Coco and Elsa

Coco and Elsa wearing costume jewelry of their own creation

From the 1920’s Art Deco period until about 1965, there was so much wonderfully well designed vintage costume jewelry made in the US. Along with the artistry, there was an innovative use of materials and a good dose of whimsey.

Mass production wasn’t very mass in the American costume jewelry industry from the 20’s to the mid 60’s. These pieces were made by skilled artisans with a high degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail.  They used a mixed base metal, and then triple-plated it with either gold or silver. The result? Even pieces that are decades old won’t easily tarnish.

A word about rhinestones: They aren’t fake anything. They’re real Czech hand blown leaded glass that’s been precision faceted and polished, then given a reflective backing. These stones were set with prongs in the same manner as gemstones are in fine jewelry.

high quality prong set vintage costume jewelry rhinestones

high quality prong set vintage costume jewelry rhinestones

In addition to metals and rhinestones, costume jewelry designers played with materials like  shell, wood, enamel, faux pearls and stones. As new things like celluloid,Bakelite,and Lucite were developed, jewelry designers incorporated them into their creations.

Some vintage costume pieces are  signed with a logo, like these:

signed vintage costume jewelry

Some signed vintage costume jewelry

However, signed pieces do not necessarily indicate higher quality than unsigned pieces — vintage jewelry is often high quality, regardless of who made it. Some of the most exclusive vintage designers, including Juliana, did not sign their pieces.

I carry vintage jewelry that features the original design, consistent with vintage style and age. There is a current fad towards “repurposeing”  jewelry, meaning mixing and matching different elements from multiple pieces into new, franken-jewelry. I prefer to let the individual charm and beauty of a piece speak for itself.

June 22, 2017
by Winters Past

Mid Century Made in Hong Kong Finery

Picture a classic 50’s or early 60’s dress in a rich tone-on-tone brocade. The lines of the dress are on par with fashionable evening wear of the era, but the garment is done up in fabric that’s got an Asian design and feel. Look at the label- it might be made in Hong Kong, which was the hub of amazing hand made sequined, beaded, and embroidered items from the late 1940’sthrough the early 60’s.

British Hong Kong had a booming  garment industry which became really fashionable  after Paris featured the “Asian Look” in 1955. These super classy dresses had high quality fabrics, and were finely tailored with excellent hand work.

vintage made in BCC Hong Kong

Labels from vintage Made in BCC Hong Kong hand tailored dresses. Note the upside down one, designed to be visible when this coat was draped over the back of a chair

These pieces tend to be semi formal evening wear in a low-sheen satin jacquard fabric. Sometimes they have details we associate with Chinese clothing, like mandarin collars and frog closures, and some are the classic cheongsam, or form-fitting Asian dress. Some are Western wiggle dresses, meaning the hem is narrower than the hips. I often come across Hong Kong dresses with matching boxy jackets, boleros, cocoon coats or lightweight “opera coats”.  Occasionally I see slim, high waisted pants, sometimes with a matching tunic.

Hotels in Hong Kong featured tailoring salons where tourists could have a frock made to measure. The most famous of these was the Dynasty salon. Here are some of their ads, which are kind of cringe inducing with their non-PC images from an earlier, more naive era..

vintage made in BCC Hong Kong

Advertisements featuring a “Hong Kong tailor”

Here are a few silhouettes common in BCC Hong Kong fashions:

vintage made in BCC Hong Kong

And here are a few modern ladies wearing their Hong Kong finery:

vintage made in BCC Hong Kong

June 13, 2017
by Winters Past

Retro Fashions On TV

Once, back in college, a friend was taking a class called The History of History. It was one of those mind blowing freshman epiphanies: how we think about the past is influenced by what’s happening in the present, and the present is always changing.  Therefore, history is not a set of facts, it’s fluid, a moving target. Whoa!

This is all great stuff for a vintage clothing fan to parse. Were the roaring twenties really all about self empowered, fun loving party girls or do we, the post Sex and the City generation, just want to see it that way? Lucky for me, there are so many TV shows that take place in the past, all with  amazing fashion designed by modern costumers. In fact, a TV show about, say, the 60’s will have more great clothes than were actually present during that decade.

Costume dramas. We’re all familiar (or, if you’re me, obsessed!) with Mad Men. Downton Abbey had it’s cultural moment a few years back. Want to take a look at a few other less famous modern shows set in the past that are worth checking out for the clothing?

First up, a modern fantasy of a flapper-era independent woman, with enough twenties tropes to almost make it a caricature of that decade. The clothing is just luscious, and totally worth watching.

Fashions from the PBS series Miss Fisher

the 20’s: Miss Fisher

Indian Summer is a really great melodrama about the waning days of the British rule in India. The costumes are integral to the exotic feel and the wild plot twists, with a dazzling mix of silk saris, prim cotton day dresses and slinky bias cut gowns. Some of the British characters are realistically out of date, hauling out their twenties frocks well into the thirties.

Fashions from Indian Summer

The 30’s: Indian Summer

These swoon worthy Swing-era frocks steal the scenes in this WWII home front drama. And really,who doesn’t love a good peplum waist?

Fashions from Bomb Girls

The 40’s:  Bomb Girls

I watch Masters of Sex for the costumes, don’t you?

Fashions from Masters of Sex

The 50’s and 60’s:  Masters of Sex

Here’s a bright, cheerful-and very contemporary-look at early sixties fashion and the women who wore them. The sixties that I recall involved a whole lot more hairspray and repression, but its still great fun.

Fashions from Astronauts Wives Club

The 60’s:  Astronauts Wives Club

June 2, 2017
by Winters Past

Why Shoe Design is a Little Bit like Rock Music

Think for a moment about rock and roll music from, say, 1958 to 1982. Everything was being done for the very first time. Everyone from Buddy Holly to Prince created something absolutely fresh and new with each song they wrote.

Most of the time since that era, rock has mined it’s own golden age to create new music that references the old songs.

Likewise, shoe design has had it’s own golden age, from around 1922 to 1968. Everything since then reprises and synthesizes those earlier designs.

Footwear was pretty much ignored for centuries in the west because, up until hemlines stated to rise in the 1920’s, you couldn’t see ladies shoes under their long skirts. Shoe design became a new art form that really took off  in the 1920s and ’30s when bare legs and sheer stockings became acceptable and shoes became a focus.

The twenties shoe style was pretty basic, not too fancy but good fun and danceable. Flappers wore a mid heel Mary Jane with a high front, like this:

1920's shoes

1920’s shoes

1930’s shoe designers took the basic shape of the Mary Jane and played with it while keeping it’s familiar outline.  The  very scandalous open toe was invented, along with the sling back and the pump. Fashion was expressed in color and surface design rather than in shape.

1930's shoes

1930’s shoes

The fun loving, wildly creative 1940’s shoe designs are like a Freddie Mercury-Elton John-David Bowie hybrid.  To my eye, the forties was a golden age for shoes.  I’m such a fan of the rounded toe and the absolute frenzy of playful design. Wartime shortages caused experimentation with new materials like cloth, straw and wood.  We see platforms, ankle strap and peep toes, like these:

1940's shoes

1940’s shoes

The fifties-the decade that gave us gave us bullet bras and tightly girdled waists- brought a severe femininity and  an exaggerated sharpness to shoes, from the stiletto heels to the pointed toe, comfort be damned. There was a parallel trend toward saddle shoes, Keds and loafers for the growing teen population.

1950's shoes

1950’s shoes

In the sixties, the mini skirt showed more leg than ever before and brought interest in boots. All that leg was balanced by a square toed, low heeled, chunky shoe.

1950's shoes

1960’s shoes

The sixties was also the last decade with completely new shoe silhouettes. Just like in rock music, further decades reinterpreted and reinvented the older styles.

Footwear in the 70’s looks back to the forties with platforms, peep toes and creative materials, as well as chunky boots.


1970’s shoes

The eighties looks back to the fifties with stiletto heels and pointed toes, this time in New Wave brights. Like the fifties, the eighties was also a Keds decade.

1980's shoes

1980’s shoes

More recent decades have given us lots of super casual shoes that match our increasingly casual lifestyles, along with creative reinterpretations of the past.

Here is a little glimpse of some vintage shoes I have in the shop right now:

vintage shoes

Left side, top to bottom: 30’s, 40’s, 80’s, 80’s

Right side, top to bottom: 50’s, 60’s, 70’s 70’s

May 26, 2017
by Winters Past

Juliana: Super Statement Vintage Jewelry

Most people buy vintage costume jewelry because, well, it’s pretty and it’s unique and maybe it matches their outfit. People who collect vintage costume jewelry look for specific designers or brands. Then there’s a subgroup I’ll call serious collectors, folks who have some really esoteric knowledge about obscure brands and types of jewelry.

A few months ago I stared getting queries from serious collectors of vintage costume jewelry asking for Juliana. I have to admit, this caught me off guard as I’d never heard of it.

So now I have researched it, explored it and even found a few pieces. First off, it’s really well designed, spectacular stuff. But I think, for truly serious collectors, there is a special allure around the fact that it’s unsigned and was only created for one year (1967-68), making it super hard to find and identify.

You know That Guy at the dinner party, your cousin’s husband’s brother, the one you hope you don’t get seated next to? The one who has a whole lot of knowledge about an obscure topic and want to share every bit of it with you?

I’m going to be That Guy for just a few minutes. I’m going to get into some really granular detail about costume jewelry here. But first, before I geek out, here’s a pretty Juliana set:

vintage Juliana costume jewelry

Now, to identify Juliana jewelry for yourself you need to look for some specific traits.

Does the piece have:

over the top glitz, breathtaking design

use of art glass

multiple sizes, shapes and colors of rhinestones all in the same piece

Aurora Borealis (rainbow sparkle) rhinestones mixed in

tiered, domed, or are otherwise 3-dimensional elements

one or more rhinestones that float on a wire over other rhinestones

Still with me here? Ok, here one level geekier:

Rhinestones are often backed with foil, which acts like a mirror and creates extra sparkle. Juliana mixes foil backed stones with open back, unfoiled ones.

Is the pin on the back built in, not a separate piece that is glued or riveted to the back?

I can sense that your eyes have glazed over. Wake up, I’m done being That Guy for now. Have a look at these gorgeous Juliana pieces and thanks for being polite and nodding. Next time I’ll try not to get so intense.

vintage Juliana costume jewelry

Now here is a piece I found just this week. I think we can check all the boxes and call it Juliana, don’t you?

vintage Juliana brooch

May 12, 2017
by Winters Past

The Secret Life of Clothes, part 1

In the last post, I wrote about how much I enjoy learning the backstory of vintage treasures. I like knowing who wore a garment and how it relates to their personal history. I also like placing it in the larger context of what was happening at that time and place.

My most recent large purchase started with the requisite phone call, this time from a neighbor. The story, in brief, involves an elderly couple who need to downsize. Retired writers and teachers, they worked in Japan as journalists in the 1970’s. After 10 years in Asia, the Viet Nam war ended and they returned stateside. They had their belongings shipped to a series of storage units where they left them untouched for over 40 years.

Their clothing was a quirky mix. The man’s wardrobe was that of a dashing, adventurous gentleman, all trench coats, fedoras and fine wing tip shoes.

vintage stetson fedora

A recent acquisition, this vintage Stetson fedora has dash and panache

The lady had her blouses hand tailored  in a 70’s career woman style using Japanese fabrics. Her accessories were fashion forward in their day but are quite different than American pieces the same  vintage since the styles were interpreted through an Asian lens.

These garments tell stories of two adventurous foreign war correspondents at work and at play. The silky button down shirts in colorful prints, the midi length skirts, mile high wooden platforms and tall Italian leather boots were the wardrobe of a successful career woman, 70’s style. The silky, drape-y separates were the pretty yet packable pieces of a lady reporter in a conflict zone.  Those three pairs of pleated high-waisted palazzo pants, that black shawl, and the luxurious hand beaded evening bags were fashionable cocktail clothes worn during late nights at the piano bar sipping cocktails with other expats abroad.

seventies wooden platform sandals

Fabulous seventies wooden platform sandals

vintage leather boots

Stylish and sexy, these 70’s  Italian leather boots were worn in Japan

I also like that these pieces will have a second act, becoming part of another person’s narrative.

May 1, 2017
by Winters Past

Introducing: The Secret Life of Clothes

“Where do you get all this stuff?”

I get asked some variation of this question many times every day. At this point in the life of my shop, the answer is simple. I buy from the people who originally owned and wore these pieces.

It goes something like this: I receive a call or a visit. Sometimes it’s from an elderly person, but more often it’s the granddaughter or the neighbor or the niece. The older person, hailing from an era when people cared for and kept their possessions, has far too many things.

I  purchase their embroidered gloves and church veils and handbags and I also hear their stories. That’s how I came to not only acquire the peep-toe wedge heel shoes with matching bag but also learn that their owner wore them on her honeymoon in Havana in 1948, where she danced  all night. When I can, I pass the story on to the new owner.

vintage 1940s straw shoes and bag

1940s straw handbag and matching  espadrilles

This is part of what makes shopping for and wearing vintage a richer and more satisfying experience than, say, ordering a tee shirt on line from a big box retailer. Sure, we all need to buy brand new clothes sometimes. But those pieces are commodities to be worn until we tire of them, often after only one season. Vintage pieces have history, provenance and a backstory.

I’m going to share some of the stories I hear, right on these pages as a part of my shop blog.

April 11, 2017
by Winters Past

Vintage Secretary Blouses

Fashion has reached the point in its current cycle where showing lots of skin has become banal. So now the pendulum is swinging the other way.

Covered up is cutting edge. Ladylike is the new sexy.

What’s more covered up and ladylike than a vintage secretary blouse? The allure here comes from what is implied, not stated. Wearing it is easy. As with most vintage pieces, add one of these pretty shirts to an otherwise modern outfit for a look that is cool, not costume-y. Pair it with jeans, tucked in, with a belt. Top a high waisted pencil skirt with one. Keep your accessories minimal and your hair modern. Here is a little inspiration:

vintage secretary blouses

And now, in homage to the patron saint of vintage bow blouses, the geek chic lifetime achievement award winner, one half of the cutest sibling duo ever to grace the silver screen, I give you Maggie Gyllenhaal:

vintage secretary blouses

Maggie, if you happen to be in central Florida shopping for vintage secretary blouses, come and visit me. I have what you’re looking for:

vintage secretary blouses

Just a few of the vintage pussy bow blouses currently available at Winters Past