designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Donald Brooks

I found this pattern in my to-be-listed pile and wondered, as is typical of my inquiring nature, who Donald Brooks was. What I found was that I’m not sure I liked him very much.

Donald Mark Blumberg was a lifelong New Yorker. He worked in the early 50s doing window dressing for Lord & Taylor, while he was still a student at Parsons. Lord & Taylor asked him to design a collection for them, and his career took off from there. He began working at Townley in 1958, and took over the helm after Claire McCardell died — those were some BIG shoes to fill. (The more you learn about him, the more you will realize how different he was from her).

He worked at Townley until 1964. He favored bold prints. His 1960s Townley collection featured a python printed chiffon evening gown as its centerpiece. 1964 featured cowl necks (like the one above), bare shoulders, and got away from side closings on dresses. He opened his own house in 1965. Mid 60’s found him noted as one of the “three B’s”: Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, and Donald Brooks. He was all about details like back belts (martingale belts, as they had been known in the 40s and 50s), detailed metal belts, and the like. He dressed Babe Paley and Jacqueline Kennedy, and did a number of theatrical costuming jobs as well.

In 197s, it was said by the New York Daily News that Pat Nixon must’ve been planning a trip to China, because she bought one of his evening gowns, in a Chinese theme. He denied this, saying he had “no great rapport with the Nixons,” and added that his designs were “to theatrical and young” for the First Lady. Well. Judgmental, much?

In October, 1972, he was interviewed and said that women had been dressing down for a period of time and during that time had gotten away from fur. He thought fur was coming back. He said “American women’s guilt complex about ‘obviously chic’ clothes are erased now because achievement prone women have concluded that fashion is not a deterrent to accomplishment.” Wow. By this point, I was really thinking him to be rather a misogynist and wondered about many of his life choices. That year, he showed a collection of fur caftans in poncho, street and cape lengths, saying basically that any woman could wiggle, but wearing a draped poncho was more sensuous. He defended himself on the fur issue by saying he didn’t use any endangered furs because he did “no crimes against nature.” He did one collection a year from that point on.

Later in the 70s, he was primarily known for his work with fur, which continued to be his focus for the remainder of his career. He was quoted at one point as saying “You can turn an absolute whore into a lady by just putting pearls around her neck.”

See what I mean?

He was a great designer, winning the Coty Award three times, starting in 1962. He had Three Oscar nominations, including “The Cardinal” which required 2000 costumes, including 138 ball gowns. He ultimately designed for Ann Taylor, beginning in 1990, and died on Long Island in 2005 at age 77, as a result of effects from a heart attack he had a couple of weeks before.

That being said, I do love the dress shown above. It’s simple chic, and not difficult to sew, either. Click here to purchase from my shop.

1950s fashion, designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Aurora Battilocchi

Advance Import 113, by Aurora Battilocchi

Aurora Battilocchi designed ladies’ fashion in the 1950s, and was thought by some to be the most creative Italian designer of the time. Her designs had a Parisian feel that combined with contemporary designs. Her designs worked for most women, because she did everything — empire looks as well as long torso looks with incredible details. She favored rich fabrics in brocades and satin, and her colors were equally so, in gold, flame red, sea blue and basic black.

One of her typical looks in 1955 was designed in tiers: a jacket where the hem created the first tier, and worn over a sheath dress that was cut again above the knee, creating the second tier above the final hem. Another model had a twilight themed skirt, with layers of pink, violet and blue organza. She was one of the only designers of the season to show a silk print. Ballgowns from this collection included a aquamarine silk dress with a pintucked bodice as well as a “tightly wound red and gold sheath with a huge bustle.” How I wish I could find a video of one of her shows!

She didn’t have much of a lifespan in American fashion though, as she disappeared from the scene here after 1961, and I can’t find anything about her from that point on. Perhaps she passed away, but she left a beautiful legacy. As was said about her in 1952, she was “renowned for her refined taste and understatement of the dramatic that is in itself dramatic.” Coco Chanel would approve.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Palazzo pants

McCall’s 3541, 1973.

Palazzo pants were a thing in the 1930’s, and were glamorous as heck. You saw them in beach pyjamas and loungewear especially. But as is the habit, fashion repeats itself, reinventing itself along the way. Palazzo pants were reinvented in the early 70s as “elephant pants.” I remember seeing a jeans version of these on the playground as a kid. An older girl, probably middle school age, had them, and I thought they were amazing. I couldn’t wait to grow up to wear them. They were made from worn denim and weren’t hemmed, dragging on the cement playground. I’d never seen anything like them.

Looking back, that image is heinous to me. I don’t remember if my older high school sisters wore them. I feel like my mom wouldn’t have approved, and my tiny sisters (5 feet 1 inch and 5 feet 1 1/4 inches – and you’d better believe that 1/4 inch was fought for) wouldn’t have been able to pull them off. A denim version of palazzo pants just didn’t really work. The look was revisited in the 90s with the skate culture, where it worked better as an aesthetic. How that girl pulled them off on the playground is beyond me.

This McCall’s pattern is a much better version of the elephant pants of the time. It’s disco ready, and would work great as cocktail or loungewear too. Make it in silk if you’re not clumsy like me. Add the front wrap top and you have a really chic look, yes?

Click here to purchase from the shop.

family stories, Non-Hogkin's Lymphoma, self help, self love, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

All the Love

Butterick 3120 , 1944.

There’s a commercial on TV right now that I believe is for a cancer facility. It says that a person never forgets the moment they were told that they had cancer. Let me tell you about that moment for me.

I had had surgery for a large mass in my back that had been causing an incredible amount of pain. Doctors varied on what they thought it was – infectious disease thought an infection, orthopedics thought perhaps it was a hemorrhage (I’d been the chiropractor in search of pain relief), and oncology thought it was a tumor. So I spent the night in the hospital the night before to manage the pain, and they rolled me off to surgery not knowing what was in store.

It was cancer. I woke up from anesthesia surround by my boys and my husband (I can’t remember why my daughter wasn’t there but I think the baby was sick). My husband took my hand and looked very serious, which in itself is a big deal, because he’s a sarcastic nutjob like me. Everyone stared at me very intently as he told me what they’d found. A huge tumor, wrapped around the spinal cord, that they couldn’t remove without a tremendously complicated surgery. They didn’t know what kind of tumor, but they biopsies and closed me up. If they had to, they’d go back in, but we needed more information.

I will tell you that I have never felt more love in my entire life. The looks of concern in those three men’s eyes was something I will never forget. And you know what? I didn’t get upset. I didn’t get worried. I knew we had this, because with love like that, how can anything go wrong?

They didn’t know till later that day exactly what kind of cancer. It turned out to be lymphoma, and there were other tumors. We came up with a plan, starting with radiation to, as my orthopedist said, “melt” the spinal tumor. Three radiation sessions and it was completely gone. Immunotherapy, to kill the rest. A year later, there is no sign of the other tumors, though I have another year and a half of maintenance treatment to keep it gone. I have gone from Stage IIIB to “no evidence of disease.” Yes, it may come back, because with my type of cancer there is no cure, just remissions of varying length. But till then, I live my life and have a lot of fun.

So yes, you really do remember the moment you were told you have cancer. But that’s just the beginning, not an end. And in the middle, have a lot of fun.

Hospital gown pattern from World War II era, likely made for new moms who were in the hospital. Why can’t bed jackets make a comeback? They’re so pretty.

Have a great weekend.

1920s fashion, vintage fashion

Hair Pillows

I found this letter inside a 1920’s children’s pattern and my curiosity was piqued, never having heard of a hair pillow. I went on a researching quest, and found that they are just as you might think — pillows full of hair.

A 1917 newspaper touts the better choice of a hair pillow versus a feather pillow. Reasons: feathers get hot and sticky, the smell, and who knows how many generations of your family have slept using that very same feather pillow. Hair pillows were considered cooler, causing less sweat on the back of the head and neck (remember, there was no air conditioning during this time). The article states that they are quite comfortable, once you get used to them, and they are softer as well.

A 1962 article to a home advice column questioned what to do with a hair pillow that became matted after it was run through a washing machine. The answer? Take the hair out, wash and detangle, and stuff it back in.

Seems like we’ve used just about everything to lay our heads on, but this is one I’d never heard of. The cost in 1917 for a 12X14″ pillow was about $1.25 according to the letter. The newspaper mentions that they were similar or only slightly higher in cost than feathers. So if you have some hair lying around that you can’t donate to Locks of Love, consider making a hair pillow and letting me know how it works for you. I’m curious, but not that curious.