designers, embroidery, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

France During World War II

I read the vintage book Fashion Fundamentals, by Bernice Chambers recently, and wow, is it fascinating. The setting is 1947, which puts it post World War II, but before the New Look dominated the scene, so the world was fresh out of not only a war, but fabric rationing and the huge impact of the war on the fashion industry. It includes everything from bios of designers to descriptions of different fabrics and fur. Cool stuff.

What I found most interesting though, was the stories it told of France’s couture industry during the war, and how they were able not only to keep it going, but keep it in France. The Germans wanted to move the couture industry to Berlin. Lucien Lelong, the president of the Haute Couture Chambre Syndical De La Haute Couture, and though he made a couple of trips to Berlin, he pulled off the absolute miracle of defying the Germans and refusing to move. Can you imagine the absolute bravery of going against the Germans, who wanted to take occupied France’s biggest industry away from them?

Think of the impact this could have had. Christian Dior had not shown a collection yet. The entire Berlin fashion scene — iconic in its own way — might not exist as we know it. Moving couture to Germany would have completely turned fashion history on its head. I am amazed.

Add to this that the German officers and their lives liked to shop in the couture industry, and what the designers did to sabotage it, and you will laugh. They purposely made horribly awful, huge hats for the Germans, refusing to offer them top designs. This shows that everyone can be a defiant cog in the wheel of the opposition if they think it through. I just love the visual on this — imagine godawful hats in the windows where the beautiful tiny sculptural hats of the 40s should be, and German women walking out thinking they look amazing whilst the French laugh at them behind their backs.

The other thing that they did was so united. The couture industry was rationed 2/1000 of the normal amount of cloth they normally were used to. A tiny amount. OK, so they can’t make as many clothes, and marketing would be hard if not impossible, but think of how many jobs this affected. This put an entire industry under threat of unemployment during the occupation. What did the designers do? They had limited fabric to work with, weren’t allowed or able to do fabric embellishments like ruffles or pockets, so they did embroidery and beading. LOTS of it. Doing huge intricate designs kept the embroiders employed and families from going hungry.

The pivots that the French couture industry accomplished during the war amaze me. American industry faced its own restrictions, but we were not occupied, and the restrictions weren’t as suffocating. We could still get good cotton, even if we couldn’t get Asian silks or Italian wools. The French had to completely think outside the box, and did it whilst making life difficult for their oppressors. I love it.

The book will be listed in the Etsy shop in the next day or two.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Good Housekeeping Clothing

I like to read vintage magazines with my husband. He loves to cook, so we have lots of interesting discussions about the recipes and presentation ideas women’s magazines have. I was thumbing through an issue of Good Housekeeping from 1946, and wow, was it interesting. It is a thick issue — 334 pages! It includes everything from short stories to recipes to the macabre articles about how to avoid suffocation (!) and what you should do if your house is on fire.

Important side note, from someone who has had a house fire in the middle of the night: the fire department said that sleeping with your bedroom door closed gives you and extra ten minutes if a fire breaks out, because it decreases your exposure to smoke. But I digress.

I was looking, of course, at the sewing patterns they advertised which, surprisingly, were Simplicity, not Good Housekeeping. Since McCalls and Ladies’ Home Journal had their own lines of patterns, I’m surprised that they weren’t doing the same. They did at some point, because I have a few from the sixties, including this Geoffrey Beene delight:

Good Housekeeping pattern 2, 1960s.

But what I found most interesting was that Good Housekeeping put out their own clothing line. I thought at first that the article was just hawking different designer labels, like most do, but when I read it in detail, I realized that they had their own Good Housekeeping Facts First label. In looking around, they applied this label in some of their ads for patterns, and I can’t find any clothing for sale with this label. Interestingly, the article does not tell you where you can buy them locally, or even by mail order. You had to write to the magazine to ask where they were available locally. This seems very cumbersome, especially in today’s click and buy world, and I wonder how long this sales model was sustainable. In looking around, they applied this label in some of their ads for patterns, and I can’t find any clothing for sale with this label, so perhaps it was not for long.

Celebrity, designers, Hollywood

The Red Carpet Conundrum

Anya Taylor-Joy at the Emmys, wearing Dior Couture. Photo Credit: Francis Specker/CBS, Rich Fury/Getty Images

This has been a big week in the US. My husband loves (American) football, and all I’ve been hearing is commentators falling over themselves, happy that the stadiums are full of (COVID and) fans again. Like having stadiums full of thousands of (unmasked) people is a good thing right now. But I digress.

For those of us with finer tastes, we got not only the Met Gala, but also the Emmys red carpet this week, and it was fun to watch. Though the trend of naked dresses has me yawning (ok, you have a nice body, cover it up cause it’s boring), and the trend of yellow (which, as a very fair redhead, is not in my wheelhouse, or a lot of other people’s either), there is a bigger thing that has me thinking. It’s the current fashion conundrum.

Fashion has been taking a big hit in the past few years, for how un-environmentally friendly it is. They are putting out more and more collections to fewer and fewer buyers, and the environment is paying the price with the manufacturing impact, as well as the overall waste. Designers are talking about using renewable sources, and manufacturing with less impact, but these red carpets had me wondering, do they really get it?

Billie Eilish at the Met Gala, in Oscar de la Renta. Photo Credit: ABACA USA/INSTARimages.com, Janet Mayer/Startraksphoto.com, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Take these dresses in point. They are beautiful, of course. Gorgeous, in fact. Though Anya Taylor-Joy’s dress is very minimal, that coat was made with that huge train, just to be dragged along for photos? And Billie Eilish’s dress is gorgeous, but you can see it from space. Add to that that she changed to another beautiful, less over-the-top dress for dinner. Anya literally wore her knickers to the Emmys afterparty. So is all of this really necessary? It’s gorgeous, but this is the kind of thing that makes the criticism rain down on the fashion industry.

I don’t know the answer. I love, love, love to look at all kinds of fashion, but I think if we are going to talk about caring for our planet, we need to walk the walk, not just give it lip service. ::end rant::

Oh, and this week, I found out that my cancer is, indeed, in remission. YAY!

sewing, sewing patterns, Uncategorized, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Lookie, Lookie!

Butterick 3205, from 1890.

I was looking through this amazing Butterick monthly catalog from 1890, and came across this gorgeous wrap on the right. I have no idea how it works, but I’m in love with the idea of it. Is it a coat? A cape? A cape-coat? Where do your arms go? What does the front look like?

I. Have. No. Idea. But it was love at first sight, and I’d make it in blood red velvet or even green, and I’d probably never take it off. What do you think?