1939 outerwear

1939 has long been my favorite year of fashion, I’ll save another post for the reasons for it, but I know many of you feel the same way so I thought I’d share these images. A friend of mine let me borrow her fall/winter 1939 Montgomery Ward’s catalog, and I’ve been pouring over the pages with envy, especially the outerwear! I took some snaps of the pages, of course they’re not as quality as a scan, but I just had to share. Enjoy!

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Moth prevention in your vintage wardrobe

Last week I woke up to a potential nightmare: a moth fluttering about the room. After much chasing and finally catching (ok, I always catch and release crawlies in my house but this one had to be sacrificed for identification purposes), it turned out to be a totally harmless moth. Relax? Not so much. It was probably a good thing I found it, harmless as it was, because it really got me thinking about how much I’ve slipped on moth prevention lately. As a vintage clothing wearer something like that can be devastating. Years, even decades of wardrobe building gone just like that. So I spent the week getting back on track, making it much easier after this to keep up. Here’s what I practice (much more diligent from now on), and hopefully will answer some questions you have. Please add suggestions if you have them!

I need to brush up on my moth knowledge

There are two types that like to munch on your clothing: the webbing clothes moth, and the casemaking moth, both in the Teneidae Bisselliella family. These adult moths have no mouths, but they lay eggs in nourishing keratin rich fibers (wool, silk, fur), and their larvae use it to grow. As they grow they tunnel, feeding and excreting the very fibers they’re in, making it almost impossible to spot in this stage. They grow to full size (about half an inch) and emerge from the fibers as moths, starting the cycle over again.

What am I doing wrong?

Do you have a heavy winter coat that lives in the back of the closet? Do you hastily store away your woolens after months of wear at the first sign of spring? Do you regularly launder your clothing, but not give much thought to blankets, rugs, the occasional kilim pillow?

Unlike those often strikingly beautiful moths we see fluttering around outdoor lamps and neon signs, the clothes eating kind enjoy darkness. Stuffy closets in dark rooms, storage chests forgotten for a time, that’s prime moth real estate.

If you really want to attract them, add sweat, hair, and stains to the mix. Like moth to a flame? How about like moth to perspiration. This makes it even more challenging to spot, laying eggs under the arms or inside waistbands.

Thanks I’m paranoid now, what can I do???

Wash, brush, and air out. The most obvious is washing. I hand wash sweaters, some skirts, and take outerwear and structured dresses and blouses to the dry cleaner. There are loads of guides for hand washing woolens, so I won’t go into that here, but with vintage be sure to dip a bit into the water first to see if the color runs. If it does, dry clean it to be safe.

Many tightly woven wool blankets can be machine washed on the delicate cycle, in cold water, and draped out to dry. Haven’t had an issue yet, but if you’re unsure, dry cleaner is safest.

Don’t forget those small items: hats, gloves, scarves, and other members of the household that may have wool, silk, or fur garments.

Items that can’t be easily washed, such as rugs, pillows, and other decor, should be brushed regularly with a wire bristle brush, vacuumed, and kept free of dust. Air things out now and then, vacuum both sides of the rug, smaller pillow cases and rugs can even be hand soaked if you prefer. Brushing things regularly not only keeps things clean, but also disrupts potential larvae, and nice wire brushes can also be used to keep coats lint free, I highly recommend getting one, they’re very useful!

If you’re bringing a newly acquired vintage item into your wardrobe, and want to clean it to assure it’s free from any pests, it’s recommend that the minimum temperature for killing larvae be 60°. This is however too hot for many woolens, and result in shrinking or felting, so use the freezer method. Place the dry item in a Ziploc bag and keep undisturbed in the freezer for at least a week. Remove the item and let get to room temperature, then place back into the freezer for 24 hours. The shock in temperature change really does the trick. Then hand launder it cold water and lay it out to dry on a towel. It’s a long process, but worth the effort! Also a great way to treat non washables, such as felt hats, belts, etc. Just be sure a hat is stuffed with tissue paper to keep it’s shape and has ample room around it so it doesn’t get squished by a bag of frozen peas.

With vintage garments it’s not practical or even beneficial to wash every item after every wear. Natural body oils and perspiration can weaken decades old fibers, but so can detergents, so there’s a balance. If you tend to perspire frequently under the arms, look into non-adhesive dress shields, you simply pin them inside the underarms and can launder them after every wear instead of the entire frock. With any item, let it air out overnight before placing back in your closet. I hang things on the door of my wardrobe each evening and simply put them away in the morning. You can also have a dedicated hook on the wall for the purpose. Let your clothes breathe, it’ll keep them smelling fresh and help prevent the attraction of moths.

I’ve washed everything, what about mothballs?

There are many chemical moth deterrents out there, and they may work, but they also double as people deterrents. Vintage lovers know the particular stench of classic mothballs, often referred to as “crystals” in old publications. These are a pesticide that evaporate straight from a solid to a gas. Variations on the classic are still sold, but I wouldn’t recommend them, due to not only the imposing scent, but also the health concerns.

In the 18th and 19th century Hudson Bay fur trappers would repel pests from their valuable pelts by layering tobacco leaves between layers for the long journey from the wilds of the North American west to Great Britain. As well as using cedar products, I also make sachets out of unflavored loose tobacco leaves and lavender. I love the scent of tobacco, and it lingers sightly on clothing, so be sure you like the scent too before using that method.

What if I can’t wash something right away?

If you find a new garment, of wool, silk, or fur, even if it’s in great shape, take it to the dry cleaners straight away, or use the above mentioned freezer method. Otherwise place the garment in a plastic bag, in a plastic container, preventing any potential spread of pests, until it can be properly cleaned.

I need to store winter clothing for months, what’s the best method?

Clean garments before storage, not just animal fibers, but all clothing. Synthetics and plant fibers rarely have moth issues, though perspiration and general soil can attract them. If you’re storing in airtight containers or vacuum seal bags, first wrap garments in clean muslin cotton, this will prevent potential condensation. Add any preventatives you like, sachets, cedar, or other natural deterrents.

If you keep items in the back of your closet for long periods of time, air them out! Shake them, brush them, let them get a little breeze.

Clean your closet regularly, I do at least four times a year. Take everything out, dust the corners and gather any cobwebs, and check your clothing for damage.

What if it’s too late?

If you’ve found moths in your house or moth made holes that weren’t there before, there’s only one sure option: call an exterminator. All of the above is preventative, and once they get started, it’s likely you can’t stop them. Leave the big job to the professionals.

All images from a 1941 copy of “Clothes With Character” in my personal collection.

1941 Duveen Pullover

Here’s a perfect little pullover for you, direct from the 1941 Jack Frost pattern booklet, the open work looks much more complicated than it actually is! A fun one to knit, the stitch is interesting and a great introduction to lacework, very straightforward, and I love the little button detail on the shoulders. I used knitpicks palette yarn in Forest Heather for this one and it’s wearing well, and some old felted wool for slight shoulder pads. Enjoy!

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Approaching autumn

Summer always seems endless when I’m in it, which is a blessing for most but suppressive for me. I do my best to appreciate what good comes of it (fresh fruit, early morning light, iced tea, wide brim hats) but by August, and each August, my body and spirit can’t deal anymore and find myself dozing off all day. My summer is most others winter. My complexion takes a dive, I eat poorly, I’m not active, I have little motivation to accomplish anything creative, and hardly leave the discomfort of my brick oven of a house unless coaxed. All it takes is one cool morning to shift the tides, and I’ve felt spoiled this week with cool mornings, days, and even some rain. It’s not autumn yet, but it’s on the horizon, and that’s enough to breathe in.

The Scandal at Wilhelm’s Mausoleum

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Last year I had the privilege of visiting Wilhem’s Memorial Mausoleum, the one day it’s open to the public: Memorial Day. You can read about my experience here, I have some tips to make your exploration top notch, but today we’ll delve into the most sought after site in the entire vast property.

George Rae came to the U.S. from Scotland in 1869, settling in Portland as Vice President of the Inman-Poulsen Lumber Company which was located where OMSI now stands. Many of Portland’s stately homes from the turn of the century are built with lumber from that mill, and it thrived after San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, providing record breaking quantities of lumber for the city to rebuild. Needless to say, George Rae was once one of Oregon’s wealthiest men.

Charlotte and George married in 1875, and sadly “Lottie” as she was known to those closest to her, was eventually committed to a state insane asylum, after suffering mental breakdowns. If you’re familiar with views on mental health during this period, you know that phrase can encompass many states of emotion, often associated with what we now see as normal responses to stressful situations, but then, were simply a symptom of a troublesome, crazy female.

Lottie passed away in the asylum in January 1914, and George remarried eight months later, to his housekeeper, who was 26 years younger than the self made millionaire. Elizabeth and George married at new and fashionable Multnomah Hotel which is now an Embassy suites, and he executed a new will a month after the ceremony, disinheriting his estranged adopted daughter Maud and leaving nearly all the estate to Elizabeth.

George died in 1918, buried in a family plot in Portland Riverview Cemetary next to Lottie. Maud wasted no time contesting the will, making it all the way to the Oregon supreme court, claiming her adoptive father wasn’t of sound mind, and that Elizabeth was a prostitute. The trial was highly publicized in 1920, and finally dismissed in 1923, both parties coming to a settlement.

The wealthy widow, having only four years of marriage with her beloved George, wanted to be near him for eternity, the two left alone without scandal and heartache. So she began creation of the tomb, of marble and bronze, so beautifully European in material and craftsmanship, you’ll wonder how it’s possible you’re still in the most casual city on the west coast. Upon it’s completion she had his body exhumed and laid to rest in the marble tomb, joining him in 1942. The two sarcophagi seem to be what the room was built around, with sconces and wicker chairs in the corner, and a photo of the couple in a brass frame. At the base of a stained glass panel, she has displayed the words which perhaps embody her short but treasured time with George in mortal life:

“The End of a Perfect Day”

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Alexander McQueen for the First Order

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There was once a time I didn’t have a single black garment in my closet, it was “too harsh”. And red? No way, too bold. White? Absolutely not, what if it gets dirty?

I always knew that when I approached my 30’s my once all over the place vintage style would become more refined. It’s fun to experiment, actually, it’s important, and experimenting knows no age, I just happened to be encouraged to explore my style young. Lately I’ve been feeling a pull towards more simplicity and drama, letting tailoring, texture, and color speak for me instead of prints and period accurate accessories. Black has become my neutral of choice, I find white elegant, and really started taking to red last year after dying my hair back to it’s dark color.

Then, I saw The Last Jedi. Visually stunning, the sets and costumes of the First Order really enchanted me, an unapologetic amount of black and red, with the finial scene on Crait completely taking my breath away. The white and beige landscape exploding with red soil was impossible to take my eyes off of, and from that moment on I knew I needed a lot more red in my wardrobe. I live in the Pacific Northwest, where most people immerse themselves in the earthy surroundings down to wearing gray jackets and living in brown houses. To be that explosion of red in this monotone environment appealed to me very much, I went right from the theater to the store and started my new look.

Today I came across the Holy Grail of lookbooks, the Alexander McQueen pre-fall 2013 collection. Sarah Burton designed these looks for the label, inspired by Anglican worship, which McQueen himself had previously taken inspiration from. But to me? It’s Alexander McQueen for the First Order. And it’s absolute perfection. This collection will continue to inspire my wardrobe choices: the 70’s hemlines, the thick leather belts, the high necks, the capes! Even the slight use of red, though I can see a few pieces switched from neutral to red with ease.

So enjoy, my dream Star Wars wardrobe.

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Agent Carter and women in post-war America

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Agent Carter was a short lived gift that should receive more respect than we give it. With the success of Mad Men, various networks tried and failed to get viewers interested in 20th century costume dramas, in rare form: set in America. America’s refusal to take interest in our own history through entertainment is unfortunate, because it’s just so easy. That’s why Agent Carter is a rare gem, though the general public didn’t seem to think so. The irony is, the show itself could apply it’s most beloved line to itself “I know my value, anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”

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The show’s first episode portrays Peggy sharing a New York apartment with another young professional woman, and their relationship is friendly, but not based in friendship. The foldout bed in the tiny studio apartment is used in shifts, the women likely found each other because they could work out a sleeping shift that would suit them both. This type of arrangement was hugely popular during WWII, in large cities and especially in cities that had factories and shipyards. These facilities usually operated 24 hours a day, so if you worked the day shift, you could sleep at night while your roommate was working the night shift. A single bed apartment for half the price. This continued in larger cities such as New York after the war, for people trying to make it in the city. One girl could work at a department store, the other at a nightclub, and they might pass each other somewhere in between.

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After Peggy moves from the apartment she is persuaded to apply at “The Griffith” a women’s only complex with strict rules and regulations, the most notable of which: no men past the lobby. These apartments were real, and very popular, though they often operated like large boarding houses, with meals provided. There were lots of options throughout New York history, you could find a boarding house/apartment in a building that only admitted people of your religion, race, marital status, gender, job, etc.

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The Griffith was likely based on The Barbizon, which opened in 1927 as the place for young professional women. 700 rooms for single women, and not a man in sight (above the first floor that is). But not just any woman could rent a room. You had to submit multiple letters of reference, and look, act, and dress like a proper young lady. I haven’t found reference to race, but I think it’s safe to assume that was a factor as well. Your parents could require you to sign in and out each day, and request a chaperone for outings. Stumble back to your room drunk at 1 am? You’ll get “a talking to”. No cooking in your room, in fact no electrical appliances at all. Your seams needed to be straight, your gloves clean, and your lipstick applied. Parents reluctant to release their daughters into the wild of the big city could take comfort in the mother figure who ran the place, accurately portrayed in the show as a no nonsense middle aged woman who seems to have eyes in the back of her head, and the girls virtue as top priority.

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Peggy’s roll in the workplace is so accurately portrayed. It’s largely forgotten that during WWII many American women experienced a kind of independence that wouldn’t be seen again in their lifetime. With most of the able bodied male population in service, women were mobilized for work, earning their own paycheck without question. There were military positions for women, mostly clerk work, and the other major option was factory work. It wasn’t just that it was open to female employees, but many even encouraged it with certain benefits. On site childcare was something that allowed working mothers to have consistency in a busy life, and some of the more organized shipyards even provided pre-made meals for women to take home at the end of their shift to feed their families.

Post-war, if the jobs stuck around, women were pushed out. Some simply got laid off, and some were stripped of the benefits they relied on so they were forced to quit. Removing the childcare some jobs provided was a popular one, pushing women away, and opening up jobs for men returning to the workforce. In the first episode Peggy’s roommate mentions

“They let ten girls go today”

“Did they say why?”

“Because ten more GIs got discharged. I had to show a guy from Canarsie how to use a rivet gun”

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Peggy herself is a fantastic representation of a woman landing a job in her related field, and finding it very different from her war era experiences. Peggy, even without my biased admiration, is obviously the “best man for the job” if you’ll excuse the irony. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter is not simply his sidekick after a time, she is already established in her own right before Steve Rogers even enters the picture. As we learn in the show, she entered into special operations from her job as a code-breaker, an admirable feat in itself. In the movie she’s important enough to be involved in the Super Soldier project, and throughout the film we see she places herself in danger in order to get the job done. Peggy Carter is highly regarded in wartime, with the best of men following her orders, whether she’s supposed to be giving them or not.

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Her roll at the SSR is a different story. She show opens in such a way that leads us to believe she’s still kicking ass and taking names. The shot of her symbolic strut down the sidewalks of New York, in a sea of faceless men in suits, sets us up for a show where Peggy Carter is a clear stand out. We know she co-founded S.H.I.E.L.D, so obviously she doesn’t just stop her career and play house the rest of her life. The jolt of reality comes when she enters the office. A meeting is called, and she’s told to cover the phones while everyone else is in the meeting. She’s called “darling” and “sweetheart” in professional situations. She takes lunch orders, and gets coffee. It’s implied throughout the beginning of show that not only do her co-workers not know she has hand to hand combat and weapons skills, but they try to shield her from the uglier side of the job and violent interrogations. At one point when she voices her informed opinion, she’s told “The war is over, let the professionals decide who’s worth going after.” despite the fact that she too is a professional. The attitude towards women is clear: you had your fun, now go on and let the men work.

Her time with the famed Captain America is turned into nothing more than a fleeting affair with a celebrity, not helped by the popular radio show portraying her as a helpless bimbo. Her relationship with Steve is referred to as a nothing more than a “liaison”. Peggy uses the public view of femininity to her advantage, playing the flirt, the dumb secretary, the assertive nag, the damsel in distress. The world she previously inhabited called for her strong personality, but now few seem to know how to handle that, so she often must resort to playing the part she’s expected to in order to progress. At one point a co-worker says point blank “You’re a woman, no man will ever consider you an equal.” Whatever thoughts ran through Peggy’s head, it’s safe to say Steve Rogers and his unwavering admiration for her and her work was unavoidable.

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In one scene a coded note is being argued over in the office, with two coworkers, her boss, and a professional code breaker. Not until Peggy weighs in is the note decoded, her time at Bletchly overlooked just like the rest of her work. It leads to the next scene where Peggy has to prove her knowledge and experience to go back into the field for a mission. No other agent is questioned, but Peggy has to convince her superiors to let her go. There her fellow agents are introduced to Peggy’s world as she’s known it, where she is not only equal to the revered “Howling Commandos” but the agents learn that the phrase “Do as Peggy says” is the most likely way to assure the job gets done. And it even shows up again in the second season.

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Would Peggy have risked a charge of treason to aid her friend if her job had utilized her to her full potential? Were she respected and able to advance in her career, her skills recognized and rewarded, would she put it all on the line for an illegal assignment? It’s hard to say, but it’s clear in the show that whenever she has a doubt of her unorthodox mission, the professional world around her reminds her just how valuable she is to them. Which is not.

How many women’s stories of that era have been lost to the same conditions as Peggy’s? Incredible women who were pushed aside after the war because of gender or race? Countless women who had challenging and important rolls during the war that have been forgotten, because the post-war era made it difficult or impossible to continue as they were. Pulled from potential careers and independence and essentially forced to return to the way of life that was seeking a husband for financial security. We see Peggy fighting back in a way that is so applicable to issues today no matter who you are or what you’re trying to achieve. In Captain America: Civil War, Sharon Carter quotes her aunt Peggy at her funeral:

“Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, you move’.” This comes at a critical point for Steve Rogers, and sticks. Even after death Peggy Carter influences those who valued her.

Because when the rest of us ask “What would Captain America do?” Captain America asks “What would Peggy do?”

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