Rachael’s suit from Blade Runner

A few detail snaps of Rachael’s signature look from Blade Runner for my costumers and cosplayers, on display at MoPOP.

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A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes

Last week I visited MoPOP for their exhibit A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes. The collection uses contemporary fashion to convey six feminine archetypes and how designers work with them, as well as how society interacts with them. The exhibit was incredible, and I got up close with the creations some of my favorite designers. Highly recommend visiting if you’re in Seattle, the collection is on display until September 2nd.

Iris Van Herpen

One of my favorite accounts on Instagram right now is designer Iris Van Herpen, although the word designer is too basic a descriptive. Her work is this almost unreal balance of technology and organics, utilizing 3D printing to create garments that look like the future of fashion. On visiting MoPOP’s A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes exhibit I was enthralled with the exhibit overall (more on that later) but I certainly didn’t expect to come face to face with one of Iris Van Herpen’s creations, not now, not ever.

This piece is part of the “Sage” portion, each section dedicated to one of six feminine archetypes. And while I would’ve loved to have found much of myself in “heroine” or “enchantress” it was the Sage description that felt as though it was written just for me.

“Her strengths are wisdom, intelligence, and self reflection, which she uses to analyze and understand the world. Her biggest fears are being ignored or tricked by others. Her weakness is being consumed by the never-ending study of details that can lead to an inability to act.”

“At once romantic and futuristic, her (Van Herpen’s) 2016 collection Seijaku collection found inspiration in cymatics, or the practice of visualizing sound waves in geometric patterns.”

You can view the Seijaku collection here and follow Iris Van Herpen on Instagram here.

Style and evolution

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This may sound ridiculous, but some time ago while watching a behind the scenes feature on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” movie (one of my favorites), the costumer, Joanna Johnston discusses the wardrobe of one of the lead characters, Napoleon Solo. She describes his wardrobe as “very considered” and a lightbulb went off.

I started wearing vintage early in my teens, my aunt and sister-in-law wore vintage in the 80’s and 90’s and would give me hand me downs. 1940’s dressing gowns and 50’s circle skirts were part of my dress up closet, and as I reached my teenage years, I would pull from that closet for everyday wear. I came of age in an era where jeans were low, hips were slim, and bras were padded. Hair was straightened and pale girls tanned. I had a Bettie Page figure at 13, big frizzy hair at 11, and the sun gave me headaches (before I had braces I had little vampire teeth which I miss dearly). Vintage just fit me, specifically 1940’s and 1950’s styles. It was easy to wear, I liked the look, and you could still find things in thrift stores. After high school I was offered a job at a local vintage shop, basically because I was there all the time anyway. That’s when I really got into it, coming home with something new every week, and thinking back on it I wish I could’ve bought more (There’s a late 30’s princess coat that’s particularly haunting). Working at a vintage shop allowed me to experiment with style in a way a lot of people have to refrain from. I could basically dress however I wanted, looking like a dust bowl circus performer one day, and a post war housewife the next. I had the freedom, encouragement, and resource to experiment, and it was FUN.

I think there’s a thing that happens now where we don’t have any one single point or event where we enter into adulthood. Adolescence is muddled and extended, we no longer marry and 20 (lol except I did), have children at 22, and/or have a secure and established career at 30. Years ago I was sent a copy of Wife Dressing and every time I bring it up people roll their eyes. Despite my insistence it has valid advice, people can’t get past that dated title. Of course there’s some old-fashioned attitudes and advice, but there’s great guidance as well. One thing I do want acknowledge is the dated aspect. This book was largely intended for adult women, those who were wives, or wanted to look as put together as a wife. Marriage was the point where women crossed the threshold into adulthood, and that’s when you shed your literal adolescent layers and worked to look like a functioning member of adult society. We’re in a new era where not only do we have no turning point into adulthood, but we’re not expected to. Which of course gives the freedom to dress as you please without limit, but I know many who struggle in their late 20’s/early 30’s trying to figure out their style which no longer coincides with what they felt was right in their teens and twenties.

Which brings me back to Napoleon Solo. Looking at his clothing and style, I think Joanna Johnston succeeded in her intent. His wardrobe is considered. I took that one sentence and applied it to my own wardrobe. I felt I didn’t need to experiment so widely, I wanted to continue wearing vintage but in a way that was more refined and fit my real life needs. I really considered what I needed, for my lifestyle (not the lifestyle of “one day”), for the climate I live in, and for the amount of time and effort I’m willing to put into the care of my wardrobe. I’m fortunate to have the time, patience, and know how to care properly for a “small” vintage closet, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Quality and comfort are my top priorities, and after years of trying out just about everything in my path I know what garments are worth restoring and what feels right and comfortable on my figure. I am very selective of colors, if you look at my wardrobe as a whole, it looks cohesive, which is intentional. I no longer shop outfit by outfit, but buy things that round out my wardrobe. I am highly selective of color, and now prefer texture and detail over print. Glamour isn’t important to me but drama is. I think extensively of what my wardrobe needs, I consider every aspect of an item when I find it, and take care in dressing each day. Once I’m dressed, the whole thing is out of my mind, I don’t want my outfit to be a distraction, but an enhancement to my day. I don’t fidget with ill fitting clothes, I don’t worry where I step because of inappropriate shoes, and I don’t feel uncomfortable halfway through the day because I picked something restricting.

I know a lot of people just really love a lot of styles, but are feeling lost as to what is truly your style. This takes honesty with yourself which I think is a roadblock for many, and it takes time! Refining your style isn’t something that happens overnight, it’s a process. It certainly has been a process for me, nearly two decades of experimenting with fashion (please encourage the youth around you to have freedom in self expression in their clothing), brought me to the place I am now. I know what I like. Decidedly. I’m selective to the point people think it’s a bit much (“so what if it’s burgundy and not red?”) but at the end of the day knowing what you want and not settling for anything less is powerful. As far as wearing a wide range of eras including modern, for a time I greatly wanted to be dedicated to one era as some people are, and I tried, but it just doesn’t work for me. Some days I wear jeans and a t-shirt, which meet my same standards as vintage. I don’t have much modern, but what I do have is worthwhile, and thinking about it as just another era in my wardrobe is helpful. I like what I like, no matter when it’s from.

1905 mourning millinery

I picked up this little book at a very odd estate sale a few weeks ago. At one point in my life I was going to become a milliner (one of many careers that passed through my mind but never came to be) so I still have a soft spot for the craft. This gem is from 1905, when large wire framed hats were en Vogue for fashionable ladies, and morning was still practiced at the tail end of the Victorian era. During much of the 19th century morning was somewhat of a cultural obsession in the western world. So of course there’s a chapter in this booklet on mourning millinery, with what cords and veils to use, and which style is age appropriate. There’s even a paragraph on morning hat bands for men, with correct sizing and pleating.

I also included a few pages at the front of the book, much like today’s fashion magazines the advertisements are in the front, and these are works of art in their own right. Enjoy!

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.

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.