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.

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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cold weather layering

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I received a question recently about layering in a stylish way during the cooler months, to sum it up, how to do it?

I’ve lived in Washington state all my life, and layering is pretty much a standard as soon as you can dress yourself, since the weather here can change at the drop of a hat. My neighbors down in California are experiencing the same challenges lately (thank you global warming) and I admit the last time I was down there in January I actually got really cold in the evening!

Now it’s easy to put a big cozy sweater over some leggings and top it with a down coat, but I think a lot of people, especially those inclined towards vintage style, crave something a bit more. Above is a little illustration I did summing up my must have items for the cooler months, read on if you want more detail on my layering choices!

First of all, set those jeans down, just try a few looks without them, I swear you’ll be warmer. You know what I wear in winter? Skirts. People think I’m crazy, but I’m not a bit chilly in below freezing temperatures. The key is not just the skirt itself, but what’s underneath! I have some wool skirts saved up for winter, it’s often so overlooked as a skirt/dress textile, reserved for outerwear. If they’re full, and you like a full skirt look, add a soft nylon petticoat, I get mine from Doris Designs, they’re wonderful insulators. If you like something a bit sleeker, find a nice nylon or silk slip.

Legwear is another chance to layer, I like a bare leg look without the goosebumps, so I’ve found hosiery at 20 denier or higher is opaque enough to keep the chill away with Oroblu fishnets in “sable” over that. They are worth every penny, the quality is superb, and I don’t shave my legs all season and with these two layers you’d never know, it makes you look like you can handle a lot more cold than you can! I mostly wear boots, either knee, or ankle depending on the temperature, and wear wool socks under those, another added layer of warmth!

Having cold wet feet can definitely bring down your mood, and I don’t think comfort and style need to be separated. For something easy, casual, and classic, try a desert boot, they can be worn when it’s warmer, or if you slip them on in autumn/winter, just add some cozy wool socks. Roll or fold thick mid-calf socks over the top of the boots for a nice little cuffed look, with skirts of pants. If you need something more professional for the office, just slip a pair of ballet flats in your handbag or keep some heels at your desk and change into them once you’ve successfully kept your toes warm outside!

If you like wearing pants (and remember, set down the denim!) then cigarette pants are a classic I wear year round. The Martie style from J.Crew is my go to, they come out with various colors all the time, they’re very comfortable, mid-rise, side zipper, and seasonally they make wool styles as well. If you want a true high waist, Vixen by Micheline Pitt makes the style in various colors, for that bombshell look.

If you’re a bit tired of bulky sweaters, or they just become too hot midday, try instead a short sleeved or three quarter length sweater. Something in a finer knit, and if you’re not allergic, in wool or cashmere, they keep your torso warm, and leave your arms a bit more free and cool for when you’re in a heated building. Underneath for extra warmth, a silk or nylon camisole will do the trick.

Coats and jackets are an obvious choice, but have you considered a car coat? A true car coat comes to about mid-thigh, and has a great deal of warmth, with insulation and a style that looks great open or completely buttoned up. I like that they work well with pants or a slim skirt, and are technically casual, but look really polished. You can find them in fine wools, prints, bold colors or neutrals. A quick etsy search is a great place to start browsing.

Silk! It’s the forgotten insulator. Don’t save the luxury for evening-wear or lingerie, use it to stay warm without the bulk of wool. I have a large square silk scarf in my bag at all times, it comes in handy when it rains, or tied around the neck for warmth, and you can find something you really love in colors that suit your wardrobe.

A wool beret and leather gloves are other classics that add to the warmth, and don’t take up a lot of closet or handbag space! I’ve found acrylic knit gloves pretty pointless, and wool can get a bit bulky, so I stick to leather, lined if it’s very cold. A beret is a wonderful accessory that you can also find in such a variety of colors, and can be perched on the head or pulled down over the ears on breezy days. I get all mine from John Helmer, they carry a variety of colors and I prefer the oversized style.

If you still find yourself very cold but don’t want to look like the kid from A Christmas Story, you can get silk long underwear for underneath your wardrobe, these run very large, so size down.

And there you have it! I hope that was helpful and if you have any style questions feel free to ask!

Paolo Sebastian + Disney

No collection has taken by breath away like this one since Dior Spring 2011. I think I could pick three dresses right off the runway and just live in them the rest of my life. I already get stares when I wear a dress of any kind, might as well just go with it.

You can see more of the Disney inspired Paolo Sebastian s/s 2018 show here. Meanwhile, enjoy my ideal wardrobe. Beginning and ending with my absolute favorites.

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