No Peeking!

Stripey Eyes dress

I love this dress from Lucitebox Vintage … even though it looks exactly like the skirt is looking right back at you! It reminds me of some kind of Japanese anime character. In fact, I'm almost certain that there has to be some manga or anime somewhere that features an anthropomorphic item of clothing. Probably one that used to belong to some magical (and magically large-breasted) Japanese schoolgirl. (If you know about this, and send me links, please keep them SFW. Thanks!)

In fact, this dress made me think of this:

I'm sure you all see the resemblance.

This dress is a very wearable size (B40/W30) and is only $55! That's not bad for something that includes a built-in surveillance device. (I suppose if you wanted a hidden camera you could replace the black buttons with light gray ones.) And you really can't beat that collar, although I would be tempted to add black buttons to the collar points, to repeat the motif of the skirt …

Doris Day Pilgrimage!

Blair Hardee
Martin Hardee sent me this great picture he took of his daughter Blair Hardee, on an obvious dress pilgrimage to Doris Day's handprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theater.

Okay, so it was more of a COINCIDENCE than a pilgrimage, but sometimes the significance of an event is apparent only well after the fact, right?

I think this would be a fun meme … send me pictures of yourself in a dress next to any kind of Doris Day iconography (although the handprints are hard to beat — check out the prints made by her stilettos, too! Ouch!) and I will post them here. Remember: What Would Doris Wear?

Whoops, I Did It Again

brown duro dress
This one is a little more restrained, or at least it seems to me. The bodice and skirt are made from some of the fabric I bought in China, and the front band, sleeves, and hem band are the fabric I bought from Kitty Craft in Korea. I barely had enough of the contrast fabric for the bands, so I lined them in the bodice fabric instead, which actually turned out to be a nice effect.

This went together incredibly quickly the second time (which was why I was able to make two in a day!) and I didn't make many changes. I put the sleeve bands on flat (MUCH easier) and I put in two pockets, instead of one (I've been conditioned to only put in one pocket, since most of my dresses have a zipper on one side. This dress, no zipper! So two pockets.)

I think I will make one more (not today!) and then I'll be done. For a while. I can seriously see myself wearing a variant this dress every day, and that, while amusing, might make me tire of it too quickly. I have to ration myself!

Here's the bodice, to see the contrast a bit better:
brown duro dress

And here's the skirt, to see the other band:
brown duro dress

The next will have more orange, I promise!

It might just be …

B&W Duro, take 2
Okay, this is hot off the machine, unpressed, threads dangling, and I haven't hemmed or slipstitched the facings yet. But — here it is! I made that pattern, and I'm quite pleased with it!

My thrifty Scots nature won't let me make a "real" muslin — one where I just grab any old piece of fabric that's to hand, and try something out. Oh, no, I have to make something that if it works out okay, I would actually wear, but if it turns into a giant mass of frustration and bollixed seams, I won't cry bitter tears over because I wasted good fabric. So I spend so much time (probably more than it would take me to just make real muslins) finding fabric that I like, but that I don't looooooove. Remnant tables are good for this. So is letting fabric that you loooooved several years ago marinate in a big pile of other fabric, until you can't remember what you were so excited about. It's like seeing an old crush after too much time has passed. Yes, he was an okay guy, but was he really worth those hours of crushing? (Sadly, no.)

This check/plaid is from a big estate sale I went to last summer, and the Hawaiian-themed toile is from the remnant table at Vogue Fabrics. It was supposed to be a skirt, but then I couldn't think of anything clever to do with it, skirt-wise. I don't know why these Duro-clones I keep making are all in black and white — maybe it's like those red plastic thingumbobs they sell to quilters, that block out the fabric colors so you can see if the tones go well together.

Here it is up close:
B&W Duro, take 2

Of course, the next time I make this (which might be tonight, I'm pretty excited about this pattern) I don't think I'll double the sleeve facings, the way they are here. If I did it in silk, I would, but cotton is heavy enough on its own, or could be finished with just a wide bias strip. I may actually cut these short and turn them under to finish them. That way I'll have the weight without the bulk. And the vee is pretty deep — I might easestitch both the facing and the vee, instead of just the facing, to tighten it up a bit and keep it from gapping. Otherwise, it went together well, with a minimum of swearing and ripping. The sleeves, though — next time I will sew them together flat, and then join the underarm seam, because sewing tubes without a free arm is not fun (that was most of the swearing, and all of the ripping).

And as long as I'm posting versions of that McCalls pattern, Gigi (from The Sewing Divas sent me her lovely take on the short-sleeved, all-one-fabric version (and yes, the rule is that if you make this dress you have to take pictures of it in your back yard):
B&W Duro, take 2

Okay, now, when are you going to make one? And what shoes should I wear with this? I was thinking my flat black ankle-strap sandals, but it might call for a pair of heels to make the skirt look right. I'm starting to think wedge espadrilles aren't a totally sucky idea …

It's on hold and so am I. Plus bonus web design rant.

bird print shirtdress
Yep, someone has this dress on hold at Aesthetically Vintage, and sadly, that someone is not me. (Maybe they have it on hold until they can get into a 24" waist!) But isn't it lovely? The print is birds, with nests and eggs. (This motif is everywhere now; I think I've seen it in the home decor sections of every major magazine over the past six to eight months.) I love the collar, too, and if you click on the image you can see the nicely pleated skirt. It's only $65! I wish whoever has it on hold would buy it already, and stop taunting me.

The rest of the site has some nice things, but [warning, rant ahead] there's a giant animated logo. Why do you need a giant animated logo? Or, for that matter, flash animation on your splash page, as there was on another vintage site I looked at yesterday? You do not need a splash page. A splash page on a website is basically a commercial for a place — a place your customer IS ALREADY VISITING. Give it up.

If you are going to run a vintage clothing website, you do not need flashy (or Flash-y) web design. Your needs are very simple. First, you need very clear, focused, well-lit pictures of the garment. Seriously, and with no excuses. Don't blame the camera, or warn that the colors are different — get the right picture. If you are not a good photographer, practice until you are, or get help.

You need good measurements of the garment. Don't just say "looks like a modern size 8," or (worse) "fits me and I wear an 8" because I guarantee you I could find a dozen women who all own a piece of clothing marked "8" and have none of them fit in your garment. Give measurements.

Also, if at all possible, show garments on a mannequin or dress form. Live models are fun, but the focus turns to the model and is often distracting. And if the model is bigger than the dress, the effect is awful — and I don't want to buy it, because I'm worried about strained seams. You can get a good, lightweight, adjustable dress form at fabric stores for less than $100, if you wait for the sales.

You need a good search & navigation, especially if you have more than a few items. Don't make users go back to the home page to switch categories (especially if there's no link to the home page on the item pages)! Also, don't make me click five times to see details about a dress. Put the measurements, basic condition, and price right next to the picture–after I know that, I'm more willing to click through for more pictures and information.

Be consistent in your measurements and descriptions, so that if someone is looking for B36, all the items say B36, not "36 Bust" or "bust measures 36 inches." Pick one variation of "1950s" "1950's" or "Fifties" and stick with it. Relatedly, learn to spell — I'm not asking you to be perfect, but if you want people to find you (especially on eBay or Froogle) and you say a dress has a "peplim", people looking for "peplums" will pass you right by. Your third-grade teacher was right — spelling counts. (Yesterday I saw a dress labeled "Marilyn Munroe". Who the heck was that? She had good taste in dresses, though.) If you absolutely cannot spell — find someone to help you. I could probably send eight copyeditors your way TODAY who would work for clothes.

Speaking of eBay, I know lots of folks have lovely retro images that brand their listings, but if your backdrop takes longer to load than the actual dress image, I may have already clicked off the page. Use one image, as a banner, not a backdrop, please. And for god's sake, don't have it rotate, flash, or dance the hornpipe. Why would you want to draw attention AWAY from what you're selling? Do not use rainbow text, fancy fonts, or all-caps. I don't care if it's easier to type; for large numbers of people silly formatting and all-caps writing still equals "crazy as hell", or possibly "I'm thirteen!". And if you say "if you are a bad bidder I will kill your dog" or similar over-the-top threats, I'm also going to pass you by. I know there are lots of bad bidders on eBay, and I've gotten burned myself, but don't start your listing with the assumption that everyone who chances across your auction is looking to scam you.

It's not that hard to build a vintage site or eBay store. Lots of people have done it. The trick is in saying "No." Every time you want to add a feature, or an image of something that's not for sale, or some gewgaw or trick, ask yourself "Will this sell a dress, or does it just look cool?" If the answer is "It just looks cool," say "No, thank you."

One last thing — if your site features NOISE OF ANY KIND–sound effects, songs, yodeling, whatever–I will never visit your site again, and I will purge your URL from my cache, so I won't even get back there by accident. It will be as if you never existed.

[I did warn you it was going to be a rant. Thank you for your kind attention.]

Plaid = Joy.

plaid sailor collar dress

Do you dress to avoid pain or to bring pleasure? I really believe that these are the only two motivations behind people's sartorial choices. The people who dress to avoid pain (whether it's physical or social discomfort they're avoiding) are purely reactive. Their clothing decisions are always AGAINST something, never FOR something, and it drives me nuts.

I just want to go up to those poor lost souls, like some dress missionary, and ask "Sister, did *anything* about what you're wearing today make you happy? Or was it all about avoiding the possibility of unhappiness?" If you want to go to Chicago, you don't get there by going away from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Milwaukee … you get to Chicago by going towards Chicago. If you want to love what you wear, you can't get there by just avoiding things that other people hate, or that you fear they might criticize. Someone's always going to hate what you're wearing (and if it's culottes, or a Juicy Couture tracksuit, that person will be me).

The first time you wear something you really, truly love, something that gives you so much joy you don't even care if blind people cross the street to tell you it's ugly–something really interesting happens. When you wear something that's really yours, that shows who you are, and not just what you're afraid not to be, people react to the truth and the honesty more than they react to the actual clothing. Funnily enough, most people LIKE truth, and they LIKE honesty, and at some gut level they recognize that you're becoming more yourself, and they give you compliments. Often, lots and lots of compliments. Even if it's something they'd never, ever wear themselves — say, a skirt covered with multicolored polka dots that looks like nothing so much as a slightly repurposed Twister mat and a blaze-orange hoodie — they still recognize the joy behind it, and they respond to that. And not just people you know. Strangers on the street (yes, even in New York City) will stop and compliment you. (And there's nothing as nice as random validation from strangers!)

Wearing what you love is not all a Mentos commercial, though. Occasionally someone will not only hate what you're wearing, but go out of their way to tell you so to your face (as much as I hate Juicy, it would never occur to me to tell someone SPECIFIC, in PERSON, "I hate your Juicy tracksuit and everything it stands for." That's just plain rude. Hate the sin, love the sinner, invite the sinner dress shopping; I may disagree with what you wear but I defend to the death your right to wear it, etc., etc.) Just by wearing what you love you will have built up such a store of happiness that such comments just drift by you like dandelion fluff. Especially when (as is so often the case) you see that what THEY are wearing was designed by Fear for the Fear Fall 06 Collection, with accessories by Fear. Why should you take someone seriously who doesn't even dress to maximize happiness?

If you're unsure whether you're dressing for joy or out of fear, here's a test. Picture your favorite dress. Picture yourself running into someone wearing the EXACT SAME THING. If you think, upon seeing your doppelgnger, "OMG, I have to go talk to her, I bet we would get along great"? Joy. If you think "Oh, hell no, bitch better WATCH OUT"? Fear. Easy-peasy. (I can get you a wallet card with this on it if you want.)

Click on the image to check out this joy-giving, life-affirming dress (B38/W31, with a SAILOR COLLAR) — in fact, somebody please buy it before I do! My closet is too full of joy already …

Free Katy!

Katy Keene

Did anyone else ever read Katy Keene? I would read her in the Archie Comics when I was a little girl, and for a while, right after college, I deputized Mr. Dress A Day to look for them whenever he saw a box of old comics. (Not that he ever found any, the boxes being mainly stocked with homoerotic Batman/Superman adventures …)

Katy Keene was a fashion designer (or sometimes a model, or sometimes, I don't know, a pin-up astronaut, these are comics we're talking about) and her clothes were all designed by her readers. Yes, that's right. They let glamour-freak little girls aged about 8 to 14 design what Katy Keene wore. Lamé at all hours of the day, crazy fur, ruffles on top of ruffles on top of bows. Bling of all kinds and all nations. Check out the image above — if this is what Katy (and her arch-rival, Gloria) wore to a DOG SHOW, what do you think they wore on dates? Let's just say, that, if Katy were real, the price of marabou would have topped $100/barrel.

Katy Keene
Now Archie Comics has brought Katy Keene back, and put out the call for readers to design for her again. Which is a good thing, because frankly? The girl needs help. (That's her on the left.) I know Katy Keene has a career (as opposed to Betty and Veronica, who have been living at home for roughly sixty-five years) but that doesn't mean she has to dress like a working girl! Seriously — this is SO wrong. What happened to the organza frills of yesteryear? I think we need to do a guerrilla takeover of Katy Keene. If we overwhelm them with outfits that don't scream "I was Hooker #3 in the movie Angel," perhaps we can push the comic back towards the pretty, albeit WAY over-the-top, ensembles that Katy used to be known for. Click on the image or the link for the address. (Be warned, the Archie Comics site looks like Archie Andrews himself designed it. Or possibly Jughead, between bites.)

First Make a New Dress and Then Go

Dear Madam,–I know enough of your sex to be aware that you will be staggered at the idea of bundling down to the seaside without certain solemn preparations and waste of time.
Moreover, feminine instinct will say, “First make a new dress and then go,” and this is the usual order of events wherever women are concerned.
But here it would be objectionable on many accounts. I will make you a proposal.
If you will write to me from your new address next Tuesday evening, I will beg your acceptance of a piece of dark blue serge which will make an excellent seaside dress for yourself and daughter.
Cutting and making this will help to relieve the weariness of being in a strange place. Don’t waste time. Go with a good heart; and don’t doubt that your husband will get better; and that you will yet enjoy bright days. All the brighter for this dark cloud.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Reade

From “An Author At Home” The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1882.

[Charles Reade (1814-1884) was an English novelist and playwright. He also worked as a reformer against prison abuses and abuses in psychiatric institutions. This is a letter written to the wife of one of the men he helped.]

That Dress Again, the Midriff One

ebay item 6274399256

I know I keep coming back to the wide waistband, but with a pattern like this, who could blame me? I wish that this weren't a B32, or that I weren't too lazy to scale it up, because it's just perfect. I think I would even make the jacket with this one, and I never make jackets (see "too lazy" above).

Let's see, what would I make this in? Well, I'd like it in a HUGE houndstooth print for fall (yes, I haven't finished–make that "really even started"–summer sewing yet, and I'm already thinking about fall). You know, a houndstooth where the repeat is about twelve inches? That huge. For summer, I think a very crisp pique (you have to get that A-line skirt to stand out, somehow). If I did pique, I'd pipe the band and the neck in a contrast piping, of course.

ebay item 6252839843
There's also this one, which has an interesting crossover midriff band, which, on the narrow-skirted version, I can't help picturing done belt-style in leather. (Nevermind that sewing leather would basically be euthanasia for my sewing machine.) I'd like a big floral for the full-skirted version …

These are both up on eBay, source of all good things, right now. Click on the images to go to the listings.

It's all about the process.

Helen Cherry nouveau dress
I was pointed to this site last night and there were lots of lovely dresses there, but this is the one, by Helen Cherry, that I was still thinking about this morning. Obviously, the fabric is very close to my beloved Liberty of London, if not actually from their looms, and the shape is elegant and simple. I wish the picture was clearer, because I really suspect a little smocking or tucks at the waist, which would be just the kind of unexpected, witty touch I'd need to see to even think about paying $400 for a dress.

I used to think that if I were fabulously wealthy (and if you really think about it, I actually am, compared to 99% of the world) of *course* I'd hire someone else to sew up my dresses. No more hemming, no more redrafting, I'd just dump the fabric and a rough sketch on someone else's sewing table and show up for a fitting or two. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I'd miss the process of actually putting dresses together, of feeling that exhilaration when the sleeve cap slides in nicely to meet the armscye, and the fascination of watching the way the needle bites into the fabric, drags the thread down to meet the bobbin, and then runs away again.

When you think of it that way, I'm reluctant to pay $400 for a dress, not because I think it's an unconscionable amount of money (it isn't, really) but because I'd be paying someone $400 to have my fun instead of me. It'd be like hiring someone to go on your vacation for you and then showing up two weeks later to collect the snapshots.

So if this dress calls to you as an object (and you wear a size 4, 6, or 8), click on the image to go buy it. Where would you wear it? What would you wear with it? If this calls to you as both an object and a process — how would you make it, and make it your own? I think, for this one, I'd extend the shoulder line a little for a bit more sleeve, and I'd maybe trim the neck with a wide bias band of the same fabric — I love that look where a fabric with a strong vertical element is banded with the same element on the diagonal.

For summer, I'd love to wear this with a little 3/4 sleeve cardigan in that same blue, with my favorite Fornarina cream-and-blue spectator ankle-straps. In winter, brown tights and shiny brown leather round-toe wedges and a thicker sweater … I'd probably hit Toho Shoji on Sixth Ave to get cheap blue ceramic beads to make a choker to go with it, too, and then take the necklace off before I walked out the front door, as I always do. Or maybe tawny topazes …