Never Bored

Victorian Godey 1861 image

I don't know how anyone over the age of 8 is bored any longer. Hasn't the internet killed boredom? I haven't been bored since about 1993, possibly earlier. All you have to do is enter some random search string, like "most beautiful dress", and you get a treasure like this:

The most beautiful dress in the ball-room that season was worn by Miss D. It was a very handsome India muslin. She was not called the belle of the evening, but belle of the season. She was not only beautiful and graceful, but so winning and attractive in her manners, so amiable and lovely, that the belle.jpgckers, who picked all to pieces, could not find anything to say about her.

The ladies were all elegantly dressed, a few of which I will describe. One lady was dressed in white silk, with upper skirt of silk, with white illusion puffings, which swept the floor for half a yard. One well-known East Fourth- street belle wore a double-skirt of illusion, small puffs about half a yard up each side; berthe to match, trimmed with little forget-me-nots, which could not be distinguished from natural flowers; her hair was trimmed with the same shade of blue flowers, drooping down on her snowy neck, which made her look more like wax-work than a human being. She had not too much religion to go to either the East or West-end, whenever she thought it proper to go. There were many others there—but I will only say they were all beautiful.

from A Hairdresser's Experience in High Life, by Eliza Potter, 1859.

C'mon — who DOESN'T want to read the memoirs of an abolitionist hairdresser of Cincinnati? Especially when it's full of stories about gossips and beautiful dresses and scandal? It's like Little Women crossed with People.

[image from]

Prima has a question for you

ebay item 8305987417

Ruth at Prima, a UK women's magazine, is looking for people who have a treasured piece of heirloom clothing that they still wear (or at least hold on to) and a picture of their relative wearing it, for a story. (If you fit this description, you can email her.)

Because both my parents came from military/service families and moved CONSTANTLY, I don't have a lot of "inherited" clothing. I do have two things: my grandfather's cloak from the US Naval Academy (which I don't wear because it weights eleventy-billion pounds; also, I am not now nor have I ever been a fresh-faced midshipman), and my grandmother's (other side of the family) nutria fur coat, custom-made for her in Buenos Aires in the 1960s. That I wear about once a year, usually when it's both below freezing *and* I have something to get all dressed up for. (It has a hood! It's very warm! But it's not exactly a carpool, run-to-the-grocery-store kinda thing.)

Oh, and I also have a verrrrrry fancy Persian lamb shrug-type jacket that belonged to my great-aunt Jayne (but before you start in with the whole "style! it's genetic!" argument I should point out that she is the sister of my mother's stepfather and that we don't, in fact, share any genes, only a deep love of Balenciaga). I should go look at the label and tell you what it is, she buys a lot of couture. I don't get much chance to wear that, as it only really looks good over a column-style ball gown …

Even if you don't have a picture for Ruth, feel free to post about your heirlooms in the comments … I'd love to hear about them!

[Oh, and thanks to Cat for the image — she just told me that the Library of Congress has put 3000 photos on Flickr! Go check them out, there's a lot of great stuff there …]

Book Review: Trappings: Stories of Women, Power, and Clothing

book cover: Trappings

I've been meaning to write about Trappings for a while now, and then of course I "tidied" my office and an enormous number of things got put in one of those dread piles (from which only now are the bravest and most stalwart to-dos escaping).

But I'm glad this book struggled back to the top, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The authors, Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki (who call themselves Two Girls Working) did something very simple, and very worthwhile: they traveled around and interviewed women about what they wore that made them feel powerful, and why.

The clothing (and makeup, and hair, and tattoos, and so forth) that the women interviewed talk about are all over the place: purple capes, red lipstick, cowboy hats, black bras, bellydancing costumes, and tribal dress. Ludwig and Piechocki seem to have done their best to get a good mix of ages, geographic distributions, socioeconomic classes, races, and (admirably) included transpeople, as well.

My only disappointment with the book is not the authors' fault — it was that so few women interviewed had MADE their "powerful items." (I think the only people wearing things that they had made themselves were two women who were Eastern Shoshone and Crow, in traditional dress.) I think making something yourself adds an extra dimension to clothing — I've gotten to the point now where I hardly ever wear a dress or skirt that I didn't make, just because I feel so much better, more competent, and more all-around alive when I'm wearing something I did make.

That said, Trappings is a wonderful read. Check it out!

What do YOU wear that makes you feel powerful? Feel free to tell me in the comments …


Remember that pattern I posted yesterday? The shirtwaist? Well, I bought it Friday and yesterday I got a package in the mail … I was sure it was my shirtwaist …

But when I opened the package, I found this, instead:

Simplicity 4093

I emailed Jody at My Kids Drawers right away, and, well, she is a *really* nice eBay seller. She apologized, said she'd send out the right pattern right away, and told me to keep this one! That's how you do customer service, folks. (You might want to check out what she's got listed now, there are quite a few nice patterns, and on sale, too!)

In fact, I've had more good transactions buying patterns on eBay than just about anything else … patterns seem to attract nice people. (Unlike the guy I bought a Swatch from, who, when I refused to pay an additional — and highly illegal — "Paypal fee," decided it would be fun to smash the watch with a hammer before he sent it to me.)

The serendipitous thing, of course, is that I would have never given this pattern a second glance, but now that it's in my hot little hands I can see all sorts of lives for it. It only takes two yards of 50" fabric …

(If you want a copy of this pattern for your very own, there are at least two copies of it on eBay right now, plus a really nice one from Michelle at Patterns from the Past, too)

The More the Merrier!

Simplicity 6042

I think my new obsession is definitely the shirtwaist. This is just fair warning for all y'all. There are all sorts of patterns (like the one above, which I just bought last week) going very cheap, and with my new sewing machine I can do all those buttonholes FAST, and I have all this fabric piled up that will just be perfect and …

I'm also feeling strangely validated in this new obsession by the fact that, weirdly, some of the Big Fashion Mags are also all about the shirtwaist this spring. There were some really nice ones in Real Simple, and a page of them in Bazaar, too.

You all know I care something slightly less than a fig for being "in fashion" but I do feel a small measure of happiness when what's "in fashion" agrees with ME (I was thrilled when the Duro took off, f'rinstance). I'm absolutely not one to groan when Something I Like becomes "too popular" — that's ridiculous, and possibly un-Kantian, to boot. If you think something is good, wouldn't you want to spread the greatest good to the greatest number (or something Benthamish like that)? Also, it just makes me happy to see lots of pretty dresses on the street. (Unlike those godawful short-shorts that are also supposed to be "in" for spring. They'd look cute UNDER A DRESS.)

The truth is, even if something is EVERYWHERE, you can make it your own just by being yourself. A stylish woman can wear head-to-toe H&M, accessorized by Gap, and look one-of-a-kind; an unstylish woman can wear couture and look as if she was extruded from some high-throughput plastic mold.

But back to my obsession: what should I make first? A black bandana-print version, or that brown roses sateen that I bought way back?

I bet you thought I was over the Duro, huh?

Wong-Singh-Jones wrap dress

Well, I know I haven't posted much about it lately, but I'm still mulling over Duro and Duro-ish dresses. I'm on the hunt for more interesting fabric and color combinations … but while I'm looking, you all should know that Hotpatterns has a new killer wrap dress! (Thanks to Jonquil for the link, click on the image to visit the Hotpatterns site.)

It's for silk (and similar) jerseys, which I've never sewn with before … I understand silk jersey is a dream to wear, but how is it to SEW with? Seems as if it would be slippery to me.

Oh, in other Duro news, reader Lucette has asked that if you've made a Duro and have pics, you upload them to Flickr (tagged "Duro") as inspiration for others — I think that's a great idea!

Also, if you've ever wanted to send me links, etc., but don't want to email me, feel free to use the tag "dressaday" on Flickr,, twitter, etc. I'll set up feeds and see whatever you tag. This year is all about moving the non-urgent stuff out of the inbox, and into the feedreader where it belongs. (If this paragraph made no sense to you, leave a comment and maybe I'll try to explain …)

Femme Fatale

Advance Import 52

Did anyone's New Year's resolutions start off with "1. Become femme fatale"? If so, this is the pattern for you. The jacket alone would drive a good man to a life of crime, right? (And notice that all of the women in the illustration are wearing the same shoes, standard issue in femme-fatale boot camp. In fact, at femme-fatale boot camp, you sleep in four-inch heels. It builds (lack of) character.)

Sadly, my resolutions are all of the mundane kind ("achieve world domination, clean out hall closet") so this dress isn't for me. (I think, for world domination AND cleaning out the closet, you need sleeves, or else how can you roll them up to get started?)

If you do buy and make this, I would suggest staying away from black-and-red as a color combination; it's a bit cliché, fatale-ly speaking. Why not try a very deep, almost poisonous green, with a chartreuse-yellow lining to the collar? Daring and absinthe-ish, no? Or maybe a leonine gold-yellow, with a deep chocolate lining (good for brunettes). And why not two shades of pink, pale and hot? For blondes, I'd do that deep cobalt lined with a sky (or Carolina) blue. With your sapphires, of course. (Which you acquired in a slightly underhanded way. But don't worry, it's not your fault the bank went under. How were you to know that darling Mr. Wilkins was so unstable?)

If you, like me, think being a femme fatale is too much trouble, perhaps you should consider this dress instead. Much more practical.

Thanks to Jen (at MOMsPatterns, who got it from Julie at Damn Good Vintage …) for the link! Click on the image to visit the eBay auction (and to see a much bigger picture).