Sunday, April 29, 2012

Last day for the manatees

Please help me help endangered manatees with your vintage purchase from denisebrain. Tomorrow, April 30, is the final day for 25% of your purchase price to go to the Save the Manatee Club.

If you want to know more about manatees and the SMC, please read my blog from April 16 (Once more for the manatees).

It’s truly a fine time to find some top-drawer vintage clothing!
denisebrain web store
denisebrain on Etsy

Friday, April 27, 2012

My miraculous seamstress

A little while ago in my blog (Altered reality, 2/6/12) I discussed the usefulness of knowing or being a good seamstress or tailor for help with perfecting the fit of vintage clothing, and for fixing mendable flaws.

Right now I have the privilege of having a very skillful seamstress doing vintage clothing mending that is beyond me. I say privilege because this woman is incredibly good, from defining what to do to solve sometimes very difficult issues, to her immaculate execution. I am more than privileged...I’m thrilled with her work!

Lots of what my seamstress has done for me is restoring hems, elastic, buttonholes and other more basic things. She just does it so much better than I.

Then there are the more advanced jobs. This gorgeous Southland Casuals dress had been damaged around the edge of its illusion neckline. My seamstress re-hemmed the illusion with the original’s microscopic hem (wouldn’t want to spoil the invisible effect of the illusion). It’s missing about a millimeter of its original size, but no one would know.

This top came to me as a sheath dress, with damage near its hem (like very hard to ignore holes and stains). Even after cleaning, it still had stains on the center front of the skirt only about 5" down from the waist. I thought of shortening the dress to a tunic length, but the stains near the waist would still show. Here is what my seamstress did: She made a rounded cut-away peplum, keeping the pockets. In back, she kept the dramatic center swath of fabric that hangs from the waist, just a bit longer than the hem. This will soon be available in my Etsy store.

I ♥ my seamstress! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Today is Earth Day

It’s Earth Day and a very good day to remind you that vintage clothing is a chic way to go green.

I also want to remind you that 25% of every purchase from any of my shops through the end of April will help endangered manatees through the Save the Manatee Club. Please read about how far they've come, and how much is left to do, by reading that organization’s Earth Day message.

This is also the anniversary of denisebrain, which I started in 1999 on Earth Day. 1999...can you believe it? I scarcely can!

An early effort

...and more recently.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Once more for the manatees

If you know me at all, you know I am very concerned for endangered species, probably none more than the manatee.

Manatees are gentle aquatic mammals, herbivores that are most closely related to the elephant. Although they are not as well understood as dolphins, in studies they have shown similar intelligence. They are endangered, numbering only about 4,480. With no natural enemies, manatees are often killed by boat strikes along with other mostly accidental human causes.

Population viability studies carried out in 1997 found that decreasing adult survival and eventual extinction would be a probable future outcome for Florida manatees, without additional protection. Fortunately, the work of concerned citizens and organizations has brought the Florida manatee population up from critically endangered, but their existence is still tenuous.

The Save the Manatee Club is the manatee’s closest ally. SMC’s role is to protect endangered manatees and their aquatic habitat for future generations. To achieve this mission they work to increase public awareness and education; sponsor manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation, and release efforts; and advocate for strong protection measures, such as boat speed zones, and sanctuaries. SMC also supports research and conservation efforts for other sirenian species around the world.

Starting today, and for the next two weeks, 25% of all my sales will go to the Save the Manatee Club, and I have collected some sea-theme vintage just to tempt you! Please help me help these wonderful animals.

50s fish print cotton circle skirt
60s Enid Collins-style bag
Pink rhinestone fish pin

Please visit and shop any of my stores to help manatees through the end of April.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Beginning in 1912

With so much focus on the sad event that took place 100 years ago, I thought I'd mention a few of the other events of 1912—specifically beginnings.


Ceil Chapman born.
Ceil Chapman gown, 1951 (

Eleanor Powell and Gene Kelly born. (It was a good year for dancers!)

Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gives 3,000 cherry blossom trees to be planted in Washington, D.C., to symbolize the friendship between the two countries. 

Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios created.

L.L. Bean founded.

Women’s swimming and diving added to Olympic sports.

1912 British Women's 4 x 100 Meters Freestyle Swimming Team (

The Girl Scouts of the USA founded.
Founder Juliette Gordon Low poses with some of the nation's first Girl Scouts (

Jacques Fath born.  
Jacques Fath adjusting one of his ball gowns, 1951. © Genevieve Naylor/CORBIS (

Friday, April 13, 2012

What you might have worn on the Titanic

It is the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Titanic. 

When I first started my online vintage clothing business, the latest buzzword was Titanic, because of the blockbuster movie. Everyone wanted the look in authentic vintage clothing, and I can understand that—it’s splendid. The silhouette is straight and tall, the waist is raised, the embellishments are intricate and ornate. Orientalism was a modern trend, and actually, so was modernism. Here are items from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection dated from the time. Please see many more on my Pinterest board Fashions of 1912

Vogue Cover - March 1912  by George Wolfe Plank (
Evening dress, 1910-14 Callot Soeurs
Detail of Callot Soeurs gown
Evening purse, 1910-20, unlabeled French
Evening dress, 1911-15, Jeanne Hallée
Hat, ca. 1912, “L.P. Hollander & Co/Fifth Ave. at 46th St/New York”
Evening coat, 1910-15, Liberty of London, Textile by Arthur Silver
Evening dress, 1911-13, Mrs. Osborn Company (American)
The avant garde on the Titanic might have worn a design by Paul Poiret, the most modern of moderns, and the greatest proponent of Orientalism.
Evening dress, 1912, Paul Poiret
If you were yourself a designer, you might have worn your own creation, as surely did Lady Duff Gordon, professionally known as Lucile. She was a survivor of the Titanic.
Evening dress, ca. 1912 Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Advice from Madame Dariaux

Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, scanned from my worn 1964-edition dust jacket (Claude Ohm, photo)
I can see from comments on regarding the reissued Elegance that there are some differences of opinion about the advice Madame Dariaux proffers. Yes, she speaks in very certain terms about elegance, and a woman may shrink from a description that makes her feel she is being classified as “vulgar.” I think it is important to remember that this book was first published in 1964, and the world was in some ways a different place. Many fashions have come and gone since, and it seems to me that the remarkable thing is that so much of her advice is still sound. At the very least it is a tremendous insight into that moment in fashion, and society in general.

Here are some of my favorite words of wisdom from Mme Dariaux:

On age
The most elegant women are those who have discovered their personal style, and who, through years of dressing themselves with care, know exactly what suits them and stick to it. 
On budgeting
No woman has ever lacked elegance because of an excess of simplicity but always because of an accumulation of elaborate details or of ensembles that are badly co-ordinated or ill-adapted to the hour and the occasion.
On comfort
We can no longer bear the thought of the slightest restriction, physical or moral, and many of the details which were considered to be a mark of elegance some years ago are condemned today for reasons of comfort.   
Practically the only die-hards to resist are women’s shoes, whose forms are still absurdly and absolutely the contrary of good sense and good comfort.
...if women continue to seek comfort above all twenty-four hours a day, twelve months a year, they may eventually find that they have allowed themselves to become slaves to the crepe-rubber sole, nylon from head to toe, predigested meals, organized travel, functional uniformity and general stultification.
On discretion
...a sort of refined good taste, is very often a synonym for elegance, and until 8 PM it should be your principal objective. But discretion should never be confused with drabness. 
On fashion
...outstanding perennials are:
Romantic evening dresses, especially in lace
Straw picture hats for summer
Well-tailored tweed suits for country wear
Well-cut camel’s-hair sport coats
Grecian-style draped chiffon evening dresses
Fur hats, cossack style
Pleated skirts (with the length adjusted to the current mode)
Furred leather boots and sturdy country walking shoes
Long, décolleté black crepe evening sheaths
On fashion reporting seems to me that a really elegant woman owes it to herself to rely on her own judgment if she does not wish to look like everybody else and thus become an anonymous figure in the great mass of women who are better and better but more and more uniformly dressed.
On figures
The important point is to realize exactly what are your own physical proportions, to resist the styles which are definitely not for you, and to limit yourself to what is most becoming to your particular shape—especially when the fashion of the moment happens to be one which doesn’t suit you at all. 
On grooming
There is a certain kind of carelessness, a more or less studied negligence, which can in certain circumstances (on vacation, for example) be the height of chic. But these subtleties are not within the grasp of every woman, it is far better to look as if you stepped out of a bandbox than as if you had just tumbled out of bed.
On handicaps [imperfections might be a more modern choice of word]
Even if nature has been rather stingy with you in its gifts, it is useless to moan about what you haven’t got. Instead, exercise your ingenuity in playing up your best features and in camouflaging the rest. Elegance is also a matter of good humor and of optimism.
On originality can only be renewed by a continuous stream of original experiments, which cease to shock as soon as they have been adopted by a certain number of people. ...without the inventive women and designers who refuse to be just like everybody else, fashion would cease to exist.
On posture is always to a woman’s advantage to hold herself straight, as if she wished to stretch her height by several inches, even if she is already very tall. A rounded back, sagging shoulders and a drooping chin create an image of extreme lassitude, or discouragement with life...and of being ten years older than you really are.
On pounds
Although it isn’t necessarily indispensable to be as skinny as a fashion model in order to be elegant, it is probably true that the list of the Ten Best Dressed Women is also a list of the Ten Hungriest Women. is ironic that the thinner we are supposed to be, the more fattening modern life becomes, for nervous overweight is certainly one of the maladies of the century.
On prosperity
[a few classic, top-quality items] may in the long run render more service than six dresses in the latest fashion from an expensive designer. 
The stock market isn’t always rising, and it may sometimes be necessary to coast along for several years on what you already own without appearing to be any less elegant.
On quantity is undeniable that the American woman is constantly surrounded by new temptations and assailed by the most irresistible kind of fashion advertising. Moreover, she had been told that her role in the national economy is to continually buy and consume. And yet, I wonder if she wouldn’t profit by replacing once in a while her penchant for quantity with a quest for quality. She might find that not only is her elegance increased, but also the enjoyment and even the confidence that she gets from her clothes.

Oh yes, I do see myself in her admonitions, such as in this entry: “Eccentricity where elegance is concerned is a refusal to conform to the current fashion [and consists, among other things] of adopting the dress of a by-gone era (like the Madwoman of Chaillot).” However, Mme Dariaux does not confuse elegance with other virtues. In describing the young Brigitte Bardot, Dariaux does not consider her elegant, but admits “she has created a style of her own and she sticks to it, which is, after all, very intelligent.”

I love this book, even at times when I would choose to not follow Mme Dariaux’s advice from 1964. I would appreciate knowing what she thought every five or six years since 1964, because I’m sure her eye (and writing style) would have been as sharp as ever...It probably still is!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Madame Dariaux’s Elegance

One most excellent (and, I might add, hopeful) definition of elegance comes from Geneviève Antoine Dariaux at the start of her book Elegance; a Complete Guide for Every Women Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions, published in 1964:
What is Elegance? It is a sort of harmony that rather resembles beauty, with the difference that the latter is more often a gift of nature and the former the result of art.
Years ago I walked into a small town library sale and purchased my much-used copy of Elegance. It looked intriguing, but I had no idea just how. As my friend drove us home I randomly turned to pages and read aloud the most pithy, savvy and often funny statements on the subject of dressing and appearing elegantly. Madame Dariaux does not attempt to address other forms of elegance, but she writes wonderfully on this aspect, which she knows so well. In 1964, the author (who is still living) was directrice at the house of Nina Ricci.

The dust jacket from my 1964 copy
The book provides advice in an A to Z (Accessories to Zippers) format. It is a must for vintage enthusiasts, providing insights into how people dressed well in the early 60s. Some of this advice is definitely dated—such as stating that after the age of 20 a woman should never wear hair down to her shoulders—but even her statements tinged with elements of passed fashion still seem sound in their principles.

I believe one actually could appear more elegant today with the help of this book.

This very thought was the subject of the novel Elegance, written in 2004 by Kathleen Tessaro. The novel chronicles a depressed woman finding Dariaux’s book in a used book store and transforming herself and her life, based on the advice. I haven’t read this book, but the premise intrigues me. Also in 2004, Geneviève Antoine Dariaux’s book was you may not need to find it at a used book sale!

Next time: Some timeless advice from Elegance

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Toward a definition of elegance defines elegance as
1. tastefully fine or luxurious in dress, style, design, etc.: elegant furnishings.

2. gracefully refined and dignified, as in tastes, habits, or literary style: an elegant young gentleman; an elegant prosodist.

3. graceful in form or movement: an elegant wave of the hand.

4. appropriate to refined taste: a man devoted to elegant pursuits.

5. excellent; fine; superior: an absolutely elegant wine.

Before a recent edit, the Wikipedia entry for elegance included “the concept is vaguely and arbitrarily understood” then went on, “Nonetheless, essential components of the concept include simplicity and consistency of design, focusing on the essential features of an object. In art of any kind one might also require dignified grace, or restrained beauty of style. Visual stimuli are frequently considered elegant if a small number of colors and stimuli are used, emphasizing the remainder.”

Some favorite quotations that give some interesting angles on the subject (found on

Elegance is refusal.—Coco Chanel

The only real elegance is in the mind; if you've got that, the rest really comes from it.—Diana Vreeland

Isn't elegance forgetting what one is wearing?—Yves Saint Laurent

To me, elegance is not to pass unnoticed but to get to the very soul of what one is.—Christian Lacroix

Monday, April 2, 2012

Stormy Weather

You know what they say about April showers... {click here for proof!}