Sunday, December 29, 2013

Last few days for the Bears and Conservation Northwest fundraiser

I received a note yesterday from a customer in Vienna, Austria: 

Thank you...for supporting the bears. I have been thinking of buying the dress for a long time, but the thought of getting pretty things and supporting these beautiful animals at the same time let me finally buy it.
Photos of grizzlies in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, BC. © Heather Johnson 
Speaking from my own experience, it seems that there is a great appreciation for what we still have here in the Northwest from places that once had much more wilderness.

If you want to help preserve this beautiful corner of the world for the grizzly bear and all living things, one great way is to support Conservation Northwest and that organization’s efforts on so many fronts, from grizzly bear recovery in the Cascade Mountains, to wolverine reintroduction on the Olympic peninsula, to range riders that protect livestock and wolves, to remote cameras for monitoring wildlife, to conservation easements that allow wildlife the opportunity to pass through the territory they need to survive. The organization’s expertise, advocacy, coalition building and tenacity makes it the best friend our wilderness has in this magnificent region.

I can’t get to the remote cameras, and I do not have a law background, or scientific expertise. I have never seen a grizzly bear in the wild, but I want to know they are there, with all the other animals that can live in a region that can support grizzlies. That’s why I set aside 25% of my income in December for this cause.

There are still a few more days for 25% of your purchase price to go to Conservation Northwest. You may also donate directly through my YouCaring page, with 100% of your donation going to the cause.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Can you bear it?

If you have been following the progress of our For the Bears and Conservation Northwest fundraiser, you will notice that the goal of $500 donated was reached yesterday...the best gift on Christmas day!

Since there are still five days in the month, I am extending the goal to $550 and I certainly wouldn’t stop the fundraiser until the new year. The truth is, every cent is needed and appreciated for CNW and the grizzlies.

25% of your purchase price from the denisebrain web store and the denisebrain Etsy shop is going to the cause...or if you like, you can donate (with 100% of the donation reaching the cause) through my YouCaring page.
My brother and little me with a teddy bear...I have always loved bears

For more about this fundraiser, please see this previous blog post.

Monday, December 23, 2013

I’m dreaming of a pink Christmas

I am unabashedly fond of pink, and vintage pink greetings just make me smile. See a whole lot of pink Christmas on Pinterest:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I’ve been called many things before, but... Unfamous, Should-Be-Famous Generation X’er Pin-Up?

I've also been asked many kinds of questions before, but not most of these. The woman who is the writer of Timeless Style for the Middle-Aged  is someone I know well enough to say I believe she is a soul-searcher and I think she was searching mine a bit. I’m really honored for her kind words about me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Go vintage! Go bears!

I am back, if you will bear with me, to update you on my fundraiser for Conservation Northwest. First, a treasury collection of grizzlies I put together on Etsy: 

click on the image to see more about each of these artful characters
The Northwest has many treasurable creatures, but the top of the food chain, where the grizzly bear stands, is always the most precarious place for any creature. I’d like to say that grizzlies are a symbol of this area’s natural places, but the grim fact is that they are a vanishing symbol here in the Northwest.

Conservation Northwest is the organization I most trust to champion the cause of grizzlies here, so I am once again working to raise $500 for CNW this month. As you can see from the tally up in the corner, we are getting there, thanks to your care and concern. I am donating 25% of the proceeds on all sales from my stores during the month of December. In my Etsy shop you will even see jewelry items with 100% of the purchase price going to Conservation NW, thanks to a generous donor.

I love my customers’ reactions from around the world:

I'm so so glad 25% has gone to such a worthy cause

Glad to be able to help!

 I'm thrilled to know 25% is going to a conservation charity - bless you

Grizzlies and conservation? Let me go see what else I can find to purchase...

And it's doubly delightful that the proceeds benefit such a worthy cause.

Here are just a few of the vintage items in my web store and Etsy shop right now:

If you would like to contribute to the cause and don't find just the right vintage item, I'd be very honored if you would contribute through my YouCaring page. YouCaring takes no money whatsoever from your contribution—it all goes straight to the grizzlies. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why bears?

OK, the bear hugger is back to let you know that I’m rather pleased at how well my fundraiser for Conservation Northwest is going with your great help—but this is no time to take it easy! I would like us to raise $500 this month and I know this is a time of year when everything can be too busy to catch a person’s attention.

Does this help?

Grumpy Bear by RandysWildlife

Seriously though, this gives me a chance to answer a question no one has ever asked me, possibly because you are too polite: Why bears?

After all, they are top-of-the-food-chain predators, with good-sized claws and teeth. What’s to like?

Besides everything you mean? Check out this great short film on the subject if you need a little convincing.

WHY BEARS? from Trifilm, Inc. on Vimeo.

Now take a moment to see if there is any vintage (recycled!) clothing or accessories you’d like from my shops, with 25% going to Conservation NW...and the bears they work to protect.

If nothing in my shops moves you, I would still be honored with your support through my YouCaring page, available by clicking on the widget in the upper right corner of this page.

Forever for the bears, denisebrain

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Latest vintage convergence, 1963 and Jean Shrimpton

I am always excited to find a vintage image to match one of my vintage finds, and this one surprised me. I sold this outfit, with tags attached, four years ago. The set had no maker’s label, but it sold originally (for the rather high price of $99.90) at Seattle’s Frederick and Nelson. I liked the outfit, especially its quality, but found it slightly oppressively matching and the colors were not obviously beckoning to me.

Then I found this image of Jean Shrimpton in front of the Statue of Liberty, dated 1963:

And suddenly it was hard not to love the outfit!

Have a look at my other vintage convergences if you like. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The bears have friends

Recently I was sent a good-sized stash of vintage costume jewelry by a woman (Denise) who found the items among her mother’s possessions. There are many wonderful pieces! The best part of all is that Denise told me I could use the items to benefit Conservation Northwest...her donation to the cause. She told me she is a wildlife rehabber and seems to have an especially great fondness for owls.

One of Denise’s favorite “owl accessories” as she put it

Right now and for the next week or so, I’m busily listing jewelry from Denise, all with 100% benefitting Conservation Northwest. Some of the items available right now:

Chunky Lucite bangle bracelets
Oops, this one didn’t last long! Yay!
Glass moonstone brooch
Plastic or wooden bracelets with bakelite color schemes
Lisner thermoset leaves necklace
Hand-painted myrtlewood pin, souvenir of Oregon in the 1950s
Striped Lucite bangle bracelets...or owl eyes if you prefer!
Thank you Denise! The bears thank you, and the owls...well the owls think you are a rock star!

For more about my Conservation Northwest fundraiser, please read my previous blog post.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bear in mind

Every December for the last five years I have donated a percentage of my earnings to a cause very important to me. Conservation Northwest strives to keep one of the most beautiful areas in the world wild for the good of all. I live in that area, and I am very fortunate, but with its soul-elevating natural beauty it is a place for the whole world to look after and enjoy.

Each year I grow a little more deeply impressed with the creative solutions to complex issues that CNW innovates, fosters and implements. They are gaining conservation easements with the help of ranchers; they are supporting the use of range riders as non-lethal control in land shared by wolves and livestock.

Most of all for me, CNW works to save the grizzly bear. Ever since I can remember, I have loved bears and the more I know about their importance in the environment, the more I care about them.

In 2013, Conservation Northwest joined forces with other organizations in founding the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative. Grizzlies don’t stop at the border, and neither does this coalition, which includes the St’át’imc First Nation of British Columbia and Sierra Club BC among others.

Right now, and through December 31, 25% of all my sales will go to CNW. If you don’t see the right vintage item for you, I have also set up a page for direct contributions to this fundraiser on, which takes no money from the cause.

For the last two years I have been able to raise $500 for Conservation Northwest during December, and I know this is possible again, with your help.

Stop by my web store or Etsy shop and have a look at the offerings—and bear in mind the good we can do together!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Not a creature was stirring

Happy December and happy all it means to each of us! My latest theme...

click to view, sound up

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and I am more than just a little thankful for the people I’ve met in the world of vintage fashion.

Since 1999 I have sold to several Parisian designers; an Aztec princess and school teacher; a woman working in the Pentagon (on 9/11/01) who apologized for paying me late for a suit after part of her workplace was destroyed; a mayor’s wife; a mayor; an actress or two; several museum curators, journalists and writers; a policewoman; an opera singer; an indie music artist; a biologist; my neighbor; a woman in her 80s who wanted to relive an event from her youth; a girl of 13 who wanted to experience what her great grandmother had experienced; a skiing star; my best friend. I have had loyal customers purchase full wardrobes from me; I’ve outfitted weddings and high school plays. You have a lot of fascinating stories to tell.

Even if all I know of you is your postal code and that you purchased a blue polka dot blouse...thank you.

Some may know I often try to raise funds for causes that mean a great deal to me, and not only have you tolerated my ongoing mentions of manatees and grizzly bears, you have supported my causes with me. There is no way I could be making a real impact for these causes without your support.

I have numerous deepening friendships with vintage clothing dealers, experts and collectors...people without whom I would not be where I am. Not only do I learn something new every day about fashion history, fabric construction, and the business of selling online, but I feel I have a real support network.

I had a decent opinion of human nature prior to starting the business, and 14 years of positive dealings with thousands of people pretty well proves to me that we’re a decent lot. My most sincere thanks.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vintage convergence time again

I love it when this happens: I find a vintage ad, magazine spread, or pattern that appears to exactly match a vintage item I have or once had. I call this a vintage convergence, and you can see all my previous here.

I always love to see how someone once styled the same item, and have been surprised that I have sometimes managed something at least slightly similar.

The most recent find was a hang tag, and the dress was first sold in 1967, and later (by me) in 2008. It was a lovely pink linen dress with appliquéd flowers. I wish I'd let the A-line shape be more apparent in my photo—but see? I turned my toes out like the model in the ad!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fabric of the week: Gabardine

It is my 50th fabric of the week entry, and I can’t believe I’m just getting around to this one! Gabardine is a revered fabric—I’ve had many an older woman confess to me it is her favorite. I just wish younger people had a chance to know it better.


Gabardine is characterized by either steep or sometimes regular twill, tightly woven, with fine, distinct diagonal ribs on the surface and a smooth back. Wools are right-hand twill, cotton may be left-hand. The warp generally has twice as many threads per inch as the weft. Made of worsted, cotton, manufactured fibers, blends, and (rarely) silk. 
Because gabardine is tightly woven (particularly in a steep twill weave) the fabric is hard-wearing and rain resistant. Its name derives from the Medieval Spanish word gabardina which means protection from the elements. 

The name was originally used for a cloak worn in the Middle Ages.
Uses: Suits, coats, rainwear, slacks, skirts, uniforms, dresses, sportswear, shirts, hats
See also:
Covert cloth

Worsted wool gabardine

Rayon gabardine
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photos by Hoyt Carter

Monday, November 18, 2013

Favorite vintage: It’s just so ME

I’ve been sharing stories about favorite vintage, both yours and mine. One category of favorites is It’s just so ME. You know the one, don’t you? The item that, whether it is the best or not, just seems to express your personality perfectly?

I think I sometimes surprise people at how loudly I can dress on a daily basis. Bright, bold and brash are pretty much exactly my style. I love strong prints and bright colors (especially pink, orange and green).

Here is a 1960s dress I found in a 2nd-hand shop at least 10 years ago. It had a stain on the front and I didn’t think that would ever come out. Yeah, that’s it, a stain that really made it impossible for me to offer for sale—at least that’s how I rationalized keeping MY dress. Not only does it feature favorite colors and a bold butterfly print, but it has a full skirt, which is my favorite silhouette.

I wore the dress on the beach at Coronado when I visited for my niece’s graduation. It looked right at home in that brilliant sunshine. 

I feel so happy and confident in this dress that I even sported it when I helped my friend Anna Newman with her booth at the San Francisco Vintage Expo a few years ago. You’d think I’d want to dress in Bonnie Cashin or Claire McCardell for this discerning crowd, but no, it had to be my ME dress. 

Oh, and the stain came out. But you knew that, didn’t you? 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fabric term of the week: 2/1, 3/1, 2/2 etc.            

Before you think this week’s fabric term is a math problem: These fraction-like numbers are a way of quickly describing how many yarns cross each other in a fabric’s construction.

2/1, 3/1, 2/2 etc. 
Woven fabric consists of warp and weft yarns crossing each other one at a time or in groups. Plain weave always consists of one warp yarn crossing one weft yarn, a 1/1 weave. When two warp yarns cross a weft yarn, this can be indicated as 2/1 weave. 2/2 weave has two warp yarns crossing two weft yarns. 
These fractions are read, for example, “three up, one down” for 3/1, indicating that three weaving harnesses are raised, then one is lowered for three warp yarns on the face, then one weft yarn. 
See also

A satin weave is most commonly 4/1 with warp yarns floating over weft yarns in numbers of 4 to 1, but can be 7/1 and even 11/1, and the interlacings do not occur in rows, giving the most uninterrupted gloss possible.

One of the more jaw-dropping satin dresses I’ve had a chance to see up close is this Ceil Chapman ball gown currently in my web store. The fabric really defines “pour of satin.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Favorite vintage: The goddess dress

Kathryn’s favorite vintage dress met an untimely end, but she may yet find another like it—Now that I know this story, I will keep both eyes open for another.  

My favourite vintage item sadly does not exist any more but I’ve never forgotten it. I bought it from a secondhand shop in the High Street of Oxford (in the United Kingdom) where I was at university in the 1980s. Back then, selling and wearing vintage was not as commonplace as it is now, but this shop stocked a small selection.

The dress that caught my eye was what some people now call a “Goddess” dress. It was navy blue and finely vertically pleated throughout with a boat neckline and a matching cinch buckled belt. The dress was straight, knee length, sleeveless (I think there was some gathering detail at the shoulder) and was labelled as being from 1964. It had a touch of the Audrey Hepburn about it, although she is the last person I resemble, but I tried it on and it looked like it had been made for me, so I bought it on my meagre student income. I think it was the first vintage item I ever bought.

With its simple lines, it was timeless (it would look equally as good today), chic, slimming and in total contrast with the fussy, ruffled, brightly-coloured fashions of the day. I wore it a lot and always got compliments in it. It worked for day or evening. It didn’t need jewellery as the statement neckline and the pleats spoke for themselves.

It went with me on dates and parties I’ve long forgotten but I’ve never forgotten that dress.

Sadly, it met an untimely end.

I came back from university and and my mother took it upon herself, without telling me, to wash the dress in the washing machine. I don’t know what happened but all the pleats fell out, leaving the dress just a large navy blue tent—it was ruined, unwearable.

This is the only picture I’ve got of me in the dress—it was taken in a grassy field in the country in Somerset (told you I wore it everywhere!) when I was on break with a friend just before my final exams at university. It doesn’t really show all the fine details of the dress but you can see its clean and simple lines.

I’d love another dress like that but have sadly never seen one.

Funnily enough Margaret of Denisebrain had a very similar dress up for sale on her Etsy site a year or two back, in the very same colour, but by the time I saw the link, it had already been sold...

I know just the one she means, and now I’m so sorry it didn’t sell to you Kathryn—The next one is yours, I promise!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Favorite vintage: Sentimental favorite

My sentimental favorite vintage item is my mother’s ring.

My mother, as I’ve mentioned before in my blog, grew up in Iowa during The Great Depression. Her father was a banker who worked with farmers to keep their farms from being foreclosed upon. My grandfather also worked with prisoners at a local penitentiary to find skills for them to take back into the real world. He worked with an expert forger to create the Sheaffer Signature Pen.

One man learned to craft jewelry. As a thank you to my grandfather, this man made a ring “to match his daughter’s eyes.” It is sapphire blue glass in a gold setting, very simple and elegant. My mother’s eyes were exactly this color. My eyes are green, but I still love wearing this beautiful ring.

My mother showing off her new ring
What is your sentimental favorite vintage clothing or accessory item, and why? I’d love to add your story to my blog.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All that glitters...

You know the saying “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold” ? 

My theme for November will remind you that vintage glitters brightest...

click to view, sound up

Vintage western stretch lamé pants, coming soon to my Etsy shop

Friday, October 25, 2013

Favorite vintage: Makes me happy just to think about

I have a dress that I purchased from an older woman when she moved from the area. She was collecting vintage clothing to start a business, but bad health got in her way. I answered a newspaper classified ad and drove a couple of hours to a remote town on a river.

I had almost no experience with buying vintage, so I’m sure my eyes were huge and my face gave away my love of what I saw. The very sweet lady, Joann, was easy on me regarding a purchase price for her 200-piece collection. She has called me since and I really feel she thinks her plans for her business were partly carried out by me, which is an honor. I have kept certain items which seemed singularly unbelievable to me at the time...some are still absolutely unique and wonderful to my more seasoned eye.

Now all that remains of Joann’s collection are sentimental favorites, but none so much as the “denisebrain dress.” Joann wanted to see a picture of me wearing something, so I chose my immediate favorite.

The quick shot I took (2001 it was) became my logo at the time.

I have used the dress for one of my monthly themes (Think Pink, naturally)

The dress has even been our Christmas tree.

Do I wear it often? No, not hardly, but it makes me glad every time I look at the dress...or even think about it. It’s my single most favorite dress.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fabric term of the week: Nylon

The very first synthetic fiber? It was a revolutionary creation at its invention.

The invention of nylon is credited to the chemist Wallace Carothers, working at DuPont in the 1930s. It was the first successful synthetic fiber, rayon and acetate being plant-based manufactured fibers. This first nylon was polyamide 6,6—made from hexamethylenediamine and adipic acid (the 6,6 designates the two stretches of six carbon atoms that are repeated in the polymer chain). The fiber proved strong, elastic, quick to dry, and insect- and rot-resistant. The first application was in toothbrushes in 1938, but in the next year women’s hosiery became nylon’s first big success. One might even have called it a raging success, the clamor for nylons (as they came to be called) was so great. 
During WWII the new fiber was used in the war effort, taking the place of Japanese silk for parachutes. After the war, the clamor for nylons took up where it left off, and soon nylon was used for other garments—and in many household products—as it is to this day.
Publicity photo for nylon, New York World’s Fair, 1939
1960s nylon tricot knit flapper-look nightgown in my Etsy shop

If you haven’t seen already, I made a handy-dandy (if I do say so) timeline of manufactured fabrics in the VFG Fabric Resource, and here on my blog.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Another favorite vintage item

I received this story and photo from Charlotte:

I think my grandmother’s 1936 platinum and diamond engagement ring is my favourite vintage item. I wear it at least once a week. Those who don’t know jewelry seldom notice it and instead go for my cheap, flashy, costume stuff. Jewelers, though, hone in on it like flies to honey and start to salivate. It’s simple, incredibly beautiful, and reminds me of a woman I admired a great deal, and the love she shared with my jovial, gentle grandfather.

Charlotte writes a blog called Sublime Mercies (“Style, feminism, disability... and finding small beauties in a big bad world”).  It is sometimes about colors and fashions and what Boo and Beau are wearing, but it is always about something more. I have rarely felt such emotion reading a blog as I have a number of times with Sublime Mercies...whether tearing up or laughing out loud. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Favorite vintage: My odd collection

This is a rerun post, originally published in 2006 ( whole years ago!). I have a couple of other small vintage clothing collections, but this is probably the one that would surprise most.

The first time I laid eyes on a crazily-bright half slip my heart did a somersault!

I think I love these because they came at a time when fashion was evolving. Particularly the late 60s ones seem to struggle to be relevant at a time when the previously mandatory slip was about to become uncool and outmoded. They are also fun, funny and undisclosed...a secret party!

I never go looking for these half slips, they just sort of fall in my path, like lucky pennies.

I have four more of these fun half slips now...and as always, they just fell my way.

Do you have a favorite vintage collection? A surprising vintage collection?