Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lulu’s Vintage Awards

It’s time for Lulu’s Vintage People’s Choice Top 10 Vintage Clothing Website Awards for 2012! 

Down on the right side of this page you can see I've been privileged to win a few times. Last year I won a People’s Choice award and that truly meant the world to me. ♥

Lulu has been running this contest for years now, and I'm sure you will appreciate working your way through her list of great vintage websites:

You may vote for ten websites, and I've be honored if denisebrain was one of your choices! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fabrics and me

photo courtesy of

One summer, I read the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles cover to cover (don't I know how to have fun?) and chose a collection of fabrics that seemed to come up in vintage clothing descriptions and in my observations. I didn’t, and don’t, consider myself an expert on the subject, but I love learning about fabrics.

I really have to know fabric better all the time. I sell vintage clothing, and my buyers and I want to know what a item is made from. To know this is to tell someone whether she will be allergic, how to wash or clean the item, predict how it will take dye. It is to know how fine it is, how long it will last, how the color will hold up. It helps make certain the vintage. It gives a better sense of how it will feel when worn. Buying clothing online is hard enough, and knowing all you can about the item is just smart.

The year after I read the Fairchild’s I was a board member of the Vintage Fashion Guild, and I proposed the idea of the VFG website having a fabric resource. For many years, the VFG Label Resource has made an inestimable contribution to vintage knowledge and interest, and the other resources (Fur Resource and Lingerie Guide) are also of tremendous value (heck, you should just go check out the whole site!). Everyone thought a fabric resource was a good idea, so I got started on it.

Fast forward to 2012, and I have been working bit by bit on a fabric resource for most of five years now. Fabrics are complicated. As one article in an issue of the great American Fabrics magazine begins:
The history of textiles is the history of the world...politically, socially, economically.
So much of human history has been interwoven with fabrics—any one fabric can take you back to ancient civilizations, or even prehistoric times. This makes many of them difficult to quickly summarize.  I noted one of the fabrics in the Fairchild’s that was particularly mind-boggling for me, frisé.
frisé [free-zay’] 1. Originally the finest grade of linen made in Friesland, The Netherlands. It was strong, stout, grained, and well-bleached. 2. A French term for curled. 3. A coarse ratiné fabric that is made with slub yarns in a plain weave ( See RATINÉ 1.) 4. A looped pile fabric usually of uncut loops that may have a pattern cut into them. This term sometimes is used for TERRY CLOTH or BOUCLÉ FABRIC. 5. A coarse, stout cotton or linen fabric that is made in a plain weave with a flat, wiry texture and a pronounced rep or rib. Made in imitation of the worsted or mohair pile fabric known as FRIEZE. All fabrics listed in 1.—5. are used for upholstery. 6. A cut pile carpet of twisted yarns in solid color or of varicolored yarns.
You can see there are divergent histories here, along with terms that may not be familiar (they certainly weren’t all familiar to me). There are comments about usage, origins of the name, related fabrics. Not all fabrics have this much complexity in their definitions, but some have more.

I’m not trying to make excuses for the long time I’ve been working on this; on the contrary, when the Fabric Resource is published in mid July it will just be a start—I plan to continue working on it. I really just mean to say it is a very deep subject, with much to know. My hope is that the Fabric Resource will provide basic information about fabrics, help people searching for the name of a “mystery” fabric, help with determining fiber types, and maybe even inspire some interest in further research.

I know I’m inspired by fabrics, and I hope others are too!

Would you like one sneak peek? Just to explain, there will be a link to a definition in the resource for all the words in bold type, and a link to any related fabrics. It will be possible to click on all photos to enlarge them to 1000 x 1000 pixels.

Chinchilla cloth

Constructed like fleece, with a long nap, chinchilla cloth is given a machine finish which rubs the nap into nubs. It is made of wool, wool blends, and the warp may be cotton for strength. The town of Chinchilla, Spain is where the present fabric was first made.

Uses: Coats, hats

See also fleece

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A request for your stories

A week ago, Etsy announced a new space within every sellers’ shop where they can share the story of their business with the world, a “space to tell the world how you got started, what inspires you, and what your shop is all about.”

This is where my customers come in: I am inspired by the people who purchase from me, the photos you send me of you in your vintage items, what you wore the item for and what you think of it.

Do you have an interesting/funny/quirky/happy story you could share with me about your purchase from me? If so, I would be really grateful if you'd send me an email ( with your story. For all who kindly take the time, I will provide a 10% discount code to be used in my Etsy shop, AND some stories may end up on my About page, with your permission.

Thanks in advance!!

...and check out the ever-increasing Facebook album of my customers in their denisebrain vintage: You in your vintage clothing! I'd love to add you if you have a photo that you’d care to share!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Queen, 1953

Back to Queen Elizabeth again, because I just had the pleasure of finding a thick (176-page) booklet commemorating the coronation, dated 1953, and entitled The Queen.

The booklet has scores of photos of all the extended royal family at the time, including this charming one of young Princess Elizabeth—with a corgi, of course.

There are many splendid photos of the coronation (unfortunately not credited).

I am struck by how much some of the models in the ads seem to look like (or be styled like) the young queen. 

Gown by Worth of London 
Advertisement for Jenners - Princes Street, Edinburgh

And then there are all the ads that celebrate the occasion with royal flourishes

This last ad ends (after quoting Ben Jonson) “That the reign of her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II may be long and glorious is the loyal wish of Coty” —clearly a fashionable coronation!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Future vintage 8: fashioningchange

Yesterday I ran some errands, and since I was in the neighborhood, I popped into a TJ Maxx store and looked at clothing. I am dismayed and saddened at how little quality is to be found in any—not just TJ Maxx—name-brand newly-made clothing stores.

I was looking at nightgowns. If you dropped any one of these gowns off its hanger at the store, it would make a pile no larger than a serving of mashed potatoes. The dresses in the store are also extremely light, totally unstructured and made of super-thin material. If you are a perfectly proportioned 20-year old, you might look fine in these. Any younger and you might look too sleazy, any older and you run the risk of having some part of your (perfectly normal and fine) figure showing too much. In other words, if a woman would look absolutely great walking down the street naked, she might, just might, look OK in these dresses.

All the items I looked at were made in China or Vietnam. Without further research on the labels, I would not buy these, fearing I was supporting the greedy corporations that work people in sweatshop conditions for the sake of low prices for us, and high profits for the corporation.

That’s my opinion. I feel so sorry that so many people have nowhere to turn now if they want to go try on ethically-made quality clothing. That’s why I started this series Future vintage (search those words for the previous six installments) and why I’m continuing today with the newly-launched fashioningchange.

Fashioningchange is like an online collective of eco-friendly and ethical alternatives to the big brands. I enjoy their feature Wear This, Not That. It’s fun, it shows you some stylish alternatives, and it makes you think. I look forward to exploring this site more, and finding some new items for myself...items qualified to be future vintage!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Get the Look: Queen Elizabeth II

I do very much admire the Queen’s constancy. Vivat Regina Elizabetha!

I've devoted an Etsy Treasury to the subject of the Royal style:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lighten your step!

My ballet-inspired June theme is up! {click on image to view...sound up}

Margot Fonteyn, from Flixster
What did you want to be when you were a little kid? When I was little, before I wanted to be an ecological geographer, I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I loved Margot Fonteyn and wanted to be just like her. I took ballet classes for many years. Although I didn't get to be a great dancer, I still love ballet. I have always loved the look—and appreciated the tremendous dedication and effort—of professional dancers. This month’s theme is a small homage.