Friday, June 28, 2013

Style Icon: Frida Kahlo

I  used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you. —quoted in Diary of Frida Kahlo

How a great artist deals with personal tragedy: Frida Kahlo was stricken with polio at the the age of six, and her right leg was significantly shorter than her left. At the age of 18, she was nearly killed in a street car accident, and her body deteriorated from that point on, while her art came to life.

Kahlo painting one of her plaster body casts.  Photo by Juan Guzmán.
In constant pain, Kahlo wore casts most of her life because her spine was incapable of supporting her body. Each of her casts she transformed by painting them, making them expressions of herself. In 1953, when she had to have a leg amputated, she had a beautiful prosthetic leg made, including a red leather boot with a bell.

Photo by Miguel Tovar.

Frida Kahlo’s dress was an extension of her self expression.

Kahlo was the daughter of a German father and a Mexican mother, specifically a Mexican from Tehuana. This area of Oaxaca is matriarchal, and Kahlo chose to dress in her native region’s style to portray power, as well as hide her disabilities.

Traditional women’s garments from Tehuana exhibited at the Museo Frida Kahlo. Photo by Miguel Tovar.
Women’s dress from Tehuana is in three parts, with flowers and ribbons or a headpiece emphasizing the face, a shortened blouse and a long skirt. There is a concentration upwards, including dramatic jewelry. For Frida, this was a way of distracting from what made her weak, and putting the emphasis on her feminine power, her uniquely beautiful face, her socialist beliefs and the pride she felt in her heritage. Her distinctive dress was not something often seen in the forward-looking and urbane 1920s-40s, and wherever she went, Kahlo stood out for her expressive style.

While she wore European items too (as in the white outfit she wears in her painting Las Dos Fridas), the same basic formula remained the decorations in the hair, the strong jewelry, the shorter blouse and the long skirt. Her colorful clothing often featured embroidery and lace.

I don’t think I’ve ever found an article of dress from Tehuana, but in striving to find the obtainable in Kahlo’s style I concentrated on some broader principles:

1. I was struck by the symmetry of her looks and if a sort of wholeness could be found in that center. Her famous eyebrows seem to anchor the concept that there is something in the center that is not only not diminished, it is flourishing. She looks focused and complete.

This isn’t so easy for me, with my very asymmetrical face (one eye is 3mm farther from my nose than the other). I rarely look straight at a camera for this reason. However, there is something beautiful about formal symmetry that seems fresh to me after years of asymmetry and a certain amount of fashion-dictated dishevelment.

2. Embellishment is a strong feature of Kahlo’s dress, and of Tehuana dress. I love the mixture of patterns, colors, embroidery, ribbons, jewelry, fringe, flowers. It’s a very textural, effusive visual richness.

3. Upward momentum seems very important to the look, especially with Kahlo’s flowers, ribbons, and hair poised like a crown.

4. Kahlo always looks regal in her photos, with a dignity that I find very compelling.

Photographed for US Vogue in October, 1937
In New York, 1946
5. This is both very general and very important: It has been said that Kahlo dressed her very best when she felt her worst. I’ve not been subjected to the sort of chronic pain she experienced, but I know the transformative power of style. I believe she strove to heal herself spiritually through her art and style. She rewrote her narrative through beauty.

Recently Frida Kahlo was pictured on the cover of Vogue México, coordinating with the first exhibition of Kahlo’s garments, at the Museo Frida Kahlo. She looks as unique and original as the day the photo was taken, ca. 1937.
Nikolas Muray photo

Right now I have a small collection of items in my Etsy shop which I chose to represent aspects of Frida Kahlo’s style:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fabric of the week: Weft piqué

Once you have identified weft piqué it will stick with you, it is so distinctive. It was one of my “mystery” fabrics when I started working with vintage clothing, and most often I have found summery cotton Hawaiian dresses made of this. Compare weft piqué to warp piqué and I’m pretty sure you will not forget either one.

Weft piqué 

Weft piqué features a horizontally corded texture on its face, and a distinctly different reverse side. It is woven on a dobby loom and is made of cotton or cotton blends. Piqué is a French word meaning “quilted”; piqué fabrics have the appearance of being subtly padded. 
Uses: Dresses, blouses, sportswear, children’s clothing 
See also:
Warp piqué

Weft piqué face
Weft piqué reverse
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photos by Hoyt Carter
The dress from which the close up photo was taken, in my Etsy shop now

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fabric term of the week: Novelty print

This week we come to an all-time favorite.

Novelty print 

Novelty, or conversational, prints feature motifs that are neither abstract nor simple florals. Frequently the prints feature themes such as places, activities or holidays. The prints can range from the very simple to such complexity as to be hard to discern; from black and white to many-colored; and from serious to whimsical (more often the latter).z 
With any interesting print, check the selvage in case there is information that identifies the print and the maker.
1940s “date for the ballet” novelty print rayon
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Photo by Hoyt Carter, text and additional photos by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain
50s poodles in Paris novelty print cotton 
Selvage information identifying a print by Stig Lindberg for the Nordiska Kompaniet

To say I'm fascinated by novelty prints would be an understatement. I have considered keeping nothing but in my closet, except I love polka dots almost as much! Here are a few of my favorite vintage novelty prints from the sold archives, a Flickr set.

 Currently in my shop is a 1960s blouse with butterflies and the word butterfly in many languages

...and a 60s antique sailing ship print

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fabric of the week: Terry knit

This week’s fabric is one that is great for summer casual wear...and was often used for this in the 1970s and 80s.

Terry knit  
A plain stitch knit fabric with a set of yarns pulled out on the technical back to form loops, as in woven terry cloth. Unlike woven terry, the loops are only on one side, and the fabric stretches. 
Terry knit is usually made of cotton and cotton blends, also manufactured fibers. It probably was originally made of silk. 
Uses: Sportswear, loungewear, sleepwear, children’s clothing 
See also:
Terry cloth
Velour knit
Terry knit
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter 
A vintage classic for this fabric: 1970s unused terry knit romper currently in my Etsy store

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Fabric of the week: Crepe-back satin

This Fabric of the week has the option of using either side as its face. When I find crepe-back satin used for a vintage garment, that item most often has dated from the 1920s or 1930s. It is a wonderfully substantial and fine fabric. 

Crepe-back satin 

Lustrous on one side and with a crepe texture on the other, this light to medium weight fabric is called crepe-back satin when its glossy side is its face, and satin-back crepe when the dull side is the face. It can be called crepe satin or satin crepe as well. Sometimes the contrasting sides of the fabric are both used on the outside of a garment. Characteristically silk, it can be made of rayon or manufactured fibers. 
Uses: Blouses, dresses, evening gowns, lining 
See also:

Crepe-back satin - Face and reverse shown, with selvage down the middle

©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter 
In my Etsy store I have a silk crepe-back satin dress dating from the 1920s. This dress doesn’t show the crepe side on the face anywhere, but I have run across dresses (one from the 1930s comes to mind first) that used both sides to great advantage.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

You gotta have purse-o-nality!

My June theme is ready to view and (cruelly enough) I feature some of my own favorite personal handbags. Have no fear though, I will always offer for sale as many bags with character as I can possibly allow out of my house! 

{click to view, sound up}
Why yes, I am a bag did you guess? 

P.S. Are you on Pinterest? I certainly have fallen down the rabbit hole make use of it. I just started my latest board Grab Bag. Come see, and please let me know if you’re on Pinterest so I can follow you!