Friday, January 30, 2015

Reason to love vintage #7

It is terribly easy to think of reasons to love vintage clothing, and this is just one of them: The quality.

Yesterday was a fairly typical day for me, photographing clothing from various eras. I photographed a dress from about 1924, and a sweater from the 1950s.

The sweater’s appliqués are organza, and light but sturdy fabric backs the appliqués on the reverse side in order to stabilize them. When’s the last time you bought a new item of clothing that had a feature designed to make it last? Oh, and the rhinestones are prong-set and are solidly in place. The buttons are mother of pearl, the yarn is softest lambswool, angora and nylon. 

1950s appliquéd sweater in my Etsy shop
The 1920s silk dress seems to have been made commercially, because it has a small size tag. The amount of meticulous hand sewing to be seen is astonishing to me. For instance, those rounded tabs featured on the sleeves and skirt of the dress have self-fabric narrow bias binding that is hand sewn in place...and there are yards of this detail!

1920s dress in my Etsy shop
Also yesterday I photographed a 1950s sweater in teal blue with shell buttons dyed to match the sweater...and this is just an “average” sort of item made for J.C. Penney. 

This one sold really fast
If you ever need talking into vintage clothing, just ask me! This is only one reason to appreciate it, but it’s a major one!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why am I called "denisebrain"?

This is really the FAQ I most receive: Why the heck are you called denisebrain? I feel I should post an explanation about once a year and it has been over a year now, so...

My name isn’t Denise Brain, but it has been a bit of a nickname for me. I am a professional horn player and teacher, and Dennis Brain is one of the greatest horn heroes any horn player could ever have. Tragically, the Englishman was only 36 when he suffered a fatal crash in his sports car in 1957. He had already become arguably the greatest hornist of modern times.

Dennis Brain, Norman Parkinson photo, 1953

In 1999, when I was first prompted to provide a user name on eBay, I was helping a student bid on horns and my first thought was the nickname denisebrain.

From eBay, to Etsy, to my own website called, I have had no competition for the use of this name! I don’t use the name denisebrain flippantly—I feel the utmost respect and awe for the inimitable musician who inspired it. 

It isn’t always easy for others to understand my love for both vintage clothing and the horn, but I have a simple premise that ties these in my mind: I am attracted to beauty. I love the quality and beauty of vintage clothing and I consider the horn capable of the most beautiful sounds in music.

Tying these together further for me, I am growing a small collection of vintage clothing and accessories featuring horns of all types and eras (other than the all-too numerous Ugly Christmas Sweaters with horns that is!) and here are some:
I've worn these horn earrings forever, Jim Hendrickson photo, 1991

(I made them out of Christmas ornaments)

50s modern horn print skirt

70s horn photo print dress
Some—not all—of my horn pins

50s Vera scarf
60s instrument-print shirtwaist dress, and my most beautiful accessory
My latest fave is this vintage copper bracelet and earrings set from my friend Susan

One last shot, because I love it so: The Quintessential Brass at Indiana University in about 1981. I think we called it the Maggie and the Spit Valves shot. That is about when I started signing into a practice building as Denise Brain, so I guess this is origin story material!

David Coleman, John Wilds (my brother), David Ford, Norlan Bewley and {ahem} Denise Brain.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The March on Washington...Does the clothing matter?

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day I’m remembering one of the most powerful moments in human history, when on a sweltering August day in 1963, 250,000 people of all colors converged on The National Mall in Washington D.C.

Look at any photo of the leaders or the crowd and you see suits and ties, skirts, blouses and hats.

Center for Jewish History, 1963
Considering what many feared would be a violent protest, the demeanor and dignity of the massive crowd gave the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom the reverence it needed and deserved. The great words may have still been sung and spoken but the crowd gave some people around the nation and the world their first sight of this movement, and its powerful message was bolstered by its behavior and conduct.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

In the grand scheme of things, does dress matter? Maybe not, but it is a choice. What does your choice say about you? What do you want it to say?

And what about those who have no choice? This is a great day to remember those who (unlike me) don’t wear 2nd-hand clothing by choice. Surely there is a suit of your husband’s or a pair of shoes that are never worn—kids clothing that they’ve grown out of. Not only are the impoverished hungry in our communities, they don’t have the clothing they need to stay warm let alone get back on their feet.

In less than one minute I was able to find a list of my city’s homeless shelters along with other places to donate clothing, toiletries and other essentials. I am going to go find some good quality clothing to share today in honor of Martin Luther King’s Day. If any piece of it gives someone the lift she deserves...that would be a small dream come true.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Learning from my 2014 Vintage Resolutions

At this time last year I vowed to work on a vintage resolution each month, and I can say with some happiness I managed them all, some better than others. I also found out some things.

January 2014: Edit out and recycle everything that is not being worn in my closet. I would like to make it as happy, bright, inviting and wearable as I possibly can.

And it still is! This is a great way to start a year. I admit I didn’t edit out much but I certainly organized and made my closet inviting. I found out that even in a tiny closet there is space above. I may take that revelation on to other rooms in our small but high-ceilinged home. Here’s my closet inspirations board on Pinterest. And here is one of my favorite pairs of shoes hanging on a high ledge:

February 2014: Dress like a star at home. 
I found out I love wrap jackets, dresses, robes, tops. Elastic is not the only way to achieve comfort, and there is just something so elegant about a wrap. I learned to search for brunch coats and housecoats as well as robes and day dresses. I collect the images, and occasionally the clothing that makes me feel good even if all by myself.

Wouldn’t you rather get the door in this than in sweats?
March 2014: Wear a color I don’t usually wear. 
Who knew I’d go with an acidic spring green...what I call Zing Green? And I chose it like a proper Virgo, quizzing others on what worked for me. My color of the year, on Pinterest.

April 2014: Mend and clean clothing and improve skills.  
Hugely helpful! My mending and cleaning pile was greatly reduced and I got into the habit of working on things to keep the pile down. I have a collection of techniques gathered on Pinterest which I keep referring to.

May 2014: Supplant my search for basic clothing with vintage basics. 
Not so good for me. I acknowledge the need for basics, but I have a hard time settling on which matter to me and finding the items. I want to keep exploring this. I think I might be lacking in elegance, or maybe just love color and detail too much. Maybe I shouldn’t use the word basic. 

June 2014: Wear scarves.
Not only did I make my scarves viewable in the closet overhaul, but I found all kinds of new ways to tie scarves.
Darn, where did I park that convertible?
July 2014: Look for vintage style inspiration. 
Really great for me and something I’m stuck on. Ahoy Pinterest!

August 2014: Find or decide upon the perfect go-to black dress.
This was hard. I find myself questioning whether I really need such a dress. I saw beautiful vintage dresses, and loved this one especially much. Would it be a go-to in my closet? Not so sure. Maybe if not during August of the 2nd hottest summer on record!

September 2014: Wear hats. 
So much fun, this is something I simply have to keep up. When I asked on Facebook if anyone would let us see her in a vintage hat, the response was beautiful and inspiring!

Some of you in your vintage hats
October 2014: Wear an era that I don’t usually wear. 
Surprise! I fell cloche over platforms for early 1970s retro styles!

November 2014: Wear something meaningful to me every day.
Another real joy to do...I located and thought about meaningful items. I could do this every day.

My great grandmother and me, wearing her locket
December 2014: Find at least one vintage item to give for Christmas. 
Too easy! I gave mostly vintage items, wrapped in vintage paper. The reports back have been favorable. :)

  Will there be a 2015 list of vintage resolutions? Maybe yet...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Denisebrain best of 2014

A few of my favorite sold items from the year gone by. I always find it hard to choose because I actually really love the vintage fashions I offer to you—These are just the ones that stuck hardest in my mind.
Summer to winter, vintage is best
1910s silk satin to 1960s stretch velvet
Polar Vortex collars

True blue

Decked out sweaters

Ready for Valentine’s Day
Sophisticated stripes
Bags with friends
The great white shirt
Spring flirts
Novelty print 40s dresses
Novelty print 50s skirts
Hats with character
Check it out, spring edition
Pretty party
Atomic bombshell prints
Ready for the 4th of July
Check it out, summer edition
Picnic anyone?
Suitable for summer
Summer accessories
Viva La Mexicana skirt
Check it out, late summer edition
Novelty print 50s dresses
Meow mix
Covetable bags
Autumn leaves 
The red coats are coming
These are silver, those are gold
Gold standard in accessories
Aren’t you plaid?
Sweater girl!
Simply red
Swing coats in the red
You helped me raise $518 for Conservation Northwest this year, and an astounding $1020 for Save the Manatee Club. I couldn’t do that on my own!

One of the nicest comments I received this year: ...this picture made me SO SUPER happy! i had to thank you! just struck me as such an "i love myself" "everything is great" "it's going to be an awesome day" moment, that i had to share that with you. That made me feel like I’m doing something right!

One of the things I like the most is seeing my customers wearing their vintage clothing. Some of these have been photographed by professionals, others by creatively-minded people, others by just us average people, but you are all way above average to me. 

May 2015 be a year in which you receive as much joy as you give!