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The Little Black Dress December 08 2013

There is an item of clothing that I always have in my wardrobe for "that" special occasion and that's the Little Black Dress.

As Christmas is fast approaching, ladies everywhere will be whipping out that little Black number from the back of their wardrobes, pulling together an outfit that will make them look and feel a million dollars.

Its silhouette has changed over the years but the LBD remains supremely chic.

My LBD - AX Paris £25

Many people claim that the LBD as we know it was invented by Coco Chanel.  In 1926, a picture of a simple short black dress by Chanel appeared in American Vogue and was dubbed “Chanel's Ford” after demand for Ford motorcars which were only available in Black, had soared at the start of the century.  The LBD was like the Model T car because it was accessible to women of all social classes.  Vogue said the dress was "a sort of uniform for all women of taste."

Simple in Black crêpe de Chine with long, narrow sleeves, worn with a string of pearls, Vogue proved to be correct in the prediction that it would become a uniform.

Before the 1920s, wearing the colour Black was strictly reserved for times of mourning.  It was considered indecent to wear it otherwise because mourning dresses were symbolic. During the Victorian era, a grieving widow was expected to wear black for at least two years.  Queen Victoria wore her mourning dresses for exactly 40 years!

The LBD maintained its popularity during World War II, due to the rationing of textiles.  It also became a sort of uniform for the droves of women heading to the workplace.  LBD's were popular in Hollywood during the Technicolor craze because a Black dress wouldn't clash with the other colours on the screen as a brighter dress might.

During the postwar conservative era of the 1950s and early 1960s, the LBD took a bit of a social hit.  Though still worn, it was seen as a little dangerous that the woman wearing it wasn't quite so pure as the conservative woman in Powder Blue.

But the Swinging 60s gave the LBD a bit of a revival, with the younger Mod generation sporting the mini dress invented by the fashion designer Mary Quant.  While the older more conservative set, looked to classic styles like the LBD worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.  That Black Givenchy cocktail dress worn in the film sold at auction in 2006 for £467,200!!!

In the 1980s, the LBD experienced a renaissance at the hands of designer Azzedine Alaïa, "the King of Cling".

The LBD has, for the most part, maintained its popularity through the decades since Chanel brought it into our lives in 1926.  Though it's had its stylistic variations from the Mod mini dress of the 1960s and big shoulders and peplum of the 1980s to the grunge in the 1990s, the motivation behind the dress has remained the same.  A LBD makes a woman feel beautiful and glamorous.  It's a long-lasting, versatile and affordable to a large market of women and is certainly here to stay.

We may not yet know how to have it all but it helps to have a reliable outfit that can do it all and will always makes us feel modern, capable, feminine and fun.

Me in my LBD


History of the Slipper September 10 2013

As the longest day has come and gone and the Autumn evenings start to draw in, we slip off our shoes for more comfy, warm shoes, “Slippers” or what my mum calls them “House Shoes” are favoured as we begin to settle in for cosy nights with the central heating cranked up full blast, racking up that Gas bill during the long (and they are in the UK) winter months.  But slippers aren't just things for the Winter, slippers can be worn in the Summer too and if you’re like me, I can’t stand having cold feet so I have slippers for all seasons.

These Chinese slippers are by Beverly Feldman.

The word comes from the verb “to slip”.  It is thought that slippers were originally from the East but they have been worn by every culture.  The earliest recorded reference to the slipper was is in the 12th Century by a Southern Song Dynasty Officer where he describes two types of slipper he saw in what is now Vietnam.  These slippers had a thong to fit between the toes or a leather strap across the foot and the outsoles would have been made of leather.  In the West, slippers were first recorded around 1478.

In the East, the slipper was a symbol of captivity.  A Sultan’s harem would wear them for indoors making it easy to slip the shoes on and off before stepping on expensive Persian carpets.  The slippers were very soft and comfortable and for indoors use, therefore, a concubine wouldn’t have been able to make a break for freedom in them as they were too thin and slippery for the hard rocky roads outside.

In certain cultures, such as Japan, it is a social obligation to remove shoes and wear slippers when entering a place of residence. This is due to tradition and respect for the house.  The Meiji period (1868-1912) was one of unprecedented transformation that was to affect all areas of life, including clothing.  During this time, special slippers were created for foreigners to pull over their shoes as the Japanese were accustomed to taking off their shoes and donning slippers indoors but their Western friends were not, hence the invention.  The Japanese also have toilet slippers, which you put on before you enter the toilet and you slip off after you leave so you must leave the toilet as you entered as the slippers are meant to face the toilet!  Although I've been told that this not a common practice.

Geta Slippers, Japan - Photograph: Gavin Hellier

By the mid-16th Century most wealthy men wore slippers made of soft Leather, Silk or Velvet, often in patterns that matched their outfit.  Don’t forget, men in those days were more dandier than the women!  Women also adopted an extremely impractical form of shoe called the “Chopine”.  These slippers sat atop a platform that ran the length of the shoe and could be as high as twenty-four inches! As a consequence, chopines were very difficult to walk in.  Both men and women used ribbons, bows, and jewels to decorate their shoes.  Of course, such shoes were not intended for outdoor wear and both sexes wore overshoes called “Pattens” and “Pantofles” to protect their dainty shoes if they did go outside in them. 

Italian 16th Century Slipper, Leather - Photograph: www.metmuseum.org

The Victorian era, saw the “Prince Albert Slipper”, so called after Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert.  These shoes were a velvet slipper with a quilted silk lining and leather outsole.  They were first worn by English aristocracy when Black tie dress for dinner was required by standards of etiquette and they would don velvet smoking jackets with a cravat and coordinating Prince Albert slippers.  Eventually, this custom moved outside the home to clubs and smoking rooms.  Nowadays, these slippers are known as “Smoking Slippers” and are worn by both men and women, sometimes worn informally outside.

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Smoking Slippers - Hmm, I don't think I'll be wearing these ones outside, what do you think?

Today, slippers come in many styles, Slip-On Slippers, Boot Slippers, Novelty Slippers and Moccasin Slippers.  They can be made from different types of materials from leather, suede, wool to manmade materials with outsoles being made from again a variety of different materials like leather, rubber or EVA.


Slipper Trivia
  • Apparently, Cinderella didn't loose a Glass Slipper, there are over 500 versions of the tale in scores of languages, the earliest version dating back to 9th Century China.  The slipper was never made of Glass but of Gold or Silver and sometimes embellished with gems.  The story as we know it is a result of a translator error.
  • Until the first half of the 20th Century, it was customary for pilgrims having an audience with the Pope to kneel and kiss one off his Red Papal slippers.
  • On 30 June 2007, Derek “The Slipper Man” holds the Guinness World Record for wearing a pair of slippers for 23 straight years!!!
  • A pair of Red test slippers for "The Wizard of Oz" from the Hollywood collection of actress Debbie Reynolds sold for $612,000 in May 2011.  (I think I need to get my hands on pair of these slippers so I can flog ‘em and live the life of Riley!)
  • "The Ruby Slippers" worn by Judy Garland in the “The Wizard of Oz” sold for a record $2 Million in May 2012.
  • In 2013, a Scottish university found a delicate pair of slippers that had been sitting unnoticed in its collection for more than a century may have actually belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte's sister, Princess Pauline Borghese.  The narrow silk and leather shoes, which measured just 1.5 inches across the toes and about 4 inches long (UK Childs Size 2), were marked on the outsole "Pauline Rome."

Not really the Ruby Slipper but a cupcake made for my Niece Lucy's birthday!


Lace & Tweed Vintage Fair June 01 2013

 

After a hearty breakfast in the greasy spoon near where I live, my friends and I went to Lace & Tweed Vintage Fair in Guildford.  "So does anyone know where we're going?" I asked.  "No..." everyone said in unison...  It was lucky that Rachel and I had looked this up on the map the day before because no one had a clue where it was although I had a rough idea.  Up the hill in Guildford town we trundled, up through Jeffries Passage (phnaar phnaar said the Actress to the Bishop) and there on the other side was the Holy Trinity Church with a big sign outside saying "Lace & Tweed Vintage Fair".

Set in a beautiful Anglican Red-brick church in the centre of Guildford, the Holy Trinity was built on the site of a Medieval Church that collapsed in the 18th Century.  It is thought the foundations of the church are Norman.  There were so many beautiful things on first sight, it was difficult to know where to start looking.  The first stall I stumbled across was a stall selling the  most beautiful 1920s and 30s dresses, some with their tags still on, having never been worn!

Musicians and a live DJ played on the stage and a backdrop of Black and White movies were being played.  We sifted through rails of clothes and mounds of jewellery.  Rhiannon had found a vintage scarf and I had spied a vintage brooch.  Lorna was umming and ahht's really hard going to a ring about a dress and Rachel was meant to be looking for a birthday present for her friend but ended up buying for herself!

With so many pretty things to buy and reasonably priced too, it can be all too easy to get carried away and spend a small fortune on stuff that you don't even want!  I was very good and managed to contain myself but then that's because I have trip to New York coming up and I was saving all my pennies for a trip to Brooklyn's flea markets and thrift shops.  Oh my God, I can hardly wait!!!

There was a hair and beauty pop-up parlour and Lorna said she wanted to have her hair and make-up done so we eagerly watched while she was made up 1940s style with me snapping away with the before and after shots.  For £10, Lorna had eyeliner flicked on her eyelids and Victory Rolls put in her hair and Lorna became Lana, a beautiful starlet from the 1940s!

Aww look how beautiful Lorna looks!

It was a unusually warm day today (yes I know it's the first day of June and June is in the Summer but it had been cold and raining that week) and Rachel and I were gasping for a drink, a cold drink.  Handy there was a large vintage tea room then!  I'd say this was the biggest bargain of the day because for £2.70 we got a cup of tea and plus a top up and a large slab of homemade cake!  Lemon Sponge, Carrot Cake, Victoria Sponge, Scones with Jam and Clotted Cream, Chocolate Brownies, the list went on...  There was even homemade lemonade!  After a hard morning of mooching, supping tea and scoffing cake was well deserved.

And best dressed goes this lovely lady...


Get the Gatsby Look May 26 2013

Seeing "The Great Gatsby" the other night has inspired me to write about how to replicate the glamorous fashion of the Roaring Twenties from from drop-waist tea dresses and head scarves to crisp bow ties and spectator shoes.  You don't have to dress head-to-toe in it, you could just pick out a few items that replicate the style of Jay Gatsby or Daisy Buchanan.  Just mix and match, using items from a variety of lower-priced stores like H&M, Accessorize, Primark and eBay.  I picked up a lovely strand of knotted faux pearls from TK Maxx for £7 by the Danish jewellery makers "Pilgrim".

Lace Jacket - River Island Sale £10
Vintage Faux Pearl Necklace - Ebay £5
Vintage Box Bag - Present from my Mummy when I had Chicken Pox!
Turquoise T-Bar Shoes - Carvela Sale £15

 

You could also sift through secondhand shops and vintage fairs that evoke the era although, actual clothes from the 1920s will be expensive so try to replicate the look cheaply rather than spending a small fortune (unless you want to of course.)

You can easily pull together plenty of fashions and accessories that reflect 1920s glamour by just searching the racks of less-expensive clothing stores like H&M and Primark.  Half the fun can be in the treasure hunt.

Plenty of fashion stores offer such looks as drop-waist dresses in lace or embellished with sequins or beads and head scarves.  Accessorize are doing pretty turbans and embellished clutch bags that are very 1920s.

Looking for a strand of Faux Pearl and T-bar shoes with a small heel?  Shop at low-priced shops like Primark, you could easily pick up both a Faux Pearl necklace and a pair of shoes for about £15 or less!  Pin a Feather or Diamanté brooch to your turban and wrap a string of Faux Pearls around your neck and voila! you have my dahhling, the Flapper Girl look!

Beaded Bag - Accessorize

And boys, if you don't want to wear a Pale Pink suit like Jay Gatsby, you could wear a Pale Pink vest and matching jacket with a Beige pair drop-crotch skinny fit jeans with Slip-on Boat Shoes without socks.  Just don't roll the sleeves up on your jacket or you'll end up looking like Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice!  We're talking 1920s here not 1980s!

Betsy Blue has some beautiful decadent brooches for sale from the Art Deco period.   Art Deco is possibly my favourite era, I just love the smooth clean lines of the furniture and architecture and the glitz and glamour of the fashion from that time.  I am an old romantic at heart.  Here are just a few Art Deco brooches on the website..