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Archive for ‘1930s’

When Pyjamas Weren’t The Cat’s Pajamas… Or Were They?

By , 19 March, 2009, 5 Comments

When shopping for vintage fashions from the 1920s – 1930’s, it’s especially difficult to find women’s pajamas and pantsuits. You certainly can find advertisements, editorial fashion articles, and illustrations extolling such styles when paging through vintage magazines…

Vintage Pajama Illustration By A.K. MacDonald

Vintage Pajama Illustration By A.K. MacDonald

In fact, you see them so often it sets your heart to pitter-patter.

Vintage French Magazine Fashion Page Featuring Pyjamas (Yes, That's Louise Brooks, Second From Left!)

Vintage French Magazine Fashion Page Featuring Pyjamas (Yes, That's Louise Brooks, Second From Left!)

But finding such items available for sale is one of the toughest searches a vintage-loving fashionista can have.

Given that flappers were all about freedom, it’s easy to think that fashions with ‘male trouser bottoms’ — which offer more mobility and less worry about ‘upskirt’ issues — would have been all the rage, leaving you to find vintage pyjamas and pantsuits from those decades. But pants and pyjamas were not as popular a purchase as you’d imagine.

Vintage Pyjamas

Vintage Pyjamas

Some of the reason for such unpopular pants has to do with simple economics.

Most flappers, especially in terms of dress, were younger single women. As such, they would have had, in very general terms, less money to fund their wardrobe purchases. (And as most women knew how to work a needle and thread, rather any dress of the time could, in a pinch, be altered to suit a flapper’s style.) Often their living arrangements would limit their ability to entertain at home as well, meaning the lounging pajama was not only unnecessary, but ill-advised in mom and dad’s house where pajamas were tantamount to declaring a morality debate.

Cosy-Leg Pyjamas 1936

Cosy-Leg Pyjamas 1936

Older women who would have had more discretionary income to throw at the latest fashions would have also had, in general, positions which required them to join the stance against pants that their more traditional or conservative friends and family had. So they too eschewed the manly fashions, opting for the ‘more feminine’ skirts — with longer hemlines too.

Louuise Brooks Models Fashions

Louise Brooks Models Fashions

Pants also had the misfortune of being marketed at the wrong time, for once The Great Depression hit, fashion was a frivolity few could afford. It wasn’t the time for new trends.

But as we learned, for the flapper who could afford both her lifestyle and her fashions, showing off one’s legs was a serious priority… And pants were not seen as the way to a man’s umm…. heart.

You can argue that such pursuit to be chased is not feminism; but power is something you wield and that includes the power to attract a mate — should you want one for keeps or the moment. (And this debate regarding sex & power is one that Third Wave Feminists are still having.)

In any case, less purchases of pajamas and ensembles with pants during the 1920s and 1930s means less of these gorgeous & sophisticated vintage pajama styles are available for purchase today. Which means when you are lucky enough to find it, you’ll pay a pretty price for it. But you should happily do so, for you know-not when you’ll find it again…

Vintage Satin Lounging Pajamas

Vintage Satin Lounging Pajamas

Which brings us to the expression, “the cat’s pajamas” (or “the cat’s pygamas”).

Like “the bee’s knees,” the phrase means something or someone is the best, a charming desirable, splendid or stylish. Unlike the “bee’s knees,” the phrase has been traced to its origins. It was coined in the 20’s by Justin B. Smith, and made popular by cartoonist Tad Dorgan‘s use of the expression. While the word “cat” has a long history of association with women & their wiles, it not surprisingly resurfaced strongly in the roaring 20’s to refer to the unconventional flapper spirit. Combined with the word “pajamas”, for the new fashion trend, the expression captures both the inherent “female nature” as well as the new “masculine” path. Like feminine curves in the straight masculine lines of pajamas, a charming & stylish paradox is achieved. Voila!

The irony, of course, is that while flappers & their pajamas enjoyed a relatively short run at the time, the phrase continued…. From the unflappable flappers to the blushing pin ups to present day.

The Cat's Pajamas Pin Up

The Cat's Pajamas Pin Up

(Note: Thanks to A Slip of a Girl for showing me the pretty vintage illustrations by A. K. MacDonald!)

Rolled Stockings, Bees Knees, And All That Jazz

By , 18 March, 2009, 13 Comments

The first time I heard the song And All That Jazz from the movie Chicago, the line, “I’m gonna rouge my knees. And roll my stockings down,” struck me… Did women once rouge their knees?

Zeta-Jones wearing rolled stockings in Chicago

Zeta-Jones wearing rolled stockings in Chicago

Yes, Virginia, like courtesans who rouged their breasts (or, more accurately, their areolas), flappers heightened the color of, and therefore the attention to, their knees. My guess is though, that they rouged post placement of their stockings. *wink*

1920-flapper-wearing-rolled-stockings

Woman From The 1920s Wearing Rolled Stockings

Why were knees so important? Well, as we (I hope) all know, the 1920’s were about female liberation, especially in terms of fashion. Gone were the bustles and skirts which rendered women unable to enjoy even the simple joy of riding bicycles. Without the bottom part of the hourglass, less emphasis was put on the top half, and corsets which whittled waists and pronounced bust lines were escaped.

Now, I’m not against corsets or figure forming via foundation garments, but if it’s not fashion but rather enforcement which limits activities, akin to foot binding, then I’m not a fan. And to some extent, Victorian dress was as much about women’s place in society as it was the placement of breasts — about the ease and accessibility to life and their own sexuality.

Naturally, such freedom would lead to a mocking fashion frivolity in which women, especially young women, would relish in the abandonment of fashion’s constraints & an exploitation of fashion loopholes such as higher hemlines to express themselves, their attitudes and their intentions to live life fully.

Where once legs and even ankles had remained lily white in the dark shadows of skirts, now flappers dared to bare. They exposed skin to kisses of sunlight, trading the pasty pallor of invalids for the rosy complexions of those who lived life fully. As skin kissed by sunlight is also exposed to kisses from beaus, flappers used bare skin and its coloring to garner attentions and announce intentions. Like bees to flowers, flappers drew admiring glances and those that gave them. They used the natural appeal of revealing what had so recently been forbidden to see — and they used the artificial appeal of cosmetics.

It’s no coincidence that a more portable & easier to apply form of lipstick (in the tube) and other cosmetics (in compacts) were made at this time. And as odd as it may seem to us to color the knees, legs were all the rage so why not color & accentuate them?

Legs were so much the rage in the roaring 20’s that there was even the expression, “the bees knees” which means Its origins aren’t completely clear, but two theories seem possible…

One is that because bees carry pollen back to their hives in sacs found in the middle of their legs (the ‘knee’, if you will), the phrase alludes to the goodness to be found around the bee’s knee. Euphemistically, it’s racy; which certainly fits the 1920’s. And it reminds me of those lines from Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise:

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Speaking of dancers…

Another possibility for the origins of “the bee’s knees” may be found in the dancing legs of Bee Jackson. Jackson, once a member of the Follies, is said to be the first white girl to feature the dance we all associate with the 20’s and flappers, the Charleston.

Dancer Bee Jackson

Dancer Bee Jackson

Bee Jackson went on to become a world Charleston champion and her legs were insured for a whopping $10,000. Surely the glimpses of this Bee’s knees could garner a catchphrase along with admiring glances and erotic thoughts, and inspire other young ladies to dance and to show off their legs with short hemlines.

Obviously, such states of fashionable undress were seen as brazen & inappropriate by many; and not all women dressed (or acted) like flappers. While the moral majority & fashion minority may not have agreed, everyone knew of flappers and rolled stockings. In fact, there was even a 1927 film called Rolled Stockings.

Rolled Stockings Movie Poster

Rolled Stockings Movie Poster

The film stared the fabulous and iconic Louise Brooks as Carol Fleming, the girl two boys — actually brothers — Jim and Ralph Treadway (James Hall, Richard Arlen), fall in love with. The movie is believed to be lost, so not only have I never seen it, but don’t know a soul who has. However, there are a few remnants of its existence, such as promotional photos like this one:

Promotional Louise Brooks Photo

Promotional Louise Brooks Photo

You’ll no doubt notice that lovely Lulu is not wearing rolled stockings — but the irony continues! According to Hal Erickson:

Not unexpectedly, one of the publicity photos taken for this film was a close-up of a pair of rolled stockings, ostensibly filled by the trim legs of Louise Brooks; in fact, Brooks refused to pose for this cheesecake shot, whereupon her legs were “doubled” by her co-star, Nancy Phillips.

Rather strange for a woman who posed for nude photos… I guess completely bare equals “artistic nude” while rolled stocking promotional photos are exploitative? Or maybe she thought rolled stockings ruined the lines of a lady’s leg?

In any case, I can’t find a single photo of Louise with rolled stockings — but here’s one of Louise with her younger sister, June, who is wearing rolled stockings.

Louise Brooks (L) and Sister June (R)

Louise Brooks (L) and Sister June (R)

June looks so sweet — like a young woman wearing knee-highs, not some risqué flapper. But that’s just the way time — and stockings — roll by… *wink*

Reproduction Rolled Stockings Movie Poster

Reproduction Rolled Stockings Movie Poster

Hats Off To Greta Garbo!

By , 12 March, 2009, No Comment

A pictorial salute to the many hats of the legendary & beautiful Greta Garbo.

This photo is of Garbo in The Painted Veil, where she trades the sophisticated turban of a bored & cheating wife for better habits – if not a literal nun’s habit and veil.

Garbo wearing a truban in The Painted Veil

Garbo wearing a turban in The Painted Veil

Garbo as Anna Christie in a (probably not raspberry!) beret. (For some reason, I always look like a frumpy, sloppy mess in a beret. *sigh*)

Greta Garbo as Anna Christie

Greta Garbo as Anna Christie

Garbo sure looks like she has a “cloche” relationship with her mom. *wink*

Garbo and mom 1933

Garbo and mom 1933

This photo of Greta on a yacht could be from The Single Standard

Greta in yachting cap

Greta in yachting cap

The Single Standard is one Garbo film I’ve yet to see, but considered by many to be one of her best films. I’m guessing the reason the film is only available on VHS (and pricey too yet) is because too many folks don’t like the silent films. But I adore them and was hoping the film would be in a Garbo Signature Collection, or TCM’s The Garbo Silents Collection. I continue to hope that TCM or someone puts out a DVD of The Single Standard soon… That would be something to take your hat off for. *wink*

Leopard Print For Sex Kittens

By , 8 January, 2009, 3 Comments

Digging ’round for those non-existent photos of Ann-Margret, I found this photo of her with a leopard.

Ann Margret With Leopard

Ann Margret With Leopard

I thought how very much leopard print is so very vintage glam, suitable for all sex kittens — and since she’s just wearing that black catsuit (or, perhaps, a bodysuit and tights?), she’s just begging to be dressed — why not go shopping for leopard print?

First, the foundation garments: vintage Vanity Fair bra and half-slip set in leopard print.

Vintage Vanity Fair Foundation Garments

Vintage Vanity Fair Foundation Garments

An amazing 1930’s crepe suit-styled dress with faux leopard fur trim.

1930s Crepe Dress With Leopard Print Fake Fur Trim

1930s Crepe Dress With Leopard Print Fake Fur Trim

If you can find a place to wear it, how about this incredible 1940’s silk velvet leopard and golden silk chiffon hostess gown by Dorian?

1940's Leopard Print Hostess Gown

Vintage Leopard Print Hostess Gown

More retro than vintage? You’ll love this very mod 1960’s faux leopard fur trench coat!

Retro Mod 1960s Faux Fur Leopard Coat

Retro Mod 1960s Faux Fur Leopard Coat

Of course, when we dress, we must remember to undress… This black vintage Vanity Fair nightgown has a pretty leopard print bodice.

Vintage Vanity Fair Black and Leopard Print Gown

Vintage Vanity Fair Black and Leopard Print Gown

And underneath everything here (and anywhere), how about these Pussycat panties? They’re modern made by Cameo Intimates, but so cute you’ll want to slip them under your vintage fashions — and with those garters you can wear real stockings!

Leopard Print Panties With Garters

Leopard Print Panties With Garters

PS I’d like to express a word of caution regarding this post about selling your unwanted jewelry. While it’s true that gold is seeing record highs, I, like Val Ubell (cute pen name!), worry about the amount of vintage jewelry which will be lost. So please, think twice!

Winging In From Spain In The 1930s

By , 5 January, 2009, No Comment

I’ve never seen Kid From Spain (1932), but this photo makes me yearn to see it — as soon as possible!

Toby Wing in Kid From Spain

Toby Wing in Kid From Spain

Who cares about the film’s plot when there’s such style!

This image, and 12 other photos of women wearing lingerie in vintage films, here.