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Archive for ‘1950s’

Circle Skirts Are Conversation Skirts

By , 25 September, 2009, 4 Comments

Another vintage fashion photo by Nina Leen, this one, titled Conversation Skirts, features circle skirts. (I think every mom could use a “play skirt” with trains or cars for occupying little ones!)

Conversation Skirts

Conversation Skirts

Even more fabulous in color!  (Wouldn’t you just love to see more of that weight-lifting one?! )

Fabulous Nina Leen Circle Skirt Color Photo

Fabulous Nina Leen Circle Skirt Color Photo

Dizzy For Kim Novak’s Look In Vertigo?

By , 24 September, 2009, No Comment

For all the things which ail us in Vergito, there’s one thing I and my fellow film-fashion-istas agree upon and that is being haunted by the lovely Kim Novak.

Gazing Upon Kim Novak's Beauty Gazing Upon Another Beauty In Vertigo

Gazing Upon Kim Novak's Beauty Gazing Upon Another Beauty In Vertigo

While none of us would be as creepy as Jimmy Stewart and force another woman to look just like Novak, we do all admit there would be nothing wrong with emulating Kim’s iconic look in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Perhaps the look that most accentuates Novak’s fair and classic beauty in a most decidedly nostalgic and dreamy way is that grey suit — yes, that grey suit that Stewart menacingly stalks and deplorably directs his new girl into wearing.

Kim Novak In Iconic Grey Suit In Vertigo

Kim Novak In Iconic Grey Suit In Vertigo

The little grey suit has it’s own story which explains why the ensemble was so suit-ed to Novak’s role as Madeleine Elster. Director Alfred Hitchcock wanted to give Madeleine’s clothing — and therefore herself — an eerie appearance. So costume designer Edith Head selected the grey suit, saying it would be “odd” for a blonde woman to be wearing all grey, as it can tend to wash a fair woman’s complexion. This, along with some other details, would have the desired, “eerie” and haunting effects.

In order for that suit, or any similarly styled grey suit in a curve-accentuating classic vintage style to really work on Novak in such a way, Novak had to be a blonde. But not just any blonde. Neither a brassy yellow or a bright and bold platinum would work; Novak’s hair would have to be a lovely ashy-blonde.

Ashy Not Brassy Blonde Novak in Vertigo

Ashy Not Brassy Blonde Novak in Vertigo

And Kim — as the sough-after lost-lover, Madeleine — has demure lady-like makeup in neutral ashy tones of taupe, grey and light peach lips. This prevailing ash-tone-wash of color is continued in Madeleine’s ensemble — her gloves, for example, are taupe, not, as her pumps are, a contrasting black.

Overall, this use of tonal-wash is much like today’s use of pastels in set & costuming to create the feel of a black and white film. The more subtle colors lend themselves to a washed-out “living in the shades and shadows of grey” look which mimics classic black and white film (save, perhaps, for the film noir style) and when applied to just one character, makes them pale by comparison in ways which draw attention and make them seem less real at the same time.

Why then would Madeleine’s shoes be black? More “eerie” and off-putting by design. Not only would black pumps seem fashion-backward in the 1950’s world of matching accessories (and therefore more “odd”), but Hitchcock had other reasons which likely mirrored, in an odd way, Novak’s personal fashion thoughts on shoes (Novak believed your shoes should “match your head,” as you’ll soon see). It is my opinion, that the black shoes are the one thing that anchor Novak in those scenes as Madeleine; they are the one thing that tether her eerie and ethereal beauty to the world — Jimmy Stewart’s world and the viewer’s.

When playing Judy, however, not all of Madeleine’s fashion and makeup tricks were used. For example, the same neutral ashen cosmetic tones may be applied when Novak’s alter-ego (or true self, Judy Barton) is forced to have a make-over — but note that Judy’s eyebrows are fuller and darker, the eye make-up still more defined, that the soft blurred and blended regal yet ethereal beauty of phantom Madeleine.

Kim Novak as Judy as Madeleine in Vertigo

Kim Novak as Judy as Madeleine in Vertigo

If you are film fashion obsessed like I am, you might enjoy this interview Kim Novak did with Stephen Rebello for The MacGuffin (2004), in which Kim discussed her Vertigo wardrobe:

SR: Costume designer Edith Head was quoted as saying that you arrived on the set with all sorts of preconceived notions about what you would and wouldn’t wear.
KN: I was always opinionated. Once we were making Vertigo, Hitchcock never questioned anything about what I was doing character-wise. Before shooting started, he sent me over to Edith Head, who showed me a set of drawings. When I saw them, the very first thing I said was, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t wear black shoes.’ When she said, ‘Alfred Hitchcock wants you to wear these shoes,’ I said, ‘I’m sure he doesn’t mind.’ I didn’t think it would matter to him what kind of shoes I wore. I had never had a director who was particular about the costumes, the way they were designed, the specific colors. The two things he wanted the most were those shoes and that gray suit. When Edith Head showed me that gray suit, I said, “Oh, my god, that looks like it would be very hard to act in. It’s very confining.’ Then, when we had the first fitting of the dress, it was even worse and I said, ‘This is so restrictive.’ She said, ‘Well, maybe you’d better talk to Alfred Hitchcock about this.’

SR: How did that conversation go?
KN: I went in and he said, ‘I understand you don’t like these black shoes.’ He asked me why and I said, ‘I tell you, black shoes always sort of make me feel I’m pulled down. I’ve always felt that your feet should be the same as the top of your head, so that you’re connected. Wearing the black shoes would make me feel as if I were disconnected.’ He heard me out. And then he said, ‘Fine. When you play the role of Judy, you will not have to wear black shoes. When you are playing Madeleine, you will wear them.’ When he put it like that — after all, he’s the director – I said, ‘OK.’

SR: How did being opinionated lead to any other disagreements between you and Hitchcock?
KN: I really wanted the chance to express myself and he allowed me that chance. It felt OK because he had heard me out. He felt my reasons weren’t good enough, they weren’t right. I just wanted to be heard as far as what I felt. So, I thought, ‘I’ll live with the grey suit.’ I also thought, ‘I’m going to use this. I can make this work for me. Because it bothers me, I’ll use it and it can help me feel like I’m having to be Madeleine, that I’m being forced to be her. I’ll have it as my energy to play against.’ It worked. That suit and those shoes were a blessing. I was constantly reminded that I was not being myself, which made it right for Madeleine. When I went out of Alfred Hitchcock’s office, I remember his wonderful smile when he said, ‘I’m so glad we had this talk.’ I think he saw that this was going to be good. He didn’t say to me, ‘Now use that,’ he allowed me to arrive at that myself.

SR: Was it your idea not to wear a bra when you played Judy.
KN: That’s right, when I played Judy, I never wore a bra. It killed me having to wear a bra as Madeleine but you had to because they had built the suit so that you had to stand very erect or you suddenly were not ‘in position.’ They made that suit very stiff. You constantly had to hold your shoulders back and stand erect. But, oh that was so perfect. That suit helped me find the tools for playing the role. It was wonderful for Judy because then I got to be without a bra and felt so good again. I just felt natural. I had on my own beige shoes and that felt good. Hitchcock said, ‘Does that feel better?’ I said, ‘Oh, yes, thank you so much.’ But then, I had to play ‘Madeleine’ again when Judy had to be made over again by Scottie into what she didn’t want to be. I could use that, again, totally for me, not just being made over into Madeleine but into Madeleine who wore that ghastly gray suit. The clothes alone were so perfect, they were everything I could want as an actress.

SR: The short haircut you usually wore in your films was copied by women all around the world. Why did Hitchcock make you wear wigs in Vertigo?
KN: That’s right, my hair was short at that time in my career and Hitchcock wanted that perfect pulled-back hair. I already hated that gray suit and then having to go through putting on that wig with a false front — again made me feel so trapped inside this person who was desperately wanting to break out of it but she was so caught up in the web of deception that she couldn’t. The fear of not being loved if she didn’t have on these clothes or wore her hair in a certain way — oh, god, she had nothing left but to kill herself in the bell tower.

The Two Faces Of Novak In Vertigo

The Two Faces Of Novak In Vertigo

Lessons In Vertigo (Hitchcock’s Vertigo, That Is!)

By , 22 September, 2009, 3 Comments

Vertigo (1958), with James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is another “classic film” you may have heard so much about that you’ve possibly avoided it — but that’s not its only problem.

Now 51 years old, Vertigo is a film which has long been playing on late night on television — a position that puts films into the easily dismissed pile, not only for its too-frequent showings, but an air time left to insomniacs and after-bar munchies-eating persons who turn TV on for some noise once back in a too-quiet house. The results are that a film that most people know is a called a classic is now either too old and junky to watch or a film they’ve seen bits & pieces of and were unimpressed.

Sadly, my previous viewings of Vertigo were of the post-bar & trying to fall asleep variety and so were admittedly hampered. While I knew I wasn’t giving the film a proper viewing, I was very bored. For this reason, when my movie club suggested Vertigo, I wrinkled my nose — but once it was suggested as a Classic Schmassic, I had no way out.

Vertigo Film Poster

Vertigo Film Poster

Vertigo is a rather stylish movie, but it moves slowly…

One one hand, you have lovely details — both for fans of vintage and character points for story lovers. (Early on I was most in love with Bel Geddes who, despite her often poorly written lines, earnestly tugs are your heartstrings; the lack of sexual tension made utterly clear as Stewart takes a look at lingerie artist/designer Bel Geddes’ work.)

Stewart Doesn't Seem To Care About Bel Geddes' Bra

Stewart Doesn't Seem To Care About Bel Geddes' Bra

But on the other, you can’t help but feel a bit impatient for the famous Hitchcock to get going. And even when Hitchcock does get going there are problems.

Novak Clutching Stewart in Vertigo

Novak Clutching Stewart in Vertigo

First, there was the fact that I knew we, as an audience, have become much more sophisticated in our mystery-suspense movie watching. No, it’s not that we wanted more special effects and higher body counts (as if!), but I figured even my 9 year old would figure out the secret identity switcher-roo and basic plot premise. I’m not boasting that my children are gifted; simply too experienced with (and perhaps even jaded by) mystery and suspense films (and books) today to not guess the plot. Maybe audiences back then were too, maybe this was Hitchcock’s intent; I don’t know and I leave such matters to film critics and the like. But I do know that once I got my kids past the slowly unfolding story to a plot they could easily guess, they’d be bored.

This leads us to the second problem.

After the slow-moving pace and the spoon-fed clues, Hitchcock suddenly jerks us like a fish in a line. Stewart is in the mental ward; then he’s out of it. Me and my film-watching friends asked, “Is he dreaming this?” “Is he out?” “Is he out of the ward or out of his mind?”

Stewart is both.

Out of the hospital and out of his mind, Stewart can’t stop looking for the girl he believes is dead, finding Novak’s face and figure in nearly every woman he sees. When he finds her, he doesn’t seem any less crazy because while we know it’s Novak he doesn’t — yet he forces this woman to dress and look like the doomed lady he loves.

Key Players In Vertigo: Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak Times-Two

Key Players In Vertigo: Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak Times-Two

As a woman, these scenes are very uncomfortable to watch and Stewart goes from poor dupe to manipulative, controlling, and abusive boyfriend.

Like how Bel Geddes was just dropped from the film, it may all be done to swing audience favor from Stewart to Novak; but it’s not pretty. Watching Novak be transformed is not a blossoming; it is not movie magic reuniting lovers; it is disturbing and creepy and misogynistic.

And then, when Stewart realizes how he’s been duped, he doesn’t feel pity towards Novak. His anger, aggression and abuse may be the catalyst for curring the very acrophobia which led to his victimization, but it’s not healing; this too is ugly.

Perhaps Stewart would have come around, could have come around (as we the audience would have if we were clued in on a few things, such as the plot holes), but what happens next left all of us sputtering. It wasn’t mere surprise at a (finally) unexpected film twist — it just didn’t seem to make any sense.

“Did his film budget run out?”
“Did we miss something in the back story — all those spoon-fed bread-crumbs?”
“Are we dumb?”

A serious WTF? movie moment — and then the film ends.

My first thought whilst writing a review of Vertigo in my head was, “Watch it and be surprised!” but while actually writing this review, I find myself feeling cheated. And angry. Should a sudden and inexplicable WTF? ending equate to a good mystery and/or suspense? Can you call a film “classic” when the mystery and suspense are so out of character and random that it feels slapped-together?

When the film was originally released, theatre goers didn’t care for Hitchcock’s Vertigo; but since then, film critics have lauded the film classic status, placing it on Top 100 and even Top 10 lists. These film critics have said that audiences didn’t understand the film, didn’t appreciate Hitchcock’s work. But I think the original audiences had it right and that the film critics wrap Hitchcock’s status around the film and make it something it’s not.

Bel Geddes Tries To Make Herself Something She's Not

Bel Geddes Tries To Make Herself Something She's Not

Stewart did a fine job of making himself unlikable (no easy task); Novak may never have done such fine dramatic work as she beautifully did in her two complicated roles; and Bel Geddes was (surprisingly to those of us who only knew her as the aged matriarch of TV’s Dallas) simply heartbreakingly wonderful as the taken-for-granted-girl-who-is-a friend-but-not-a-girlfriend. Had Hitchcock only crafted a real ending that made sense — or left us some of those giant bread crumbs to follow into whatever madness he was thinking — Vertigo could have been good, grand even…

As it is, I suspect you’d have to be a male to look past the creepy misogyny and slapped-on ending to appreciate Vertigo; this is one classic I’m still calling a schmassic.

Quick Beauty News, March, 1950

By , 15 September, 2009, No Comment

In the March 27, 1950 issue of Quick magazine, news about Max Factor’s latest invention:

Hand It To Max Factor

The cosmetic maker who invented pancake make-up scored another “first” with a new purse dispenser for hand-lotion ($1). This lipstick-sized container (l.) holds a week’s supply of lotion, released by a simple tap and refilled from the “World of Beauty,” another $1 container for the dressing table. (At cosmetic counters.)

Vintage Max Factor News

Vintage Max Factor News

The Death of “New Look” Fashions & Other Fashion Predictions (1950)

By , 10 September, 2009, No Comment

This juicy fashion tidbit comes from the March 27, 1950 issue of Quick Magazine:

Hollywood designer Adrian, disregarding Pairs and N.Y., pronounced that there will be no drastic change in the daytime silhouette for the next 50 years, added that the death of the “New Look” proved that attempting to insinuate violent fashion changes in modern times is futile.

Adrian's Fashion Prediction, 1950

Adrian's Fashion Prediction, 1950

Adrian, costumer for Irving Berlin and Cecil B. DeMille productions as well as Valentino films, is said to have been “responsible for creating and refining the images of actresses such as Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow and his favorite, Greta Garbo” — but clearly he was off the mark with such sentiments & statements about the death of New Look fashions and “violent fashion changes” being futile in modern times.

From our lovely vantage point of having seen not only Adrian’s future but the very 50 years he spoke of become history, one cannot avoid questioning the story that is told of this designer… No matter how lovely his work was — and it was lovely, just look at the gowns in 1939’s The Women — you have to more critically look at the story here.

Adrian Gowns, The Women (1939)

Adrian Gowns, The Women (1939)

The story goes that Adrian, frustrated by WWII’s smaller film budgets and shifting values, took up his own fashion design label & shop where he could more freely & grandly express himself & his glamour ideals. Adrian, Ltd. was born:

When Adrian decided to leave the world of costume design in 1941 and open Adrian Ltd, he could have had no knowledge of how perfect his timing would prove to be. With the Nazi invasion of Paris in 1940, all contact with the French fashion industry halted. As nearly all American designers based their designs on those originating from Paris, the absence of information from France created a fashion vacuum. American designers stepped up to the plate, and soon began to create fashions based on an idealized American lifestyle. These new fashions were often casual, practical and made of durable fabrics. Both New York and Los Angeles fought for the title of “America’s Fashion Capitol.” The February 19, 1941 title of a Los Angeles Times article declared, “East and West Struggle for Fashion Dictatorship,” and suggested that Los Angeles would win the battle, ultimately becoming “more powerful in its sway over the civilized world than Paris ever thought of being.”

Adrian debuted his first collection for buyers in January of 1942 at the May Company department store in Los Angeles. Buyers were not particularly excited about this initial collection, so Adrian held another show in February of the same year. This show was a great success and Adrian was soon selling his designs in department stores throughout the country.

But as we, with all due respect (because I do love Adrian’s work!), look at the context here: one clearly sees an aging fashion designer struggling with changing times and fashions.

On one hand, we must admire Adrian for taking a stand for glamour by saying, “It was because of Garbo that I left M-G-M. In her last picture they wanted to make her a sweater girl, a real American type. I said, ‘When the glamour ends for Garbo, it also ends for me. She has created a type. If you destroy that illusion, you destroy her.’ When Garbo walked out of the studio, glamour went with her, and so did I.”

On the other, we have to recognize that Harlow & Garbo, these were not the forms and fashions — nor even the female ideal — of the 1940s & beyond.

Refusing to change his views, his fashion statements, Adrian was able to exploit his status as a famous Hollywood costumer to a (wealthy) public hungry for fashion — and if they wouldn’t readily accept it, he could afford to hold on & push it with such little competition. But New Look fashions continued until, approximately, the mid 1960’s, years after Adrian’s death in 1959 — and there sure were violent fashion changes after that. Perhaps those statements by Adrian from the 1950 magazine clipping sound more desperate than simply catty now; they do to me.

If all this sounds cynical or unkind, I don’t mean it to be; I’m simply pointing out that fashion is both a commerce & an ideal, both of which sit within the context of culture at a specific time — and must change as the culture/times change. You can manipulate, you can create, you can even exploit conditions such as limited competition; but you cannot stubbornly refuse to change and still go on forever.

Help For Creating 1950s Hair

By , 4 September, 2009, No Comment

At Flickr, signs and wonders has posted this lovely page from a 1953 self-published instruction manual on hair styling featuring instructions and photographs for creating a classic comb-out.

How To Create A 1950's Basic Hair Comb-Out

How To Create A 1950's Basic Hair Comb-Out

Film Options Are Like Predictions: Made, But Not Always Fruitful

By , 2 September, 2009, No Comment

Also in those 1949 Quick predictions, a prediction that puzzles me…

Front-Page Movie: One of the 1950’s most exciting films will be made from Bob Sylvester’s yet-to-be-published novel, Second Oldest Profession. Four studios are bidding for it — a shocker about a reporter who rises to editor.

The novel was published, as titled, by Robert Sylvester in 1950 — and, according to what I could see in journalism chatter, the book included the ethical dilemma of “an advice columnist who gets actively involved with reader.” The paperback, at least, sensationalized the newsman’s novel with a bawdy cover and tag line: “Hard Men and Soft Women in the World’s Roughest Business.”

Just the sort of romantic film fodder you could envision from vintage Hollywood, right? But what happened to the film…

There’s evidence that 20th Century-Fox bought the rights to Sylvester’s book in the April 4th, 1950 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

And in the April 1, 1950 issue of Boxoffice (under Four Literary Purchases Recorded for the Week, page 30), there’s this brief but detailed report:

To 20th Century-Fox went “The Second Oldest Profession,” a novel by Robert Sylvester and concerned with the newspaper business. With Otto Preminger assigned to produce – and – direct, the vehicle is being shaped as a starring subject for Gregory Peck when he returns to the U.S. from his current British assignment, Warners’ “Captain Horatio Hornblower”

Boxoffice, April 1, 1950

Boxoffice, April 1, 1950

But I’ve never heard of a film titled The Second Oldest Profession — and even if 20th Century-Fox would have opted to skip the promotional favor of a recognizable title, I can’t find any film by either Preminger or Peck which fits the bill… Even Robert Sylvester’s IMDB record is bereft of any mention of The Second Oldest Profession.

So, for all the fanfare & the bidding war, I guess the film was never made? If you know otherwise, I’d love to hear from you — otherwise it’s just one more prediction Quick seems to have gotten wrong.

Vintage Suit With Strong Lines

By , 27 August, 2009, No Comment

This 50s wool serge suit by Emery Bird Thayer (Bass, New York) appears to be as straight-forward as those pieced stripes… But look closer and you’ll see all the details which add up to such fantastic style: an Italian-style collar, bold but balanced buttons, a feminine but understated peplum, small shoulder pads, over a slim, dart-fitted, knee-length skirt.

Vintage 1950s Women's Striped Suit At Rusty Zipper

Vintage 1950s Women's Striped Suit At Rusty Zipper

And it completely seams seems like something Barbara Stanwyck would wear…

Barbara Stanwyck In Bold Geometric Suit

Barbara Stanwyck In Bold Geometric Suit

The Story Of Circle & Poodle Skirts Continues

By , 16 August, 2009, 4 Comments

Continuing the story of the circle skirt… The story began with a simple skirt Juli Lynne Charlot made for a Christmas party (not the actual circle skirt shown here, but how cute is that?!) and the skirts were quickly transformed into a multitude of novelty themes.

1950s Christmas Themed Circle Skirt

1950s Christmas Themed Circle Skirt

Fashion legend says that at some point it was suggested to Charlot that she put animals, including poodles, onto her skirts and that when Charlot did so, the popularity of the circle skirts increased greatly — which has led to the skirts being called poodle skirts.

In fashion reality (or at least by my own personal definition), poodle skirts are different than novelty circle skirts… And fit a different market or fashion niche. As we shall see.

While adult women did wear novelty circle skirts, especially in the beginning,the heavily petticoated novelty skirts (what I call poodle skirts) quickly became not only de rigeur for girls, but seen mainly as a fashion trend for the youth.

The poodle skirt craze among teens is often attributed to those new rock n roll dances; teens found the big circle skirts enchanting while dancing. But it’s quite probable that mom & dad preferred their Kitten to wear a longer full skirt that hid at least part of her figure (especially when stuffed with crinolines and petticoats to prevent anything more being seen) to the more fitted along the hips structured fashions; watch Kitten’s skirt swing, not her hips sway. *wink*

(Of course, the irony was that fuller skirts looked like fuller, more womanly, hips and that boys dreamed of ladies’ underthings, so…)

But let’s not overlook the marketing machine in all of this either…

10 Year Old Girl Wearing Poodle Skirt, Christmas, 1954

10 Year Old Girl Wearing Poodle Skirt, Christmas, 1954

During the 1950’s, companies began to court the youth market as they never had before. This shift in attention to teens had fashions, like the poodle skirts, forcefully marketed to young girls rather than the former long history of marketing fashions to adult women. The proof of this can be seen in the ephemera trail which shows that ads for poodle skirts in magazines published for teens clearly outnumbered those in publications for women (which focused on less voluminous circle skirts).

There were other factors for the popularity of poodle skirts for teens too.

In the 1950’s you also had less of an emphasis on sewing as a skill for women. More ready to wear, priced more affordably, began to edge out the need to know how to sew. Girls still took the sewing classes, but they knew far less & had less interest in sewing as their mothers did. (The difference between my grandmother & mother’s ability to sew may only seem anecdotal; but I assure you, it was happening all over the atomic 50’s suburbs!)

However, the ease of making a circle skirt, and the influx of printed novelty fabrics that allowed one to make a circle skirt without even having to sew on appliques, tempted those teen girls… She could save a few dollars by making her own skirt rather than buying one — do that a few times, and Kitten ends up with more skirts for the same amount of Daddy’s money. *wink*

Also, speaking contextually of women’s lives and fashion at the time, it’s easy to see how such full, un-tailored skirts would seem unfamiliar — perhaps even ill-fitting — to a woman wearing more traditional fashions at the time. Even the full skirted New Look fashions had a more tailored, refined look about the hips (and either had shorter crinolined skirt lengths, or longer skirts with voluminous folds or a softer “outness”), indicating the more mature woman’s sophistication and duties in life as compared to their whimsical, dancing daughters.

Mother & Daughter, Wearing Different Fashions, Waving Goodby To Daddy In The 1950s

Mother & Daughter, Wearing Different Fashions, Waving Goodby To Daddy In The 1950s

Of course, this lack of tailored appearance was part of the design; if circle skirts had required more seams, Charlot never would have made one! (Nor would the idea of circle skirts have been so readily snapped up by the Mexican souvenir making market, which realized a full skirt with a simple waistband, zipper or no, was not only easier & cheaper to make, but required less actual sizes to be made than tailored or more accurately sized skirts — another reason why such souvenir circle skirts with novelty prints or details are still made today.)

1951 Wide Wool Skirt (And Jeresy Top) Ad

1951 Wide Wool Skirt (And Jeresy Top) Ad

All of these things created a schism, of sorts, leaving poodle skirts and circle skirts with more flirtatious petticoats a far more fashionable dress for teens & young women than for their mothers & grandmothers.

In short, the poodle skirt was one of the very first “too young for you” fashions.

Of the authentic vintage circle novelty skirts that remain, the waists are typically smaller & hems shorter; percentage wise what’s left indicates that the fashion was a marketplace primarily for teens and younger women. What this means for vintage fashion collectors and the fashionistas who covet authentic 1950’s poodle skirts & vintage novelty circle skirts is that it’s slim pickings on the full skirts with novelty prints, appliques, embroidery & other details.

Vintage Embroidered Circle Skirt

Vintage Embroidered Circle Skirt

But the good news remains that circle skirts are in fact very easy to make. You can purchase a circle skirt pattern, old or new — and don’t overlook making them in Charlot’s original manner either: Just cut a circle from fabric, make a hole in the waist, and decorate!

Still to come… How to wear circle skirts!

Vintage Butterick Circle Skirt Pattern

Vintage Butterick Circle Skirt Pattern

Not Circle Skirting The Origins Of The Circle Skirt

By , 14 August, 2009, 4 Comments

The only thing more fun than vintage & retro novelty print dresses are circle skirts — you may know them as “poodle skirts,” even if the themes haven’t all gone to the dogs.

Vintage Red Poodle Skirt

Vintage Red Poodle Skirt

What you may not know is that the credit for the circle skirt, or at least its popularity, is attributed to one woman, Juli Lynne Charlot. A woman who described herself as “unable to sew” in an interview in a UP article, Girl Who Couldn’t Sew Booms Into Business With Circle Skirt, published in the Toledo Blade, February 25, 1953.

Five years before this article, in 1947, 25 year old Juli Lynne Charlot made a skirt to wear to a Los Angeles holiday party by cutting a big circle of felt with a hole in the middle to fit her own waist and appliqued “whimsical felt Christmas tress” to it to wear to a Los Angeles holiday party. According to that news article:

I cut it out of felt, because I didn’t know how to sew, and that was the only material I knew wide enough to cut a complete circle skirt without any seams.

(Also worth noting, I think, is Charlot’s description of her own appearance. As was the norm in newspapers, from fashion pieces to crime stories, the clothing, hairstyle & appearance of those featured in the stories were greatly detailed. In this case, the now 30 year old Charlot “counters” what the reporter sees with a visual description of her 25 year old self, saying she was “a big girl — I was just plain fat and frumpy when I made that first skirt.” Why is this worth noting? Well, for one it serves as a reminder to read old magazines and newspapers for clues to what was actually worn rather than trusting the ads; two, it suggests that circle skirts are flattering on any figure; and three, it shows Charlot as a rather self-deprecating woman — at least as a young designer.)

Anyway, just one week after the holiday party, Charlot sold her Christmas circle skirt because she needed the money. From there, demand grew. Charlot put herself in “designing school to learn how to sew” as well as managed to save enough money to start her own factory.

Juli Lynne Charlot Label

Juli Lynne Charlot Label

Charlot had orders, but her business struggled to pay the bills. “I can’t do arithmetic. Mother hocked her diamond ring three weeks in a row to help me meet the payroll,” she said in that 1953 interview. Charlot & her factory struggled until, the story goes, an unnamed New York dress manufacturer visited Charlot, found her in tears, and invested in Charlot’s factory, allowing the designer to more successfully continue to make her whimsical & constantly changing felt designs applied on felt (in winter) and poplin (in summer) skirts, like this stunning Parisian themed circle skirt.

Vintage Circle Skirt With French Theme By Juli Lynne Charlot

Vintage Circle Skirt With French Theme By Juli Lynne Charlot

Just one year prior to this 1953 newspaper article, Juli Lynne Charlot designs were so successful that one of them appeared in a national ad campaign for Maidenform bras.

I Dreamed I Went To The Races In My Maidenform Bra Ad (1952)

I Dreamed I Went To The Races In My Maidenform Bra Ad (1952)

Part of Maidenform’s famous & iconic “I Dreamed…” ad campaign, this 1952 ad shows a Juli Lynne Charlot race horse themed circle skirt on a model who has dreamed she was at the races.

In what can only be described by me as a “Holy Crap!” fashion moment, the skirt shown in the ad was available for sale at AntiqueDress.com.

Vintage Juli Lynne Charlot Circle Skirt

Vintage Juli Lynne Charlot Circle Skirt

Speaking with the lovely Deborah Burke, the owner of AntiqueDress.com, I confirmed that the iconic Juli Lynne Charlot horse racing circle skirt sold two years ago for $665. I can only imagine the delight of owing such a special skirt… It’s exactly this the sort of thing that keeps me searching for vintage fashions.

Come back, because I’ve got more to the story of circle skirts comin’ up next week!

Vintage Horse Racing Circle Skirt Featured In Maidenform Ad

Vintage Horse Racing Circle Skirt Featured In Maidenform Ad