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Posts tagged ‘retro’

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

Swingin’ Chicks Of The 60’s

By , 31 July, 2009, No Comment
Swingin' Chicks Of The 60's

Swingin' Chicks Of The 60's

Swingin’ Chicks of the 60s, by Chris Strodder with foreword by Angie Dickinson, is “a tribute to 101 of the decade’s defining women.” A large claim, but Chris Strodder really knows his ladies!

An over-sized paperback done more in a mod magazine style than a traditionally slick coffee table format, it’s full of beach girls, blonde beauties, Elvis girls, models, television stars, singers, American, British & international movie stars, as well as cartoon chicks.

You get photos (because some of the photos were from private collections many of them were new to me), information on each chick’s reason for fame, her style and a bio. I particularly liked the ‘Bonus Swingability’ sections which share little known facts, such as who was up for what roles and the information on official websites.

Swingin’ Chicks of the 60’s is as much of a thrill for those who remember these women as it is for those who are new to them.

Know Your Vintage Lucite Purses? Help Please!

By , 27 July, 2009, 5 Comments

Kim & her family are cleaning out her grandmother’s home and she brought home about 20 vintage plastic purses she believes are Lucite (along with about 50 other vintage and antique purses), and after spotting my guide to vintage Lucite purses, asked for some additional help.

Like I told Kim, I’m not an expert; I’ve possess far more “book learnin'” & information from other collectors about these pretty babies than actual purses, so while I’ll share what I know, I ask that those of you in the know please add your two cents.

(Since Kim has so many purses (lucky ducky!) and even more questions, I’ll be breaking these up into smaller, more specific posts — so if you love these vintage purses, &/or have knowledge to share, please keep checking back!)

First up, Kim wonders if any of us can help her identify the maker of this confetti Lucite purse with metal handles, “It isn’t marked anywhere and I’ve not seen anything close to it in all the pics I’ve looked at.”

Kims' Vintage Confetti Lucite Purse With Metal Handles

Kims' Vintage Confetti Lucite Purse With Metal Handles

Personally, I’m at a loss; there were quite a number of makers, and as I said in the guide, if the purses were marked, most of the tags have fallen of with age… If you have any help or suggestions, please share in the comments!

Don Knotts As Hugh Hefner?

By , 15 July, 2009, No Comment

That’s the role Knotts has in The Love God? (1969) — a mocking romp of magazines, obscenity law, and the sexual revolution.

Don Knotts As The Love God

Don Knotts As The Love God

In the film, Don Knotts plays the prim & proper publisher of The Peacock (a nature magazine devoted to birds — of the feathered variety) who mistakenly becomes the pigeon to a smut publisher has lost his own mailing rights due to obscenity. Now that he’s unwittingly traded birds for chicks, he becomes the publication’s reluctant & geeky publicity tool. While he enjoys the attention, he quickly is forced to choose between the playboy’s lifestyle & fame and the only “bird” he wants in his hand, his true-blue girl back home. (Awwww!)

The Love God? is a cheeky film, full of retro fashions & fun, but it also seems to capture the contrasts of the 60’s — affectionately mocking both the conservative & the liberal, the hip & square. Forty years later, the irony is that most of these “sides” are still at odds with one another. That, and Hugh Hefner now looks a lot like Don Knotts *wink*

A Guide To Vintage Lucite Purses

By , 9 July, 2009, 25 Comments

I’ve long admired vintage Lucite purses — I say “admired” because these rare babies keep me at arm’s length with their hefty price tags and my fear of damaging them while using them. Don’t get me wrong; their rarity completely warrants the digits on tags. In fact, I don’t see them at antique stores or vintage fashion shops very often, and even online, they can be difficult to find. (All of this only reinforces my fear of using them.)

Anyway, because I don’t see them very often anymore, I was surprised to find not one but two sellers at my local antique mall selling multiple old Lucite purses; so I snapped some pics.

Vintage Lucite Purses

Vintage Lucite Purses

Shopping for vintage Lucite purses becomes even more thrilling when you consider the vast array of styles, shapes and colors these vintage purses came in. And that’s part of the challenge too — as with most fabulous vintage finds, when you fall in love with one, rest assured, finding another just like it is no picnic.

Of course, you can always fall in love again with another, right? (But trust me, your heart will still ache for that long lost love…)

pretty-vintage-lucite-purses

Because I do far more longing for & playing peek-a-boo with vintage plastic handbags, I know more about them than a non-owner or non-collector should…

Here are Thirteen Things About Vintage Lucite Purses

1. While we collectively call these vintage purses “Lucite purses,” there’s a bit of irony to the name. Technically the purses are made of Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) poly(methyl 2-methylpropenoate), a thermoplastic and transparent plastic first patented by German chemist Otto Röhm in the early 1930’s and sold under the name Plexiglass. Lucite is the registered name of DuPont‘s acrylic:

Both DuPont and Rohm & Haas licensed the process and began commercial production in 1936. Lucite®, however, never generated substantial earnings for DuPont. Since it was that company’s primary product, Rohm & Haas was able to commit more resources to Plexiglas® and it consistently undercut DuPont in price.

While DuPont claims poor earnings for Lucite, it’s the name we give to these beautiful vintage plastic purses.

2. Some people mistake Lucite for Bakelite. This is easy for novices to do, but once you’ve held both old plastics, you can more easily discern between the two. Deanna Dahlsad says:

[Lucite] has a slicker feel and is lighter than Bakelite. Like Bakelite, it would be rare to find a piece with mold marks or seams. Generally speaking, Lucite comes in bright colors and patterns that are not seen in Bakelite. Sometimes in darker colors it is confused with Bakelite. However, if you’ve done the Bakelite tests (and feel the piece does not have a damaged or altered finish), the piece is likely Lucite. “No smelli, Plexi” is what I say.

(Her article on identifying and caring for vintage plastics contains the referred to Bakelite tests.)

3. The most expensive Lucite purses were made by Wilardy of New York and once they were showcased in major department stores throughout the country, as a cheaper alternative to leather handbags. Some of the best Lucite purse designers were Rialto, Llewllyn, Charles S. Kahn, Gilli Originals, Patricia of Miami, Evans, and Myles & Maxim. Over time, of course, many cheaper versions, including knock-offs, were made. Most companies marked their handbag creations on the inside, with a stamp on the metal frames or by affixing a clear or paper label — but over the years many of the clear labels have fallen off, making identification & attribution difficult — both for Lucite purses by famous makers and even for identifying other makers of vintage Lucite purses.

4. There are many opaque or translucent colors of Lucite purses. While many agree the carved clear plastic is the most beautiful, it is far from practical in terms of use. Because it’s clear, you can see everything inside & most ladies prefer the contents of their handbags & clutches to be secret.

Vintage Clear Carved Lucite Purse From Iwannas

Vintage Clear Carved Lucite Purse From Iwannas

(You can see Marie Windsor displaying a clear carved Lucite purse — and the contents if it! — here.)

5. The most popular (and therefore pricey) color of vintage Lucite purses seems to be the tortoiseshell — followed closely by amber. My guess is that, along with being so pretty, the darker brown colors are more practical both in terms of keeping the purse’s contents hidden and, like brown leather, very easily mixed into one’s wardrobe.

Vintage Tortoiseshell Lucite Purse

Vintage Tortoiseshell Lucite Purse

Vintage Amber Lucite Purse

Vintage Amber Lucite Purse

Of course, the near rainbow of available colors, means fashionistas and collectors are always looking for the unusual shades, such as pearlized pastels and always-in-fashion black.

6. Vintage Lucite purses come in many shapes too. There are square & rectangular “box” styles, ovals, trapezoid, cylinders, “kidney” shapes, “beehives,” scalloped shaped “kidney” clutches… Some vintage Lucite purses will have “lids” that open, others open like “clams.” Most have Lucite handles, but some will have straps of chain or other material.

7. Along with the myriad of color choices & shapes, Lucite purses are often embellished with carvings, metal work (not just clasps, hinges & feet, but fancy filigree and woven metal work), and/or rhinestones, confetti, shells, flowers, lace, etc. embedded into or set upon it.

Vintage Cylindrical Lucite Purse With Carved Ends On Metal Feet

Vintage Cylindrical Lucite Purse With Carved Ends On Metal Feet

Tortoiseshell Lucite Purse With Open Metal Work ($96)

Tortoiseshell Lucite Purse With Open Metal Work ($96)

Vintage Clear Carved Lucite Purse With Large Rhinestones

Vintage Clear Carved Lucite Purse With Large Rhinestones

When it comes to some of the designs & themes, like this fantastic vintage Lucite purse with a poodle on it — or this wooden purse with a genie on the Lucite lid, you’ll be competing with collectors of poodles & genies.

Vintage Grey Lucite Purse With Retro Poodle

Vintage Grey Lucite Purse With Retro Poodle

Vintage Purse With Lucite Lid With Genie Design

Vintage Purse With Lucite Lid With Genie Design

8. One area of cross-collecting, and therefore pieces with higher prices, are the Lucite purses with built-in compacts. (These are my ultimate fantasy pieces.)

9. As I said, I’m very worried about damaging vintage Lucite purses. Along with cracks, of which no elegant & effective repairs are known (the glue discolors &/or muddles the old plastic), Lucite scratches rather easily. These scratches are especially noticeable on clear and lighter shades of Lucite. Use soft cloths and avoid products with abrasives when cleaning them; extra caution should be taken with tortoiseshell purses because the pattern can be muddled or removed. Novus Polish Kit: Plastic Polish & Scratch Remover is highly recommended for cleaning & minimizing scratches in Lucite. (A metal polish, such as Simichrome Polish, is recommended to clean & keep the metal hardware in good condition — just keep it confined to the metal.)

10. If you find a lovely vintage Lucite purse with a missing rhinestone or two, they can be replaced with care; Sparklz has very detailed information on how to replace missing rhinestones. You’ll have to consider if the vintage purse is worth saving in terms of price, other conditions issues — and your dexterity to make the repairs. (Do not replace/repair and then sell without disclosing that you did so!)

11. Clutches especially have metal frames which should be inspected for damages; if they are too bent to clasp properly, I’d avoid them. Likewise missing or damaged clasps, handles etc. Sure, if you search diligently enough, you can find replacement Lucite handles and metal fittings. (Some are old store stock; others are salvaged from purses too badly damaged to rescue.) Purse-onally, I’m not sure I’d try to tackle all the varying metal fittings — risking cracking the purse. But there are those who claim to be able to make such repairs. (Exercise extreme caution & investigation in these persons/companies before entrusting your vintage purse in their care; see my other vintage guides for more on evaluating professional repair services.)

12. The myth that antique shops and vintage fashion boutiques (real stores or virtual ones) price their items higher than eBay is false. The purses I found & photographed at my local antique mall were priced from $60 to just under $300 (for the torti), which when compared to eBay prices is fair if not actually lower than current auction prices (and recent past sales). Of course, prices will depend upon the conditions & attributes mentioned above. And if you’re looking for something specific or quickly for a special event, online searching will produce more options & more quickly than hunting in physical locations.

Vintage Lucite Box Purse At Antique Mall ($64.50)

Vintage Lucite Box Purse At Antique Mall ($64.50)

13. If you love the look of vintage Lucite purses, there are folks making reproductions & “vintage style” Lucite purses. These vintage styled Lucite purses (found via The DebLog) are beautiful, and if you fear using an authentic vintage purse, it’s an option…

Vintage Style (Reproduction) Pink Lucite Purse

Vintage Style (Reproduction) Pink Lucite Purse

Carved Lucite Top and Handle on Reproduction Lucite Purse

Carved Lucite Top and Handle on Reproduction Lucite Purse

The prices on the modern made Lucite purses are in the same range as their vintage inspirations; but, again, you won’t have the worry of having destroyed a potential one of a kind vintage piece. However, please note that even the new Lucite will be prone to scratches (and cracks).

For more on these fabulous vintage pieces, pre-order Carry Me: 1950’s Lucite Purses: An American Fashion by Janice Berkson.

More Thursday Thirteen participants can be found here, and here.

The Fantasy Of Star-Crossed Cursed Lovers

By , 26 June, 2009, No Comment

With all the hype of Twilight, which I’ve not seen, I wanted to focus on my favorite star-crossed-by-fantasy-curse lovers film which captured my heart as fiercely as Twilight seems to have captured the hearts of legions today.

While Twilight seems to strike a chord with teens, who are very impressionable when it comes to romance sans sex, and, something which seems to amaze or impress the press, “moms” and other women who are missing the romance with or without the sex, this chord of emotional longing is also something that most of us hunger for at any age. (If you don’t believe me, please consider the theme of the bulk of popular music in our culture, of which longing, loss and pain are the mainstay. See also Alessia’s Puppies, Kittens & Vampires, Oh My!) So while this film is a film I first saw when I was in my still-wistful-and-not-yet-jaded 20’s, it continues to move me as an adult of a certain age.

The film is Ladyhawke (1985).

Ladyhawke (1985)

Ladyhawke (1985)

In Ladyhawke, thief Phillipe “The Mouse” Gaston (Matthew Broderick) escapes from the dungeon prison at Aquila, with the medieval soldiers of the guard of the ruler of Aquila in hot pursuit.

Phillipe "The Mouse" Gaston (Matthew Broderick) Escapes

Phillipe "The Mouse" Gaston (Matthew Broderick) Escapes

Just as The Mouse is cornered, he is rescued by a mysterious black knight. This knight is Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer), and his appearance creates quite a stir with the soldiers — not just for his rescue of the escaped prisoner, but, we soon learn, Etienne is the bishop’s sworn enemy.

Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer)

Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer)

When Etienne discovers that The Mouse has escaped from the dungeons of Aquila, the knight decides that the thief’s knowledge of escape can be used in reverse to sneak in unseen to Aquila and kill the evil bishop. As the two travel together, The Mouse (and we the audience) discover some odd things about the black knight…

He rides on horseback by day, talking to a hawk on his arm; at night he disappears, and at the same time a wolf appears. And that’s not all; when the hawk disappears at night, a beautiful woman appears.

The Mysterious Ladyhawke

The Mysterious Ladyhawke

When both Etienne and the hawk are injured during another fight with the bishop’s guards, The Mouse is instructed to take the hawk to an old abbey where Father Imperius the monk (Leo McKern), will heal her. It is there at that abbey that we see the hawk transform into the beautiful Isabeau d’Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer) — and the monk tells the tale…

Wounded Ladyhawke

Wounded Ladyhawke

The wicked bishop lusted after Isabeau, but she and Etienne (then the captain of the bishop’s guards) were lovers. Once the bishop learned of their love, he turned in rejection, bitterness, and hate to the devil, selling his soul to the devil for a curse to be placed upon on the lovers.

The curse made Isabeau a hawk by day, resuming her human form at sunset when Etienne took the form of a wolf. At sunrise, Isabeau would get a glimpse of her love returning to human form before she would become a hawk again, and sit on his arm.

Etienne & The Hawk

Etienne & The Hawk

The cursed lovers were doomed to always be together… Yet always apart… Catching glimpses of each other at sunrise and sunset.

Doomed Glimpses

Doomed Glimpses

But now, armed with The Mouse’s knowledge of the dungeons & the monk’s belief in a scientific prediction, there just might be a way to break the curse — or at least seek revenge…

The film’s scenery is amazingly, undeniably breathtaking. So is Michelle Pfeiffer. I think Vincent Canby, at The New York Times, said it best:

… Miss Pfeiffer, who may well be the most beautiful woman in movies today, is demonstrably someone worth risking eternal damnation for. Her presence, both ethereal and erotic, is so vivid that even when she’s represented as a hawk, she still seems to be on the screen.

Isabeau d'Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer)

Isabeau d'Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer)

While Ladyhawke has been criticized for it’s “dialogue of a banality” (and please note that no one accuses the actors of ham-handed delivery of same — even considering Time Out‘s reference to Hauger being “camp”), I find the combination of stereotypical fairy tale talk & sometimes simplistic lines mixed with modern phrasings as both providing refreshing accessibility (sort of reversing the theory of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet) and amusing in a near fourth-wall breaking sort of a way.

The result is a transformation to a perceived collective “fantasy past” as well as a sense of possibility of living that dream today… It touches me, moves me, in ways that many might feel I should be ashamed to admit — or that I should refer to as a “guilty pleasure.” But I won’t, you see. Because to do so would smear Ladyhawke — and hasn’t she suffered enough? What’s more, calling Ladyhawke a “guilty pleasure” besmirches romance itself.

Why deny the existence of the power of romance? I’m no more likely to deny my love of romance than I am to deny my love of family (which is founded upon such notions & commitment) or my love of my country (which is a collection of families founded on romantic love — all of which agree to protect & pursue romance).

So, when the movie ends, I cry like The Mouse and the monk. And I won’t apologize for it either.

The Emotional Ending

The Emotional Ending

Monday Movie Meme: Trauma In Your Drama?

By , 15 June, 2009, 3 Comments

This week’s Monday Movie Meme is all about trauma — and the minute I read it I knew just what I was going to say!

Just this past weekend, the girls & I in film club watched Easy Rider (1969) for our latest Classic Schmassic screening and, because there’s very little glamour and fashion to discuss, I wasn’t sure I’d mention it here… But now I have an excuse *wink*

Easy Rider was an easy choice for our Classic Schmassic viewing because it’s not only a film we’ve all heard glorified so much (it’s a “touchstone for a generation,” the start of “mockumentaries,” etc.) but it’s such a “male film” (motorcycles, traveling by two cross country — something even today that two women would be too vulnerable to do, and more motorcycles) that we all wrinkled our noses when the title was suggested; the collective nose wrinkling made it mandatory viewing.

For the first, what, quarter? half? of the movie, I (and the rest of the film club) were bored out of our minds. The two main leads, Peter Fonda as Wyatt & Dennis Hopper as Billy, were not particularly likable to us; selling drugs is not as glamorous to women who have children, and then there’s the rather sexist regard of women (no matter how accurate, it’s not likable). The trip itself makes some commentary on “others in our society,” both conservative powers that be (“The Man”) and those living on the fringe (sometimes supposedly “Utopian”); but we just found ourselves faced with further dislike of the characters (who really didn’t know how good they had it). It was becoming intolerable to watch (exhibited by our increasing talk) — and then Jack Nicholson appeared on screen (as George Hanson).

The Boys On Bikes In Easy Rider

The Boys On Bikes In Easy Rider

Easy Rider is supposed to be the movie that made Nicholson a star, so matter what your thoughts on him (and in my film club, they vary to the least flattering thoughts you can imagine!), you are sort of compelled to see what the fuss was about. As good as Nicholson is (and we all agreed that he was good here), even his charming performance wasn’t quite turning this movie into something we were all glued to.

We were anxious, shifting in our seats, trying not to talk when we desperately wanted to entertain ourselves somehow, when finally one scene pulled us all in.

It’s the scene were the three guys stop to eat in a Louisiana restaurant. Here we actually found a level of unpleasant realism which made us shift in our seats for completely different reasons; it was the sort of extreme vulnerability that we’d each felt at one time or another — the sort of fear which keeps us from trying to travel cross country in such small numbers.

This kept us riveted to the movie from then on.

And once engaged, we were shocked with what happened next.

I won’t tell you what it was. Doing so would be more than a spoiler; it would completely destroy your viewing of the film.

Part of our shock was wondering how we’d each managed not to know this about the film… Had everyone who talked about the film provided the same “non spoiler” respect? Was most of the chatter about this film perpetuated by those who had never even seen it? Or had each of us been living under rocks?

In any case, from that moment on we were in shock — the medical kind. We were cold, some of us were shaking, and we were aware that other things were happening on the screen — but we weren’t quite sure if we were seeing them or interpreting them right.

By the time we got to the doing drugs with hookers (played by Karen Black and Toni Basil) in the cemetery scene, we were already feeling disjointed and confused…

Perhaps the DVD spiked our Diet Cokes? We sure felt like we were on a trip.

But the movie doesn’t end there; and neither did our trauma. Again, I won’t go into details; if you’ve managed not to know the entire plot, I won’t be responsible for ruining it. Instead, I’d much rather be responsible for encouraging you to stop resisting this film. Easy Rider, for all it’s bluster & bluff, is legendary stuff.

Just don’t drive any deserted roads alone. Not after viewing — maybe not ever.

Easy Rider is one move that I can safely dub as Most Traumatic Film I’ve Seen.  I’ve cried more, I’ve been more depressed, I’ve been angrier; but I’ve never physically suffered from shock from a film before.

The Cycling & Recycling Of 60’s & 80’s Fashions

By , 1 June, 2009, 1 Comment

Speaking of Let’s Make Love & stuffed sausages

As I mentioned, the film straddles two looks; struggling between remnants of New Look fashions and early 60’s looks. Certainly not yet “mod”… But then again, it rather fails to really capture much of any real style. However, the theatrical “sex pot meets Beatnik” style Monroe wore (the sweater over the black catsuit), does warrant some discussion.

Marilyn Monroe In Let's Make Love

Marilyn Monroe In Let's Make Love

I’m not sure how prevalent such a look really was (outside of performance garb, anyway), but those of us who lived — and dressed — through the 80’s can’t help but see shaker sweaters and stirrup pants when they see Marilyn’s costume for the big My Heart Belongs To Daddy number.

Thankfully, whatever the 80’s stole from the 60’s, they “over-sized” it & managed the proportions better.

1982 Diane Von Furstenberg Ad

1982 Diane Von Furstenberg Ad

The sweaters & tops not only were longer (fully covering the behind, no matter how round or large) but V-necks and bolo necklaces etc. helped lengthen the lines too. Long sweaters and knit tunics were also worn over short skirts to help give the appearance of length over nylons & leggings. Also, over-sized sweaters were typically worn belted (with chain belts, hung low; wide leather belts; scarves twisted into belts; and even the sleeves from other tops tied about the waist made a belt), so as to help define the bust from hips, ending the “apple” look. (While I was younger & thinner then, I was still aware that a size 8 or 10 was miles away from the fashion ideal; I still had moments where I felt more like a “lumpy Marilyn apple” than a supermodel.)

1980s Over-Sized Sweaters & Stirrup Pants

1980s Over-Sized Sweaters & Stirrup Pants

Leggings were worn, but stirrup pants also offered the opportunity, (especially with jackets, shaker sweaters & tops which stopped at mid-hip) to start wide and then narrow down to a tapered ankle — appearing as a geometric style rather than having legs suddenly appear like weak stems. Legwarmers also offered the opportunity to balance out top-heavy silhouettes.

Catsuits were also popular in the 80’s — but unlike the see-thru black nylon Marilyn wore, these were opaque Lycra or Spandex knit blends. Black was still a basic; like a blackboard for the crazy colored drawings or layering of sweaters, belts, big earrings and booties.

Laura Branigan In Black Catsuit For Zodiac Boots

Laura Branigan In Black Catsuit For Zodiac Boots

In fact, layering itself was huge in the 1980’s. And that’s before we even get to the eclectic layering of lingerie ala Madonna.

For Fall 09 RTW, Gucci’s Frida Giannini has an 80’s inspired line, said to be inspired by 80’s fashion icon and model Tina Chow — which is to say, it’s a minimalist 80’s look (as I type that, I’m aware of the oxymoron). Slimmer shoulder pads, more subtle asymmetrical looks, bold stripes — but carried more softly than the big loud stick of decades ago… A general softening of the retro look. (Or, more casual Dynasty meets classic Chanel than the rock or punk 80’s I wore.)

Guccie Returns To The 80's For Fall 09

Guccie Returns To The 80's For Fall 09

Which reminds me quite a bit of what we saw in the transition from the 80s to the 90’s; far more body conscious & monochromatic than powerful geometrics & contrasting colors. Perhaps this is how we too will swing back into the 80’s?

Frida Gianni For Gucci, Fall 09 RTW

Frida Gianni For Gucci, Fall 09 RTW

Let’s Make Love

By , 29 May, 2009, No Comment

I don’t usually watch movies on AMC (commercials, you know), but Tuesday night Let’s Make Love was on & as I haven’t seen it in quite awhile…

Let’s Make Love (1960) is one film that has greatly mixed reviews — even from big fans of Marilyn Monroe. As a big fan of Marilyn’s, as well as of George Cukor films, I’ve even had varied responses to the movie.

My first viewing, when I was maybe 14 years old or so, I was very uncomfortable with the film. Marilyn’s big body & blatant sexuality were uncomfortable issues for me which I’ve only quite recently begun to understand. In this film, after some comical “history” of Yves Montand’s character (billionaire Jean-Marc Clement), we meet a scantily clad Marilyn in nothing but a black nylon catsuit and a large lavender cable knit sweater, cooing My Heart Belongs To Daddy as she gyrates & thrusts about a stage.

Marilyn Monroe In Let's Make Love

Marilyn Monroe In Let's Make Love

Such displays of ample charms in a teenage girl’s blushing face are rather easy to understand. Obviously, being confronted with such female eye candy made me subconsciously question my own sexuality — or, perhaps more accurately, question how I was perceived sexually.

But beyond that, was Marilyn’s appearance.

A bulky sweater over such an hourglass figure (set atop nothing but black pantyhose covered legs yet), gives the impression of an apple on a stick. (Ladies with big bosoms know this; more on that later.) It didn’t get any better when she shed her sweater.

Marilyn Monroe Dancing In Black Nylon Catsuit

Marilyn Monroe Dancing In Black Nylon Catsuit

Since I was watching Let’s Make Love decades later, times had changed and I’d already been taught “thin was in!” so the risqué display of her voluptuous figure wasn’t just a matter of shameful sexuality, but inappropriate as well. The lesson 14 year old me already knew was that only thin girls had the right to flaunt it (even if what “it” they had was in much smaller amounts — or maybe it was because they had less of “it” they could flaunt it?). And at 14, with more than budding breasts but a B-cup “rack” that men were already leering at me for, I felt far more like “lumpy” & “obvious” Marilyn than the properly svelte & sexy supermodel who was supposed to let it all hang-out (in one long lanky line, resembling a 13 year old boy’s body). It was embarrassing.

Years later, I’d developed even more — and not just in bust & hips, but intellectually & emotionally. But this only posed a new set of issues with regards to watching Let’s Make Love.

At some point (probably about the time I began to accept my own “points” — my big breasts), I became rather obsesses with Marilyn Monroe. I can’t claim to have read every biography because Marilyn’s the most biography-ed entertainer; but I read as many as I could get my hands on. Like many fans (or obsessives) of Monroe’s, I spent as much time turning her into my own individual legend (icon of our culture’s sexuality, and, in a perverse way, a role model for my brand of feminism) as I did learning about her. But I did learn about her.

And so when I saw Let’s Make Love a few years later, I knew of the troubles that she struggled with in her personal life and career during the making of the film… Doomed marriage to Arthur Miller, the icky affair with Montand, and Cukor’s horrid treatment of the star. And so once again, my personal reactions to the film were coloring my view of it. Sure, she wasn’t at her best or brightest in this film, but poor Marilyn was now a martyr to her struggles with men. It was a wonder she was there at all, even bothering to fulfill her contractual obligation to the hated Fox studio!

Wardrobe Test

Wardrobe Test

Now, years later, on a cool May evening I watched Let’s Make Love again. I tried to strip away the personal reactions, the knee-jerk response to defend Marilyn, and just watch the film.

In many ways it is better than I remembered. While she’s mainly in the movie to exist as eye candy, Marilyn’s work with The Actors Studio is noticeable when she’s given the opportunity to do something other than be lovely. And she is lovely — even if my knowing eye can see strain & yes, the dreaded “age” and “weight” which are bad things for any actress, let alone one only allowed to be beautiful & sexy. And call me crazy, but I love her singing voice (I own several Marilyn CDs) and there’s lots of it in this movie.

But what really sticks out this go-around is that the movie itself is aged & tired.

No, not just for “today” — it was aged and tired when it was made.

Montand & Monroe

Montand & Monroe

Contextually, the film struggles to balance between the playfulness of the 50’s reserved conservatism (a wiggle in a dress, a wiggle of an eyebrow) and the more frank peek-a-boo sexuality of the 60’s (Marilyn’s black catsuit). Audiences were changing; but Hollywood wasn’t quite ready to pander to Beatniks — not at the expense of the establishment’s rich wallets.

So, Fox puts Marilyn, the classic sex pot, together with Montand, the rising French star, for some generational shared “mmms” (even adding a bit British teen idol effervescence with Frankie Vaughn) hoping to tease both the establishment and the hep cats & kittens into movie tickets. It gives Marilyn a risqué dress & career, but makes it clear that she’s a good girl — with a preacher for a daddy — and marries her off to the wealthy guy who can take care of her. (Note at the end of the film, when she surrenders to love, that she mentions night school, but not the theatre.)

Basically, the film tries to say, “Yes!” to the spicy 60’s Bohemian artistic lifestyle — but in the end, it’s stuffed in rather flavorless 50’s ring bologna.