Category Archives: Inspiration

Blog mission: Vintage for the real world

I was raised on old movies, fishing shows and country music. Thank goodness only one of them took.

Years of old movies and 1950s television fostered my love of vintage styles. One of my first purchases was a beautiful late-1940s tweed suit. At a reasonable $80, that glorious tweed was a better quality than anything I could have afforded new.

It was my only suit, and I wore it to the interview for what ended up being my first job out of college.

I was tall and painfully thin then. Five feet 9½ inches, to be precise, and probably less than 125 pounds. My waistline was maybe 27 inches at most. Make no mistake, I was technically underweight, thus I could actually find a lot of vintage pieces that fit.

So vintage fit my style, my body and my budget 20 years ago. But that’s no longer quite the case.

Vintage still fits my style, but prices have increased significantly for what are basically used clothes, and my waistline — well let’s just say it’s no longer 27 inches.

So where does that leave my affinity for vintage fashion?

I entered the mom years with more pressing things to think about than vintage. Like trying to find tall size maternity pants that were suitable to wear for my middle-management job. No easy task, let me assure you. Once the expando-pants were no longer necessary, practical clothes that were easy wash and wear became paramount.

But the kids are older now and quite a bit less likely to spit up on me as I head to work. And I have found my way back to vintage, but not the vintage of my slender youth. I’m not terribly interested in clothes that don’t fit well, and I’ve never been particularly interested in maintaining a full vintage look.

Fleur de Guerre of Diary of a Vintage Girl did a wonderful post on dressing against the flow that includes advice on how to start small with a vintage look. Starting small and ending medium is about the right mix for me. It plays out like this:

  1. Buy new clothing and shoes with a reference to vintage styles.
  2. Mix in modern pieces that play well with other eras.
  3. Wear hats as appropriate.
  4. Sew vintage styles from genuine or reproduction vintage patterns.

The first three are well in hand and have been for years, but the fourth is what will bring it all together. There’s a spot where vintage style, clothing that is practical for daily life, and garments that fit overlap. Sitting at the center of that Venn diagram of fashion is my sewing machine. And that’s where this blog comes in.

My mission is to use sewing to explore vintage styles are practical for the real world.

Right now I’m working on a couple of reproduction patterns. On the way to my house from What I Found Vintage Patterns are a couple of 1940s dress patterns that are not remotely my size. My plan for fall is to make my own tweed suit from a 1940s reproduction pattern.

Expanding my sewing skills in pursuit of styles from the movies and TV shows I was raised on is much more appealing to me at this point of my life than going through racks of clothes or tons of Etsy pages in a disheartening search for something that will fit and flatter my figure.

It’s not pure vintage, but it’s my vintage. And it’s fun to be back.

Beauty after 40, circa 1949

The prize of this month’s trip to the Sacramento Antique Faire was a vintage beauty book: Edyth Thornton McLeod’s Beauty After 40, published in 1949. While some of the advice is charmingly out-of-date, the author has a very upbeat and pragmatic attitude about the ‟Fourth Period″ of life.

A few fun passages and photos (click for a closer look):

❦ “The idea of women losing their looks, their sex life, and the ability to lead a full life when they reach the menopause is an old wives’ tale and has no place in modern thinking and achievement.”

❦ “Those of you who have not fully understood the menopause, and have secretly thought that you would have no further interest in sexual relations, must banish this thought at once. During the menopause and after, there is no lessening of your desire to enter into the normal sexual relations which you have always enjoyed — or endured!”

Woman with gardenia

She’s holding up so well, people give her flowers.

❦ “Silver hair is an asset to smartness and to charm.”

❦ “Forty is a state of mind! Dramatize your GRAY HAIR and capitalize on your GRAY MATTER!”

Silver siren

She’s a “silver siren.”

❦ “Don’t, don’t dare go about the house without a corset and a bra — that’s the Road to Ruin!”


Corsets are good for you.

❦ “Plastic surgery is here to stay. I feel that it is a part of the modern approach to beauty or beautification of both face and figure.”

❦ “If you have been married and divorced several times, why should I give you advice? You’ve had variety, and they do say that variety is the spice of life! If it’s spice you want, go ahead and say, ‘I do,’ again and again!”

Weddings after 40

She’s ready to marry again.

❦ “After Forty you can laugh at tragedies because you know that they so often turn out to be comedies.”

That last quote is a serious piece of wisdom, my Friends.

An old friend that happens to be a vintage sewing book

My mother had the Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book, 1970 edition. I LOVED leafing through that book when I was a kid. The techniques were interesting to me even before I learned to sew, but the pages on putting together a wardrobe were absolutely fascinating. Even the “casual” looks were elegant.

Years after I grew up and left home, I spotted that same book, same edition, at an antique fair. I couldn’t snatch it off the table fast enough. I think it was $10, but I would have paid just about anything to have my own copy. Following are my favorite pages:

Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book 1970 edition, Page 325

The purple fabric looks fantastic with the leopard accessories.

Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book 1970 edition, Page 326

This page makes my heart go pitter-patter. Nothing is classier than a tweed suit.

Better Homes and Garden Sewing Book 1970 edition, Page 327

I have to admit that the hats frighten me a bit, but the bags and shoes are beautiful. And why don’t we wear gloves anymore? They are so much more attractive than a little bottle of hand sanitizer.

When I was in college, I’d sometimes go down to the basement of the school library to look at the Vogue magazines from the 1940s and 1950s. They were right out on the shelves. The women all looked so sophisticated.

I spent several hours at the mall this afternoon, chauffeuring a couple of eighth-grade girls. Although I picked up a camel cardigan and a cream sweater that would both look good with vintage-inspired pieces, the outfits on these pages are far more stylish than anything the mall had to offer.

As I drove out of the massive parking lot, I felt happy not only that I can sew my own clothes, but also that I have vintage sewing books to turn to for inspiration, including one I first read more than 30 years ago.

Classic vintage sewing book lands in my lap

I was beside myself when a friend passed along the following to me recently:

The new jewel of my vintage sewing book collection

It was among some books she acquired from a relative a while ago. My friend is interested in sewing, but is not an avid sewer, so she thought this would have a more appreciative home with me.

This is the real deal from 1952, first printing, with the dust jacket. It promises: “Complete, step-by-step instructions showing you how to make smart additions to your wardrobe. You can become an accomplished dressmaker while making clothes you will want to wear.” It takes you through the construction of 14 garments from patterns widely available from Vogue Patterns at the time the book was published. Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing is based on this book.

Here are a few choice pages:

The late-day, short sheath dress

The slim chemise dress

The fitted, grey flannel suit

I love vintage sewing books and can read them like novels. Alas, my planned rewatching of Downton Abbey will have to wait. I’ll be devouring this for the next few days.

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