Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Way They Wore

Do you ever look at the relaxed yet oh-so-chic styles of yesteryear and wish that you could find the same types of clothing today?

No need to answer.
Of course you do.
(You and I know each other quite well by now, don't we?)

I have always admired this photo of Duncan Grant in his slouchy linen jacket. It's so effortless, so breezy, so perfect for an idle summer afternoon. What else do you wear perched on a table in the garden waiting for your bohemian friends and lovers to arrive?
(Duncan Grant at Charleston House, 1930's, via here)

Thanks to my friend Megan over at Ancient Industries, I have discovered a company called Old Town that recreates vintage clothing for 21st century people with antique sensibilities.

Check out this jacket they make called "The Marshalsea." (Dickens aficionados will remember the Marshalsea as being the Victorian debtor's prison that featured heavily in "Little Dorrit"; hence, I assume, the jacket's shabby-chic vibe.) It comes in twill, linen, canvas, denim and something very intriguing called "cavalry drill."
(Grey stout twill, via here)

Isn't it so D.H. Lawrence/Thomas Hardy meets Spitalfields/the Lower East Side?
(Navy irish linen, via here)

It's perfect for wearing to dinner at Freeman's restaurant in the Bowery.
(photo via here)

And what about this smart 3/4 length coat? I find it to be both sensible and alluring, with its very 1940's, very WWII-ish, very "I'm just off to Bletchley Park to help Alan Turing crack the Enigma code" vibe.
(Ladies Cow coat, available here)

Wear it and if you're very lucky, you might even be mistaken for a Persephone Books heroine.
("Good Evening, Mrs. Craven", available here)

This smock dress will probably draw either gasps of envy or hoots of derision, and that's fine. I realize the shape is not overtly sexy (okay, it's not even remotely sexy) but to me, it's just heaving with understated style. And it has possibly the best fabric name ever.
(Jaywick dress, "Bermondsey in Bloom" fabric, available here)

Look for me wearing it on Saturday morning when Piero's on a bike ride, Luca's on a play date and I'm making a batch of scones while pretending I'm under imminent threat of an air raid.

Once again, the cover art of this Persephone book illustrates the authenticity of both the dress and its fabric palette.
("Kitchen Essays" by Gertrude Jekyll, available here)

If the dress doesn't speak to you, perhaps the smock top does.
(available here)

Golden boy writer F. Scott Fitzgerald always dressed with a certain sartorial elegance. Isn't the suit he wears in this photo with Zelda...
(Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921, via Time Life Pictures)

...almost a dead ringer for Old Town's "Fitzrovia"? It comes in corduroy/moleskin, wool serge, flannel or Harris Tweed. No poly-rayon here, no siree.
(Fitzrovia, available here)

Lastly, I was taken with this lovely A-line skirt and had a nagging feeling that I had a photo of one like it somewhere.
(Skirt in Harris Tweed fabric)

Sure enough, a quick look through my vintage photo albums (the ones I purchased years ago at a London flea market; for the story, click here) revealed these young women on the lawn of a grand country house. The skirt second from left looks quite similar, don't you think?
In one of those strange twists of serendipity that makes me think there are no coincidences, click HERE for the name of it.
(Skirt in navy Irish linen fabric)


Jane said...

I often think about how different the clothes from the first half of the 1900s are to now. And not just in the obvious ways like fabric and colour but much more in the cut and tailoring which as you say (and show) is much looser somehow. There is a lot to be said for fabric gently skimming the surface rather than urgently and tightly twining around the flesh and leaving nothing to the imagination. People's faces were different then too. Much much leaner, but that is a whole other topic.

And I know it's weird but I have low level WW11 code breaker riding a bycicle in my smock top fantasies too. Kind of nice to know I am not alone.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

"I have low level WWII code breaker riding a bycicle in my smock top fantasies too"...

That could possibly be the best sentence ever!! xxx

Yoli said...

I am swooning over the man in the tweed!

pve design said...

Really, I so hope you will design a line according to your whims and wishes. I for one would be in line.
I love that printed frock - just the sort of thing for a hot summer day. I much prefer that look over a jog suit.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I'm nuts for shoes featured with the Jaywick dress! Do they have shoes, too??

Unknown said...

As always all so agreeable including Jane's wonderful sentence...
You are not alone! 30's and 40's lifestyle sensibilities are big in my imagination too. Perhaps it's because the woman of that era raised me and I have all those amazing memories. Growing up in East Germany was a time capsule of sorts and we had so many clothes from those days...I loved them.
My mother had a seamstress who made all our clothes for years and I guess due to lack of new fashion influences they all looked like from the 40's! I have still a dress my grandmother wore to tea dances after WWII.

Please go and see the blog
13threads, Lois from Edinburgh makes the most amazing clothes...

Love Victoria

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

PVE: Re: your idea about a clothing line: Oh, wouldn't that be lovely! xx

Victoria Art: Just checked out 13 Threads. Her clothes are amazing...went to her Etsy site and loved everything! xx

TSL said...

Remember hearing of days when shopping for clothing meant shoes, handbag and often a hat with each dress purchased. (gloves, too) I adore vintage clothing. Arty images.

helen tilston said...

The cow coat and the harris tweed skirt have my attention. Feminine and beautifully tailored.
Thanks Lisa for a wonderful post
Helen said...

Old Town is a source of inspiration for me. Wouldn't it be nice if somebody in the US did something similar - particularly for women, who seem to be underserved by the current heritage clothing movement?

EE said...

Love it all. In the fall, I'm starting the type of work that is "business casual" Monday-Friday. These are the types of visions that sustain me. No need to mourn my lost denim.

Do you know Some Odd Rubies? They make real, wearable clothes out of vintage fabrics -- some with a very similar 30s/40s aesthetic.

froogal said...

There is something about these "sensible clothes" that is so appealing..."Good Evening Mrs Craven" is on my bedside table, having been read and re-read.

The Lead Singer said...


A Super Dilettante said...

Navy skirt and white shirt is very effortlessly reminds me the heyday of Barbara Pym or Iris Murdoch's Under the Net era.

Anonymous said...

While I realize this wonderful post is about the clothes, I am intrigued by Persephone Books. Have you ordered from them before?

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

I think in many cases the men fared better-No fair. The coat, though is a keeper and who doesn't love a smock (my era and I can not seem to shake the habit) pgt

Denise said...

Carrington never wore skirts...

I've had some wonderful baggy linen trousers made by a local seamstress. I brought in the old, high-waisted pants for a pattern with the linen fabric and she did the rest in very short time and for an amazingly non-bespoke price. Seamstresses are tucked away in every town, and usually we drive right by. One day I stopped in and took a chance. Then a vest was made, then a shirt, all with fabric of my choice...heaven!

Hannah Stoneham said...

These clothes are wonderful - and your picture of Duncan Grant reminded me also of Vanessa Bell who pioneered her own relaxed style of dress which was aped by quite a lot of younger artists, but has sadly died out rather now.

I would love to be able to make my own clothes as I think that is the key to really getting what I want, but given that I am quite useless with a needle and thread, I am off to the Old Town website! thank you for the recommendation and for sharing this delightful post


24 Corners said...

Love all of it..especially the *Lucy Ricardo* smock top and the smock dress...both would be so fun and comfortable (so they look) to wear!
How wonderful it would be if fashion to a turn towards the past...

24 Corners said...

That would be... "took a turn"! :/

Terra said...

These are great styles, especially the mens' suits in all natural fibers. What a romantic period.

Laura Casey Interiors said...

Have you ever seen the line Papo D'Anjo? You might like some of the women's clothes. I love that look.

Scott Fazzini said...

Just when I thought I couldn't love you more... what a great company! I'm resigned to throw out all of my costumes, and start from scratch!

Julie Anne Rhodes said...

Not sure I could rock that look well enough. I prefer Antony Price's more glamourous takes on old Hollywood, but cool site.

Unknown said...

Real style is eternal, don't you think?

I've got a shoe meme for you over on my blog, hope you have time to take part...

Helena xx

Angie Muresan said...

They are very romantic, and oh so proper. The charm and sophistication of well tailored clothing is sadly a thing of the past. I'm glad that there are designers out there who strive to dress us well.

RdeW said...

Oh I LOVE Old Town - you should see the shop in Holt, 'tis heaven on a par with Persephone's. Jane, you are definitely not alone...I freely admit channelling the Bletchley codebreaker vibe in recent years through my children, putting them in Dagmar Daley...

Sensible Footwear said...

I really enjoyed this post. These may be of interest to you. (Sorry - a little late to the party.)

Kind regards,


Hausfrau said...

Wonderful! I'm loving it all, but especially the Jaywick dress.

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