Thursday, 30 September 2010

Mystery Woman: At Rumplemayer's

Here's another Mystery Woman for you, this time from 12 Jan 1950. Seen lunching at Rumplemayer's, this Mystery Woman was described as "the most attractive and one of the best-dressed lasses lunching". She was dressed in a tailored, medium-grey suit with rounded lapels, teamed with a shell-pink crepe blouse with a tiny roll collar. Her hat was a "shell pink cloche, the brim at the front was trimmed with rose pink moire and veiling, and at the side was a cluster of fuchsia-coloured flowers and an unusual feather arrangement." Her accessories were all grey - grey gloves, grey leather bag, and grey gabardine shoes with lizard-skin heels and straps. Jewellery was a single strand of pearls and ring-shaped pearl earrings.

She turned out to be Helen McGregor of Ruskin Rd, Glen Iris. Although she designs and makes most of her own clothes, the suit Helen was spotted in was tailor made. The only reference I can find to Rumplemayer's is that it was at 234 Collins St, and that the Women's Section of the Pharmaceutical Society was arranging to host a bridge party there in 1935, to raise funds for the Aerial Medical Service.

From the 7 September 1950, the Thursday Fashion Page started running a Beauty Alphabet, with the suggestion that you "cut out these hints each week and keep a beauty alphabet book". I bring you the first part:

"As you know, both arms and ankles are often neglected. And yet if you stop to think they are both very important focal points. Steal a quick glance at your own and judge for yourself whether they are up to standard. If not, here are a few points that you would do well to remember if you want to be proud of your limbs:
  • Your elbows, first, should be well cared for, scrubbed regularly with plenty of soap and hot water.
  • If they are rather hard, rub some cream into them every night until the hardness completely disappears.
  • That goose-flesh, too, on your upper arms can be removed by constant rubbing with a loofah or brush.
  • Turning to your ankles, here's a really good exercise to keep them trim: Stand on one foot, lift the other several inches from the ground and turn it clockwise a dozen times and then reverse the process. Do the same with the other foot every clay, and after a short time you will notice how much stronger and better your ankles feel."

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Grey Gardens

A friend lent me a copy of the 1976 documentary Grey Gardens by Albert and David Maysles, which I'd heard of but never seen before. It tells the story of Edith Bouvier Beale ("Big Edie") and her daughter Edith ("Little Edie") who lived for 50 years in the filthy and crumbling mansion of Grey Gardens in East Hampton. Surrounded by cats, plagued by fleas, and with no running water, the two women lived in almost total islolation.

The most remarkable thing was that the two women had once been wealthy socialites, who had drifted into obscurity and financial ruin. Big Edie (seen above in her wedding photo) was born Edith Ewing Bouvier in 1895, the daughter of a Major Bouvier, a successful attorney. She had twin sisters and two brothers, one of whom, John "Black Jack" Bouvier III, was the father of Jacqueline Bouvier, who later became Jackie Kennedy.

Edith had an amateur singing career, and in 1917, at the age of 22, she married Phelan Beale, who was a lawyer at her father's firm. The couple lived in New York, and had three children. Edith (known as Little Edie) was born in 1917, followed by two brothers, Phelan and Bouvier. This photo (courtesy of Life magazine) shows mother and daughter in 1922, when Big Edie was 27 and Little Edie 4 years-old.

In 1923 the Beales purchased Grey Gardens, a 28-room mansion in East Hampton, just one block from the ocean. You can see the house here in 1922, when it was still in good repair, and before the garden became overgrown.

Little Edie had a privileged upbringing, attending the Spence School (a private girls' school in New York) followed by Miss Porter's School (an elite girls' boarding school in Conneticut for grades 9-12), graduating in 1936. Her mother apparently removed her from the Spence School for two years when she was 11 and 12, for unspecified health reasons, although she was well enough to accompany her mother to the theatre and movies almost every day, and also to go on a shopping trip to Paris. The bond between mother and daughter was suffocatingly close even then. In her diary at the age of 11 she wrote "I have two great loves in my life. First, I love my mother, which will always go on, never be forgotten or forsaken. Most children think that mother love is a thing taken for granted, isn’t it?".

This photo shows Little Edie modelling a dress at the 1938 East Hampton Fair. Strikingly good-looking, at age 17, Little Edie was a model for Macy's in New York, but her father hated her being on display. She tried to run away from home three times, once to New York to learn interpretive dance. She allegedly dated Howard Hughes and always maintained that both Joe Kennedy Jr. and J. Paul Getty had proposed to her, but she turned them down. In her 20s, Little Edie's hair began to fall our, causing to adopt her trademark turbans. By the time she was 30, Little Edie had moved away from home and was trying to make a life for herself as an actress in New York.

Meanwhile, Big Edie was suffering financially. Always rather eccentric, her husband became less and less tolerant of her bohemian ways. She would play the piano and sing for hours, hated going to boring social events, and would Phelan and Edie had separated in 1931, and he divorced her by telegram from Mexico in 1934. Major Bouvier advised his daughter to sell Greg Gardens and stop singing at clubs, but she refused. When Big Edie turned up at her son's wedding dressed like an opera singer, her father cut her out of his will, leaving her with a trust of $65,000 which was to be handled by her brothers. She could no longer afford to send her daughter grocery money, and Little Edie came home to Grey Gardens in 1952 to look after her mother and her multiplying cats.

The two women drifted into obscurity, as the garden grew wilder and wilder, and once-beautiful house began to decay. In 1971, building inspectors ordered the Beals to cut back their overgrown garden. When they did not comply, members of the Suffolk County Health Department forced their way into Grey Gardens. The state of the place was appalling, with cat shit everywhere, a five foot pile of empty cat food tins in the dining room (pictured above), crumbling walls, raccoons in the roof, and apparently human fecal matter in the upstairs bedroom. Facing eviction and the demolition of Grey Gardens, the Beales were saved by a $32,ooo cheque from Jackie Onassis. Despite having new plumbing and heating installed and 1,000 bags of garbage being removed from the house, by the time the Maysles brothers made their documentary in 1976, the house was again in an unsanitary state, with the filmmakers being forced to wear flea collars around their ankles!

Big Edie died the year after the documentary was made. Little Edie continued to live at Grey Gardens for another couple of years, before selling it to Ben Bradlee, the then executive editor of the Washington Post and his wife, the writer Sally Quinn. A condition of the sale was that the house was not to be demolished, and the couple have restored it at great expense. Cote de Texas has a wonderfully comprehensive post focusing on the house, with floor plans, and pictures of it before and after the Beales lived there. Edie moved to New York, and then to Florida, where she lived quietly, writing poetry and corresponding with her fans, until her death at the age of 84 in 2002.

Despite their lonely (and unsanitary) lifesyle, the Edies come over as fantastically eccentric and larger-than-life characters. Far from being exploted by the documentary makers, they flirted with them, danced, sang, and generally had a ball. There are moments of despair, but they seem resigned to their life, and even enjoy it. "I had my cake, loved it, masticated it, chewed it and had everything I wanted." says Big Edie. It's also worth watching just to see Little Edie's wonderfully inventive outfits, including aprons and sweaters worn on her head, tablecloths for skirts, or bathing suits with fishnet tights. A movie about Grey Gardens with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lang playing the Edies was made last year, so I'm going to track it down.

Gail Sheehy met the Beales in the early 70s, and wrote a fascinating article for the New Yorker which can be found here. She then wrote a follow up article in 2006 which is here.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Lady Grey

I'm joining in on the Lady Grey Sew-Along at Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing! I've never taken part in one before, and I'm already a bit behind, as we are meant to start sewing on Monday, and I haven't even bought my fabric or sewn up my muslin yet. I've never sewn a coat or jacket either, but Gertie is putting up step-by-step tutorials on every aspect of making this coat, including how to choose fabric, and how to sew princess seams.

I'm tempted to splash out on a bright coloured fabric, because I think the Lady Grey that the Cupcake Goddess made looks so delicious, but I'll probably stay with a basic black wool (although I'm going to pick a really bright, splashy lining). I don't have a black coat or a black jacket, and I think I should remedy that deficiency in my wardrobe. Plus, wonky seams don't show up so clearly on black as they do on colour! I'm hoping to finish my muslin and buy my fabric this weekend, wish me luck!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Vintage Style: Hats from 1945

I bought this copy of the Australian Women's Weekly at the Camberwell Market a couple of weeks ago, and although I promised I would post photos last Thursday, I haven't been able to get myself organised until today! I chose this magazine because it is from 27 January 1945 the cover promised 'New Hats see page 12'.

The 1940s is my favourite period for millinery. While clothing was rationed due to the war, hats were not, and this may explain why hats were so popular and found in such amazingly different styles during the 40s. A simple hat could be trimmed and re-trimmed over and over using very small pieces of fabric or feathers, and I imagine that, much like red lipstick, a jaunty new hat must have made the wearer feel smart and feminine despite war-time hardships.

The lovely illustration of 1940s hats above is from The Mode in Hats and Headdresses by Ruth Turner Wilcox, which was published in 1945. The Village Hat Shop have kindly scanned in the illustrations from the book, and they are certainly worth looking at, as they cover the whole history of hats and hairstyles, from Ancient Egypt to 1944. I adore the black felt hat with the snood (centre top) and the glamorous turbans. One of them even has a fox's head decorating it!

While these hats are not quite so outrageous, there are some nice styles to choose from. My favourite is the 'forward-tilted felt bowler which designer Braagaard bedecks with birds entwined with turquoise-blue velvet ribbon' (bottom left). Braagaard was obviously a hot millinery favourite for 1945, as I found a reference to his hats at a New York millinery show in a August 1945 copy of Life magazine. According to the V&A Museum, Erik Braagaard was a Danish milliner who had 'a small, high end millinery salon which in 1941 had a mauve and white interior. The shop operated from the 1930s to the 1950s and was located on 17 West fifty-seventh street, New York.' I wish I could have gone and tried on hats in his salon, doesn't it sound dreamy?

Turbans were big in the 40s, possibly because they let you hide less than clean hair! It's such a pity this page is not in colour, as the turban on the farthest left is black satin with a lime velvet rose and fuchsia and peacock satin bows!

If you thought turbans had gone out of style, take a look at the offerings from the Fall 2010 collection of the divine Jean Paul Gaultier. The man is a god.

Snoods were another 40s favourite, again, getting the hair out of the way. I haven't tried wearing one so far, but we were shown how to at the Lindy Charm School, and they do look very period appropriate.

This little photo tutorial has been floating around on the net for a while, I have no idea who it belongs to, but it was posted by 16 Sparrows on The Fedora Lounge. It includes the interesting tip of putting a hairnet over your hair before you put on the snood, to stop little bits escaping through the holes.

I had to add this photo from the magazine in, it is of Belita Jepson-Turner who was a British Olympic figure skater and actress. Born in the village of Nether Wallop (god English villages have deliciously ridiculous names!) in 1923, her pushy mother had her start classical Russian ballet training when she was 2 years old, with the idea of making her a professional ballet dancer. Soon, ice-skating lessons followed, to build up her strength and endurance, but she proved such a star on the ice that she skated for Britain in the 1936 Winter Olympics, placing 16th in the Ladies singles competition at the tender age of 13! Apparently Belita never liked ice skating, saying upon her retirement in 1956, "I hated the ice. I hated the cold, the smell, everything about it. I only did it for the money." In her teens, Belita turned her eyes to Hollywood. It's hard to believe that she was only 21 in this picture, with that towering hairstyle, and sultry look.

I was a bit worried for her when I first read the article, as I'd never heard of Belita, and hoped she hadn't failed in her quest for stardom. I was pleased to hear that she made several highly profitable films, including appearing opposite Clark Gable in Never Let Me Go, and as herself in Lady, Let's Dance.

Here she is in the 1946 film noir thriller, Suspense, with co-star Barry Sullivan. Look at that amazing laquered hair, and super-plucked eyebrows. Nothing natural about this look! Below is Belita in Gangster (1947) where she played the girlfriend of the main character, the gangster Shubunka. Photos are from Film Noir Alley, which also has reviews of these films.

Although a mediocre actress, she was obviously a very talented woman. According to the IMDb 'she was prepared to try her hand at anything and by the time she was 20 could speak four languages, paint, sing, dance, play the violin and piano, fence, box and wrestle, cook, sew, knit and milk a cow.' Belita married twice, and lived until she was 82, passing away in France.

Monday, 13 September 2010


On Saturday, my cousin Bella and I attended the Lindy Charm School for Girls, at the Glenferrie Hotel. Run by the lovely Miss Chrissy and Miss Kim, it was an afternoon of vintage girly fun. We learned how to set our hair in pincurls, how to do perfect victory rolls, all about vintage foundation garments and underwear, and how to apply makeup in the style of the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

I was lucky to be chosen as the demonstration model for their vintage waist cincher. Like a little corset, it laced up the back and took both Miss Chrissy and Miss Kim to get it done up. Over my clothes, my before measurement was 29", while with the cincher it came down to 26"! Miss Kim makes modern versions out of heavy-weight power mesh, and which do up with hooks and eyes at the front, rather than lacing. They come in two styles, the Hourglass and the Wasp Waist (which is more like the one I am wearing above), both of which are available on the Vintage Charm website.

Doesn't Bella look gorgeous in her 50s makeup? (Even though she wouldn't let me draw her eyebrows on any thicker!) I think she should wear red lipstick all the time.

We met some lovely girls, here I am with Jules, who has the most enviable fringe.

And here is the beautiful Hannah, isn't her hair to die for! I bought a bottle of Essential Setting Lotion, which is amazing, and hopefully after some practice I'll be able to get my hair to do that too! You can buy the setting lotion from Circa Vintage Clothing for $15 a bottle. It's made to the original 1940s recipe, and makes all the difference when you are doing curls and rolls.

On Sunday it was off to the Camberwell Market. I found this great Australian Women's Weekly magazine from 1945, which has a colour special on hats in it. Pictures on Thursday!

I've wanted one of these fold-out sewing boxes for ages, so I was really excited to score this one, which came with all of the stuff inside it too - lace, ricrac, needles, odd buttons, and a whole lot of suspender clasps. It needs a little bit of fixing up, but I'm looking forward to stocking it up with haberdashery and notions!

I couldn't resist these lovely beaded gloves, and one can never have to many Russian floral scarves in one's wardrobe (this is my sixth or seventh).

I was just about to leave when Bella grabbed me and said "What size feet do you have? One of us must be able to squeeze their feet into these shoes!" Luckily they turned out to be just my size. I turned the saturation up in this photo to try and get the colour right, but they are just such an intense royal purple that it's hard to photograph. Of course I have absolutely nothing to wear them with, but I think they are the kind of shoes I'll have to create an outfit around.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Vintage Style: Clothes Colour Chart

Spring is right on time in Melbourne, with lots of windy, sunny days. It's still quite nippy, but this morning I thought I just couldn't endure another day of stockings and wool skirts, and then had a complete crisis about what to wear, and created a complete floordrobe (it's a wardrobe on your floor!) by throwing all my clothes around and uttering the immortal line "I've got nothing to wear!"

Obviously this got me thinking about my spring/summer wardrobe, and for this week's Vintage Style post I though I'd share with you a colour chart I found in the Australian Women's Complete Household Guide. These type of charts were popular in the 50s in books about style and choosing your clothing, but this one is particularly nice. I am strangely attracted by the women's heads floating unperturbed in space with their perky expressions and perfect hair.

I'm never quite sure with these things whether one is supposed to go with one's natural colouring (which would make me a Mid Blonde) or the colour that one has been dying one's hair for the past 12 years (which would make me a Brunette). I'm going with the latter. Apparently I should wear all the pinky-reds, shocking-pink, reds with blue in them, black, white, grey, green, blue-greens, green-blues, blue, and blue violet. I should avoid yellow-reds, orange, yellow-greens, beige.

On the whole, I'd have to agree with this analysis, as almost all shades of blue and blueish greens and blue toned purples suit me, as do most pinks except the really pale ones. I do find that reds with blue in them look awful on me though, but I'll agree with avoiding anything orange or beige. Do you agree with the colours the Colour Chart picked out for you?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Pencil Sculpting

I usually hate those chain emails that people send around with photos of cute pets and sunsets and crap, but this is kind of amazing. Apologies to anyone who has already seen these photos, but I had to share. Dalton Ghetti takes ordinary lead pencils, and does this...

Originally from Brazil, the 49 year-old carpenter uses a razor blade, sewing needle, and sculpting knife to create these tiny masterpieces. Each one takes several months, although the linked chain one took two and a half years!

I saw an exhibition in Hungary with sculptures of carved rice grains and sugar crystals that were so small that you could only see them with a magnifying glass, but this still impresses me.

One slip of the blade and all your hard work would be over. I like the idea that even old used-up pencils can become something rather amazing. See more of his work at Inhabit.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Blue Leopard

Here I am hamming it up on a Saturday night, about to go out on the town. I'm trying out a new hairstyle from Vintage Hairstyling: Retro Styles with Step-by-step Techniques by Lauren Rennells, which is an amazing book showing you how to do all the pincurls and victory rolls you could ever want, and with lots of great hairstyles to do.

Blouse: Route 66
Skirt: made by me
Shoes: Mollini
Belt: I think I stole it from my mother
Anchor pendant: Metal Couture
Lipstick: M.A.C. Russian Red

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Vintage Style - Mystery Woman

I've noticed that a lot of old magazines and newspapers have very charming illustrations in their fashion sections on new trends, ways to wear accessories, and the like, so I'm going to start a little series on Thursdays, cherry-picking the best of these for your enjoyment . I'll endeavor to try some of the fashion advice and show you photos too!

Today's titbit is one of a regular series that ran in The Argus, a newspaper in Melbourne, in the 1950s. Entitled, Is This a Drawing of YOU?, their illustrator would sketch a member of the public out and about in Melbourne. If you saw yourself and rang Betty Lee, the Fashion Editor at the newspaper before the following Thursday, and then presented yourself at the office in the outfit you were wearing in the drawing, you would receive a cheque for £5.5s ($225 in today's value) and the original drawing. The following week The Argus would publish who the Mystery Woman was!

This article is from 19 January, 1950. Apparently the day was quite warm, and the Mystery Woman was having lunch with friends. She was wearing a "heavy cotton frock patterned with tan flowers faintly edged in blue on a white background." The flap sleeves, lapels and "swathed belt" were bound in white. It was worn with a "white grosgrain cloche with a tiny rolled brim, trimmed with white daisies with black centres", and a string of pearls.

The Mystery Woman turned out to be Miss Moira Bailey, a nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, who was meeting friends at the Coq d'Or, wearing a dress she designed (and I presume sewed) herself. These photos show the interior of the Coq d'Or, downstairs at 350 Little Collins St, in 1947 (from the archives of the SLV). It looks like a smart but not overly fancy cafe.

I do like the circular booths, and the placemats with roosters (golden one presumes).

Miss Bailey said that although she was "very fashion-conscious", she was quite satisfied with her nurse's uniform. This is a photo of a nurse from the Royal Melbourne Hospital in the 1940s, and I wonder if her uniform looked something like this? Note the picture of the man in army uniform on her dresser, do you think it was her sweetheart?