In Which We Eat Paste

Backstory: Every weekday morning, I pack The Boyfriend’s lunch. Also, as referenced in an earlier post, it’s one of my household tasks to plan the weekly dinner menu. To make this a little easier on myself, a few days of the week are always assigned a theme. Relevant to this story: Meatless Mondays (self explanatory) and WABAC* Wednesdays (wherein I choose a main dish recipe from one of my approximately eight gazillion vintage cookbooks).

Photo by Michael Bonnickson for "Tofu Cookery," © 1982
Photo by Michael Bonnickson for “Tofu Cookery,” © 1982

More Backstory: Sometimes life gets in the way of a week’s planned menu. In this case, a previous week’s WABAC Wednesday recipe, “Layered Casserole” from Tofu Cookery, ©1982. I’d chosen it specifically to use up a large amount of well-intentioned-but-still-unused tofu** that wasn’t getting any fresher sitting in the fridge. Grocery shopping had been completed before schedules changed, so now I also had the recipe-required spinach and mushrooms that needed using in a hurry. How convenient, then, that this particular recipe is also suited to Meatless Monday! I measured, I puréed, I poured, I baked. It smelled good. It looked good. Everything was going swimmingly.

Still More Backstory: When we eat at the dining table, The Boyfriend always waits until the I’m served and seated before taking his first bite. More often than not, however, we eat from trays while watching something on the TV. In those cases, he starts eating while I’m fiddling with the DVD player or streaming device. Such was the case last night, so he was a few silent bites into his portion of Layered Casserole before I had my first taste. My first taste, which resulted in my visceral exclamation of “It’s like paste!” One look over at him and his face indicated that he was in full agreement. I removed our laden plates to the kitchen and ordered Chinese delivery. While watching our evening’s movie and eating our replacement dinner, The Boyfriend leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I’d have eaten the whole thing and not said a word.” That’s love.

Further Backstory: Every weekday morning, our iPhone alarms go off at the same time. We turn them off simultaneously and wordlessly stay in bed a few minutes longer. I’ll shift my leg closer to him, and he’ll move his hand over to mine. A cat or two will wander over and sit on top of us. All silently.

The Actual Story: This morning, our alarms rang. We turned them off. We shifted. A cat came over and sat on top of me. After a moment, The Boyfriend whispered, “Please don’t pack me paste for lunch.”

_______________

* The WABAC Machine refers to a fictional machine from the cartoon segment Peabody’s Improbable History, a recurring feature of the 1960s cartoon series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The WABAC Machine is a plot device used to transport the characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman back in time to visit important events in human history. The precise meaning of the acronym WABAC is unknown, but the term is obviously a play on “way back”, as in “way back in time,” and the names of mid-century, large-sized computers that often ended in “AC” (generally for “Automatic Computer” or similar), such as ENIAC or UNIVAC. Indeed, according to Gerard Baldwin, one of the show’s directors, the name “WABAC” is a reference to the UNIVAC I.

** I like tofu.

Rhapsody in White

gowns upon gowns
gowns upon gowns

Hello, Readers! I miss you so. Here I am, popping in to say, “Hi!” And to write about…well, a little insight into how my addled brain works.

I have a huge (to me, anyway) inventory of vintage goodies in my storage space. Some is listed in the shop, but I’d guess that about â…” to ¾ of it is known only to me. Which really isn’t the point of having it all, now is it? No. But getting it all cleaned, mended, steamed, photographed, measured, and listed…well, that’s rather daunting. Overwhelming, really. My plan of attack in the past has been rather wishy-washy: I grab the closest X number of items that fit a theme (Blouses. Aprons. Party dresses.) and try to haphazardly work from there. But…

My last big shop update was Everything Red. Didn’t matter what it was. I posted dresses, napkins, neckties. All red. My storefront looked like a bordello a bouquet of poppies. It was days of photography, and a few weeks to get it all listed. But it is, and it’s done, and I was feeling pretty accomplished. The plan was to next move on to Purple and Coral. But…

A few of my wedding dress listings expired. They tend to be pretty popular in the Search stats, but a wedding dress isn’t the kind of thing a gal can wear every day so they don’t sell as quickly as a skirt might. Now, I didn’t want to leave those listings in the ether, but I also didn’t want to break up my color blocking on the storefront. Etsy allows shop owners to move listings around to various pages, but it’s a wee bit of a pain. So? So I sat and thought about it and stressed about it didn’t do a dang thing at all. Which is not the way to sell vintage clothing. So…

New plan of attack: Relist the expired wedding dresses. Photograph a few “new” wedding dresses to add to the category (I have 6–7 of them lingering in storage). And then wash/mend/steam/photograph/measure/list Everything White. Great! A Plan! But…

White tends to be a warm-weather color, so while there’s at least one beaded cardigan in the mix, most of this stash is summery blouses and whatnot. And here in the States, it’s nearly Labor Day with crisp Autumn weather nipping at its heels. But…

I do love my AU and NZ customers. They (you) make up an inordinately large percentage of my sales. And I really do apologize from the bottom of my heart for the cost of shipping, but that truly is the cost of shipping to the other side of the planet. Most of you understand that. So, yay! An update for the Southern Latitudes! But…

I know me, and I know how much time I have available to dedicate to the shop. I do what I can when I can, but it’s not my day job. And if I take pretty much the month of September to list Everything White, I’m afraid that I won’t get to autumn wear until winter and so on. So…

With apologies to my AU and NZ customers: I’m going back to a Theme for just a short break. Wedding Dresses (also not the high season, but hey, people get married all the time) will interrupt the color blocking for a short time. After that: look for, say, Navy. And Black. And Olive. And as always, if you’re looking for something in particular, just ask. I’m always happy to go through storage to search for something special for you.

Of petticoats and crinolines

Detail from a Sears catalog, Summer 1959
Detail from a Sears catalog, Summer 1959

I’m not a professional stylist, nor am I a professional historian. I do not work for any fashion publication, large or small. I have no formal education in costuming.

What I am, however, is a dedicated historical fashion hobbyist. And, at least according to the curious number of people who have mentioned it in the last few days, I’m well-dressed. It’s flattering, and quite a feather in my cap. It’s also the background upon which I make this plea:

Please, PLEASE stop jamming full crinolines underneath quarter- and half-circle skirts. In your quest to look “period appropriate,” you wind up looking sloppy and/or uncomfortable.

1956 vs. 2013 trying to look period
1956 vs. 2013’s interpretation of 1956

On the left of this image we have a photo, taken by LIFE photographer Yale Joel in 1956, of actress Betty Furness wearing a black dress she wore while doing Westinghouse commercials on CBS that year. It is meant to appear both fashionable and accessible, and succeeds. If you look very closely at her hem (click on the image to enlarge it), you can just barely make out the lace edge of a petticoat beneath. The petticoat provides some shape and support, but notice that the skirt still falls in gentle folds. You can almost picture the waves of fabric swaying as Ms. Furness would walk across her Westinghouse set.

On the right we have an anonymous participant in a “1950s-styled” wedding, circa 2013. I’ve blocked out her face to protect her identity, but I assure you that she is every bit as beautiful as Betty Furness. The skirt of her dress is cut with a similar fullness to that of the dress worn by Ms. Furness. But here is where we diverge: someone involved with this fashion fiasco decided that all of the bridesmaids should wear a full, multi-layered crinoline under each of their dresses. On the positive side, they were ordered in a length that is correct for the length of the skirt (yes, petticoats come in different lengths. We’ll get to that in a minute). Unfortunately, the dresses are so stuffed so tightly that the skirts are riding up, and showing the bottom inches of the crinolines. Why not complete the look and pull your bra strap out while you’re at it? These overstuffed skirts do not move with flowing grace, but rather like dinner bells with legs for clappers.

I call this look on the right "The Drop-Off."
I call this look on the right “The Drop-Off.”

Subset A: Petticoats come in different lengths! It’s true! When shopping for gen-yoo-wine vintage, you often take whatever you can get. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can always wear whatever you got with whatever you have. In the example shown here, we have the L.L. Bean Signature poplin dress styled two different ways: on the left is L.L. Bean’s version, and on the right is a photo from an eBay listing advertising the dress as a “vintage 1950s style.” I don’t mean to infer that the seller is being dishonest; he or she does state in the listing description that the dress is near-new L.L. Bean. The seller has merely styled the dress in a way that L.L. Bean didn’t consider, or didn’t consider appealing to their target audience. And the possibilities are certainly there to give this dress a retro feel. The problem with this look specifically is that the crinoline used for the photograph is both too full and too short for this skirt, resulting in a steep cliff at the hem. It is not a very full skirt, and you’d do better leaving it alone or wearing a less voluminous petticoat or a slip with a pretty, ruffled edge. In those instances, the length is less of an issue because they’re providing minimal volume and not supporting the weight of the skirt.

Petticoats and crinolines are easy to find online, and while actual vintage can be far more difficult to locate in your desired size/color/length/fullness there are still options for brand-new petticoats/crinolines/prairie skirts made either en masse or even to your own specifications. A basic, brand-new, 35-yard petticoat should run you under $50 online, while custom orders can cost considerably more and take longer for delivery.

I’ve been lucky enough to acquire all (5) of my petticoats locally and don’t have personal experience with many of these retailers, but here is a list on online sources (all U.S. based, sorry) where you can buy your very own:

Hey Viv (ready-to-wear)

Malco Modes (RTW, many options; U.S.A.-made)

ReSashsay (RTW and custom; consignment)

Theda Bara’s Vintage Boudoir (vintage; availability varies)

Have fun, and look good doing it!