Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not Just for Cinco de Mayo - Vintage Hand Embroidered Mexican Dresses and Blouses

Although Cinco de Mayo is a wonderful time to wear a Mexican hand embroidered dress or blouse, they are currently very popular for everyday or lounge wear as well.

Most of these dresses and blouses are made of cotton or cotton blends and are meticulously hand embroidered with flowers, birds, flower baskets and people. Each design is unique and up to the ladies who sit in the circles in the Mexican villages of Oaxaca or Puebla and visit while they stitch.

According to Mexican legend, the embroidered dress originated in the early 17th century when a girl named Mirrha came to Mexico from an Eastern country. Mirrha brought
her beautifully embroidered dresses and blouses with her and refused to wear anything else. Soon the fashion caught on and Mexican women were sewing their own embroidered clothing.

Puebla and Oaxaca are cities in Mexico that are known today as fine centers for traditional Mexican handcrafts, including embroidered cotton dresses and blouses which feature short sleeves, a loose fit and beautiful embroidery.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the embroidered Mexican dress first became worn in the United States when Latin themes because popularized by the movies and music of the era. Additionally, all things 'Latin' had been romanticized since the Jazz Age when posh U.S. nightclubs featured Latin themes, and Jazz music began to incorporate musical elements from South America and Cuba.

It was a short trip from Hollywood to Mexico and many movie stars and entertainers vacationed and brought back hand embroidered dresses and blouses which they were pictured wearing.

Influences like these became a part of the American consciousness and all things 'south of the border' were imbued with an air of sun-drenched mystery.

The embroidered Mexican dress became popular again in the late 1960s and 1970s due to the demand for comfortable and natural clothing.

Today, these dresses are back in style with vintage examples such as those shown below being highly desirable.

Vintage 1970s Multi-Color Embroidery on Burgundy Mexican Peasant Dress recently sold by CATSEYE VINTAGE on Etsy


Some Information Courtesy of The Mexican

Monday, April 26, 2010

Let's Get That Perfect Fit!

As many of you are aware vintage clothing sizes have changed dramatically over the years. None of us are built alike and body types are just not the same as they were in 1950. Such as a 1960's size 14 is closer to a today’s size 8 with many variations. There are charts to guide you with conversion but that is just a guideline not a definite. If you are seriously interested in purchasing and wearing vintage clothing a tape measure is a MUST. It would be a good idea to take your measurements and keep them at your computer while shopping.

Most sellers will give the exact bust, waist and hip measurements in inches. Another factor to take into consideration is the length from shoulder seam to waist. Taller and shorter women will be aware of this necessity. Have someone do this measurement for you. Measuring on your back, run the tape from top of shoulder to waist and compare to the item, do the same from waist to knee. In 1960 and earlier a petite woman was more common than today. If the skirt is too short, ask the seller if there is extra hem and if it will mark if lowered. Another measurement to consider is shoulder span. If your seller does not have these listed, email and ask.

Factor in the fabric type and assess if there is some give or stretch there. Many of these older fabrics such as cotton, linen and wool, do not have any leeway. Even if they do, do you really want the look to be stretched to the max? Items sized by Small, Medium, Large or Plus tell you nothing. I’ve seen many size large shirts that wouldn’t fit a 3rd grader and I’ve seen those that would fit a football player. There is no consistency in that type sizing. You will find charts on the internet that give you SML guidelines but that is mainly a guessing game. Stick to actual measurements in inches.

Sizing for vintage shoes is pretty simple. Most sellers measure in inches along the inside of the inner sole. Width is measured on the outside, ball of the foot. Once again you have to take into consideration the style of the shoes. For extreme pointed toes some length has to be knocked off. Heel width is also important for many of us, running narrow to wide. Shoe sizes have not changed that much but as you know from shopping in the mall a size 7 isn’t always a size 7. Measure a pair of your perfectly fitting shoes with that tape measure, and compare to what is stated in the listing. If no size in inches is given, ask before you purchase.

For outerwear, common sense reins. Once you have the exact measurement in inches, leave a little room for clothing that is to be worn underneath. Will you be wearing heavy sweaters or a simple silk dress...makes a big difference.

Hats are basically sized in inches only, style being the major factor. If you are purchasing a pillbox hat, head size does not really matter since it perches on top of the head. Most are worn inside and not for extreme weather so you don’t really even need to consider security or placement factors. Hats that fit down over your head are a completely different matter. Measurements are taken on the inside around the sweatband. Your head needs to be measured exactly where you want the sweatband to fit. For a cloche style hat, measure even lower as shown in this example.

So next time you're shopping for that perfect vintage apparel item make it work by making sure it will fit!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Not All Polyester Is Evil!

I am a fabric junkie. I love the look, feel, and textures of fabrics of all kinds. In fact, I think that part of the reason I collect, wear, and sell vintage clothing is for love of fabric. The right fabric makes a good design better, and can turn a mediocre design into a masterpiece.

We “vinties” love our silks and rayons, don’t we? But today I’m going to talk about polyester. Yup, that omni-present synthetic “stuff” that appeared en masse in the mid 60s and seemed to be all anyone made clothes out of for about the next decade.

Alas, polyester has a bad rep—in some cases. In others, its reputation as an evil fabric is deserved. Many buyers, sellers, and collectors of vintage apparel shudder at the thought of polyester. I assume they associate all polyesters with the cheap double-knit polys we saw in the “old-lady” pantsuits and outlet-store clothing of that era. Often it was spongy and “saggy,” and when you bent your knee, it didn’t bend back with you. So you walked around all day with knee molds in your slacks!

However, polyester was/is a very well-rounded fiber that lends itself to a variety of fabric types: single-knit jerseys, better-quality double knits, wovens, and pile fabrics. It also blends well with cottons, linens, and rayons—its better characteristics offset the less-desirable ones of those fabrics. For example, a cotton/poly blend won’t wrinkle or shrink like 100 percent cotton will. Linen will drape better and wrinkle less, and rayon is more readily washed and stronger in a blend with poly.

Polyester can be made to mimic many other fibers—we all know today’s smooth, lightweight polys that feel almost exactly like silk, but yesterday’s could be just as nice. I worked in a fabric store in the 70s, and we had high-end polyesters in shantung weaves, crepe-backed satins, drapey jerseys, soft double-knit crepe, fabulous jacquards, etc. Polyester opened up a world of easy-care clothing for the busy working woman: Most everyday fabrics were washable and didn’t need ironing. Throw them in the washer, toss in the dryer, hang, and wear. One could say that if polyester had not been introduced for commercial use in clothing, women would have been even more harried as they embarked upon the modern “Superwoman” path.

And polyester was not relegated to the world of cheap and moderate ready-to-wear fashion. Many, many high-end labels and famous designers used it back then, and still do so today. So, if you think of vintage poly as being the low rung of the fabric ladder, think again! We have here from the 60s and 70s some examples of “good” polyester fabrics. If we can find some of our memorable “bad” polyester items (such as butt-ugly wide ties), we will post them next time!

Recently sold by
MyVintageCocktail: Late 60’s/early 70’s psychedelic print dress by Mr. Dino, who was noted for the use of very fine polyester jersey.


Trevira polyester maxidress by Goldworm, another maker that used wonderful knit fabrics in its apparel.

And, from Catseye Vintage, this 70’s men’s Lilly Dache polo shirt, typifying the wild prints we saw in that era.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alfred Shaheen - The Master Print Maker

Alfred Shaheen was one of the premier makers of Hawaiian wear from the time he opened his first shop in 1952 until his retirement in 1988 and death in 2008.

Shaheen built a Hawaii-based empire that earned him millions and put his unique aloha shirts and dresses on the backs of people all over the world. He brought mass production of textile printing and clothing manufacturing to the Islands and employed hundreds of workers.

Shaheen was born in New Jersey in 1922. He grduated from Whittier College with an engineering degree and spent the World War II years as a fighter pilot in Europe.

After the war, Shaheen moved to Honolulu, where his family had relocated in 1938 after opening a custom dress-making business.

Shaheen decided to open his own aloha shirt manufacturing company in 1948 — Shaheen's of Honolulu. At first he had four sewing machines and four seamstresses who had been taught by his mother. At the time, Hawaiian shirt manufacturers would import fabrics which they cut and sewed into their own designs.

In 1952, Shaheen opened his own fabric printing factory - Surf 'n Sand Hand Prints. All screening was done hand with workers being instructed to force more ink onto the fabric which created deep rich colors.

Soon Alfred Shaheen's Hawaiian shirts and women's dresses were sold in mainland stores and in Europe. He later opened a chain of stores in Hawaii where celebrities and tourists shopped bringing his shirts and dresses back from their travels.

In 2001, the state of Hawaii recognized Shaheen for his contributions to the state with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2006, the Honolulu Advertiser named him one of the 150 most influential people, events and institutions to effect social, economic, political and cultural change in Hawaii from 1856 onward.

Alfred Shaheen Himself in the Early Years


Elvis Presley Wore Shirts by Alfred Shaheen in his Movie Blue Hawaii and Album Cover of the Same Name


Vintage 50s Alfred Shaheen Cotton Dress Recently Sold by VINTAGE BAUBLES.COM


Vintage 70s Alfred Shaheen Maxi Dress With Matching Shawl Recently Sold by CATSEYE VINTAGE ON ETSY


Today, Alfred Shaheen's daughter Camille Shaheen-Tunberg owns the rights to his designs, some of which she licenses to designer Reyn Spooner who has created reinterpretations of original textile designs from the 1950s and 1960s.

Ms. Shaheen-Tunberg has collected many of her father's original garments and owns the rights to the Alfred Shaheen website.

Today, Alfred Shaheen's vintage sundresses, sarongs, playsuits, and men's shirts are highly sought after and are the prized possessions in many collections of vintage Hawaiian wear.

(Some information courtesy of Investors Business Daily, The Hawaiian Shirt Monarch,
article dated 03/05/2009 and The Honolulu Advertiser, Alfred Shaheen - Giant of Garment Industry dated 12/25/2008.)