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One Hundred Years of Girdletude

Do you want to see a 100-year progression of waist cinchers and stocking holders from my vintage clothing collection? Of course you do! The older underwear items were acquired in two fell swoops. One group was acquired by me in the mid-1990s from a Philadelphia stocking wholesaler that was closing down. Along with a tiny Victorian corset and some curious garter belts and bras, I also acquired boxes and boxes of vintage seamed stockings, most of which have, over 20 years, been worn to death. A handful of boxes remain in my collection. The second group (eight corsets and girdles!) was scooped up by my sharp-eyed partner at a costume rental store sale in Palmerston North. "I thought you might be interested," he said. There are lessons here for collectors:
  • If it's there, buy it.
  • If you see one of something you're interested in, look and ask for more at the same venue.
  • It can be worth going back a second time.
  • Tell your friends and intimates what you collect and ask them to keep an eye out.
I am donating two boxes of pristine 1950s vintage seamed nylon stockings to the silent auction at Save Our Strangelove. This is a fantastic event fundraising for a New Zealand burlesque dancer who was severely ill in the U.S.A., racking up serious medical bills. It's got a star-studded performance line up, plus the sexiest silent auction ever, and is well worth attending, especially if you've never been to a burlesque show before. Here are the items I've donated for the auction:
Hubba hubba!

Two boxes with two pairs of virgin Cuban heeled seamed nylons: one box has black stockings, one box has a white pair and a pale coffee pair with black seams.

A vintage-wise friend of mine, who remembers her teachers wearing these nylons, told me, "The way to see if nylons would fit your foot was to wrap the length of the foot around your fist. If the foot length was a match for your fist, it would fit your foot perfectly." And now, on to our girdle timeline! Victorian corset and dress bodice, probably from the 1860s: Girdle-VictorianThis black silk Victorian bodice is our starting point, because its wasp waist is going to pursue us to the present day as a compression-attainable goal. (The person who sold it to me at an antique fair told me that it was from Winston Churchill's family.) Next to it is the saddest, tiniest Victorian corset in the world - small, made of the simplest heavy cotton, stiff with stitching, stained with time, missing an eyelet. A poor servant girl's corset, or a tween child's training corset. Here's hoping the wearer lived to outgrow it. Jumping forwards in time, here are some 1930s-1960s cotton coutil corset/girdles and some elastic girdles: Girdleorama Check out the peach-colored numbers with the lacing. Terrifying, aren't they? The fan lacing seems to be an attempt to allow the wearer to lace herself with greater ease, but I found them harder to wrangle than the Victorian corset. Their cotton fabric doesn't stretch at all, though they do have a few elastic gussets. They fasten with hooks that stay in place ferociously - the busks of Victorian corsets are much easier to undo. The orthopedic pink color is probably an attempt to make them harder to see under the lighter dresses of the time. Most of this batch has found new homes - one or two are available. I'm keeping the broader-beamed fan lacing one! For more on girdles and corsets from this period, the web site Corsetiere.net is a wealth of knowledge. 1950s longline girdle:

I'm not sure when this is from but based on the unusual strap adjusters, I'd say it's a reasonably early one of its kind. Note the zipper. Longline girdle, mid-20th century:

Everyone seems to find this one particularly enchanting

Entirely elastic! No fasteners! Remember that this, or something like it, is the underpinning of many of the 1950s retro-women images that are widely admired. Open-bottom girdles, mid-20th century: Girdle-pair This is an interesting progression. To the left we have a luxurious number. To the 21st century eye, it seems nostalgic in its use of mocha-pink lace and satin, but, as we can see from the earlier girdles and corsets, such fripperies were not applied to many earlier undergarments before the advent of elastic fabrics. Technology is making luxury accessible, here. A discreet zipper and hooks is tucked to one side. To the right is a space-age girdle from the 1960s or early 70s. The panels fasten with hooks on each side. This is a very efficient stomach restrainer. Garter belts and bras, mid-20th century: Girdles-modern Another interesting progression. This dainty cotton garter belt has a small elastic section here and there. Compare it to the gleeful 1960s/1970s all-stretch turquoise garter belt. And this modest cotton bullet bra is more utilitarian than modern bullet bra reproductions, with a touch of elastic at the back and front - the shoulder straps, cups, and side areas are stiff, fine cotton. In the middle is a lace and satin 1950s bra with a metal hook and eye fastener and, again, very little elastic. The exquisite strapless 1960s bra to the right revels in its lycra. Which brings us to the end of our hundred years...
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Subculture Clothes Versus Workaday Wardrobe

Alice Marks of the Twin Cities

A lovely goth par excellence, getting ready for a night out. Photo courtesy John Morson.

Lots of my friends have two separate wardrobes. There's the clothes they wear every day - to work, to school, to the supermarket. And then there's the clothes they wear when they're participating in subculture activities - dance evenings and productions, goth club nights, medieval or retro immersion weekends, live role-playing games, science-fiction and steampunk conventions. So this post strings together some thoughts and inspiration on the topic. It's challenging to afford two wardrobes. Subculture clothing sellers often charge a premium because they are custom-making, or dealing with small manufacturing runs. And don't we WANT to support our subculture vendors?  Often, in New Zealand, we make the clothes ourselves. Even this isn't a cost-saver if your houppelande requires 7 meters of fine wool or velvet - the result is that you're spending both money AND time. When you are investing in a subculture look, it's easy to get heedless about workaday clothes. It's hard for me to get psyched about a new work blouse when I am tempted by sequined burlesque splendor, or the ever-increasing array of Ravishing Retro Dresses.
I hit up a toy from the $2 shop with gold spray paint for the ray gun

Thrifted steampunk, Exhibit A. Thanks again, Digitalpix!

For steampunk and retro, thrifting can come to the rescue. It can help if you're goth. Because people are wonderful, I and others often get given subculture-relevant items; I am the fortunate recipient of feathered bags, lingerie, flowered hair clips, and lengths of unusual fabric. Can you combine the two? Yes. You'll care more about your clothes and appearance. And you'll just have more fun. One time, a contractor paused in the hallway, scrutinized my cats' eye glasses, leopard cardigan, and full red lips, and said, "You're one of those retro girls, aren't you?" It turned out that we knew people in common, and we were friends for the duration of the contract. Here's some good reading on this subject: Another useful concept to get the most out of both a subculture wardrobe and a workaday wardobe is that of the wardrobe capsule - a group of garments designed to mix and match, so that you get many looks out of relatively few garments. This is a great way to get the most out of a small workaday wardrobe, and to extend the return on stunning subculture items, such as a steampunk jacket or a pin-up dress. Wardrobe capsules are having a moment in blogland, thanks to Polyvore's image collages. Some quality inspiration is at two of my style favorites, Wardrobe Oxygen and Inside Out Style. Then there's storage space. I've seen subculture wardrobes overflow from closet space and trunks to take over entire rooms. I'm incredibly lucky to have two closets that I can use - one is contemporary, and one is vintage/costume. Someday I'll combine households with a special someone and the jig will be up. In the meantime, hats, wigs, and shoes are still especially difficult to store.
Small but perfectly formed

My vintage/costume closet. Note the clothes steamer beside the closet.

Subculture-signifier hair remains polarizing. In Wellington, New Zealand, vivid tints and streaks of candy colors or silver/white, are surprisingly OK for professionals. Retro hair is also OK... up to a point. (I'd feel better making strong statements about this if I knew retro-coiffed doctors or CEOs outside of the Louise Brooks bob zone.) Simply moving up to Auckland is enough to turn vivid hair into a vivid work problem, and this discussion of pink hair for a scientist discusses the contrast between Boston and London style. These are usually all incorporated into shorter hair styles, and there's often bias against very long hair for women, and longer hair for men. A full head of candy-neon hair has become a new marker of luxury, indicating that you don't have to work, or you're Free of the Man - either way, nothing is stopping you. I've enjoyed the drama and fun of retro and cosplay clothing since I was a teenager. For me part of maturing has been deciding that I deserve to have fun with all my clothes, both workaday/mundane ones and subculture/cosplay ones.
I'M A BEAUTIFUL ELF DAMMIT

Cosplaying as an elf ten years ago.

Sarge gave his life for fashion. -salutes-
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Fur of Mystery, December Burlesque

Sarge gave his life for fashion. -salutes-I have acquired a vintage fur of MYSTERY! Look at the chevrons! Seems to be a 1960s Mad Men era fur scarf, probably mink's less expensive cousin, weasel, aka "summer ermine." But, the chevrons!  I can't tell if it was sewn, or dyed. Perhaps it was made from one of the sergeants of the Weasel Patrol? More vintage furs at Lady Violette. Note the skunk set! The end of the year is getting busy on Wellington's burlesque stages.  I've got two December emceeing gigs.
  • Have Yourself A Very Merry Caburlesque, December 8th - Move over, panto, Christmas isn't complete without a Christmas themed burlesque show! We've got all kinds of naughtiness planned for this one, and an amazing line up.
  • Bare and Back Again, A Burlesque Journey to Middle-Earth, November 30th/December 1st - Not only am I emceeing this piece of Middle-Earth madness, I'm producing it. A friend of mine said, "I heard about this and I was horrified...how can you make it work?" We think we've got just the right mix of humor, loving irreverence, and truly amazing acts to both evoke the magic of Middle-Earth and to help us all blow off steam after a movie-premiere-saturated week in Wellington. Tickets on sale here!
Poster art by fantasy artist Hope Hoover  
A professional photographer makes everything look special! Thanks, Toya at Digitalpix!
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I got dressed for…a photo shoot

Trying something new here, a "what I wore" post.
A professional photographer makes everything look special! Thanks, Toya at Digitalpix!

Navy washed silk shirt with 3/4 balloon sleeves, navy skinny jeans, rich brown boots. Easy on, easy off, looking nice for the makeup artist.

This just happened to be what I was wearing on the day of the photo shoot where my sequined dress was captured in all its glory. The vintage bag is a fun new find that happened to go with the comfy boots - I begged the photographers for a candid with the bag, and this is the result! Dressing on shoot day, I wanted comfortable shoes, to rest my feet after the shoot's high heels, and to be agile while helping the photographers carry backdrops and props (everyone helped out). I  wore a neutral button-down top, the best thing to don for a professional makeup session. Usually I'd add a necklace or bracelet, even a scarf - the neutral blue palette just begs for it. But no accessories meant less things to mislay at the shoot. As a last note of glamour, my actual hair had been bundled under a wig for the shoot itself, and was still in frizzy shock. I could list the brands, but...jeez, do you WANT to know the brands? Seriously, do you? Next one of these will be a candid shot with the New Camera, so it won't be professional, but it will be far better than recent blurriness. More soon!
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When decor is up for debate

In early January, my guest room got repainted with a cream ceiling and palest ashes-of-roses walls. But at my house, the post-repaint luminosity and the new gate latch goes unnoticed. People are too busy reliably flipping out about three or four decor elements. At the end of the day, the details of our homes are there for us, not for our visitors. The things we love give us daily pleasure when we live amongst them, just as the spin of a Tibetan prayer wheel generates good energy. "Your apartment, it's like your skin," a friend of mine once said. And just as we are encouraged to care for yet reclaim our own bodies, we should feel equally comfortable doing whatever we want with the spaces we live in. Whether that's the right wall color, a coffee table balanced on an engine, or the Victorian taxidermy turtle dish placed just so. Taxidermy Taxidermy is one of my long-term fascinations. In my living room, there are two pieces of taxidermy: an assemblage of birds and a red deer fawn, known as the "Fawn of Satan" due to its evil, knowing expression. Small children go right up to the fawn, begging to pet it. Adults get stuck examining the birds. Revulsion, fascination, and questions of legality come up. A tastemaker I know declared, "Two pieces of taxidermy is all right. Any more is creepy." If I ever find one of those Victorian turtle dishes at the right time, I'm afraid the room will officially become creepy. You may find it so already...

If you put flowers next to the taxidermy, it's less evil

The birds are all, I was told, Australian interlopers to NZPoignantly, people didn't pay half as much attention to the taxidermy when my cat was alive. Living nature trumps the dead. But when it comes to human attention, even dead, preserved nature trumps the 8 pictures and two shelves of bizarre objects that are also in this room. Evolutionary psychology in action. After a visit to my house, if somebody likes me, they forward me taxidermy links forevermore. Keep 'em coming, my lovelies, especially to sites like Ravishing Beasts. And just as Bon Bon Rocher receives boudoir-themed gifts, I get "mad naturalist" ones. Stingray spines, boxes of shells, souvenirs from the La Brea Tar Pits museum, Neil Pardington's Vault exhibit catalog for my birthday, to my delight. Last year a friend of mine gave me this carefully preserved weta, which I have placed temporarily in this bell jar, like the treasure it is. The bell jar used to have a clock in it. I'm working on the base. Nude Photos Are nude or pin-up photos ever tasteful? Are they tasteful when they're nudes of yourself, of your lover, or of a stranger or friend? What about full-color baroque-frame pin-ups compared to artsy black and white? There's a huge discussion on the topic here at Metafilter. For the time being, I've applied the "Rule of Two" to the nude photos...even though a third one is framed up. Do you notice the subtle warmth imparted by the slightly rose-hued wall? Or are you all OMG NAKED PHOTOS? If you are worried about children seeing your nude/pin-up photos, there's an easy solution. Just put some taxidermy in the same room, closer to a child's eye level. Your nude photos are now invisible to anyone who hasn't reached puberty! Dan McCarthy Print Poster art and screenprints are another of my long-term loves, and lots of my visitors share the love for this Dan McCarthy print. Which surprises and delights me. I never knew so many people shared my taste for skeletons, bees, and dinosaur skeletons, combined into a gracious statement on environmental decay and extinction. I got this for $30 online when it first came out. Dan McCarthy print, "Shared Memory: Pollinators", 2008 There are two testaments to this print's power: the many discussions about bee colony collapse we've had at my dining table, and the fact that nobody has ever commented on the fact that the room that has this print is missing its skirting boards/baseboards. Since Dan McCarthy made this print, his art has gone in a completely different direction - his web site is here, but a lot of his earlier prints can be found through third-party sellers. Some day I'll do a post on my retro kitchen, but that's another story...
p.s. All the keys in this bowl belong to beautiful women.
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When It’s So Bad It’s Good

There's a category of vintage clothing summed up by this Venn diagram: Note that the overlap area isn't large and is murky.I'm a sucker for items that fall into the murky, "so bad it's good" area in the middle. Mouton coats. Marbled silk prints. Giant pussycat bows. Hats that are ready for lift-off. Brooches that can be seen from outer space. These items have often survived because they're so distinctive or over-the-top that they got worn once or twice and then got put away. It's also illustrated by this vintage 70s dress that I thrifted:
p.s. All the keys in this bowl belong to beautiful women.

"I knew it was going to be a great party when I had to get a bigger bowl for all the keys!"

The dress seems to have been custom-made in Asia in the '70s. Only the '70s can explain the totally bizarre, yet very high quality, stretch silk twill, and the enormous collar. Based on the total lack of a waist, it seems to have been made for an edgy matron - I'll be wearing it with a belt and a slip in the future.
The dress has no zipper and pulls over the head. Easy-on, easy-off.

"Whose keys are these? And which way is the waterbed?"

The dress photos are thanks to Wellington photographer Diana Villiers - see more of her work here.
Exhibit A: Rockabilly Kitchen, original 1940s layout - note the "pie safe" cupboard
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“Vintage Lifestyle:” Cupcakes Against The Abyss

Why did it take me until this month to hear the phrase “vintage and rockabilly lifestyle”? At first, I was grumpy. "How can an aesthetic be a lifestyle?" Then I looked around my house. Exhibit A: Rockabilly Kitchen, original 1940s layout - note the "pie safe" cupboard I hauled this taxidermy around for years. People thought I was mad. Well, WHO'S MAD NOW? Oh, I still am. Er. If a “vintage lifestyle” is about the aesthetic, the look, the stuff, I am guilty as charged. So, what does it mean to love vintage things but be impatient for the future? (By the way, these pictures don't even show the leopard-print sheets. Or the art-deco light fixtures. Or the rusted hand-forged coat hooks I rescued from a junk shop in Auckland, soaked in oil for three weeks, and lovingly hand-sanded. Or the atomic barkcloth curtains that I made with the fabric I ordered from the U.S. for a song (this stuff, with a blue background). I list these things and I think, "Perhaps I could have been saner?" Oh well, moving on.) The other day in a slip of the tongue I said, “Now that we all live in the 22nd century,” then I realized I wished it was true. I like the Internet, eating food from around the world, being huffily offended at the least jot of racism, and women with science careers. You know that it's possible to update a Twitter feed using brainwaves alone, right?  How cool is that? And I eagerly anticipate stem cell medical advances and the new ceramics-based electronics. But just as Western culture took 75 years to fully assimilate the impact of industrialization from 1850 to the 1920s, I think we’re not done with modernism and its changes just yet. The 1990s, you may recall, were all about the cyber and the techno and the virtual, glossy Matrix-style coats, rubber fetish wear. We were chafing at the bit to start the future. Then 9/11 happened, and in the U.S.A., people looked backwards. Cupcakes, aprons, vintage Atari games, That 70s Show. Europe soon jumped on the bandwagon ("Ostalgie" in Germany, the U.K. going retro too) and it trickled to the Southern hemisphere. We're still unpacking both the retro suitcase we turned back to (which did have layers and layers of cool things in it) and our massive ambivalence about actually having started the future. For myself, I'm aware that the main space in my abode, my living room, stylistically exiles the Cold War period. As a young teenager I had nightmares about Chernobyl and nuclear disaster - and the space where I spend many hours leaps from Art Deco to 2001, as if the years when we all lived in nuclear terror didn't exist. But from my non-nuclear bunker, I can contemplate peak oil, global warming, apocalyptic science fiction, and social flux, and take comfort from cupcakes. And let's face it: if I had Aeon Flux's cheekbones instead of cupid's-bow lips and an hourglass figure, my personal style would be less retro.

Aeon Flux - remember when the future used to look like this?

Judge for yourself! There is a mind-boggling array of blogs combining housewifery and “vintage lifestyle” content.  The blogroll here at B. Vikki Vintage is a good cross section. A vintage lifestyle magazine in South Africa, for a change. Thinky thoughts on vintage lifestyle advantages. Retro-futurism: the past's perspectives on the future. Paleofuture Blog is a treasure trove of this madness. If you're in Wellington, NZ, this month's Nerdnite, on Monday the 19th, is exceptionally interesting. A speaker is discussing Steampunk Digital Humanities, "using new digital tools to reinterpret and visualise traditional data." And, finally, long-term retro aficionado artist Robert Crumb's A Short History of America. So much nostalgia...and this was drawn in 1979. "What next?" as the last panel asks. Crumb himself did an addendum in 1989.  
This aquamarine negligee set almost glows in the dark.
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Teenage Mutant Vintage Lingerie

My vintage collection and I were invited to a Digitalpix glamour shoot. Oh happy day! I thought I'd bring something special. "Special" in lots of ways. Because vintage lingerie can be pretty demented. Take this demure “bed jacket” modeled here by Phoenix Flame. The pink puff sleeves? The lace and bows? Surely designed to hide a mind like a steel trap.
Do not be deceived by the lace and ribbons: Agent Phoenix Flame is extremely dangerous.

Courtesy of Digitalpix Photography and model Phoenix Flame.

And then there’s this. On the way to Las Vegas in 1964, some revelers tossed a pair of synthetic panties out of their convertible into the Nevada desert. One nuclear test later, this lace and nylon negligee set was found clinging fetchingly to a tumbleweed. It almost, but not quite, glows in the dark. Guest photographer Andrew used a soft focus to lessen the impact:
I feel a pleasant glow when I wear this. Is that happiness or my DNA warping?

Courtesy of superb guest photographer Andy!

Did it give me superpowers?
I BELIEVE I CAN FLY

Captured in flight by Digitalpix

Well, I think so!