Monday, August 26, 2013


Blog researched and written by HUVC's equally iconic intern Ceci Cholst
The Letty Lynton dress by Adrian. Image:The Legendary Joan Crawford

Legendary costume designer Edith Head once said that Joan Crawford’s giant white dress from the 1932 movie Letty Lynton was “the single most important influence on fashion in film history.” This dress forever changed both the 1930s silhouette and the fashion industry.

 I personally think it looks odd and unbalanced—gigantic puffed sleeves and a small ruffled collar paired with a tight waistline and ruffled peplum—but there is no doubt it inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful gowns and day dresses, some of which are available for rental at Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing.

People often subconsciously link 1930s fashion to Hollywood. It’s no coincidence! Cultural and economic forces actively ensured that fashion and film were inextricable. At the time, young white women made up both the largest consumer market as well as the majority of the movie-going audience. To them, Hollywood, with its tales of rags to riches, represented a vision of accessible wealth.

From a 1934 Sears Catalogue, the green dress on the left is described as "gleaming, twinkling star of fashion.”

The description of the dress on the right from the 1933 Sears Catalogue reads:  Its “new” “tiered puff sleeve” is the “alluring kind of dress that flashes across the screen on your favorite movie star!”

 Around the same time, articles in popular media urged women to “scientifically” assess their personalities based on popular stars’ “types”, and dress accordingly. According to Sarah Berry’s book Screen Style, a popular 1936 self-help guide indicated that Ginger Rogers was the “athletic type,” Katherine Hepburn the “boyish type,” Kay Francis the “sophisticated type,” Janet Gaynor the “ingĂ©nue,” and Marlene Dietrich and Norma Shearer the “romantic type.” By “scientifically” matching your look to a star’s persona, you could dress according to your correct personality!

It didn’t take long for big business to capitalize. In 1930, Bernard Waldman had organized the Modern Merchandising Bureau, Inc., which licensed designs from upcoming films and sold them in Cinema Styles boutiques in department stores all over the country. Shoes, hats, purses, and clothes—anything that could be advertised in a fan magazine (the equivalent of our celebrity gossip magazines)—suddenly became top sellers. Women were not just exercising their economic power; they were making themselves into movie stars and buying the wardrobe to match!

One of HUVC's 1930's gowns w. full bolero sleeves
 The Letty Lynton dress was this system’s biggest success.

 In the film, Letty Lynton (Joan Crawford), is a down-and-out socialite, fleeing by boat from an affair-gone-bad in South America. On the steamship back to the United States, she meets a respectable, wealthy American man and they get engaged. Her former lover is waiting for her in New York, waiting to take her back to Uruguay, and in order to escape his clutches and instead marry the wealthy American for respectability and love, she accidentally murders the ex-lover and gets away with it.  
Another of HUVC's 1930's gowns, with the angelic sleeve
“Dishonored Lady”.

Letty wears the famous white dress aboard the cruise ship returning to New York. Ironically, Letty looks extremely innocent and girlish—the huge white sleeves resemble angel wings—but the silhouette is strong, commanding, and powerful.

 The dress caused such a furor that, when asked why so many people either loved the dress or loved to hate it, the costume designer, Adrian, replied, “In the studio we thought it a trifle extreme.” The dress itself, with its many disparate elements, was a madcap pastiche of neo-Victorian elements, a trend that was gaining popularity as women sought to “re-feminize” after the flapper 20s. It also tapped into the beginning of fashion designer Schiaparelli’s large-shouldered look.
Many costume designers and fashion designers copied Adrian’s dramatic silhouette, creating the so-called “Letty Lynton effect.” The dress proved so popular that Vogue sniffed about how “the country was flooded with little Joan Crawfords.” Thanks to the Hollywood-fashion industrial complex, these copy cats were here to stay.
Letty Lynton nightgown featured in the 1933 Spiegel Christmas Catalogue. (Image from Jezebel)

Macy’s, which had its own “ Cinema Shop” specializing in fashions worn by the stars, copied the dress in 1932 and claimed it sold over 500,000 replicas in its store, with over 1,000,00 copies selling in America alone. Whether or not that’s true, the popularity of the dress shows that American women identified with this girl who can be both innocent and commanding, a woman who could have sexual misadventures and still marry the man of her dreams. All while looking stunning.

The Letty Lynton Effect pictured in British Vogue (Images from the blog Theatre of Fashion)

Today, though we can’t seem go a day without a celebrity designing a new fashion line, film and now TV-inspired fashion trends still inspire: Annie Hall inspired women to wear menswear; Out of Africa inspired safari looks; Mad Men not only inspired a 60s retro fashion revival, the show also spawned a licensed line with Banana Republic and allowed the show’s costume designer Janie Bryant to create a line for QVC.

full sleeved-1930's chiffon dress from the HUVC Collection
 Most recently, Downton Abbey inspired Ralph Lauren’s Edwardian Fall 2012 Collection (in which Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing happened to be instrumental in contributing inspiration for them to copy!) Finally, The Great Gatsby inspired not only successful licensed lines with Brooks Brothers’ “Gatsby Collection”, but Tiffany's "Great Gatsby Collection" as well Gatsby-inspired eyeglasses from Warby Parker!

80 years later, Hollywood and fashion are still bosom buddies. Thanks, Letty Lynton!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

RELATED MUSINGS: Bouillon Cubes, Pipes, Vintage Christmas Ornaments AND Mr. F.W. Woolworth!

above collection currently  for sale from ETSY shop VintagePickle
In this hot weather, one often gets nostalgic for the cooler weather, snow and the holiday festivities that come with them! One interesting collectible which seems to be growing is vintage Christmas tree ornaments.

from the Pinterest site Antique Christmas Ornaments
Prior to the mid-1800s, most Christmas trees were decorated with candles, fruit, pastries in the shapes of stars, hearts and flowers and tinsel, which was first invented in Germany at the start of the 17th century.

In about 1847,  artist-craftsmen in the German town of Lauscha first began creating garlands of glass bead and ultimately, blown glass tree ornaments in 
the shape of fruits and nuts.
Justus von Liebeg

The silvery effect was developed and created in the 1850s by a man named Justus von Liebeg, with a silver nitrate solution swirled into the orbs after the glass shapes were cooled.  Afterwards, the ornaments were hand-painted and the capped with a metal top and hook. 

As an aside, Justus von Liebeg was probably one of the most brilliant chemists in history. Also a professor,  he is regarded as "father of fertilizer", popularized baking powder and developed a manufacturing process for beef extracts in a company he named Liebig Extract of Meat Company which later trademarked the well-known OXO brand of beef bouillon.

Germany was soon producing a variety of shapes including stars, fruit, and angels for export.

F.W. Woolworth, who had opened his first "5 Cent" store with $300 of borrowed funds on February 22, 1878 near Utica, New York, discovered Lauscha's baubles during a 1880 visit to Germany and began importing them. His first store was a failure, having located it in too small a commercial area.
F.W. Woolworth

On June 21,1879 Mr. Woolworth opened his second store, the " Great Five Cent Store"  in the larger, Lancaster, Pennsylvania area. This time, the store was a great success!  By 1910,Woolworth's had expanded to over 1,000 stores and Lauscha's imported ornaments were selling all over the United States.

Did you know that on November 5, 1908, Mr. Woolworth opened his first store outside the United States, in Liverpool, England?  Since "5 and 10 cents" would have no meaning there, it was called the "Threepence and Sixpence" store.

Alas, the original chain eventually went out of business in 1997 and transitioned into the Foot Locker chain.


 And now, back to Christmas ornaments.

 Below, an antique German ornament.
from the Pinterest site Antique Christmas Ornaments

In 1862, German immigrant William DeMuth founded a company in his own name specializing in pipes, smoker's accessories and cigar store figures. Ultimately becoming the largest pipe company in the United States, his items are now highly collectible, especially its meerschaum pipe carved in the likenesses of United States Presidents.  
Samples of Meerschaum pipes from a William Demuth mid-1870's catalog.

  In 1871, Mr. Demuth created the first American-made glass ornaments.  The importing of ornaments from Lauscha ceased during World War I and American-made ornaments were selling, but alas, they didn't live up to German craftsmanship.

Ultimately, the most popular vintage American Christmas tree ornaments in the late 1930s through the 1950s were made by The Shiny-Brite company .
from VintagePickle on ETSY

Though he also had imported glass ornaments from Germany since the turn of the century, businessman Max Eckardt had the foresight to realize that another World War, WWII, was on the horizon and would again disrupt his shipments.

Together with the Corning Glass Company, in 1937 he established the ‘Shiny-Brite” company to produce “American-made” ornaments which were bright, colorful and more importantly, inexpensive.

 Corning adapted their light bulb-making process to make glass ornaments, which were subsequently hand-decorated in Eckhardt’s factories.

It is easy to date these ornaments - one only need examine the hooks!

The earliest Shiny-Brite ornaments had the traditional metal cap and loop, with the hook attached to the loop in order to hang it from a tree.

During World War II the country needed to conserve its metal supply, so in the early 1940s the metal cap was replaced by a cardboard tab and hung onto a tree with string or yarn. 

After the war, the ornaments had a long wire hook that ran from the top and through the center of the ornament, exiting at the base, where it was attached to the ornament.

Sadly, Shiny-Brite closed its factories in 1962.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

LEGS FOR THE WAR EFFORT and Other Rationing in World War 2

Some say fashion is the ultimate freedom of expression:  a mood or personal voice communicated through the clothing each and every person opts to wear. One might think Americans have always had the freedom to choose whatever we want to dress ourselves in, but there was a time not even a century ago, when fabrics and materials became limited due to a little event we identify as World War II.

Not only were footwear, fabrics, and apparel short in supply in the United States but in France and Great Britain as well -  all were rationed. Because of the massive impact the war had on the world, the supplies needed for the war effort demanded that the people be required to give up luxuries for a cause bigger than themselves.

Women’s options of wearing the newest styles or the most colorful dress and heels were suddenly curtailed. With the onslaught of the war, many fabrics became unavailable, which significantly affected the formerly easy access to certain types of clothing. 

On the American Home Front

“Uncle Sam last week assumed the role of fashion designer.  Sweeping restrictions aim to save 15 percent of the yardage now used on women's and girls' apparel through such measures as restricting hems and belts to two inches, eliminating cuffs on sleeves.  Exempt categories include bridal gowns, maternity dresses, and vestments for religious orders.”  Life Magazine, April 20, 1942

To further illustrate, starting in 1942 there was a limited supply of wool: wool was the textile used for more than eleven million U.S. military uniforms, therefore it was in short supply. Instead, artificial fibers such as viscose and rayon were used, both derived from wood pulp.  

Nylon and silk were fibers popular in the 40’s because of their use in women’s stockings, but they soon also became obsolete as materials used for women’s clothing and accessories. Because parachutes for the war were fabricated out of nylon, the fabric was converted into a military staple. Silk supply was also eliminated entirely during the war because Japan was the principal provider of the nation’s silk.

Due to the shortage of nylon stockings, women became creative in their efforts to re-create the look of seamed hose. They began painting tinted shades on their legs and simulated back seams on each other with eyeliner pencil. 
The Hutton Getty Picture Collection 1940s-Nick Yapp

Below is an interesting ad from The Ladies Home Journal in June/1944, advertising a product from Elizabeth Arden that tints the legs in a choice of three shades, and advertises the bottle in terms of how many "pairs" the liquid covers.

When America entered the war, the economy focused on war production instead of consumer demand.  

In May 1942, the U.S. Office of Price Administration began implementing rations on such varied items such as sugar, coffee, gasoline, meat, tires, and silk. Each family in the United States was given ration books and vouchers to purchase these goods, limiting how much each person was able to purchase. 

The Home Front: U.S.A. Ronald H. Bailey
Rationed items also happened to be scarce, attributable to various reasons: Coffee, for example, was rationed because the ships previously transporting the coffee beans from South America were preoccupied with military use.  

Rubber was the first material rationed in the United States that was not food-related. The plantations of the Dutch East Indies, which generated 90% of the United States’ rubber, were captured by Japan. President Roosevelt took action and asked Americans to come together and aid by recycling rubber at home: tires, raincoats, shoes, bathing/shower caps, and hoses.

Life Magazine August 11, 1941

Recycling of all kinds began to be encouraged by the government: Americans were persuaded to recycle metal, paper, and rubber, all to support the war effort. As an example, aluminum cans were recycled in order to provide extra ammo for the military. 


Ladies’ Home Journal June, 1944
 Regulation L-85:
Because of the minute supply of materials such as silk, nylon, wool, leather, rubber, and cotton and their need for the national defense, the War Production Board in 1942 enacted Regulation L-85. This regulation rationed organic fibers and limited drastic alterations to clothing that would draw consumers into stores.

Another element of the regulation not only limited certain colors available to the public (black and navy were the most common colors employed) but caused the elimination of former particular fashion design embellishments such as patch pockets, balloon sleeves, sashes, double yokes, hoods, or shawls, which were deemed too extraneous. 
The British sign reads "Women's Utility Suits"

The amount of acceptable yardage utilized in garments was also regulated here and abroad: skirts couldn’t be below the knee (as popular in previous decades), jackets and skirts couldn’t be excessively full, and cuffs were not allowed. Even elastic in women’s foundations was forbidden.
The simple, unadorned suits available for purchase were often called "utility suits"

Great Britain at War:
To relay the message of limiting clothing purchases, the rationing system was explained in media of newspapers and women’s magazines such as the example below, published in Great Britain in June of 1941:

“When the shops re-open you will be able to buy cloth, clothes, footwear and knitting wool only if you bring your food ration book with you. The shopkeeper will detach the required number of coupons from the unused margarine page. Each margarine coupon counts as one coupon towards the purchase of clothing and footwear.  You will have a total of 66 coupons to last you a year; so go sparingly. You can buy where you like and when you like without registering.”
The Hutton Getty Picture Collection 1940s-Nick Yapp
As a result of the rationing required of them, women during World War II were encouraged to mend their clothing and think creatively about utilizing old garments in new ways. 

Year after year of war also meant a diminishing number coupons for purchasing clothing. In 1945 the coupon limit in Great Britain was 36 per year as compared to 66 per year in 1941. Even though coupons were necessary to acquire new clothing, money was required as well. Those who were financially poor still could not afford the government rationed garments.

Here, examples of what was rationed in England during the war and how many coupons they required:

Frock, gown, or dress constructed of wool    11

Skirt                                                                7

Blouse, shirt, sports top, cardigan or jumper 5

Pair of slippers, boots or shoes                       5

Stockings per pair                                           2

Shoe Rationing:
On the United States home front, shoe rationing began in 1943. The rubber and leather that was used to construct shoes was now necessary for the war that the United States entered into. To ensure the essential leather and rubber was supplied to those in the war, the American government executed a shoe rationing program which granted each citizen only 3 pairs of shoes per year.

Being Crafty:
Women learned to sew, knit, and repair through home stitching because they were expected to use garments and objects bought before the war. Magazines educated them on how to revamp fabrics into updated styles that were possible through detailed instructions these publications provided. 

Ladies’ Home Journal June, 1944
Food Conservation:
With the recyling of cans and the rationing of food products, women were encouraged to see food as "the munitions of war" and to pickle and preserve their own food products.

We began with fashion and we end with fashion: we come to realize that though we believe that fashion is often  a free  self-expression of the Western world, this article illustrates that we haven’t always had the autonomy to freely purchase clothing at any point in time, constructed out of any fabric we desire. The dedication women put forth towards the war effort overrode any regret they may have had not being able to wear the most updated fashions.

 Though this expression wasn’t conveyed through what they wore at the time, it is now an education to see their message 70 years later. 

This article was researched and written by our intern, Chelsea Bjerk.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Here is what is fabulous about the Easter Parade: elegant couples strolling in their Easter finery, some evoking looks of past decades; people valiantly
attempting to re-position their gargantuan hat creations; creative costumes hinting of Dali and Magritte; bunnies in all shapes and sizes; day-glo and primary color creations from head to toe and  full outfits worthy of Halloween!

Some of my favorite outfits were so subtle they were brilliant! Here is a man evoking artist Rene Magritte's painting "Son of Man"

Below is a fabulous couple dressed only in shades of black, white and grey. They sport full facial make-up, not unlike characters in an old film, highlighted even more so by the woman standing next to them! I like to think of them as a Salvador Dali painting, with gloves adorning her shoulders, and her reverse head purse, a nod to Surrealism.

We had, above, the absence of color...which was more than made up by the plethora of color!!!

 Oh, the Rabbits!!!  There were bunnies accompanying elder ladies in strollers.

..Japanese lady bunnies...

 ..bunnies standing up for their rights...

..and even a subtle bunny wannabe!

There were hats that defied gravity!

..and the men were no exception!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This particular gentleman is a fixture at the Easter Parade, should you be coming to New York next year. He is never without his day-go beard, always with a baby carriage that holds his equally colorfully dressed dog, with his pet bird somewhere on his person!

  The parade even had royalty present:

...and some men dressed as females, albeit from the 1940's!!

...AND created some of the most STUNNING hats!!!!

Speaking of period, there were visitors from every decade:

We were also delighted to discover that age is no barrier to having fun and being creative with your chapeau!

Of course, for every huge hat there appeared an adorable diminutive one!

..and there was even an homage to the Menorah!!!!
ENJOY THE REST OF THE PHOTOS! (Including Helen in a 1940's leopard raincoat and hat adorned with little chicks coming out of their sparkly shells!