Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in 1940s (105)

Wednesday
Aug282019

Marvellous Mauve

A couple of years ago I wrote a story about different shades of purple, and I touched on the discovery of the first aniline dye in 1856 that became known as mauve, the French word for mallow flower after which the colour is named. Originally it was probably a darker shade than contemporary notions of it, as it was first likened to Tyrian purple which is much darker. The first mauve dye was replaced with other synthetic dyes in 1873: a lighter, less-saturated shade that we are familiar with today. As Wikipedia succinctly describes it, ‘mauve contains more grey and more blue than a pale tint of magenta’.

Three shades of mallow flowersHowever, while it was a synthetic dye, in the 1850s it was still quite expensive to process, and if not for Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, taking a liking to it because it supposedly exactly matched her ‘violet’ eyes, the colour might have disappeared. Queen Victoria subsequently gave it the thumbs-up, and for a time it was all the rage, reaching its heights of popularity in the 1890s.

… for a time it was all the rage, reaching its heights of popularity in the 1890s

As with many trends, however, it soon reached over-saturation in the market and eventually it became passé, synonymous with ladies of a certain age. Even in the twentieth century, it was associated with aging, as it was one of the shades white-haired ladies chose to rinse their hair with to remove unlikable yellowish tones. Today of course that trend has been turned on its head and grey hair tinted with pastel shades is all the rage with young people!

Empress Eugenie, 1854, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter – Franz clearly thought, "Pfft, purple eyes, MY EYE!"

Wait, what about the purple eyes?

I was interested in this notion of the Empress’s supposed violet eyes, and some research lead me to learn that Elizabeth Taylor was another celebrity famed for her violet eyes. Paintings are not necessarily true to life, and photographic evidence is obviously unreliable as it is too easy to digitally enhance hues or use colour filters in-camera.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1960 (ph unknown) and 1985 (ph Helmut Newton); she definitely seems to have naturally blue eyes that have been enhanced by the colour processing in the first photoAfter a lot of reading, I can state definitely that the human eye does not naturally come in shades of purple; ie people cannot be born with it. Put simply, the colour of an iris changes depending on how much light reaches it, and can be enhanced by coloured clothing or makeup surrounding the eyes; both Empress Eugénie and Elizabeth Taylor had blue eyes: one wore purple garments, the other purple eyeshadow. [See Further Reading below]

Back to fashion …

Since my original story, I have since found new mauve items in differing shades all from thrift stores: a merino wool jumper, a prettily hand-knitted vintage wool cape, and a vintage angora, pearl-beaded beret. The jumper is modern, but I am not sure of the age of the latter two; the beret was missing pearls when I bought it, but the cape is pristine and could be a modern knit made using a vintage pattern. My printed velvet pants are modern, by the Australian label Charlie Brown.

Scroll down and check out some more mauve outfits from the Victorian era to the present.

Further Reading

The biology behind eye colour in humans

Were Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes really violet?

But wait, Liz Taylor had double eyelashes!

Just how did Lizzie make her blue eyes look purple?

Photos: August 2019

Victorian walking dress, 1896Victorian evening dress, 1896Victorian silk striped walking dressSilk taffeta evening dress, 1860-18651930s fur jacket (sold)1930s bias gown (for sale)1940s catalogue – how I would love to buy this set, especially at those prices!Model Evelyn Tripp, wearing a dress and matching hat, ph Frances McLaughlin-Gill for VogueModern outfitRosie tote in mauve

Monday
Aug192019

When Wearing Stripes Becomes Optical Art

If any of my readers want proof of my devotion to stripes, behold this dramatic dress of striped jersey!

The dress, by Olivaceous (a brand I’ve never heard of) has a halter neckline formed by two extremely long ties that lift to create the bodice, cross my back, wind around waist a once or twice and then tie in a huge bow at the base of my back – and the ends still dangle to my knees! In addition, the maxi skirt is so wide and long that I have to carry it like ladies of yore so that I don’t trip and fall on my face. I like to think it evokes 1930s style a little. 

Maximum drama makes it the perfect dress to wear to an Opening Night at the theatre last January, and making doubly-sure I turn heads, I pair with it a 1940s black and white satin veiled pillbox hat. The fabric is made of viscose, so it has flows beautifully; almost mesmerisingly. I feel like a piece of Op Art wearing it!

Photo: April 2019

Wednesday
Jul312019

The Little Red Cap

Red is one of my favourite colours, and has been since childhood, and I am instantly attracted whenever I see it, from clothes and accessories to interior décor and make-up. There is something so delicious about this rich hue: perhaps it reminds me of cherries and raspberries and the rosy apples of Snow-White fame.

Last year I missed out on purchasing a 1940s knit cap that sported two large crocheted pompoms by the ears, creating an effect of Princess Leia hair buns! It was adorable, and I adore pompoms too.

Then early this year this hat – also vintage 1940s – popped up on Etsy at Scarlet Willow Vintage, and I was immediately reminded of the knit cap, except in this instance this hat had two large bows by the ears instead of pompoms. It also featured the same kind of criss-cross lacing at the back of the head as had the other cap.

I lost no time in claiming this one for my own. (Interestingly the seller had photographed it upside-down, but I immediately recognised how it would look worn correctly.)

I own a lot of hats and try to wear as many different ones each season as humanly possible, but still I have managed to wear this one a few times already over the autumn and winter. There is something so delightful about its neat design – wearing a hat like this makes the day magical. It is such a source of wonder to me that hats are largely out of fashion and that more people never experience the joy of a topper  – but equally, that leaves more vintage hats for me!

Photos: June 2019

Monday
May132019

Pretty Parisian Gowns

Day suit of linen and cotton, spring-summer 1947, Paquin, Paris couture house; Colette Massignac designer, active 1945–49A few weekends ago I visited the Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift exhibition currently on at the NGV International. I had not known what to expect from the exhibition, and was excited to discover it featured garments spanning over a century, and included a remarkable number of illustrations and photography from fashion journals and periodicals from the early nineteenth century onwards.

Dress and cape of silk, c. 1938, Maisons Agnès-Drecoll, Paris couture house 1931–63It would be hard to pick a favourite, but as always the 30s and 40s are my favourite eras. There was a 1930s yellow gown that delighted me, and a cream 1947 day suit by Paquin that made me gasp and exclaim to my friend, “Now, I would wear that!” We approached one mermaid gown by Maggy Rouff and wondered at the odd angle of the mannequin – until we saw the beribboned back of the dress – amazing!

Evening dress of silk velvet and satin, autumn-winter 1937–38, Maggy Rouff, Paris couture house, Maggy Besançon de Wagner, designer 1896–1971

The exhibition wound throughout several rooms, with garments occasionally intermixed with paintings and industrial design pieces from the gallery’s permanent collection. The only disappointment in this was that quite a few gowns were far above eye level, so one could not examine them closely. There was certainly a lot to take in, and happily it runs for another couple of months, and as entry is free, I shall be returning for another tour.

Click here to see the full gallery.

Detail of a lavishly appliquéd 1920s robe de styleA special issue of winter fashion, 1940s

Tuesday
Apr232019

The History of the Easter Bonnet

1940sIn Australia there is no tradition of wearing Easter Bonnets, except for young school children making their own hats in the classroom and parading them for the benefit of their local community.

As you could imagine, these chapeaux were generally a horribly kitsch conglomeration of brightly coloured eggs, bunnies, and chicks that are rendered charming only by the knowledge that someone’s cute offspring had earnestly and excitedly stapled it together.

So I was most amused to discover that adults were equally adept at assembling hideous Easter bonnets – albeit with more skill and imagination – to parade at Eastertime in America.

1940sMorecambe UK, 1959

The famous Easter Parades had their origin in the 1870s, when people would stream out of churches following the Easter Sunday service, dressed, of course, in their very best. Naturally a magnificent hat topped their ensembles. The very first parade along Fifth Avenue seems to have been an impromptu event, as the upper echelons of New York society poured out of St Patricks Cathedral and strolled up the street. With each successive year, the Parade became more popular and drew hundreds and thousands of spectators.

Easter Parade New York, 1922Easter Parade New York, 1922Prince George and Jane Erdmann, Easter Parade New York, 1933Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, 1948Early on, people simply showed off their most stylish and newest spring garments, but as the parade grew in popularity, grandiose themed pastiches began to appear – similar to the kind of hideous hats sensation-hunting women sport at various racing carnivals around the world.

1920sOn the other hand, Easter was an opportunity for more aesthetically-pleasing fun: Easter bunny hats or complete outfits. Personally I would prefer to don a pair of rabbit ears than crates of eggs precariously balanced on my head!

For a more detailed history of the Easter Bonnet, visit The Eternal Hedonist; and visit Today for a slideshow of more vintage images of the Easters of Yesteryear.

1920s (my favourite)1940sActress Ruth Roman, 1940sA modern bunny ears rendition

(Imgages from The Eternal Hedonist, Today, Daily Mail UK and Pinterest)