Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in lingo (82)

Saturday
Jul062019

The Luxury Hat

Felt is an ancient fabric, and perhaps the first made by man: it is made rather easily as it is not woven and does not require a loom. According to legend, in the Middle Ages a wandering monk named St Clement – destined to become the fourth bishop of Rome – happened upon the process of felt-making quite by accident. It is said that to make his shoes more comfortable, he stuffed them with tow (short flax or linen fibres). Walking in them on damp ground, he discovered that his own weight and sweaty feet had matted the tow fibres together into a kind of cloth. After being made bishop (with the power to indulge his whimsy), he set up a workshop to develop felting production … and thus he became the patron saint for hatmakers, who of course use felt to this day.

Parisian costume, 1826Men and women’s beaver top hats, Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashion, 1876Today most felt is made of wool, but in the past, animal fur was used to make a high-quality felt. Animal fur has tiny, microscopic spines which lock together much like Velcro when heat and moisture are applied. Beaver was the superior fur because its spines were prominent and helped produce a high-quality felt; hats made from it date back to at least the sixteenth century, and they were a staggeringly expensive luxury item. Naturally, to reduce the cost of fur felt, other furs were used such as rabbit or hare, camel, and angora (mohair).

Men wearing beaver hats, 1886But it was another type of hat altogether that toppled the beaver from its luxury perch at last: the silk top hat. First invented in 1797 and scandalising the general public with its fearsome appearance, by the mid nineteenth century, the silk top hat cost half the price of beaver, and overtook it in popularity owing to changes in lifestyle which meant the hardy fur felt hats were not needed.

50s hat of angora fur felt; authorised reproduction of a Claude Saint-Cyr designI was initially attracted to this red 1950s pixie hat because of its dramatic shape, and the pearls (which I love) sewn all over it. It is made with Melusine, a felt made from rabbit fur. Melusine has long, fine fibres that are brushed to create a silky long-haired finish. In the past I had presumed ‘fur felt’ was a misnomer, and that such fabric was actually made from wool to look like fur. I was a bit sad when I realised this hat was real rabbit fur; however, at least it is vintage and recycled.

An amazing pink fur felt reproduction Regency hat, by Jane Walton, 2019I have a few other vintage hats also made from melusine, all from the 50s and 60s. While wool felt is certainly more common these days, you can still buy new fur felt hats (some sources nebulously state the fur is a ‘by-product’) – even top hats made from beaver that are worn by top cats at Ascot – and they are still quite expensive.

Photo: June 2019

Thursday
Jun132019

The Straight Sleeve

The most common or ordinary type of sleeve is what I define the ‘straight’ sleeve – most other sources simply define them by the length – short, three-quarter or long. The other defining characteristic is that they are ‘set-in’, which is to say they are set into the armscye of the bodice where the sleeve is joined. The sleeve head is curved and adjusted to the roundness of the shoulder. They can be fitted to the arm, or slightly looser.

The armscye is simply the technical term for the armhole opening of the bodice, to which the sleeve is joined. On an interesting sidenote, the origin of the word is Scottish, in folk etymology literally as it is pronounced: ‘arm’s eye’. [dictionary.com]

The other main type of sleeve is constructed in one piece with the bodice, such as kimono, dolman and batwing – very popular during the 1980s. There are also raglan sleeves, which join the bodice with a curved seam – they are most familiar in casual, sporty types of tops; often the sleeve will be of a different colour to the bodice, to accentuate the cut.

Straight sleeves can seem boring compared to the plethora of other imaginative cuts, but they can be saved from severity or plainness with the addition of interesting details or fabrics, such as in these three examples here.

My short sleeves here are made more decorative with the scalloped hem, just enough to offset the decorative front of the vintage silk blouse (probably 1950s). The three-quarter sleeves nod to warmer weather, if the spring-like floral pattern does not imply it enough; the blouse is by Zara. The long-sleeved All Saints blouse made of striped silk chiffon is of a very unusual design, a backwards wrap top! I’ve never seen this before. I bought the blouse in a thrift store, and was flummoxed for a while as to how it was worn, as the wrap at the back is quite low and gaping when worn reversed.

Keep up to date with sleeve lingo or for a quick refresher, visit the Sleeves Style gallery, which I will update as I go.

Wednesday
Jun052019

The Cup Sleeve

I am totally making up this name for this sleeve. It’s not like any other sleeve lurking in my closet, and nothing like I have been able to identify elsewhere. I have discovered an amazing pictorial Japanese fashion lexicon via Pinterest, which has all manner of sleeve designs in it (some that more closely resemble alien appendages than anything you would slip your arm into) – but even that does not seem to have anything similar to this sleeve.

It is like half a straight sleeve; unlike a cap sleeve which is cut diagonally from under the armpit, this sleeve covers the shoulder entirely, and is cut straight across. It cups the shoulder, like a mushroom cup, or an umbrella.

This silk blouse is designed by Cue, an Australian label that has been around for a few decades. I own quite a few garments by its sister label Veronika Maine, which favours unusual and complicated cuts (making ironing extremely difficult and laborious at times!), and this looks like it has borrowed from the VM approach.

Visit the full gallery here.

Saturday
Jun012019

The Split-Cap Sleeve

Here is a variation on the cap sleeve, featuring a split at the top; the effect is similar to a split flutter sleeve. Another variation is called the hanging sleeve: exactly the same cut on a long sleeve – it is the length that creates drama.

The body of this tee is made from silk jersey, with sleeves and neckline with tie made from silk satin. The label is Country Road, an Australian high street brand. I loved it so much I bought it in three colourways: black, charcoal and cream, and I wore them all to death. (The dark grey is pictured, although the picture effects make it look brown. You can see me wearing it in my gallery A Few Things I Heart.) The black lasted the longest, because I wore it the least. Sadly, I have never seen t-shirts made from silk jersey since, and I have regularly scoured stores and on- and offline. They’re on my Holy Grail list now.

Click to view the full Sleeve Styles gallery.

Wednesday
May292019

The Cap Sleeve

Today I am starting a new special feature on sleeves. While I enjoy the sleeveless garment in the heat of summer, I love to don an interesting sleeve as soon as the weather allows for it. I confess I particularly adore a puff sleeve – the bigger the better – and that is one reason why I love 1930s fashion, which focuses strongly on the shoulder line.

Serving both function and decoration in a garment, sleeves come in a multitude of lengths and shapes – here I shall cover as many as possible (as many as I own and can photograph!), beginning with the shortest: the cap sleeve.

The cap is a style of short sleeve that is cut and seamed to fit on the shoulder, and tapers to nothing underneath the arm. It is not usually loose-fitting, but is fitted to just cover the shoulder. It can add flair to an otherwise plain sleeveless top.

I’ve created a Sleeve Styles gallery under the Look Books menu, where you’ll easily be able to refer to the different styles as I add them.  

~

I am wearing a vintage 1950s blouse with an ikat-like floral print from my closet, which I have sadly culled from my closet since I took this picture. (Sometimes I am too ruthless for my own good.)