Koret of California

Okay, I’m going to fess up-- I’m a complete dork about these vintage clothes.  I don’t know what it is, but I Iove pouring over the history of the garments, the stories behind the labels, trying to dig up old advertisements, whatever!  Apparently it’s not enough for me to own a cool vintage dress, I also have to spend a couple hours reading about the label’s founder and history. And I have one for you this week that’s good.  So good!

I stumbled on a Koret of California set this past weekend.  My favorite local vintage shop (Voula Vintage, for you Northlanders) was playing pop-up at an outdoor event.  I spotted it there on the rack and my eyes lit up. I am a sucker for two piece sets.  It fit, it was fun and cute, but in truth, I vacillated a little bit on it. I am honestly the worst shopper. I vacillate on every purchase, so this is no great surprise.  

(Seriously, side note: Mike and I grocery shopped together on Saturday.  This happens basically twice a year. I say, “Hey, let’s get some sausage for breakfast tomorrow.” He says, “Good idea”, and point-two seconds later, he grabs sausage from the case and throws it in the cart. Guys, there were two giant sections of full of sausage options.  He made that decision in TWO seconds. It blew my mind witnessing how fast he could make a decision like that.   Me, that would have been a five minute ordeal agonizing over which sausage option would best suit our family’s sausage needs.  By the time I leave a grocery store, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted from all the decision-making. Anyway, clearly, I suffer greatly from indecisiveness. If this is you too, I sympathize with you.)

ANYWAY! Sausages aside, I foolishly hesitated on this outfit. 

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  

This outfit, my friends, is clearly a no-brainer.

Koret of California vintage skirt set

Obviously, I came to my senses and brought it home. 

Koret of California vintage skirt set

Both the top and the skirt are in amazing condition.  As in, when I first looked at the tag, I didn’t even believe the set could be from the 50s, the fabric was so crisp and bright.  It’s absolutely perfect. Check out the little Koret of California label. 

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When I started reading more about this history of this company, I loved my new set even more.  It’s a total America Dream story. Koret of California was founded in 1938 by a husband and wife team-- Stephanie and Joe Koret.  Both were immigrants: Joe was born in 1900 and came to the US from Russia as a baby, and Stephanie, born in 1903, came from Romania when she was small.  They married as teens and lived in San Francisco. Joe was a traveling sweater salesman, and Stephanie was a student at a fashion design school. The story goes that she would go with him sometimes to model the sweaters, and when women began to request matching skirts, Koret of California really began.  Stephanie started creating the skirts, Joe was in charge of marketing and sales, and before you know it, they made over a million dollars in the first two years.  

Joe and Stephanie Koret

I don’t know if real life was as sweet as the story sounds, but it truly seems like they were a fantastic team.  Joe focused on sales and marketing. Stephanie focused on HR and design (she also had a stint on costume and wardrobe department of two movies in the mid 1940s).  They never had children, gave their business everything they had, and in the end, were great philanthropists, remembering the poverty they experienced growing up in immigrant families, and wanting to give back.  Joe started Koret Foundation , using the money from Stephanie’s estate when she passed, and the $600 million foundation still exists today, supporting education, the arts, humanitarian work, and Jewish cultural causes.  

As for the Koret of California label, they were especially known for their two piece sets and mix-and-match concept.  I also noticed in the ads that they seemed to use a lot novel names for their products, like the Pleetset, Jumpadress, Slim Hip Slax, Elongated T-Shirt Dress, and most notably, the Trikskirt, which was a skirt that was adjustable, using a drawstring and some special pleats (definitely innovated for the time!). 

Even though they had a good reputation as a clothing label, what really proved to be a successful venture was their development of a permanent press technique. It was a chemical pretreatment process, combined with heat, which made the garment keep its pleats and shape, and made it wrinkle-resistant, which is exactly what companies were looking for at the time.  They patented the process, called it Koratron, and at its height, over 400 companies licensed the process from Koret, which earned them 1% royalties on every product that used it. This revenue from royalties far surpassed that of their clothing sales. (Fun fact: Levi and Strauss was the first company to license the process in 1963, and they would also be the company that bought out Koret in 1979.) 

Reeling on the success of the Koratron royalties, the company went public in 1966, partly because Joe wanted Stephanie to be able to retire, due to her health.  Now called Koracorp, the company made some major investment missteps in terms of acquisitions, and by 1973, Koret was on the brink of bankruptcy. Joe fired his management consultant and turned to board member and real estate consultant, Ted Taube (growing up, Ted’s parents had been friends with the Korets), he helped turn things around. After taking an $11 million loss, Koracorps was able to gradually rebuild over the next few years, so that by the time Stephanie passed away in 1978, they had swung things back around.  In an interview to Forbes in 1975, called “Behind Every Great Man . . .”Joe stated "the worst thing I ever did was let my wife retire. . .She was the restraining spirit. I tended to be too aggressive, too ruthless. My wife was the one who prevented me from going too far."   See what I mean about what a great team they seemed to be?!  

I’m not going to go over the rest of the history (you can read about all the business-y ups and downs in some of the resources below) because really, I just love the original story of the couple who founded it and made it their lives.  BUT! Suffice to say you can still purchase items bearing the Koret name today! 

Annnd, bonus! Check out the ad that I found from the Michigan Daily, February 15, 1957.

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It gets fuzzy when you zoom in, but it reads:

“Designed for the Travel Wise . . . I can skim with the breeze, look as light-hearted, be as care-free in my 100% cotton PLEETSET PRINTS designed by Stephanie Koret. They’re machine washable, machine dryable, have exclusive “Koretized” press-free finish . . . My swishy, permanently pleated mushroom skirt never needs ironing, Pellon linking in the hem keeps it beautifully bouffant . . . and —travel bonus— my Pleetset Print skirt and blouse is really like a lovely 2-piece dress.
Mushroom Pleet Skirt $10.95.
Mandarin Blouse $5.95
Not Illustrated Sleeveless bateau neck Blouse $3.95”

That’s it! That’s exactly my set! The Pleetskirt with the matching Sleeveless Bateau neck blouse that’s mentioned as not illustrated! It’s the best when you can find the ad for your vintage clothes. *sighs in satisfaction* And 62 laters, I can attest, those pleats are indeed, permanently pressed .

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Speaking of that Sleeveless Bateau Top, look how cute it is with jeans!

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So, there you have it!

If you’d like to read more about the company’s ups and downs, check out this or this. To read about more recent legal battles between Ted Taube and Joe Koret’s second wife (named chairwoman for life of the foundation) start here.

I hope you enjoyed the little peek into fashion history. Or if not, at least seeing this gorgeous set!

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What say you, any favorite vintage two piece sets in your closets?

xo
Molly

Down the Vintage Rabbit Hole and into the Summertime

There’s a dress that I’ve seen float around Instagram a few times. Not even the dress so much as the fabric, that’s what’s special about this one. It’s known by many things: French provincial, Rococo, French baroque, spring time. J Crew broke every true vintage girls’ heart and made it a reproduction sundress, calling it the Versailles Dress. Me, I called it the “fairy tale dress” because it reminded me of illustrations in classic fairy tale books.

Sooo, when my IG friend, Lea, posted a picture of her in the dress, I swooned a little and told her how much I loved it, and that it was almost one of my ISOs. If I had ISOs, I told her, haha!

(Hey, mom? ISO stands for “in search of”.)

I know a lot of my vintage-loving friends have their top ISOs lists. I try not to do that. Because:

A) it makes me spend more money than I otherwise would on a dress.

B) When I get my hands on an ISO, it’s never quite as good as I thought it would be. The thrill of the chase is more alluring, apparently. Like my Kindergartener who, this week, after longing and longing to play on the “big kid” playground at school, finally played there, only to find it “wasn’t as much fun as he though it was going to be.”

C) I prefer to leave it to the vintage-powers-that-be to send things my way. I may be the creator of my own destiny, but when it comes to vintage, I leave it to fate and chance. And maybe a little luck. Ha!

So when I told Lea that it was almost an ISO of mine, I guess it was my lucky day! The dress didn’t quite fit the way she wanted, and she was willing to send it my way!

I bought it, and then I had a little bit of sad doubt (see point B) while I waited for the mail to come.

But friends. The dress came. And I L-O-V-E-ed it. More than I thought I would. The cotton is soft, the fit is perfect in a I-can-still-breath sort of way (which is more than I can say for many of my vintage dresses, haha!!). The print may be slightly faded, but in a comfortable, loved sort of way.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

Thank you, Lea.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

I struggled with capturing the print on the white background, but the print features rococo frames, kids swinging, and little blue birds.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

I did a little research on said dress, and found out a few things . . .

The Label

I really hadn’t seen this dress attributed to any label before, but this one did have one label that said “Young Size”. I could find other references to this label (in the same colors and design), reading “Lily Lynn Young Size”.

I found two ads bearing the name “Lily Lynn”, one of which is actually for Lane Bryant. Which brought me down a Lane Bryant rabbit hole to see if Lily Lynn was actually a label under Lane Bryant. I found no evidence of such, other than this ad, but I did read some of the history of Lane Bryant, which I do recommend. It was super interesting, from a marketing and fashion history perspective (maternitywear, plus size clothes, and a Chub Club— read all about it in this article by Hidden Fashion History).

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The Fabric

The fabric itself is called “Summertime” and it was copyrighted by H.M. Kolbe in the first half of 1962. Which brings us another example of a dress being overly-attributed to the fifties even though it was made in the sixties. Hashtag: pet peeve.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

H.M. Kolbe was owned by William Kolbe and was known for “high fashion fabrics”. But why the company name actually lives on in fashion history, is that they were a key employer to Jackie Peters, a black woman who made a name for herself in the world of textile design in a time when it was dominated by white men (such as William Kolbe, a “wild white man” who thought it would be great PR to employ Jackie during the civil rights movement). Cue second rabbit hole, while I read about Jackie Peters, who had nothing to do with the Summertime print, but is just an awesome person in general.

Variations

I’ve seen two main vintage dresses with this print: the shirtdress (what I have), and then a sundress that is sleeveless, has a fitted bodice and an circular open back, that ties at the top and bottom. The latter is what J Crew made basically an exact replica of for their 2007 spring line, calling it the Versailles Dress. I’m not sure if making repros was something J Crew regularly did ( I don’t think it was), or how this one ended up on the docket, but I really do mean exact replica here. The J Crew version was and remains a popular dress, being cited as “rare”, “coveted”, and “highly sought out” on sites like Poshmark and EBay. And all those terms could be applied to the vintage dress too: rare, coveted, and highly sought out.

Pictures of the J Crew Dress, courtesy of Sweet Bee Finds, who recently sold this one, as well as a true vintage version (and they’re also just a fun vintage shop to follow!).

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And then we have a similar version here, also found and sold by Sweet Bee Finds! At first glance, I thought it was the same as mine: same rococo style scrolled frames and bluebirds and same shirt dress design, but it’s actually a different print. This one features hunters with their horses and dogs. I find how similar they are super interesting. I’m totally unverified here, but I’d be willing to bet that this was also an H.M. Kolbe print and a Young Size label.

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Excuse another washed out photo as I struggle to express how lovely this dress actually is.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

Sooo, thoughts? Anyone know anything else about this design? What are your ISOs that you’ve found or are still on the quest for?

Update coming with close-ups of the fabric and the label!

-Molly

Sew Americana 2019

It’s officially a tradition now: this is the third year I’ve participated in the Sew American Blog Tour, hosted by Wild + Wanderful!

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I love, love, love the 4th of July. So you don’t have to ask me twice to sew up a little something new to wear that’s red, white, and blue!

A few weeks ago, I tried out one of the new Patterns by Gertie (she just switched from the Butterick line to the Simplicity line, so this one of the first Simplicity patterns of hers), Simplicity 8873. It has a high, squared-neck and shoulder ties (the vintage inspiration for the dress came from a black dress Audrey Hepburn wore in Sabrina), and gathered skirt or circle skirt options.

Here was my first go at the pattern:

Simplicity 8873

I loved it.

It has four cup sizes included, so I feel like that helped in getting me a pretty darn good fit on the first try. It’s not perfect, but it is quite good. Also, I typically have to remove length between the shoulders and the high bust line, but I didn’t have to do that with this pattern because of the adjustable straps. Win.

This black and white version had the gathered skirt and no trim, so for my next go I wanted to try the trim version and the circle skirt. And I had the most absolutely perfect fabric on hand from Boho Fabrics! Check out the final result:

Simplicity 8873

Is this a dress for a 4th of July picnic, or what?!

Simplicity 8873

I will admit that it didn’t turn out exactly as I had envisioned. For some reason, I thought it was a flared skirt more like the Night and Day Dress, so I planned on doing some fun matching with the rows of checks along the center seam, to make that nice little chevron effect on the front center. . . except there is no center seam, which I discovered in my sleepy haze of cutting. The front is cut on the fold, for a circle skirt.

So, while I intended to cut the skirt panels on the bias, instead, I cut the bodice on the bias, which really does give a nice effect anyway. I love that about plaids, it’s fun to play with the bias.

Pause for fabric debate: Is it gingham, or is it plaid? You tell me! I really don’t know. Gingham is supposed to be just white and one contrasting color, but my fabric is three colors . . . but the symmetry and checks lends itself to gingham . . . additionally, a true plaid would have a more intricate design to it . . . I kinda want to call it gingham.

Sooo, yeah.

Here’s a close up on that ricrac that’s sewn in between the bodice and the facings, it’s such a fun touch!

Simplicity 8873

Add hat from Goodwill, and this vintage basket purse and I cannot wait for our annual 4th of July Party!

Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to take a look at the other stops in the Sew Americana Blog Tour— these ladies blew it out of the water!



And, as for me, here’s what I’m up to lately:
Watching
: Jane the Virgin! We’re midway through the season! Thursday mornings are coffee, snuggles, and me watching last night’s episode!
Reading: I just finished the Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. I’ve read all of hers and recommend her, but this one was probably my favorite of hers. Moving on to the Handmaiden’s Tale, simply because I don’t think I’ll ever have the chance to watch the show, but I do think the concept sounds like a good read.
Making/Sewing: I have one last Jane Set jumpsuit in my sewing room, waiting to be hemmed. It’s cowgirl themed, it’s way over the top, and I cannot wait to wear it this weekend at a car show!
Listening: I just finished the podcast Root of Evil. Very good and weird. I’m usually not a true crime podcast listener (because it makes me feel sad), but this one was done by the family of the probable killer of the Black Dahlia, and is about their whole family history over the past few generations since the murder. It’s out there. And not for listening when kids are around. I had to walk around with earbuds in all day.

Thanks for stopping!

xoxo,

Molly


Miss Motorhead 2019

I had a burst of make-it-happen, build-it-they-will-come energy back in January. I wanted a local pin-up contest. Or at least a contest I didn’t have to drive over three and a half hours to get to. And so I did some research on the local car shows, picked two and emailed them, giving them this whole spiel about pin-up contests, what they are, what they’re like, and why their show would benefit from one. Pin-up contests haven’t really made it into the car show culture up here in the Northland yet. Friends of mine further into the mid-midwest seem to have a bounty of pin-up activities.

Personally, I blame our snow.

One of the car shows got back to me, and basically said, "great, do it.” They gave me the go ahead on January 31st, just seven weeks out from the car show.

I had an oh-crap-what-did-I-do, now-I-have-to-plan-this-thing moment.

Ha!

Motorhead Madness is an indoor car show up here in Duluth. This was their 51st year! I was able to check out the event on Friday during set up, and then again Saturday morning, both times wearing dresses I made from patterns by Gertie Hirsch.

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Okay, I had to do a plug for those freshly-sewn dresses. Now back to the story!

I did some preliminary planning, and chatted with a gal I met on Facebook, Beth, who organizes contests in the Wausau, WI area. She was super supportive, and assured me that I had this, despite the ticking clock.

Beth was just the first in a series of amazingly supportive women who kept saying yes to me. They were excited about the contest, about what I was doing, and about being a part of it all. I’m unbelievably thankful for every single woman who showed me the love over the past month. Beth, the twenty-one girls who signed-up, Lela of Lela Wright Make Up and Hair Artistry, Christi of Grinkie Girls Photography, the friends who came to cheer everyone on, and the friends who cheered me on from a far.

Now that it’s over, it’s easy for me to focus on all of these wonderful people that made it a success. But it is worth mentioning that it didn’t come together like magic. I heard a lot of “no” along the way too. From photographers, from sponsors, from the newspaper, from the tv station. I’m going to be honest and tell you that even the Motorhead Madness coordinator was surprised at our success (she told me during set-up that she had thought I’d only get 3-5 people to sign up). So it’s not to say that it was smooth sailing. Direct quote from a local shall-not-be-named body positive photographer, that I asked to help get the word out: “I just don’t get pin-up”. (I would have been less offended had she just told me “no”, haha).

But, that probably makes me even more thankful for the people that did give the show all their support from the get-go.

And truthfully, I’m still a little floored that this event happened at all. A pin-up contest isn’t a pin-up contest unless you have contestants. And though I was hopeful about it all,. I was amazed every time a new person signed up. Somehow, I managed to get 18 contestants (my goal was 15, my maximum was 20) and at one point, I even had 21, though those other three had to drop for personal reasons. Eighteen the first year, when this isn’t even a “thing” in our area is pretty darn awesome.

Duluth Pin-up contest, Miss Motorhead Madness

Personally, I took to the stage as the emcee for the event.

Shirley Shasta pin-up contest

Round one, the contests do pin-up poses while their song plays and I read a short bio on each of them (where they’re from, celebrity crush, pin-up inspiration, life motto, etc).

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Shout out to my BFF sailor girl here, Daisha. <3

Round two, the gals each picked a random question and answered it.

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Then I hurried back stage to help my SIL tally scores, and we announced the winners!

Simple, right?

Then why is it so nerve-wracking as a contestant?!

Ha!

Duluth Pin-up contest, Miss Motorhead Madness

I will say this is the hardest thing about pin-up contests, to me. The fact that not everyone wins, haha. Which sounds a little cheesy, but really. Every girl put themselves out there, and I was so proud of all of of them, and just wanted them all to win. Maybe next time ;)

Here’s your 2019 winners, Miss Peachy Keen (Miss Betty Bubbles), Miss Classy Chassis (Miss Betty Van Blonde), and Miss Motorhead (Vivian Von Sweets).

Duluth Pin-up contest, Miss Motorhead Madness

You should have seen the dance Vivian here did when she won the title. She’s the blur on the left, haha.

Duluth Pin-up contest, Miss Motorhead Madness

Her mother was heard after the contest saying, “I hope we didn’t create a monster” haha!!

Thank you, Lela, for sending me this montage of the many phases of VIvian Von Sweet’s joy.

Thank you, Lela, for sending me this montage of the many phases of VIvian Von Sweet’s joy.

The crowd was FANTASTIC. I know we impressed a lot of people, and have more people on board for next year in all areas, from marketing to contestants. The show organizers were surprised at the crowd and said we need more room next time! (Yaaaasss!)

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These are my local, Poplar mom’s group girls. They blew me out of the water when they signed up for my crazy idea and they absolutely gave it their all.

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This is my favorite picture from the whole day. I love these ladies.

Duluth Pin-up contest, Miss Motorhead Madness

After the contest was over and we cleared out, I called my husband the moment I had a chance, in a fit of post-performance anxiety, “Was it okay, did I do okay?” Pretty par for the course for me, if it’s not a heavily rehearsed production. The contestants did wonderful, but I was anxious about my side of things. It got very hectic for me that last hour, and the whole contest was a blur. Overall, for the first year, I’m really please with how everything went. And I’m ready to make it even better next year.

Duluth Pin-up contest, Miss Motorhead Madness

One of the best things that came out of this was meeting Becky, aka Brody Bombshell. This girl is a true pin-up (no, for real, check her out!), and she was 100% on board with helping to make this happen, and keeping the pin-up ball rolling here in the Twin Ports.

Enter the Border Town Betties, a pin-up social group for the Twin Ports. My goal is to have an event a month; organize photo shoots, contests, events like hair and make-up demos, socials like bunco, etc. Like the page to keep up on our happenings, if you’re local.

Thanks for popping on and checking out Miss Motorhead 2019 <3

Candid shot here, brought to you by Christi!

Candid shot here, brought to you by Christi!

Novelty Border Prints :: John Wolf Poodles

Eek! I went a little crazy buying border prints at the beginning of the year and it’s time to start showing them off. First up is this print poodle by John Wolfe. It’s fairly common in terms of vintage novelty prints, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

John Wolf Poodle Border Print Skirt Vintage

I was able to pick up 2 yards, 10 inches of this fabric for a super good deal on Etsy, and sewed it up into a gathered skirt myself. Kind of a junky picture, but you can see here that the poodles ran on one side of the selvage and a coordinating stripe ran on the opposite selvage. I was able to use that upper stripe as my waistband.

John Wolf border print poodles

This gem can be found in multiple colorways— a lighter blue, a black and blue, a pink, a green, or this tan colorway that I own. I am actually a big fan of the tan, but the black and blue one has gotta be my favorite.

John Wolf Textiles was initially registered as a designer of home interior fabrics, in the early 1940s. They’re well known for their border prints, commonly featuring animals, pastoral and city scenes, and still lifes. They were probably more geared towards with curtains, to be honest. But by the late 1950s, at least, their designs were also being used for clothing.

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I’ve noticed that people really like to subscribe prints like this to the 1950s as much as possible . . . but lots of them are actually from the early 60s. I know for sure this one was available in the early 60s, because I’ve seen a Lana Lobell ad featuring a dress made from this fabric!

Lana Lobell 1960s John Wolf Poodle Skirt

I LOVE how they used that extra selvage stripe down the center of the bodice. You can actually find this same dress was sold at Sears and JC Penneys, in addition to Lana Lobell’s. Zoom in on that description there— they sold the black/blue, the tan, and the green colorways. But the kicker here— the commercially produced dresses actually had buttons sewn onto the eyes of the dogs!

Lana Lobell's John Wolf Poodle Skirt

Just $3.99— it’s a steal of a deal ;)

This is a great example of how common it was for fabrics and designs to not be exclusive. All three stores carried this dress, PLUS any home sewist could purchase this fabric as well. Today, it’s not quite so easy to buy the same fabrics that you see used commercially. Sometimes I see something in our local boutique that is made from the same fabric that I’ve seen at a small on-line fabric shop. Or, some fabric shops carry ends of the roll from designers, so it’s not to say that you can’t come across commercially used fabric, but I’ll tell you it’s much harder, and you can’t count on it. There was a time when you could see a dress at a department store, and then walk directly over to the fabric section and buy the exact same fabric easy-peasy.

John Wolf Poodle Border Print Skirt Vintage

I stitched the skirt using vintage methods- complete with sewing the waistband and the hem by hand. So, it may just be a gathered skirt, but I’ll tell you I definitely took my time to get it right. I’ve been reading about vintage methods, so the skirt was a good easy project to practice those handstitches on! Heidi had to get in on the photo action too . . . I would flip if I could find a vintage collie fabric . . . all that love for Lassie, there’s got to be one out there!

John Wolf Poodle Border Print Skirt Vintage

A few more novelty prints are coming your way soon, but there will probably be a pin-up related interlude first. I’m organizing my first pin-up contest this weekend, and I’m excited to show it off!

Here’s my week in review:

Reading: my first issue of Vintage Trailer Magazine!
Watching: Two episodes left to go on You! After being a huge Gossip Girl fan, watching Penn Badgley in this role is playing my mind. I’m over here like, “Dan, how could you?! Go find Serena, this is getting out of hand.”
Making/Sewing: The Jane Set from Charm Patterns— Gertie is hosting a sew along, but I’ve been creeping away on my muslin for a little bit here. The top is done!
Listening: I caught up on the America Life’s episode from last week. It was actually a replay of a 2006 episode, but it gave me all the feels. Seriously, bawling. I highly recommend you go back and listen to it. Episode 317: Unconditional Love. As a parent, and as someone who’s worked in an adolescent group home, it totally hit home. The intro was great too: early in the 20th century, a mother’s love was considered dangerous… the government even printed pamphlets about the dangers of mothers holding their babies. Seriously.

xo,

Molly

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Vintage Label Spotlight: Leslie Fay

My sewing room has kind of been taken over lately. I still call it my “sewing room”, but it’s being slowly taken over by vintage apparel and accessories, haha! I spend a stupid amount of time reorganizing it. But, if we’re talking like Marie Kondo, pretty much everything in there brings me joy, so it’s worth it.

I thought it would be fun to start sharing some of what I have. I love researching the labels and styles of the garments I find. You can learn a lot from the construction of the garments, and I think it’s fun to look more into the history of clothes.

I figured I might as well pick one of my favorite dresses to start out, so here is this gorgeous floral Leslie Fay from the 1950s!

vintage 1950s dress Leslie Fay

The pleating at the top of the skirt is gorgeous, and the bodice is rather unique. It’s subtle and hard to see with the floral print, but there’s this pleating and bow on the bodice.

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Leslie Fay was founded by Fred Pomerantz. During World War II, he had produced uniforms for the Women’s Army Corp. In the 1940s, the Works Progress Administration gave a grant to conduct a study on women’s sizing. Over 15,000 women were measured to try to create a standard for women’s garment sizes. These measurements were given to producers like Pomerantz to ensure they would create uniforms that fit.

Vintage Leslie Fay 1950s dress label

Vintage Leslie Fay 1950s dress label

After the war, Pomerantz decided to use these measurements and create his own line of women’s clothing. Thus, Leslie Fay, named after Pomerantz’s daughter, was founded in 1947.

As a side note, all those measurements from the WPA? And the sizing standard they produced? It was kind of a mess. Because—surprise!— the female form is pretty darn complex, and there’s not much to be said for “standard” sizing. They identified at least five body shapes (instead of just the hour-glass shape that manufacturers were previously working off of) and created a three-part system, involving height, upper body, and girth. It was not at all practical for manufacturing clothes.

Leslie Fay Ad from 1949

Leslie Fay Ad from 1949

Anyway, back to Leslie Fay! They went public in 1952 and Fred’s son, John, took over in 1972. It seems like those were all pretty good years for Leslie Fay. They were popular and well-represented in the department stores.

Then the tumultuous 80s and 90s hit, and Leslie Fay had a lot of ups and downs. As other large manufactures started to use computers in the 80s, Leslie Fay didn’t keep up with technology. Similarly, they didn’t keep up with trends, and found that consumers were now thinking of them as “matronly” and out of style. I found this Leslie Fay at Goodwill, and understood that concept, ha!

1980s Vintage Leslie Fay Dress

But, Leslie Fay responded with gusto, hired new designers, installed over 500 boutiques within department stores, and tripled their profits in 10 years. Which was then followed by more ups and downs with the economy, dress sales, and again with the “old-fashioned” image. Annnnd then, it was reveled that the CFO had been doctoring the books from 1990-1992, unbeknownst to Pomerantz. Leslie Fay entered bankruptcy as a result. However, they did manage to remain open, emerge from chapter 11, reorganize, and turn themselves around. In 1999, the company obtained the license to the Liz Claiborne Dresses and Elisabeth Dresses labels. There were a lot more business/stock related ups and downs, but that’s the gist of it, ha!

So that’s that! I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the Leslie Fay! I’m going to keep on with a little mini-series here on different labels from my vintage closet, so watch for more in the future!

xoxo

Molly

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There's a new Travel Trailer in Town

Mike and I picked up an early Christmas present last month: a canned ham travel trailer! I saw it advertised as an “unknown 1959 camper” on Facebook Marketplace on a Friday afternoon. I knew instantly by the pictures that it was a really good potential buy, regardless of what brand it turned out to be. There was so much originality! Before I even told MIke about it, I reached out to the seller, trying to mask my desperation and and urgency. I was basically all, “We’ll come over and see it RIGHT NOW.” Haha. Super smooth.

Mike went down on Saturday morning, after some cryptic messaging with the seller. It was about 50/50 whether he was going check out a really cool camper or possibly meet up with a mobster/drug dealer/serial killer. You just never know.

Lucky for us, the camper was real.

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Happy surprise!

It turned into the entire weekend- driving back and forth twice, picking up new tires, changing the tires, so Mike could drive it home. My role in all of this was kid control and research. We bought the thing still not knowing what it was.

I did have a super cool clue though! Across the back of the trailer, you could make out the words “Traveltown Rent-a-Trailer Madison, WIS AL 7-1137”

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I found some Traveltown ads from 1959 and 1960 in the Wisconsin State Journal. Traveltown also had Avis Rent-a-Car and for moving, Rent-a-Truck.

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Hey! That’s looks just like our camper!

That big ole “W” on the front made me think it was a Winnebago. Check out these comparisons.

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And . . .

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Finally Mike gets the thing home, and I see that ours is a “V” on the front instead of a “W”. So no go on the Winnebago. Which was a shame. Because I was already looking forward to calling her “Winnie”.

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I bring out the dreaded paint stripper, and set to work on the trailer hitch. The first two letters of the serial number were “TB”.

TRAILBLAZER!

We have a winner!

Trailblazers were made here in Wisconsin, in Spencer, from 1959 to 1972. Spencer Sports Products also manufactured Pathfinders. Due to two fires at the plant, there’s not a whole lot of official information on either of the brands. Adding mystery to it all, ours doesn’t look anything like any Trailblazer I’ve seen. But we do have a few theories on that: since ours is a 1959, which is also the year they first started producing the trailers, it could be likely that they made this one as a copy of the popular models, like Winnebagos, before starting to produce their own style. Or, since this one was owned by Traveltown, maybe it was a special order, made to their specifications? I also kind of wondered if there was a more direct link between Traveltown and the Spencer plant, in terms of partnership. I found it interesting that I found just one other Traveltown, in San Antonio, Texas, and the other main plant for Trailblazers was also in Texas (in Forth Worth). Also, they did make very few Trailblazers in the year 1959. From my understanding, there was a fire the previous year, and they got a late start producing, so there really wasn’t all that much action that first year of production (later on as the popularity caught on, they would make up to 8 trailers in a day!). There is no known rhyme or reason to the serial numbers on the Trailblazers, other than “TB” was for Trailblazers in Wisconsin, and “TT” was for those made in the Texas plant. But, regardless, this camper is a perfect example of the canned hams of the late 1950s.

Original paint job . . . original, working windows and that great jalousie door. The awesome original Formica . . . the list goes on and on.

I think it’s funny, someone commented on the seller’s ad, basically saying that the camper wasn’t even worth $100. That man is not my kind of people. To a lot of people, I’m sure it doesn’t look like much. But there is so much that’s original in this trailer, it makes my heart happy.

We won’t be doing as much work to this one as we did the Shasta. The front inner panel needs some help due to water damage. We’ll clean up the outside and repaint. A new door over the closet. Maybe add an outlet or two. And I’ll re-do curtains and cushions. Check out the vintage fabric I already picked up!

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That plaid is such a great match for the Formica!

The Shasta isn’t going anywhere. As Mike said, “I’ve put more work into the Shasta that I have my own kids”. She’ll be for Mike and I to take to vintage car and camper shows. The Trailblazer is going to be our family camper. We won’t be putting anywhere near as much work into it as we did the Shasta, so it’ll be a little more kid-friendly. Not to mention, bigger for our family of five! I mean, “bigger” is relative . . . she’s still only 15 feet long!

I can’t wait to get her out in the spring and update you all on our progress! She’s going to be a GREAT camper for our family, and she’s such a cool piece of travel trailer history. If you know anything else about Trailblazers, Traveltown, or the Spencer plant, I’d love to hear it so comment below or shoot me an email!

xoxo

Molly

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Confessions of a Reformed Sewaholic

Hi, I'm Molly. It’s been six weeks and 1 day since my last sewing project. I’m a sewaholic.

I made at least 130 apparel items for myself in 2018. I’ve gone on benders of one new clothing item a day for 10-12 days at a time. I’ve said “yes” to testing patterns that I didn’t need . I’ve said “yes” to testing fabric that I knew I’d never wear after I was done taking promotional pictures. I sewed things quickly and poorly just for the sake of finishing it. I’ve promoted fabrics and patterns I didn’t especially care for.

And what did it get me?

Burnt out. Drained. A closet full of clothes I’d never wear. And a feeling that I’d been wasteful: wasteful of my time, of my money, and of our earth’s resources (the environmental impact of textile production and waste is a HUGE problem).

And to add fuel to the fire, I read this book:

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Amazon affiliate link!)

Whether you buy clothes or make clothes I highly recommend this book. You don’t even have to be interested in clothes or fashion. But, if you wear any clothes at all, I think it’s important to think more about your consumption- where do your clothes come from and where do they go when you’re done with them? This book delves into how the fabrics are made, who’s sewing them (despite all of our technological advances, yes, there is still a person who is sewing your clothes), who’s designing them, how they’re manufactured and distributed, and what happens to your Goodwill donations.

LA fast fashion

I started reading the book back in October, right at the same time I traveled to Los Angeles. Downtown is flooded with stores like this, displaying fast trends at insanely low prices.

It was the perfect backdrop to everything Overdressed was talking about: how our cultural consumption of clothes has changed. Clothing has become a disposal good, quantity over quality. We’re willing to pay less and less, and have sacrificed quality clothing made in way that’s sustainable for our world.

If I’m going to be honest, I’ll tell you that it left me a little depressed about my closet. And the fabric in my sewing room. I realized that even though sewing my own clothes does a lot of good, there were still some major problems with my clothing habits.

in short, I was my own producer of fast fashion. I was substituting quantity for quality in my own work. I was spending my time and money to make things that I didn’t even plan on wearing more than one or two times. Just like the consumer who buys something they don’t need because it was “too good of a deal to pass up”, I was accepting strike-off fabric (free fabric from fabric stores in exchange for me sewing it up and supplying them with advertising), because it was “too good of a deal to pass up” (even if I didn’t like it, and it just meant more clothes in my closet that I wasn’t wearing).

Cue the guilt (I’m very prone to guilt, haha).

I gradually started to step away from the pattern and fabric groups I sewed for (even the ones I truly loved). My heart wasn’t in it any more, and it felt ridiculously wasteful to keep doing it (again, in terms of time, money, and planet Earth). But by stepping away from those groups, I also realized something else.

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By saying “yes” to so many pattern and fabric groups, I was essentially saying “no” to all of my own projects and ideas and creative goals. The time I wanted to learn new techniques or sew up patterns just for fun and not because I had to. I was rushing to do everything for them, and it was taking away from me being able to do anything for me.

Obviously, this wasn’t their fault. I’m the one that couldn’t stop saying “yes” to every sweater, brushed poly print, or dress pattern that offered itself to me. I’ve sewn for SO MANY talented, sweet, motivated women. And I loved supporting them and their dreams. But now it’s time to work on me and my own goals.

World domination.

Just kidding.

But I wouldn’t mind learning to hand pick stitch my zippers or use horsehair braid (no horses are harmed in the making of modern-day horsehair braid).

So, I took a break from sewing. It’s been six weeks and one day. The longest time I’ve gone without sewing anything since I started sewing obsessively three years ago. During the past six weeks (and one day), I’ve thought a lot about what I DO want to sew and I’ve made some changes to my closet and my mindset.

  • There are some vintage patterns calling my name upstairs.

  • I got Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing for Christmas, and I’m SO excited to learn some new vintage and couture sewing techniques, not to mention give some of her patterns a try (the tie blouse is top of my list!).

  • I stopped buy fabric from my regular shops and started searching our local thrift shops for fabric, so I can sew more sustainably.

  • I did another closet destash, and sold off some of my me-made goods that I don’t wear.

  • When I did “need” to buy a few items last month, I chose to do so from Pact Organic, for 100% certified organic cotton staples made in fair trade factories.

I’ve had a few sewing friends reach out and say that they missed seeing my sews, or that they hoped I got my “sewjo” back. But I’m super happy to be where I’m at, and I’m so excited about these changes. I know that stepping back from pattern testing and fabric samples was right for me. I’m looking forward to thinking more critically about the items I sew and enjoying more time sewing them.

I do 100% recommend Overdressed (and I hope I didn’t get too preachy about it!)— let me know if you’ve read it or if you end up picking it up! I’d love to hear what you think.

xoxo,

Molly

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