Strolling along

Flicking through the NYPL’s fashion plates reveals that for pretty much every era up until now, the Walking Dress was the most appealing garment in a woman’s wardrobe. I’m worried that we may have let these standards slip: some people even make the same costume do for Morning and Afternoon walking. The slatterns. Don’t forget an umbrella to peep out from beneath; if you are French you’ll need a dog.

Fashion for Cosmonauts

I love these pictures of the Soyuz descent module landing in a field in Kazakhstan on its return from the ISS (via goodmachine). And particularly for the chance to get a close-up look at space fashion.
Badges! Blue plug-in nodules! White canvas boots with toggles!
Even better are the ceremonial return-from-space outfits they wear. I hope the reason Tracy Caldwell Dyson doesn’t get a special hat is that she’s a Nasa astronaut rather than because she’s female.
Here they are back in normal clothes – although as you see Ms Dyson now carries a flower at all times as lady astronauts must when on planet Earth.

Fashion from Mars

Taking another look at the V & A online, they have a fantastic collection of Schiaparelli designs. They’re noticeable for their beautiful details:
and her choice of interesting people to collaborate with on her strange, surreal pieces, such as Jean Cocteau on this 1937 evening coat:
and Salvador Dali for this little incredibly modern-looking black Skeleton Dress from 1938:
Interestingly, she was the great niece of the astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, famous for his observations on meteor showers and author of a book, Life on Mars.
(Picture from Bibliodyssey.)

Knitting for Spies

A recent Radio 4 programme about MI6 first alerted me to the links between espionage and knitting. It described old French ladies keeping count of Nazi trains with their clandestine knitting code – purl one for a goods train, drop one for a military train and so on.
It turns out there are more connections between these two activities than you’d think. For instance, “red spy queen” Elizabeth Bentley hid secret documents in her knitting bag.
A woman called Old Mom Rinker spied for George Washington by knitting near the enemy camp, putting her overheard information on scraps of paper inside balls of yarn and nudging them off the cliff to soldiers below.
And cold war spy George Blake used a knitting needle ladder to escape from Wormwood Scrubs.
These investigations led me to an even stranger phenomenon – the shepherds of Landes in Aquitaine, who liked to knit on stilts:
Pattern for a Morse Code vest

Perfume for Time Travellers


It’s very difficult to find the perfect perfume: for some reason nearly all modern scents smell of custard. Luckily we are here to suggest more exciting olfactory experiences. For instance:

The Scent of a Grandfather
CB I Hate Perfumes – Greenbriar 1968 aims to capture the smell of perfumer Christopher Brosius’ grandfather, which is apparently sawdust, leather work gloves, pipe tobacco and axel grease. I’ve never actually tried it, but I have tried the same label’s M. Hulot’s Holiday, which really does smell of suntan oil, damp swimming costumes and old suitcases.

Dolls’ Tea Party
The Unicorn Spell by Les Nez: this has a distinct plasticky tang combined with grassy notes which is the exact smell of neglected Sindy dolls left in the garden overnight.

Errol Flynn
Creed’s Cuir de Russie was created for him. After the first thwack of leather, it’s surprisingly flowery.

Caron’s Aimez Moi has a totally unearthly scent. There’s nothing natural that you can detect in it or compare it to, it’s inexplicable – this must be what an alien planet would smell like.

A Clean Robot
Apparently Dans Tes Bras by Frederic Malle is supposed to smell of warm skin, but its combination of metal and washing up liquid if anything suggests the embrace of a fastidious machine.



Recession Costumes

In these hard times we’ll all have to make our own clothes, according to the newspaper style sections. At least it’s an opportunity to branch out and reintroduce some forgotten garments. For instance, the pelerine:
The muffatee:
Engageantes, or puffy undersleeves:
The calash, a very useful-looking sort of retractable hat:
Or why not just brighten up last year’s boots with a distracting boot ruff:
See also:
Cocktails of the Hedgerow
Hollar’s Winter Fashions

Sense and Nonsense

I’ve written about the 1957 BBC programme Men, Women and Clothes over at Watchification, but watching another episode, Sense and Nonsense in Fashion, I find the whole series is full of good stuff.
The sternly elegant fashion historian Doris Langley Moore is talking about irrationality in dress, but it’s interesting to see that the examples she shows of shoes that look absurd to the Fifties eye – a long Twenties satin shoe, Forties platform sandal, a 1910 patent lace-up ankle boot – all look completely normal to the modern eye. I’m pretty sure you could buy each of those styles in Topshop today. “The beauty of these creations is mysterious and fleeting,” expains Langley Moore – does the retro impulse mean that fashion has lost its impermanence? I can’t think of a style from any past era that would look impossible today. Even the muslin-clad Regency girls in their cashmere shawls look like West London yummy mummies. You could probably get away with a bustle in the right circles.
What has changed is men’s fashion. The programme reminds us that through history men also made themselves uncomfortable with ruffles, high collars or wigs, before they all started dressing like children: “It’s probable that men have always been much more conscious than women of good form in their clothes.”
For the record, Doris Langley Moore concludes that the only time women have dressed in a sane manner was 1919 – and the flappers getting carried away with sequins soon put paid to that.
Langley Moore was obviously a formidable character – she wrote a ballet, founded the Museum of Costume in Bath, was an expert on the life of Byron and wrote some intriguing-looking books.

More Shop Windows

This collection of display windows of the Eaton’s Department Store in Toronto gives fascinating glimpses of the everyday fashions of the last century. (Found via Lola)
They seem to have gone to town on even the most mundane items:
Although they admit they could never compete with some of the more lavish Continental affairs:

Innovative Knitting

Anyone with any sense likes to knit, and one of its greatest pleasures is discovering new and strange ways of doing things. Designers such as Sandra Backlund (above) are currently pushing knitwear into all kinds of unexpected directions, but even among the V & A’s store of wartime knitting patterns you can find small innovations, like the ears-free balaclava – ideal for mobile phone addicts in cold climates:
Or to be really modern you can always extend who you knit for – how about trees:
(Janet Morton, via)
Or giants:
(Christien Meindertsma)