Sunday, March 30, 2008

From the Stylist's Mouth

Friday afternoon a stylist came into the Xtabay. She perused the racks, looking for clothing--"no tears, no stains, everything has to be perfect"--for her clients. She immediately gravitated toward a Geoffrey Beene dress and coat that was structured but feminine. "This dress doesn't look any particular era," she said. "When you see it, you say, 'that's a great dress' and not 'that's a vintage dress'."

When she found out that I want to write a book on wearing vintage clothing, she said that one of the subjects not really covered in any books she's seen is how to wear vintage clothing and have it look stylish but contemporary. She said that good vintage clothing, worn right, doesn't look of a particular time, but transcends fashion. "Look at that dress," she said, pointing to a late 1970s Bill Blass disco dress with asymmetrical panels of wispy peach and pale cocoa chiffon. "With modern shoes, you'd never know it was vintage.

Occasionally someone will come into the store who is dressed head to toe in vintage, including a 1940s hairdo and red lipstick. To me, rather than look interesting or chic, she looks like she's in costume and waiting for her cue to walk on stage. Her attention to detail is admirable, but it's o.k. to mix a Target tee shirt with a 1960s necklace and cowboy boots.

"In the old days, people followed the fashion of the queen," the stylist said. "Then it was Hollywood and movie stars--you know Adrian and Edith Head. Now people follow the style of celebutants," she said with disgust. "I mean, what does Nicole Ritchie know about style?

"I was at a convention, and--what's her name?--Dina, Dita Von Teese, the one who was married to Marilyn Manson, was walking around. Everyone said she was so stylish, but she had makeup and clothes straight from the pinup era. I didn't think she had much style at all. You know who has style? People don't like to hear this, but Jessica Simpson has her own style. She doesn't copy anyone else, and it's all quality," the stylist said. (Lest you get the wrong idea, she also mentioned Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett as stylish.)

"You shouldn't look like you're dressed all in one decade. And you should dress for your own body, not to match fashion or look like a particular time. People should look at you and wonder where you got such a great dress, not notice right away that it's vintage."

Her point is well taken. I don't care if my dress looks blatantly vintage, and I'd love to have an eyeful of Dita Von Teese, but I know to make my own look by wearing modern boots with a full-skirted 1950s dress, and if I wear a vintage coat I try to carry a new purse. It's all in the mix, and it's all personal. Straight from the stylist's mouth.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fit for the Easter Parade

Today is Easter. For a lot of families, it has traditionally meant moms and daughters with new, matching dresses, a post-church parade home for a ham dinner, and, of course, hats.

I'm willing to wear just about anything vintage. I'll put on a flouncy 1950s dress with boots any time, and if you come to my house for dinner, chances are good I'll be in a Polynesian-print hostess gown. I won't flinch at wearing the rhinestone equivalent of 50 carats. But I have a hard time getting up the courage to wear a vintage hat.

For a long time, I thought it was because I didn't look good in hats, that I didn't have the fabled "hat head". Put just about any hat on Liz's head, for instance, and she looks terrific, but I have to try on a lot of hats before I find one that flatters. This week, though, I did find a hat--a 1950s black velvet hat with a long fringe--that did look good on me. If I'd seen someone in an old movie wearing the hat, I would have loved it. I had to face the fact that I am, in fact, like so many other people, afraid to wear a vintage hat. So much for Easter dressing.

It's time for me to bridge the great hat divide. One of Portland's rock royalty came into the Xtabay a month ago and bought a navy blue 1960s dress with a pleated flounce around the bottom and white trim. As she was paying, she reached up and plucked a white fur Hattie Carnegie hat from its stand, put it on, and said, "Add this, too." It would look terrific with her new dress at the party she was going to that evening. If she can do it, so can the rest of us.

--posted by Angie

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Baubles ...bangles...

On Saturday, Liz came into the Xtabay with two boxes of vintage jewelry. She opened one of the boxes and lifted out a handful of crystal and glass bead necklaces. "Look at these!" she said.

I love most everything about vintage clothing, but I have to admit that vintage jewelry tops my list (with coats running a close second). I love how a funky 1950s crystal and mottled glass bead necklace like the one in the picture above can transform a plain black tee shirt from Target into something worth looking at twice, or how a strand of pink rhinestones sets off a tattooed shoulder.

Vintage jewelry can be full of personality, so it often looks best one piece at a time. If you buy both a necklace and its matching earrings, try wearing them separately. Vintage jewelry is also terrific set off against contemporary clothing, just like modern jewelry can look so good with a 1960s Ship 'N Shore blouse. Rhinestones, especially pastel rhinestones, are surprisingly right for a spring day (imagine a green rhinestone brooch shaped like leaves on a butter yellow cashmere cardigan) so don't save them just for night.

Along with the load of vintage jewelry, Liz also bought a ridiculously ornate display case--something that could have been pinched from Versailles--and put it next to the counter. In the back of the store is a new dresser with drawers full of 1960s Pop Art inspired earrings, cotton gloves, and more. Stop by the store sometime soon and show us that Liz Taylor has nothing on you.

posted by Angie

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Arrival

The current star of the Xtabay window is this lovely 1950's party frock. Heavenly sky blue taffeta with mocha lace overlay, this beauty is sure to go to prom. It could be your's for only 125.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Spring Cleaning

On Friday afternoon I met Liz in her driveway. "I'm warning you," she said, "It's really bad in there." She gestured behind her to her garage, which attaches to her basement.

Liz is in the grips of a spring cleaning frenzy, and she asked me to come over to help her sort through the stacks of vintage clothing in her basement. I was more than happy to do it. In fact, I was really looking forward to seeing what sort of fabulous clothing was tucked away in the Aladdin's cave that Liz's basement surely would be.

The basement fulfilled its promise of being a vintage clothes lover's dream come true. In a quick glance I saw a gorgeous 1970s silk caftan and a Lilli Ann suit from the '50s with pleated detail at the sleeves. We lit a stick of sandalwood incense and stuck in in the shoulder of a dressmaker's dummy to burn down as we sorted clothes into piles to dryclean, take to the store, or send to Goodwill. For the sale rack, we filled bins with 1950s dresses, tee shirts, Jantzen sweaters, and other clothes with tiny stains or that need small repairs. Someone with basic mending skills will make out like a bandit when these clothes are put out.

All of this is to say that it's a great time to get down to the Xtabay. Already we have a box of bargain 1940s silk ties and 1980s belts out, and the sale rack is in front of the store with new pieces added every day. You just might see me in one of my Xtabay sale rack scores: a black cotton 1950s dress with a fitted bodice,a full skirt, and velvet trim. Full movie star glamour for $15.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Not Quite Winter, Not Quite Spring

The old saying goes that March "comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb". Here in Portland, the lion and lamb days alternate so that it's no telling what the next day's weather will bring. When it isn't winter anymore, but definitely not yet spring, what do you wear?

March is a good time to put your black wool turtleneck and dark, heavy coat into storage and turn to brighter colors. Get out your grass green mohair cardigan and cotton sundresses. Do you have a light, off-white cashmere coat? Maybe a blue linen coat? If you do, move them to the front of the closet. (If you don't, we can fix you up at the Xtabay.)

Now that you've brightened up the color of your wardrobe, think about how to wear a mix of your winter and summer clothes for March's unpredictable weather. For instance, you can toss a lilac cashmere cardigan over your tulip-print 1950s cotton dress and wear it with boots and a spring coat. Later, when spring hits full on, ditch the boots for sandals.

You can also lighten up your clothes this time of year by playing around with accessories. Try switching nude fishnets for tights or wearing chiffon scarves instead of wool scarves. Dump everything out of the giant leather bag you've carried all winter (face it, it's probably time you cleaned it out anyway) and carry a smaller, brightly-colored bag. Put away the bottle of heavy perfume you might have been wearing and try a spritz of hyacinth-scented Guerlain Chamade.

Before too long it will be April...