Saturday, July 26, 2008

TV and Vintage Clothing

Last night I settled in to watch the first season of the television show, Mad Men. Everyone has been telling me that because of my love of vintage clothing, I need to see it. The show takes place in the early 1960s, and its makers paid a lot of attention to getting the set details right. One of my first thoughts as the first episode unrolled was, Well that's why those late 50s and early 60s cocktail dresses have been flying out of the Xtabay.

Television and the movies definitely influence fashion, and we've seen it firsthand at the store. The rise in sale of 1970s halter dresses and prairie skirts seemed to fall on the heels of the premiere of Swingtown (and continues strong, by the way). The latest version of Hairspray sent high school girls out to look for Jackie-O era dresses. I don't recall a huge run on New Jersey chic after The Sopranos, but give it a couple of years and a series revival and we'll see.

I'm glad to see people willing to try new styles of clothing, no matter what inspires them. The trick is to make the clothes look modern and not like a costume by mixing them with contemporary shoes, hair, coats, or jewelry. Just a few minutes ago, Emmie, who works across the street at Gilly's Salon, came into the store wearing a mint green 1950s party dress with a full crinoline under it. Paired with her pink shag haircut, it was fabulous.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Does a Person Ever Get Too Old to Wear Vintage?

A good friend, who declines to give her age but says it's close to Madonna's, once tried on a dress for me. She has a slim figure, great legs, and can wear just about anything. "What do you think?" she asked me. "Too 'mutton dressed as lamb'?"

On her, the dress was neither lamb nor mutton, but the perfect in between. But it got me to thinking: can you get to an age where vintage looks ridiculous on you? I guess it's no surprise that I concluded a person can wear vintage until she's pushing her oxygen tank in a cart, but she might want to refine her style over time.

Some of you are probably thinking, "People should wear whatever they want! Who cares about age? Heck I'll be wearing go-go skirts when I'm ninety!" and I say, more power to you. But some people do like a little direction, and for them I offer a few guidelines:

1. Play to your strengths. When you're 18 you can get away with something that widens the hind end or casts a dull light on your complexion. By the time you're, say, Madonna's age, you should know that navy blue doesn't suit your particular skin and that skirts need to hit at a certain point to make the most of your legs. You know that you look best with something that defines your bust, or, on the other hand, that you'd rather show your strong shoulders and back.

When you play to your strengths, you don't look like a woman in a gorgeous vintage dress, you look like a gorgeous woman.

2. Quality matters. I've stolen this idea from this month's Vogue. Grace Coddington, once of Vogue's editors who's in her 50s, said that as you get older you look better in well made clothes. Well chosen, well made clothes are something that women--not girls--wear. Fortunately lots of vintage clothes are beautifully made, and the quality shows.

3. Simplify just a little bit. A full-grown woman is confident, and a confident woman is more likely to scrap sartorial clutter. I'd love to see a 50-year old woman in a 1950s, full-skirted dress with a floral pattern paired with sleek Helmut Lang pumps with steel heels. She might wear no jewelry and no makeup except lipstick. Of course, she has an excellent haircut. Or, another 50-year old woman might choose a simple black Jackie O. suit with a black James Perse tee shirt underneath and then stack seven bakelite bracelets in different primary colors up her wrist.

What do you think of age and vintage clothing? Is there any advice you'd give?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Return of the Hostess Gown

You've seen them in magazines, in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, and--of course--at the Xtabay. I'm talking about the hostess gown.

Back in the day, a hostess gown was a long dress the lady of the house would wear when she entertained. The dress only left the house to go to the cleaners, otherwise it was paired with silver mules or some other cross between a slipper and a sandal. In summer, the hostess gown might be made of cotton barkcloth with a Polynesian design custom made for Mai Tais on the patio. In the early 1960s, Vogue magazine even suggested having hostess gowns made to match your living room curtains and upholstery.

The hostess gown had many advantages. First, it was usually cut loose so that you wouldn't have to wear a girdle. Many of the gowns had comfortable empire waists. It was fancy and informal at the same time, so it let guests know that this was an occasion, yet they could feel comfortable in your home. Hostess gowns briefly morphed into maxi dresses in the early 1970s, but they quickly fell out of fashion to be replaced first with Carol Brady outfits.

Today, few things look and feel better worn on the street on a warm day than a cotton hostess gown and sandals. If the gown is slightly short, so much the better: its hem will show off your ankles and pedicure as you move. Xtabay has a killer selection of hostess gowns right now. Number one on my list is an orange and white gown with a ruffled collar and hem and--get this--Colonel Sanders' face and KFC worked into the pattern. We also have a gorgeously flowing black gown with a polka dots and a halter neck, and two late 1960s dresses, both with museum-worthy prints and ruffled bottoms.

Keep walking past the windows of Saks right up to the bus mall where you can grab the #4 or #10 to Xtabay. You'll be the chicer for it.