Inspire A Style: Jacqueline’s Tea Room

Welcome to (almost) autumn!

I’m very excited that we’re now in September. As much as summer is a great opportunity to get out and about in the world, nothing beats the feeling of cool autumn weather and the chance to cosy up with a book (or sewing machine) and cup of tea. Autumn is absolutely my favourite time of year and I can’t wait for when it gets cold enough that pressing my fabric no longer gives me heat exhaustion.

Since I’m celebrating the on-coming autumn, I thought I would share one of my favourite places to wile away autumn afternoons and gather some inspiration for my next sewing project: Jacqueline’s Tea Room!

Who?

Those of you familiar with Colchester will know that it’s a pretty stereotypical English town: streets filled with shoppers and chain stores everywhere. Fortunately, its history (Colchester is the oldest recorded town in Britain) means that it’s a place full of hidden gems. There’s a great castle, fantastic park, and some beautiful buildings. But one of my favourite jewels at the heart of an otherwise pretty stereotypical British town is Jacqueline’s – a fabulous 1940s tea room with enough authenticity to make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.

I actually stumbled on Jacqueline’s when I was out on a trek with my fiancé, shortly after we moved to Colchester. I was feeling pretty miserable after upping sticks from a gorgeous countryside village to be nearer to my university. I was missing the fields and the peace and quiet and, without a car to get around, we were pretty restricted to visiting places that were within walking distance. When we found Jacqueline’s, it felt a lot like coming home. It’s set up to give a truly authentic ’40s vibe, not to mention an incredible selection of teas and cakes. Beyond that, it has given me a huge amount of inspiration when it comes to my sewing expeditions.

Why?

As long-time readers of Sew for Victory will know, my Inspire A Style posts are usually restricted to people. But places can often be just as inspiring when it comes to thinking about sewing projects. Soaking up the ’40s ambiance always places me in a different headspace – listening to period music while surrounded by decor that gives off the era always gets my mind churning over fabrics and patterns.

I would highly suggest that if you find yourself stuck in a sewing rut, you get yourself out into some inspiring places. You’ll spot people, colours, and designs that trigger a lightbulb moment. Or you’ll find yourself reminded of films you’ve seen and books you’ve read that similarly inspire you.  Visiting Jacqueline’s has given me back my motivation on numerous occasions, so trust me and give it a go!

What?

So quite how has this perfect little tea room inspired my sewing? There are so many projects that have drawn their inspiration, in one way or another, from my trips for tea and cake. All my ‘home style’ 1940s creations feel as though they wouldn’t be out of place in this setting. Both my Great British Sewing Bee Vintage Blouse and my recent Big Vintage Sew-along make suggest the kind of atmosphere you find at Jacqueline’s. Jacqueline’s was also the direct inspiration for my version of Sew Over It’s Joan dress, which I made for a special Valentine’s High Tea with my gorgeous boy!

 

And there are so many patterns that I have rolling around my mind that draw on the war-time sitting room feel that I soak up every time I step through the doors. The B4790 Walkaway dress would be an easy way to achieve that ’40s style.

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Or what about the gorgeous V1019 suit dress? So perfect! I think I might have to add this one to my list of projects.

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So much sewing, so little time! But what a good position to be in.

If you end up in Colchester, definitely make some time to stop at Jacqueline’s. And don’t forget to invite me because I’m always looking for an excuse to drink more tea and think about new sewing projects!

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Inspire a Style: Gene Kelly

Gene Bow Tie

Since starting Sew for Victory, one of the most consistent questions I get is about the origins of my love of vintage style. Obviously the word ‘vintage’ means different things to different people. For me, it’s representative of various eras – although the 1940s is where I find most of my inspiration. One thing I consistently associate with the idea of ‘vintage’ as a style and a lifestyle are the classic films that brought me to a love for these periods long past. Of all the stars in all the films, it is Gene Kelly who taught me that 1940s Hollywood isn’t something that has to remain solely on my TV.

Who?

Many of you will already be well acquainted with Gene Kelly. Born Eugene Curran Kelly in 1912, Gene was not originally destined to grace Hollywood with his incredible dancing and acting skills. He studied economics and law at university, eventually dropping out to teach dance and work as an entertainer. After a stint on the stage, it wasn’t until 1941 that Gene gained a contract with Hollywood giant MGM. His first starring role was alongside Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal. From here, he eased into a lucrative film career, perhaps best known for his roles in An American in Paris (1951) and  Singin’ In The Rain (1952).

Gene’s incredible dancing skills – putting him up alongside Fred Astaire as one of the greatest dancers in Hollywood – and his easy charm turned him into a Hollywood legend. His athleticism is absolutely clear to anyone who watches his films. As the era of Hollywood musicals faded so too did Gene’s career at the heart of the film empire. But he had firmly embedded his name in the history of 20th century film. He died in 1996, aged 83.

Gene Dance

Why?

It is obviously a little out of left-field for me to pick a man as a style inspiration. One of the clearest principles of style from the 1940s – and other ‘vintage’ periods – is an obvious distinction between genders. However, we are now firmly in an era where these restrictions do not (and should not) apply. It is always a good idea to look outside of your conventional boxes and see what you might find!

To me, Gene Kelly is totally representative of the 1940s Hollywood fashion of the male film stars. Smart and refined, this is a style that is all about clean lines, high-waisted trousers, and accessories. The use of accessories by men (tie clips, bow ties, caps) has seen something of a resurgence over recent years, albeit by a select part of the population. When we look back to the male film stars of the 1940s, it becomes clear from where this resurgence finds its inspiration.

Beyond this, what I really love about Gene Kelly’s style is the fact that – even with its refinement and elegance – there is an easy-going fun that you can’t escape. Perhaps it is partly in the attitude of the characters he plays, or the fact that he can’t go five minutes without breaking into song and dance, but this is a style of almost lazy chicness. Gene Kelly is the epitome of ‘wear the clothes, don’t let them wear you’. And that fact is sufficient to warrant him a place as a true style inspiration.

Gene Sailor On the Town

Gene Kelly in 1949 musical ‘On the Town’

What?

So where to start in replicating this style? Apart from whipping up your own tuxedo (no easy feat, I’m sure), there are a few key ways in which its possible to draw some direct inspiration from the gorgeous Gene Kelly.

One core part of Gene Kelly’s wardrobe is a blazer-style jacket. Made up in linen and paired with a waistcoat, this would be the perfect addition to any 1940s garment line-up. Burdastyle’s 01/2014 #125 blazer pattern is a wonderful example of a 1940s style blazer pattern, with a fabulous front chain fastening as an added vintage detail. If you decide to go this route, be sure to join Male Devon Sewing’s #blazerof2016 challenge and bring Gene Kelly’s fashion legacy fully into the modern age!

For waistcoats, you needn’t look further than Simplicity 4762 for a variety of options. If you have a penchant for knitting needles, you could go a step further and whip up a cashmere or wool slipover (also known as a sweater vest). Free Vintage Knitting provides a variety of vintage knitting patterns for men’s vests. Worn with a collared shirt and a pair of wide legged trousers, you really don’t get much more 1940s!

Finally, make sure to take a look at my bow tie tutorial for a quick and easy route to making up your own personalised bow ties. Bow ties are such an effective way to add that vintage style to any outfit and are definitely the fastest way to replicate Gene Kelly’s fabulous style with your own crafting skills.

Gene Flat Cap

So whether you’re searching out this style for your fella or yourself, be sure to remember that everything should be done with a light touch and a light heart. Watch Singin’ In The Rain while you sew and I guarantee that lightness won’t be far beyond your reach.

“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.”

– Gene Kelly (1912 – 1996)

Inspire A Style: Miss Fisher

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My love of vintage style has infiltrated almost everything. From my obsession with classic novels to the period TV dramas that are pretty much always on my television, bygone eras are well-represented in my daily life (in fact, I’m watching Mad Men as I write this). But no show has influenced my adoration of vintage fashion to quite the extent of the incredible Phryne Fisher from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Who?

Phryne Fisher is the main protagonist in the Australian murder mystery series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Set in 1920s Melbourne, the show follows Phryne as a private detective and total badass. An incredible feminist, Phryne is also the embodiment of the flapper style.

There are many reasons to love Phryne other than her other-wordly fashion sense (although that will obviously be the focus of this post). She is a beautiful middle-aged woman, liberated from the confines of society’s traditional gender roles, and unapologetically determined to retain ownership of her life. Although this is obviously a fiction – divorced from the reality that even the most liberated women of the 1920s were limited in their autonomy – it is one that I love to take refuge in.  Watch it and, trust me, you will feel the same way.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 13.59.59Make sure to particularly enjoy Aunt Prudence’s face on the right of the shot.

Why?

So back to style. Why does Phryne Fisher deserve a particular place in my heart as fashion inspiration? The 1920s are, undeniably, a little outside of my usual era of reference. But part of the excitement in designing and constructing your own outfits is the ability to handpick a tailored combination of garments, accessories and eras. For my part, I love to extract key details from a variety of vintage periods and Phryne Fisher provides the perfect variety of ’20s evening and day glamour from which to draw inspiration.

For many present-day lovers of vintage style, the 1920s is intimidating territory. It has such a distinctive look and would be, in many respects, difficult to integrate into the everyday life of a modern woman. But Phryne Fisher’s look provides a few key details that would work perfectly for anyone inspired by the glamour and sophistication of the 1920s.

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What?

Other than a sleek bob and some gorgeous red lipstick, there is a lot to be learnt from Phryne’s embodiment of the ’20s. As spectacular as the high-glamour looks are the simple and uncomplicated garments that are very present throughout the series. The sailor smock shown in the photo above, made up in a silk/satin, shows that the 1920s were not all beads and feathers. Take this gorgeous Godet dress pattern from Burdastyle, make it up in navy silk with white detailing, and you’ve got a stunning replication of Phryne’s chic look.

Simple garments made up in interesting geometric patterns are also a key facet of Phryne’s wardrobe:

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An outfit like the above is simply done. A plain skirt paired with a bold vintage-style blouse – such as the Anderson blouse from Sew Over It – would make the perfect work-ready outfit. If you wanted to go authentic, vintage fabric that would work for this look is available from multiple sources. I’m particularly in love with the selection available at ‘Til The Sun Goes Down.

There are just so many options, all of which are totally viable for a woman who doesn’t necessarily want to look as if she’s just walked out of a costume drama. That said, always make room in your life for a long necklace and a jewel-dripped hair accessory. Phryne would.

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In the meantime, make sure to set aside some time for a Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries binge session (I know for sure that it’s available on UK and US Netflix) and give in to the fabulous Phryne Fisher.

“Beside every good man is a good woman, and she must always be ready to step in front.”

– Phryne Fisher

Inspire A Style: Gene Tierney

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I’m back in the UK and, while I work on finally making progress with my Joan dress, I thought I would stop in with another instalment of Inspire A Style. This time featuring Gene Tierney, one of my favourite 1940s starlets!

Who?

Gene Tierney was an American actress who starred in a number of films throughout the 1940s, and into the ’50s. Acclaimed as one of Hollywood’s greatest beauties, she acted alongside a number of the most famous stars of the time – Humphrey Bogart, Ginger Rogers, and Spencer Tracy among them. Perhaps her most acclaimed role was as Laura in the film of the same name.

Gene Tierney is also known for the ups-and-downs of her personal life. Suffering from depression and ill-health, Tierney contemplated suicide in 1957. Her journey to overcome her mental health problems – as well as the story of her career – are documented in the amazing autobiography Self Portrait (highly recommended!).

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Why?

Gene Tierney is the epitome of 1940s glamour. Hollywood starlets of the era obviously had access to some of the most glorious garments and stylists. Other than her effortless beauty, it is this style that makes Tierney such an inspiration for anyone who wants to replicate this vintage style.

In many respects, then, Gene Tierney’s position as a fashion role-model is not the product of her personal style. But it is rather a consequence of her fortunate place at the helm of Hollywood. However, she is far from a one-dimensional personality. I think that her personal battles dictated her approach to her career, and this is something that will always inevitably flow over into other areas of life – including, in my view, style. Whether as a representation of inner battles, or as a superficial cover for them, there is always a story. And Gene Tierney perhaps best represents this fact.

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What?

Gene Tierney represents a lot of what I love about 1940s glamour. There is a certain simplicity to many of her looks, a simplicity that separates this era from those that followed. Simple, well-constructed gowns were the order of the day, paired with pearls or diamonds. Throw in some gorgeous bright reds and deep greens and this is a style that pretty much anyone can replicate. Gene Tierney is also someone to look to in attempting to replicate 1940s hairstyles. Perfect curls!

Tierney 1

So where can a seamstress look for patterns to replicate the Gene Tierney look? My first recommendation would undoubtedly be Decades of Style’s Belle Curve dress – to me, this totally epitomises the 1940s style and works perfectly for communicating some Hollywood glamour. I sported my version over Christmas and received endless compliments!

There’s also the glorious Doris dress from Eliza M Vintage. Worn strapless, and paired with a set of pearls, it would be perfect. I’ve made up patterns from Eliza M before, and they are so well constructed and easy to follow. Definitely recommended!

Finally, get yourself a set of heated rollers, pop your hair into some soft curls, and you’ll be ready to go! Gene Tierney in the 21st century! And I’m sure, once in this look, you will find yourself closer to the courage and determination that characterises her story.

“Life is like a little message in a bottle, to be carried by the winds and the tides.”

Gene Tierney (1920-1991)

Inspire A Style: ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale

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The beauty of sewing your own clothes is the unlimited creative freedom in putting together your own style. Part of the reason why I started sewing was my disillusionment with trying to hunt out my style of clothes from a fairly monotonous selection. Finding clothes in high-street shops is made all the harder by the fact that I handpick inspiration from a variety of eras, not usually reflected in current fashions.

After a few questions about the source of my style, I thought that it would be a good idea to introduce a series of running posts that feature my most prominent fashion role models. Today, I’m celebrating the unique style of – the little-known – Little Edie Bouvier Beale.

Who?

Little Edie is in part known for being the cousin of Jackie Onassis Kennedy (a fashion goddess in her own right). But following a scandal in which health inspectors declared the Bouvier Beale mansion ‘Grey Gardens’ uninhabitable, Little Edie was herself thrown into popular attention. In 1975, the Maysles brothers – two documentary makers – decided to make a feature about the eccentric and reclusive life lived by Little Edie and her mother (appropriately named, Big Edie) in their dilapidated and decaying mansion. The resulting filmGrey Gardens, is a poignant and revealing insight into the lives of these two women, dealing with a reality in which “it’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.”

Edie YoungLittle Edie in her youth

Why?

One unexpected consequence of Grey Gardens was the sudden position of Little Edie as something of a fashion icon. Watching the documentary, it’s clear why. Little Edie is a woman who marches to the beat of her own drum entirely. Her style reflects this.

Due to the onset of alopecia in her twenties, Little Edie spent much of her life without any hair. As a result, Edie adopted her signature headscarves –  a defining feature of her fabulous look.

Little Edie’s life at Grey Gardens, poverty-stricken and centred around looking after her elderly mother, ensured that her style was a pick-and-mix of past eras. As Edie herself says of her wardrobe:

“My costumes? That’s a protest against having worked as a model for the Establishment, believe it or not. A lot of models feel that way. Sometimes their lives are protests against having worked as models. Besides, I didn’t have time taking care of mother to get out and buy any clothes. So I used what was left of mine and mother’s in the attic.”

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What?

Little Edie’s style is perhaps best known for the fabulous vintage headscarves, fastened with gorgeous vintage brooches. This is such an easy detail to recreate. Grab a silk (or polyester) scarf, pop it over your head, and fasten at the neck with a brooch. I have a variety of brooches – some vintage, some vintage-inspired. Really anything works.

Little Edie also inspires a love for faux fur (although I’m sure that her furs were real, please AVOID). I was hugely drawn to my new coat because of the faux fur edging, reminding me of Edie’s gorgeous looks.

Edie has inspired modern designers. Marc Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi have both created garments based on Edie’s unique style. For a quick look at her most inspired ‘costumes’, see ‘Little Edie’s Top Ten Outfits from Grey Gardens’.

Taking this all back to sewing, it is easy to find patterns that allow for a recreation of Edie’s infamous style. One of her classiest looks is a long-sleeved shirt worn underneath a simple shift dress. Decades of Style’s Given A Chance dress would be perfect to recreate this sleek look. Sew Over It’s Cowl Neck dress would also work really well.

One of my absolute favourite looks sported by Edie is her amazing one-piece bathing suit.

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To recreate this look and create a wearable, versatile piece, take a look at Sew La Di Da Vintage’s Margo 70s Playsuit. I’ve yet to make up this pattern so I can’t vouch for its ease of use – but the finished product certainly looks fabulous!

I love Edie – for her imagination, optimism, and general resilience. She is a role model for more than her style. Find a free 90 minutes and watch Grey Gardens to discover this relatively unknown icon.