My Vintage Life: Christmas in Hollywood

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With Christmas just gone and New Year’s fast approaching, now is the time for thick blankets, hot chocolate, and a favourite black-and-white film on the TV. I – like so many others – absolutely love December and everything that comes with it. But there is truly nothing better about the season than the opportunity to pull out some of the best festive movies for a viewing. Would it, after all, truly be Christmas without an opportunity to let Bing Crosby make us feel all the feels in White Christmas? We owe a lot to classic Hollywood for helping us usher in some festive spirit and feel the joy that the holidays bring (troubling family members and potential catastrophes aside).

While I’m well acquainted with the best seasonal films to emerge out of early Hollywood, I’ve been wondering about how exactly Hollywood recognised the Christmas period outside of creating some really great movies. So join me for this week’s My Vintage Life and an exploration of Christmas in Hollywood.


Since the 1920s, Hollywood has rung in the festive season with incredible extravagance. Following a campaign by retail merchants to increase Christmas business, businessman Harry Blaine and the Hollywood Boulevard Association reached an agreement on the annual transformation of Hollywood Boulevard into Santa Claus Lane. Beginning in 1928, the Boulevard became a wonderland for prospective shoppers and tourists coming to view the elaborate lights display and daily parade. The parade – at the time known as the Hollywood Santa Parade or the Santa Claus Lane Parade) – still takes place as an annual event.

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Actress Mary Pickford putting up the Santa Claus Lane sign

As historian Nathan Masters describes Santa Claus Lane:

“The first year, 100 living firs were dug up from the forest near Big Bear and placed along Hollywood Blvd. in wooden planters. Once fully dressed in nearly 10,000 incandescent light bulbs, the trees lit the path for a nightly parade. Joined on his sleigh by a silver screen star, Santa Claus greeted passerby as a team of six live reindeer pulled him down the boulevard. After New Year’s Day, the trees were replanted on the grounds of the Hollywood Bowl. 

In later years, metallic decorations replaced the living trees. Drawings of film stars’ faces smiled at shoppers from the center of tin wreaths hung from lampposts. Whimsical, shiny toy Christmas trees blinked with colorful lights. At the annual promotion’s peak, organizers boasted that Hollywood Blvd. was the most brightly lit street in the nation.”

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Other notable features of Santa Claus Lane included imitation fireplaces and 4-feet high papier-mache Santa Claus heads (not at all terrifying, I’m sure). As an interesting side note, the song ‘Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)’ was inspired by Hollywood Boulevard’s transformation into Santa Claus Lane and the daily procession of Santa and his reindeer.

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Beyond Hollywood’s physical transformation, the studios also picked up on the publicity potential afforded by the Christmas season. Filmmakers capitalised on moviegoers’ festive spirit through the production of great films – White Christmas (1954), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), and Miracle on 34th Street (1947) remain some of the best known – but also through the marketing of their greatest stars. The late 1920s onwards marked a dramatic transformation in the way that studios presented their stars – starting to sell films to the general public through the reputation of their performers. A studio’s contracted stars became integrally tied to the success of its films and, as such, Christmas became an opportunity for studios to thrust their actors even more forcefully into the public eye. Alongside the production of holiday films featuring prominent names, studios also worked with their actors to release carefully staged publicity shots. Here are a couple of my favourite examples:

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner

Loretta Young

Loretta Young

The history of Hollywood at Christmas is a reminder that they had more to offer than some, admittedly amazing, films. The nature of ‘Tinseltown’ is one that was firmly established in the 1920s, with a desire to drag business away from surrounding retail areas and towards Hollywood’s main strip. And these are traditions that are continuing – albeit in slightly adjusted forms – over 80 years later.

So with Christmas just gone and New Year’s around the corner, pull out your favourite old films, look up some seasonal Hollywood photos (there are some real *crackers*) and enjoy the best of what December has left for us. However – and whether or not – you’ve celebrated, I’m sending you all the best wishes for the rest of the holiday period and hoping that you have a wonderful long New Year’s weekend!

 

 

Book Review: Vintage Details – A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka

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As a self-taught seamstress, I’ve relied heavily on a variety of different resources to help me learn and develop my skills. As much as I love a good Youtube video – and they’re pretty indispensable for seeing exactly how things are supposed to be done – books are definitely my go-to place for learning or refreshing my knowledge! As my sewing library has grown, I’ve developed a core group of reference books, all of which I continually return to when I need a little inspiration. But of all my books, none has been so vital to me as Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basnia Szkutnicka.* Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I talk about this book with incredible regularity because it is such a valuable resource for my sewing adventures. So I thought that it was high time that I write up a review on Sew for Victory for all those of you who might need a little bit of added vintage inspiration.

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Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook is exactly what it claims to be – a sourcebook. It’s an incredibly well categorised and curated set of photos of different garments, covering the years from 1913 to 1995. As you can see from the Contents page above, the garments are indexed and referenced, as appropriate, in the book’s various chapters. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of vintage detailing – from stunning necklines to gorgeous embellishments.

The Visual Index provides a full-length shot of all of the garments referenced in the book, organised by date, and providing a brief set of details. It’s important to note that more detailed close-up shots of the garments are given in the chapters where they are referenced (so, for example, if a dress is referenced under the ‘Collars’ section, you can expect close-up shots of the collar). The Visual Index is important, however, because it allows you to have a flip through to find particular periods of interest and then cross-reference with any sections of the book that you’re especially keen to look at. As you can see from the photo below, the information in the Visual Index also provides page numbers for where each garment is referenced, as well as abbreviations for the section (for example, EMB for embellishments or SLV for sleeves). This system makes the book incredibly simple to use. When I was making my dress for the Big Vintage Sew-Along, for example, I knew that I wanted to add some authentic 1930s flairs to the pattern. Looking for inspiration, I cycled through the Visual Index to the 1930s dresses and paid particular attention to those referenced in the EMB section of the book. Quick and easy.

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As I mentioned above, where the garments pop up in later sections, you will find more detailed shots of the garment. What you won’t find, however, is any great amount of information about the garment and the details on which the specific section focuses. The information provided in the book’s main sections is a simple reiteration of what you find in the Visual Index – so very basic info regarding the year, location, colour and fabric. This book is entirely a photo sourcebook. While that is incredibly valuable in its own right, it can be a little frustrating when you are looking to incorporate something of what you’re seeing into your own makes – particularly if you’re a relative beginner to vintage sewing and wouldn’t be able to replicate garments/details from sight. I tend to use this book for the first stages of gathering inspiration. I might be looking at colours, buttons, piping – things that are easily replicable without having to drastically alter whatever pattern I’m working with. If you’re at the pre-pattern selection phase, the book can be a useful resource simply for considering silhouettes. If, for example, you know you want to make a 1950s inspired dress but aren’t sure where you want to go with it, it can be useful to look at the various shapes of 1950s garments before settling on a pattern.

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Of course, this book is an incredible resource beyond the sewing world. For anyone simply interested in vintage fashion, it certainly satisfies curiosity. I find myself flipping through the pages with nothing particular in mind, continuously stumbling upon photos that pique my interest. The photos are so incredibly well-taken and the book is so well organised that it would make for a perfect coffee-table book, as well as an obvious addition to the library of any vintage sewist.

I don’t need to tell you all how massively I recommend this book. I’m clearly a fan! But especially for those of you who have an interest in vintage fashion or sewing, Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook will definitely serve as a fantastic resource that I have no doubt you’ll be returning to time and time again.


Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka is available pretty much everywhere. It is available on both US Amazon and UK Amazon.

* Sidenote: I’m not being paid to review this book. My husband bought it for me ages ago and I just happen to think it’s amazing!

Project Updates!

It’s been a while since I did one of these posts – mostly because the mayhem of everyday life had basically eliminated my sewing time. Since being in my new place, however, I’ve been totally reinvigorated with the urge to plan projects and actually make progress on my ongoing makes. This is largely thanks to having my own designated sewing space, which is no longer just a sea of boxes and bags of material. I’ll be writing a more detailed post all about my sewing space – and tips on making your designated sewing area work for you – very soon. In the meantime, a sneak peak. From this…

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To this…

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It’s truly a perfect little space. After 8 months of moving from place to place, it’s wonderful to finally be somewhere permanent where I can invest in my sewing set-up! This room was the site of my recent triumph with the Tyyni trousers – one of my favourite patterns to-date and certainly one of the most wearable.

Since my foray into trouser-making, I’ve actually been reflecting hard on the direction of my sewing. Sew for Victory and my decision to take up sewing in the first place were very much a product of my love for vintage fashion. I wanted to have the skills to make vintage clothes with complete freedom – and without the associated price-tag of reproduction or genuine vintage clothes. Vintage fashion is what I love to sew. However, I have been finding problems with wearability. There are many people who feel comfortable – and look amazing – decked out in 1950s clothes, hair, and make-up on an everyday basis. I’m not one of those people. My style has split personalities. Special occasions definitely call for me to root through my vintage makes for something appropriate. But, otherwise, I typically go for optimal comfort or what I would identify as a more European style of dress. To stop it getting a bit dispiriting looking at a rack of me-made clothes that I don’t get as much use out of, I’ve decided to alternate my makes – one everyday item to every one vintage piece. While I’m going to try to keep the everyday makes as vintage as possible – similar to the vintage flair of the Tyyni trousers – I want to strike a better balance with my sewing. I think that this approach will let me continue to make the vintage clothes that I love so much, while also ensuring that I build a wardrobe of more wearable items. If any of you have grappled with similar issues, definitely let me know how you struck a better balance in what you sew!

Anyway, enough soul searching and onto my current projects. When I decide to make something, it’s typically the case that I’ve stumbled upon a pattern I love. Turning this on its head, my current make is instead inspired by a fabric that I fell head-over-heels for as soon as I saw it. For any Harry Potter fans out there, you’ll understand why…

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The cutest fabric in the universe. As you can see, I decided to have a go at making the Zadie dress from Tilly and the Buttons. I’ve loved the look of this pattern for ages but have always avoided knit fabric. In fact, until this fabric turned up, I didn’t even realise that it was knit! After my success with trouser-making, however, I’m feeling extra brave and ready to take on the challenge. That said, I came up against a problem almost immediately. I took great pains to research every aspect of working with knit fabric. When it came to cutting, I made sure that I treated the fabric as well as I possibly could. To ensure that I cut perfectly on grain, I even followed and pinned the ribbing up the fold. It took me forever. Then, after cutting out my pieces and getting ready to sew, I realised that I had cut my skirt and bodice pieces upside down.

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Many, many tears ensued. I think mostly because I was so disappointed in myself for making such an elementary mistake. I’ve never worked with one-directional fabric before and it hadn’t even occurred to me that I would need to worry about cutting my pattern pieces appropriately. And my sadness only got worse when I found out that the company I’d ordered the fabric from was out of stock. My husband spent an entire evening trying to source it from elsewhere – making calls and sending emails – but we found nothing. In the end, I figured that the only way forward would be to either scrap the project entirely or to try and make it work on the fabric that I still have. I managed to recut the bodice pieces from some remnants. The skirt was the real issue. In this instance, I had to reshape and resize the pieces to fit on the existing pieces of skirt fabric – basically turning them upside down. I mocked up a version with some cheap knit fabric to see if it would work and it seems like it should – although it’s difficult to gauge on this particular pattern because there are a lot of different parts to the dress. So keep your fingers crossed for me and hopefully I’ll have a dress to show you before long!

To keep me from getting too depressed about my silliness, I’ve also had my eyes on a project to come after this one. For those of you who are on Instagram (there’s a link to my profile in the sidebar for anyone interested), you might have already seen the Sewing the Scene challenge. This challenge is asking participants to sew a garment inspired by a film or a TV show. I’m definitely feeling the potential here and I’ve been searching around trying to settle on something that I could make. There are just so many options! If you’re planning on participating, definitely let me know. I’d love to hear what you’re up to and follow your process.

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That’s all for now. I’ll be back on Friday with a new My Vintage Life post – I’m planning a really great one, so I hope you’ll stop by. In the meantime, happy Wednesday!

Tyyni Cigarette Trousers (Named Clothing)

The past week has seen some serious gains in my sewing productivity. After a wedding and another move, I’m finally settled with my husband in an apartment of our own! And, along with all of the other major advantages of our new place, I even get my own sewing room – I’ll be putting a photo tour up on Sew for Victory soon! Needless to say, I’ve been sewing up a storm since we moved. For a while now, I’ve been working on my very first pair of trousers. I’ve been super scared of making trousers because I’ve heard so many stories about tight crotches and flappy thighs. It just felt like there’d be so many different measurements to contend with. Not to mention, shopping for trousers has always been my least favourite thing. I have bigger hips/bum measurements in proportion to the rest of me and have always struggled with finding trousers that fit my butt but don’t gape massively around my thighs. Obviously, this is a big argument in favour of making your own trousers. But shopping for them has always been such a nightmare that it had basically deterred me from even attempting to contend with my own measurements.

Boy do I regret waiting for so long! I decided that I wanted to take a leap by making a pair of trousers, while still trying to keep the style on the vintage end. So, after searching around for a while, I settled on the Tyyni Cigarette Trousers from Named Clothing. And I could not be more impressed with how this pattern came together…

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Hey! An excuse to wear my favourite hat!

For how afraid I was about the complexity of trouser sewing, I still can’t express how easy this pattern was to construct. I used a PDF version that – magically – actually glued together without any problems (I am too used to having to manipulate the pages together to get the lines to match up!). I graded out a size at the hips/thighs which was super simple to do. The only thing to watch for is how this impacts the zipper flap – but use a curved ruler and you shouldn’t have any problems. Given that the fit was my major concern, I made literally no modifications other than the initial grade out. And I’m incredibly happy with the final sizing. The trousers have just enough ease to be comfortable and allow perfectly for moving around/sitting. I took them on an outing to see a documentary at the local art museum and sat still in them for 90 minutes without any comfort issues.

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Having a great time with my hat.

Since the trousers are high-waisted, this is probably the main area to be concerned with when assessing comfort. Had I reduced the size even slightly, I can imagine that the waist would have cut into my stomach pretty badly. Since I used a heavier trousering fabric – I can’t remember what blend it was exactly but it has an almost velvety feel to it – and the waist is reinforced with interfaced facing, it’s got a pretty stiff structure to it. This obviously means that, when sitting, the waist has the potential to be pretty problematic if you cut it too small. Just be sure to watch for that!

Speaking of the waist, literally the only issue I had when sewing up this pair of trousers was with the facing for the waist. No matter how desperately I tried to get the facing to fit on the waist, the facing was obviously two-ish inches too small for the waist line. I have absolutely no idea how this was the case. I double checked the cut for the facing from my pattern piece and honestly couldn’t see any discrepancy in my fabric pieces. I spent about two hours trying and trying again to get it to work. I thought that perhaps I was folding the fly wrong or placing the facing incorrectly. I tried easing the two together in every conceivable way. But every time, I was coming up very short with the facing. In the end, I cut out another two inches from my fabric and added it on to the facing piece that I had already constructed. It attached totally fine after this and everything looked great – so I’m still not sure what the issue was. It’s much more likely that this was my problem, rather than an issue with the pattern. But I wanted to mention it so that you don’t make yourself crazy over it if you end up with the same issue!

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I also really want to mention the shape of the final garment. I was genuinely quite concerned about how flattering the finished product would look on my body. I still have crazy insecurities about my bum/hips which, despite working hard to discard what I know are ridiculous and society-imposed rules about body size and shape, I struggle to shed. I’m definitely doing much better about it but I still find myself trying to avoid anything that I feel emphasises those areas of my body. The Tyyni trousers are not ones that serve the shape I traditionally look for – I generally go low-waisted and actually a bit tighter to my body. But I am amazed by how great I feel in these trousers! I love how they look – the darts give them a beautiful shape and I honestly feel like they’re super flattering. So flattering, in fact, that I was happy to throw on a crop top and go.

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Also, side note on the pockets! What a fantastic excuse to whip my William Morris fabric back out. Those of you who’ve been reading Sew for Victory since the very beginning will remember this fabric from the lining of my Beignet Skirt. I’ve been looking for a way to use up some of the remnants and HELLO POCKETS!

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I’ve sewn many different patterns that I’ve felt I would make other versions of in the future. Mostly, however, I struggle to find occasions that make a lot of the patterns wearable on an everyday basis. These trousers have a definite vintage flair to them but are probably the first thing I’ve made that I could see myself wearing on a super regular basis. I will definitely be making more versions of the Tyyni trousers in the future – they are just so easy to put together and the finished product is amazing. But, in the meantime, I can see myself pretty much living in this pair. So, if you’re looking to make your very first pair of trousers or are just looking for a new pattern, definitely go for Tyyni. Named Clothing have made trousers a super and surprisingly simple sewing endeavour!