Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Foyle's (Cold) War [television]

I was really pleased to see the new series of Foyle's War on ITV last weekend. It's been one of my favourite TV series for some time: a fair bit of cosiness and nostalgia, but not shying away from the dodgier things going on on the Home Front, from illegal distilling to dodging the petrol rationing, right up to sabotage and spying. I'd wondered how the programme could continue with the end of the war – well, it looks like Foyle is entering the Cold War.

I like a good spy story (there's even a Spy tag in my tagcloud), so I was keen to see how it would be handled by the makers of the show. In the past, Foyle's War had been more of a crime drama, usually involving murders. There's scope for drama in espionage, as John Buchan's Richard Hannay stories and the novels of Eric Ambler show, but I really hoped things wouldn't descend into Spooks-style whizzbangery. (Spooks doesn't take my award for Worst Spy Programme Ever; that still goes to the unspeakably awful Undercovers.) As it was, they kept things nicely paced, and didn't overdo the scenes of tension nor the violence.

What's more, the programme makers continued to dig at the less comfortable aspects of life: the soldier returning from being a POW in the Far East has trouble relating to his family and can't find work, while Sam, once Foyle's driver, is shown as having to balance her own work with society's expectations that she exist to support her husband in his political career. It's quite weird seeing Sam out of uniform; she has some very nice outfits, including a fab embroidered cardigan. Rationing is still going on, and large areas of London are still bombed out, awaiting rebuilding. (Actually, the London setting was one of the few things that disappointed me as I'd loved the Hastings setting for the earlier series, but I appreciate that there was probably more related to the Cold War going on in the capital than on the coast; it's a necessary evil.)

There are only going to be two more episodes in this series, but I really enjoyed the first one, and am looking forward to the others. You can still catch up with the first episode of the new series of Foyle's War on ITV Player – I don't know if this link works outside the UK.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

10 ways to 1920s style: part 6, the Louis heel shoe

The 1950s had stiletto heels, the 1960s had go-go boots. The 1920s had shoes with Louis heels. I'm a particular fan of this style: it's usually a couple of inches high, broader at the top and bottom, and curves inwards in the middle. The wider areas spread your weight, so they're more comfortable than spindlier, higher heels. The style has its origins in the shoes worn by Louis XIV of France in the 17th century - everyone wanted to be like the King, so everyone at his court wore them, and the style was named after the King. how and why it became popular in the 1920s, I've no idea.


But the style was popular. The 1920s seems to have been a wonderful age for shoes: just as clothing became bold and exuberant, so too did footwear, and shoes had all manner of straps, buttons and patterns. Leather was most popular for daywear, but by night shoes could be as ornate and sparkly as the wearer desired... as long as they had that heel! Toes generally came to a rounded point, too: nothing babyishly round, but not squared-off or sharply pointed either.

I grizzled earlier this week about having trouble finding deco-style shoes. I knew a few styles, and had some suggestions for other good ones, so here they are!

Hotter Valetta
I've got a black pair of these for work. They're very comfy. I did have to have the sole re-glued, but to be fair, I walk for miles in these things. Annoyingly, they brought out Valetta last year and have reissued it this year, which is great if you want a pair, but annoying if you already own one. (You wait, they'll stop selling them, I'll wear mine out and then I'll moan for months...)

Neosens Rococo range
A few retailers here in the UK stock the Spanish brand Neosens, and their 'Rococo' and 'Croatina' ranges have the perfect heel. As you'd guess from the name, overall the Rococo range owes more to the  17th century than the 20th, but the shoes would work well as part of a deco outfit.

ReMix
ReMix were mentioned by Ellen. They do look lovely! I really like the Balboa style. However, the price does scare me. You may be more prepared to spend on shoes than I am, though.

Hush Puppies Freya
Claire mentioned Hush Puppies. These ones are really nice, and while not cheap, not eye-wateringly expensive either.

Personally, I think I'll get either a Neosens pair or the Hush Puppies this summer, although it'll have to wait a month or two as I was a bit naughty this week and ordered myself a Highgate check dress from Hobbs. I'd liked it when it first came out, the price has now dropped by £90 and I've had a tonne of work on, so I decided to treat myself. And now I'm thinking, "You bought a dry-clean-only polyester dress, you idiot!" I just hope the colours suit me...

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Internet, find me some shoes!

Shoes. I wants shoes. Half the reason I haven’t been blogging much recently is because I’ve had lots of freelance to do outside office hours. I joke that it’ll keep me in shoes, but as yet I haven’t bought any.

Neosens Rococo 769. Tempting, so tempting!
I was holding off until I’d seen Miss L Fire’s new collection, as my Claras are so pretty I was hoping for something similar, but there’s nothing there that I’m really keen on in the new range. (The new range is all lovely, just not ‘me’.) Hotter have brought back the Valetta style for this season, but I have a pair of those and was really hoping for something different.

 I’ve been toying with getting some by Neosens, a Spanish brand (Sarenza stock them in the UK.). The ‘Rococo’ styles have a heel that would work very well with a deco look. The leather is tooled and rather more 18th century than my usual style, but I’m thinking they could also work with my more steampunky outfits. The down side is they’re not cheap, and I’d have to get them via mail order, which I’m reluctant to do as it could result in an expensive mistake. If I don’t go for Neosens, Aris Allen looks like my best bet.

I like the styles of the early 20th century because they have a little heel (I do have a very inelegant, ducklike way of walking with my feet out when I wear flats, a bit like the English geese in The Aristocats, only without the wiggle!). However, they’re usually not so high as to be painful by the end of the day, and the Louis heel helps balance the weight so it’s not all on the ball of the foot.

Have you seen any fab deco-inspired shoes lately? I’d love to hear of some available in the UK. Just about every blogger I read is better at finding shoes than I am!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

10 ways to 1920s style: part 5, the bee-stung lip

Mae puckers up in The Merry Widow
The bee-stung lip is another 1920s style that, like the flat-chested figure, is not so in vogue now. In this case the upper lip had a very defined, sometimes unnaturally pointed, cupid’s bow and the lower lip was narrow. Combined, the two give the classic flapper pout. I also wonder whether, like the cloche hat, it contributed to the overall impression of a small, rounded, doll-like head, as both the cloche and the bee-stung lips repeat the rounded line, rather than contributing much in the way of width.

Actress Mae Murray was known as ‘The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips’, so if you want to see the definitive 20s kisser, take a look at the Mae Murray gallery on Silent Ladies and Gents. Mae did actually take the colour on her upper lip way above the natural lipline, but that’s not a great look for full daylight – save it for the speakeasy.

Ay caramba, Miss Murray!
She married a prince...
good catch, that man!
The bee-stung lip is a look that’s very easy to achieve if you have a full and narrow mouth. If you have a wide mouth, simply painting the centre would look quite odd, making you look like Queen Amidala in Star Wars. For a wide mouth I’d choose to layer a couple of lipsticks, with one close to your natural skin tone on the outer edges, blending into a darker shade towards the centre, so attention is drawn to the centre but there’s no hard edge of colour. Likewise, if your lips are narrow, don’t take the lipstick far below your lower lip as you don’t want to look like you’ve dribbled it down your chin!

Want a few other ways to get the 1920s look? How about the bob, the cloche hat, the dropped waist or the knitwear?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

On authenticity / Never Cross A Vampire [books]

I've just finished reading another one of Stuart Kaminsky's Toby Peters novels, Never Cross A Vampire (click here for my review of Murder on the Yellow Brick Road) and it's got me thinking about authenticity.

This book is set in January 1942; America has entered the Second World War, and Hollywood-based private detective Toby Peters has two cases. First, someone's been threatening Bela Lugosi (whose career is really in the doldrums). Second, a theatrical agent has been shot and writer William Faulkner has been accused of the murder. Throw in a group of vampire wannabes and a beautiful widow in the best noir style and things get murky fast.

The book is obviously fiction. In his afterword, Stuart Kaminsky states, "Toby Peters does not live in the real America of the 1940s… Toby lives in the romantic/tragic/comic world of historical nostalgia. He lives in a world not with the real Bette Davis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe Louis, Mae West or Bela Lugosi, but with the versions of these people I would like to remember." I think that's what draws me to the Toby Peters books, that nostalgia. I get the same warm, golden feeling I get from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I really enjoyed this book, with its nods to Dracula, Psycho and other classic pre-slasher horror films.

This makes me wonder why I'm already slightly nervous about the forthcoming film of The Great Gatsby. My gut reaction is: it won't be authentic. But what is? And I've already proved to myself that authenticity isn't the thing I'm drawn to, after all, I love steampunk and dieselpunk – the very opposite of authenticity – and in my real life I live a life (thankfully) very different from the women of the past. What 'authenticity' am I looking for? What authenticity is anyone into vintage looking for? I don't think any of us are about to ditch the washing machine for a tub and mangle, even in the most historically-accurate of homes. I guess I need to think hard before using 'inauthentic' as my sole reason for not liking something.

That said, I'm still never going to approve of people slapping the label 'vintage' on things that didn't exist pre-1960, whether that's tat made from old teacups or vandalised books, or clothes with nothing in common, from cloth to cut, with historic styles, just a ditsy floral fabric and a peter pan collar. I may have conceded things don't have to be authentic, but you can still keep the twee away from me!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Bristol Vintage Fair

Me and my swag...
I had a fab day out at Bristol Vintage Fair today with my friends Rachel and Andrea. I'm not normally a vintage fair person, but it'd been a while since I'd seen Rachel and it was being held in the old Victorian engine shed right next to Temple Meads Station, so I thought I'd go along and look.

I am so going back in April with much MOAR MONEY!

There was quite a queue to get in, which surprised me; we've had work events in the engine shed and it's been fairly roomy, but once you get stalls in there, there's less room, and plenty of people wanted to do some shopping, so we had to wait. Anyway, it wasn't raining, so Rachel and I got to have a natter as we queued.

Entry was £2, which isn't much. I was really impressed with the size of the stalls and the quality of a lot on offer – as I say, I'm not a vintage fair person; you may have more experience and find it average. I found lots of things I would cheerfully have bought had they fitted and I had more cash on me.

What there was: lots of clothes, including a decent amount of 1950s and 1960s dresses. Lots of jewellery. Hats, although mostly 1960s and later. People swing dancing. Tea room. Makeover stand (doing a roaring trade).

What there wasn't: many homewares, much for the gents - but, thankfully, also not too much naff 'vintage' jewellery that didn't exist ten years ago, things made out of mutilated books or awful tat made out of vandalised tea services.

The start of the queue. Taken from the very end!
I wish I'd taken my tape measure, as very few of the garments on any stalls had approximate sizes written on, let alone accurate measurements. (Come on, vintage stallholders: sellers on Etsy manage it, why can't you?) I took a stab on a 1940s black crepe dress, having borrowed a tape measure from someone. It's an odd beastie, it definitely feels like 1940s crepe and looks well made, but has no labels and the zip is new. If it's repro, it's bloody good repro. Anyway, usual story, I can't get into the bloody thing, having measured the dress and forgotten to allow for ease*.
MINE! Muahahahaha!

Andrea, however, have me a humdinger of a birthday present, this stunning beaded bag with petit point flowers. I was almost embarrassed to accept it, it's far too nice to be giving away. (Not that she's getting it back, it's mine now.) The strap is fully beaded, and I'm thinking of carefully attaching a chain to the fittings at either end to support the weight a bit more. I want to use it, it's too lovely to have sitting around, but I want to keep it in good nick too.




*Diet talk ahead! Stop reading if you don't like such things



I am on the 5/2 diet and it's very slow but is working – my knees and back are already lots better, and a dress I could get into but felt was too tight last Autumn is no longer too tight. I have a selection of dresses I'd like to get into, so my new black dress will join the queue. Sooner or later it will be worn.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Julie London - I’ll Cry Tomorrow and Rarities [music]

This CD shows a different side of Julie London to The Ultimate Collection... Julie is unmistakably Julie, smoky-voiced and sultry, but the songs are less familiar and this collection has a more varied feel.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

10 ways to 1920s style: part 4, the knitwear

In a decade where the waist went south, knitwear was the exception as it was frequently belted at the waist in the later part of the 1920s. The important thing with 20s-style woollies is to make sure they’re hip-length – even though there was often a belt, the length of the knit meant there was a visual change at hip level.

 Necklines were round, square and V-necks, and plain collars were common on square-neck jumpers and cardigans. Sleeves were usually drop-shouldered or set-in, and very simple in shape. There was little shaping to the body. This makes 1920s-style knits easy for beginners – and as long as the length is right and the fit not too tight, you can get the right look with modern knitwear too. To avoid a late 20th-century look, opt for boxy knits in fine, rather than chunky, yarns, and keep the sleeves straight and fairly narrow.

You see a lot of designs for crocheted tunics and jumpers from the first half of the 1920s. Some knitted garments also had crocheted embellishments. I bought some PDFs of 1920s patterns from eVintagePatterns on Etsy, and found it interesting that the hat and scarf sets consisted of crocheted hats and knitted scarves; clearly there wasn't the 'knitting versus crochet' attitude then that you see in some parts of the yarncrafts community nowadays.

The big story in men's knitwear in the 1920s was, of course, Fair Isle. Edward, the Prince of Wales, was a massive trend-setter, and started appearing in public in Fair Isle tank tops (sleeveless pullovers) and jumpers very early in the decade. He even has his portrait painted wearing one. The result? Any man with any pretensions to style had to have one too. Chaps who desire the 1920s look, get thee a Fair Isle woolly!

 Although I’ve yet to come across a pattern for one, you do see photos of amazing, geometrically patterned tops which could have been sewn or knitted. I reckon if you were to knit one of these, you’d need to be very careful not to end up with a 1980s look, geometrically-patterned jumpers being popular then. Use a fine yarn, not a DK or thicker, don’t put ribbing round the bottom hem, and look at 1920s textiles to be sure of getting the colour palette spot-on and it just might work.

Pattern sources and brilliant blogs
Vintage Purls is a good source of free 1920s-50s knitting patterns.
Bramcost Publications sell PDFs of vintage knitting and crochet patterns and other craft books.
Susan Crawford and Jane Waller's A Stitch in Time book 1 contains some nice 1920s patterns which have been reworked to include a wider range of sizes and use modern (but authentic-feeling) yarns; it's available as an e-book and pre-orders are being taken for another print run.
 Some blogs which always inspire my own vintage knitting are The Vintage Knitter, Barbara Knits Again, Tickety Boo Tupney and Snoodlebug.

Oh, and if you want to find me on Ravelry, my username is idontlikecricket