Archives for category: antique fashion

Dad is now officially an anthropologist!

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Would Margaret Mead’s own dad have gone this far?

We’ve been staying in a tiny indigenous lodging house (owned by Zhong Mama, in my last blog post). She and her 84-year old husband showed up last night with traditional Amis costumes. After a few seconds’ hesitation, Dad let himself be dressed in full male regalia.

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The women’s head-dress contains a mixture of traditional materials (fur, leather, feathers), and modern (bright silk thread, rhinestones). It’s tight behind the ears, but very lightweight.

We were instructed not to giggle, a typical nervous reaction to being honored. But when Zhong Mama and Baba showed us our image in a mirror and then took our pictures, their wrinkled faces were wreathed in smiles!

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When I first came to Taiwan I was struck by the playfulness of women’s fashion. Unlike their sisters on the mainland, young Taiwanese women blend together influences from American coeds, Japanese manga bondage girls, and old China in a unique fusion.

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Night market fashion: the lightweight sundress and sneakers on the girl in front compromise feminine and funky.

 

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Coco, a young museum curator, demonstrates Taiwan casual winter chic.

Yet echoes of the Chinese past continue to infuse Taiwanese life. Near my cousin’s apartment, old temple art depicts Imperial women in splendid layers of silk brocade, with dangling jewels and ornate hairstyles with blossoms woven in.

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A Qing Dynasty lady from a temple painting more than 250 years old.

Ancient Chinese fashion on a living woman can be breathtaking. I recently saw a young Beijing Opera actress in a demonstration. With a dainty, butterfly-like lightness she mimed sewing, gardening, and feeding her chickens.

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Chinese Opera ‘young miss’ mimes sewing with needle and thread.

This was balanced by the grace and power of an older actress who played a doomed concubine bidding farewell to her emperor, then committing suicide. The scene where she drives the sword into her chest was electrifying. Taiwanese society has many such surprising pairings of tradition and modernity…

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This actress rocks a gold and blue cape embroidered with cranes, dragonflies, and lotus blossoms.

 

 

After my grim exploration of the fate of poor Joe Vuckovich–the hanged man who barely rates a sentence in our mysterious Diary–it is almost a relief to turn to something a little lighter.  Our diarist continues to live a quiet life here in Missoula as she waits, along with her mother and a young woman named Ruth who I’m reasonably sure is her sister.

“Mon. Feb. 20                  1922

Ruth washed in the evening & I fussed around as usual.  In p.m. I took a little nap & then we went down town.  To the Donahue Dollar sale & got a little Blanket for Baby & a pair of shoes for Mama.  Stopped at Mrs. A. on our way home.  Ruth had the headache all afternoon.  Got a letter from Colette & Mrs. Holcomb.

I spent the evening down stairs.”

Let’s talk a little about shoe-shopping.  Women’s shoes back then cost about $5, give or take.  So if our diarist scored a pair of shoes for $1 she got a deal!  Below is an ad for Sears Roebuck & Co. showing shoes in fashion about three years after this diary entry.

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I wouldn’t want to negotiate the snowy streets of Missoula in any of these, would you?  Our diarist and her family undoubtedly had galoshes in the closet of their rented house.  If you feel like a dose of 1920s fashion I found this ad at http://glamourdaze.com/2010/05/1920s-fashion-womens-dress-and-style.html.  Enjoy!

Are you wondering why our diarist and her Mama are sewing little dresses and gowns when there was no way to tell if the baby was a boy or a girl?  Me too.

The answer is, families dressed little boys in dresses from infancy until 6 or so years old until as late as the 1930s.  And not manly little Carhartt dresses either, we’re talking skirts, and gowns with embroidery:

“Mon. Jan. 23

Mama cut out some skirts nighties & another flannel kimona for Baby & I tried my hand at Emb(roidery).

I called up Ruth & asked her to send down a couple chickens.

In p.m. we sewed a little while in Mrs. Andrews room & then went for a walk down town and looked at the big Sales.

Warm thru the day but nippy in evening.

Had soup & crackers for dinner.”

Here is a little guy in a dress, from around the turn of the century.Image:

Hard to imagine nowadays when expectant mothers factor gender into clothes and nursery furnishings, and friends give gendered gifts.  Back then you laid in a stock of little gowns and that was what Baby wore, boy or girl.

Sexy 1920s Kimono modelled by Louise Brooks

When I was little I wanted to look just like silent screen star Louise Brooks, the “Kansas Cleopatra.” Isn’t she just the ‘bees knees’ in this kimono? I wonder if Mama had this glamor shot in mind when designing her own handmade version.

Photo from a neat blog on antique fashion, check it out: http://www.merchantarchive.com/blog/post/hello-kimono/

As I peruse our mystery diarist’s entries it’s clear that she and her Mama were sewing up a storm.  Sewing is a fine activity for the cold dark days in January up here in the north.  Here are some entries:

“Mon. Jan. 16.

Ray came up in the morning in a car & Mama & I rode back to our apartment then we went downtown.  Got some outing flannel, two little dresses, & a coat for baby. In p.m. we were busy fixing patterns & Mama cutt out a skirt & kimona. I worked on putting the little emb. dress together. We got a little stuff for our hats & in evening I fixed my hat. Opal came after school & stayed all nite.

Terrible windy & snowing cold.

Letters from Home.

Tue. Jan. 17.

Turned hemms & made didies in a.m.”  (Didies?  Our heroine sews her own diapers!)

“P.m. Mama took them downstairs & stitched them & I sewed.

Howard called a few moments. Ruth called up about 4:30.

Got a pkg. of white goods. Opal stayed all night.

Wed. Jan. 18.                                                                        1922

Wrote letters to Corlett and did odd little sewing & Mama made or started an odd little kimona & underskirt. We went down town in p.m. & it was colder than the Dickens, coldest night this winter.

Mrs. McDonnell spent the evening with us & Mrs. Day was up awhile.

Cold.”

Kimona: not a garment I would associate with the American West in the 1920s, much less in a Montana winter.  But this will teach me to respect the power and reach of fashion…  Kimonos, or at least an American version of them, were all the rage in 1922 from coast to coast.  Mama is clearly a devotee of the latest styles!  Image

Maybe she used a pattern like this one…