Vintage dressing often includes hats, and there are lots of examples in old films. Before I post Part 3 of How to Wear Vintage Hats, I thought I would share how I mended one of them. Often bargains are damaged, so learning how to mend vintage is a valuable skill.
This lovely Biba hat was missing a few feathers when I was entrusted with it. I managed to find a multi-pack of natural coloured feathers in a craft shop. Finding the right notions to fix things is the most difficult part!
After picking out the best colour and size, I trimmed the fluffy bits off the feathers.
I experimented with a black Sharpie pen to draw on spots to match the original. I glued the ends to slide under the feathers already fixed onto the hat.
I think I managed pretty well matching the feathers. Can you spot the replacement feathers?
This is an amazing summer dress from the film Niagara, that Marilyn’s character Rose wears on a supposedly romantic holiday with her husband. The story is great too, with a definite Hitchcockian feel to it. Marilyn gets to play a darker role and pulls it off with flying colours.
I needed help to draw up the pattern for this, and my Mum did an amazing job. I’m a hard taskmaster for accuracy! I’m not too keen on wearing hot pink, although the colour looks good on Marilyn with her bottle blonde hair. I chose a teal cotton, which I think looks better with dark hair and pale skin.
Niagara dress side
Niagara dress front
Niagara dress back
Unlike similar reproductions you Ind online I kept the skirt looser from the hips down by cutting it straight, and also putting the split at the back. As there are no pintucks at the front, the curve of the waist to hip was sewn in the side seam. The fastening is a front zip, with the gathers stitched in place.
For a smooth look, I sew bullet bra pads into the top. Marilyn didn’t need to do this, but I think it gives a better shape and makes me feel like I am wearing something underneath! This is a good trick for tops or dresses with cutouts in awkward places. Multilayer bras aren’t always hidden, and stick ons don’t give an authentic vintage silouette. You can buy these from What Katie Didin black or white.
Marilyn style sandals
Niagara tie front dress
The sandals have been the closest similar to the original photos as I have found so far. See more about these sandals here. I have accessorised with gold hoops and heart charm bangles. I think Marilyn’s bracelet is a chain with a single charm.
In the film, she accessorises with a pale, possibly white, floaty scarf and a white clutch.
I’ve worn this dress to, among other times, a summer wedding abroad and a surfer/ Hawaiian themed party. Red or hot pink go well with teal.
I hope to recreate some of her other outfits from this film in the future. The wool jackets are beautiful.
Vintage dressing always looks best finished with accessories. Generally, I plan jewellery with my clothes, but with sunny weather here, sunglasses are picked up as I rush out the door. I try to make it simple by having a few pairs (not too many!) that cover the decades I like.
For the Twenties, Thirties and Forties small round glasses were popular. There are some fun frame designs from the Forties, like petals around the eyes to create flowers! Watch Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (film or ITV) for some great Thirties summer outfits and sunglasses. I love the colourised photo of a young blonde Bette Davis with an icecream.
Cat eye glasses epitomised the Fifties, from bookish to pin-up. Marilyn Monroe wore a thinner black design that won’t flatter everyone, but I like the wider frames that go to the edge of the face, and up to the eyebrow. Classic black or tortoiseshell goes with everything, but there is plenty of scope for fun. Coloured frames to match lipstick, dresses or accessories were popular, as were diamante details and shapes on the upper edge. Ray-Ban wayferers were worn by Marilyn too, and these are a classic style that’s still popular.
Marilyn wearing cat eye sunglasses
Marilyn in Ray-Ban wayferers
Going into the Sixties, sunglasses got bigger and any shape and design imaginable show up. Generally, bug-eye and soft edged square shapes were popular. Grace Kelly had a huge selection of sunglasses, and that might be a good place to start if you want to have a reference to shapes and styles before you shop round.
My dream pair of sunglasses are the pair Audrey Hepburn wears as Holly Golighty in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. They have a tortoiseshell framework greenish lenses. These were designed by Oliver Goldsmith. It’s worth checking out some of his other designs too. There are lots of similar designs out there, but if you want the real thing, Oliver Goldsmith reissued a line!
This style covers the Seventies owl eyes and modern styles currently popular.
They are well worth it, they met all my expectations. Now I’m scared of scratching them, so I am learning to be glasses conscious, not wearing them on top of my head and always putting them in a hard case when I’m not wearing them.
Here’s my line-up of necessary styles to have a pair for any outfit from the Twenties to the Sixties.
All these eras are covered by modern styles available to buy on the high street. Now you know what to look for, I hope you find a style you like.
I love the fit of vintage clothes, that high street brands rarely match. Trousers that fit snug on the waist but actually fit over my hips are difficult to find.
Grace Kelly in patterned pedal pushers
Grace Kelly in jeans
Audrey Hepburn in striped cropped trousers
Audrey Hepburn in black cropped trousers
See how nicely Fifties trousers fit, and you’ll be glad to know there are replica vintage brands that fill the need. For example, Collectif, Bernie Dexter, Pinup Girl Clothing, Heyday and Vivien of Holloway.
Marilyn in checked trousers
Marilyn in cigarette pants
Marilyn in striped pedal pushers
However, the price tag isn’t always level with the high street because of the work that goes into shaping. Still, they may not match the difference between your waist and hips as they have to size ready-to-wear with an ‘average’ difference. Vintage clothing generally gives a 10″ difference between hips and waist for an hourglass figure, or 12″ appears on my vintage patterns. Let me know if you’re lucky enough to find high waisted trousers with this difference in a high street brand!
Vivien of Holloway jeans
Channelling Mrs Peel
I love my replica vintage ladies jeans from Vivien of Holloway. The fit is perfect at the waist and over my hips. This makes them so comfortable, as they just stay put, and don’t require me pulling them up as they stretch. The leg is pretty much a classic straight cut and and the seams don’t twist. The belt loops are fairly big, over an inch, so a belt can be worn. They were sold as rolled up jeans, but i do unroll mine and they come to my ankles. I’m 5’2″, so no supermodel. I guess if you have long legs, they’d be 7/8th length? Still perfect pin up jeans, good with flats or heels, a really flattering fit with a slight stretch to the fabric.
The other trousers I love wearing because they fit well, are a pair I made from a vintage replica sewing pattern. I bought some black and white gingham for making Miss Winter’s skirt The Assassination Bureau, and had plenty left over for making a pair of cropped trousers inspired by Marilyn Monroe.
My gingham check trousers
Marilyn Monroe wearing her checked trousers
From Marilyn Monroe’s estate
My gingham cropped trousers
A friend asked me to make her a pair, and here she is channelling Audrey Hepburn, modelling them.
Photo credit: Gina Walbridge
Here’s what to wear with vintage style trousers;
A lightweight knit with heels like Marilyn
Boat neck top and ballet flats like Audrey
Shirt and loafers like Grace
Notice the details too;
The decorated flats Audrey wears or the laces on Grace’s flats
a scarf as a belt
The variety of patterns used for the trousers, while keeping the top plain.
Drop earrings are seen in old photos, and you can still find them. I like wearing this style with Victorian and Edwardian styles. The Sherlock Holmes series and other period dramas are a good reference.
Irene Adler in Sherlock Holmes (1880’s)
Ginger Rogers (1930-40’s)
Marilyn Monroe (1950’s)
The Forties, Fifties and Sixties saw the rise and continued popularity of large earrings. This was revisited in the Eighties, which are seeing a revival for SS17.
Heavy earrings with hooks can leave unsightly stretched earlobes visible. By modifying earrings to hide hooks, to look like clip-ons, will give a modern pair a vintage look.
You will need:
Small/ fine ended pliers
Needle and matching thread or superglue & felt
1) If you cannot twist the hook around to sit it behind the earring design, follow this step. Alternatively, skip to step 5.
Remove the hook and link. These didn’t have links, so I just had to pry open the fastened end of the hook. You can use old tweezers, small pliers or if it’s soft metal, even your nails (beware chipping nail varnish!)
Loosen the spiral of wire, to push it up the hook, as if you’re going to slide it off. This reveals the fastened end.
2) Stick your nail in the gap where the wire is pressed together. The gap you create should be big enough to slide the hook off the earring. (I also removed the tassle in the same way.)
3) If the earring has something on the back you can loop the hook around, be sure you can lay the hook against the back ready to afix.
4) Close the loop end with the pliers. Push the spiral back over the join.
5) Check the hook won’t show from the front. Using a needle and thread, sew the hook from top to bottom, to hold it in place.
If there is nothing to stitch through, but you have a solid surface on the back, flatten the lower part of the hook against the back and glue.
Cut a small square or circle of felt to glue over the glued part of the hook. You may need to use something to hold the hook up while the glue dries, like blue tack.
Is this useful? Are there other types of earrings you want to modify?
Here, I’ll show you how to change a pair of pierced earrings into clip-ons. You might want to do this because you don’t have pierced ears, or, in this case, the earrings are too heavy to sit nicely with posts.
I couldn’t find the clip-on fixings in my local haberdashery or craft stores, so went online. I spent along time searching various craft sites, but for value and ease I bought a multi-pack from eBay. It has various sellers, so you can choose the colour and shape you like.
Most vintage earrings you will find are clip-ons, and sit covering the earlobe. At the moment, Art Deco designs and big Eighties earrings are on the high street. Some of these will have a design that covers the earlobe, but are for pierced ears. I find the weight stretches my ear and ruins the look. In this case, one of the posts broke from the weight! Clip-ons spread the weight, and keep the earring higher on the ear, giving a vintage look.
Audrey Hepburn in hoops
Audrey Hepburn in clip-on earrings
To change post earrings to clip-ons, you will need;
Earrings with a base of 1cm or more
Clip-on fixings/ notions
A fine edged sharp tool (use common sense and use responsibly)
Fine sandpaper or small sanding tool
Remove ear posts
Sand down back smooth
1. Firstly, if the earrings have posts, they can usually be twisted or bent off, but the base fixing will need to be pried off using something sharp and thin enough to work between the metal and the earring base.
(This should only be done by a responsible adult with common sense – work the blade away from you and watch your fingers!)
I didn’t have any special tool, I improvised by looking in the kitchen drawer. I used a fish knife. This is slow and delicate work as you want to avoid scratching the earring.
If they have a hook fixing, a small pair of pliers will loosen the join and you can remove them from the loop. I’ll show how to do this in another post.
2. Once you have prized off the post base, use the soft sandpaper to smooth the earring base ready to fix the clip-on onto the earring. Use a fine/ soft sandpaper to avoid damaging the earring. Wipe the earring base clean and lay back facing up on a sheet of paper.
Glue the clip base
Place and press on earring base
Comfort pads for clip-ons
3. Open the clip-on and put a small blob of glue on the back of the clip base. Place centrally on the earring base and once in the right place, pressing firmly.
4. Use the cotton bud to wipe away any overspill of glue. Leave for 24 hours, or as instructed on the glue packaging.
If you find wearing clip-ons all day makes your ears hurt, buy some rubber pads which can be pushed through the hole on the back of the clip.
This slightly irridescent silk sari fabric was a remnant given to me as a gift. I don’t feel like orange is a colour I naturally choose to wear, but I thought this was beautiful with the gold embroidery, so I’ve spent years just admiring it draped over a mannequin. My first idea had been a Regency dress. However, as I never got around that, I eventually looked for some vintage ideas of how to style it into a Fifties dress. My impetus was finding an outfit for a friend’s wedding.
Fifties sari dress
Fifties sari dress
As the fabric is patterned and beautiful standing alone, I kept to a pattern without making alterations to it. The simple fitted shift dress is accessorised with a detachable sash. This is a nod to the sari. The dress needs little added, so I kept my jewellery classic with a vintage pearl necklace, gold hoops and my gold heels (bought because I love Marilyn’s shoes in Bus Stop).
Boat neck and side panels
Mock wrap V-neck
Dior – the dream dress
Indian fabric was used in the Fifties for Western style dresses. The pictures I found made good use of the gold panel of embroidery often found on saris. My first choice was to copy the one shouldered Dior dress with a stitched wrap of gold edging used for the bodice, and a full skirt. The sari I had was only a remnant, and I didn’t have enough. Less fabric meant a pencil skirt and and no gathers. I did get my sash though.
On the day, I did require some dress first aid when I ripped the back seam of the skirt getting in the car. The trouble was climbing in instead of sitting and swivelling like a lady. I think that’s something you learnt at finishing school. Thanks to my mum’s first aid kit ( for clothes, naturally) I was able to enjoy the rest of the evening without embarrassment!
I think if I get the opportunity to buy a whole sari, I’ll make the Dior dress. Then I’ll just need something to wear it to.
This January, I went to London to see the exhibition of some of the Queen’s dresses – Fashioning a Reign, at Windsor Castle. For a night out we went to see the comedy The Play That Goes Wrong. I love packing for a weekend away, and the British weather certainly adds to the challenge!
We travelled up on the train to Waterloo Station on the Friday, in the afternoon. I wanted to wear something comfortable, but nice enough to wear out to dinner, as there might not be time to change.
Circle skirt dress
Peter May dress
Vintage pearl brooch
I wore my taupe or mushroom coloured fit and flare dress by Peter May. I bought this on a previous trip to London, along Portobello Road. I saw it in the window, and thought it looked like a dress that could have easily been worn in a Hitchcock film, like Marnie. This is a perfect winter dress as it is fairly thick Jersey, and the skirt is lined with a soft Jersey. My brother calls this my Jedi dress because of the colour and the wrap effect. The sash is really long and you can wrap it for different looks. I can pull it really tight as it has some stretch.
I accessorised with classic pearl jewellery – the earrings were modern, the three strand necklace and brooch are both vintage. I wore my brooch on the belt, under the gathers of the knot. I always loved how Jane Russell uses the brooch from the hip of her showgirl dress, on the pocket of her jacket in Gentleman Prefer Blondes. This was a popular outfit refresher in the Fifties.
The vintage feathered hat and vintage hatpin stayed put really well, and apart from worrying about the feathers in the wind to start with, I got used to wearing it, and stopped thinking about it. This is the best way to wear hats, so I’m definitely going to try out some more. I love the Fifties fitted style hats, so I’ll be looking to increase my collection.
Bird’s-eye veiw of feathered vintage hat
Bow at back of vintage hat and hatpin
Face framing feather hat
Side shaping on vintage hat
With the face framing feathers, I wore this hat with my hair twisted up at the back. This is the hair I stuck my hatpin through to secure the hat.
On Saturday, we took the train to Windsor Castle to see the exhibition Fashioning a Reign. My photographer, my friend Gina Walbridge’s took some photos of me in the grounds. Unfortunately, no photography was permitted in the castle or of the dresses we saw. My favourite outfits were the few from the Fifties, including a beautiful full length full skirted dark teal velvet skirt with a fitted ivory silk bodice. The other dresses by Norman Hartnell and Hardy Armies were beautiful in their craftsmanship, structure and detail.
The coat, vintage bag and sensible heels were pretty much my uniform while we were out and about.
When we stopped for afternoon tea in Windsor (which had to be seen to be believed, it was so massive!) I was able to show off my vintage teal velvet pleated dress. This is a Seventies vintage dress, but the style and fit work well with Forties and Fifties styling. I wore it with a butterfly brooch and huge turquoise vintage clip-on earrings.
Vintage velvet pleated dress
Vintage velvet pleated dress
Vintage earrings and butterfly brooch
Velvet dress neckline
On Saturday night, we went to see The Play That Goes Wrong, just before it went on tour. I would highly recommend going to see it. We laughed so much, I could hardly breathe!
Twenties inspired evening dress and kimono jacket
Backless lacing detail
Bias cut devore velvet dress
I went for a Twenties look, in a Nineties velvet devore bias slip dress.
On Sunday morning we travelled home. This was my standby outfit for day or night, so it was slightly wasted on the train, but I like to dress up, like I’ve walked off a Fifites film set!
Jacquard fabric skirt
Embellished cardigan with gathered midi skirt
Vintage pearl necklace and embellished cardigan
Four outfits for one weekend in one small suitcase was pretty good packing, and I only took two pairs of shoes. To save space, I didn’t pack rollers, but pincurled my hair each night which worked pretty well, having washed and set it before I went away.
My next trip away will be in late Spring, to Portugal, so I’ll hopefully be able to pack some lighter clothes! In the meantime, I’m still enjoying the tartan, velvet, knits and thick weave fabrics of winter.