Thursday, November 4, 2010

Monk strap shoes

One of my all-time best back-to-school purchases was a pair of monk-strap shoes made by GAP. I'm not sure what inspired by mother to let me buy the shoes — we didn't have tons of money so there were usually just a few nice, new things from the mall each fall, and then the rest of my back-to-school wardrobe came from Goodwill and places like Fashion Bug or Deb's, or the vintage stores I frequented.

The monk strap shoes were chestnut brown, if memory serves, with a chunky heel. And no one else was wearing them. Must have been around 1989; not a big year for menswear-inspired womenswear. According to Men's Fashion Authority, "Kilted loafers have nothing to do with kilts and monk straps have nothing to do with monks. The name of the loafer relates to the style's characteristic feature: a side buckle which is is purely decorative. You won't have to be fiddling with straps and fastenings, these are infact loafers and the strap and buckle are not intended for function. The buckle, which can vary considerably in size and style, gives the loafer a slightly medieval feel, which is probably the origin of the name."

For me, they were a beautiful shoe, and a classic — though just different enough to not be a penny loafer (preppy) or a wing tip (menswear). I loved the clean line, the elegant simplicity, the way they made jeans a little bit dressy and dresses a little bit reigned-in.

Later, after college and getting ready for a job interview, I revisited the monk strap. It was black this time, in supple leather with silver hardware and a thick, two-inch heel. I didn't get the job, but the shoes quickly became a wear-with-everything staple in my wardrobe. To work at the front desk of a hotel, out to drinks afterwards. Bare-legged with skirts in the summer, paired with sweater tights and turtlenecks when the weather turned cold.

Now that fall is here, I'm thinking about past apparel successes and wondering if it's time to revisit this classic.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Halloween Dress

I'm not a fan of tarty Halloween costumes, though I get it: It's the season of the alter-ego and, lurking in many of us, lives a tarty nurse or tarty pirate wench or tarty Strawberry Shortcake (yeah, I saw that in multiples last year) or, heck, just a tarty tart. But the buttoned-up spinster in my head rails against the idea that every costume has to involve stilettos and a mini skirt.

So, a few years back, I found this dress at Goodwill:

It's '70s-retro and also Morticia Addams-slinky. Add a long black wig and a little Gomez arm candy and you're good to go. Bonus: The long sleeves and maxi length allow for layering underneath in case Halloween falls on a cold night.

Here's another take on the seasonal dress — Halloween/Day of the Dead without actually going all-out costumey:

This dress is a '70s/80s vintage pieces found on ebay. It doesn't have a label, but looks like a Gunne Sax gown from that era. It's almost a prairie dress, with it rows of tiny, emboridered, sorbet-colored flowers. But the dress itself, a sheer gauze layer over rustly taffeta, borrows enough Victorian elements (the high neckline, the gathered cuffs) that, in black, it's more Goth than Laura Ingalls. Pair it with high-button leather boots and an imposing hat and cut a spooky/intriguing figure at any party.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The floppy hat

It was, while searching for my own floppy sun hat, that it occured to me to write about this iconic summer item. I've always been a sun hat girl. Too much sun in my eyes gives me a headache so, even as a teen when no one was worrying much about SPF, I was going around in my offbeat collection of caps.

Fashion still for Vogue, 1957, from

These days, hats are "physician endorsed" which means if you actually need a doctor's note to convince you to wear one, the time has come. If, on the other hand, you've been looking for an excuse to get all Hollywood starlet and parade about in the biggest brim and most oversized sunglasses you can find, well, your moment has arrived.

Floppy hats are everywhere. You can buy new ones, of course (they take their cues from the wide-brimmed styles of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, like this embroidered straw beauty), or you can seek out one-of-a-kind vintage hats.

My favorite hat — the one I can't find — is mauve and crocheted. I bought it from a shop that specialized in handmade gifts and though it was new, it had all of the charm of a pool hat from back in the day when palazzo pants and espadrilles equalled a sexy summer outfit. Here's hoping that look — like the floppy hat — comes back around.

Image from 1930s Vogue

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A few of my favorite things

The thing about collecting vintage is that pieces sometimes reveal themselves slowly. Sometimes they come with an obvious narrative — a velvet cloche says 1920s and winter; a pair of long satin gloves speak of elegant ballrooms. Othertimes they are without the specifics of time or place and, out of context of history, seem timeless and poised for the next adventure. Personally, I like the latter best, and among my finds those pieces that have stubbornly demanded that I give them new stories rather than accepting well-worn cliches — those are the ones that become my prized possessions.

The western boots.
Found these in a vintage store in the East Village in New York last spring. My birthday present to myself.

The silver bangles.
These belonged to my mother; I believe she brought them back from San Francisco during the 1970s. I inherited them as a teenager and have worn them ever since.

The dashiki.
This belonged to my husband during his brief Rasta phase. Now I wear it as a summer coverup.

The hand-tooled leather belt.
Found in a Goodwill years ago. It's the perfect size for me and goes with every pair of jeans I own.

The textured clutch.
A recent purchase, this bag is both tough and girly (like me).

The Marc Jacobs trench.
An ebay find; love it for its military styling and the slightly preppy blue and white striped lining.

The canvas handbag.
Charmingly preppy — the decorative whale-print strip is on velcro and meant to be interchanged with other designs — yet also a little boho with the wooden handle. I bought this on ebay when I was looking for a kelly green handbag. This wasn't what I had in mind, but the manufacturer was from Asheville (where I live), probably during the 1960s when the textile industry was huge in North Carolina.

The satin t-strap pumps.
I bought these for my wedding — and wore them with a 30s-era silk dress — but they've come in useful so many times since then. The brown color goes with everything and the t-strap style is timeless.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The great clog comeback

When I was in third grade, clogs were all the rage. Every girl had to have a pair, which resulted in a year of clomping through the elementary school's green-tiled halls. It also resulted in a rash of sprained ankles, which kept the school nurse busy. Lesson (not that anyone bothered to learn it): 9 year-old girls lack the balance and coordination to gracefully manage clogs. (By the next year it was on to mini skirts and tentative crushes on Eric Estrada.)

70s vintage clogs from The Blue Kimono

My mom had clogs then, too — and she could actually walk in them. Hers were dark reddish-brown leather with a stylized toe cap and an ankle strap that buckled. She wore them with India-print wrap-around skirts. We were only just out of the 70s, after all. I coveted them, sitting in her closet strapping them on over my knee socks.

Ankle-strap clogs from The Fab Needle

I think that the Dansko company almost single-handedly kept the dream alive for all the clog girls out there. Kind of ironically, the shoe maker has veered off into thin-soled sandals and a matronly line of heels just as the fashion world is ready to embrace clunky clogs again. Glamour magazine ponders the effect of this trend while Chanel sends clogs down the runway and vintage savvy girls trawl ebay for delightfully retro 70s and 80s wood-and-leather originals.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The white sundress

I have this vision of the perfect summer outfit. It's both boho and crisp, rockerish and girly, floaty and subtle. Actually, the outfit takes on myriad shapes depending on the day, the event at hand and my mood. But it always involves a vintage white sundress.

Here's a fave from the now-defunct vintage shop Maiden Rapture. Sweet eyelet and a sweetheart/crossover neckline allow for lots of interpretations on how to wear it. Cute flats and a picnic basket? Shortie harness boots and a straw fedora?

Exhibit B: The floaty dress paired with Western boots. Blog The Cowboy Boot Review gets it just right with these two outfits worn by Ashley Olsen (left) and Kate Bosworth. High/low pairings tend to make for easy glamor, so the more feminine and lacy the dress, the more rugged the boot.

Next up: Crochet. Chictopia ran this image of a 3/4 sleeve dress Zara back in the fall; the loose crochet makes this a multi-season dress. Throw it over a bathing suit or a cami and jeans, or fancy it up over a pretty colored slip for a night out.

Moving on to stappy. Here's a disco-y version found on Vintage Jenny. Yeah, it's probably polyester but think how great it will look with tall cork and leather wedges. Or clogs. Or peaking out from under a herringbone menswear vest.

Finally, there's the tube dress. Seems like every decade has its version, from pouffy and corseted to slim and Hawaiian-printed. Terry cloth has made a comeback, thanks to Juicy Couture, but look for a vintage 70s version of that theme, with a color block waist band and (if you're lucky) kangaroo pocket. Here's an 80s-reminiscnet version from ebay. Wear it alone with flip flops for a beachy look, or make it an easy piece under a boyfriend blazer and loose scarf.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rodeo booties

This is my answer to the current Oxfords trend: vintage '80s western shoes. Under jeans they look like cowboy boots, but they're only ankle high. Nine West made 'em. So did Zodiac — along with a number of other footwear companies — but if you want to start searching for your own pair among online vintage shops (check ebay and etsy, from where these images were culled) Nine West and Zodiac are good starting points

Oxfords are great — don't get me wrong — but when everyone jumps on a trend I sometimes like to steer clear. These rodeo booties are a great way to pull off a similar result: The floaty above-the-knee summer dress paired with a sturdy menswear shoe. And the bonus: You get just a little heel, a little cowgirl edge, a sexy pointy toe, and a shoe that will look great with your bootcut jeans come fall.

Rodeo booties aren't as sought-after as full-height boots, so seek them out in vintage stores. Because they're not in demand, they're reasonably priced. Because they don't have 15-inch shafts, you can stash dozens of pairs in your closet.

My suggestion: Start with a neutral pair. Brown or black (I have a pair of navy blue ones and they with nearly everything) make for a great first pair, and then you can collect the wilder, embellished models.

I did try doing some research on these ankle boots and haven't come up with much as far as when they were popular and what kicked off the trend. I can, however, totally imagine Drew Barrymore's character, Julia, in The Wedding Singer sporting a pair with a white sundress and a faded denim jacket. Or Mary Stuart Masterson as Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful. (Watts, by the way, was wearing black Oxfords with her cut-off jeans. Seriously. Rodeo booties would work!)

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of 80s retro. I lived through it the first time around. I'm horrified by the return of acid wash and stirrup pants. And the huge zippers on everything this spring... yikes. But cute western ankle boots: now that's a revival I can get behind. You heard it here first.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Viva la tourist

Train cases are, for me, little portable parcels of glamor. And, though I rarely get to take a train, carrying a train case seems to imply adventure. That's just me: I like to imagine, as often as possible, that I'm on the set of period film. Like travel isn't just homogenized rest stops, chain hotels and all-inclusive packages. Instead, it's the dream, the world in between worlds where nothing weighs heavy and everything is possible. I'd like to say travel is the time when we're free of all of life's baggage, except that it's actually the occasion when we're dealing with literal baggage.

A train case is travel-lite. Not that the women who carried them, historically, would have traveled lightly. They would have had stacks of luggage. Sets of suitcases, perhaps a garment bag, definitely a hat box. But the train case, small and tidy, hard-shelled and impervious with its snap-latch, holds the necessities.

Collage from Polymorphic Studio

And even though train cases are a thing of the past, I love finding them. They're on ebay — nice ones with port of call stamps — and they're in antique stores, over-priced and polished up. But I like discovering them, abandoned and sort of sad, in the corners of thrift ships. Usually they're a little scratched up and have been used to store crafting materials or as sewing kits. (Check for pins stick into the satin lining.) Give them a second life as makeup kits, carry-ons or (if you're a very light packer) day bags.

Upcycled train case found on ebay.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My new favorite vintage store

This weekend I discovered Vintage Attict at The Downtown Market (45 S. French Broad Ave., Asheville, 255-8858). The shop is run like a booth in an antique market: it's a square of space jam-packed with all sorts of clothing, art, accessories and ephemera and the proprietors are on hand to answer questions and strike bargains.

This particular stall spoke to me because I liked both the style of the owners (pictured here) and the whole 70s-electic-country rock point of view.

In order to work, a vintage store (whether it's a boutique in the East Village, a booth in an antiques mall or a few racks set up at a street fair) has to have a clear POV. Some of my favorites have included Cleopatra's in Rochester N.Y. (beaded gowns, 20s apparel, film noir); J.W. Bunker in Pittsford, N.Y. (overdyed military wear) and Vintage Moon in Asheville (shawls, beaded purses, fringed leather, Stevie Nicks).

In a space no larger than a walkin closet, Vintage Attict delivers that same sort of step-back-in-time narative with artfully stacked, heaped, hung and displayed treasure ranging from a tissue-thin Bon Jovi concert tee and feather earrings to strappy leather wedge sandals and prfectly distressed biker jacket (below).

Other finds: An embroidered denim shirt

retro train cases

metallic belts

boots, heels and mules

And hand-tooled leather.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bathing beauties

Even slender girls have body issues. When it comes to trying on bathing suits, I practically need psychotherapy. Going into a dressing room with a handful or bikinis knowing I’m about to come face to face with every stretch mark cellulite ripple: Ick. It’s enough to make a girl just want to turn back to her corduroys and tunics.
(Marilyn swimsuit from

Okay, not really. But I have gazed longingly at the matronly skirted suits in the Land’s End catalog from time to time. And I have thought, “Too bad those high-waisted, boy-legged pinup suits of the 1940s and 50s don’t come back into style.”

Here’s the good news: Those Vargas Girl suits of yore — the ones with the supportive chests and full coverage seats, the ones that are at once prim and sexy — are back in style. At least among some vintage revivalist labels like Pin Up Girl Clothing (natch) and Squidoo. (Baby Girl Boutique even sells the real vintage thing, like this “1950's Hawaiian Tiki Print Bombshell Swimsuit Bathing Suit,” below.)

Hip Replacements (one of my favorite stores) sells some of these super-cute, super-flattering suits. (Below: Fables by Barrie, Yacht Bikini.)

Take a wardrobe lesson from Marilyn Monroe? Gidget? Betty Paige? Don’t mind if I do!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In honor of hats

The sun has returned and (as I reminded myself with the last post) it's time not only crack open the sunscreen but to break out the hat collection. The sun makes us happy and healthy, but it also brings wrinkles. And worse. Enough of the lecture, the preventative is simple: slap on a hat for instant protection and style. Here's some inspiration, culled from my personal pics and Asheville Streetstyle (the street fashion blog I created with the Mountain Xpress).