May 30, 2011

A Vixen's Charm School Guide to Wearing Vintage Jewelry

Upon consulting our Charm School textbook (first published in 1962), we Vixens found a number of indispensable tips - and a few archaic ones - about how to wear vintage jewelry. According to the charm school headmistress:

  • Pearls are ideal for both day and night, and are quintessentially classic.
  • Bracelets that don't jangle are both understated and proper.
  • Earrings with a matching necklace "speaks of good taste".
  • Gold or silver bracelets can be worn in great quantity "if they fit you and the costume".
  • Rhinestones may only be worn after noon, if paired with a dressy outfit.
  • If purchasing an entire parure of rhinestones, wear only one or two at a time.
When selecting a necklace, keep in mind the length of your neck. The charm school says "A high choker, for example, is not for the woman with a short neck, for it tends to make the neck appear even shorter. A brooch or clips are more flattering ornaments in this case. But, if a necklace is really wanted, it should be long enough to fall well below the base of the throat".

And when shopping for earrings, "the woman with a large, round face should wear massive, bulky ear clips for better proportion. Little ones will look lost". For a long, narrow face, choose "ear clips triangular in sharp - with the base at the lowest part of the lobe and the point at the top" to create a "more becoming" oval appearance.

And for prettier hands, choose according to their shape as well:
  • Long and slim hands require a flexible mesh bracelet or several slender circlets. Rings should have stones with wide settings, as wide as the finger, and dark fingernail polish.
  • Large hands use wide rings best, or rings with high dome-shaped settings. "Wear a massive bracelet with high ornament, pushed up on arm" and dark or medium polish with clear moons & tips.
  • The slim little hand needs narrow bracelets and rings with gems set as rosettes.
  • And the broader hand can use substantial bracelets pushed up the arm to balance the proportion, with rings in elongated settings and light polish.

Author Unknown (1969).
State College of Beauty Culture Guide to Beauty - Charm - Poise. New York: Milady Publishing Corp.

May 23, 2011

Shameless Plug: Vintage Jewelry

Okay, so I'm loving writing this blog, but I love shopping for vintage stuff even more than talking about it! And here's a few of this Vixen's favorite finds from our just-posted vintage jewelry collection:

This pin's one my favorites for its asymmetric grandeur. A smashing look from the 1950s!

These are small earrings with spitfire attitude! A bit of bohemian gypsy meets "I Dream of Jeannie".

Quite literally a charmer! This bracelet is like out of a fairytale... and it's new-old stock, no less.

View all our jewelry
, and let us know your favorites! There's currently over 600 jewelry pieces to choose from on

May 17, 2011

Book Bits: Katharine Hepburn

One of my favorite pastimes is reading biographies, specifically to devour any tidbits about what the subject wore. I recently read Katharine Hepburn's autobiography, and here's what she dished up -

1932: "I had gone to Elizabeth Hawes - New York's highest-priced designer - to have an appropriate costume made to wear getting off the train in California. It was a sort of Quaker gray-blue silk grosgrain suit. The skirt was flared and very long. The coat was rather like a nineteenth-century riding coat with tails. The blouse was a turtleneck with a ruffle around the top of the turtle. And the hat. Oh!

Well, the hat was a sort of gray-blue straw dish upside down on my head... it had been very expensive, the whole costume, and I had great faith in it."
Elizabeth Hawes, 1938

1932: "... I went to Europe fast with Luddy. On the chance that they would call me and tell me that I was a hit, I went to Schiaparelli and got myself a costume to get off the boat in. A three-quarter coat and a skirt and blouse, and a knitted hat of knit 2-purl 2. Very easy to wear... That was my first French outfit."
Schiaparelli, 1930s

1935: "We started to shoot [Alice Adams]. I had bought all the clothes for an insignificant amount of money. The only one which cost anything was from Hattie Carnegie - the party dress. I made it tacky-looking by putting little black bows on it and in my hair."
Hattie Carnegie, late 1930s/early 1940s

1951: "[For The African Queen] I had heard... that the one person to do the clothes was a Doris Langley Moore... She was a charmer and had a lot of all sorts of petticoats and underwear.

So our first meeting with her and Huston and me. He was fascinated by the underwear. I tried on every variety of split-pants, of chemise - and I was terrified that he was going to have me wear nothing but an envelope chemise in the picture".


Hepburn, K. (1991). Me: Stories of my life. New York: Knopf.

May 15, 2011

Why Not!

My last post was not the most flattering picture of the renowned Diana Vreeland, and I felt a bit shabby about that. Mrs. Vreeland had much more to offer than her famous "Why Don't You...?" column, and as celebrated as it is, I've personally always had a biased wonderment against it. In any case, I wanted to give a more appealing slant to this follow-up.

Yes, she did paint an overly flamboyant picture of what one should do for a most fashionable life, but she herself was in an everlasting pursuit of just such an existence. And she was superbly well-connected in a time of opulence, Great Depression or not. And couturiers often gave her clothes for free, being the jolie-laide muse that she was. No wonder she had such advice.

To prop up my sentiments about Mrs. Vreeland, here's a few of the gentler, more feasible tips she posted in her column. Why don't you:
  • use a gigantic shell instead of a bucket to ice your champagne?
  • pick up in Florida the prettiest shells you can find and make them into a mirror frame of a baroque shell design?
  • photograph your child sitting against the mirror? The full reflection is adorable.
  • tie an enormous bunch of silver balloons on the foot of your child's bed on Christmas Eve?
  • realize, realize the return of black, and black and white, in decoration? It is of tremendous importance. Use it whenever you can.
Iris Apfel once said regarding her own eclectic wardrobe "You have to care deeply and at the same time not give a damn". I think that suits Diana well. She was perennially finding and creating, and free of the ties that hamper creativity, she succeeded in fashion and interior design. That indomitable spirit made her the style icon she was - and is. Why not!


Esten, John, and Diana Vreeland. Diana Vreeland Bazaar Years: including 100 Audacious Why Don't Yous--? New York, NY: Universe Pub., 2001.

May 14, 2011

Why Don't You?

Ever get a suggestion and wonder whether it's meant constructively? Perhaps it wears a white hat, so to speak, but is it really an insult in disguise, or a slight of some kind? The statement "Why don't you..." conjures up many connotations, and depending on its implied meaning could be helpful or vexing. In the context of a fashion magazine, suggestions are everywhere, and in the history of fashion magazines, one suggestion list stands out as the queen of condescending suggestions.

Diana Vreeland wrote a regular column for Harper's Bazaar on this very idea, literally titled "Why Don't You...?". Most of the statements were fashion-oriented, such as "Why don't you hide your hips under an accordion-pleated jacket?". From Vreeland's perspective, the suggestions were "all very tried and true ideas", but from today's perspective, its suggestions parallel only Marie Antoinette in its misplaced statement-making.

Vreeland didn't try to claim that the peasants should eat cake, but she very nearly did. Her first column of "Why Don't You...?" appeared in 1936, and over the years, the suggestions ranged from outlandish to nigh-impossible.

I can't remember when or why I picked up this book that chronicles Vreeland's "Why Don't You...?" columns, but it's rather contagious to read. Here are a few of the most outlandish.

Why Don't You...

  • turn your old ermine coat into a bathrobe?
  • wear three enormous diamond starts arranged in your hair in front?
  • order Schiaparelli's cellophane belt with your name and telephone number on it?
  • wear violet velvet mittens with everything?
  • tie black tulle bows on your wrists?
  • have an elk-hide trunk for the back of your car? Hermes of Paris will make this.
As you can see, depending on the status of the reader, the column was either a bit of whimsy, or outrageously silly, or simply misunderstood. It's an odd and fascinating bit of fashion history, and a rarified picture of the fashionable woman of the 1930s.


Esten, John, and Diana Vreeland. Diana Vreeland Bazaar Years: including 100 Audacious Why Don't Yous--? New York, NY: Universe Pub., 2001.

May 11, 2011

We Wear Short Shorts!

In the Victorian era, showing one's ankle was rather risque. By the 1920s, exposing one's knees was racy. So when did we all get casual and don sportswear? Shorts? How about short shorts?!

Surprisingly enough, shorts have been around for casual wear much longer than people realize. Chances are, your grandmother wore them at some point, at least as a teen. The first regular use of shorts was in the 1930s, when athletic types like dancers wore shorts with fitted waists & loose, almost fluttery flared legs during exercise. These were similar in style to tap panties but not lingerie, though their fabrics were often thin and silky, otherwise all-cotton. While it's fairly common to see tap panties in vintage clothing today, their outer-worn counterparts are rarely found but can be seen in vintage movies, such as the exercise segments of "The Women" from 1939.

During the 1940s, short shorts were seen on pin-up girls and teens during relaxed times of day. Majorette were sometimes outfitted in short shorts at this time, as well as all-girl drum corps. World War II cheesecake art highlighted leggy silhouettes in these cute brief separates, usually made of cotton. They were nearly always in muted, feminine hues like these authentic examples:
By the mid-1940s, teens and young ladies wore made-to-match ensembles that included crop tops, cabana jackets and button-closed skirts with shorts underneath to match. These summer sets were meant to go from street wear to poolside sunning with the removal of jacket & skirt.

In the 1950s, the girl next door was wearing shorts on weekends and around the house in summer. The shortest of shorts were still meant for sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe, and movie versions of girls-next-door like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Here's a sampling:

Other shorts and variations of such burst onto the scene during the 1950s - there were capris, clam diggers, Bermudas, pedal pushers, cigarette pants, etc. The popularity of these various styles shows how accepted shorts (and short pants) had become by this period.

By the 1960s short shorts arrived in street wear due in large part to the youth-focused culture at the time. Short shorts during this decade showed up in the form of hot pants, either worn alone or under a slit-front skirt for dramatic legs that appeared in a flash! Here's some seriously 60s styles in suede, barkcloth & fake fur:

In the 1970s, short shorts were sexy again on Farrah Fawcett as well as other Charlie's Angels (and Angel wanna-bes!). And Dukes of Hazzard made a Southern sex symbol famous in her daisy dukes. You might remember Nair's famous slogan "Who wears short shorts?" from this era, which went hand-in-hand with skin-baring briefs. Check 'em out:

For more shorts, check our available selections on; lengths range from mini to modest!

May 06, 2011

Ask The Vixen: Shoe History

We get a lot of inquiries that help people date the vintage clothing they collect. Here's a recent question about determining the age of vintage shoes:

Q: Could you tell me when soles became primarily rubber instead of leather?
Thanks in advance for your answer.

A: Thanks for your note. Shoe soles are either rubber, leather or a plastic-like synthetic depending on its intended use and quality, though synthetic soles did become more common in the 1960s. Rubber soles have been in existence for about 150 years, and were often used for waterproof or athletic shoes. Rubber soles were most commonly seen in this century in athletic wear like 1950s & 60s sneakers, though we also see vintage sport shoes with rubber soles from the 1920s & 30s (think Converse high tops). Leather-soled shoes are still made in couture and designer collections (as well as custom orders of handmade shoes) today.

Also be sure to check our vintage shoes buying guide for in-depth info about how to pick the cream of the footwear crop!