Felix Fashion Forward

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’ve had this little gem (displayed above on Kim’s desk) for quite awhile and somehow haven’t managed to write about it. I purchased it on eBay, but am sad to say that they disappeared almost immediately as I think in a better world everyone would have a chance to buy one of these, or even a wardrobe of them.

Some rather enterprising Felix fan created this t-shirt cartoon with the earliest style Felix – very pointy and squared off and a bit dog like. It is the Felix design I have long favored, reminiscent of some of my odder stuffed toy versions from Great Britain. (A few posts about these can be found here and here, and the fascinating history of how many of these dolls were made by indigent women in London’s East End, can be found in the post here.)

This naughty Felix is drinking some booze from a double XX labeled bottle, and it is actually a great five-part strip as he goes through the motions of Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting and Feeling, all with real silent cartoon emotion. I prefer my Felix un-gelded if you will. I don’t mind him being a bit impish, but I prefer his bad boy side rather than the latter kiddy fare. (I feel the same about Mickey Mouse who goes from being a bit rowdy in the early cartoons to positively sticky later on.)

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My pre-quarantine life did not provide many opportunities for t-shirt wearing in reality. I generally found myself exclusively dressed for work, or if home clad in work-out regalia, and pj’s made up the only other avenue of regular sartorial category.

Frankly, like most people I gather, these days my version of the uniform of our universal lockdown has been work-out clothes, as I either starting or ending most days on a space just big enough for a yoga mat, a small pile of weights acquired during one of my post-surgical rehabs surrounding me. (I draw the line at working in my pajamas.) Depending on the temperature of the apartment that attire is usually augmented by a rather ancient and somewhat tatty, black zip up hoodie acquired years ago from the now defunct Modells. (Where will I purchase cheap, generic work-out clothes now I wonder?)

It may, or may not, surprise you to learn that I am partial to brightly patterned stretch tights paired with tank tops – can’t stand working out in anything with sleeves. I vary those tights with a few pairs of black Adidas pull on track pants. (I tend to think of those as dressing up a bit these days.)

I have pointed out to friends that since all I do other than work right now (that tends to occupy about 12 hours a day), is work-out and eat, I am likely to emerge from captivity at some unknown future date hefty, but buff. (We will of course also all be a bit shaggy and will have abandoned most unnecessary adornment – I think I have forgotten how to apply make-up already. I look at it in the bathroom and think – why? Meanwhile, we eat pretty darn well here at Deitch Studio – many of you may not know I was once a professional chef and working at home has me in the kitchen again.)

Zoom and other video calls occasionally demand that I make some sort of an appearance on camera and I try to be understanding about a desire to actually see other folks. I attempt to clean up a bit, but outside of Board meetings or actual online events (which send me puzzling through a closet which currently houses out of season winter clothes, as we started our hibernation in March remember), everyone pretty much gets me, view generally chest up, in a work out top and hoodie. (They frequently also catch a glimpse of Kim working in the background – it is only one room, after all. Meanwhile, his routine only altered by my ongoing presence and my endless work natter on the phone which are now the background to his formerly silent days.)

However, now that the weather is changing perhaps I will migrate to a somewhat enhanced and modified spring look as we begin to consider the ultimate end of our incarceration, which might include the occasional pair of trousers that button and pulling on a prize t-shirt like this one for all to ponder during the next staff meeting.

 

Frances Hodgson Burnett: the Fashion, Part 4

Pams Pictorama Post: I am wrapping up this summer reading series on the adult novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett with this post on the lavish and lovingly described clothing in her stories. It is clear from her detailed descriptions that she loved fashion and had thoughts about clothing and what it meant. I share an autochrome of a well dressed woman of the day by Helen Messing, a French photographer, taken in 1912, as the featured image and to set the tone for today. For anyone who has just wandered in, the first three posts can be found clicking on the following: Frances Hodgson Burnett, an Excellent ReadFrances Hodgson Burnett, Part 2: the Grown-up Books;and Frances Hodgson Burnett, Part 3: The Women.

Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of those people who lived long enough and over a time to experience fashion from the days of whale bone corsets to the nebulous non-supportive skivvies of the 1920’s. One interesting quote which I pulled out off the internet concerned her own wedding dress. The story went that she had a long engagement to her first husband, Swan Burnett, and with the earnings from her writing had a couture wedding dress made for herself on a trip to Paris. They were to be married in Tennessee and she shipped the dress there. For whatever reason, now lost in the telling, it was delayed and despite her urging, he would not postpone the wedding for the arrival of the dress. Writing to a friend about her new husband she had this to say, “Men are so shallow … he does not know the vital importance of the difference between white satin and tulle, and cream coloured brocade …”

Wedding dresses are a significant point of discussion in T. Tembarom. In this novel of 1913, the hero finds his foothold as a cub reporter taking over the society page of a New York newspaper. Temple realizes that learning how to describe the wedding dresses accurately will win the favor of the socialites (and their dressmakers) who he needs to befriend for material. Therefore loving descriptions of him laboring to learn the nips and tucks of white peau de cyne trimmed with duchess [sic] lace and other fashionable wedding garb of the carriage trade ensues and descriptions of finery become his stock in trade. I share a photo of something like what he was talking about below, from the period and for sale online if  you are so inclined. (Clearly a bit worse for wear but only fair to consider it is over 100 years since it was sewn.)

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Worth gown circa 1913

 

Later in the same book, Temple’s fondness for his elderly relative is expressed through the wardrobe he has made for her in London. Below is a bit of an excerpt from the novel:

Mrs. Mellish became possessed of an “idea” To create the costume of an exquisite, early-Victorian old lady in a play done for the most fashionable and popular actor manager of the most “drawing-room” of West End theaters, where one saw royalty in the royal box, with bouquets on every side, the orchestra breaking off in the middle of a strain to play “God Save the Queen,” and the audience standing up as the royal party came in—that was her idea. She carried it out, steering Miss Alicia with finished tact through the shoals and rapids of her timidities. And the result was wonderful; color,—or, rather, shades,—textures, and forms were made subservient by real genius. Miss Alicia—as she was turned out when the wardrobe was complete—might have been an elderly little duchess of sweet and modest good taste in the dress of forty years earlier.

In the subsequent pages of the novel, the fragile and shy Miss Alicia is given confidence on several occasions by her extremely well conceived of and thoughtfully considered clothing. (This speaks to my own belief that women’s clothing – and jewelry – are like armor for battle. I urge – choose wisely!)

Like many of her characters, it is reported that Frances turned to her own sewing skills during leaner periods of her life and, among other things, sewed elaborate outfits for her sons – a la Little Lord Fauntleroy. Her writing is peppered with allusions to line and properly made clothes – dresses of old pillaged and remade resourcefully for deserving young, dewy, emerging impoverished belles. I believe I have mentioned the fact of me and sewing – which is that I can re-attached a credible button but not much beyond that. Therefore the idea of remaking dresses and whipping up new ones wholesale is utterly alien to me and vague notions of Project Runway is all I can summon.

In the novel, Vagabondia, published in 1884 we get a glimpse of even earlier fashion. (This is a slightly different type of book about a happy Bohemian family of artists and their salon of hangers on, both rich and not.) The description of a purple dress as trimmed with swan’s down (really?) gave me pause and sent me running to Google. Evidently swan’s down was used as a less expensive replacement for fur, primarily at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. I will spare you the description of how exactly this is extracted from the unfortunate fowl. It was so popular at one time that swans were in danger of extinction.

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Period blue silk vest trimmed in swans down, via i10.photobucket.com or Pinterest

 

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Victorian Edwardian child’s cape/coat trimmed with swan’s down, for sale on Etsy at the time of writing

 

The concept of a simple white muslin frock with a ribbon belt like the one below comes up in virtually every novel and short story – sometimes as a supporting character, sometimes a main event. In its own way this was the little black dress of its late 19th and early 20th century day – although of course it was the exact opposite as instead of sophistication a la Chanel, it was to show off simplicity and innocence. It was the dress that could be simply sewn and easily afforded, and theoretically allowed the native beauty of the wearer to shine. Burnett has wealthy women of the world who embrace the simple muslin gown as a way of showing their simple underlying beauty – while a clever poor good seamstress could whip one up for herself (or sometimes for a beloved sibling) and unusually beautiful this simple dress could let their beauty shine through – and perhaps even show up some catty, wealthier acquaintances.

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While Frances Hodgson Burnett probably would not have been willing to say that clothing makes the man. However, she had a deep understanding of how critical clothes were to how women defined themselves in the world and used it to a descriptive advantage in her stories. At a time when women didn’t have a lot of tools for defining themselves at their disposal, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s interest in them and use of them in her narrative was not coincidental nor casual. My guess is that she had given a lot of thought and understood it in a personal way.