Sunday, December 16, 2012

The 2013 Ultimate Guide to Vintage Reproduction and Pin Up Clothing

 In honour of Shirley Russell, the High Priestess of Vintage Reproduction and the British Edith Head who's unparalleled 1950s reproduction costumes for the film "Tommy" I covered in detail earlier this year, here is a list of thee best places to buy Vintage Repro (VR) on the planet.  Back when Ken and Shirley were working on his early short films, they'd comb Portabello road and Camden town collecting Victorian and 1920s treasures. Costume designers on both sides of the Atlantic for decades have been inspired by Shirley and Ken Russell's meticulous attention to deatil and pioneering usage of genuine vintage on screen.

I've been wearing and collecting vintage since I was a 11 years old and with the help of my loving, patient hubby, I have spent the two past years building my Pin Up wardrobe to fuller proportions in preparation for the launch of and and because it makes a big difference in comfort and style to wear mid-century era clothing for my body type. I sincerely believe that any body type can wear vintage repro and feel fantastic. You can create curves where none seemingly were before or sculpt a fuller figure that seems lost and amorphous in lowrise, modern clothing.

Unlike many msm reviewers and fashion writers (few magazines ever properly cover vintage repro), I either own or have tried almost on every single line listed below.  This list would not have been possible without the master list created by professional fashion writer and blogger Gemma Cartwright who runs Big Girls Browse, a real size fashion blog. Though I knew the majority of the names on her master list very well , Gemma's expertise turned me onto Get Cutie, Lady Vintage and Big Beautiful Barbara Brown; three must know names  for VR addicts.

The first list below is actual designer lines of VR I primarily wear and therefore have the most experience with. Betty Le Bonbon, Whirling Turban and Tara Starlet are on the number one spot but after that, there is no order of how they rank as all are fantastic. The second, is a list of Vintage Reproduction boutiques and stores that I have yet to experience or who feature smaller house lines whilst the third list entails stores that sell all of the above.

Lines and stores are only included if...
-they offer great customer service (how I was treated online and in person with no one knowing I was buying, much less reviewing)
- fair and easy return policy on non -vintage and non-bespoke (custom made) items.
- did not have outlandish "restocking fees" which are unjust. Just say "no returns".
-high quality product, not simply "cute" or "trendy"
-Nothing sourced from Asia especially China and Vietnam who are criminally  liquidating the few  Rhinos and Tigers left on the planet. Thus no Hell Bunny, Dead Souls Army or Trashy Diva
-nothing from overseas sweatshops
-offers a website that shows their product very clearly  

And ideally they did not:
 -Sell me an item at full price with inflated shipping and then post the same item on Ebay four days later at a rock bottom price. One major Vintage Repro name is absent for this reason.
 -charge my card and then not have the item in stock multiple times
 -refuse to return emails
- inflate prices (eg: selling a 40 quid Hell Bunny dress for 65)
- use Confederate flags and other unwholesome sleazy or racially arcane motifs
- had no goth, pirate, skulls or day of the Dead motifs , none of which are authentically vintage in nature
 -offer poor quality for the money
- have a bad fit
- have rude, "can't be arsed" service
- distort the colours of the fabric of their items with photoshop

*What is true to size?  (see asterix below this post) UK sizing, even in VR runs smaller than US overall-sometimes as much as three sizes. Obviously few of us are going to fall within these exact numbers but this is a clear indication of how to shop via this list. Ideally you get a specific size chart for that clothing line but not always. My measurements when cinched in are 44(32GG)-28-40 and I'm almost 5'10 so I'm wearing a 12 to even 18 in some lines with tailoring. I have friends who are in the 4 to 6 range as well as the plus size. In my late teens and early 20's I wore a junior's 9/10 and was 37 (32EE)-25-38 inch waist and I was plus size for a time after pregnancy so unlike many Pin up clothing reviewers I've dramatically run the gamut on fit.

Special Sizing: Currently there is no single VR line solely doing Plus Size or Petite vintage. You do have lines like Pin Up Girl Clothing and Bettie Page which go up to 2x and 4X and use fabrics like bengaline and viscose that work with many plus size figures though and 20th Century Foxy in UK has a very classy plus size line going up to size 22. You also can find many bespoke Pin up dresses thanks to ETSY.  Smaller built and petite gals can rejoice in lines like Jones and Jones and Trollied Dolly which only go up to a UK12/US 9-10.  As frustrating as this can be this offers smaller busted and slightly built gals a chance to rock Vintage Repro without needing to fill the "buxom bombshell" slot. Vintage Reproduction is for ALL body types after all. As of this writing Bernie Dexter is phasing out all 1X and 2X sizing so act quick.

Note: This list does not include bespoke etsy sellers/designers or vendors who solely sell vintage.


1. Betty Le Bonbon (Made in Australia)

 Betty Lebonbon helmed by Jasmine Norrie ticks all the boxes and is one of most favourite vintage reproduction line on the planet.This is not only craftsmanship with a scholar's knowledge of VR but customer service at her finest; the kind of customer service where the client leaves metaphorically with their dress in a beauteous striped box with a satin ribbon around it. Ten years from now, Betty Le Bonbon 100% cotton circle skirts, aprons and dresses will not have lost it's resale value. To top it all off her clothing is FUN to wear and wearable.

Signature: Circle skirt
Sizing: Custom baby!
Fits: Up to a 45 inch waist with a well thought out dress line coming soon!
Avoid: Nothing
Do note: Many of Betty Le Bonbon's items are made to order so shipping may require a well worth it wait

2. Tara Starlet (Made in The UK).

Tara Starlet's craftsmanship and styling is of the highest quality. The ENTIRE line is vintage reproduction with virtually no modern fabrics like bengaline and no nods to any modern cuts. TS uses end of roll fabrics which not only means they are helping the environment but you end up with a garment almost no one else will have. They also offer Hawaiian clothing made of real Hawaiian fabric from the island itself-where else can you get that?!  TS has perfected a look that is sexy, wholesome, Victory girl and English Rosa all at once. Tara Starlet fits best on petite sizes up going to a trim UK 14 which is a US Juniors 13/14 with fit all over the map at times so call customer service if you have any questions. In a few (emphasise on few) dresses which have open necklines or stretch satin you may get away with a much larger fit in the bust with free hips. Tara Starlet cuts many busts on their standard collar bust bustier/smaller ribcage shape which is used for a large portion of their halter tops, evening, day and wiggle dresses. I'm at the very top of their sizing and can attest that large busted women (FF cup and over) will need tailoring or to simply opt out as a few necklines will not work at all on big breasts (even if the rest of you fits) If you have a classic ballerina/ Audrey Hepburn or trim modestly, busted figure that you don't think will look good wearing vintage repro then think again! Because you can rock this line as it is ideally it is made for trimmer and  A to 32DD cup busted gals.

Signature item: Sailor Pants and Sailor shorts. The best anywhere.
Sizing: Varies, call if you have any questions
Fits: Not recommended for the full figured, very buxom or even remotely plus size. Most styles only fit up to a US size 13/14 tops.
Avoid: Nothing if it fits
Do note: Few TS items ever go one sale so grab what you want when you see it and check back often. Their founder is active in the Shoreditch community and her work is indicative true of a British Heritage label.

3. Whirling Turban (Made in Bali with ethically locally sourced Green fabrics by a small family of staff)

My first Whirling Turban playsuit arrived a few months back and it is the one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I've ever owned. Until you actually hold the clothing in your hands you can't imagine how wonderful Katharine's work is. Questioning  Katherine's unrivalled knowledge is not advised though! I actually thought I moulded modern bra would work with vintage repros and she strongly suggested sticking with the era's conical shape. Thus when I wore a conical shape bra (by Freya) with a waist cincher and the fit was astonishing. My twin torpedos defied physics, nearly creating a riot on the District Line and would have made NASA proud. Her wing bust dresses and play suits are fully boned which means you really are turned up and put out to your best vintage repro couture look possible.

Signature item: Shaheen Wing Bust reproduction
Sizing: Bespoke and Vintage
Fit: Hollywood aka "like a glove".
Avoid: Buying any WT items "second hand". It's like wearing someone else's wedding ring.
Do note: This is Vintage Reproduction bespoke taken to the highest level. Shirley Russell would be proud.

4. Fables By Barrie (Made in the US)

Tucked in to a delightful San Diego store front, fables By Barrie recalls the great casual wear masters like DeGraff and Cole of California who made woman's casual wear and swimsuits to be both functional and feminine. Everything that Barrie makes is 100% easy to with many items sewn on site. She's now branched out from swimwear into swing dresses and jazzy capris. Customer service is top knotch and they make you feel like family.

Signature: Tuxedo swimsuit and high rise Peggy capris
Sizing: True to size
Fits: Up to an XL/14-18 in some styles with bespoke service available during less peak times. Call to check.
Avoid: Not having the proper bra, you may need one for some of the one piece swimsuits if you are very buxom.The owner kindly offered to sew mine into the swimsuit for a small fee but I found that wearing a one size too small white push-up extreme balconette did the trick.
Do note: Bikini top separates are US sizing. Ask if you have fit concerns, they are happy to help.

5. Pin Up Girl Clothing (Made in the USA)

Let's give credit where credit is due: Pin Up Girl Clothing did not create the So Cal Pin Up scene-they ARE the scene. Back in the early internet days PUG was doing it all; trying out styles, fabrics, cuts and melding it with the glorious and burgeoning rockabilly, swing, psychobilly, biker, stripper, fetish, burlesque, kustom kulture lifestyle of the West Coast. This vibe has made them the most popular Vintage Reproduction line in the world. They offer, alongside very wearable, modern takes on Pin Up styles and even clubwear with a VR twist. Many of their models and muses are swiftly becoming household names in their own right. Their creator, Laura Bynes also allows free speech on the PUG Facebook page and room for debate alongside the hundreds of thousands of loyal customers talking up the wonderful products they create. PUG is a movement unto itself.

Signature Dress(es): Blue Malibu Tiki Wrap (size large just went for over 200 used on Ebay this summer and has now been reissued in honour of Amy Winehouse who wore the dress often with a matching bolero),
The Micheline Dress and the Evelyn Dress
Fit: Check the charts and ask questions because sizing varies though once you nail the proper sizing then PUG is easy to buy and wear.
Sizing: From petite to plus size
Avoid: Nothing just check the size charts and reviews.
Do note: Returning customers get 10% of all purchases and they often have secret sales for email subscribers.

6. Dolly Dagger (Made in England)

The Dolly Dagger boutique is a vintage repro fanatics dream come true; the layout, the location, the service. You simply can't replicate the vintage repro shopping existence to a higher level of charm. Tucked into a charming white gingerbread store in the historic Laines section of Brighton with cute accessories and home wares artfully placed here and there, Dolly Dagger is it! They have recently expanded their small house clothing line adding over half a dozen new styles which some of the most stunning vintage style dresses anywhere in the world. The dresses with names like Brighton Belle, Paloma/Lulu, Gypsy, Scarlet etc are on the pricer side but well made locally in Brighton. The bust on the Brighton Belle looks great on smaller sizes while anyone over an E cup will need a vintage fit bra to get the proper shape. The full coverage Paloma and the Lulu is a one of a kind vintage repro I've seen nowhere else with the waist wrapping around and buttoning superbly under the bust.  There is no elastic ruching on any of the dresses so fit runs old school. Dolly Dagger is expanding their line every season so check back often.

Signature Dress: The Dolly Dagger Scarlet Dress
Sizing:  Running smaller. Check measurements as they use their own size chart which varies slightly for each dress. If you are ordering online, have them do a precise measuring of the actual garment you will be getting.
Fits: Most sizes up to 2X running slightly small. Enquire about bespoke services.
Avoid: Nothing
Do note: A delightful place to visit in the historic Brighton Laines area -do not miss out if you are in town.

A hidden gem which I'm only sharing out of the goodness of my heart!  You can't get a higher quality vintage repros for the price and, joy of joys, they only make a certain number of a design-often as little as 30 pieces! Plus size, petite and all sizes in between, this is "put it on and be comfortable and classy"  vintage repro.

Signature Dress: Viscose cap sleeve swing dress
Sizing: Check measurements as they use their own size chart
Fit: Runs large, even in non-plus size and through the rib cage and bust. Does not detract at all from the product which is superior.
Avoid: Nothing
Do note: Items sell out very quickly

Other lines I highly recommend, own one or two pieces from or whom I've yet to try and plan to VERY soon:

20th Century Foxy (Made in the UK):  Sells a variety of lines and has a rapidly expanding house line including a plus size sister line called "Foxy". 20th Century Foxy has a lovely 40's/50's signature look of their own and looks to be a major player on the UK vintage fashion scene very soon. Fantastic shipping and customer service.

Vintage Suits By Mary (Made in the USA): Reputedly the highest quality vintage repro play suit/swimwear available what I see just looks astonishing. You can't tell the difference and I cannot WAIT to order! The owner is very kind and bespoke service is available.

Bettie Page Clothing (Made in the USA): Quality made in the USA range up to a 3x (sometimes 4X) with many items working as modern night club wear with a repro twist. Betty Page playsuits are not only running roomy and comfortable but are affordable. Tatyana , Beach Bash and Elvgren are the equally vintage inspired sister lines

Betty Le Bonbon (Made in Australia) A bespoke boutique offering easy care aprons and skirts in high quality fabrics. The owner helms a fabulous Tumblr account with some of the best fashion tips and hand picked photos of super luscious dames in VR anywhere online.

Big Beautiful Barbara Brown (Made in the UK): My new Vintage Repro crush! Looking forward to ordering and she also sells vintage in her "make do and mend" section.

Blue Velvet Vintage: Great website layout, a small house line of Vintage Repro called "Classic Dame", well sourced authentic vintage and great customer service. BVV carries 20's to 60's designs by other lines as well.

Fever (Various countries, check labels) UK Line which features vintage inspired clothing all of which is very well made and very cute. So many standouts they can't be named. Check them out!
Friday on My Mind/Eucalyptus (Made in  India): Friday on My Mind is the more ornate line with lined coats and separates. Eucalyptus has the dresses colours that pop. Euc runs very small, Friday on My Mind Small. Some Eucalyptus cuts are straight off the stalls so stick with their more elaborate lines or buy gently used on Ebay UK. Mod Cloth stocks both lines but changes the names of the garments.

Get Cutie (Made in the UK) Brighton based Vintage Repro dresses in ANY fabric you want. They aim to create anything the customer desires.

Heartbreaker (Made in the USA): Large selection of very sweet and simply VR styles in US sourced fabrics with The Sweetie dress being the stand out. They charge extra for plus size.

Jones and Jones (Made in the UK): Offers beautiful Vintage styling (50's to 70's) and Liberty print fabrics alongside modern/70's St.Tropez  Bardot cuts for the super small and petite.

Lowie (Made in the UK) Spectacular French and Italian inspired semi-posh vintage Repro knit wear line with some British Heritage influences thrown in. Bardot would have worn them. Runs small.

New Look:  (Various countries, check labels) British High street label with roomy playsuits and great florals. Late Spring 2012, they became the first major retailer to release an entire Vintage Reproduction inspired line for the High Street with the Kelly Brook Collection. Do check out this indepth review!

Oasis: (Made in Romania and various countries, check labels) UK High Street that produces a vintage Repro line each Spring called Floral Frocks. 2011 was a standout with silk dresses which came with matching bags and scarves. 2012 had very nice cotton VR dresses running slightly small. Once they sell out they are almost impossible to find. London Postcards in honour of the 2012 Jubilee was another classic line as well.

Puttin on the Ritz: Shirely Russell would be so proud of putting on the Ritz. This is an all bespoke 30's and 40's 100% wearable and as well made as it gets.

Queen of Heartz: Created by a vintage and fashion history expert, they offer a voluminous selection of roomy vintage repro dresses, rompers, and separates in high quality fabrics. QOH is the "wear to the office as well as the ball" side of vintage repro and that is a high compliment as nothing looks like a costume.

Shabby Apple: The East Coast answer to PUG with a VERY vast selection of mostly vintage themed clothing designed to segue to day's workplace and evening out. Unless they shoot at EPCOT centre, Shabby Apple appears to have a staggering budget for very well thought out and lovely international photos shoots to showcase their clothing.

Stop Staring (Made in the USA): Considered THEE vintage reproduction line by many, SS is ideal for top heavy figures. The Starlight Swing dress is one of the most beautiful dresses I own, but sadly I found the Cover Girl style did not work for me. There seems to be something for everyone in their line though. For collectors; Not that the resale will be higher on the cotton and crepe based Stop Staring dresses while the bengaline stretch dresses have a define finite life span.

Trollied Dolly (Made in the UK): Vintage style fabrics with a wearable high street twist runs very small but Mod Cloth carries an XL (UK 12). They carry some wonderful floral prints which I've seen nowhere else.

What Katie Did (Made in the UK): The best ready to wear and made to order corsets and waist cinchers anywhere in the world alongside their legendary vintage reproduction lingerie. Do note that new school UK sizing is not available on the bras meaning that there are no 30G, 34FF and 32GG sizing and fit is closer to old school aka bigger band size and bigger cup size which for larger busted gals can mean that unfortunately straps take the weight of the breasts. The WKD bras on bigger busted gals will rock any photo session or private sitting but day to day wear may not be ideal. Ideally you are under a 34E to wear their bras. Katie is also one of the only manufacturers left in the world making seamed stockings on vintage machines. She stocks a full line of Beseame vinatge repro cosmetics as well.


Red7Movies: Ebay seller with a huge selection of Bernie Dexter and Bernie Plus sizes plus some of the best service anywhere! Red7Movies will try to get you ANY Bernie Dexter dress, just ask. They also have many of the rapidly vanishing Bernie Dexter plus size dresses.

BabyGirl Boutique: Great service, huge selection including vintage and 10% return customer discount

JBR Clothing: Some of the best service anywhere!

Unique Vintage: Huge selection plus dozens of vintage finds and Bernie Dexter clothing which they usual have modelled on a non vintage figures. Customer service is very helpful via the phone. They have a massive inventory and usually offer major vintage  repro lines at slightly reduced prices. Do note that UV have to navigate the emotionally delicate world of high volume prom dress selling so cut them a bit of slack if they goof up or don't back to you instantaneously. The staff is very kind and willing to help. Sadly the house line is made in China. :(

Mod Cloth: I'm neutral on Mod Cloth. I love the vibe, the voluminous selection (dresses number into the thousands), the Bernie Dexter exclusives and all the reviews but feel a bit annoyed that they carry many UK high street and US/UK Pin Up brands and then simply rename the dresses for their own website with no brand often listed. This detracts from the original seller, the UK vibe and seems sneaky but their selection can't be denied and as I said they have many Bernie Dexter exclusives.

 *What is true to size?
In this case here is a Vintage Reproduction guide that I created combining over a dozen vintage repro size charts. Sizing is in women's not junior's fit. Do note that UK sizing as a whole runs smaller than US.

Bust-Waist-Hips-Dress Size

30-22-32            2
32-24-34            4
34-26-36            6
36-28-38            8
38-30-40           10
40-32-42           12
42-34-44           14
44-36-46           16
46-38-48           18
48-40-50           20

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


(Cross posted from K.R.A.S. The Ken Russell Appreciation Society "Fullfrontalnus Illuminatio Mea")

This is a call to action for all vintage and vintage reproduction fans, advocates and sellers. I came upon the most awful discovery a few weeks ago while online window shopping.

A website called "Queen of  Holloway"  (I refuse to link to their site).

No, they have ZERO affiliation with the far superior Vivien of Holloway who manufacture clothing in London and put money back into the British economy.  Queen of Holloway may have a British web address but they clearly manufacture in CHINA; stealing ideas, clothing designs and yes, ACTUAL PHOTOS of clothing from ethical Pin Up Clothing and vintage reproduction designers.

The name "Queen of Holloway" is horrendous. That's like calling one's company "Pin Up Gal Clothing" or "Fables By Bonnie" a complete and utter copy of someone else's hard work and creativity. Even Vintage reproduction names like Brighton's wonderful Dolly Dagger who have a relatively small production line are being copied which is inexcusable.

So those who are buying Made in China rip offs like this, ask yourself how would YOU feel if you'd started from scratch, building your own following, choosing fabrics and designs that were your personal signature, paying taxes, licensing and then someone simply came along and photo copied every single thing you did and sold it-even down to illegally using your own professional photos?

I see more than few of my fellow dress addicts are buying from "Queen of Holloway" which is pitiful.
Come on ladies! Bad call!

Many of us who are investing in Pinup and vintage reproduction are considering starting our own clothing lines at some point or have friends that already are. Vintage Repro and Pin Up is becoming big business and a chance to do what you love and have fun while turning a profit. I'm discovering how costly it is and what an investment I'll need to make. I would be gutted if this happened to me and worst of all- powerless. Legal fees for businesses domestically are astronomical enough but international rip offs like this are very hard to monitor and bring to justice because you need thousands of dollars to go after them.



But isn't ALL Pin Up clothing somewhat of a "copy"?
No.  The majority of what you see has been meticulously hand crafted, modernized and fitted on various shapes and tested (sometimes for years) for fit and form on a multitude of fabrics. Women's lives, figures, fabrics etc are not the same as they were mid-century and vinatge reproduction designers have had to be creative to accommodate this.  The labels being ripped off by Evil Queen of Holloway made it possible for millions of women who can't afford vintage and/or do not fit in high street/modern clothing to look good and feel great in what we wear.

But hasn't there always been this kind of clothing? Why is the price still so high?  No, in fact before the internet, if you were bigger than say a 36C-24-36 and 5'5 and did not live near a major city, your chances of getting vintage that was wearable was near impossible unless you had literally loads of money. Sometimes you'd find new "vintagey" pieces at Macys or Contempo Casuals but only if you were lucky and below a juniors size 13. If you saw a vintage repro in magazine often you could not even find it. As recently as 2000 I tried ordering an Anna Sui vintage style top and when they sent the wrong one I had to travel to Neiman's to return it. Vintage often ripped , fell apart or had to be altered so thankfully the internet and lines like Pin Up Girl clothing, Bernie Dexter and  Bettie Page changed all of that for the better AND have kept their business in the USA. The price is NOT high for the quality and the ethics. in fact it is VERY reasonable if you look closer.

But some of the big names in Vintage Reproduction manufacture in China why not buy from "Queen of Holloway"  if its all coming from the same place?  Actually the majority of the big names in vintage repro  do NOT manufacture in China. Stop Staring, Vivien of Holloway, Pin up Girl Clothing, Bettie Page, Bernie Dexter, Fables By Barrie, Heartbreaker, Dolly Dagger etc, etc all create in either the UK or the United States, putting money back into the economy and selling a superior product. Some UK labels like Oasis Floral Frocks and Lady Vintage manufacture in Romania but that's still a huge improvement over China.

What about Trashy Diva? Don't they manufacture out of China?  Yes, Trashy Diva moved their production to China awhile back which is not preferable but not an excuse to see them ripped off as they make a superior product.  For starters they still employ US citizens at FIVE store fronts in New Orleans and they were doing vintage Repro as far back as the mid 90's. It has not been possible for them to keep stores open and still manufacture in the US. Remember, in the 90s and there was a huge surge in "globalization" and "free trade"  that saw nearly all US and many UK clothing manufacturers outsource to China. The companies operating post 2004 or so, unlike Trashy Diva, have all had the benefits of the internet, Facebook, You Tube, My Space, Pay Pal, Ebay, social networking, Etsy, the Pin Up and burlesque community etc etc etc to make their name. Hopefully Trashy Diva can come back to the US someday.

But what if I just buy ONE dress that isn't a copy? They have SO many cute fabrics and designs that are NOT copies after all and they have hard to find sizes so what's the harm in that? For starters you are still funding actual fraud. That would be like saying "Ok, I'm not a thief if I steal your butter but not your cow."  You can go onto Etsy and have custom dresses made where you can pay off the seamstress in instalments and get an astonishing product that will last a lifetime. Sometimes a custom dress on Etsy is as low as 150.00. You can get a great product made by someone earning a living wage or walk around in your Chinese slave labour rip off dress-the choice is up to you.

Sorry, I'm still not sold. A dress is a dress and I'm not paying high prices.  Please see below then.

When you buy  Made in China Pin Up Clothing and counterfeit Vintage reproductions from  fakes such as "Queen of Holloway" you are supporting the horrific tragedy above. The Chinese Government will do nothing to stop Rhino and Tiger extinction and are in fact encouraging it. And of course human rights abuses in China are some of the worst in the world and include some of the most awful things I've ever read about and will not mention here. True, we have all been literally forced via the greedy 1% in this era to buy many things we need from China but at LEAST Pin Up fans and vintage aficionados are  keeping  their money in Europe and the US. 



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ann-Margaret 's Pin Up Couture in Tommy - Designs by Shirley Russell

(We welcome you to Bernie's Holiday Camp and some of the most marvellous 1950's reproduction clothing ever created. As usual a huge thanks to America Buddha and their screen caps library of Ken Russell's film of Tommy.)

With so much reproduction vintage and Pin Up clothing everywhere you look these days it is easy for even bona fide fashionistas to forget what any drag queen, retro-burlesque artist or clothes -horse collector can tell you; that less than a decade ago all these great swing dresses, crinolines, corsets and rompers you see today were very hard to find and impossibly expensive. Once upon a beaded cardigan, if you actually found your size it often fell apart or had to be altered. A magazine would show a handmade item and you'd never be able to find it. You'd see a picture of a Shaheen wing bust dress or a Cole of California playsuit, dream of having it recreated custom made and quickly find that dream was only for the very wealthy. Now with the internet and especially ETSY,  vintage repro and custom CAN come true for anyone. Of course to stand out in a sea of  Heartbreaker and Hell Bunny, the best design inspirations come from films and easily the best reproduction 1950's couture in any film is seen in the childhood sequences in Tommy.

When Shirley Russell, the Edith Head of British costume design, created these masterpieces, it was the mid 1970s and just as she'd flawlessly and exuberantly brought the whimsical late 1920s and 30s to life in The Boyfriend, she hearkened back to the British 1950s with equal aplomb. It is clearly evident from many art, fashion, music and films from the1970s, that both the 1920s and the 1950s saw major artistic revivals. Yet where Grease and America Graffiti are all itchy lettermen sweaters and stiff crinolines, the designs for Tommy are fluid and sensual. And while Cha Cha DiGregorio's prom dress (worn magnificently by the recently departed Annette Charles) is one very hot masterpiece (complete with attached matching panties) the rest of Grease features mostly costumes that scream "1950's costume" with the clothes literally making the characters what they are. Unlike Olivia New John's black spandex, Shirley's costumes for Ann melt into the scenery and are actually wearable, making Ann's character, Nora Walker especially believable. (Remember both films are musicals with Tommy having zero dialogue). Nora dramatically ages in the film and goes from the teenager in love wearing tweedy fell pants to pensive early 1950s British Post war widow to nouveau riche chrome camp goddess to doomed alcoholic cult greeter.

( Surely in heaven starring as Aldonza in Ken' Russell's  film of "Man of La Mancha' with Jesus Christ as Don Quixote: Annette Charles 1948-2011)

As for Annie Margaret she is, along with Rita Moreno, perhaps the only true "singer, dancer, actress"  in Hollywood history. Her talent as an actress in Tommy goes leaps and bounds beyond her fabulous hourglass figure and what most of her peers could have done with the role. Ken, known to have a relatively casual coach of actors on the set, was given by AM a performance that includes camp, sadness, adroitness and a female vibration so powerful that no actress should attempt the role on screen again.

Ann-Margaret's  Pin Up Couture Wardrobe From Tommy:

1.Palest Mint Pastel Green  Tropical Print Swing Dress with Crossover Bust

2.Sky Blue  and White Gingham Halter Romper/Swimsuit with matching scarf & attached skirt

3.Pale Blue Floral Ball Gown with Pink Roses on an Organza Overlay (my personal favourite)

4.FlameRed fold over origami wing bust swing dress with spaghetti straps, Bow belt with long centre sash and white batik style roses on the skirt.

5.Cornflower Blue Atomic Galaxy print swing dress with elbow length sleeves and plunging portrait collar neckline

6.Bright Red Asymmetrically tiered pleat crepe floor length Christmas hostess gown 3/4 sleeves and plunging Statement Neckline

(all five dresses are worn with a crinoline or hoop skirt for volume. DO enlarge pictures to see the details)

1. The Holiday Camp arrival dress is more a look. Nora has a shell hat, crochet gloves, dazzling day jewellery, ivory open toe pumps and a pink handbag  (see first photo above). As it was in this era, the working class of both sexes in Britain all dressed smartly. Yet she's also a widow and a single Mum who is still very young, romantic and justifiably naive. The Green Coat has already chatted her up ("I'm in chalet number 11") and she's not even unpacked. The dress has that wonderful wrap bust that flatters anyone with a subtle floral print. This ensemble says "I'm young and fetching but not easy".

2. Ken now has Nora in the ultimate Pin Up Playsuit; wholesome and staying joyously a float with Frank's eager help. This is the most light hearted gingham romper ever! Though seen only in retro-style Pin Up photography these days, you can actually swim in one of these and most are so well made that they still hold up. Nora's is in my preferred playsuit cut as a small waist, wide hips and long legs like I have don't rock a boy cut nearly as well as an attached full skirted micro-mini. During the "Lovely Legs Contest"  which Nora wins,  Ken ensures that the other bathers (most likely married women) wear boy cut suits while she stands out almost like a water ballerina, the only one in a matching head scarf . As Tommy cheers nearby and Frank Hobbs passive aggressively comes on to her she looks particularly vulnerable.
(I reversed the order of the last two pictures so you can see the suit clearer)

3. We now cut to a glittering ballroom with Nora in a lavish formal evening gown. She is getting caught up in being desired after being alone for so long. Once again Nora is dressed as the picture of class; her hair is swept up and decorated with a pink rose to compliment the floral embroidery on her organza gown and set off her dazzling earrings. The gown is floor length with wide regal shoulders and a flattering mid cut neckline. The look can easily be misread as "Easter Lamb" after she's so easily seduced in her holiday chalet later that night but she clearly told Frank "until I'm one my heart won't rest..." This scene breaks the "Frank Hobbs is evil and Nora Walker is a victim myth" regarding Tommy and establishes that these are two people falling in love. (In this scene you see a haze which looks like cigarette smoke but it was in reality the pier itself they were filming on had caught on fire! The whole crew was evacuated needless to say and Ken included the exterior shots in the final part of the film.

4. And the newly marrying war widow bride wore scarlet with pride! Love how Ken has Nora bouncy and cheerful  in flaming red the day after her one day relationship was consummated. No walk of shame here.  The dress is a classic take on the Shaheen wing bust but with the points worn delicately up. Between the batik scattered white roses and the long sash (rarely seen in reproductions today), black hose and pumps,  the whole ensemble (nearly sans jewellery) has that oriental minimalist feel so popular in the 1950s. Oliver Reed makes the ultimate ageing Ted down to the brothel creeper soles come to life with each swagger. Perhaps picking up psychically that his step father's ensuing folly will ultimately lead to a labyrinth of pain and mis-adventure for his young mind,  Tommy loudly announces the plan for his own camp "when I'm big" to his oblivious folks.

5. Now he is deaf, now he is dumb, now he is blind and now they must save face after shocking him into severe autism. Russell has the family inside a tunnel walking in step like troops. What better way to paint the image of the "perfect family" then outfits made from the same whimsical and carefree print?! I see sun eclipses, atomic looking nine pins, stars and all manner of merry futuristic things. I love how Nora is not corseted and pushed up and out. She's natural and feminine. Honestly, those two get a bad rap; they were in love and had no idea that Tommy's father would return. The murder of course was wrong but it was also a crime of passion.

6. With it's extensive ruffled portrait collar, hoop skirt and seemingly endless pleated tiers, this lavish but stiff Christmas gown below signifies that Nora is now fully entrenched in keeping up appearances. This is the diamond accentuated transition piece for now after this scene, nearly all of Nora's clothing will over the top/ nouveau riche, futuristic and decadent- the 70's via the year 5555. Nora is now scarlet for good and we leave her lavish vintage pin up wardrobe to climb the mountain and find excitement on our own wish-lists.

In honour of those who tirelessly researching, sewing , creating and thus carrying on the loving tradition of Shirley Russell (aka The High Priestess and Alchemist of Vintage Costume), I've included a list of what I feel are today's première bespoke and Pin Up clothing revivalists:
(All made in the UK and the USA of course.)

Fables By Barrie  Made in San Diego. I am confident that there is nowhere on earth with more beautiful and dazzling whimsy and such flawless customer service. My Tolie Du Jouy one piece will be rockin this summer!

Dainty Rascal Reproduction Vintage does not get any better outside of  Pinewood Studios. Almost a dozen of Marilyn Monroe dresses lovingly recreated are just the start-Suzy Berricone can do anything. Expect her to be a major player in the international fashion someday. Made in beautiful Sonoma County.

Tara Starlet Creates the UK's premier vintage reproduction clothing. Whereas many of the big names in Pin Up Clothing  go for a  hyper-buxom 1950s Varga look, Tara Starlet offers clothing for the more mysterious, sensible, modest and wholesome. Designs are historical (Land Army dungarees), professional (30s and 40s suits you can wear to the office) and of course Sailor Pants in a dozen colours. Clothing for all sizes and body types UK sizes 6 (US 4) through 16 (US 14).

Bernie Dexter  There is most likely no one in the Kustom Kulture scene today who is more knowledgeable about vintage clothing and furnishings than uber and omnipotent Pin Up model Bernie. She offers a very precise collection of gorgeous clothes that all work together as well as shoes, lingerie and even an Ebay store with a wide variety of vintage treasures. If you are on the taller and busty side, be sure to size up and her designs will fit wonderfully.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Disciples of Shirely Russell: Kelly Brook Pin Up/ Vintage Reproduction Collection for New Look: User Review

(The Disciples of Shirley Russell Blog posts review costumes and Vintage reproduction clothing. To see some of the greatest vintage 1950's dresses ever reproduced (and worn by the master singer/dancer/actress hourglass Ann-Margaret) please check out this piece I wrote on Shirley's unparalleled work on Ken's film of the Who Rock Opera Tommy. Shirley Russell smiles down on all vintage repro fans.)


(Kelly Brook on Brighton Pier- enviably personifying the ultimate British Pin Up life)

(Sophia Loren and Jack Hawkins in "Judith". The fine art of vintage short shorts and crackin thighs!)

(Beautiful inky florals and poppies from "Scandal in Sorrento" were borrowed for Kelly's New Look Collection)

I admire Kelly Brook's personal style and charm so I was very excited when I read that following her well received and quality Christmas, lingerie and swim wear collections for New Look that she was finally releasing a full ready to wear line. For my American friends, New Look is a UK High Street store that has no real comparison in the states for such great quality at such a great price. They manufacture mostly in Romania and even have a Green line of Fair Trade dresses. This thus far 30 piece collection for New Look is officially the first large scale High Street Pin Up inspired line ever produced.

Finally I might add!

            (It Started in Naples. Believe me folks, it really did.)

Kelly's promo has been that this collection is for 'curvy girls to showcase their assets" and that the designs are inspired by her style icons ; Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren and B. Bardot. I should add, that those three woman are not only my style icons too but my everything- especially Sophia Loren. As a Southern Italian woman she perennially personifies our culture in so many ways that go far beyond beauty. As an actress I've seen most of her 100 plus films and love Sophia's rare records as well. Bardot born a few weeks after Sophia is of course an entirely different icon and cultural figure but nonetheless is still beloved by millions. Gina Lollobrigida, like Loren, also speaks to me as an Italian woman.  A very talented actress and photographer, her style is of a very elegant Gran Signora even frequenting the same corsetier as Queen Elizabeth once did during the 1950's. Both women were a mind boggling 36-22-34.

(La Lollo: Italy's First Female Film Goddess)

   (Bardot in a daisy/sunflower print dress very similar to Kelly's collection)

So I really wanted to see if Kelly Brook went beyond just skimming coffee table books and the most well known films and was able to capture the style essence of all three mythic goddesses. More importantly, I wanted to see how and if the items were structured for curvy women. Many lines make this claim and never deliver either coming out with dowdy designs or simply cutting them for a narrow figure who just happens to be busty. Kelly (alongside Sofia Vergara) has currently the world's most perfect hourglass figure. And like Vergara, her flawless figure is down to fantastic luck and thus unrealistic for most women to use as an inspiration. She's very slim, very fine boned and yet wondrously buxom and shapely hipped at the same time. It is hard to believe that such a perfect looking woman (one who can beautifully wear skinny low rise jeans with thigh high boots as well as vintage Pin up dresses) could also create a clothing line that's would look good on a Neapolitan Amazon or just the average shapely UK woman.

All my doubts were cast aside-this is a wicked line of clothing which made almost none of the same mistakes previous designers have! And while the clothes are not specifically sized or designed for an ultra curvaceous figure the way say Shoshanna Lonstein used to cut her clothing back in the day, the collection will flatter many with curves as well as those who are slim. So far I have 7 pieces (a birthday present from my husband) 4 dresses, 1 playsuit, and the shorts/crop top set and I plan to get almost the entire line.

First things first:

Made in Europe: I'm phasing out buying anything made in China. Made in the USA and Made in the UK and Europe is where my money is going. Enough said.

The Poppy Print: A variation through out the line was lifted to glorious vintage repro- effect  from Sophia Loren's famous sweetheart swing dress from Scandal in Sorrento (see above). Inky florals, poppies and sunflowers are all lovely. I preferred prints that were smaller and the solid dark periwinkle blue. The bigger prints are still very wearable though even in the sometimes troublesome colour of satsuma.

Fit : Running very true to size with the playsuits coming up a tad smaller on taller gals (5'8 and above) as they usually tend to. For US shoppers, British sizing at New Look is roomy so when you do your conversions check the size chart first to the letter, er, number.

Stand-outs: The 39.99 dresses and the structured bra tops. The colours, the fabrics, the fit...magnificent!

The off the shoulder inky flower dress (above) is my favourite. Really flattering to a larger bust without cleavage showing while working almost any occasion.


The Hawaiian Print was designed with both Bardot and La Lolo in mind and keeps a 50's shape while having an off -shoulder ease and drape that works on all figures.


The satiny cotton periwinkle blue structured bust dress is very Roman Holiday. Enough bust showing to look sexy but long enough to still look classy. Comes with a nice wide belt for waist cinching. The red polka dot skirt has a vintage pencil shape and nice fit. The Black Body Con dress will work on all figures but the mega endowed may have button up issues as I did. The red polka dot structured bust top is fantastic for bigger busts though (see below for a more indepth review)

The Satsuma sunflower, daisy print dress is cut with the same structured bust as the blue dress (only a thin belt is included here) and is a lovely day time, popping down to Broadway Market/Columbia Road (I do this often, not an affectation) sexier take on the British Tea Dress.

The Peplum dress is a very popular look in the UK this entire year, popping up in digi prints, ditsy florals and scarf print silks. While the print was a tad too big for my tastes, this dress will look beautiful on all figures..

The Bust is a MUST: The structured busts on two dresses, one playsuit and two tops are fantastic and Kelly and her team created a great fit that works beyond an E cup with great support. Due to the versatility of the design smaller busts are not left out either and will actually look bigger. The secret is that the back is partially open (accommodating nearly all figures), coming up at the neck and shoulders into a semi halter shape with the wide straps opening into a sweetheart bust in the front. It feels like a harness effect which means you don't need a bra. I'm a 34G/32GG and the fit is wonderful. With the zipper closure at the lower back you've got fit. And joy of joys! The cups are not wired. So no wire to eventually poke out at you. Howard Hughes could not have done a better job if he tried. If you are going into an Hcup or bigger than a 34/36UK under bust sizing than you may have fit issues. If so then stick with the other dresses. (See below trio photo to get an idea of the back)

The skorts with attached skirt:  A clever retro look that few (if any) Vintage Repro lines ever have attempted. These are roomy but tad too short for my tastes. Still very cute for pottering around the house and garden or dog walking of course.

Shoes and handbags: All are very cute and of a very decent make. Kelly did not do any wide widths in the two espadrille wedgies and four wonderful court shoes so sadly no shoes for me but I can still wholeheartedly recommend.

Minor Criticisms:

Button down closure The crop top (see very top pic and trio centre below), the peplum camisole and the Black polka dot Body Con dress are not possible to close on big breasts but still very cute. If you are say a size 10 or 12 with a 28 or 30F or even 32G you may be in luck but 14-16 34Gs like me should stick with the aforementioned dresses. I'm getting my crop top altered professionally.

Playsuits: The two in the collection are fab but may not be long enough if you are tall. Though they are cut well and sized perfectly for larger busts, at almost 5'10, my red dot playsuit which is really mostly a bathing suit (above) just fit. And it is cotton with almost no stretch (possibly translucent when wet? Update: Yes, it is!). The New Look website incorrectly stated "100% polyester" which means "swim suit material" and "four way stretch" so when I got home the shop I was a bit disappointed as it looked very roomy on the rack. The floral playsuit was almost all gone so I never was able to try it on in my size though it looked adorable and I love the darker take on the poppy print.

Red Polka dot trousers: Were very cute but running a bit small all around and actually cut with a slight late 90's low rise making them the one joker in the pack. They'll look the best on super skinny legs like Kelly has.

High waisted jeans, shorts, tie front blouse and T-shirts (above) were cute but seemed out of place at least in fit as far a briefness was concerned. The shorts were short enough to be inspired reproductions of what Sophia Loren wore in "Woman of The River" or "Judith" (see above second photo) but those were films! I think vintage reproduction hot pants and denim is an exact science that takes a historian of fashion (like say vintage clothing expert, designer and pinup model Bernie Dexter ) to master after trial and error. I hope Kelly takes them down a few more inches in her next collection with black or raw denim and adds some blue and red floral dresses perhaps. Wide width shoes and more bags of course. And here's to her next collection!  More, more, more!

This is a WONDERFUL range and Kelly Brook and New Look should be proud of the High Street's first vintage reproduction line which can be worn by a wide range body and bust types. Looking forward to the next collection with baited wallet!