Monday, June 30, 2014


Dinner at The Parlor Again, Now With Added Vintage

From left: Monica, Chrissy, Curtis, Maggie, Sam, Kathy, and me.
To round out my trip to visit friends in the Bay Area this weekend, we all made an effort to look elegantly vintage, and enjoyed another fine little party at The Parlor, Sam and Monica's Victorian apartment.

If you've never played this game....
It was pretty much just like the dinner two nights before, except with the addition of one more dear friend, and with nice clothes. :-) Here are my few snaps from the night...

Chrissy and Kathy
Curtis and Maggie
Monica and Chrissy

Curtis and Sam
I wore an original Lily Diamond gold lamé and brown lace dress...with a cape. I got this dress from the incomparable Lady Carolyn, and wasn't so sure about the whole thing at first, but one I tried it on...with the cape...I knew I had to have it in my collection.

Maggie and me, in our vintage threads
And then superheros, because capes and leather gloves, and other bizarre reasons

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Dinner At The Parlor

This weekend, I took an impromptu trip to the Bay Area to see beloved friends. And then there was food, wine, and Cards Against Humanity. The official vintage-costume-party is actually tomorrow night (and I have a *fabulous* dress for that, so stay tuned), but in celebration of fine friends, and a seriously crazy-cool apartment ("The Parlor"), here are some random photos...

Chrissy, Monica, Sam, and Maggie, in the fabulous Parlor

Sam has quite the collection of hats, and a gazillion other intriguing things. On the far left there are collars, in their original boxes.
Maggie of Serendipitous Stitchery
A pile a suspenders, because of course that's completely normal in everyone's houses.
Chrissy, of The Laced Angel

Monica and Sam dancing
I didn't wear vintage last night, but today was a good excuse. Here's the dress I made ages ago, but hadn't worn yet, from Advance 6643:

I didn't wear American Duchess shoes, which was a mistake, since my feet hurt after an hour walking around Alameda.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vintage 1950s Suits

Everyone seems to have a different idea of 1950s fashion, from poodle skirts to shirtwaist frocks, giant petticoats to wiggle dresses. The lovely part is that there were *all* these styles and more, something (or many things) to fit everyone.

One of my favorite types of garment from the '50s is the suit. There's something about a perfectly tailored, crisp and structure 1950s suit that just screams respectable elegance to me (although I suppose someone respectable and elegant wouldn't be screaming...).

To inspire, here are some of my favorite '50s suits for ladies:

Balenciaga, 1951, via
Dovima, 1952, via
Dovima in Hattie Carnegie, 1952, via
Don't these all just look so doable? They're fairly simple, but perfectly made. Tailors among us know that these clean lines and smooth angles result from a whole mess of underlying techniques. I guess I'll be consulting my tailoring book, then...

Lilli Ann suit, Etsy seller Mill Street Vintage
Another understructure to consider - waist cinching. Don't forget that the '50s made heavy use of the girdle and corsetry of various kinds. These suits characteristically nip in at the waist, then flair out over the hips. Many of the '50s suit jackets also have padding where they flair over the hips, to accentuate the silhouette.

Not all '50s suits were a tight fit, though. Boxy jackets worn with pencil skirts were en vogue too, especially moving into the '60s.
1958, via
Jean Patchett, 1951, via
Luckily there are lots of '50s suits available on eBay and Etsy, and myriad sewing patterns so you can make your own. It's like "secret vintage" for the office, or when you need to pull out all the stops in a business meeting. I always imagine wearing something like this to woo businessmen and car salesmen. There's something empowering yet feminine in these suits.

What do you think? Are you a '50s suit loving woman, or do you go more for the fluffy '50s looks?
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Monday, June 16, 2014

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How To Make Your Own Pair of Couture Pompadour 18th Century Shoes

Last week, I showed you several pairs of custom-made shoes I designed for Whoopi Goldberg. I was so flattered by the comments - thank you! - and also a little frustrated that we won't be able to mass-produce those design for those of you who wanted to buy them.

However, I thought it would be helpful to show you the kind of customization you can do with your American Duchess shoes. Many of our styles are dyeable, but sometimes it can hard to imagine how you can take your shoes from "blank" to "blingin'," so I'm going to show you today how to start from scratch and turn a pair of Pompadours into some seriously tricked-out shoes.

What You'll Need:

  • 1 pair of American Duchess Pompadours in White
  • 1 pot of International Fabric Shoe Dye in the color of your choice
  • Wool Dauber
  • Paintbrush
  • Scotchguard
  • Fabric Glue (any kind that will adhere to fabric)
  • Decoration - applique patches, metallic lace, sari trim, jewels, anything really
  • 3/8" or narrower trim - guimpe, petersham, lace, etc.
  • Clips (hair clips or alligator clips, etc.)
  • 1" - 1/5" satin wide ribbon (for laces)
  • Aiglets/Bolo Ends/Ribbon Ends
Step 1
First, you're going to dye your Pompadours. I chose color A81, a dusty pink, to match the trim I'd selected for the vamp. The design in the fabric will take the dye the brightest, and the ground will dry lighter. Be sure to remove the ribbon laces from your Pompadours.

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

Starting at the back seam, dab on the dye with the wool dauber. Use a small flat paintbrush for more control along the edges. Do not dye the heel - the fabric dye will stain, but not stick to, the leather heel. For this tutorial, I left it ivory, but you can paint it any color you like with Angelus Leather Shoe Paints.

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

Work your way around each shoe, then allow them to dry overnight. The following day, spray them thoroughly with Scotchguard, to seal and protect the color. (*If you don't spray them with Scotchguard, you'll have a hot mess when you come to glue your decorations on later!)

Step 2
Prepare your decorations. I found some gorgeous beaded and embroidered sari trims, but you can use just about anything - metallic lace, pre-made appliques, even a motif you embroidered yourself. (*tip: embroider on gold organza, then cut around the edges of your motif)

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating TutorialThis technique uses glue to topically adhered the decorations to the vamp of the shoe. I do not recommend trying to sew these bits on, as the structural elements in the shoe (particularly the toe) will make it *hard* to get a needle through.

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

The trim I found used a stiff organza ground for the beads and embroidery. I chose to cut out around the motifs, but there are lots of antique examples where a large piece of flat ribbon was used down the vamp of the shoe. It's totally your choice what you use and how you arrange it on the shoe.

Step 3
Now it's time to start "lacing" the shoe. With plenty of glue, start sticking those motifs on how you like. For my sari trim, I clipped between the flower and leaf motifs to "bend" the trim into curves, and cut out individual parts of the trim to fill in the gaps throughout the application.

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

Some glues are quicker-setting than others. I recommend a quick-setting glue. Use the hair clips to help hold pieces in place while the glue dries.

Step 4
Next, I glued the guimpe trim around the edges. This is totally optional, and it's up to you if you want to use a trim like this, or petersham ribbon, which also gives a wonderful period look.

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

 Again using the clips to aid, bend that trim around the edges and hold it in place until it sets.

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

Do the same for the tongue, ending your trim at the seam that goes across the top of the foot.

*Trims that are NOT RECOMMENDED for the edging on your shoes:
  • grosgrain, jacquard, or satin ribbon - it won't bend into curves as needed
  • trims that are wider than 3/8" - you'll have trouble getting it around the curves

Step 5
You're almost done! The last little detail is to add the ribbon ties. The ribbons can really oomph up the finish of your shoes and give them that polished final look.  I chose spring green ribbons to contrast the pink and complement the beadwork from my trims.

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

Your ribbons will be about a half-yard long, depending on how big you want your bows to be.  Feed each end through the grommets. Then, if you're using aiglets (bolo ends), tie each ribbon end into a small, tight knot, clip the excess off, and stick into the open ends of the aiglets. Use needle-nosed pliers to crimp the ends of the aiglets over the knots. There's no need to stitch them into place.

American Duchess 18th Century Shoe Decorating Tutorial

*Keep in mind that once those bolo ends are on the ribbons, you won't be able to pull them back through the eyelets on the shoe. You'll have to take the bolo ends off the ribbons to switch them out.

Now you're finished! Sit back and admire your seriously gorgeous new shoes! Imagine them peeking out from the hem of the stunning 18th century gown you're working on!

American Duchess Customized 18th Century Shoes - DIY

I've done this tutorial with Pompadours, but you can use any dyeable shoes, leather or fabric - just make sure the glue you use is suited to the material to which you're adhering your decorations. Don't be afraid to get a bit wild, too - 18th century shoes could be quite eye-popping. Need some inspiration? Check out these originals...

LACMA, 1700-1715
Muenchner Stadtmuseum, c. 1730
Bata Shoe Museum, 1735-50
The Met, 1690 - 1729
The Met, early 18th c.
Dive right in! Your "lacing" could be as complex as individual motifs cut out of organza, or as simple as a wide piece of metallic lace or ribbon running gracefully down the top of the shoe. There's no right or wrong way to do it, and your result will be truly one-of-a-kind. Let history guide you, and have fun!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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About Whoopi Goldberg's Custom Made Shoes

A few months ago, I was asked by Whoopi Goldberg to design some custom shoes. She asked me to make "four pair as rich looking and feeling as you can with your choices of fabric." So I set to work sketching out some "over the top" footwear, based on our available lasts and heels, inspired by shoes from history.

Running the designs by Whoopi, she chose five and we set to work making them. I spent quite a lot of time sourcing the right fabrics and antique trims, and a lot of back-and-forth with the workshop to get each design *just* right.

Well here's the result, with a little about each shoe:

One of the designs I was most excited to try was a pair inspired by Martha Washington's 1759 wedding shoes, with influence Lady Mary Stanhope's 1660 shoes.

Martha Washington's wedding shoes, 1759 - via
Lady Mary Stanhope's shoes, c. 1660 - via

Martha Washington's shoes were made of purple silk, embroidered and spangled all over in silver. They're utterly splendid. My version is much more sedate, but I'm really pleased with how they turned out.

American Duchess "Martha Washington" 18th century shoes
The trim around the edges is antique French metal trim I found on Etsy. It really makes this pair totally unique, as that's not a touch that could be repeated.

Below, Whoopi wore the "Washington" shoes on her talk show The View, and also posted a picture of them on her Facebook fan page. Some people loved them, some people hated them, and some even got the 18th century reference! I was floored when I saw this, because it really helps to put American Duchess out there, particularly to others in the entertainment industry that may be needing some historical shoes for a movie, tv show, or stage production.

Whoopi Goldberg wearing American Duchess shoes on The View

A totally different design from the 18th c. shoes, the "Chicago" t-straps were inspired by a pair of 1920s Andre Perugia pumps that had this gorgeous red and black combination, with the gold design beaded.

Kyoto Costume Institute, 1920s
We went for gold embroidery and did them in suede, with the buckle instead of buttons. They're really fun, and pay homage to one of the greatest shoe designers of all time.

American Duchess 1920s Flapper Shoes

Whoopi loved these so much she wore them on The View the day after she wore the Washingtons, and was tickled that we put her name on the insole.

Whoopi Goldberg wears American Duchess 1920s shoes on The View

Whoopi Goldberg shows off her custom American Duchess 1920s shoes

"Lamballe," "Versailles," and "Royale"
The last three were all 18th century designs again made on the Pompadour running gear. Each of the designs was inspired by original 18th century shoes, or a combination of elements from different antiques.

American Duchess custom made 18th century shoes
The Met, early 18th c. - one of the inspiration shoes for "Lamballe"
"Lamballe" used the iconic red leather heel, in combination with a subtle silk brocade pattern, and bright binding. These were my least favorite at first, but the compliment of red and subtle green is really growing on me. Now I think they're really quite stupendous!

Whoopi liked them too - she wore "Lamballe" on The View on June 12th, with some craaaazy socks:

American Duchess custom made 18th century mules
Shoe-Icons, c. 1690-1720
The "Versailles" mule again used the red heel, like the original mule from Shoe-Icons. We did our version in dove grey suede, with silver embroidery and tiny spangles.

American Duchess "Royale" custom made 18th century shoes for Whoopi Goldberg

And finally "Royale," my absolute favorite pair. These were inspired by the heavily laced early 18th century shoes that are just glowing with ornamentation. We used silk brocade from India, antique French metal trims, and a two-color metallic embroidery design on the vamp. Here's one of the inspiration pieces:

The Met, early 18th century

I'm really proud of the work we did for Whoopi, and very glad that she was happy with them. It was a wonderful project that really just came out of the blue, but could mean some really wonderful future projects for American Duchess.

Now I know you're wondering about custom shoes, so I'm going to explain a little about this whole process. It's not something we can offer regularly (at this time), because it is immensely expensive and time consuming for both the customer and us.  Whoopi's shoes took months to designs, work out the embroidery, source materials for, make, and ship. It was a great experiment for us, because I now know what kind of work we're capable of, and my hope is that our tiny little company profile might get a boost in the entertainment world, and we can attract more theater and film clientele.

So will we make shoes like this in the future? Quite possibly! Right now we're still small and we still have to do production runs of 200, but if these wacky antique-style shoes catch on a bit, and our customer base grows to where we can sell 200 really unique shoes, then I would love to do some blingin' "signature collection" styles, you bet!

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