Wednesday, February 25, 2015


1920s Flashy Dancing Shoes

Shiny shiny was big in the 1920s. Legs and shoes were on display more than ever, with flashy footwear being all the rage for an evening of vigorous dancing.

Style influences as old as Ancient Egypt and as fresh as Art Deco were making their mark on fashion, with designers producing incredibly glamorous and exotic evening attire that shimmered and sparkled in low-light clubs.

Shoes with luxurious fabrics, lacquered and rhinestoned heels, crystal buckles, and gilt leather motifs paired perfectly with these extravagant nighttime looks. Here's a look at some original Jazz Age shoes that make our modern high heels pale in comparison!

Bata Shoe Museum - via
Original from Ruby Lane but have been removed
Shoe Icons
Shoe Icons

Vintage Textile - the original source for "Cicero"
Teh Met, 1926-33

The gold shoe just above is from my personal collection of antique shoes. This pair was made by I.Miller, the leading manufacturer of footwear for Hollywood and Broadway dancers. Interestingly, I acquired another pair of I.Miller shoe made with the same fabric design, but in a bronze colorway, but didn't realize it until I had both shoes sitting next to each other. It always amazes me when two of the same items by the same maker survive this long and find each other. I wonder what lives these two pairs have lead?

For a whole bunch more dapper flapper shoe inspiration, check out my 1920s Shoes Pinterest Board.
And if you'd like to own a piece of the aforementioned history, you can flash your own 1920s flapper shoes (that actually fit modern feet!) with our latest Exclusive, "Cicero," available to pre-order now through March 2 at

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Monday, February 23, 2015


PRE-ORDER Exclusive #3 - "Cicero" 1920s Pumps

These days we modernes can be pretty reserved with our shoes, but back in the 1920s, the flashier the better.

Legs were on show and dancing was all the rage, with bugle beads flying and shining footwear kicking furiously to the Charleston all night long.

Dreaming of these wild Gatsby parties, I'm so pleased to introduce to you the next American Duchess Exclusive, "Cicero," the perfect strappy Jazz Age pumps, available in three popular colors: Citrine (gold), Onyx (black), and Sterling (silver) like the originals.

"Cicero" in Sterling

The Cicero Specs:

  • Imported Indian silk brocade
  • Gilt leather trim
  • Leather lining
  • Leather soling
  • Swarovski crystal button closure

They promise to be the most flamboyant shoes we've yet made, and will be extremely limited and unique.

Cicero is available by order only
February 23rd - March 2nd

"Cicero" in Onyx

This is a limited run - as with all our Exclusives, we will only make as many pairs of Cicero as are ordered during the pre-order period. We will *not* make Cicero again!*

*Customers who order Cicero can return them for a refund or exchange them should they need a different size. Customers who exchange will retain their number (ex: 2/10), while the returned shoes will lose their number and be sold as dead stock. Returned shoes not exchanged will retain their number and be sold as dead stock. Exclusives sold as dead stock will never be discounted, but shoes returned with defects may be re-sold as Imperfects, un-numbered, at a discount.
"Cicero" in Citrine

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

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Larkin & Smith 1770s English Gown Progress

Last night I finally got back to work on the 1770s English gown. I'd only pleated the back and stitched one side down, before, but here's what I did last night:

It's amazing how something feels much closer to done when the skirt goes on, but I know I have a ton of finishing work waiting for me....
I don't normally sew very fast, but this pattern is pretty amazing. The booklet makes it easy - just follow the steps and suddenly you have most of a gown put together!  There are a couple confusing parts, but I was glad I had a little experience with the pleating on the back (from my Revolution Dress), so I could fiddle through it alright.

No boning in the back yet, and no lining in the front, but it's looking pretty good so far.
At this point there is no lining in the bodice front, no shoulder straps or sleeves obviously, and only one side of the skirt is pleated and attached. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm really enjoying this project, so I hope it keeps going so well.

Tiny prick stitches attaching the front bodice to the back, and the skirt to the bodice. I love this type of stitch.
As to the sleeve trimmings, I've decided to go with the pinked flounces instead of the winged cuffs, so I can wear this gown in Williamsburg this Summer. :-) Yay!
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Friday, February 13, 2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015

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English Gowns of the 18th Century

I've had my sewing confidence rattled lately by the utter failure of my Robe a la Turque, so I'm sorely in need of some hand-holding through a project.

Enter the Larkin & Smith English Gown pattern. This pattern comes with paper pieces for the bodice, and a spiral-bound color booklet of history, materials guidance, and step-by-step instruction. It's *fabulous*.

I've just started, only cutting out the bodice lining pieces and pleating down the back, but so far it's been very easy and enjoyable, and I truly feel that an excellent gown will result.

I'm doing the gown up in yellow silk taffeta shot with bronze. I would have preferred a stronger Chinese yellow, like some of the gowns below, but it didn't seem to be in season. Still, the fabric is gorgeous, and I've wanted an obnoxious yellow gown for so long!

To get more familiar with this type of dress, here are a few of my favorites from my Pinterest board:

Museum of London, 1743-50
National Trust, 1750-60 - this one has winged cuffs, which the L&S pattern does have as an option.
KCI, 1770 - fabric is Spitalfields silk from 1740
Kerry Taylor Auctions - c. 1770. You can flick through the archives to find this and many others.
Museum of London, 1743-50 - this dress is a lot more saturate yellow - click through to see better and more photos
The Met, 1740-60
The Met, 1770-75 - isn't that just gorgeous! Crisp pleats and fly fringe.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

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Early Victorian Slippers (to Get Excited About)

Women's slippers, c. 1850 - LACMA
Today's post is all about slippers worn c. 1820s - 1850s (so a little pre-Victorian).

Surprisingly ladies shoes remained fairly unchanged during this time. Shoes were not considered decoratively important because they just weren't seen amidst all the fluffy petticoats, so we have tons of examples of quite sober footwear for a good thirty year period. Can you imagine wearing the same style shoes for thirty years?

They still manage to be kindof cute, by modern standards, although totally removed from what's popular today. The square toes and super-flat heels aren't in vogue for your jeans and t-shirt, but look absolutely perfect when paired with a gown of this period.

Slippers, 1800-1824, V and A

This is a particularly fascinating time for shoes, especially in America. American women opted for discomfort and impracticality in the name of fashion. Shoes were very tight and narrow to make the feet appear smaller, and were made of not much at all - thin materials and soles that would wear out literally in one evening for dancing slippers, and two weeks max for "outdoor" shoes. English and European women didn't have any problem at all wearing "heavy" walking boots, but the Americans wanted to appear womanly, homely, and delicate.

Shoes were often made for everyone in the family by the lady of the house, who undertook this job once or twice per month. In "Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker," (1855), patterns are provided for both slippers and gaiters (short boots). These homemade shoes were constructed of any sturdy fabric available, and "foxed" with bits of scrap leather, to reinforce the heel and toe. We have examples of gaiter boots made of wool, silk, plush, and cotton, foxed with calf, kid, and even patent leathers.

Slippers, 1830-35, V and A
Dancing slippers were made of silk or very thin kid leather, lined with linen. These were straight lasted shoes with thin leather soles, round at the heel, square at the toe, and super-narrow through the "waist," often only two inches or less (!), so that a lady's foot would actually spill over the sides of the soling.

These slippers did not have toe boxes, creating a long flat silhouette ladies were compelled to cram their feet into. Some examples also lack heel stiffener, but to help keep the slippers on, interior loops were stitched in at the side seams, to thread ribbons through.

Slippers, 1830-65, Nordiska Museet
In studying this period of footwear, and trying to recreate the style, I had to balance all this impracticality with modern expectation. It's been a particularly tricky journey, knowing that the original slippers were purposefully tight and thin, but having to create something wearable and much more durable. I think we've done it...

Our reproduction in black kidskin, lined in linen. Also coming in dyeable white sateen.
...though please don't go stomping through fields in these!

We've called them "Bronte," and they'll be here in late Spring. Look for the pre-order here, on Facebook, or in your email.

If you'd like to see more shoes from this period, please visit my Pinterest boards:

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

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Cycle 3 Exclusive - Vote for Colors!

We've gotten a bit bogged down with the various holidays worldwide, but we're gearing up for production to start again, so it's time for another Exclusive!

The winner of the Cycle 3 style vote was this stunning 1920s brocade and gilt leather evening shoe (original pair from Vintage Textile):

The strapwork is complex and interesting, the brocade shimmery and eye-catching. These would look smashing with a 1920s beaded dress, and will also go well into the 1930s. Imagine them peaking out from the hem of a gorgeous backless evening gown.

So now it's time to vote for colorways. Because of the textile used for the uppers, we're limited in brocade designs. The intent is to stay as true as we can to the original textile design, but there are some wildcards in the vote.  These fabrics are all 100% silk brocade imported from India - utterly show-stopping silks!

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Monday, February 2, 2015


The Call of the Vintage Sweaters

I want to knit.

I never....*ever*... thought I would say that, but it's true.

This came about mostly from receiving my Wearing History "Smooth Sailing" trousers last December, and wanting to wear them with some awesome vintage style sweaters (it being cold).

But I didn't have any. A fruitless shopping excursion did not result in any either. I tried to alter some sweaters I already had, with some minor sortof-success, but in comparison to something like this...

via feeble sweater re-fashions just weren't hitting the mark.

So what's a girl to do? Learn to knit, of course!

I ordered Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook, which came by Amazon slow-boat, and it arrived a few days ago. I acquired knitting needles and yarn and all the accessories yesterday. Then I went for it.
**grabby hands**
And I learned very quickly...knitting is hard.

Knitting is HARD.

I know it'll get easier as I get more experienced. By the end of my three hours worth of knitting last night, I had a better rhythm, more even stitches, and a whopping 4 inches of scarf done, but my hands hurt, and I felt like I spent a lot of time getting nowhere.

But then I have to remember my first sewing projects, and how bad they were, but I just kept making stuff until eventually I was proficient (I won't say good, because I still possess the skill to utterly destroy an "easy" Simplicity pattern).

...the call of the vintage sweaters is strong, though. I want to make this...

...and this...

...and these. All of them. ...

So I will keep practicing my knitting, and eventually I will figure out how to make sweaters. I might be 50 years old when that happens, though!

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