Vintage finds #1: Birdcage boutique dress

IMG_3428Despite many years of buying, selling and wearing, I seldom come across those vintage gems that others seem to find so effortlessly. It’s possibly my fault for being lazy (I can’t always be bothered to trawl through rails and rails of clothes) or maybe I’m just unlucky. But I’ve had a couple of strokes of luck recently and have found some pieces of clothing that I’ve been really excited to add to my collection.

One find was this simple blue and white striped cotton mini dress by ‘Birdcage Nottingham’. You may or may not not have heard of Birdcage – I won’t go into too much detail as it’s already been extensively covered in Marnie Fogg’s Boutique, and there is also a really informative post on the Sweet Jane’s Pop Boutique blog – but, basically, it was one of Nottingham’s hippest boutiques in the 1960s and the place where Paul Smith started his career in fashion. And I’m think I’m correct to say that 60s Birdcage items are as rare as hens’ teeth 🙂

IMG_3436It did cross my mind that the dress might actually be a shirt, but the ever-helpful people over at the Vintage Fashion Guild were certain it was a dress and dated it to about 1966. The shape and style certainly fit in with the trend at this time for looking young and doll-like. Also, a friend recently sold a Twiggy label dress in an almost identical style and the ‘Twiggy Dresses’ range sold from 1967-69. So I guess we’re looking at around 1966-68.

IMG_3430More about the dress: it’s made from a lightweight shirting cotton with blue and white vertical stripes of varying widths. It’s unlined, so feels quite flimsy. The length is mini, measuring 32 inches from neck to hem. The collar is a buttoned ‘Grandad’ style and down the front of the dress runs a ruffled jabot. It has a button-front opening, so you can step into it or pull it on over your head. The sleeves are long with buttoned cuffs and the shoulders have quite an exaggerated puff, which, unfortunately, doesn’t come across too well in the photos. A couple of bust darts give the dress a little bit of shape, but not too much. Underneath the Birdcage label there’s another small, faded label with the dress size – I can just make out ’10’, which in terms of 60s dress sizing runs pretty small.

I found the dress in a shop in Nottingham itself, so it was likely donated by a local. It’d be great to know about its history – who originally owned it, where they wore it and what they wore it with. I’d also be interested in seeing other Birdcage items, so, if anyone has any, please get in touch!







Liberty in Fashion: the 1960s edit

Cotton Tana Lawn mini dress by Gerald McCann, mid-60s.

I finally got to see the Fashion and Textile Museum’s Liberty in Fashion exhibition last month, just before it closed on 28th February. The exhibition, which tied in with the iconic London department store’s 140th anniversary, took a look at Liberty’s impact upon fashion from the 19th century right up to the present day. There were some stunning costumes on display, including some gorgeous 1960s suits and dresses.

I didn’t really know a great deal about Liberty’s relationship with designers, so it was really interesting to discover that their wholesale fabric collections were used by many of the big names in 60s fashion from Mary Quant to Marion Donaldson to Foale and Tuffin. The patterns – whether they were bold, art nouveau-inspired or small, dainty florals – very much chimed with the mood of the times, particularly the interest in nostalgia, and the Liberty brand itself was desirable for its association with Englishness. Gerald McCann’s cotton Tana Lawn dress (above) is a beautiful example: the small paisley print is a perfect choice for his Regency-style mini.

Cotton velveteen mini dress c.1967 using Bernard Nevill’s ‘Lotus Jazz’ fabric (1965).

A more way out fabric was used for a gorgeous cotton velveteen dress from Through the Looking Glass – “Liverpool’s trendiest boutique in the 1960s”. The dress (right), with its fabulous leg of mutton sleeves, used fabric from Bernard Nevill’s ‘Lotus Jazz’ range (1965). The art deco-inspired circle/fan print is given a contemporary twist using acid-bright tones of pink, purple, mustard and green. This dress was probably my favourite from the entire exhibition.

Cotton voile mini dress by Jean Muir, mid 1960s.

Another designer who is strongly associated with Liberty is Jean Muir. Her dress, here on the left, is a simple babydoll shift made of cotton voile. It was made for Simpson of Piccadilly’s ‘Young and Gay Trend Collection’. Jean Muir’s design career started in the Liberty stockroom in 1950. She then went on to become a fashion sketcher, and then a designer, eventually setting up her own Jane & Jane label in 1962. In 1964, she won Bath Fashion Museum’s Dress of the Year , with an ankle-grazing, silk Liberty print dress.

Silk maxi dress by Colin Glascoe, late 1960s.

Interestingly, Colin Glascoe, who designed the dress on the right, never mentioned in his advertisements that he used Liberty fabrics – despite being a notable user! For this silk maxi, he used a design that blended art nouveau and psychedelia to striking effect!

Finally, it was nice to see a homemade creation in the collection – a sleeveless linen shift (below) made for a young woman by her dressmaker mother. The fabric has a large green and blue leafy floral print, again, clearly inspired by art nouveau design.

Homemade linen shift dress, 1966

There were quite a few other 1960s pieces in the collection, including a couple of floral Dollyrockers jackets and some Liberty own-label garments. As an aside, it was also interesting to see where 60s designers were getting their inspiration from – a 1920s smock dress with an embroidered yoke and long, bishop sleeves was pure Biba, and another 1920s item, a silk blouse with a contrast Peter Pan collar, reminded me very much of something Mary Quant might have designed.

The exhibition has now finished but there are some really good photos on Twitter of some of the other garments that were on display – search using #libertyinfashion.


Curious 60s fashion fads: the ankle-length hemline

Pattie Boyd (with The Rolling Stones) in Mary Quant’s Little Miss Muffet dress, 1964

Fashion in the 1960s was pretty fast paced, especially so amongst the mod crowd which, in the early part of the decade, dictated fads that often only lasted a matter of days. As you would expect, these mod trends tended to focus on the little details and, aside from the more well-known examples, I imagine many have now been forgotten.

I’m personally really interested in the lesser-known trends, so I was pretty excited to discover a rare publication called Mod’s Monthly in which is featured an absolute gem of a column by none other than “Queen of the mods” Cathy McGowan. Cathy’s round up of what’s happening on the mod scene naturally focuses on the minutiae of mod fashion and its ever-changing moods, and it reveals some tantalising details.

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Cathy McGowan on ‘To Tell the Truth’, March 1964

In the April ’64 edition, McGowan mentions one such short-lived fad – the long skirt: “Well at long last, long skirts are on the way out. They were great though while they lasted, quite the weirdest thing on the scene for months, but sooner or later they had to go”. Coincidentally, I’d also recently seen a recording of Cathy, from March 1964, on American panel game show ‘To Tell the Truth’, on which she’s sporting a slim-fitting blouse with cutouts teamed with an ankle-length skirt and “granny shoes” (fuzzy screenshot right).

Celia Hammond and Jean Shrimpton, photographed by John French, 1964

I did a bit of digging and came across a few more examples of this short-lived fad, then realised that, of course, I’d seen it somewhere before, namely in the form of Mary Quant’s Little Miss Muffet dress, modelled beautifully by Pattie Boyd (top left) and Jean Shrimpton (left). I’m not entirely sure who started the trend – whether it was Quant or the mod girls on the street – but in his book, ‘Sixties Fashion: From Less is More to Youthquake’, Jonathan Walford says that Cathy was an advocate of Quant’s “granny hemline” and took it with her on her tour of the US in early ’64, so perhaps we have Mary to thank for it. (If you’re interested, Quant’s Little Miss Muffet was 12 inches off the floor, ending mid-calf; Cathy’s skirt – presumably also by Quant – looks slightly longer just skimming the ankle).

I also found a couple of examples of the “granny hemline” in photos from London Fashion Week, 1964, and, certainly, the couture houses were doing their own versions later that year – though, of course by this time, the mods had deemed the style well and truly “out” and had moved onto something else.

The ankle-length hemline seemed pretty unusual for the time. Of course the 60s is synonymous with rising hemlines, and by the time this curious trend had gone out of fashion in early ’64, hemlines were beginning to gradually creep up the leg.

What are your favourite unusual fashion trends from the 60s? Let me know in the comments!

Happy 50th Birthday, Petticoat!

Petticoat, issue 1, 19th February 1966

Fifty years ago today, the first issue of one of my favourite 60s fashion magazines appeared on newsagent shelves across the UK. Petticoat was a spin-off of the hugely successful Honey magazine, and was specifically aimed at a younger teenage market.

The magazine offered its readers a weekly, tabloid-sized blend of fashion, beauty, celebrity, fiction and advice, all delivered in a bold, bright style suited to the times. Its fashion editorials featured young models of the moment, such as Twiggy and Jenny Boyd, and clothes from the most fashion-forward young designers, including Foale and Tuffin, Biba and, of course, Mary Quant.

Issue 1 came with free false lashes: this article showed you how to apply them.

Unusually, the cover of the first issue didn’t feature established models but two friends who’d been specially chosen as the faces to launch the magazine: “Girls like you. Bright, enterprising and full of go”. This clever piece of marketing was designed to appeal to the normal girl on the street: the lifestyle that Petticoat promoted was easily attainable.

Party like it’s 1966!

Alongside all the latest celebrity and fashion gossip, the first issue featured an interview with rising star Michael Caine (“What I like is just having a good time…Smart restaurants, good food and gorgeous women.”), an eight-page fashion spread on the latest acid-toned brights (although, disappointingly, half of the feature is printed in black and white), a preview of the new James Bond film Thunderball, a guide to throwing better parties, and tips on how to perk up a tired-looking bedroom on a budget! Unfortunately, my copy doesn’t have the free gift – “fabulous false eyelashes” – but, never fear, there’s a step-by-step guide to applying lashes to create the latest heavy eye make-up look.

Advert for Polyblonde hair dye. Dig those shades!

One of the things I really love about vintage magazines is the adverts and this issue has some good examples for ‘Polyblonde’ hair dye (right), Crimplene fabric and Celtex sanitary products (“Be miserable in comfort”). Similarly, vintage mags feature some great illustrations, and Petticoat is no exception. Notable contributors over the years included Malcolm Bird and Kasia Charko (Biba), but there were many fantastic uncredited illustrations too, including the example from issue 1 below.

Beauty illustration, uncredited

I have a few more copies of the mag from 1966 and later years, but would love to get hold of a copy of issue 2 and eventually build up a complete set for that year.

Do you have any copies of Petticoat? Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a complete set! Let me know in the comments.