Sunday, March 28, 2010


Stanley Kowalski, before and after visiting the Pier Show.

Jean says:

After slaving in an office all week, Valerie and I like to get out and about on weekends. Since vintage clothing and jewelry feature prominently in both our wardrobes, we have favorite haunts like the 26th Street Garage and flea markets that we periodically cruise through in search of bargains and inspiration. The Pier Antiques Show and Fashion Alley @ The Pier, sponsored by Stella Management, are the mothership of vintage clothing experiences in Manhattan.

Held three times a year (November, January and March) in one of the huge cruise ship passenger terminals (Pier 94) on the Hudson River at 55th Street, the shows are a treasure trove of furniture, art, ceramics, glassware, and our personal favorites: hats, jewelry, clothing, handbags, eyewear, and footwear. Did I mention hats? And can you see the teeny picture of us in the photo at left taken off the Stella website?

Along with a few photographs of us and friends at the March 2010 show, we wanted to show you some of our purchases from the most recent and previous shows.

Men who can dress in vintage and carry it off are a distinct breed. Matthew Piazzi, doing his own interpretation of Sky Masterson (see above), is one of those rarae aves who can wear a fedora and a double-breasted pinstriped suit with aplomb. Bravo!

At the March 2010 show, I wore a vintage Stetson bowler that I had purchased at a Pier Show about 5 years ago. It is in tip-top shape and feels great. That my husband refers to me as "Odd Job" when I wear it only adds to its allure. (James Bond fans will remember Sean Connery's 1964 flick "Goldfinger" in which Odd Job was the villainous Dr. Goldfinger's Asian assassin/assistant whose steel-bladed bowler was dapper but lethal.) Coincidentally, Valerie is also wearing a previous Pier Show purchase - a mouton and feather hat circa 1940 that she's wearing with her printed mouton chubby jacket (purchased at another vintage venue).

At one of the Pier Shows about six years ago, I purchased this black and white alpaca Yves St. Laurent Rive Gauche coat. At the most recent show, I purchased the black candy kiss hat. Here I am swanning in the lobby of the Empire State Building in the hat & coat after the recent New York Arts of Pacific Asia Show on 34th Street. I hadn't actually worn the coat in years...since a traumatic incident in Bowling Green.

At the time I purchased the coat, I worked at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House near Battery Park (which also houses the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian). I wore it to work one day because I was attending an event that evening. I ran out to grab lunch and as I was walking back to the building through Bowling Green Park, a rather inebriated gentleman literally began chasing me, waving his arms and repeatedly yelling, "Awww. You look just like a big old panda bear. Come 'ere and gimme a big old hug." Needless to say, I poured on the speed and was never more grateful for the building's big, burly Smithsonian security guards.

Here are mug shots of the fabulous candy kiss hat. It is black felt with about four wispy feathers on one side, designed by Bellini Originals and purchased from Another Times Antiques (

Valerie keeps daring me to wrap it in aluminum foil and add a thin paper strip saying "Hershey's."

At the March 2010 Pier Show, I scored a true bargain. I spotted this black and white wool '40s saucer hat, tried it on, and it fit like a glove (so to speak).

When I saw the $25 price tag, I was quite pleased with myself. Imagine my delight when the couple running the booth informed me that all hats were 50% off and I scored this domino number for $12.50. What a steal.

About 2 years ago, in an out-of-body experience, I bought this blue silk floral portrait hat at a Pier Show. I don't know what possessed me, but it seemed like a good idea at the time (ISLAGIATT). I haven't actually worn it anywhere yet, so stay tuned.

I must have been channeling my inner Tyrone Power (as the doomed bullfighter in "Blood and Sand" with Linda Darnell?) when I acquired this black straw matador hat at last spring's Pier Show. Its label reads: G. Fox & Co., Est. 1847 Hartford.

Needless to say, it too has not seen the light of day since I brought it home. So, if you see a demented silver-haired women some evening on the lower East Side with a rose clenched between her teeth, wearing this hat, do a Burt Bacharat/Dionne Warwick and just "Walk on By."

Ah, yes! Another Pier Show purchase that has been kept under wraps. Purchased from O, Mistress Mine (which also used to have a great store in the East Village), this Eric Javits black wool velvet-trimmed high crown hat has a great '80s vibe. Coming soon to High Tea near you.

Loyal readers may recognize my pink plastic duckie pins featured in my Play with Your Clothes posting last year. They were originally purchased about two years ago from one of the Pier Show vendors who also carries wonderful kitchen equipment, old rotary telephones and princess phones (what a blast from the past they were!). When I stopped by her booth earlier this month, I was tickled that she remembered me - and the pins.

And lastly, sincere apologies to Karen McWharter, NYC ( I purchased a very chic green vintage hat from her last fall, but I simply cannot put my fingers on it to photograph it for this posting. (Sorry, Karen. Do forgive me.)

Valerie says:

I was surprised at the number of hats I've bought at the Stella Pier Show. (This is one of them, as Jean noted above.) It wasn't intentional, but if I stop to think about it, it makes sense. First, you can't go to a show looking for anything in particular (like a 1930s yellow suit, for example) because you'll never find it. You have to be open to all possibilities. But the shows are so huge, it would take me two full days to give everything the full attention it deserves. If I just concentrate on looking at hats, I can visit every booth. Second, as the universe expands, so do I, except, of course, on an infinitely smaller scale. Women were more petite then. (THEN refers to anytime long enough ago for the clothes to now be called VINTAGE.) I was more petite then. Statistically, odds are less in favor of finding something in my size than before. SIGH.

My head, by good fortune, is not expanding, so a hat is always a safe bet. And finally, although the furniture is fabulous, where would I put it in my New York apartment? How would I get it home? AND - importantly - does my building have some arcane rule about furniture deliveries on weekends? Will I be forced to guard it out on the sidewalk until specified delivery times? What if the earliest time we're allowed to bring in new furniture (since that requires the freight elevator) isn't till 10am Monday morning? So you can see why I might gravitate toward hats. (And of course you won't see any shoes because - all together now - THERE ARE NO COMFORTABLE SHOES FOR WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE THAT ARE NOT ALSO STUNNINGLY UGLY.)

Above is a wonderful gray felt vortex hat by Sally Victor.

And other wonderful Stella purchases:

This is a buttery soft white leather hat from the 30s. Jean more or less insisted that I buy it, so I did. Only to placate her, you understand. The feather has seen better days, so I deleted it. I mean I took it off.

Here's how it looks with no feather, and with a feather out of my feather collection.

Notice any resemblance here?

Hats of the 30s went through a conical phase. Here are two famous conical hats, both from 1939, said to be the very best year ever for movies. If you can't remember the iCONIC movies they starred in, see the answers waaaaaaaay below. Interestingly, if you look on line, you'll see the woman's hat described variously as 'silly', 'funny' and 'absurd'. I'll bet the on line comments were all written by people who have no idea how to wear or judge a hat. I think it's fabulous. (Turns out it was fabricated by Adrian, and reportedly designed by the actress wearing it.)

Not everything I bought was a hat, though. Trick question: how many hats do you see in this photograph? (Hint: proof positive that a woman wears many hats.)

This little charmer is probably from the 40s, and had a few issues, all of which I was able to take care of. The first thing I did was to cut away the awful cardboard visor that says 'Hartford, Conn.' (Was Hartford a millinery center? See Jean's Hartford hat, above.) Why anyone thought this wonderful hat needed a visor I can't imagine. The hat had a small hole at the perimeter where the material meets the very interesting flexible metal band that gives it its taut shape.

So I removed the band (very easy to do!), got out my handy dandy iron-on patches, and cut out a small patch in a color that matched the hat fairly well. Iron on and done! The hat also had a few water stains that came right out with washing, but it had brownish perspiration stains above where the visor was. Those took a little doing.

I washed the cotton very gently by hand with dish liquid, careful not to wrinkle it, as not ironing is one of my hobbies. Then I dabbed at the stains with Spray n Wash with Resolve power, and when that didn't get everything out, I got out my portable Shout Wipes and lightly dabbed the cotton with that for a few minutes. (Just dab. Don't RUB!) You can still vaguely see the perspiration stains now, but you would have to know where to look. To avoid ironing this difficult shape, I put the band back in, blew up a plastic bag like a balloon, stuck it inside the hat, and let the whole thing dry on a hat mold. The next day it looked marvelous.

The graphics are hilarious. At the base of this photo, you can see three turn-of-the-century swells getting held up in the desert by a masked bandit, and the full moon above looking on wide-eyed in consternation. Because I removed most but not all of the visor, I'll wear the hat with the vestigial visor in the back. The hat is elasticized, so cutting the visor away makes no difference in its wearability, only in its chic quotient. (See the Awful Visor, detached, above.)

This lovely little pill box hat with slender leaves decorated with bugle beads and green spangles has yet to make its maiden voyage, but I'm looking forward to the opportunity. Its delicate veil is still intact, rare in vintage hats. Yummy!

Both of these are from previous Stella shows. The shirt is Issey Miyake Fete.

What possessed Hattie Carnegie to put holes (well, not mere holes but figure eights made of braid) into a velour riding hat? When my hair was shorter, I pulled thick strands of hair through the holes so it looked like the hat had gray feathers.

* * * * * * * *

You knew the names of the movies, didn't you? The first is The Wizard of Oz; the second is Ninotchka (with the hat designed by Greta Garbo). We opened with Marlon Brando. Streetcar Named Desire on the left; Guys and Dolls on the right.

Special welcome to our first-time visitors from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and aloha to our first non-continental US visitor. Thanks for joining us!

Closing remarks: typing in the dark Saturday night during Earth Hour. Judy Berkowitz reports that from her aerie she could see that the lights of the Empire State Building were turned off for the event.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas interrupt your fun to remind you about Earth Hour, coming this Saturday at 8:30pm (your local time).

We hope you will participate in this worthwhile (and FREE!) event if you can.

On Saturday, March 27th 2010 at 8:30 p.m. - your local time - hundreds of millions of people around the world will turn off their lights for one hour, symbolically calling for action on climate change.


• Earth Hour is World Wildlife Fund's global initiative where individuals, schools, organizations, businesses and governments turn off their lights for one hour to cast a vote in favor of action on climate change. By voting with their light switches, Earth Hour participants send a powerful, visual message demanding action on climate change.

In addition to our many visitors from all over the U.S. and Canada, the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas have now had - much to our delight! - visitors from Mexico and Brazil in the Americas, Albania, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom (among others) in Europe, Israel and Jordan in the Middle East, and Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Australia and New Zealand in the Asia/Southeast Asia and Pacific region. We hope you’ll join us in turning out your lights this coming Saturday at 8:30pm. (And you can wear whatever you like, ‘cause no one will see!)

For more information about Earth Hour, please go to

And now, back to your regularly scheduled fun in the post below.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Where Are the Shoes of Yesteryear*

Valerie says:

Where are the shoes of yesteryear*? (At least, where are mine and Jean's?)

I'm a practical person with a small closet, so most of the time I'm able to give my old shoes away. They've served me well, I've worn them to death (or in the rain or snow, which often amounts to the same thing), and I send them off with pomp and ceremony, like heroic dead Vikings sailing off to the next world in splendid ships.

But there are a small number that I just can't bear to part with. I know you know what I'm talking about. You may say to yourself 'after I have bunion surgery', or 'when my [grand]daughter is old enough', or perhaps 'when I find a really good shoe maker who can reproduce them in a triple E'. Maybe you think you'll sell them (only to the right person, of course). But whatever your rationalization (because that's what it is), you can't let go of this or that one the way you did all the others. These share closet space with the shoes you use, and the shoes you use resent these shoes with a sense of entitlement. They do nothing, take up valuable space, do not earn their keep and yet are doted on. If any shoes get polished, these are the ones. Not the workhorses and loyal servants you depend on so utterly, and yet take so thoroughly for granted. None of the six shoes I'm going to eulogize have been worn for the last four years, and some have been cossetted much longer than that.

Today Jean and I would like to present some of the shoes we coddle. We'll tell you why we can't wear them, and why we can't throw them away. No doubt you know this old tale, and the song and dance that go with it. Just for the record, the first three shoes are borrowed from Workman Publishing's 365 Days of Shoes Calendar, a beautifully edited parade of more than one hundred years of A list shoes. They're not, alas, from our closets.

[Faithful readers will recognize that we have touched on the loved-and-lost shoe issue before. For our previous comments on the great shoe conundrum, see Shoe Kaddish, dated September 1, 2009.]

This is one of the first pairs of shoes I ever bought. I got them in Siena, Italy when I was 20 and platform shoes were all the rage. These platforms are made of wood. European women who went through WWII couldn't wait to toss their wooden shoes. (Leather was rationed for soldiers, I think.) Those of us who never had to wear them, wanted to, of course. The labels fell out long ago, so I have no idea who made them. The first time I wore them, it must have taken me 10 minutes to walk down a single flight of stairs while I accustomed myself to the height and the loss of communication with the ground beneath me. I continue to love everything about them - the wooden soles, red leather, oxford hole punching, mary jane t strap. I'd wear them today if I could, but they're an 8.5, and I'm now a 9.5. I love thinking that they could be reproduced with a shock absorbent rubber bottom.

I am drawn to red shoes. The first pair I ever bought were red oxford Fred Braun flats, which I bought on West 8th Street with babysitting money when I was fifteen. I ruined them in the rain about three years later, and still carry a torch for them. I bought this pair at a second hand store in the early 90s, but they're from the 40s, labeled Shari Creation Hand Crafted. They have little marcasites inset into the leather. They're too narrow for my feet now (I have neuromas on both feet that need to stretch out), the toe box is too low, and I can't wear heels because they pressure the neuromas.

This is the most expensive shoe I ever bought, and I can't wear it anymore. The label says Creazioni Attica, made in Italy. I won't tell you what I paid for them, but I justified the expense because it's three toned blue suede, moving from dark to light between the toe and heel. I took a dozen photos, none of which do it justice. I've never seen anything like it before or since. (Later I bought its twin in an orange that faded to pale yellow.) At first they fit fine, then they fit fine with a pad at the toe, then they pinched my neuromas regardless of what I did. Just because a shoe is flat doesn't mean I can wear it. SIGH.

I got these wonderful orange suede Manolo Blahniks at the $1 flea market on West 26th Street in New York, which space has now been transformed into one of the hundreds of boxy luxury apartment buildings that everyone in the city had been desperately clamoring for. Aren't the wicked little tongues fabulous? They're wired, and somewhat flexible. But now they're too pointy for me, and the heels are too high. It's not a matter of mere discomfort to wear them, since what woman wouldn't suffer for her art? It's a matter of burning pain.

I was devastated when I could no longer wear these flat Charles Jourdan shoes, which I found at a thrift shop. They are SO Bauhaus, and so playful. Bauhaus extolled geometry, and showcased colors. You can see those principles applied here. The tongue of the shoe is rectangular; the heel is round. As with other shoes, the narrow sides and low toe box pinch my nerves, so I periodically look, but don't touch.

I thought I'd throw in a boot for good measure. With a blue Perry Ellis dirndl skirt I used to have (once a tad big on me; at last wearing more than a tad small), I felt marvelous wearing these Pollini Italian boots. They look as though they have a platform, but in fact the designer just added piping, both to disguise a seam and to add contrast and dimension. A wonderful touch. The bright checks remind me of medieval heraldic designs. These were also from a thrift shop. In the lining is the number 38.5. Now I don't feel comfortable in anything less than a size 40.

Jean says:
Because we spend a lot of time together at events such as openings and shows (art, crafts, antiques, vintage clothing and jewelry) which involve a fair amount of standing around, invariably the discussion turns to shoes and our aching feet, if not at the event, then on our way home. When Valerie first suggested this topic several months ago, I was thrilled and aghast. While I tend to hang onto things I love for much longer than necessary, being able to put my finger on a specific piece of clothing is challenging, to say the least. Saint Valerie continued to raise this topic periodically (the old bamboo under the fingernails approach, or as I like to think of it, the death by a thousand cuts!). [Valerie adds: It's true! Anyone would have thought I'd invited her out for a day of mammograms the way she reacted!]

So, after about the 90th not so subtle hint, I started to seriously hunt down some of my favorite shoes that I no longer wear, and, as luck would have it, recently excavated a box from 1982 that contained some '80s and some '70s goodies. From that treasure trove and the top of my closet, I chose a representative sample of shoes from each of four past decades - the '70s, '80s, '90s and '00s. I do hope you'll find this entertaining and will share your thoughts and photos of your favorite footwear you no longer wear. (Photographic credits: Vintage black and white Auntie Maud Frizon in previous paragraph from the 365 Days of Shoes Calendar; just above from Helene Verin's book, Beth Levine Shoes. We can't wear backless shoes anymore either.)

As a card-carrying hoarder of the first order, I can attest that the accumulated detritus of my life are not just "things". Rather, they are "memories". Take for example this black patent leather platform mary jane purchased in London in 1972. Even though only one of the deuce is known to survive, I somehow cannot part with it. Besides being an interesting objet, the shoe conjures up a whole trunkful of memories of my first trip to London in October 1972.

At that time, the British Invasion had long since taken over the US airwaves. London was "swinging," girls were "birds," Mary Quant was designing sky-high mini dresses, and Biba was my emporium of choice for clothes, accessories, and most of all makeup! The dollar was king and the exchange rate with the British pound was obscene. Clothing was incredibly cheap.

After I had checked out the King Tut exhibit at the British Museum and cruised the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museums, I headed straight to the Biba store on Kensington High Street, with its (to quote Wikipedia) "Art Nouveau decor and rock and roll decadence." I purchased these shoes, inexplicably called Mary Poppins. I loved them. They made me feel tall and willowy, like Jean Shrimpton, and mod, like Twiggy.

Even if I still had its mate, I could no longer wear them. High altitude gives me nosebleeds. However, I will continue to keep the solo shoe as a memento mori. Rather than haunt me, it cheers me.

These shoes have a history. In the early '80s, I had moved from Soho to the West Village to a loft in Chelsea. Nightlife was a regular Disco Inferno. My friends and I used to hit all the clubs. Although the Flamingo had closed by this time, The Ritz, Studio 54 and The Saint were the hot places to see and be seen. One evening, I wore these black suede lace-up high heels with a black leather bustier, a black midi-skirt, a black wool shawl (from Steve Soho) draped across my shoulders and big black sunglasses to Limelight, a club in a de-sanctified church on Sixth Avenue. My hair was cut short, dyed jet black and slicked back with product. As I descended the staircase to the dance floor, an extremely well-dressed gentleman approached me. Looking me up and down, he said "Oh, yes", handed me a black plastic card the size of a credit card with the Limelight name and logo on it and then said "This card will get you into this club for free. For life." I still have the card - and the shoes.

Into the '90s, I was still indulging my love of platforms. I think I purchased these shoes in 1994. This particular pair of black suede open-toed cork platforms are Alfies Original Souliers, from the recently closed Anbar Shoe Store on Reade Street in lower Manhattan (may it rest in peace). That store was the mecca for bargain-minded shoe-aholics. Everything was displayed by color, so all the red shoes were on one rack, the navy on another, etc. Brands ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, from designers like Walter Steiger, Robert Clergerie, Valentino, Versace and Armani to DKNY and Nine West -- all at deep discounts. Although it was hit-or-miss, if you timed it right, everything you liked came in your size.

I actually wore these shoes a lot, even to a "business casual" meeting in a Boston hotel that summer. By the 1990s, my wardrobe had already morphed to include lots of black, so they went with everything. They are in great condition nearly 16 years later, but these days, I think of them as "a sprain waiting to happen." So, they continue to roost in the rafters of my closet like great nesting birds.


I bought these black and cream platform slingbacks at the John Fluevog store on the corner of Prince and Mulberry Streets sometime just after the beginning of the new millenium. At the time, Akiro's Siren Hair Salon was on Mulberry Street, just north of Spring Street, so I passed the shoe store about once a month on my way home from my haircut. These shoes spoke to me, and luckily, they were on sale. I loved their retro look and their logo ("Don't give me no lip service"). Alas, now they make the balls of my feet scream no matter how many different types of gel or foam insoles I try. They are in such pristine condition, they do haunt me.

The store is still there. Valerie and I wandered by it today on our way to photograph the wonderful graffitti paintings on the walls of the now-closed Kitchen Club and Chibi Bar. (A moment of silence, please, for the passing of a fabulous restaurant and meeting place.)

Bottom Line
As I am writing this, I realize that, unlike Valerie's wide-ranging selections of footwear, the recurring theme in my selections is the platform. I would actually wear these fabulous blue platforms (courtesty of if it were physically possible. I attribute this obsession not only to the fact that I am 5'4" tall and love to appear taller, but also to my childhood. When I was really young and loved to play dress up, a neighbor who was all of about 4'8" tall gave my mother 3 or 4 pairs of her tiny platform slingbacks for me to play in. So, while others were imagining themselves as Cinderella, I must have been channeling my inner Gloria Swanson (whose own shoe size was about a 4 or 5). Mrs. Culbreath, if you're listening, I want you to know how much I loved your shoes. They were truly magic. Thank you!

Valerie says:
Recently I attended a lecture on Beth Levine, the first female shoe designer, given by Helene Verin, who has written a book on Ms. Levine and her numerous breakthroughs in the industry (see the earlier link). Verin says that Levine invented the stiletto heel, but she also designed the wonderfully inventive flat racing car shoe shown here. During the question and answer period after the lecture, I asked her why comfortable shoes for women of a certain age only seemed to come in the form of sneakers. Why couldn't someone at the very least make a sneaker body and then put black velvet on it, I asked. Ms. Verin summed it up succinctly by saying that all the current designers (with a few exceptions like Taryn Rose) are men. But, I persisted, with the Women of a Certain Age demographic possessing a large discretionary income, why wouldn't designers aim for that income? (After all, dentists make dentures, not just white veneers; Levi's makes 'relaxed fit' jeans, which is a discreet way of saying 'toneless muscle fit'. We are a niche market waiting to be exploited - I mean catered to - and there isn't any reason wonderful shoe styles can't be modified to suit our needs. Ms. Verin didn't seem to have an answer, which leaves me puzzled. What kind of capitalist society is this, anyway, where a perfectly good opportunity can go begging?

Jean and I have quite enjoyed looking at the current crop of very high heeled shoes. We know we can't wear them, but we appreciate well made shoes and creative designs, so we don't begrudge the designers or the wearers. Having said that, however, there really is a wearability factor in question in a number of the shoes out there. Case in point: These jeweled Armadillo shoes by the late, great Alexander McQueen resemble sculpture or exotic torture devices more than shoes for mortal women. They reportedly sport 12" heels. We've both seen our fair share of women who look quite out of their league when trying to negotiate streets with these very challenging structures on their feet. But in fact, how can any of us amateurs - mere retail buyers - be expected to walk the literal walk when even the masters - models who get paid to sashay down runways and who actually get coached in the sashaying arts - take spills in the four inch heels? Have a look at the video below, which depicts what one might call the Model Toddle. Doesn't this tell you that something's gotta give?



Let's go out with a bang. Another one we can't wear but gee, ain't it grand? (Ferragamo)

*With apologies to Francois Villon.