Friday, November 25, 2011

What did our grandmothers covet on Black Friday?

Women crowding around a nylon stocking display at Gimbel's Department Store, 1947
Photo by Same Shere from LIFE Photo Archive
I am staying far, far away from any Black Friday madness today, but, I did wonder what our grandmothers were into as far as fashion decades ago in the days before Black Fridays dominated our Thanksgiving weekend (Black Friday dates back to Philadelphia circa the 1960's, read more here).  So here's a look at some of the most influential fashion designers and fashion looks of the 30's, 40's and 50's.  Classic is one way of putting it because frankly I would not mind wearing any of these pieces now and good thing I can from the comfort of my own home and the beauty that is vintage Etsy.

Influential Fashion Designers: Madeleine Vionnet, Elsa Schiaparelli
Popular Looks: exaggerated shoulders, pants and slacks for women, more widespread use of zippers and man-made fibers, bias-cut dresses, capelets and bolero jackets
Hollywood Fashion Icons: Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Carole Lombard
Carole Lombard, 1938 Photo by Eisenstaedt from LIFE Photo Archive

Influential Fashion Designers:  Vera Maxwell, Bonnie Cashin, Christian Dior
Popular Looks: Knee-length, flared, straight and pleated skirts, thick and low heels, subdued colors, sweaters, accessorizing with hats, purses and gloves, structured undergarments
Hollywood Fashion Icons: Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh
Ingrid Bergman, 1944 Photo by John Florea from LIFE Photo Archive
Influential Fashion Designers:  Hubert de Givenchy, William Travilla, Cristobal Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain
Popular Looks: Full circle skirts, saddle shoes, Dior's "new look" featuring a feminine silhouette of longer skirts, a fitted waist and soft rounded shoulders, narrow pants and shorts, petticoats, stiletto heels
Hollywood Fashion Icons: Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe, 1953 Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt from LIFE Photo Archive

Friday, November 18, 2011

Movie Review: BUtterfield 8, 1960

Elizabeth Taylor after winning the Oscar in April, 1961
Photo by Grey Villet from LIFE Photo Archive

This is one of my favorite Elizabeth Taylor movies (even though it was NOT one of her favorites).  She won an Oscar for her performance and she wears another iconic slip dress (for the other one, see my previous post on iconic movie fashion).  You could say this was another story similar to Breakfast at Tiffany's since we are talking about a call girl here, but this movie has a completely different tone and Elizabeth Taylor is no Holly Golightly.  She plays Gloria Wandrous, a woman about town who doesn't take $#*&! from nobody.  She is independent for that time, driving her own car, making a career out of modeling clothes at hot spots around town, and sleeping with wealthy men (although this is not said right out at first, until Gloria herself confronts her mother about it and she and her lover argue about it).  Gloria receives calls from Butterfield 8, which was the phone code for New York's upper east side at the time.  These calls are usually from her beaus and her current one is Wes, a married man who both intrigues her and infuriates her.  She's also friendly with Steve, a down and out composer who has sincere feelings for Gloria but also has a girlfriend who is the complete opposite of sultry and slinky Gloria.  After having spent a night with Wes but being insulted in the morning upon discovering a wad of cash on a table and his wife's luxurious fur coats in the closet, Gloria seeks comfort in Steve.  He disapproves of how she is leading her life and the disapproval continues when Gloria pays a visit to her mom (lying to her about where she spent the night).  Pretty soon Gloria and Wes are embroiled in a passionate affair, but Gloria can't let go of her own self-identity as an unworthy woman (in the eyes of society).  She tells Steve of a sordid story that happened when she was only thirteen years old and of how she feels ashamed not because of what happened but because she enjoyed it.  In the morning Steve proposes to his long time girlfriend.  Gloria decides she needs a fresh start and leaves for Boston, but her past is not far behind and tragedy unfolds.  

The movie is based on the book by John O'Hara, published in 1935.  Elizabeth Taylor was 28 at the time of filming and had just married Eddie Fisher after a very public affair and his divorce from Debbie Reynolds.  This was part of the reason Taylor admonished the film.  Both her and Fisher disliked that the public was referring to her as a home wrecker and she was playing one in the movie.  They called the movie "Butterball Four" for laughs.  Another reason Elizabeth Taylor disliked the movie was because she was basically forced to complete it under her contract with MGM.  She wanted to leave the studio in order to film Cleopatra with 20th Century Fox, but was denied until she completed BUtterfield 8.  Frankly I'm glad she did.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

Mira, 2006; 528 pages; ISBN  0778325318
My Goodreads Rating: 4 stars

This was an enjoyable easy read that captures the idea of family and the difficult choices you make that can re-shape your entire life.  CeeCee Wilkes made a difficult decision when she was very young and now that she is older she has to face her past in order to deal with the repercussions that have only now surfaced.  I love books that have semi-salacious back stories, and this is one of them.  I'll be the first to admit that I am an avid watcher of the I.D. channel (Investigation Discovery), so I love a good mystery and crime story - 48 Hours, and Dateline are two of my favorite shows.  Now this book isn't a mystery per se, but it does have a great crime story in the background that is crucial to the entire plot.  

When CeeCee Wilkes was a young girl she fell in love with the intelligent and charismatic Timothy Gleason (I also found him to be a bit creepy).  But Gleason isn't all that he appears.  He has a plan that involves a politician and his damaged sister.  After CeeCee and Timothy get close, he draws her into his plan and she agrees reluctantly only after he assures her that nothing can go wrong.  But sadly, everything does go wrong and in the process CeeCee is forced to make a very tough decision.  

Fast forward years later to CeeCee's daughter Cory who is now expecting a baby and is in the middle of a fight with her boyfriend and the father of her unborn baby.  It is then that CeeCee must face her past when Timothy Gleason comes back into her life.

I don't want to reveal too much of the plot since that is one of the best parts of this novel, but I also have to say that I liked the characters in the story too, they aren't cookie cutter personalities - they are much more complex and flawed, which makes them relatable to the reader.  I'm interested in reading more from this author, especially the just released The Midwife's Confession, which is already on my to read list.  I highly recommend this book for a great escape that isn't frothy or one-dimensional.

More by Diane Chamberlain:

Photo from website

Friday, November 4, 2011

Read a Book, Sip a Cocktail No. 11

Photo from
For this month's pairing I'm going back to my favorite - vodka.  In keeping with the title of the book, The Blood of Flowers, I created a blood orange martini using vodka, blood orange syrup, pomegranate juice and some orange bitters.  I also added a tiny splash of fresh grapefruit to give it a little bit more of that sweet bitterness.  So far I think this is my favorite cocktail based on looks alone - I almost didn't want to drink it.  Almost.  Then I discovered it is actually my favorite cocktail of this year based on taste as well.  As for the story of our nameless protagonist in The Blood of Flowers, I really enjoyed this look into rug making, seeking prestige, learning a trade, and ultimately doing something that you love no matter what the sacrifice (including never really being able to take credit for it).  I highly recommend the book for anyone who enjoyed reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant or Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji.  Since the protagonist in the novel is nameless, I'm not naming this cocktail either.
The deep, blood red color of this martini is amazing to look at and even better going down
The Cocktail with No Name
2 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Blood orange syrup (I used Torani)
3 oz. Pomegranate juice (I used Pom light)
Dash of orange bitters
Granulated sugar and grapefruit rinds, for garnish*
How to:  In a cocktail shaker mix ice, vodka, syrup, juice and bitters.  Shake for at least 30 seconds.  Strain into a chilled martini glass that has been rimmed with sugar and grapefruit rinds.  *Make your own rimming sugar using fresh grapefruit rinds and some granulated sugar (or raw sugar).

The fresh rimming sugar - a perfect combo of sweet and sour
The first of two that I enjoyed. Cheers!