A Ration of Fashion’s Passion

This afternoon mother and I took a toddle back in time:  we went to the old Bullocks Wilshire, located in the bowels of downtown Los Angeles.  It was a very deluxe department store in its time (built in 1929), attracting  entertainment's aristos to its silhouette of rose stone and copper highlights (now dimmed to a no less striking turqoise).

The reason why we decided to visit this landmark, was a charming idea the  Art Deco Society of Los Angeles had come up with:  to hold a vintage fashion show in Bullock's Louis XVI salon, (a little barren now, but still very grand).  I certainly wasn't going to pass a thing up like that and I knew that mother – who used to shop there and have lunch there with her mother – would be just as keen.

So.  I dolled myself up; the style I chose was a suit that fell into a sort of no-man's land between the 1940's and 1950's, before Dior came up with his 'New Look', featuring a nipped in waist which would have challenged Camille Clifford and a full, floofy skirt.

But I digress.

The show itself was delicious and frothy.  Each item of clothing was announced and described ("…and this little striped cap will take this dress from going to tea, to 'what are you thinking?'"  "Our model Sharlene might not have starred with Clark Gable but this gown certainly could have!") by a petite girl in a black and silver-spangled day dress and a strawberry blonde bob.

We admired silks, satins, brocades, taffeta, lace, corsets, petticoats and embroideries.  We saw dresses designed by Edith Head, Adrian and Irene.  We craned our necks to get better looks at gowns, lingerie, tennis dresses, bathing suits (a green one had a kicky little pleated skirt) and wedding dresses.  Many of the styles mother remembered wearing herself. 

The models were like saplings, and the clothes they displayed suited them well.  Except…well, mother – as is her wont – noticed this first:  they couldn't…quite…fill the tops out.  Some of the halter dresses featured some unfortunate upper sagging.  They posed, flirted, sometimes came close to dancing:  they were clearly having great fun.

And as I mentioned embroidery earlier, that reminds me:  some of the girls were too.  No problem, but it was still a little disconcerting to see a pair of tatted devil's wings when a girl slipped off a pink dressing gown to display a backless night dress.

Some of these drool-worthy items were for sale as well:

I sometimes wonder about people who work with societies like this, these girls who style their hair in the difficult shapes of the '40's, the guys in their hand-painted ties and two-toned shoes…is this their entire life?  Is this the face they present to the public?  Do they wake up in the mornings, with a mindset that is 60 years old? How do they talk?  Do they say 'my dear' alot?  Are they languid?  

Or on Mondays does the carriage change back into a pumpkin?

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13 responses to “A Ration of Fashion’s Passion

  1. How lovely! I love vintage clothing shows. Did you buy anything?

  2. They were too pricey for the likes of me, BrownA. I had my eye on a two-piece skirt/middrift set from the 1940's – black and white stripes with red accents. $225…really not unreasonable, but too much for me to throw around.

  3. The pictures and clothes are wonderful and what sweet memories for your mother. No girdles or corsets for me thanks. No high heels either. lol

  4. JINX, Aubs–see my post of yesterday! This must have been great fun and a little weird.

  5. "Are they languid?" Awesome post! And such fun for you two together. I'm envious.

  6. I love Bullock's Wishire. Kevin and I saw a police bust right on the corner of Vermont and Wilshire. A guy juped out of a cardboard box and started shooting everything in sight. Marlene Dietrich first wore pants in Bullock's Wilshire and the rest is history. The tea room there was quite the hot spot for many years. I think it was converted to a law library a few years back. We lived in Los Feliz so I passed by it every day on my way to and from work.

  7. Bullock's Wilshire is now home to the Southwestern Law School. The front display windows are now empty, and through them you can see desks, lamps and books.
    The salon has been kept intact for events such as yesterday's. We used the back entrance, (those big, heavy doors!) which empties into the parking lot. It's a fine place now – it must have been something in the salad days.

  8. What a lovely day! Thanks for describing it so well. And I must say that the part I most envy is that you could share such a happy time with your mother – that, to me, is the best part!

  9. wow…i would have loved to be there!

  10. I often think I should have lived way back when – not that you would think that to look at me or hear me, but it's a little hidden item on my never-to-happen wish list

  11. Will you be at the annual fest on the Queen Mary? I'm going to try to attend again this year (missed last year – despite living only 3 miles away). After learning that my newsletters have been autofiltered as spam (thanks Yahoo), I saw that ADSLA just put out a call for papers.

  12. It's really so awfully tempting…I'll have to start monitoring their site much more closely. You've gone before? Tell! Tell!

  13. Just once. It was my intro to the existence of the ADSLA. The event was much smaller than I expected – one ballroom of the ship was converted for vendors (mainly clothing & home decor. Prices were so-so. I bought a lovely little smoking table).
    They had several good activities I wanted to enjoy – a lecture on art deco fashion, a showing of TopHat (in the ship's original movie room), a walking art deco tour of Long Beach – but all were taking place at the exact same time (despite a 3 day event… it takes place over Labor Day weekend). I ended up at the fashion lecture – which was quite interesting.
    Turn out was very low. Most people were in fashions… making me insanely jealous as I have none. My friend and I decided to have drinks in the main bar and were treated to sights of some AWESOME outfits as people were preparing for the big dinner party in the Grand Salon that night.
    Sorry – can't tell you much more.
    fyi: If you ever find yourself in San Pedro, on 6th street there is a vintage goods shop called Threads In Time – just a few doors down from the Warner Grand Theater (a historic art deco landmark). They have an OUTSTANDING collection of clothing, hats, and accessories from roughly the 20s to the 70s. Prices are fair (they know what they have and charge accordingly – but not excessively). But on of their secrets is that they also have a seamstress for hire who will make ANYTHING for you from pattern – or even a simple photo of what you want. I keep meaning to have something made but it's too far down my list of priorities.

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