DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Apr 17 2015

The Crowning Touch

by Dea Anne M

There was a time in this country when adults, both men and women, were 44.105.26_view3 0003considered not completely dressed for certain situations unless he or she was wearing a hat. Certainly, shopping and working in the city was one of these situations (and, for women, gloves were also an absolute necessity). Even college students were expected to wear hats at schools in urban areas. Church definitely required the wearing of hats and there were even special “cocktail” hats for women to wear to evening parties. The regular wearing of hats became outmoded during the 1960’s and never really took hold again. For good or ill, unless a hat is part of a work uniform or the occasional accessory worn for fun, hats are simply not a significant part of our sartorial lives. Although I would never advocate for the dressreturn of stringent dress codes, I feel that maybe we lost an opportunity for bringing beauty into our lives when we abandoned hats. And I’m not alone in this opinion. As Dr. Linda Przybyszewski points out in her book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (a current favorite of mine!), a received piece of wisdom from the pre-sixties dress experts was that a hat worked to bring the eye of the observer up to a woman’s face–the true communicator of her unique personality and spirit. “A well-chosen hat can flatter any face,” says Dr. Przybyszewski, and this is true. If you look at vintage photographs, it’s astonishing how well hats of all styles can frame a woman’s (or a man’s) face.

So what has changed? My theory is that because hats–apart from ball caps–aren’t worn anymore on a regular basis, it’s difficult for many of us to wear one without feeling as though we are wearing a costume. Wearing a hat well, and in a confident manner, requires a certain “swagger.” For example, Cookie Lyon–the character that Taraji Henson plays on Fox TV’s Empire–has swagger to spare, and the hats that she wears come off as essential parts of her beautiful (and expensive!) ensembles rather than as cartoonish or awkward.

Of course, the place where hats can still rule the day is church–and nowhere crownsmore so than those churches that are traditionally and predominantly African-American. Hats are an indispensable part of the Sunday ensembles of many of the women who attend the churches. As Craig Marberry, one of the co-creators (along with Michael Cunningham) of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, writes in his introduction: “These captivating hats are not mere fashion accessories. Neither, despite their biblical roots, are they solely religious headgear. Church hats are a peculiar convergence of faith and fashion that keeps the Sabbath both holy and glamorous.” This book is well worth checking out for its wonderful black and white portraits of women in their hats. Each woman gives a short account of her own life in hats, and these stories are as engaging as the pictures. My favorites are elegant Ollie McDowell wearing her black portrait hat and beautiful Sandra Wright Wallington in her feather-trimmed and tiger-printed platter chapeau.

Are you interested in hats and their history? If so, check out The Hat: Trends and Traditions by Madeline Ginsburg. The book goes up only to the late 1980’s but it is an otherwise thorough history of the hat and its permutations–from the vintagehelmets and hair nets of Bronze Age Europe, to the extravagant, ornately trimmed bonnets and top hats of the early nineteenth century, to the elegant men’s trilby hat of the 1950’s. And for some really delicious looking women’s hats, look no further than Vintage Fashion Complete: Women’s Style in the Twentieth Century by Nicky Albrechtsen. This gorgeous, heavy volume, lavishly illustrated with color photographs, takes you through the decades of vintage from the 1920’s and beyond. The chapter on hats provides particularly stunning examples of the best of the milliner’s art. I particularly like the 60’s helmet made of bright green feathers that looks exactly like a Christmas tree and the 1930’s floral fantasies of Elsa Schiaparelli. Hat aficionado or no, this book is an absolute must for any lover of vintage fashion.

One of the most celebrated, and prolific, of American milliners was Sally Victor. Her pretty (sometimes wacky) hats were popular from the mid-1930’s through the late 1960’s. Here’s a link to the extensive collection of Sally Victor hats owned by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For an example of her work, see the top of this post.

Do wear hats or wish you could? What is your hat style preference?


Mar 6 2014

Big night

by Dea Anne M

Made for Each Other by Bronwyn CosgraveWho doesn’t love the Academy Awards? I sure do. Each year, I eagerly await the  chance to experience once more the lavish spectacle, the breathless anticipation, the heartfelt acceptance speeches…

Ha, ha…just kidding! I watch it for the clothes. Truthfully, in recent years, I don’t watch the show at all (I just can’t stay up that late). Without fail though, I check the internet in the days following to see who wore what. I don’t care much for the snarkier “What was she thinking?” pictorials and usually ignore those, but I am drawn like the proverbial moth to the flame of each year’s fashion triumphs.

I know I’m not alone in my love for awards show fashion and if you share my interest and want to delve more deeply, DCPL has resources for you.

The Complete Book of Oscar Fashion: variety’s 75 years of glamour on the red carpet by Reeve Chace is as complete a compendium as one could wish of the subject (at least up to 2003). Page after page of snappily captioned photographs capture Oscar’s stellar fashion moments as well as some of the more startling (though no less famous) outfits.

Made for Each Other: fashion and the Academy Awards by Bronwyn Crosgrave is a detailed and well-illustrated account of Oscar fashion starting with the ceremony’s inception in 1929. It might be fair to say that this book gives us the “story behind the dress”, from the blue bias-cut gown Mary Pickford wore in 1929 to Nicole Kidman’s 1997 embroidered chartreuse  frock. Cosgrave devotes a major portion of the book to designer/ actress partnerships such as Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn, Edith Head and Grace Kelly, and Bob Mackie and Cher. Fascinating stuff!

Speaking of Edith Head, you might enjoy David Chierichetti’s Edith Head: the life and times of Hollywood’s celebrated costume designer. Arguably one of Hollywood’s most gifted costume designers, Head’s career spanned more than 50 years. She dressed dozens of actresses in as many classic films including:

Click the actresses names above to see fabulous examples of Head’s work!

Here’s a fun  infographic of every dress worn by every Best Actress winner from 1929 to 2013. You will note that some years are missing and these indicate years that the winning actress did not attend the awards ceremony. My favorites include Vivian Leigh’s simple floral dress from 1940, the blue satin gown worn by Grace Kelly in 1955 (designed by Edith Head!), the black and white vintage Valentino that Julia Roberts wore in 2001, and Reese Witherspoon’s Dior gown from 2006.

Of course, I realize that I’ve only touched on women’s fashion in this post. Part of that, I suppose, has to do with a definite media bias. After all, women’s formal fashion tends to allow a greater variation in color and style than that of men.  From time to time, a brave actor attempts his own bit of sartorial rebellion—usually to mixed responses.  Consider this year’s winning actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in their matching white jackets. Some are saying yea and some nay. Call me old fashioned,  but I think that nothing beats the classic black tuxedo for elegance and style.

What are your favorite Oscar fashions?


Apr 12 2013

If I Had My Druthers

by Veronica W

The temperature hit 81 degrees the other day—at least according to my car’s thermometer. An even better gauge, however, was the amount of flesh exposed by strolling pedestrians. The folks meandering along, enjoying the noon day sun, were obviously more organized than I. They were able to go from fur-trimmed, hooded coats to the briefest of shorts, all on a moment’s notice. I, on the other hand, had to send a request form (in triplicate) down to the garage so that my “summer” clothes could be hauled out and up the stairs.  I love the changing seasons but I do not love changing wardrobes to accommodate them. As I grumbled to myself, while sifting through boxes and zippered bags, I thought how nice it would be if I could always wear the faded, ratty old sweatshirt and patched, cotton, used-to-have-a-drawstring-Fancy-Nancy-Collectionbut-it-broke-off-inside-the-waistband pants I had on.  At the time I actually felt like I would if I could.

I came across a quote recently, which stated “Style is what you wear when no one’s watching.”  Hmmm. One of my favorite characters in children’s literature is Fancy Nancy, who does for fashion what Junie B. Jones does for the English language; they display tremendous individual style. For some reason we think it’s cute to see a child in red fire fighter’s boots, a pink tutu and a bright yellow Daffy Duck tee shirt; an adult, no so much. At work we must be in office attire or at least business casual. At home we must be company ready. If you need some help finding your personal style, check out Style Clinic: How to Look Fabulous All the Time, At Any Age, For Any Occasion or The Truth About Style, by Stacy London, co-host of TLC’s “What Not  to Wear.”

However, if clothing to you is simply elemental covering, needed because you have no fur, then what would you like to wear?  Better still, if I set aside good manners and dropped in on you unexpectedly in the middle of the day, what “stylish” attire would you have on?  Family friendly comments, please. (smile)


Mar 20 2013

Sew it up!

by Dea Anne M

During the summers, up until I turned 14 and my family moved to south Georgia, my brother and I spent most of our school vacation in the custody of our grandparents. Of course, I would never have thought of it in such terms up until the year I turned 12. Daydreaming and sullen by turns, I wanted to spend all my time either reading (and being left alone) or being taken to the mall. It couldn’t have been fun or easy for my grandmother to have me around the house all day every day for the 2 months I was there and I am impressed in retrospect by how cheerfully she put up with my adolescent nonsense. My grandmother was an amazing seamstress who made me many wonderful outfits, and that summer she offered to teach me to sew.

“Come on, honey. It’ll be fun!”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Thanks anyway.”

Oh the years that I regretted that youthful choice! Never say never though. Recently, I acquired a sewing machine and I am determined now to finally learn how to sew. There are numerous places near where I live that offer lessons and that is certainly an option that I’d like to pursue but some self teaching is certainly in order as well. Luckily for me, and you too if you want to learn, DCPL has plenty of resources to help.chic

It makes sense that simple projects are a good way to start learning the basics. Improv Sewing: 101 fast, fun, and fearless projects by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut provides a number of fun looking projects, some promising to be finished in less than a day. Projects include dresses, shirts, and skirts, none of which require pattern cutting skills, as well as scarves, pillows, curtains and more, many embellished with fun stitching. Chic On a Shoestring: simple to sew vintage-style accessories by Mary Jane Baxter provides plenty of inspiration for simple yet original projects with a particular emphasis on using “upcycled” material.

Once you’re ready to move on to more advanced projects, you might want to check out Sweat Shop Paris: lessons  from a sewing cafe by Martena Duss. The Paris Sweat Shop was (it closed last summer) a crafting space/cafe set up to provide space and equipment for DIYers to produce alternatives to store-bought clothing and its often accompanying questionable labor practices. You’ll find herethreads ideas for really unique and fun garments. If you are ready to take a bold step forward,  Teach Yourself Visually: Fashion Sewing by Carole Ann Camp will provide detailed instruction in all aspects of garment construction from pleats, to darts, to facings.

Finally, for a complete sewing reference book, you could hardly do better than Threads Sewing Guide: a complete reference from America’s best-loved sewing  magazine edited by Carol Fresia.

I realize that I’ve highlighted here resources devoted primarily to sewing items of apparel and that’s only because that’s where my immediate sewing interests lie. Do know that there’s a wealth of material at DCPL to assist you in home decor projects and to lead you through the wonderful world of quilting.

How about you? Are you a sewer or would you like to learn? Where would you love to direct your sewing energies: quilting or clothes?


Mar 6 2013

Threads of History

by Dea Anne M

Fifty Years of FashionPeople who haven’t known me very long are sometimes surprised to learn of my deep and abiding interest in clothes and fashion design. Day to day, I wear what basically amounts to a type of uniform—cardigan sweaters and pullover tops in various colors paired with dark trousers. It’s a system that works well for me and it makes rushed mornings a little easier since everything mixes with everything else. In my leisure time however I’m a devoted fan of fashion magazines and personal style blogs. What really fascinates me though is fashion history. Louis XIV, a fashionable monarch if ever there was one, famously said “Fashion is a mirror.” a statement with which I would have to agree. Think of the safety pins and black leather of 70’s punk culture or the uniform style of Communist China as examples of the way dress can reflect cultural and ideological change. As designer Katherine Hamnett has said, “Clothes create a wordless means of communication that we all understand.”

A fun blog that I’ve recently discovered is Threaded, Smithsonian magazine’s source for sartorial history. Here you’ll find well-written analysis of such fashion phenomena as the rise of the flapper in the 1920’s, sequins, and James Bond’s dinner jackets. Another very worthwhile site is The Fashion Historian. Katy Werlin, the historian, is a very engaging writer with an impressive depth of academic knowledge about clothing design and history. Her post on the Little Black Dress is worth a look just by itself. Also, very worthwhile is Wearing History. Blog mistress Lauren is a witty observer of fashion’s changing face. She’s also an incredibly talented seamstress with a taste for vintage fashion. Check out her re-creation of a blue corset from an 1877 Manet painting or the jacket based on an 1899 pattern and prepare for awe and amazement. Finally, I must mention Of Another Fashion. Its subtitle is “An alternative archive of the not-quite-hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color.” This wonderful digital history features photographs (often of the donors’ mothers or grandmothers) of women and the clothes they wore. It is a gorgeous and fascinating look into the role fashion has played in the lives of American women of color. Don’t miss the photograph of Lucille Baldwin Brown. She was the first African-American librarian in Tallahassee, Florida and, judging by the photograph, possessed impeccable style. More proof that librarians are awesome!

Do you too enjoy the historical aspects of fashion? If so, DCPL has resources to help you indulge and learn.

Fifty Years of Fashion: new look to now by Valerie Steele is a must for any devoted student of clothing design. Steele is the current director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and is a widely respected historian of fashion. The book appeared in 2000, so the most recent designers are not featured, but you will still gain a lot of great knowledge. Also by Steele are Paris Fashion: a cultural history and Women of Fashion: twentieth-century designers

gunnMost of us know Tim Gunn from Project Runway but he also served on the faculty at Parsons The New School for Design for many years and was the chair for the school’s department of fashion design. His book Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: the fascinating history of everything in your closet is a fun, very readable account of the antecedents of every sort of garment that we wear today. From jeans, to belts, to gloves, Gunn illuminates clothing history with his trademark wit and strong opinions (he really hates capri pants!).

styleA few more notables resources are Fashion by Christopher Breward and A Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank.

Finally, I will mention a book that is a personal favorite of mine The Power of Style: the women who defined the art of living well by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins. Not a history of fashion per se, it is nonetheless an entertaining collection of profiles of 14 women who embodied the very meaning of style throughout the 20th century. Some of the subjects will be familiar to most of us: Jacqueline Kennedy, Coco Channel, the Duchess of Windsor but others will be less known such as Rita Lydig, Daisy Fellowes, and Mona Bismarck. In any case, all these women led fascinating lives and were living embodiments that the quality of “style” goes far beyond wearing the latest designer. Highly recommended!


Aug 1 2012

One, Two, Buckle My(Jimmy)Choo

by Veronica W

With the almost apocalyptic heat we’re experiencing, people are wearing as little as they can get away with and that goes for on their feet as well.  While shopping recently, I saw an entire wall of fancy flip flops.  I am not a big flip flop fan but I admit shoe shopping calls to me. Sometimes I imagine the universal  question is not “Why am I here?” but “Where is the closest DSW?”

I will not claim gender rights to this love of leather, canvas, rubber, plastic and various other “man made uppers.” I’ve known men who have as much passion as women when it comes to their footwear – just witness the almost surreal debacle in stores last year over the newest Air Jordans.  The ensuing fights were equal opportunity lunacy.

From slippers to the most expensive shoes (reportedly the pictured pair of solid gold, high heel sandals, encrusted with 30 carats worth of diamonds, with a price tag of $228, 452), we love our footwear.  Almost as much as buying them, we love to read about them and look at pictures of them. I hear shoe catalogs are grabbed out of the mailbox faster than copies of  Time, People or O.

The library knows what people like to read and can offer more books about shoes than there is room to list them. For example, if you want to know the history of shoes, check out Where Will This Shoe Take You? : A Walk Through the History of Footwear or Hot Shoes: 100 Years of Sneakers from Start to Finish. If you are Imelda Marcos and think some of  those 1,000 plus pairs you have in your closet are becoming outdated, try A Closet Full of Shoes: Simple Ways to Make Them Chic. For some fun fiction, pick up Shoe Addicts Anonymous, which is also being made into a movie with Halle Berry. My personal favorite (title) is Don’t Make Me Choose Between You and My Shoes.

The perceived importance of shoes can differ from country to country, culture to culture. Most of us go shoe shopping with style, color and perhaps price in mind. However in some  countries, where going barefoot is the norm because of poverty, shoes are less about style and more about warmth, protection and possible survival. Organizations such as Shoes for Humanity, Soles4Souls and the Barefoot Kids Foundation collect “gently used” shoes to distribute to those in need.

To interject a touch of whimsy, I ask you,  how would the prince have found Cinderella without the glass slipper? Wouldn’t Dorothy still be languishing in Oz if she hadn’t grabbed those ruby shoes?  Footwear  plays a big role in fairy tales and fantasy, as evidenced by the stories of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Puss in Boots, The Shoemaker and the Elves—as well as the aforementioned Wizard of Oz and Cinderella.

Take a look in your closet. How many pairs of shoes do you have (or will admit to having)? Someone said if you have more than three pairs – one for work, one for play and one for “dress-up” – then you have too many.  What say you? How important—or unimportant—is what you wear on your feet?


Mar 9 2011

The Passing of Cupcakes

by Veronica W

I know all about fashion trends: bell bottom pants, mini skirts, kitten heels, shoulder pads, skinny jeans, big pocketbooks, ankle bracelets, french manicures and black nail polish—the list goes on. What I didn’t know is that some foods fade in and out as well. Imagine my amazement (actually more like amusement) when I  read recently that cupcakes were popular in 2010 but 2011 will be the year for pies. After reading that, of course, the (re)search was on!

According to “knowledgeable sources,”  there will be a number of new culinary trends in the new year.  For those folk who would prefer to be caught naked and starving rather than wearing  or eating last year’s anything,  here are some of the “Top Ten Foods to Watch in 2011.”

  • Sweet and savory small pies (remember, they’re the new cupcake)
  • Nutmeg  (reportedly has aphrodisiac qualities)
  • Moonshine (has gone legit- you can break out your still)                 
  • Gourmet Ice Pops (bacon, peanut butter, mango chile—Yummy.  Not)
  • Grits (The South is finally vindicated!)
  • Sweet Potatoes (will become the new, better-for-you french fry)
  • Fin fish (head, tails, eyes)
  • Cupuacu fruit ( the next “super” fruit)
  • Beans (no news there)

This same source says moving out of your food comfort zone (eating things you wouldn’t touch before), canning or “putting up” otherwise perishable foods (fighting with those pesky mason jar lids) and rediscovering the butcher, the baker and the cheese maker, will be popular as well.

Although the library does not have a lot of materials on trends (perhaps because by definition they are so short- lived), if you want to explore this subject for yourself, feel free to visit “the source.”   Also check out Silence Dogood’s report on  2011 food trends  in the Poor Richard’s Almanac, if you want a good laugh.

Every Tuesday evening, at nine o’clock, Cupcake Wars is aired on the Food Network.  Every Tuesday evening, at nine o’clock , I am sitting in place to watch it.  This puzzles me because actually, I like pies better than cupcakes. They’re juicer. I feel pretty good about my preference  however, because if “the sources” are right, finally I will be considered trendy.


Three Silhouetted Long Haired Women Wearing Colorful And Fashionable Clothes And Taking Long Strides While Shopping In A MallI know that there is still time before January 1, but I’ve been contemplating my goals and aspirations for the New Year. There are lots of things I’d like to accomplish–furnishing and decorating my apartment (dare to dream!), making a final decision about librarian’s school, learning to sew, etc.–but in an effort to not overwhelm myself I’ve decided to start small. It’s a fairly light-hearted goal but it’s a starting point.

I’m going to start dressing better.

It’s silly but maybe not, really. I’ve been a grown-up now for at least 10 years (even though no one over the age of 25 should ever use the words “grown-up”) so perhaps it’s time I started dressing like one. I’ve been perusing the fashion magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair and Elle for ideas (stop by DCPL to check them out if your budget’s tight–also see Amanda’s blog post!). All of this fashion research leaves me wondering what it would be like to dress like some sort of professional person. I bet it would be awesome!

If you’re looking for style inspiration there are still other options besides the aforementioned overpriced, advertorial-heavy “fashion books” (seriously, don’t buy them unless you like using money as confetti!) . Look no further than the Library for great books on dressing well, looking classy and celebrating life.

Some intriguing titles here at DCPL include:

The Science of Sexy by Bradley Bayou (Gotham): Here is an enjoyable book by a stylist to the stars (Salma Hayek! Oprah Winfrey! Eva Longoria!). He offers useful tips on how to make the most of your figure and body type.

Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding The Style That’s Right For Your Body by Stacy London & Clinton Kelly (Three Rivers Press): The hosts of TLC’s What Not To Wear offer a well-illustrated, light-hearted and surprisingly thorough how-to guide for style-impaired women of all sizes. One minor quip I had with this book, however, is the authors’ overuse of the words “curvy” and “extra curvy” to describe women of average size and up. Is “full-figured” politically incorrect now?

Style is Not A Size: Looking and Feeling Great In The Body You Have by Hara Estroff Marano (Bantam Books): Initially I was put off by the cover model of this book: beautiful but decked out in a Bill Cosby sweater, baggy red knit pants & moderate-to-severe 80s makeup and accessories. But this book offers great insight into the definition of style vs. fashion. It’s a good reminder that style has nothing to do with the number on the clothes tag. You may have to tussle for this one, though: there are only 2 copies of it in the system.

The Beauty of Color by Iman (Putnam): Gorgeous, glamorous Iman’s book offers great illustrations and beauty tips on cosmetics and color, which is great for the makeup-phobic such as myself.

Off The Cuff: The Essential Style Guide for Men and The Women Who Love Them by Carson Kressley (Dutton): Here’s a little something for the men in search of style or for women who need a little reinforcement when saying something like “Honey, those pants are too baggy.” Everyone from a Bravo TV show should write a style book! I haven’t read Tim Gunn’s book yet but the Library has it for anyone who’s interested.

What's Your Body Type?The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That's Right for Your BodyFront Cover