Monday, September 22, 2014

Faux pearls, immortal style.

Coco Chanel mixed them with the real thing, Jackie Kennedy wore them exclusively and Miriam Haskell used them to create some of her finest pieces.  Man made…fake…costume…faux… simulated…  Human kind has been imitating natural pearls for many hundreds of years. One source I read said that the Ancient Chinese employed a method for creating a pearl like bead in the first century AD. In the 1700s, M. Jacquin of Paris formulated a method for simulating pearls by lining hollow blown glass beads with an iridescent substance derived from fish scales. The beads were then filled with wax for weight and stability. In the later 1800s a man named Eduard Heusch obtained a patent for making imitation pearls. Heusch is the man behind the Majorica pearl. His company dedicated itself to perfecting the art of the simulated pearl and by the 1950s they had a break through in their process which enabled the creation of a bead that looked so much like a real pearl; it is said to have fooled jewelers.  The Majorica process mimics nature by coating glass beads with multiple layers of a lusterous pearlized laquer made from synthetic and natural ingredients.  Their formula is a highly protected secret and to this day the Majorica company is considered the finest in the trade. Just like real pearls, man made pearls come in a range of shades, most often the same as those found in nature although novelty colors are sometimes used as well. If you are interested in knowing more about the history of man-made pearls here is a great article to read.

Simulated pearls in a range of shades

Costume pearls are such an eternal accessory, I can’t imagine a jewelry box without a strand or two or more…. they come in an endless array of styles and have amazing versatility. You can wear a simple strand with jeans or a ball gown. Even the showier styles can be mixed up with day or evening outfits. Below are a few examples of different pearl looks. Keep in mind though, this is just the tip of the iceberg :)

The demure single strand in different lengths for a lady like touch.

The above strands are all from the 1950s. They are high quality from companies like Prestige and Deltah. One way to tell higher end costume pearls is that the thread is usually knotted between each bead and they often have sterling clasps.  Below I have listed the names for the different lengths of single strand pearls and their approximate range of measurements.

Collar 12”- 13”
Choker 14”- 16”
Princess 17”- 19”
Matinee 20”-26”
Opera 26”-36”
Rope 37” and over 

Below are two examples of graduated, multi-strand necklaces. These are iconic of the 1950s and 60s. Faux pearls were often mixed with other accent beads like Austrian crystals and filligree.

Classic Mid Century multi-strand necklaces with Austrian crystals

 Here we have a faux pearl choker by Carolee. In the 80s and early 90s this was a popular look, a bold clasp was often used and could be worn in front as a point of interest.
Early 90s Carolee choker styled in a chunky twist of strands using different size pearls.
Decorative clasp could be worn front or back

And finally, a 38” rope of 1970s Majorica pearls with original box.

Majorica, considered the finest simulated pearls money can buy

The vintage market is an excellent source for great pearl costume jewelry and there is such variety to choose from. You can find cheap and fun all the way up to investment pieces. The prices are generally quite affordable even for the very best. A new strand of Majorica pearls will run you in the hundreds while there are vintage sets available for less than one third the price. You can find faux pearls to fit any occasion, something to keep in mind the next time you are hankering to add to your jewelry stash. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to put together a Rockabilly or Swing look on a budget

 This past July we vended at a fabulous event, The Roaring Twenties Lawn Party, put on by a group called Boston Swing Central. It was a 20's themed picnic/dance party with live music and everyone there was dressed the part. The tunes were genuine Gatsby era and so were the dance routines but the clothing was more about the look. Some folks wore the real deal but many went for flapper inspired clothing and accessories from later eras like the 70's and 80's. Also quite a few wore brand new retro-look outfits. Genuine 1920's clothing is rare, expensive and usually quite fragile so it made perfect sense that so many of the guests opted for creative costuming rather than true vintage. In my booth I had both and I had a lot of fun helping my customers pick out new additions for their vintage event wardrobes.

Roaring Twenties Lawn Party, well dressed Guests  
At the end of this month I will be vending at another vintage themed celebration. This time it's The New England Shake-Up!. A three day Rockabilly bash with round the clock music including over a dozen live bands. We worked this one last year and my bones are still humming. I can't wait! 

Poster for the Shake-Up Show
Dress for last years Shake-Up was an eclectic mix of 1940's thru early 1960's with a dash of punk. A functioning barber shop was staged across from our booth where expert stylists, snipped and razored, rolled and teased... creating the most amazing hairstyles I've ever seen (for men and women). A great "do" was priority for many but the outfits were none too shabby either. The clothing was once again a blend of true vintage and vintage inspired.

Stylists at the 2013 New England Shake Up working their magic

1940's - 60's era clothing is more plentiful than 20's but iconic pieces are rare and prices can soar. There are retro companies who create vintage knock offs, the cheap ones make tacky costume-y stuff, I'm not a fan of that. However, there are a couple good companies who do a beautiful job, I especially like Blue Velvet Vintage. Their 1950's style dresses run around $150 and up and a good petticoat is around $59. Well worth it if your budget will allow but not everyone can swing that so for those of you who are living with tight purse strings I'm going to suggest a few penny pinching ideas.

Lets start with a 1950's look. I picked up this early 1990's dress at the thrift store for $10 and belted it with an 80s wide red belt, another thrift find ($4). I used a new petticoat to flair the skirt. Petticoats can be found new and used and range from $30-$60. The shoes and bag are actual 1950's and cost about $30 each on Etsy. If you prefer to spend less you can find 80's does 50's purses and shoes at the thrift, they should cost around $10 each. The red beads and button earrings are from the 70's and cost less than $10 for the set. So...depending on the accessories, the total for this entire outfit would be between around $100 and $150.

A 1950s look cobbled together from mixed era finds
Accessories can make the outfit. 

This next look is 1940's Swing. I started with a 1970's polka dot dress that was $50 at a vintage show. I added shoulder pads to give it better 40's style. After I cinched it with a $2 thrift store belt it looked a lot like the iconic Authentic War Time dresses run well over $100 in any vintage shop. Shoes are important for a 40's look but the real thing in a wearable size can cost a pretty penny. Instead I used these 1970s peep toe sling backs with polka dot bows valued at around $20. Silk flowers were a favorite accessory and were worn in the hair or as corsages. They are readily available for less than $10 at vintage stores and online. It's nice to add something authentic so I chose a genuine 40s Corde clutch with a lucite pull. These bags are undervalued right now and are selling between $35-$75 online and in vintage shops. If that's too steep you can look for an envelope clutch from the 70's or 80's, they are usually available for about $20. Finally I included a cute 70's does 40's circle brim hat  to be worn on the back of the head. Approximate price $35. Again depending on the accessories this complete outfit, head to toe, would cost between $100 and $150.

Creating Swing era style with a 70's does 40's dress
Genuine corde clutch is a small splurge but adds authenticity to the ensemble
These are just two examples, there are endless ways to pull off a vintage look on a budget. If you look at period magazines or watch old movies you will get a feel for the styles. Pay attention to the accessories they can make all the difference. Sometimes you will luck out and find the real deal for a steal, you gotta love it when that happens. Meanwhile get creative with later era fashions with a retro flavor. Most of all have fun!