Mar 9, 2015

The Elusive Leslie James, Hatter

Leslie James, California Milliner 

It's been fun hunting down Leslie James. I knew he or she? made rather wonderful hats. I've handled them occasionally over the years, and they were in a league with Caspar Davis, also of California, Sally Victor, Lilly Dache, et al. But as I searched, there was next to nothing. Perhaps it was a created name for a company. Then I found blurbs with photos and quotes, an finally the mystery became clearer when one newspaper used his full name. And even that turned out to be only partially correct!

So a little about Leslie James. He was a indeed a real person, a former film actor who was born Leslie George Masters May 25,1909 on a Utah farm, living there with his parents and siblings into the 1920s. He made the move to Hollywood in the very late 1920s. By 1930s, his father had did and he ha dtaken his other and 2 sisters to Los Angeles where they were residing together.  While at MGM, he claimed that Gilbert Adrian encouraged him to go into millinery design, which he did with success under the name Leslie James Masters, head of Leslie James, Inc. He seems to have bought out P.H. Luther Co. to start. As an Los Angeles based hat maker, he furnished head wear to stars such as Greta Garbo,Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. In business by 1937, he was selling nationwide by 1939, when he was referred to as a “famous house” in a Sarasota, FL newspaper. At that time, his hats were priced from $5 - $15, making them on the pricey side for the time. 

James eventually sold through a variety of department stores such as Gimbel's, Marshall Field and Joseph Horne.In the 1940 census, he is listed as the manager of a millinery store, with an income of $3600 in 1939 ($61,000 in today's money) and  that was a good living for the time. His sister Mary was the shop foreman, and his brother Fielding was a blocker in the business. James received a lot of news coverage as he made appearances at eastern department stores. Although based in Beverly Hills, he estimated that much of his business was was in the East. In 1946, prices had risen to $29.50 - $39.50. In 1964, prices were up to $30 - $300. He was still advertising and making department store visits as late as 1970. Leslie James died in April 21, 1991.
If you want to see lots of examples of his work, just search the Google newspaper archives - examples abound there.

now available at Past Perfect Vintage 

Jan 9, 2014

Tailored Ladies

Tailored Ladies
Now that the extreme cold weather has broken  just a bit and I cab return to my studio, I can write again. Still wearing 2 sweaters in here, but it's habitable. So let's take a moment and celebrate that mainstay of vintage fashion, the 1940s to early 1950s tailored garment. Women wore suits in those years. And not just professional working women. A suit was a basic wardrobe feature. With the right blouse, shoes and jewelry, not to mention hat, a suit could go to lunch, work, to church or to dinner.  When I started collecting in the early 1980s, padded shoulders were just coming in and so was the infamous 1980s Power Suit. So women who loved vintage and worked in offices started buying these suits up - they had the fitted waist, shoulders, and straighter skirts they were into. These stayed hot through the 1990s, then waned just a bit. But I tell you, they seem to be back. Is it 1940s nostalgia? Could be. Is it the appreciation of the workmanship? Possible. Or the high quality fabrics? Maybe. Or is it that this era from 1940 - 1955 just had great suits and women like them?
First up, two striped wool suits from the 40s, both from California stores. The stripe placement on the cream and taupe jacket is complex and works wonderfully. This takes quality cutting and construction skills to accomplish. High quality. The second is a bit more traditional, but I really like the grey and wine color combo and the nipped waist.
 1940s Ladies Striped Wool Jacket from Bullock’s SZ S
1940s Ladies Striped Wool Jacket in Grey and Red SZ S/M

And of course, the classic navy suit in gabardine. The top one has a detachable capelet. Both the jacket and the capelet carry a diagonal patch pocket with fold down flap. The silhouette here is slim and long. The second suit is one for the more curvy gal, with a shorter jacket and flared gore skirt - but again, has those dressmaker details I have come to appreciate so much.
Late 1940s Ladies Navy Blue Gab Caped Vintage Suit SZ S
1940s Ladies Navy Blue Gab Vintage Suit SZ M

Jan 3, 2014

Are Hats Dead? Really?

Are Hats Dead? Really?
People,(and by that I mean fashion commentators), have been crying "Hats are Dead!" for decades. In the sense that women no longer buy a hat for every dress or suit, I suppose so. Certainly that golden age of millinery that reigned from the 1920s to the 1950s is long, long over. I still see ladies estates form the 50s and 60s with more hats than you can imagine. No woman I know of still buys those kind of dress hats or in that quantity. Oh,there was a time in the 1980s when Princess Diana popularized hats again, and even I sported several felt hats in grad school. 
But it's not that hats are gone, they are just different. There are still Sunday church hats, baseball caps, fascinators, cold weather hats, sun hats, hipster ethnic hats, stocking caps and that once a year festival of whimsy and craziness  known as the Kentucky Derby Hat.
So it's different now, as it should be. We aren't as formal. That's fine. I get it. Women don't want to wear hats the way they used to. And yet.......... I just added 6 hats to Past Perfect Vintage, and 3 sold instantly. And I do mean the very next day. This makes me happy - not just for the sales, but that there are still women who like a great hat! 
Here are my two simple questions: Do you wear hats? What kind? 
And now to encourage a bit of hattitude, here they are:  
1920s Vintage Black Velvet and Satin Cloche Hat with Wide Brim
Early 1930s Vintage Pink Wool Felt NRA Hat and Late 1930s Brown Fur Felt Fedora Hat
1940s Slate Blue Felt Fedora Style Hat and 1930s - 40s Fedora Style Panama Hat 
 1950s Golden Yellow Straw Hat
all can be seen at Past Perfect Vintage