24 Feb 2014

Schiaparelli's 1936 wardrobe plan

"If you own a fairly large variety of cheap clothes and change them a dozen times a day, you will never appear chic; cheapness is always apparent."
I hate when this happens but last year I accidentally deleted a complete post with text and a bunch of pictures I've prepared!!! It took hours to find and edit the best pictures and to write the text, but with one mistake it was all gone. Finally I had the time to prepare a new version, hope you like it!

As I wrote here fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli was often asked to contribute to fashion articles in the 30's. In a 1936 magazine interview she advised on building a basic wardrobe from scratch: "how to dress inexpensively and yet look smart as a star" (link to full text: click here) The article only describes the main clothing items, basic things like underwear, stockings and blouses are not listed. Her most important message is that good,  simply made clothes never date. You can better invest in quality than quantity. So true!
did you know...
...that Schiaparelli had her own signature shade: shocking pink? The color is said to be inspired by a pink diamond by Cartier. Schiaparelli used it often in her collections and for the packaging for her 1937 fragrance, named Shocking. She asked Surrealist designer Leonor Fini to create a perfume bottle imitating the curves of movie star Mae West. She once called the shade "life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West – a shocking colour, pure and undiluted."

If you want to start building your own (vintage) wardrobe, these are the key items she suggests to start with:

  • a good suit
  • a good coat
  • two plain dresses for afternoon and dinner
  • a smart evening dress and an evening wrap
  • sweater
  • shoes
  • hats, bags, jewelry

So, how to be chic on a small income? To give you an idea how such a mini-wardrobe would look like, first an impression from an 1936 AWW issue:

Sounds easy, right? Now let's see the comments of Ms. Schiaparelli on every item, plus more inspiration from the late 1930's!

"Buy a good suit and live in it, rather than a lot of cheap clothes.Let it be a good, tailored suit, carefully made, with beautiful material and don't be afraid to be seen in it too often."

Preferably a black coat with a fur collar. "For winter you should have a 3/4 fur coat, if you can not afford fur, a heavy tweed." Add for a cool summer climate a 3/4 cloth coat.

"For the first dress I would suggest a good crepe, with two different scarfs to be worn with."

evening dress:
"Add a little jacket for informal parties and leave it off for the formals."

"A good sweater for weekends in the country and general sports."

- 1 pair of Oxfords
- 1 pair of pumps with Cuban heels
- 1 pair of evening sandals (in either silver of gold, they last a long time)
"Shoes should never be conspicous. a shoe to be really smart should be as pain as possible, with a heel that suits the girl who wears it."

shoes, hats, bags:
- a minimum of 2 hats, one felt and one dressy hat
"Shoes, hats, bag and gloves ar frightfully important and should be considered together. All should match in color."

newspaper images: AWW through Trove
"Cheap jewelry should never be worn, unless it happens to be something that you positively know suits your type. Pearls, including cheap imitations are always in good taste. Plain gold jewelry in a modern design is always good."
"Buy good clothes only and never be afraid to wear them too often, or of not being in style."

above: Ms. Schiaparelli herself

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