Friday, March 20, 2015

Soul Sisters: 40s Frocks and 90s Grunge

What first drew me to this dress was that it looked very much like it was from the 1940s. I gravitate toward a lot of older style but I think that the 30s and 40s styles may be those that best suit my body type, face, and hair.

Yet, once I wore it, I was reminded first of Elaine Benes from Seinfeld, and then of the whole "granny dress" trend of the early to mid 90s. Grunge was undoubtedly a part of this trend but not the entirety of it.

Foncie's Photos
My new dress does indeed look very much like day dresses from the 40s and even late the 30s. I suspect that this pensive mother would feel appropriately and stylishly dressed in my dress without even the slightest alteration. Her mid-calf hemline seems more 30s than 40s to me, but it's labelled as being from the 40s. Unlike in fashion plates, real women, even stylish women, are not always slaves to the very latest trend and hemline.

At any rate, the sunglasses with which I paired the dress would be just as stylish in the late 30s or the early to mid 40s. I bought them specifically with this dress in mind.

It is true, though, that, if I use the fashion plates as my guide, I should shorten my hem. I'm only 5'4", so anything I buy is longer on me than it's meant to be.

For now, though, I'm going to leave it at its current length, both because I the scent of the return on the midi is in the air, and because, at this length, it reminds me of yet another decade: the 1990s.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes

When it comes to the 90s, this dress makes me think first and foremost of Seinfeld's Elaine Benes!

Others disagree with me, but I always thought Elaine's character and I looked a bit alike in the 90s, when I was slimmer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus had not yet straightened her hair. We're both short, quite feminine, curly haired, a bit sassy, and prone to wearing retro styled outfits.

Dress: Mod Cloth; Sunglasses: Aldo; Purse: Ingledews; Boots, sweater, jacket, brooch, and earrings: vintage
Certainly, my style in this dress is like hers.

That can't really be in doubt, can it?

I always liked her fashion sense which was clearly influenced by the 1940s. (Incidentally, plots and archetypes from 40s movies and radio programmes are often spoofed on Seinfeld. To see what I mean, check out the hilarious library cop in the episode about the overdue book.)

Not only did she often wear 40s style dresses with 40s style brogue, but she often paired the dresses with 40s style fitted blazers and lovely brooches.

Note the brooches on the woman on the left.
I am always on the look out for great blazers but, now that I am busty, they're hard to find in a good fit.

Brooches were staples of the 40s but not of the 90s. My grandmother's yellow butterfly seemed to me to be a perfect match for the yellow birds on my dress and the yellow flowers on my sweater.

I had a whole spring theme going on, to go with spring itself.

My clip earrings too were more of the 40s than of the 90s. My look was an amalgam of two eras, but so was the whole "granny dress" thing of the 90s.

Elaine's hair was also a not so subtle reference to the 40s.

Pompadours like that had not been seen since the 40s. If you have curly hair, it's actually a surprisingly easy style to duplicate in its more casual forms. Indeed, many women in the early 40s permed their hair to get just the right huge hair.

I'm sure I'll wear my new dress again with a more overtly 40s style, including the hairstyle. The last time I wore my hair like this was for my Remembrance Day post, here

Generally, though,  I do tame my curls a bit, wearing my hair more as Elaine did in later seasons.

I really liked her hair like this.

I'm sad that Louis-Dreyfus has been straightening it for the last several years. Sleek is not always best.

Which brings me to another point:  there was more of the 90s about my outfit than just Elaine.

A Steven Meisel shoot from 1992
Paired with my granny boots, loose sweater, and boxy jacket, my look was more than a little reminiscent of grunge.

Willow and Buffy on the wonderful Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In the 90s, 40s floral dresses were everywhere.

Me, in about 1995
Including on me.

The cast of Friends in an early season
And on Friends.

Steven Meisel, 1992
And in grunge looks. I think, nowadays, it's not so very easy to distinguish between grunge outfits and "regular" ones from the time, but the boots were definitely a key look of grunge.

So, for me, pairing my boots with this was only natural. When I look at this photo of myself, it seems quite clear why we called them granny boots and the dresses granny dresses. They're sweet and demure.

Yet the pairing of the two started not as something demure but as something rebellious. There was something radical about the juxtaposition of army-style boots (which were ubiquitous for the grungiest grungers) with feminine, form-concealing dresses.

Looking back, it seems like such a fresh-scrubbed, lady-like look, it's hard to remember how rebellious it seemed at the time. It seems mere subtle differences differentiated the grunge from the respectable.

Beverly Hills 90210. I was not a devotee so I don't know their names. Donna and somebody?
Of course, as with the co-optation of all "street" styles, grunge was quickly embraced by the fashion industry and soon began showing up even on "good girls."

Me, at my BA graduation, in about 1995
The pairing of lace-up boots with pretty outfits was so acceptable that I was right to feel that I did not look underdressed in these boots when my undergraduate ceremony. (I did feel lonely and every sorry for myself. I'd long ago cut off contact with my brutally abusive family so, though I did bring two good friends, I felt pretty alone.)

Me, on the day I became a Canadian citizen, in about 1993
I'm sure I wore the same boots with this dress too and this was one of the most formal days of my life: the day I became a Canadian citizen.

And why were they called "granny boots," you may ask? I'm assuming it's because they had last been in style for women in dresses in about 1900. They really should have been called "great-granny boots."

Granny boots were part of my uniform from about 1987 to about 1995. Was I cutting edge when wearing them in the late 80s? I really don't know. They just made sense to me.

Brigitte Fonda and Matt Dillon in Singles
But soon the pairing of floral dresses -- short or long -- with boots was everywhere, with or without the tights.

The look, including its grunge iteration, is making a comeback, particularly amongst those too young to remember the early 90s.

My general rule is that, if I wore a look the first time round, I won't wear it again. Looks I embraced in my youth should probably be left to youth to reincarnate if they so choose.

Don't look back: don't feel like a clown. That's what I usually say.

Those Beverly Hills kids again
But every era has some youth fashion trends that work on their elders just as well.

And this look is so damned comfortable too, that I enjoy wearing it again.

I will revisit some looks, and this is one of them.

(I'm sharing this over at Spy Girl and on Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet.)


  1. This style suits you perfectly! You shine in red!
    The Elaine/40s connection is interesting.
    A great post, full of then and now.
    Thanks for linking!

    1. I always liked her style because it reminded me of the 40s. I still think I should hem it though.

  2. Your revamped 90s look is very modern, more streamlined and ladylike, a perfect fit for a 40 something... I think we all took our fashion cues from Elaine in the early 90s, even I wore long dresses and let my curls loose then, for a very brief moment...

    1. I didn't know others looked to her as a fashion icon. At the time, I didn't try to dress like her but now I think I will. As for my curls, I've never felt compelled to straighten them. I like them!

  3. Wonderful post - and the dresses of this era are my favorites too. Yours is a dead ringer for a true vintage frock, and you look lovely wearing it. Thanks for sharing with Visible Monday, xo.

    1. Thanks. I didn't realize at the time how nice they were: so practical and pretty at the same time. Still, a hemming will make it look more 40s.

  4. Amei as fotos! ( sorry i don't speak or write english) kisses of a brazilian vintage girl :)

    1. Kisses back! I understood what you said, I think, because it looks a bit like French and English, so: Love your photos? Yes? Brazilian girls have great fashion sense, or at least that's what I've seen.

  5. Hello Charlotte, great style as usual ! About retro fashion, do you know this site
    I think you will enjoy it. xxx

    1. No, I didn't know about this blog. Thanks so much for sharing it with me. I love it!

  6. This red dress has both a gorgeous fabric and design (style), and it really really suits you! I also found myself attracted to the 1930s and the 1940s dresses lately, and like you I also wore a couple of dresses from the 90s - I found them at Goodwill. I did a photo shoot with my 1990s floral dress, but was not sure about posting. I think you inspired me to do it! I will link to your post then, you said it all well. I did not like this type of dresses back in the 90s though - it's a new thing for me. :) Loved your post! xxx

    1. I'm so glad you did post yourself in the dresses. You looked great.

  7. Forgot to mentioned about blazers. Look for stretch in the fabric. Do you read Girl With Curves? She has tons of great advice for curvy figures, esp. about good fit. Do you have Lane Bryant in Canada? I find their fit and quality really works for my body, maybe you will have good luck with them too. And yes, I posted my 90s dress. :)

    1. I do read her. Isn't she Canadian? I think she is. My problem with blazers is that I crave tweed ones and, by their nature, they don't have stretch. I've found a few expensive, preppy style companies that carry them in a range of sizes but I feel I can't afford them right now, what with paying for the wedding, and periodically getting cut off of disability while they yet again decide if I'm really still disabled. I haven't received any money in over a month! I try hard not to worry about it, but it's not easy.

  8. I do love this outfit! Especially the boots! But also the red with the magical flowers and birds with the yellow butterfly and the yellow jacket. Interesting revisit of the 90s as boots and skirts are definitely having another moment in the sun :-) xo Jazzy Jack

  9. I wish I'd appreciated those little butterflies more when I got them. I inherited several from my grandmother but I only have three left. I lost the rest. They go for about $60-100 on Etsy