fashion history

The Costumes of Miss Potter: Film Fashion Inspiration

miss potter standing by the lake

When I published this post about personal style a few months ago, one of the inspirations I listed was Beatrix Potter from the 2006 film Miss Potter. Not only are the costumes of Miss Potter some of my favourites, but the movie itself is also high on my list of favourite period films. Starring Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson and others, with costumes by Anthony Powell, this movie tells the story of Beatrix Potter, the author of Peter Rabbit and other children’s books. I shan’t spoil the story it if you don’t know it, but definitely recommend that you watch it yourself, not only for the story, but also for the cinematography, the beautiful English scenery and of course the costumes!

When I watch historical films, I don’t usually mind if things aren’t “100% historically accurate” down to the very last buttonhole, as long as the costumes fit the story, are well researched and they don’t jolt you out of the timeline. If the costume designer displays expertise of the era that the film was set in, I’m not too picky if they have chosen to interpret and tweak history in a creative way for the purpose of story telling- please just don’t use any zippers or incorrect underpinnings! Thus, today, I’m not going to go over whether this film is historically accurate, or even accurate to Beatrix Potter’s real life, but rather, I’m sharing what some of my favourite inspirations are from the costumes in this film and how I have integrated those into my own personal wardrobe.

Costumes are such an important part of a movie, as clothing gives insight into how people present themselves and interact with the world and what message they are sending. Even in fictional movies, costumes can still demonstrate how people wear and move in their clothing and can give more understanding than a static photograph can.

miss potter reviewing her book in London

The film is set in the early years of the Edwardian era, from 1902- 1906, and is full of high collared blouses, peplum jackets with puffed sleeves and elegant walking skirts, but one thing I love is how wearable the costumes look.

miss potter sketching in the woods wearing a blue shirtwaist and brown skirt

One key feature of Beatrix’s wardrobe is her subdued, earthy colour palette. My own wardrobe consists of these colours- shades of brown and tan, earthy greens, smoky blues and creams. I think that these colours are specifically used to show Beatrix’s love of the countryside and connection to nature, especially the Lake District, which is reflected in her oft repeated colour blue. These colours all blend together extremely well too.

miss potter wearing a striped shirtwaist blouse

Beatrix’s costumes in this film are tiny bit Victorian, (mainly her small London hats) which I think reflects that her character doesn’t chase the latest trends, but is instead absorbed with her work. She also wears a very plain style of clothing, which is used to juxtapose her style against her mother’s which is a much fussier, ornate style. Other ladies are also shown wearing much more glamorous pieces, yet Beatrix is always bit pared back. Her clothing choices are far from boring though! There are so many subtle details that you miss upon first glance, but stand out with a second look.

miss potter in london wearing a jacket with contrast cuffs and collar and a bowler hat

I have realized, over time, that my favourite looks from the past are ones that are more traditional and classic, rather than the opulent, “fashionable” ones and I often find myself wanting to pare things back in my own wardrobe too. I am always drawn to classic styles over trends. Beatrix’s costumes are a great example of a character whose clothing has intricacy and detail, but is still rather minimal in ornamentation compared to the popular fashions of the time period.

cuff and sleeve details

Her clothing choices display many details; from extra long shirt cuffs, to contrast collars, to shaped waistbands, to unique buttons- there’s so much to take note of when you take a closer look. There’s so much inspiration for future sewing projects too! Using details like this adds interest and depth to your wardrobe.

I also appreciate that Beatrix has what would today be considered a “capsule wardrobe”; which is what a standard wardrobe for any time period before the modern era would have been. She is consistently seen repeating key pieces and mixing and matching them to create new looks. Her blue shirtwaist is a common repeat, as well as her brown blazer and walking skirt. Because each of her pieces coordinate with each other, she is able to create an infinite amount of combinations. This is such a useful way to curate your own wardrobe- one I am still perfecting myself!

miss potter wearing a pleated white blouse

Almost every outfit she wears consists of the tried and true skirt + shirt combination. She has a couple beautiful wool A-line skirts that coordinate well with her blouses. While I probably wouldn’t personally wear a floor length wool skirt like this, shortening this style to knee length suddenly modernizes the look, while retaining that classic look.

miss potter wearing a cream embroidered blouse

She also proves the value and versatility of a good white or cream basic blouse. She has several that she rotates through- each slightly different- featuring lace insertion, embroidery or pleating. While each individual blouse is different, they all coordinate well with the other pieces in her wardrobe, as well as providing a background for brooches and jewelry.

miss potter movie film stills

Speaking of jewelry, I absolutely love this long necklace she wears. Is it a watch? A key? A locket? I can’t tell and haven’t found any answers…what do you think it is?

miss potter reviewing her book

I really like how it clasps to her waist almost like a chatelaine or something. Long pendant necklaces are one item that I absolutely love to wear in my own wardrobe.

movie long necklace detail

There is just something so elegant about them, and I think they work quite well to add some jewelry without the flashiness of a statement necklace. Brooches are also an under utilized piece of jewelry today, I think. I have several vintage brooches, but don’t wear them nearly as often as I should!

miss potter in the lake district wearing her blue shirtwaist

Another wonderful part of Beatrix’s wardrobe are the straw hats that she wears while visiting the Lake District! This is the epitome of the cottagecore look- and I love it! I’m not a big fan of the tiny Victorian hats she wears in London, and I interpret the large informal sun hats that she wears while in the country as shedding the stuffy London rules and expectations and becoming her true self.

miss potter in london wearing a fitted wool jacket with a peplum

Her clothing evolves when she leaves London, becoming softer and more rugged. For example, she eschews her fitted, structured jackets for casual knitwear. I think this reflects her love of nature as a key component of her character, and shows that she has fully adopted the country as her own. She takes advantage of layering to create visual interest, as well as warmth!

miss potter in the country wearing knitted vests and sweaters

One final detail that I love from her costumes, are her aprons. You just can’t go wrong with a good apron when you’re doing some messy work around the house. I love historical aprons, because not only were they were designed to protect your clothing, but they look pretty at the same time!

miss potter wearing aprons over her daywear

Well, these are some of my favourite details from the costumes of Miss Potter. Have you seen Miss Potter? What are your favourite parts of her wardrobe? Are there any films that you draw fashion inspiration from?

miss potter unpacking her art supplies

A Fashion Moment With McCall’s Treasury Of Needlecraft: Accessories

vintage lady wearing a homemade hostess apron

Today is the last post in this McCall’s Treasury of Needlecraft series, because we’ve, sadly, reached the end of the book. For this post, I’ve got some lovely vintage 1950’s accessories to share with you.

Above, is a smocked hostess apron. I love wearing aprons while cooking, because if I don’t, I will inevitably splash all over my clothes. I don’t have any hostess aprons, but I think they are so of-the-era, don’t you think? Do you wear an apron while working?

vintage knitted scarf

This is a really cute scarf. I think it would keep you warm, without being too bulky, and I love that it provides the perfect spot to show off a vintage brooch.

gloves patterns

Ahh some lovely hand made gloves. I like the look of the lacy ones on the right. (Though why do pictures of gloves always look like a murderer preparing for their evil deed?)

vintage belt

trim details illustrations

These home made trims would add such a nice detail.

dress accessories illustrations

And finally, I love these beautiful vintage illustrations, as well as the ideas on how to use sequins for effect. Those stars scattered across a plain dress would be so pretty! The best part about home made clothing, really is the endless options for customization, isn’t it?

That’s all the photos for today; a bit of a shorter post. While I don’t have any more 1950’s images to share from this book, I do have other vintage catalogues and books, so I will still keep sharing from those in the future to keep this series going. And, as always, if you are interested in making any of these vintage crochet/ knitted accessories, feel free to contact me, as I am glad to share the patterns!

An Ode to the Twenties

portrait of nicole dressed up in the 1920's style

The 1920’s seem like they are eighty years ago to me; I always count years from the year 2000 and then, to my surprise, I remember that I have to add twenty years to that total….do you ever have that problem? Of course, if it really was 2000 I would only be nine years old, so I’m not sure why that catches me off guard every time.

The 1920’s is an era that has always intrigued me, as a season of transition in the Western world, though it’s not an era that I’ve ever worn myself, apart from a few cloche hats. The twenties boyish silhouette doesn’t work for me, but I love the streamlined, yet detail oriented clothes from this time period- especially the evening wear and hair accessories! While it’s not an era that I would want to live in, or incorporate into my wardrobe today, one hundred years later it is fun to immerse myself in it every once in a while. I wanted to do this photoshoot last year, for the debut of 2020, but it didn’t end up working out. It’s still the “twenties” for the next nine years, though, so I am posting it now!

Are you drawn to the styles of the 1920’s? Do you want to see a comeback of the designs from that era? 

My Favourite Fashion History Books

a tall stack of fashion history related books

The other day I pulled a couple of fashion history books off my shelf for a different post I’m working on, and realized that I actually have quite a library of fashion books. (Disproportionately so, compared to other topics, some might say….) I’ve built up this collection over the years, either purchasing them for myself or receiving them as gifts. As nice as a Google search and Pinterest can be for inspiration, there is still something special about pulling out your favourite books and leafing through the pages.

Today I thought I would share some of my favourite ones along with summaries and thoughts in case you are looking to add some fashion related books to your own library. (I have quite a few, so I’ll do some more posts in the future as well.) First up today are Dress and Fashion History books!

“Decades of Fashion” edited by Harriet Worsley and published by h.f.ullmann 

the cover of the book "decades of fashion"

This square little book is probably the one that started my love of vintage fashion, and was the first vintage fashion book that I bought. While I was at college, someone left their copy of this book out on the bathroom counter one night, and I paged through it. (There was some sort of dress-up event happening, and they must have pulled it out for reference) I never knew whose it was, but I copied down the name of the book and checked it out from the library as soon as I could. After a while, I decided that it would be a good one to own, and even today it is one of my favourite books to page through.

two vintage ladies wearing 1950's dresses

It’s mostly a compilation of photographs from the eras, with a tiny bit of historical information at the beginning of each section. I like being able to see photos of what the couture houses were wearing as well as average people. Don’t be fooled by the ugly cover- it’s actually a really great book! (Also, the original edition had a Missoni photo from the 70’s which was way better- it’s too bad in 2011 they reprinted it with this cover!) This one is 603 pages and spans the years 1900- 2010.

1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s Fashion The Definitive Sourcebookedited by Emmanuelle Dirix & Charlotte Fiell and published by Goodman Fiell

the covers of the three books in the Definitive Sourcebook series

These three books are great resources for these three decades, as they are full of original images and fashion plates. The editors and writer chose to include mainly fashion illustrations from the time, rather than photographs, because they wanted to be able to show how colourful these eras actually were. When you’re looking strictly at black and white photographs, it can be hard to imagine what the colours would have been at the time.

the spines of the Definitive Sourcebook series of books

These are quite thick books at 510 pages, and they are heavy! I originally checked the 1920’s one out of my local library, and then eventually purchased the set of three. They are definitely worth getting if you want original fashion plates for inspiration. While they do have a historical write up at the beginning of each section, these are mostly all about the beautiful illustrations! I wish they had continued with the series and done one for the 1950’s too.

1920's fashion illustrations

1930's fashion illustrations

1940's fashion illustrations

“Everyday Fashions As Pictured in Sears Catalogues” edited by Joanne Olian & Stella Blum and published by Dover

everyday fashions series of books covers

This series of paperback books spans 1900 to the 1960’s and each book is split into sections for each year. This is a good series to be able to see what the average person was wearing during these decades. While looking at couture fashions is a lot of fun, it’s also nice to be able to see which of the trends trickled down to the street. There is a wide variety of fashions shown in these books, from daywear and accessories to evening wear and formal, as well as a small selection of menswear and children’s wear.

covers and one page of the everyday fashions series of books

Each book averages around 100-150 pages, and since they aren’t too expensive, they are a great alternative to buying original catalogues, since that can get pricey. The only downside is that they are printed in black and white, and I think that some of the catalogue pages would have originally been in colour.

full page spread of a vintage sears catalogue

“Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, 2nd Edition” By Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta, Ph.D. and published by Fairchild

cover of Fairchild's dictionary of fashion

This is a very technical book that my friend gave me. (It was a library discard.) It’s not the sort of book you’d just sit down and page through, but I probably should do just that, since there is quite a wealth of information in it. For example, there are nine pages dedicated just to describing the many different kinds of dresses across the world, or if you’ve ever wondered what an escarelle is, you can find out here. There are also some illustrations and photographs to further illustrate points, and at over 600 pages, it’s a very good educational resource. It’s the sort of book you’d have if you were going to fashion college.

(BTW an escarelle is “a pouch or purse attached to waist or hip belt in the 14th and 15th century into which a knife was frequently thrust”)

a page of definitions from the fashion dictionary

“The Mode in Costume” & “The Mode in Hats and Headdress” by R. Turner Wilcox and published by Dover

covers of the mode in costume and hats and headdress books

Finally, these two are my favourite fashion history books. Written in 1942 and then republished in 1958, these two books cover the history of fashion beginning in the earliest (recorded) days of 3000 BC and going up to 1958 (the year it was republished). Each chapter begins with a historical overview and descriptions and then ends with several pages of illustrations. These illustrations are based on surviving images and real garments, so they are quite historically accurate, and reveal quite a lot of detail. The books cover a lot of ground, but don’t go so fast as to miss out on the smaller trends such as the French “Directoire” of 1795-1799. 

illustrations from the mode in costume book

The books also cover mostly Western/European fashion, but they are split into different countries, since different countries each had (and still have) their own spin on the fashions of the day. The Mode in Costume is 477 pages and The Mode in Hats and Headdress is a bit shorter a 348. These are a great educational resource if you want to learn about the evolution of fashion over the centuries. There is also one about The Mode in Shoes. I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it’s excellent as well.

open page from the mode in costume book

So, there are some of my favourite books for studying and learning about fashion history. With the rise of popularity in vintage fashion in the past few years, the number of books about vintage fashion has also increased; but they are definitely not all equal. I am not a fashion history expert, but I have caught errors in some of the more trendy vintage “overview” style books before. If you are wanting to actually learn about fashion history, these are a good place to start- though they are only the tip of the iceberg! There are so many more books out there…

If you’d like to check these books out, I’d definitely recommend that you look at your local library first. That’s what I did with each of these before I ended up purchasing them. Also, while I did buy the majority of these books new, I am not sure whether they are each still in print, so you can always check at second hand book stores, as you never know what they might have. (I just did a quick search on Thrift Books and Better World Books, and they do have many of these in stock. I’ve never purchased from these online book sellers myself, but I just wanted to give you an idea of where you could look.)

What are some of your favourite fashion history books? Do you have any recommendations for us to check out? I’m always looking for some good new books to read! 

A Fashion Moment With McCall’s Treasury Of Needlecraft: Cardigans

Vintage buttoned 1950's sweater with an emblem design

We are back today with some more beautiful fashion pictures from the McCall’s Treasury of Needlecraft…after a three year absence!

My goal/ task this year is to go through my external hard drive and sort every file and folder…yes this is a year long task, because it is an absolute mess. Computers that crashed and all of the files dumped on there in a jumble, then I started to blog but didn’t have a system in place for how to organize the photos, then I was lazy and didn’t go through the photos I had taken and cull the blurry ones etc….resulting in a complete disaster! So, I’ve been slowly going through that, and I came across a folder with pictures from the Treasury that I had never posted. Here we are today with the first batch, a collection of knitted and crocheted cardigans, and I’ve got two more posts for the future. Hopefully I won’t let three years pass before posting them again! Enjoy!

a boxy open vintage cardigan

a open lace patterned top under a dark blazer

This would be a really pretty and classic workwear look. It would be a nice way to add a vintage touch to a more modern office setting.

a vintage style ski sweater with buttons, at the slopes

Not only is this one fabulous- but look at her entire ensemble! So much classier than sportswear of today, although her goggles are hilarious.

a vintage boxy coat/cardigan for a day out shopping

This Warm Knitted Topper looks like the perfect thing to wear come Fall, when the days are crisp, but not quite cold enough for a jacket.

Vintage twinset with an embellished detail along the front opening

Such a pretty way of elevating a simple twinset.

fitted cardigan with a checkerboard pattern

a gingham checked buttoned vintage cardigan

a boxy open cardigan with a foldover collar and a pocket

I like the pattern in this one; it adds a nice bit of texture.

a vintage 1950's style bolero

Also the texture of this one is really nice! I love how this is boxy, but ends at the waist so it doesn’t obscure the waist. Boxy sweaters are nice, but can often drown.

a casual bomber style knitted sweater

I like the bomber/army style shape of this sweater. Again, the waist definition is nice and keeps it from being too big overall.

a batwing sleeved asian inspired vintage bolero

Lastly is this bolero- I’m not sure that I like the shaping seams/details on the shoulders, but I do like the overall shape. Maybe in a softer yarn would be better though…

What do you think? Which is your favourite?

(Ps. In the past, I have had people ask if I would be willing to share the patterns for these, and the answer is yes! If you’d like the pattern for any of these cardigans, just send me an email and I will gladly send it to you!)