Manatee fundraiser

If you follow my blog, my Facebook page, my Tweets, my Instagram feed, or have spoken with me in person, you know I love manatees. 10% of my sales go to Save the Manatee Club year round.

Right now I've intensified my efforts. Through August 7, 25% of my vintage fashion sales will go to Save the Manatee Club, along with 100% of donations made directly on my YouCaring page set up for this special fundraiser.

Why the fundraiser at this moment? The reason is that I (along with countless others) am heartbroken by the tragic accidental death of Snooty, the world's most famous manatee. Perhaps you heard about his death, just a day after his 69th birthday was celebrated with thousands of people singing and cheering for him.

Having been born in captivity on July 21, 1948, Snooty was known by generations of visitors to the South Florida Museum, where he lived in a special aquarium. He contributed greatly to what is known and thought of manatees—and his personality stole our hearts. 

Snooty's aquarium at the South Florida Museum also hosts and rehabilitates wild manatees that have been rescued. The Museum states that they will continue this important program.

In memory of Snooty, my hope is to raise $1,000 by August 7, 2017, to be donated to Save the Manatee Club specifically for the rescue and rehabilitation of these beloved animals. Raising this much money in two weeks, I admit, is pretty ambitious. I only dare set such a goal because so many people have expressed their love for manatees to me. So many seem eager to help.

If you've had your eye on any items in my Etsy shop, know that you will be helping this cause a bit more than usual with your purchase through August 7, 2017. If you see nothing to tempt you right now and still wish to contribute, my YouCaring page is there for you too.

Thank you so much for your help! No way could I do this without you.


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Desert Island Vintage with guest Theresa Campbell McKee



Today's castaway on Desert Island Vintage, Theresa Campbell McKee, is the brains (and the beauty!) behind Blue Velvet Vintage. Anybody who knows the Blue Velvet Vintage look (and you really should know the BVV look) realizes it is all about classic glamour. As Theresa writes on the Blue Velvet website:

Like Coco, we believe "A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous."  We dream in black and white love stories, swoon for hourglass silhouettes and never leave the house without our signature red lipstick.

I anticipated Theresa's Desert Island choices would be glam, but I was delightfully surprised by how she has made these fabulous bombshell items seem all quite practical and appropriate for being stuck on a deserted beach. I'm almost convinced that one would need a sequined evening gown..." just for some variety." 


"When Maggie approached me about an article naming my eight favorite vintage pieces I’d want to have with me if stranded on a desert island, I must admit my mind initially went into some serious overdrive. There are just way too many eras of gorgeous vintage fashion to choose from—How would I ever be able to decide on just eight pieces? Being as I am really bad at picking a limited amount of favorites of anything I truly have a passion for, I knew this would be a challenge for me. It’s like asking me to pick my eight favorite things to eat! [Food is another passion—Theresa is a former personal chef and caterer.]

"That was until I decided that the best way for me to narrow it down would be to focus on the location for which I was choosing—a tropical desert island—and then have some fun with it.

"So by combining my love of both vintage tropical fashion and the glamorous outfits worn by actresses of classic film and TV, I was able to come up with my select Desert Island wardrobe, which includes my 'I can only dream' pieces. 

"The first two items are in my own wardrobe, and being as I live in Florida most of the year, I get a lot of wear out of them. They’re both by famous Hawaiian screen printer Alfred Shaheen. These two would have to be with me on any desert island. The original owner of the dress actually wore it for her wedding in Hawaii in the 50s.


1. and 2. "1950s Alfred Shaheen dress, and skirt

Then Theresa turns to her fantasy picks—

3. "I’d take this Edith Head sarong dress, worn by Dorothy Lamour in The Jungle Princess, because it would go perfectly with the orchids and hibiscus flowers I'd be wearing in my hair.

4. "For as long as I’ve been collecting vintage I’ve wanted an original 1930s beach pajama jumpsuit, so something in a bold floral print like these worn by the young Ginger Rogers would have to come with me for sure. They’d be so comfortable, I could even sleep in them.

5. "And of course, one can’t be stranded on a desert island without some swimwear, so I’d take this outrageous beaded gold bathing suit worn by Esther Williams. Its shimmer is sure to alert any passing ships.


6. "You never know when you may have a need for a chic evening dress as a castaway. It’s always best to be prepared should a stray cruise ship pull up and invite you to dinner at the captain's table. So I’d take a cue from Tina Louise, queen of the stylishly stranded, and bring this leopard print one-shoulder Nolan Miller number. Animal prints are a timeless look and especially appropriate for a desert island!

7. "And just for some variety, I’d also take this glam bombshell gown by William Travilla that Jane Russell wore in the film The Revolt of Mamie Stover which was set in Hawaii. I’d probably reserve this for the most special of occasions, like the day I was rescued!

8. "And last but not least, I'd take these Salvatore Ferragamo bejeweled red, gold and silver wedge sandals from 1938 because you can’t run around barefoot in the sand all would be murder on your pedicure!


Well now, if you had Theresa's picks to wear, being stranded wouldn't be too bad after all! A wardrobe that's appropriate for a captain's table dinner? shimmering to alert passing ships? and for the day one is rescued? —I like the way you dream Theresa. And until you find your fantasy pieces, you will be a splendid beach comber in your Shaheens!

Many thanks to Theresa Campbell McKee for sharing her Desert Island Vintage wardrobe with us. Make sure to have a look at all the classic glamour at the Blue Velvet Vintage website, and Theresa's blog, Vintage Style Files.

What would you want if you could have just eight vintage fashion pieces? If you'd like to be featured here, let me know!


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Lemons to lemonade

Anna Bond painting

Anna Bond painting

Yeah, I know it's a well-worn (perhaps even a bit threadbare) vintage slogan, but it seems apropos


Until recently, I have always managed to carry out my vintage fashion business as a solo act, a one-woman sourcing, selling, and marketing department...even the modeling, photography, and shipping departments, all rolled into one. I don't know how many of you are entrepreneurs, and among those, how many are solo entrepreneurs, but I have a piece of advice from one previously solo act to another: Build a team.


Let me take a step back.

The hopeful type, I am one of those with a perpetually half-full glass. Still, it hasn't been as easy to see things in that rosy-tinted light with my as-yet-to-be-controlled autoimmune disease, psoriatic arthritis. Some days I don't feel like getting out of bed from exhaustion and pain. I have great doctors working with me to find the right combination for improved health, but it takes time and trials. For now, it is so very much harder to be who I want to be for myself, my business, and for my friends and family.

Denisebrain needs a team. Actually, it took a certain amount of disability to admit I already have a team, and then to add to it.

My husband is a graphic designer, the art director of a magazine. Guess who has always helped me with (among many other things) my websites and branding? Then there are the wonderful people who have consistently sourced vintage fashions for me over the years. There's my seamstress, who at 80 years of age is an inspiration to me with her vitality and creativity. I have been working with an editor to prepare my book for publication (I highly recommend my editor, Amy Scott of Nomad Editorial).

I probably get more comments about my photos than anything else about denisebrain. I have loved photographing vintage portraying the sort of happiness and healthiness you see in old magazines and movies. 

Right now, though, I can't find either the ease or the energy to take many photos. So, lemons to lemonade, in walked another person for my team.

Fay Ripley photo

Fay Ripley photo

Fay Ripley is an experienced photographer who takes artful narrative photos.

Fay is also a vintage lover who sells vintage fashions at Chosen Vintage in Spokane (her shop within Chosen is Red Leaf Vintage). Fay offered to help set up a photo shoot using her studio and equipment. She did so much more than help though—she truly brought everything and everyone together, including Marc Harvey, another great photographer with whom she shares the studio, and four of the five models.

Fay and Marc created a lighting set up that perfectly emulates my home studio setup. 

A couple weeks ago we had a photo shoot. I had no idea how it would go, never having dealt with so many people and moving parts before. I was very pleased—I think this is going to work for me.

So, after 17 years of photos of and by just me, myself and I, there will be some new faces. I will still make appearances too, just not all of the time. 

Every single one of the women who modeled for me recently gets vintage, and that makes a big difference. Trying to summarize how I wanted them to look for the photos, I said "not like you think you're cool—more like you're someone's sister or best friend. The Girl Next Door. Happy, healthy, having fun, smiling." They all pulled this off beautifully. 

A good friend suggested that I introduce these women to you, and, with their permission, I will. I may not be so lucky as to get the same group again, but at least for now you will see these smiling faces:


Victoria is an aspiring medical student with a love for the French horn and fashion. Yes, French horn, my instrument, which is how I got to know her. She was my student, and I've known her parents (her dad's another horn player) since forever ago. Victoria and I always snuck in conversations about clothes during horn lessons, so I knew she'd be great for this. Plus, I'm always overjoyed to see her, because she is one of my favorite people.

Grace is a model, and it absolutely showed; I love the attitude she brought to all her photos for me...she is a true pro. Bonus: She's (obviously) adorable and so sweet.

Kendra calls herself a filmmaker, graphic designer and vintage lover who is fond of travel and tea drinking. I'd say she understates her talents a bit; have a look at her website sometime. Kendra not only oozes talent and enthusiasm, but has an irrepressible smile. She fits right in with the denisebrain vibe, if I do say so myself.

Hayley is an Inupiaq Eskimo who comes from Shaktoolik, Alaska, a village on the Bering Sea. She is in college as an aspiring photographer, saying she has a lot of fun being in front of the camera but she also has her eye on being on the other side of the lens. I'd say that whatever side of the lens she is on, Hayley is going to be great, because she is so fun to be around, and super kind and helpful too.

Gianna is a yoga instructor (she owns a local studio) and paralegal, as well as a a vintage-specializing model. She says she loves to capture the essence of classic film stars when she models, "bringing life to a beautiful and elegant era past." Gianna has it all going for her: The knowledge to strike a pose that is pure vintage elegance, the just-right figure to show off clothes, and the obvious love of fashions from the past. Plus, she is a lovely character to work with. All that yoga is paying off, Gianna! 

Real women wear vintage. I've said that so many times, and now I get to show you.

Real women also need help at times. After all, it's a fine time of year for lemonade!


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Desert Island Vintage with guest Carol Baker



For the latest installment in my series Desert Island Vintage, we check in with Carol Baker of Dandelion Vintage. I've known of Carol and Dandelion for as long as I've been paying attention to vintage fashion online; her first vintage website was in 1997. She is known not only for having lots of great vintage available at the fairest price around, but for her lovable sidekicks, two English bulldogs by the name of Gus and Betty Boop.

Carol's eight vintage picks make a fine, wearable collection from the 1930s through 1950s, and her choices are all quite feasible—all that is except number eight. But a girl's gotta dream, right? Carol loves to beachcomb along the New Jersey shore, and her desert island wardrobe reflects her love of the beach. Come to think of it, Carol would be exceptionally well-equipped for a trip to a desert long as her pups could come along too!


Here are Carol's choices:

1. "Fabric purses with wooden handles. They’re not really very good to carry to be honest. You can’t get them on your wrist, and your stuff just jumbles all around inside. But they look so good! These are two of my own.

2. "A tailored 1930s/40s jacket or suit with fancy little details. This is a very favorite of mine. I love the plaid, love the silver buttons. I bought it in a stock purchase many years ago. I no longer wear it because it’s fraying on the ends of the sleeves and has some holes in it, but it hangs on my bedroom door. It’s super special to me because I wore it when we went to get our pup Boris [a previous much-loved bulldog family member] in 2001. I remember him sitting on my lap and biting the buttons.

3. "These are a dream item because I’ve never found a wide legged pair of pants that fit me. I don’t like anything high on my stomach, and of course these are cut wide. ‘Desert Cloth Sunback Overall’—that just sounds fantastic. I also like things with little nautical touches, like the pocket on the far left pair.

4. "Playsuit with matching skirt. I don’t know why I haven’t found a set like this that I like yet. They’re out there—again the fit is an issue for me because I have a long torso.

5. "Curvy oxfords. These are 2 pairs from my own closet. I love a nice, solid heel, not too high. Cute & sensible.

6. "To me, the perfect Summer dress is a Swirl. Everyone loves Swirls! This is one from my closet. They are just so comfortable, adjustable, cute.

7. "And for the cold weather—a sweater dress or sweater and skirt set. This was a purge from my closet that I sold on Etsy. Why did I sell that?? I think that it was a little too snug under the arms.

8. "The totally unattainable, extravagant, splurge-y dream item would be something worn by Myrna Loy. I just love her. Everything that she wore was fantastic. Suit, casual wear, evening gown, lingerie—I’d take anything! Goddess.


You can find Dandelion Vintage's Etsy shop here, and website here. You can follow Dandelion Vintage on Facebook and Instagram, where Betty and Gus make cameo appearances.

...And if Carol ever does manage to find something worn by Myrna Loy, you'll have a front row seat!


Many thanks to Carol Baker for sharing her wonderful Desert Island Vintage picks!


What would you want if you could have just eight vintage fashion pieces? If you'd like to be featured here, let me know!

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What's your vintage-wearing persona?

I'm busy working on my book about getting started with wearing vintage, and my editor suggested I need to add a section to fill out my comments about how to style vintage clothing. I agree with her, it isn't always obvious how to put vintage wearing into practice. 

I don't like do's and don't's, so this added section wouldn't be about rules, but I also don't want to fill pages with words that give no guidance. So, meet the Vintage-Wearing Personas, modern vintage-wearing styles that you might choose for every day, or flit between.

You can help me with this by letting me know

  • if you think there is a vintage-wearing persona I'm missing
  • which of the personas fits you and how closely you relate to it
  • who are some of your choices for your persona's heroines


Not driven by vintage, just looking for a unique, quality vintage piece here and there

Do you want to wear vintage but not broadcast the fact that you are? You may be a wear-with-all type.  Your natural style may be bold or reserved, elegant, flamboyant or grungy—wearing vintage is not your driving motivator. 

For the wear-with-all persona, you may want to find vintage replacements for the modern components of your wardrobe. You might find something that is in style right now, only in the better-quality, better-priced, and unique vintage original version. Start with just one piece mixed in with modern clothes and accessories from your closet. 

What’s easy about this style persona is that you almost can’t seem costume-y. You can blend into your work setting, take the dog for a walk, go to a party…and feel attractive but not conspicuously “vintage.” You are more likely to hear “I love that!” than “is that vintage?”

The hard part may be coming up with the vintage items that work well for you with your present wardrobe, in the right size. (That’s why I am writing my book, coming soon!) Really, the hardest part may be showing restraint once you get going with vintage!

Wear-with-all heroines

Kate Middleton

Michelle Obama

Amal Clooney

Instagram wear-with-alls: notdeadyetstyle, sustainableelegance

Wear-with-all Quote

It's not about the dress you wear, but the life you lead in the dress. —Diana Vreeland



Time travelers

The total look, hat-to-shoes right out of a vintage Vogue

This is the easiest and hardest vintage fashion personality, rolled into one. The simple part is that you don’t have to figure out if a style works, you just need to recreate a look that you admire. You can choose your outfit and styling literally from a vintage magazine editorial or advertisement, a movie…you are the costumer and actor in your own period drama.

Difficult may be finding and putting together the details of the look you want, and then carrying off the look with aplomb. Your look could be seen as costume-y, and you will need to be ready to answer questions about the style and why you are so "dressed up."

Some women pull off this look daily, even in a workplace environment, others dress from hat to shoes in one period look for a vintage fashion event. This is a persona you might take on here and there...or all the time.

Time traveler heroines

Dita Von Teese

Paloma Faith

Instagram time travelers: isabelmusidoralost_in_the_50'snoaccountingfortaste

Time Traveler Quote

She's a three page love letter in a world of relationship status updates. —J.M. Storm



Walking works of art

Creative and bold, using vintage but not necessarily all vintage

#justbloodywearit, is a hashtag I always find on the Instagram feed of a vintage fashionista named Zara (@zeebeezsazsa), who wears a rainbow of color, clashing prints, 1940s with 70s, 60s, 30s, 80s. A doctor, Zara thinks of her fashion as an escape from all the life and death emotional decisions that need to be made daily. Her litmus test for choosing something to wear is that she likes it and that it expresses how she feels. She doesn’t follow rules or strive to look like anyone else. 

This persona is easy for a small percentage of people, the types who might see their bodies as a canvas for being sartorially creative. Dressing with vintage will give this type the maximum possible options for self expression.  

Maybe this is the look you really admire but it seems difficult to you. First you have to decide what works, then you have to let go of your inhibitions. The one commonality I see between the protagonists of this style are their signature touches—wearing fluffy pink pieces, giant bracelets, a turban—whatever seems to most suit their style. I also think it takes a sense of humor. A bit of a smile never hurts when you’re being noticed by everyone. 

Walking work of art heroines

Iris Apfel

Anna Piaggi

Instagram walking works of art: zeebeezsazsa, purelypatricia

Walking Work of Art Quote

Fashion should be a form of escapism, not a form of imprisonment. —Alexander McQueen


Vintage mixers

Mostly or all vintage, put together from various eras

Do you want your wardrobe to be mainly vintage yet not feel like you are time traveling from another era? Vintage mixing is the art of putting together an outfit from various vintage components that may date from different decades. You might put a 1940s jacket with 1970s wide-legged trousers, a 1950s blouse and a 1960s bag. What might bring the decades together is some sort of harmony, in color, print, fabric or style.

On paper, this might seem the persona box you'd like to tick. After all, it is all vintage, but creatively harmonious. What's difficult is making this mix-and-match work. 

When you mix vintage things up, consider matching certain elements:

• Color across eras

• Patterns that relate to one another

• All one era but in an unexpected way

• Textural combinations that work across decades

• Timeless elements

Vintage mixer heroineS

Tavi Gevinson

Zooey Deschanel

Kate Moss

Instagram vintage mixers: crocodilelightning, sophiamzell

Vintage Mixer Quotation

Fashion has always been a repetition of ideas, but what makes it new is the way you put it together. —Carolina Herrera


So what do you think? Can you relate to any of these vintage-wearing personas? Please let me know in a comment! 




1946: Fashion on the verge

In 1946, the deprivations of the war years were not far from anyone’s thoughts and budget. The power that women had gained in the past handful of years could still be felt in strong shoulders and trouser styles. Particularly in the hands of Parisian designers, there were styles presaging The New Look, including prints, colors, length, and extravagance. American designers devoted themselves to fashionable sportswear. Swimwear found fresh new directions.

I love the fashions of 1946. My appreciation doesn't have so much to do with what was incubating in France. Instead, I am fascinated by the strength and freedom in women's fashion, whether emanating from France or the U.S. It was the last hurrah of the war years styles, and in the best hands this fashion—on the verge of something very different—was fresh, modern and bold. 

Pablo Picasso. Françoise with a Bow in Her Hair (Françoise au Noeud dans les Cheveux). June 14, 1946

Pablo Picasso. Françoise with a Bow in Her Hair (Françoise au Noeud dans les Cheveux). June 14, 1946

Cole of California advertisement, 1946

Cole of California advertisement, 1946

Glamour, December 1946, photo by Serge Balkin

Glamour, December 1946, photo by Serge Balkin

Even in Berlin, the war was over in 1946. Photo by Walter Sanders.

Even in Berlin, the war was over in 1946. Photo by Walter Sanders.

Women served invaluably during the war, and in this immediately post-war period, clothing reflected their collective strength with tailored, clean, well-accessorized looks for day and work.

  • March 1946 Vogue cover, photo by John Rawlings
  • Collarless, grey wool jacket worn with an Amrose beret hat, black gloves and hobo purse, photo by Clifford Coffin
  • March 1946 Vogue, Mrs. Stanley Grafton Mortimer, Jr., (aka Babe Paley), wearing a blue and black dress from Traina-Norell, photo by Horst P. Horst
  • Norman Parkinson Fashion study in doorway, March 1946
  • Leopard hat cold weather elegance, photo by Constantin Joffé
  • McCall pattern 6627
  • Model wearing belted fitted gray suit, a Vogue Couturier design, February 1946, photo by Horst P. Horst
  • Nina Leen photo
  • Dress by Mildred Orrick
  • Dorian Leigh, June 1946, photo by John Rawlings
  • B.H. Wragge dress

By contrast peasant looks—ruffled, midriff-bearing, and feminine—made a softer impression for casual wear.

  • May 1946 Charm cover, photo by Jon Abbot
  • The young Marilyn Monroe
  • Photo by Constantin Joffe
  • High school girls in Phoenix model frilly skirts and blouses in October 1946
  • Swimwear by Jacques Fath and Carven

Shoulders reached an apotheosis, never (not even in the 1980s) to be so large again. 

  • Morry Silver Originals coat
  • Awning-striped dress, Everfast ad, photo by Plucer
  • January 1946 Vogue advertisement, Adele Simpson outfit
  • February 1946 Charm cover, photo by Jon Abbot
  • Forstmann ad
  • Harzfeld's ad, dress by Herbert Soundheim

At the same time, shoulders were often bared for the classically elegant evening gowns of the year.

  • Carmen dell’Orefice, photo by Erwin Blumenfeld for Vogue
  • Two silk satin evening gowns by Charles James
  • Dorian Leigh wearing a dress by Traina-Norell
  • Charles James dress, Met Museum collection
  • November 15 1946 Vogue, Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer Paley, dress by Paquin, jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels, photo by John Rawlings
  • Photo by Gjon Mili
  • Moyen ad, photo by George Platt Lynes
  • Balenciaga
  • Balmain
  • Photo by Nina Leen

Victory rolls were a thing of the past, and long hair, whether worn loosely or sleekly piled high, was in vogue. Hats could be either over-the-top flamboyant or neat and rather handsome—a microcosm of the fashion extremes of the year.

  • June 1946 Vogue
  • October 1946 Elle, Paulette hat
  • Howard University student on campus
  • January 1946 Vogue, photo by Clifford Coffin
  • October 1946 Charm
  • October 1946 Vogue, photo by John Rawlings
  • Mademoiselle, cloche hat
  • Ad for The Broadway, Sondheim dress, hat by Sally Victor
  • March 1946 Vogue, photo by Horst P. Horst
  • Eileen McClory modeling Nelly Don
  • 'Royal blue daywear elegance’
  • Madame Paulette, Paris, veiled hat

Shoes ranged from flat and remarkably bare to tall and sleek. Grecian-style lacings were on trend.

  • June 1946, white high-lacing sandals from Delman and sheer stockings from Artcraft
  • “Make a fashion-point of leg-tan by wearing matched-tan leather sandals and, perversely, cover your arms to the wrist.” May 1, 1946 Vogue, photo by John Rawlings
  • Footwear, 1946
  • Boris Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet
  • Lauren Bacall
  • September 1946 Vogue, Baroness Reutern models her Italian thong sandals

With all the beachwear shown in 1946 you might think it was an exceptionally warm year, but it wasn't. Instead, as Le Figaro wrote, "People were craving the simple pleasures of the sea and the sun. For women, wearing a bikini signaled a kind of second liberation. There was really nothing sexual about this. It was instead a celebration of freedom and a return to the joys in life." (quoted by Elizabeth D. Hoover in 60 Years of Bikinis)

The bikini was so named on July 5 of 1946, four days after the Bikini Atoll became the site of the first peacetime nuclear weapons test by the U.S. Louis Réard said he named his version of the revealing suit because it was "small and devastating" a nuclear weapon. Playsuits, sundresses and swimsuits stated loud and clear that the war was over, and the joy of going to the beach was back.

  • Jacques Heim's version of the bikini,  the "Atome"
  • Swimwear fashions, photo by Nina Leen
  • 1946 pattern
  • Playsuit by Bonnie Cashin, Met Museum collection
  • Erwin Blumenfeld, Untitled for Vogue
  • Hollywood Pattern 1870
  • February 1946 The Californian

Leisure clearly was a theme in fashion, and central to women's off-work fun was trouser dressing.

  • August 1946 Junior Bazaar, photo by Herman Landshoff
  • January 1946 Vogue, Clare Potter design, Cohama Fabrics ad
  • August 1946 Junior Bazaar, photo by Herman Landshoff
  • Model is wearing a grey wool flannel knickers and vest by Winthrop Mills, photo by Serge Balkin
  • Model is wearing red, white and blue rayon gabardine slack suit with a bolero by Arrowhead, photo by Constantin Joffe

Really, it was a great time to be Claire McCardell. The American designer always came to fashion with women's comfort, freedom and movement in mind. In 1946 she gave women classic, unfussy gowns, elegantly practical workwear, and brilliant sunsuits and swimwear. Show women of today McCardell's designs from 71 years ago and they are likely to be surprised at the year...and wish they could wear the very same clothes now!

  • Drawstring dress by Claire McCardell, photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe
  • Beachwear by Claire McCardell, photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe
  • Summer Dresses by Claire McCardell, photo by Genevieve Naylor
  • Met Museum collection
  • Corbis image
  • Corbis image
  • Trousers Set by Claire McCardell, photo by Serge Balkin



denisebrain=18, Earth Day=47, The Earth=4.54 billion

Today is the 18th anniversary of denisebrain. I didn't plan this day to coincide with Earth Day in 1999, but it has always seemed fitting. After all, vintage fashion is the chicest form of reuse...recycling in style! 

Earth Day is now 47, dwarfing my little 18 years in business—and the Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, dwarfing most everything. I still feel that all we can do to honor our beautiful "home" truly matters.  


Please help me celebrate the 18th anniversary of denisebrain by using the coupon code 18THBIRTHDAY for 18% off any purchase from the denisebrain Etsy shop through Monday, April 24, 2017. 

...and celebrate the Earth every day by wearing vintage! 



Book Review: Dangerous to Know

Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932)

Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932)

Feel a thrill at the very mention of movie legends? Transported by wittily scribed Hollywood gossip? Compelled to unravel murders alongside great film noir detectives? Darkly fascinated by the insidious Nazi influences on the interwar movie industry?

Then Dangerous to Know is a book you must read.

My fascination with this book also comes from a more esoteric thread, that of costume design and fashion. The year is 1938, and the costume designer Edith Head is working to secure her ascendance at Paramount Studios. She has draped Dorothy Lamour famously in a sarong for The Hurricane, Anna Mae Wong in exotic sophistication for Dangerous to Know (yes, a fine title for this book). 

Head's own style has changed with her burgeoning career. She is now the serious woman with the closed-lip smile, neat black bangs and chignon, and owlish round black glasses we all can picture. For the book, the real Edith Head becomes a fictional character, friends with plucky young Lillian Frost, who has secured a job as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. They make an interesting team, Edith and Lillian, with enough intelligence, wit, depth, bravery, and (of course) style to drive the plot forward like bolts of silk under the sewing needles in the costume studio on the night before a Paramount filming. 

An obscure but true historical scandal, one that left Jack Benny and George Burns facing smuggling charges, is the scaffolding of the drama. In her quest to put her best foot forward, Edith Head asks Lillian Frost to help Marlene Dietrich find missing friend, accompanist, and fellow émigré Jens Lohse. Lillian discovers Lohse's dead body, along with a trail of real and fictional characters that lead her into a murder mystery maze worthy of Old Hollywood.

I couldn't put the book down, not just because I couldn't wait to discover the denouement, but because the writing has picturesque vintage details, such as Lillian's landlady Mrs. Quigley, "her taste buds ravaged by an excess of champagne and oysters during her Ziegfeld Follies days, brewed java strong enough to bring Pony Express riders to their knees" or Errol Flynn guiding a young woman "into his banquette as if she were a Buick with balky steering.”

Precise are the references to fashion, as when Lillian describes to Edith a woman of a certain age at a dinner party:

Picture a floor-length sheath of white silk jersey...with a gargantuan royal-blue bow covering most of the bodice. The points of which unfortunately emphasized Mrs. Lauer’s sagging jawline.

Yes, I picture this, and recognize the implications. I could easily conjure the image of every fashion described in Dangerous to Know, and there are many. When Lillian proclaims that her millionaire boss wore not a tuxedo for a dinner party, but blue serge, I feel privy to a deeper understanding of the characters. 

When we first see Dietrich? 

Marlene Dietrich coasted into the office, crooked smile first. She wore a pale green daytime suit with a subtle checkered pattern and slightly flared skirt. The matching emerald veil on her low-crowned hat did extraordinary favors for eyes that required no help.

The thrill of the star's presence is as palpable as that emerald veil.

Dangerous to Know was authored by Rosemarie and Vince Keenan, under the pseudonym Renee Patrick. One of them, but most likely both the wife and husband, are deeply steeped in Old Hollywood history, making their story intoxicatingly real right down to the collars and cuffs.

It is the second Lillian Frost & Edith Head novel by Renee Patrick, the first, Design for Dying, is now on my must-read list, as will be any future stories starring these new favorite sleuths. 


Please note: A copy of Dangerous to Know was given to me to review if I wished, with no quid pro quo expected.




Desert Island Vintage with guest Helen Mae Green



My third guest on Desert Island Vintage is Helen Mae Green, who has been writing the personal style blog Lovebirds Vintage since 2012. She has mused about her vintage style being inspired not so much by stars as by everyday people. Even though I'd argue to the contrary, Helen claims she isn't glamorous. Certainly her style seems classic, timeless—and real. I can see her stepping out of one of the vintage photos she cites as inspiration. 

Helen in a favorite 1950s dress

Helen in a favorite 1950s dress

Although in the thick of studies, she graciously took the time to answer the Desert Island Question: 


What does this studious English rose fancy? Read on:


"I decided to start off with those items of vintage I currently own that I couldn’t do without, either because they’re very hardworking items in my wardrobe or because they’re just too pretty.  As I’m limited to 8 items in total, I narrowed my selection down to three absolute favourites and two items where I own the modern repro version but would really love to have the real thing. The remaining items are all fantasy items because a girl’s got to dream! They’re all items on my ongoing “to buy” list, so hopefully they’ll eventually make their way into my wardrobe.



1.     "1940s blue floral dress

The first item I’ve chosen is this gorgeous original 1940s dress in a blue floral rayon. This dress is what my 1940s dreams are made of, and I really wish I had the money and the lifestyle to add more genuine 1940s pieces to my wardrobe. As it is, I don’t often get the opportunity to wear my most precious vintage pieces at the moment, but as long as this dress is in my wardrobe I can’t feel too bad. The fit is perfect on me, and I love the way the dress hangs and moves. The ruffles on the front add an extra special touch, and there’s even a pretty belt that fastens at the back. I really feel like a princess every time I wear this.

2.     "c. 1970s wool skirt

This skirt is the ultimate “workhorse” item in my wardrobe. It’s vintage from the 1970s or 80s but I often wear it in a 1950s inspired style. I live in England so it gets pretty cold over the autumn and winter, so the medium-weight wool helps to keep me nice and warm, especially when layered over an underskirt and some knitted tights. It’s a great neutral colour so it’s very versatile, and it even has pockets. Winner!

3.     "1980s boots

What can I say about these boots? They’re a bit steampunk, a bit cowboy, and a lot fabulous. I love the Victorian-inspired shape of them, and although the pattern looks a bit crazy, they still seem to go with a lot of different outfits. I bought them when I was on a quest to find boots without a zip up the inside as they tend to cause me to trip over my own feet, but I also prefer lace-up boots for aesthetic reasons. I get no end of compliments when I wear these and they’re so unique and great fun to wear.

4.     "Original 1940s or 50s jeans

For this next item we’re getting slightly more into the fantasy realm. I have several pairs of reproduction vintage jeans that I wear regularly, like those shown in the picture, but I’d really like to own some original ones. I went through a phase of not wearing jeans because I thought they could be a bit scruffy or unflattering, but vintage ones are a completely different beast. They’re still a casual item but aren’t completely unstructured, and the high waist divides the body across its narrowest point rather than its widest point like modern low-rise jeans. I find this much more flattering as it doesn’t create a muffin top where there otherwise wouldn’t be one, and is much better at hiding problem areas if you do have them. Overall, jeans are now an integral part of my wardrobe, and I’ll definitely be looking out for an original pair to add to my collection.

5.     "White 1940s blouse

This is another item where I have owned various reproduction versions, but would really like to own an original one. I’m of the belief that every girl needs a nice structured white blouse, and mine always get lots of use. I like the shoulder pads and wonderful sharp collars.

6.     "Quilted circle skirt

I’ve been looking out for a quilted circle skirt in my size and price range for a long time. I think they’re very stylish but also they appeal to me as being something a little warmer for the winter, as it’s always my winter wardrobe that seems to be lacking.

1950s novelty print quilted cotton circle skirt owned and worn by Janey Ellis of the Atomic Redhead blog

1950s novelty print quilted cotton circle skirt owned and worn by Janey Ellis of the Atomic Redhead blog

7.     "1940s suit

Ah, suits. So stylish, so versatile. I have a great 1950s suit which gets a lot of wear, both as a whole suit and with the skirt and jacket worn separately, but I’d really love a beautifully fitted 1940s suit to wear as well. Something about the fit and style of 1940s clothing despite the rationing really shines through in suits for me.

War-era woman wearing a suit (Flickr Commons)

War-era woman wearing a suit (Flickr Commons)

8.     "1950s New Look coat

Another thing I’ve had on my to-buy list for a long time, and my last Desert Island item, is a wide-skirted 1950s coat in a New Look style. I wear a lot of full skirts (or full-skirted dresses) and am forever frustrated by how coats in the wrong shape squash the skirts, and how modern ones are almost certainly too short to cover the skirt which can look odd. If I had a coat like this, I’d wear it a lot and probably have a lot of fun swishing about. A must-have for sure.

J. Paul & Sons Mannequin Parade, 1949 (Flickr Commons)

J. Paul & Sons Mannequin Parade, 1949 (Flickr Commons)

Perhaps she will wear such a coat on a case once she gets her degree. Oh didn't I mention? Helen is currently working on her PhD in forensic entomology. I like to imagine her future employment could rather handily place her in a 1940s film noir—and she would probably enjoy wearing the clothing! 

Many thanks to Helen Mae Green for sharing her Desert Island capsule wardrobe with us all!

Besides her Lovebirds Vintage blog, be sure to look for Helen on Facebook and Instagram (including some of her glorious recent modeling photos!).


What would you want if you could have just eight vintage fashion pieces? If you'd like to be featured here, let me know!