Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Keeping cool in the 30s

Serving me well on my 30th birthday last year
While I (and, I suspect, many others) have been enduring the heat of a glorious British summer as this country continues to swelter in temperatures consistently in the high twenties (centigrade) - and sometimes uncomfortably into the 30s - I find my mind turning to more casual, lightweight vintage fashions for the chap.

My go-to wardrobe staple in warmer weather is my trusty and well-worn brown linen suit, purchased from Primark (as a two-piece; alas neither of my local branches had the waistcoat in stock!) and which has served me well for what must be coming up to eight years now.  Paired with a linen or cotton shirt, a cravat, brown leather shoes and Panama hat, such an ensemble has helped to keep me cool through various summers while giving me a semblance of vintage style in what have been some lean times.

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The light-coloured, lightweight suit has long been the standard outfit for gentlemen during the hotter months and such a look is still my ultimate goal - although with my lemonade budget it may yet be some time before I reach it!  Fortunately, as has been noted before, menswear has by and large changed little over 100 years so it is still possible to approximate a certain decade's look using some high street items.  For example, I have several pairs of cream cotton trousers (chinos, as they are known today) acquired over the years that I like to mix with the linen jacket, or a navy blue single-breasted blazer - the latter of which is one of my favourite current outfits.  Again in the longer term I would dearly love a proper brass-buttoned double-breasted number as sported by Bertie Wooster and Captain Hastings.


Further inspiration for ideal summer wear is drawn from my Pinterest board Gentlemanly Attire, where light suits and Twenties & Thirties styles are dotted throughout.

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A spiffing illustration of a couple of Jazz Age summer suits, double- and single-breasted with peak lapels, finished off with some topping hats and - of course! - co-respondent shoes.  Here's an actual example from 1931, too:

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Brioni S/S '12
As I've mentioned before the only problem with white, cream or off-white suits - at least in my experience in Britain - is the danger of being likened to Michael Jackson, Martin Bell or The Man From Del Monte by those who haven't been exposed to their wider use and for whom standard summer attire consists of shorts and flip-flops.  Still, that hasn't put me off and nor should it you.

The peak of today's white-suited sartorialism comes courtesy of high-end names like Brioni and Polo by Ralph Lauren - clothing that I fear will forever remain aspirational to the likes of me(!):

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Ralph Lauren S/S '13
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Ralph Lauren S/S '12

Of course white isn't the only cool, summer colour.  Linen doesn't always have to be white, cream or beige.  Blues and browns look just as good.

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Lightweight clothing is, after all, more about the weight of the fabric than the colour and even a suit in a lighter wool fabric - say, 8oz or so - can have cooling properties. 

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Boating blazers are another summer option that can come in a bewildering array of colours.  Some tend to be more gaudy than others so it can be a matter of personal taste what colours you prefer, if any. 

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Jasper Conran navy college stripe blazer
£49.50 @ Debenhams
Jasper Conran navy narrow stripe blazer
£29.70 @ Debenhams (currently sold out)












One of the best places I have found for decent boating blazers in recent years is Debenhams, whose Jasper Conran concession usually has a couple of styles each year.  Their current stock includes two rather fetching blues and I can attest to their quality, having tried couple on in my local branch last weekend.  Alas sizes are limited and my humble purse cannot quite stretch even to sale prices, so I've yet to own one of these beauties.

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Finally I want to touch upon the more casual vintage summer look - an area that I freely admit to having little knowledge of.  In the back of my mind I feel sure I have seen pictures at some time of men in the 1930s (including Noël Coward, Fred Astaire et al.) wearing open-necked short-sleeved shirts while at the beach or on holiday.  Yet my most recent researches can throw up precious little imagery or information beyond the usual sporting [tennis] wear, such as that in my 1940s Fashion Sourcebook.  Certainly this is an aspect of vintage menswear that deserves further investigation, as it would be nice to get a more casual Thirties look before I wilt in the next heatwave.

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On the subject of tennis shirts, my parting offering comes courtesy of Miss Rayne's Vintage Chic blog, which I have followed for some time and which Google happened to throw up as a result during my searching.  This knitted tennis shirt from the 1930s looks a pip, doesn't it?  I've tried getting mater to have a bash at it but she remains firmly unconvinced, not least because we can't work out from the pattern whether the needle size is correct, which needles to cast on with and what wool to use - any suggestions?

There, then, are my thoughts and desires on what the vintage-loving chap can wear to survive global warming.  As it's forecast to remain warm for at least another month (and in the long term get warmer still if climate change scientists are to be believed) I hope to be able to employ some of these smashing styles.  I'd love to know what you think, and what you're doing to keep cool!  Anyone for Pimms?!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Amelia Earhart mystery – 1937 photograph could be clue to her fate

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Amelia Earhart mystery – 1937 photograph could be clue to her fate 

Back in June of 2013 I blogged about the news of the latest evidence pointing to the popular theory regarding the disappearance of noted aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her co-pilot Fred Noonan during their attempted around-the-world flight in 1937.  This theory has it that Earhart and Noonan missed their scheduled refuelling stop at the tiny (< 1 mile square) Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean and flew on in their twin-engined Lockheed Electra until forced to come down on one of a group of then-uninhabited atolls known as the Phoenix Islands - probably the larger Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro).

This hypothesis is by no means a recent one - Gardner Island was identified as a potential emergency landing ground almost immediately after the Electra's disappearance and reconnaissance flights were made over the atoll during the initial two-week official search, with pilots noting "signs of recent habitation" but no "answering wave from possible inhabitants" when they zoomed low over the rocks.  Later private searches including around the Phoenix Islands produced no evidence of pilots or machine and their ultimate fate has been the subject of investigations and conspiracy theories for three-quarters of a century.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHER) - a non-profit organisation founded in 1985 for "aviation archaeology and historic preservation" - have been pursuing the Gardner Island theory for several years now, culminating in last year's expedition to Nikumaroro where sonar scans of the surrounding sea bed threw up an odd shadow 600ft below the waves that could be the remains of the Electra.

Piece of metal may offer clue to disappearance of Amelia Earhart's plane

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Now TIGHER are following up another lead with the discovery of a previously unknown photograph (which can be seen in the original Miami Herald article) of Earhart's Lockheed Electra at Miami Municipal Airport on the 1st June 1937, shortly before take-off for the next stint of the journey to Puerto Rico.  In it, a detail not seen in any other photo of the time - a sheet of metal covering what would previously have been a window.  More intriguingly, no record of this repair exists among all the documentation linked to Earhart's flight.

Among the many artefacts that TIGHAR have brought back from Nikumaroro - which include a 1930s-style woman's shoe (similar to ones worn by Earhart), bearings & tools, metal zips and pieces of Plexiglas almost identical in shape and design to that used on the Electra - is a section of aluminium panel bearing 1930s construction techniques.  It is this piece of metal that researchers are now closely comparing to a computer-enhanced blow-up of this never-before-seen image in the hope that they can match the rivet patterns and so prove beyond doubt that Earhart and Noonan did not crash into the Pacific Ocean but did indeed make it to Gardner Island, where they may have even survived for a time before succumbing to starvation and exposure.

If it can be proved that the aluminium panel seen in this new picture matches the piece recovered from Nikumaroro then it must surely settle beyond doubt one of the most enduring mysteries in aviation history - one that has remained unsolved for 77 years.  While this would not be the first bit of tangible evidence suggesting the Electra landed on Gardner Island, and with the Pacific Ocean ditch still a possibility, if the rivet patterns do match it will - taken with the other items found - be as conclusive as possible proof that the last resting place of Amelia Earhart, one of the greatest women pilots of the 20th century, has been found.  I for one certainly look forward to finding out!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Eyes on the prize

More time than I would have liked has passed since my last post - for various reasons, some of which will become apparent as they take the form of this entry.  I've still got a few exciting posts planned for the next few weeks, including the latest twist in the 77-year-old mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance and the 75 years since the first appearance of Batman, but in the meantime I feel a post letting you know what I've been up to in the last couple of weeks is a good idea.

You may have noticed that I tend to disappear from the blogosphere for a week or so at the beginning of each month - this is when I help a friend and [ex-]colleague out with the new(ish) business that he's helping to get going, and which has constituted my "working life" for the last 3 years as I've slowly recovered from the attentions of various doctors.  Alas I think even my friend would agree that starting a new company can be a painfully long and drawn out (and often unsuccessful) process so I've been spending an equal amount of time searching for a longer term guaranteed full-time job, especially now those same doctors are practically giving "get a job" as medical advice and there are bills to be paid (not to mention the obvious social and mental benefits of gainful employment).

Well dear reader, I've got one!  The plans for earning a living as a blogger/freelance writer with an online vintage shop will have to be put on hold indefinitely (!) as I return instead to my "career bread-and-butter" - research analysis.  I received the offer yesterday and start on the 4th August, which at least gives me time to get everything in order and prepare myself for my first proper full-time job in 3 years.  Wish me luck!

A casual office, sadly, so not much of this. 
I'll have to be more creative in my work attire,
at least for the first few weeks...(!)
What this means for Eclectic Ephemera is, of course, the introduction of a proper posting schedule - most likely along the lines of one or two posts at the weekend (and maybe the odd one mid-week if I can find the time).  I feel sure this will work out well in the long run, as I know many of you work to a regular timetable in order to fit blogging around a normal 9-5 job.  I mean, Norton Of Morton sticks to a Saturday at 4'o'clock and he's just won Best Vintage Blog at the 2014 National Vintage Awards, so this could be just the thing, by Jove!  Rest assured that whatever happens I've no intention of going anywhere and I continue to look forward to reading your blogs and your continued patronage to Eclectic Ephemera.

Timeless/verging on retro, or dangerously postmodern/
looking like an architect...?  Either way, they're sitting
in a drawer in two pieces now.
In other news, I visit the local optician next Friday for my biennial eye test and - whatever the result - a new pair of spectacles.  This is on account of my existing glasses breaking in a boring yet bizarre fashion  (a gentle application of hand to brow during a giggling fit at the latest edition of The Chap proved too much for a pair of specs that must have been at least 6 years old and metal fatigue finally claimed them - right across the nose bridge but at a point where it was impossible to repair them).  It could not have happened at a worse moment (although it was bound to at some point) - the afternoon before my first job interview last Wednesday!  A frantic dash to the optician only confirmed that they were indeed beyond help, with a two day wait to have my current lenses fitted to new frames.  Fortunately I still had an ancient pair of specs from a previous prescription that have been pressed into service once again, although after six years of smaller, lighter glasses these are frustratingly over-sized and heavy.

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One step closer to this...
I made my appointment while I was there - somewhat presciently it was almost two years since my last test anyway (and a reminder card popped through the letterbox a day later) - and had a look at the frames on offer.  I was pleased to see that my local optician has finally jumped on the "vintage" bandwagon by offering a selection of retro frames but disappointed to note that the selection took up all of two display columns, out of the 40-odd in the place.  Tucked out of the way, with two laminated "Vintage" and "Retro" signs wedged above them, the majority of specs were either 1960s NHS/Austin Powers/Michael Caine or nondescript 1980s/'90s styles.  I hummed and aaahed over some pairs that were either the same as my old ones or the rounder tortoiseshell style that I've fancied for a while now, before finally making my decision.  The ones I've picked are round but not too large and in a dark tortoiseshell.  Not too dark either, as the two caterpillars that have set up home above my eyes make black/heavy-framed glasses a no-no, but these are thin enough that I ought to be able to get away with it.

I'll maybe try and debut them on here next weekend, after which I'll be looking forward - through new spectacles - to a new job and a fresh start this summer.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The man who lives in 1946



The man who lives in 1946

Most of you will remember - and some of you have even blogged about - the programme Time Warp Wives, which first aired in the U.K. on Channel 4 back in 2008.  Currently on YouTube here, it featured some well-known faces in vintage circles including Joanne Massey (aka Lola Lamour) and Miss L Fire's Sammi Sadler (plus, for a few seconds around the 22-23 minute mark, our own dear Tupney!).  It garnered a lot of praise from all quarters for showing four truly vintage devotees in quite a positive light, something fairly unusual for the majority of such "real-life documentaries" these days - especially those of the fourth channel!

It's perhaps for this reason that I tend to shy away from featuring any such programming on my blog (TWW predating Eclectic Ephemera by a year) and why my first reaction to this short little clip on the B.B.C. Magazine website was one of mild suspicion.  I needn't have worried, though, as this video for the Beeb's Real Time series has turned out to be a jolly pleasant insight into one vintage chap's immersion in the past.

Indeed, Ben Sansum's story struck a chord with my own experiences - and I suspect many others' - of growing up and into vintage.  The "funny boy at school" with the "strange interests", the fascination with all aspects of a favoured period - it's all very much as it was (and is) for me.  Whether I will ever be as dedicated to my chosen era as Mr Sansum I couldn't say.  Certainly he, the Time Warp Wives and others like them give us something to admire and possibly aspire to but I have written in the past about my own attitude to the vintage lifestyle and I'm not sure I would - or could - live entirely like it was the 1920s or '30s.    

Having said that I do esteem - and envy (I want his house)! - those who do choose to live their lives in such a fashion and it pleases me no end to see them enjoying and appreciating their lifestyle as well as keeping the memory of these eras alive.  I'm glad to see the Beeb eschewed a [smarmy] voiceover and allowed Mr Sansum to quite eloquently explain in his own words his reasons and feelings regarding his vintage lifestyle.

For those of you outside the U.K. or without access to the B.B.C.'s online content, below is a similar interview with Mr Sansum carried out 3 years ago by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (in English).

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