Sunday 29 April 2012

Ties to the past

Late last year I blogged about a little score at one of my local charity shops.  At the time I focussed on the books and their subject whilst saying of the ties that I would get to them later.  Well, having recently obtained two more items of neckwear I thought now would be the time to go through them all.
So, starting with the original pair from December I'll deal with the least "vintage-y" first - the right-hand one of the two, an old Next design made of lightweight silk.  Despite the high street name and the insubstantial nature of its fabric it does have some things going for it.  The thinner silk makes it pleasant to knot and its length is perfect (more on that later).  It also has a rather nifty trick up its sleeve (or rather its blade, perhaps!) - despite being thin silk the pattern is such that from even a short distance away it resembles a much more highly crafted necktie that could easily be mistaken for a woven silk or even a woollen one.  Blue, brown and gold colours means that it goes with several different outfits - this one's got a busy life in front of it.

The second of the two is a study in opposites.  A really thick woven silk, its quality is quite tangible even before you see the name - Wolsey.  Vintage inasmuch as Wolsey don't seem to make ties any more, it is otherwise a fairly pedestrian design but once again goes well with a range of dark colours.  The red flecks are also a welcome touch.  However so thick is this tie that it really needs to be worn with a cutaway collar, and only certain knots work well with it.

The two newest arrivals are both very similar to one another.  I came across them last Thursday in my local Barnados which is quite unusual in that very rarely do I unearth anything of interest there and - it has to be said - it does seem to be at the higher end when it comes to prices (although neither points have been my experience at other branches).  These two beauties however, hanging amongst an unremarkable number of polyester jobs, were a princely 99p each!

They are two of the loveliest traditional knitted ties - 100% wool with the narrower-style blade - both made by two now-defunct tie-makers. The first is a green-grey colour and made by Tern.  It has obviously been worn many times but once I get it cleaned up a bit I'm sure it will have many years of life left in it.  It knots nicely and has a good length to it. 

The second of the two is by far and away my favourite, though.  In a beautiful oatmeal brown, this fellow was made by the Afonwen Woollen Mill in North Wales.  Although I can find no information on it, it must have been a traditional wool mill - the quality is splendid, it is in jolly good condition and knots very well indeed.  If I have one tiny criticism it is that it's slightly on the long side.

Which brings me nicely on to that which I said I'd talk more about later - tie length.  I used to have a bit of problem with ties in this regard.  This stemmed from my being blessed/cursed with long legs (the hunt for trousers is still often a fruitless one - the general 33in inside leg limit of most shops barely suffices; 34in is better but harder to find, so alterations are usually the order of the day...) and a short body.  Never was a man more suited to the (now hard to find!) traditional high-waisted trouser!  The upshot of this is that ties knotted in the common four-in-hand style would finish embarrassingly far below my waistband.  I finally overcame this sartorial problem thanks in part to the wonderful book 85 Ways to Tie a Tie (the title is slightly misleading - there are really only 13 distinct knots with the remaining 72 being variations).  Three in particular produce æsthetically pleasing knots while at the same time using enough cloth to produce a good length.  They are the [brilliantly-named] Cavendish, the Victoria, and the Prince Albert.  Several others - for example the delightful-looking Plattsburgh/Dovorian - I am still endeavouring to master.

Although now out of print, 85 Ways to Tie a Tie should be readily available from most libraries.  Thanks to Lord Whimsy the thirteen main styles are available to download here, along with some equally splendid pocket square folds. In the meantime I continue to look out for more ties with which to practise, but these four are welcome additions for now.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Never-before-seen vintage photos of New York City hit the Internet


Never-before-seen vintage photos of New York City hit the Internet

More historic photographs now, this time made available by the New York City Municipal Archives, consisting of over 800,000 images of the Big Apple taken over the course of one hundred years from the 1880s to the 1980s.  All sorts of things are represented from the magnificent to the macabre and the collection looks to be of great interest to history buffs like us.

Historic New York

This selection of shots is just a small part of the New York Department of Records' 2.2 million images taken down the decades (and it makes you wonder how many millions of photographs are lying unseen in government archives around the world) but it's enough to be going on with for now at least and plans are well under way to put more images online in time.


As with all the best vintage pictures scenes of long-forgotten people, incidents and locations are contained within many of the images, giving a glimpse into the past of a great city.  The NYC Municipal Archives Online Gallery is yet another welcome addition to the growing ranks of Internet-accessible historic photography and I look forward to browsing through its many thousands of images.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Writers in the sky

Whatever happened to skywriters - those skilled aviators for whom the sky was a blank canvas?  (Or banner-towing aircraft for that matter.  Where have they gone?).  We marvel at the likes of the Red Arrows and their wonderful smoke-filled displays but seeing actual words formed by looping and diving aircraft is always a special thrill.  Both they and aeroplanes trailing banners hark back to more cheery times, I always feel.

The above clip, produced for Chevrolet in 1935, features a dashing aviator explaining the intricacies of skywriting to a well-dressed (and rather game!) young lady before flying off to do a bit of advertising for the aforementioned car company.  It is part of a selection of similar films called the Prelinger Archives (including this amusing retelling of the Cinderella story, in which our heroine drives a 1937 Chevy!), which I was fortunate enough to discover via The Atlantic.  Enjoy!

Monday 23 April 2012

Happy St. George's day 2012

Happy St. George's Day, one and all!  I hope the April showers haven't dampened any celebrations of the event!

Here's a bit of Vaughan Williams-esque Jeeves & Wooster - two of the most characteristically English performances of the 20th Century - to really set the mood for England's saint's day.

And hopefully put you in mind of (sunny!) hills and dales, rural villages and English traditions.  Enjoy the rest of the day!

Friday 20 April 2012

David Niven, Style Icon

Egad, it's gone all quiet again!  Time to roll out another style icon, methinks.


David Niven is not only an icon in the style stakes, but is also the quintessential Englishman.  Cary Grant may have been born in England, Fred Astaire as near as dammit successfully carried off the English fashions (and both men shopped at Savile Row) but David Niven neatly encapsulates the stylish British gentleman.


As with all my style icons thus far David Niven can manage a multitude of looks yet still retain his air of grace and sophistication.  He also possesses a type of gentlemanliness that is all his own; simultaneously the ladies-man, chevalier and all-round wit.  He was as much the raconteur, merrymaker and gentleman away the camera as he was in front of it.  I admire him all the more for this considering the many hardships he had to endure during his life - at 5 losing his father to the Great War, then a step-father who made no secret of his dislike for him; a difficult school life; an unhappy Army career (during one particularly boring lecture, when he was due to go out on a date, Niven was put under arrest for responding to the request for "any questions" with "Could you tell me the time, sir? I have to catch a train"!); the struggle to make it in 1930s Hollywood; the tragic loss of his first wife and his less-than-happy second marriage; an active role in the Second World War and finally his painful (and much publicised at the time) illness and death.  To accomplish so much and be so dashed... debonair despite all that is just marvellous.


Like his contemporaries Niven was at home in the styles of his period(s), be they the casual off-set look (above) or the formal evening wear in which he would sometimes appear both in front of the cameras or at awards ceremonies and all of which he wore with effortless aplomb.  Who better to play Raffles, the gentleman thief?  (Well, OK, Ronald Colman, yes...).


Of course in uniform he was equally at home and his time in the Army was obviously of great benefit whenever he appeared in military-themed films.  He was, in fact one of the few "Hollywood British" to return to the United Kingdom after the declaration of war in 1939 and saw action with the Commandos from 1940, as well as still appearing in a the films The First Of The Few and The Way Ahead.  During one heated battle Niven was heard to say to his men, "Look, you chaps only have to do this once. But I'll have to do it all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn!"


The pencil-thin moustache is even now known as "the David Niven" and epitomises the well-groomed elegance of the earlier time in which it was so popular.  It is impossible to imagine David Niven without his upper lip adornment, and equally difficult to pull the look off successfully today.  I know - I've tried (and failed!  Spectacularly.).



As with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, for the average chap to even approach the look sported by David Niven or the charming and urbane nature he displayed is practically impossible.  Perhaps more so than either of my previous two icons it is the manners - and not just the clothes - that maketh the man.  All we can ever hope to be is...


Saturday 14 April 2012

Spitfires buried in Burma during war could be returned to UK

Spitfires buried in Burma during war could be returned to UK

Many good things look to be coming out of the recent political shift taking place in Burma and the diplomatic visit from the Prime Minister a few days ago.  One of the more minor results - small in the grand scheme of things but of great interest to the likes of you and me - is the potential repatriation of no less than 20 Supermarine Spitfires that were buried in the Burmese jungle at the end of the Second World War.

That's right - a whole squadron-worth of Spitfires that were shipped out to the RAF in the Far East early in 1945 currently lie under several feet of Burmese soil at the disused airfield from where they would have flown in the last months of the war.  Except they never did.  They never even made it out of their crates to be reassembled and military aviation historians who are helping to investigate the possibility of their recovery believe that they will be waxed, greased, wrapped and therefore perhaps in the same condition as when they came off the boat in 1945.  If true, it will certainly make restoration that much easier!

These twenty Spits - almost half as many as are currently airworthy worldwide - never saw action as it was feared, even as late as July 1945, that a Japanese invasion of Burma was being planned.  Rather than let valuable war materiél fall into enemy hands it was decided to bury them as they were.  A matter of weeks later the atomic bombs ended the war and the aeroplanes have remained undisturbed ever since. 

The thought of increasing the number of flyable Spits by almost 50% sounds almost too good to be true - all the more so given the time-capsulesque nature of this discovery.  By the sounds of it things seem to be moving fast, though, and these twenty lost Spitfires - probably Mark VIIIs, which were among the most numerous variants in the Pacific theatre at the time - could be back in the country and undergoing well-deserved restoration very soon.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Pulham St Mary airship photographs saved from skip

Pulham St Mary airship photographs saved from skip

What-oh, everyone!  I hope you all had a splendid Easter (or equivalent festival) and are fully recovered from the glut of chocolate, hot-cross buns and whatnot.  I've been so busy-busy this last week it seems Easter was an age ago, and I am grateful for the chance to finally sit down and blog.

Back in November rare photographs of Tower Bridge under construction were found in a London skip and now more unusual pictures, this time of WW1-era airships based in the Norfolk town of Pulham St Mary, have been recovered from another London skip.  I'm thinking we're going to have to organise a "skip crawl" of the capital at this rate; I doubt I'll ever be able to pass a skip without having a rummage now(!).  Once again it amazes me that such historic items were on the verge of being chucked out with the rubbish.

These certainly are pictures of historical importance, too, as they detail the early years of airship development in Britain during and after the First World War.  Showing the R.33 and R.34 airships, precursors to the later R.100 and R.101, undergoing tests (including attempts to use the R.33 as a flying aircraft carrier) and flying from their Norfolk base they are of both national and local significance.  They are also of such high quality that aviation historians have been able to discern aspects of these machines in greater detail than ever before.

Due to its distinctive topography (i.e. as flat as a pancake) Norfolk was the ideal place to base dirigibles and one can just imagine these airships sailing over fields and broads during the 1920s as the area around Pulham St Mary became a hive of lighter-than-air activity.  Would that it were still possible to see these craft soaring above the East Anglian countryside, but at least there are now even more valuable photographs in the possession of the local museum to remind us of that incredible period of British aviation history.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Easter Greetings

A Happy Easter to all my readers, may you all have wonderful time whatever you're doing.  I'm away with the family for a couple of days, so we'll catch up after the Easter holidays when I look forward to seeing what you've all been up to.  Don't overdo the chocolate eggs, now!

Appropriately for Easter, I saw my first daf of the year today. 
Spring has definitely sprung, despite the indecisive weather.

Chances of Easter Parade being shown on the television over the Easter weekend?  Probably non-existent (although I see Bringing Up Baby is on BBC2 on Saturday).  Still, I leave you with this classic routine from the incomparable Fred Astaire.  Happy Easter To You!

Monday 2 April 2012

Old soul, young chap

Old soul, young chap

In the near three (!) years I've been writing this blog I've met (virtually) many like-minded vintage friends from all over the world, from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, and Germany as well as Great Britain.  If Google Stats is to be believed this blog has had readers from such far-flung places as Russia, Venezuela, Thailand and even eyebrow-raising locales like Iran, Iraq, Vietnam and China.  Just today there's apparently been someone from the Åland Islands.  Clearly an appreciation of vintage is not confined to the British Isles.

Just another old soul...
This fact is further reinforced by the accompanying article that I was fortunate enough to have fall into my Inbox from the Malaysian Star Online, charmingly written by a young (presumably Malaysian) lad who I will likely never meet but with whom I felt an immediate affinity.  For his story, as told, is so very much like my own - and, I have no doubt, like a good many of my readers'.  The feeling of a past life out of time inhabiting a young body, the cultural tastes so different to those of his peers, the dislike of some modern technology and a preference for all things vintage but with the underlying desire to try and merge the best of the two together - it's all there, just the same, but half a world away.

Even after all this time reading blogs, writing and reading messages to and  from people across oceans (as well as closer to home) it always remains a heartwarming surprise and delight to read such a similar outlook and appreciation of the past - a shared past in many ways - in spite of the geographical distances and [perceived] cultural differences that can be involved.  Vintage fascination truly is a worldwide phenomenon and it is wonderful to be able to share it with people from such varied locations (thanks - somewhat ironically - to that marvel of the modern age, the Internet).  Thanks to Mohammad Shafiq Razak in Malaysia for reminding me of my own path to vintage (may you continue to enjoy your own journey) and to all my followers, readers and passing visitors near and far for stopping by.

Sunday 1 April 2012

1925 Beverly Hills home frozen in time


1925 Beverly Hills home frozen in time

Another slow week of news and a bit of a break to enjoy the early Spring weather and have something of a rest has meant that it has been a while since my last blog post but, like buses, a few things have come along in the last couple of days that I intend to feature here.

This first story is reminiscent of the 100-year old French mansion and 1930s Parisian flat that were both left untouched for decades and which were reported on a year or two ago.  This time, though, it is a house of 1925 vintage that has remained unchanged for the last 87 years, the result of the late owner being the daughter of the couple who built it in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.


One of the "Mediterranean" styles of house that proved so popular among the rich and famous of California throughout the 1920s and '30s, Winter House is even more remarkable for retaining all of its period features.  Copper window shutters, staff buzzers and intercoms, telephone recesses, the original cooker & boilers and even a 78rpm record library (above) all still remain just as they did in 1925.  It is a truly amazing snapshot of 1920s Los Angeles and now for the first time in its 87-year history it is up for sale.


A cool $5½million (£3.4million) is the asking price for this Beverly Hills gem, so well within the reach of a good many residents I should imagine - although quite beyond the purse of this poor blogger.

If we were to take the type of person who appears on "reality" shows and celebrity gossip programmes as the average Beverly Hills denizen one might be worried for the future of such a wonderful building, but judging by this article in the LA Times the estate agents seem to be well aware of the significance of what they've got and the interest expressed so far sounds beneficial.  Since the success of The Artist Hollywood has become more aware and protective of its heritage and I feel sure that Winter House will be more appreciated and sympathetically restored as a result.


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