Sunday, January 22, 2012

The elements of style: tops

I was going to give this post a more specific title, but now that I've done some research, I've realized that specifics will have to wait for the next post. There's so much to cover! It's all quite fascinating, as you will learn if you keep reading. And now I realize, too, that "tops" can sound misleading... "toppings" are different than "tops," even if you are talking about just clothing. To settle this dispute, this is a blog post about tops. Not toppings, such as hats. Tops, like blouses, sweaters, etc. Things to wear on your top half.
While I would love to make this an exhaustive list of what to wear and how to wear it, we'll save that for the post on accessories. Today's fun entails the art of blouses, and elements such as wraps, cardigans, and jackets.


I won't discuss all the styles for sleeves, necklines, or collars in this post, but I wanted to give you a smattering of different types of blouses worn with pencil skirts, circle skirts, and pants of all kinds. There are so many to choose from! I will say that sleeveless and capped-sleeve blouses were common, especially for young women. My opinion is that they were favored because they left lots of opportunity to mix and match jackets and sweaters, and because they made it easy to add or remove a layer when going out.
thrifty blouse 8805 Simplicity 3882 Blouses simplicity blouse 2305


Sweater-set (or twin set)

School girls commonly wore these with poodle (circle) skirts, in the 1950s and 1960s. Made popular by screen stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelly (on and off the screen), this style of clothing usually looks knit (wool, lambswool, or cashmere), but can be made from synthetic fabric.
The set was very often a sleeveless top and bracelet- or full-length sleeved sweater, and usually high-necked, as shown. The collars could be simple or ornate - peter pan collars were common in the blouses, as were monograms and embroidery for the sweaters (although I doubt they were worn at the same time).



We'll talk about girdles later, but I have to point out that when you watch all those old movies where the girls' waists are completely slim and impossibly not-bulgy, this is an effect, not a naturally-occuring phenomenon. No matter how hard you try, without a girdle, you are going to bulge. Period, end of story. The point is, most real 1950s blouse bodices were made for a particular shape - made possible only by a girdle. They are fitted supremely, and in my opinion are lovely to look at when watching Mitzi Gaynor, Marilyn Monroe, or Rosemary Clooney movies.


I love jackets these days because they take the pressure off having the perfect figure for whatever I'm wearing. It helps that it's winter, but doesn't help that an outer coat is usually necessary on top of a jacket against the cold... but never mind my personal fashion problems. Jackets are wonderful. They provide (as interesting collars do) an opportunity for creativity with any outfit.
I've posted one of my outfits with a fitted jacket (and pencil skirt) to show how this can go - but mind you, this jacket is modern and rather a shoddy replica of the awesome things women wore sixty years ago. To help you find your own, I've included a few types and descriptions below.
from from


These short jackets change the silhouette, often making one's waist look as wide as one's hips. I like them, however, because they are usually short enough to emphasize the curvature of one's lower half and hint at the slimness of the waist above. 
I think these photographs give a good idea of how that works. Coco Chanel designed jackets like these that weren't fitted and were thus more practical for movement and popular with American women who couldn't quite get away with the haute couture look of the time.
from from


These jackets are wonderful for suits with pencil skirts (the modern woman's suit blazer started as this) and emphasize the hourglass shape even though they are outer clothing.
The antithesis of this kind of jacket might be the loathsome anoraks people wore in the 1980s to evidently hide everything worth looking at and make women look like they have shoulders the height of the Sears Tower. Ick. You can find a picture of one here, but be warned: they are ugly enough to melt your eyeballs. A pox on anyone who tries to bring them back into fashion!



This wonderful style shows off more of the blouse and waistline than the other two jacket types, and is the most creative of all, as you can see from the picture. Some were made to match the skirts or dresses they outfitted, and some could be worn with other pieces. These days, they very often hang loosely so it's difficult to wear them with long sleeves. When shopping vintage, keep your eyes peeled for these short-sleeved, super-cropped jackets as a wonderful accessory to otherwise-mismatched outfits.

Wraps, Shawls, Capes, and other draperies

This lovely pseudo-accessory offers plenty of room for creativity in one's outfit. I'm only just discovering them with my own wardrobe, but there are a lot of examples out there with which to swathe yourself. I've included just a few, with more of my own examples to come.
my from the 1950s-red scarf and gloves mccall scarves 1500 CN00007133
In the next post I'll discuss collars and necklines on blouses and gowns of all kinds. There's such a wide range, I couldn't include them in this post. Check back soon for the next installment of "The elements of style"!
Also, many thanks to Jessica of for providing the bulk of the pictures for this post!

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