Pin-up in the Real World: Petticoat? Why Would I Want One of Those?

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Had you said that to me three months ago, I would have agreed with you. I mean really – who would want to wear those things anyway? Scratchy… cumbersome… poufy!

When I first started embracing modern pin-up fashion, I saw no need for these mounds of tulle and fluffiness. To me, the only place for them was under princess costumes, southern belle dresses or square dancing skirts. I mean, c’mon; anyone remember Giselle in Enchanted? Who wants to get stuck in doorways? Plus, they seemed to take the look too far into the past for me to be able to wear it on a regular basis and not look out of place.

‘Besides’, I thought. ‘These are modern versions of vintage dresses. They’re made differently. You don’t need the petticoat, right?’

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Wanting to test out my new look at work, I donned my brand new cherry pin-up dress like any other dress in my collection. No one seemed too freaked out as I made the long journey to my desk at the back of the building. ‘Okay,’ I breathed. ‘Going good so far…’

You are probably wondering what the big deal was. Prior to this, I was never really known as a fashionista among my colleagues. Believe me; my motto could have been, “Business is business. If you want fashion, go look elsewhere.” But as I realized how flattering and at home I felt in vintage fashions, something happened… I actually felt beautiful, and wanted people to notice. At the same time, my lack of confidence and fear of rejection made me one nervous cat on the catwalk.

Fast-forward an hour or two. I got up from my desk and started making the long trek down the hallway. I tend to walk with a pretty long gait and sense of purpose anyway, and my ever-growing confidence only strengthened that walk. Then about halfway down the room, I decided to glance down…

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Have you ever seen that movie, Miss Congeniality, and that scene where Michael Caine’s character is spraying hairspray up Sandra Bullock’s backside as she prepares for the swimsuit competition?

“What are you doing?”

“It stops the suit from riding up.”

“Riding up where?”

“Just… up!”

Suddenly I wished I had that can of hairspray. There was no other way to describe it. And of course, right as I made my discovery, who would be coming my way but a male co-worker waving and smiling, “Hello, Liz!”

I don’t know what would have been more red – the cherries on my dress, or my face. Screaming in my mind as I dashed to the ladies’ room, I attempted to fix the problem and find some way of preventing it again. But what could have caused it, I wondered?

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With the scrutiny of Dick Tracy hot on a case, I analyzed my possible suspects when I got home. Culprit number one was the pantyhose. Fine, ditch those when I wear this dress. It seemed to make it better, but the dress was still moving north to Yellowknife when I walked. What on Earth could it be?

Needless to say, my beloved dress hung sadly in the closet for a while. So did my newfound confidence. Making my way back to the shop where I bought it, I asked the staff what could have caused the problem. At first, even the owner was baffled. She herself had the same dress, and had never experienced the problem. Then again, she always wore hers with a petticoat. And that’s when we figured it out.

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Modern petticoats seem to come in two main sizes. I settled on a knee-length one that would tuck neatly under the longer dress, but I had to wait about a month or two to get it. This fluffy accessory wasn’t cheap, you know; I had to make the purchase worth it.

Then came the moment of truth. I had to face my fear head on. Wearing the full ensemble, I prepared for the worst as I went to work that day. By quitting time, I could not believe it. It actually worked! One of my co-workers even asked me to twirl in front of everyone!

Not only that, I felt like I was sitting on a soft pillow all day. The Sit Test is one of the most important to me when it comes to clothes, and this garment certainly got my seal of approval. And who doesn’t want a glamorous way to stay warm without having to don long underwear?

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Petticoats are indeed making a comeback, and I’m a firm believer that any vintage fashion enthusiast needs at least one. In Alberta, petticoats are available at the Drunken Sailor and Blame Betty in a variety of colors and lengths. If you know of any other stores in Canada that carry them, please leave a shout in the comments section and spread the word.

Now if only I can figure out a solution to my new problem: trying not to feel like an injured dog wearing a veterinarian’s cone and bumping into things as my *ahem* “sphere of influence” has increased… 🙂

Cherry Petticoat

Always with love,

Liz

The Canuck Pin-up

 

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Pin-ups Then and Now: Esther Williams

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This summer, one of Hollywood’s last remaining Golden Age stars made a swan dive into the great beyond. On June 6, 2013, Esther Williams, MGM’s “Million Dollar Mermaid”, passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 91.

Even before the news of her passing, she was my first choice for posts highlighting pin-up beauties then and now. During an era that glorified smoking and excessive alcoholism, she certainly stood out as a picture of health and beauty. Fast forward several decades, and she still outshined her contemporaries in that department; so many of them dying young from the effects of that “glamorous” lifestyle. With that in mind, it only seemed even more fitting to honor this pin-up legend as we soak in the last few days of summer in Canada.

Born on August 8, 1921 in Los Angeles, California, Esther Williams quickly rose to fame as a champion swimmer with the Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team. Her Olympic dreams were dashed, though, when World War II caused the 1940 Summer Games in Tokyo to be cancelled. Preparing herself for a new career in retail, the young mermaid had no clue what would await her in the near future.

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Taking a chance on auditioning for Billy Rose’s water spectacular, The Aquacade, Esther adapted quickly to the director’s concept of “swimming pretty”. A strong swimmer already, this new style called for her to extend herself even further, as it took a lot of strength to propel the body upward for those “pretty” moves. In no time, she made a name for herself, and was starring opposite Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan fame to much critical acclaim.

Of course, Hollywood wanted in on the action too. Hoping to capture the same success 20th Century Fox found with Sonja Henie’s skating films, MGM signed a contract with Esther to eventually make swimming musicals. Her film debut came in Andy Hardy’s Double Life starring Mickey Rooney in 1942, and her first lead film, Bathing Beauty, premiered two years later. In the end, Esther Williams would appear in 26 movies from the early 1940’s to the end of the 1950’s. Her work would later lead the way for synchronized swimming to become an Olympic event starting in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

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One thing I loved about Esther was her determination to never give up, and to stay true to her beliefs under pressure. From the letdown of an almost Olympic career, to fighting off advances in an era where protection from sexual harassment wasn’t available, she shone brightly under the Hollywood glow. She even had to fight to protect herself and her children from death and dismemberment multiple times; facing stunts and demands that nobody had ever done before on film, even while pregnant for three of her pictures. Sure, she also made some choices that may not have been the best. Her autobiography is very open about that. But then again, haven’t we all?

As a pin-up, there was no one quite like Esther Williams. To me, the category of bathing suit pin-up “belongs” to her. She made a generation want to jump in the pool, and showed us that you *ahem* don’t have to show everything to stand out as beautiful in the water.

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She also radiated confidence we as women really need to embrace in today’s world of fad diets and Photoshopping. When talking about getting the part in Andy Hardy’s Double Life, Esther said she really believed she got the role because she was the most comfortable in a bathing suit during the screen tests. She had lived so much of her life in a bathing suit competitively and personally, so it was like nothing to her. I’ve seen those screen tests, and I think she’s right. Of any of the girls, no one appeared more relaxed, confident and radiant than our Million Dollar Mermaid; even though each of those girls was equally as beautiful.

Along with her career in the movies, Esther was a businessperson on the side. She was an owner of The Trails restaurant and her own pool business, and had touched the bathing suit industry through Cole of California and later her own swimsuit line. Such endeavors earned her the name “Mermaid Tycoon”, and helped propel the way for women in the working world today.

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Fortunately, for us, most of Esther’s films are readily available on DVD for our pin-up inspiration. Turner Classic Movies released two collections of some of her most famous movies, and they are available through www.amazon.ca and some HMV stores. Some of her other films are available individually on www.amazon.com, but they are not as affordable as these sets. (Will have to save up my Loonies and Twoonies for those ones.) 

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Esther’s autobiography with Digby Diehl, The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography, is available at www.amazon.ca. My local library carries a couple of copies, so feel free to check yours as well if you want to save some money. Ditto for the movies on that one.

I am fortunate enough to have an Esther Williams swimsuit that I purchased directly from her store on www.esther-williams.com. It is one of my favorites, and I can’t help but feel so glamorous yet covered and um… “supported”… when I wear it. No one knows what a women’s swimsuit should be like like a swimming legend.

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Because it came from California, I had to pay through the nose for shipping, duty, etc. But you, my fellow Canadian lovelies, don’t have to make my mistake. Blame Betty out of Calgary, Alberta also carries a collection of Esther’s swimsuits, along with other brands to help you strut your stuff in pin-up bathing glory. Check them out at www.blamebetty.com.

In closing, I just want to say that, even though her films could never be made today and earn the same level of success, Esther Williams was one woman who truly embodied the idea of timeless beauty and grace. Let’s step out and not be afraid to leave our own mark on the world around us; bold, passionate and beautiful poolside or not. The world needs a little more of that timeless grace, elegance and beauty – don’t you think?

Always in Love,

Liz

The Canuck Pin-up