An Outfit with a “Seal of Merit”

20170111_130552It’s been a while since my last blog post so firstly let me apologise for that. The reason is mainly due to procrastination (Christmas and all that) but I am also struggling to encourage my other half to be my photographer and so the following blog post are images that I have taken myself. I am hopeful that I will be able to coerce him into an unbridled passion for photography soon, if anyone else fancies stepping in for the meantime then feel free….

For anyone that knows me, they will know that I like my vintage to be larger than life, over the top and VERY dramatic. Of course I have more day to day pieces so I can wear vintage regularly but when I find something that screams “DRAMA!!!!!!!!” then I just have to have it, it’s a compulsion, a desire and a bit of an obsession.

I recently acquired a 1940s hat and  coat that falls into this ‘drama’ category, both within the last few weeks and both from sellers that I particularly admire and respect. I think that these pieces are star crossed lovers that have been reunited across continents and oceans, as to me they beautifully complement one another. Whilst this may be a match in heaven, one requires a little more to complete an outfit and so the final piece of this ensemble jigsaw is the 1940s pinstripe suit that I purchased from @viasvintage on Instagram. The hat was actually bought with this suit in mind as it begged for an equally dramatic counterpart, the coat is in fact the pièce de résistance in this ménage à (film noir) trois. Let us not forget that good shoes and gloves add the cherry to anyone’s clobber cake – these shoes are the incredibly comfortable 1940s-inspired Marilyn heels from  Royal Vintage Shoes (www.royalvintageshoes.com) and the gloves were an original 1940s pair I found on eBay.

With that in mind, let’s have a closer look at the coat in more detail (hereby known as the “coat of dreams”). The first thing that struck me when I received it is its weight – it is incredibly heavy!!! It weighs just under 7 lbs and is comprised of a dense, silky soft fur, which I haven’t yet stopped stroking every time I walk past it – yes I have had it out on display for several days so I can just admire it. No I don’t think that’s weird….

The next thing I noted were those shoulders and those sleeves…. I have an eternal quest for the fulfilment of the three S’s; SLEEVES, SHOULDERS and STUDS. To find a garment that fulfils one of these criteria is great, two is exquisite and all three is the holy grail, the ultimate find and will force my hand (and my pocket) exuberantly into purchasing. So achieving two out of three is pretty exciting! The shoulders are beautifully sculpted and padded to give a sharp line, create drama and poke anyone’s eye out should I decide to take a dislike to them. The beauty of a strong shoulder on a piece of clothing is that is looks fantastic when the arms are at rest and whenever the wearer is moving. There is NO bad angle for a structured shoulder. FACT.

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If we glide down over those shoulders we notice the sleeves; a whopping ….inches wide of pure, unadulterated drama. Big, balloon sleeves are to me what kryptonite is to Superman and what scissors are to Samson; they are my weak point, my Achilles heel. As you can imagine, I was reduced to my knees over these ones.

I am of the opinion that you can always tell the quality of a coat by the quality of the lining and this coat is no exception. For the lining is inky black satin with an embroidered leaf motif and even features reinforced patches under the underarms. I am led to believe that this coat was a custom order for the original owner in 1940 and has been owned by this same lady until recently when I came to purchase it. The store label reads “exclusive with Gimbles, Philadelphia, Merit Furs – A Seal of Merit”. There are no initials sewn into the lining which you sometimes find with coats.

Having done a little research into the label, Gimbles was a large department store of the late 19th and most of the 20th century on the southwest corner of Eighth and Market streets in Philadelphia. Gimbles did not in fact originate in Philadelphia but in rural Vincennes, Indiana, where Bavarian immigrant Adam Gimbel established a dry goods store in the 1840s. Some 40 years later, on September 29, 1887, five of Adam’s sons (the Gimbel brothers) opened a new store in Milwaukee. As the brand became more successful here, the brothers began to investigate new locations and settled on Philadelphia as it would provide the opportunity to access the East Coast market. On March 21, 1894, Gimbels Philadelphia opened its’ doors for the first time. ”Handsomely dressed women fought and scrambled to gain admittance to the store. Bonnets were crushed, clothing torn, and umbrellas twisted into almost unrecognizable shapes,” as reported in the Philadelphia Record. It is understood that at least one window was damaged under pressure from the crowd. In later years, Gimbles would open in New York City, opening directly opposite  R.H. Macy and Co., sparking a rivalry that would be immortalized  in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street. Gimbles was also established in Pittsburgh and the original Milwaukee location was upgraded. Sadly, Gimbles went into liquidation in June 1986 following a gradual and sustained decline in sales.

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This outfit is one of my favourites at the moment and it certainly gets my “seal of merit”. I look forward to having an occasion to wear it soon (the weekly food shop alas is not worthy of such an outfit). I must say a big thank you to my lovely friend Darcy (@audrey_ropeburn) for bringing this coat into my life and allowing me to channel my inner Joan Crawford!! The hat is worthy of its’ own blog post and so I will follow up with a second part which will discuss this in more detail and also the brand Henry Pollack for which this hat is attributed to.

Do feel free to let me know what you think and stay tuned for part two!

Sam x

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