Tag Archives: swing dance clothing

All Balboa Weekend 2018 Vendor Report

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My favorite purchase of the weekend, from Flower Child – HAZ DIPSY DOODLE

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I attended my 12th All Balboa Weekend this past weekend and, although I didn’t compete, DJ, run a fashion show, or run a band, I still managed to fill my weekend with so many good things and people even though I came there “just to sing.”  Of course, no trip to Cleveland would be complete without a bit of vintage shopping, both on-site and in town.  You can check out past blog posts for the scoop on Sweet Lorain and Chelsea’s Costumes, the former being my favorite vintage store of all time and the latter being a great place to score some inexpensive and awesome menswear.

At the Holiday Inn, the vendors did not disappoint this year.  There are always a few new items of ABW merchandise each year, including baseball tees with the phrase “I’d rather be doing Bal” and a cute silhouette of Bal dancers on a solid tee and a striped tee.  If you’ve looked at the ABW baby tees and thought you didn’t have a use for such things, have you considered that your dog may look adorable in just such a tee?  A sweet pup named Luna came to hang out at the event (who may be the most calm and tolerant dog I’ve ever seen) and did a little photo shoot for us and everyone’s heart melted just a little bit.

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Dog fashion at All Balboa Weekend

Re-mix Vintage Shoes was out in full force with an array of Bal-friendly footwear in colors to suit just about any outfit.  I didn’t see any new models, but that doesn’t particularly matter when you are dealing in the classics and when you want to replace that pair of gold Balboas that you’ve worn out that not even a gold Sharpie can salvage at this point to make them look like you didn’t put them through a meat grinder…it always makes me happy to walk by this table and see people excited about buying a pair of Re-mix shoes.

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Beauty in geometry from De Fils en Perles

De Fils en Perles returned with even more gorgeous beadwork and whimsy.  Classic Art Deco-inspired cuffs abound, a new series of rings were added, along with a number of butterfly designs (which were super popular and sold out last year), and (for funsies) some 8-bit characters from Super Mario Bros. and some Minions.  The detail here is scrumptious, with no two pieces alike.

Dancestore made an appearance, although I should really call it the Laurie Gilkenson (aka Nina’s mom) booth because it’s more than just Dancestore shoes, it’s also a collection of vintage and vintage-inspired items (such as castoffs from Nina’s incredible shoe collection), as well as hand-crafted items made by Laurie, such as knitted caps for newborns.

Victor Celania set up a booth for his successful custom menswear business, Established Sartorial – based in Austin, Texas, victor has clients both within and outside of the swing dance community and decided to try a vendor booth at ABW.  Victor is also the bandleader of the Waller Creek Vipers, whose debut album Bespoke Bounce is hot off the presses and you could pick up a copy at his booth while you drool over all the lovely menswear fabrics.

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Jamie Sturdevant of ChatterBlossom was busy every time I rolled by her booth and I think people are finally in the same place I have been for a while, bringing Jamie garments and getting her expert opinion on just the right color, texture, and scale to complete your look.  I say complete because I never quite feel right with just my plain hair at a dance event anymore, a flower just elevates an already special night of music and dancing.  I also spotted a number of men picking up her boutonnieres, which delights me to no end.

Holding it down at the end of the hallway were the ladies of Flower Child, who informed me that this is their favorite event to collect things for throughout the year, and you can tell that they know their audience well.  I find myself revisiting this area multiple times throughout the event, to look for myself and to marvel at how well-curated it is, to the point that I picked out a couple of things with specific people in mind and those people ended up buying those garments.  They get us.  I saw that they had more separates this year for women, gorgeous blouses, and my favorite piece of clothing was a light turquoise gabardine jacket that Victor picked up for himself.

That’s all for now – save your pennies for next year and join us at All Balboa Weekend for excellent dancing, music, and shopping!

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I love a baseball tee!

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New styles and new silhouette for the ABW merch.

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The namesake shoe in a bevy of colors – by Re-mix

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Glorious brogues, by Re-mix

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So many lovely things to put on your feet…

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Victor’s smiling face awaits to guide you to your bespoke dreams

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A little menswear, a little hot jazz and swing at the Established Sartorial table

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Gorgeous cuffs by De Files en Perles

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Maybe you need a little rainbow butterfly in your life?

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Rings, such tiny details!

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Some Dancestore shoe classics, including a tiny pair of women’s white oxfords in the back

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Sometimes shoes don’t have to be new to be fabulous – find yourself a pair at Laurie Gilkenson’s booth

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Any angle of ChatterBlossom’s table is gorgeous

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ChatterBlossom headbands of loveliness

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Men’s accessories display at Flower Child

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A flower child vignette

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Perhaps the original inspiration for Trashy Diva’s Hollywood style dress/gown – at Flower Child

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The queen of all the peasant blouses at Flower Child, with the tiniest, most detailed embroidery

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I died a little when this didn’t fit

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A perfect brown and white houndstooth jacket.

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Because everyone needs a white dinner jacket

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Gorgeous two tone late 30’s gown with everything I love – puffed sleeves, matching belt, and flowers that can be worn on the dress or in your hair

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A couple of those wonderful blouses I mentioned

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Until next year…

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What’s Old is New: Hot Chocolate (Cottontail)

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

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Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in the soundie “Hot Chocolate (Cottontail)”

A lot of black Lindy Hoppers are speaking right now and a lot of us are listening, but I know a lot of us also want to take action to help.  I have been looking for more ways to be an ally and to use my voice to help make our community more inclusive to black dancers.  Lindy Shopper is my most public voice, but this is a fashion blog – I wasn’t sure how I could help writing about clothing and shoes.

Then I saw a Facebook post made by dancer Angel Sheniev Cadenza, which detailed ways in which racial isolation is present in the dance scene, and one of those was was the following:  “Racial isolation in the dance scene to me…It is planning to attend a vintage-themed dance event and having almost no black reference points to create your look because all the vintage themed resources are created by and for whites, and black people are almost non-existent in historical media.”

I spend a good amount of time poring over photographs and videos from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s studying the subjects’ clothing and I knew that there were a lot of black reference materials (a good place to start is the Vintage Black Glamour Facebook page, which you should all be following because it’s fabulously curated with lots of historical information), but I can do better and share this information here.  I realize newer dancers may not know all the vintage clips of the swing era, so let’s explore that.  The focus of this blog is source material, where to purchase clothing and shoes, so I’ll try to tie that in, as well – we should be inspired AND know where to get the look.

Back in 2010, I started a series called “What’s Old is New” and I realized that I never actually made this into a series, so I’m going to pick this up and continue it (after posting it in Angel’s thread as a possibility of how I could contribute to this discussion and received positive feedback)…so here we go.  If this is a misstep, then I apologize and I will stop and continue listening.

The first and only post in my What’s Old is New series was about the clothing in the Marx Brothers’ film “A Day at the Races,” which features Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and I found sources for some modern day inspirations/approximations of the garments worn by the women dancers in the film.  I still love their outfits, the quintessential mid-calf 1930’s skirts in bias cut plaid are just awesome.

Let’s take a look at another classic clip featuring Whitey’s Lindy Hopper’s, a 1941 soundie called “Hot Chocolate (Cottontail),” featuring Duke Ellington and his Orchestra playing Cottontail.  The dancers are wearing clothing that is not quite costume, not quite street clothing, somewhere fun and in the middle.

The pinafore/jumpers on the women are just adorable and I am dying over the huge sleeves on their blouses.  The men have a bit more variance in their dress, ranging from overalls to jackets with maybe the largest collar I’ve ever seen on a shirt.  Finding exact replicas of these garments would be hard, you’d likely have to get a copy made, but we’ll find some pieces that capture some of the fun of these garments.

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Sleeves for days!

For the blouses, my first instinct was to go to the House of Foxy website and they deliver – their Elsie blouse has those amazing sleeves (available in mustard, black, and white).  They also have a great Peter Pan collar blouse available in ivory, ivory gingham, black gingham, and a black/gray/red floral print – I know I have missed seeing these available outside of thrift/vintage shops and I’m glad House of Foxy is offering some twists on the basic (or not so basic) blouse so we can find some reproductions we may not feel as hesitant to dance in.  I own the Peter Pan collar shirt and some other pieces from this company and the quality is stellar, would purchase again.

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The sweater with the Peter Pan collar, even!  Completes the styling.

Modcloth has a couple of great jumper options (including the red “Overall Winner” jumper that is pictured, also available in black) and the skirt length is pretty close to the clip, a bit shorter than knee length to facilitate movement.  I’m also a fan of the green velvet “Cupcake Consultant” jumper (it’s like they know me), but I’m sure no one is surprised there.  There’s another black jumper with a front panel, which I am noting because I prefer a front panel with my personal shape.

I didn’t see but one vintage 40’s jumper that caught my eye on Etsy (but it’s awesome – black velvet with pockets on the front!), but they tend to pop up somewhat often, as these jumpers and pinafore dresses were fairly common – the thing you won’t find is the shorter skirt length, but then you can decide what length you want and what look is more your style.

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70’s does big collars like nobody’s business

Men, I don’t even know where to begin with that giant collar, it’s amazing and a sight bigger than any 40’s, any 70’s, anything I’ve ever seen.  Since a trend in the 70’s was 30’s style and the collars were of superior width and breadth in that decade, I went looking in vintage because I honestly don’t know of any modern retailer carrying an approximation of this.  Even Simon James Cathcart’s polos aren’t cut that big, but if you wanted a nod to that big collar, this would be a reasonable place to start.  The 40’s shirts were a bust, but there were some promising 70’s options on Etsy – like this Art Deco print or this yellow long sleeved shirt.  There were more great printed shirts on Etsy with wide collars so take a gander!

As for the overalls…I’ve got nothing.  Sometimes garments are so special that they can’t be found and/or have to be made.

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Eat your heart out, Burberry

I went looking for the light car coat in the video and the first hits were Burberry and Prada, so I retreated to Etsy and found one from the 60’s that fit the bill.  That they were doing aerials in a coat is pretty awesome, but you’ll probably save yours for before and after the dance.

There are other pieces I wish I could find!  In particular that two tone paneled skirt, what a great piece to have in your closet.

Feel free to chime in with other pieces you have found that look inspired by this clip in the comments!  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a starting point for ideas and sources.

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SJC Pre-Orders – Striped Cotton Separates and Workhouse Chinos and Denim

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

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Wanna Charleston?

He may not know it outright, but Simon James Cathcart is here to serve swing dancers – that is, serve up classic, rare, and sought-after reproduction menswear pieces in great fabrics.  His latest offerings are all cotton, which means it’s all breathable and washable for us sweaty dancer types.

The workwear cotton stripe is being offered in four pieces, a belt back jacket, a waistcoat, a pair of trousers, and a cap, all inspired by 1920’s workwear.  From the website:

“SJC has woven this exclusive cloth, which recreates the striped pattern from a pair of genuine 1920’s work-wear trousers in the company’s collection of vintage clothing. The cloth has been brushed on the inside for warmth…”

The details on these pieces are wonderful, as per usual – notice all the careful seams and generous use of pockets.  Of interest to dancers would be the note about ample room in the thigh of the trousers, which translates to more room for your legs to move about unrestricted.

Finally, you just need some basics and SJC is, again, delivering the goods – what’s more basic than a pair of chinos or a pair of jeans?  The workhouse chinos come with all the casual air of a weeknight DJ’ed dance, but have all the details you expect from period trousers, such as buttons for braces, a cinched back, and a nice V at the back of the waistband.

Cotton = breathable = sweat and dance to your heart’s content!  Keep it comin’, Simon!

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Ready for a spring afternoon at a Lindy exchange

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I love a trouser in denim!

The Venice Beach Dress

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

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Genevieve and Helwig from the Beach Clip

How often do you find a vintage piece of clothing and wished you knew more about the story of the person who wore it?  Sometimes vintage clothing will come with a tidbit of history, passed on from the family to the vintage clothing vendor, and in those wonderful rare moments you might see a photo of the original owner in the garment.

Then there are the garments that are a part of our history as swing dancers – even more rare, like the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers jackets (lovingly reproduced by Chloe Hong) or the costumes worn on the silver screen by our Lindy Hop luminaries of the 30’s and 40’s.  Maybe some people know where some of these items are, but others are lost to time.

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Kate Hedin in THE dress

I remember reading Bobby White’s Swungover posts on Genevieve Grazis, one of the followers in the famous “Beach Clip” that many a Balboa dancer has studied in painstaking detail, and following his adventures in historic sleuthing about who she was and her life outside of this snippet of time we know as the Beach Clip.  After reading about the lives of the original swing dancers and watching them in videos, I can’t help but think, “Where are the clothes they wore, where are they NOW?”  Maybe that’s just my inclination.  Genevieve’s dress in the Beach Clip is distinct, both in its attention-grabbing “color” and texture, as well as the impeccable twirl of the gored skirt.

So I’m scrolling through Facebook today and at the top of my feed is the resplendent Kate Hedin in a glorious white satin dress – THE satin dress worn by Genevieve Grazis in the Beach Clip!  How does this happen?  Bobby, Kate, and the finder of this dress, Swing Sleuths Jennifer Halsne, explain the wonderful story in the video below, including a demonstration!  I got tingles listening to it – I love the hunt and I love the history!

Fashion Challenge for Frankie Month

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

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My Lindy look usually involves Trashy Diva dresses #unsurprised  Photo taken by Soo Clark at The Lindy Lab.

I’m essentially going to re-post what is on the Frankie Manning Foundation website, but I wanted to get the word out – this can be a one-day challenge or a month-long challenge, your choice!  While you’re there, check out all the other ways you can get involved…and while you are here at lindyshopper.com, you can figure out just how to get #TheLindyLook. 😉

From the website: “As part of Frankie’s long-held wish that the entire world know about lindy hop, let’s dress the part and hopefully trigger some conversations at the water cooler, on public transit, and wherever you may go on May 26th.

Don your favourite swing threads that best capture the spirit of the Savoy Ballroom in its 1920-50s pomp, or if you prefer, wear your favorite event t-shirt or whatever else means “swing” to you. Have your photo taken at work, in your office, at your desk, at a cafe, on the street, or wherever you may go. Be creative!

Share your photos on social media with the hashtag #TheLindyLook; photos shared on most social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram will automatically be collated as part of #TheLindyLook tag board. Share your #TheLindyLook photos on Facebook too on the Frankie Manning Foundation page.

Are you up for an extra fancy challenge? Why not dress the part for the entire Frankie Month, May 1st to 31st, and share a photo each day!”

 

OcTieBer Starts Tomorrow!

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

One of my favorite outfits from last year's OcTieBer.

One of my favorite outfits from last year’s OcTieBer.

Now in its fifth year, OcTieBer is “a month long sartorial celebration of quality neckwear worn in a traditional style” – in reality, it is much more than the sum of this description: it is the encouragement of people of all walks, creeds, and genders to embrace classic style (or modern twists on classic style); it highlights accessories that we don’t often consider in our modern lives, unless you happen to be a lawyer or just really like wearing neck scarves or ascots; it encourages you to dig deep into your closet and pull out those neglected ties or challenges regular tie wearers to create new ensembles and be inspired by others; it may cause people to notice you in positive ways; it creates a sense of camaraderie within the OcTieBer Facebook group where novice and even professional dressers can share their creativity and efforts for the day or every day of October.

OcTieBer IS inspiring. The challenge is to wear neckwear every day for the month of October, but even if you only join us for a couple of days, I invite you to join us for the fun of dressing, learning from and being inspired by others, and being supported in your endeavors by a wonderful group of people.

Here are the official rules, from the Facebook group:

“How to participate? It’s simple:

1. Wear a collared shirt and tie each day (be it a long tie, bow tie, ascot, cravat, bolo, western double string tie or any other traditional neckwear that expresses your personal style). Preferably your outfit will be paired with a jacket, sweater, vest or other accessories that suggest why you’ve chosen that day’s tie.

2. Upload an image of your fine outfit with an optional description of the designer, type of knot, fabric, etc.

3. Share the love by encouraging your friends to admire your statement of personal style.”

All Balboa Weekend 2013 Report

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

If you are a good girl and save your pennies, the Cleveland fairy will bring you vintage on All Balboa Eve.

If you are a good girl and save your pennies, the Cleveland fairy will bring you vintage and repro on All Balboa Eve.

Still basking in the afterglow of All Balboa Weekend, the Balboa Mecca that occurs every year in Cleveland, Ohio. It is a hub for so many things I love – good dancing, good music, good vintage shopping, good company, and good cupcakes. I left with a full heart and a shopping bag full of goodies – it was like Christmas!

My first stop in Cleveland, per usual, was Sweet Lorain, the vintage department store where I seem to have the most luck finding things in my size. I was greeted at the door by the owner, Redwin Lewis, who remembered me from years past (and possibly phone orders – yes, you can call them back if you decide later that you really want/need something you saw, even 6 months later the item may still be there!) and we chatted about high school reunions and all the films (THE film being Captain America) shopping at his store. I was on a mission for a full slip with some sweet details and Sweet Lorain did not disappoint, with two full racks to choose from.

Dad's pitcher - my favorite find in Cleveland

Dad’s pitcher – my favorite find in Cleveland

On a personal note, I was ecstatic to find a red plastic beverage pitcher at Sweet Lorain, perhaps circa 40’s/50’s, that I have been seeking for the past decade or so – when I was in undergrad I picked up a plastic yellow pitcher from Target that looked vintage, with some sweet Deco detail on it. I probably paid less than $10 for it. My dad saw it in my apartment and was immediately drawn to it, asking where I got it, and how much it cost. I told him that I had purchased it at Target several months ago and that it was out of stock. He was crestfallen – my grandmother had owned one during his childhood and he had always thought it was a great design, with a lid that opens when you tilt it and closes when it’s upright. Flash forward to ABW 2013, I was chatting with Redwin in the housewares section and my eye caught a flash of red in that distinct shape. It was the pitcher! I text messaged my dad a photo of it and he confirmed that he wanted it. Done! I look forward to “reuniting” my dad with his childhood pitcher this coming weekend. 🙂

Thus Spake Zarathustra

Thus Spake Zarathustra…at Chelsea Costumes

My next stop was Chelsea Costumes, which I had somehow managed to miss on all prior visits to Cleveland. The sheer volume of square footage packed literally floor to ceiling was overwhelming in a way that only a disorganized Goodwill warehouse of great magnitude could rival. The racks were three tiers high, with the top two racks reachable by rolling staircases located on each aisle. Adding to the library feel of the place, the ends of the racks were labeled by decade range. I searched in vain for the early vintage clothing and had to ask where it was located – at the end of one of the 1950’s racks was a single rack with 1940’s clothing. I found a couple of items I liked, but they had fatal flaws (fading, shredding, etc.). I’d say it’s definitely worth a look, especially if you are into later decades, and it’s an absolute must if you are looking for menswear – I saw just about every size, shape, color, item, and a range of seasonal weights, with a massive selection. You do have to be a digger to make this worthwhile, but the prices are good and worth the dig.

Back at the hotel, ABW had an array of vendors, some new, some old, that filled up the hallway in front of the ballroom. The first vendor was The Cleveland Shop, with an array of clothing and accessories for men and women. Favorites included some divine shoes, a burgundy silk 1930’s gown, and every dress that went on the mannequin and immediately sold.

Next up was the ABW merchandise, which featured some cool shirts with stripes, a henley, and a girly slouchy tee with cool sleeve detail. This year also saw the return of the ABW shoe bag – I do love a shoe bag!

New style!!!

New style!!!

Moving down the hallway, the next vendor was the ever-popular Re-mix Vintage Shoes, with owner Philip Heath on hand to help all the men and women eager to try on their shoes. This year, they took advance requests from people for specific shoes and sizes, so if you wanted a guaranteed shot at trying on a certain pair in your size, you got that chance. I took advantage of this for my husband, who is sort of between sizes and needed another pair of oxfords. It also resulted in Re-mix bringing a number of pairs of wedges, which have never made it out to ABW, since we mostly dance “the Balboa” in heels. 😉

Romper, umbrella, and THE belts at Bettie Page Clothing

Romper, umbrella, and THE belts at Bettie Page Clothing

Bettie Page Clothing made its debut as a vendor this year, spearheaded by the lovely Shannon Butler, who is now the manager of the Bettie Page store at the Mall of America in Minnepolis, MN. Shannon brought another innovative way to make sure everyone got to try on the clothing and get the sizes they need – she kept a stock of the dresses, shirts, and skirts she brought as try-ons and once you decided what you wanted, she called the Mall of America store, placed your order, and it was shipped to you (sometimes that day!) free of charge. In addition to all the adorable clothing, she brought these great adjustable belts that are the perfect dress belt, for when that vintage dress comes without a belt or maybe you lost the belt or want to add a belt…regardless, good, skinny dress belts are hard to come by and these babies are only $10 and come in several handy colors.

Flower Child took up about half the hallway, with a wonderful display that moved from housewares and accessories, to jewelry, to several large racks of clothing at the end of the hall. Because Flower Child is made up of several vendors, there were a range of prices in the shop, and they definitely had the larges selection. Favorites included a 1940’s gold bathing suit, rayon Asian print pajamas, and an adorable dress with strawberry ribbon trim that came home with me.

Still obsessing over Dancestore.com's mesh and leather wingtip

Still obsessing over Dancestore.com’s mesh and leather wingtip

Finally, Dancestore.com made an appearance with most of their line of shoes. I liked that they had a set of “try-on” pairs that you could put on and take for a spin during one dance. It helps you decide, cuts down on wear and tear of new pairs, and also gives you an idea of how they will feel once they are broken in. Great idea!

This year was probably the best year for vendors yet – many of the vendors are veterans at this point, they know their audience, and they only bring the best stuff as it pertains to swing dancers. I am elated that they continue to come out, year after year.

Here are my photos from the weekend – enjoy!

Collar detail *swoon*

Collar detail at Sweet Lorain *swoon*

Velvet collar detail at Sweet Lorain

Velvet collar detail at Sweet Lorain

Love this Jack and the Beanstalk novelty print - at Sweet Lorain

Love this Jack and the Beanstalk novelty print – at Sweet Lorain

Menswear knits in shades of brown, at Sweet Lorain

Menswear knits in shades of brown, at Sweet Lorain

This photo does not do justice to the awesomeness of these sheer cutouts - at Sweet Lorain

This photo does not do justice to the awesomeness of these sheer cutouts – at Sweet Lorain

Oxfords at Sweet Lorain

Oxfords at Sweet Lorain

The entrance to Chelsea Costumes

The entrance to Chelsea Costumes

Brain...shuts...down...

Brain…shuts…down…

Navigation system at Chelsea Costumes

Navigation system at Chelsea Costumes

Lovely dress at Chelsea Costumes

Lovely dress at Chelsea Costumes

Collar detail at Chelsea Costumes

Collar detail at Chelsea Costumes

The view from the top of one of the rolling staircases at Chelsea Costumes

The view from the top of one of the rolling staircases at Chelsea Costumes

Select menswear items from The Cleveland Shop

Select menswear items from The Cleveland Shop

Cool cotton print dress from The Cleveland Shop

Cool cotton print dress from The Cleveland Shop

Tri-strap! From Re-mix Vintage Shoes

Tri-strap! From Re-mix Vintage Shoes

Did you know these come in GREEN?

Did you know these came in GREEN?

A lovely display from Flower Child

A lovely display from Flower Child

Gold bathing suit FTW - courtesy of Flower Child

Gold bathing suit FTW – courtesy of Flower Child

Love all of this - at Flower Child

Love all of this – at Flower Child

Suit jacket peplum made of petals! At Flower Child

Suit jacket peplum made of petals! At Flower Child

Pajamas! At Flower Child

Pajamas! At Flower Child

Lots of good knits this year - this from Flower Child

Lots of good knits this year – this from Flower Child

This Bettie Page blouse went home with many a gal

This Bettie Page blouse went home with many a gal

Lovely dresses from Bettie Page Clothing

Lovely dresses from Bettie Page Clothing

Nofolk Jacket with Matching Knickers

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

This kind of thing shows up so rarely that I couldn’t resist posting this set of a Norfolk jacket with matching knickers – 2 pairs! If you happen to rip a hole in the seat of your pants doing something awesome on the dance floor, you’ll have a spare. The size of this is very small for men, a 35 chest for the jacket and a 28 inch waist on the knickers, but those are also pretty standard lady sizes, so this little suit gets filed under ladies and gents. Whoever wears this is going to look badass.

Cheongsam

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

After finding this gorgeous dress on eBay, I was inspired to post about cheongsam (plural cheongsams?). I have loved these sexy Asian dresses since I saw the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a kid. Also known as “qipao” in Mandarin, the cheongsam has a long history that overlaps with the jazz age and swing era.

According to Wikipedia, the original qipao was wide and loose, and meant to cover a woman’s shape, but “the modern version, which is now recognized popularly in China as the “standard” qipao, was first developed in Shanghai in the 1920s, partly under the influence of Beijing styles. People eagerly sought a more modernized style of dress and transformed the old qipao to suit their tastes…it was high-class courtesans and celebrities in the city that would make these redesigned tight fitting qipao popular at that time. In Shanghai it was first known as zansae or “long dress” (長衫 – Mandarin Chinese: chángshān, Shanghainese: zansae, Cantonese: chèuhngsāam), and it is this name that survives in English as the “cheongsam”…as Western fashions changed, the basic cheongsam design changed too, introducing high-necked sleeveless dresses, bell-like sleeves, and the black lace frothing at the hem of a ball gown. By the 1940s, cheongsam came in a wide variety of fabrics with an equal variety of accessories.”

Case in point, the amazing 1940’s cheongsam pictured at above/right, with a gorgeous silk pattern, double piped seam along the neck with fantastic toggles going all the way down the side of the dress. While the trend originated in China, this dress was made in Japan. I also see that the bust/waist/hip ratio on this dress is a little more forgiving than the versions sold today, which leave little room in the hips. Someone buy this dress because you will look so elegant in it!

If you’d like a new cheongsam, there are multitudes of them on eBay and other internet retail sites, some as cheap as $10.00. When I had to come up with an inexpensive costume for The Carolina Fascinators, I remembered that I’d been wanting one of these dresses and how they came in an array of colors, sizes, and prices on eBay. These dresses are not made of silk, obviously, but if we are going to sweat in them, perhaps a cheap dress isn’t such a bad idea. These dresses are visually stunning, in great colors and prints, and come in a variety of styles (sleeves, sleeveless, knee length, calve length, halter, etc.).

There are a few drawbacks that we discovered – they are cheaply made and we had to sew the snaps back on, reinforce the toggles, and if you don’t get the right size you may split a seam while dancing. Those slits are there so you can move, because this is supposed to be a form fitting dress. The cut on these dresses was not conducive to any of our shapes – narrow hips meant ordering a size that fit the hips and all of us had to have them tailored to take them in at the waist, or bust, or both. However, it was worth the tailoring and mending because the dresses looked amazing in the end.

Also, don’t get hung up on the size labels. This girl needed an XXL for the hips. Those of you that know me know that the booty is not THAT big. Buy the size you need, based on the size charts provided.

I’ll leave you with a video clip of my initial inspiration. As an FYI, if you want Kate Capshaw’s sequin cheongsam, Sequin Queen will make you one for $250.00. 😉