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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hopeless romantic - incorporating old-fashioned elements into contemporary wardrobes

To Deanna, Tracy and Tasha - for pointing my thoughts in the old-fashioned direction I love so much. ... And to Bennett - for making me explore the gentlemen's options.

I positively covet all things 19th century. Cuddle me up near a fireplace with Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte and a cup of Earl Gray - and I'll believe I'm in heaven. Invite me to a black tie event where I can wear one of my vintage (or vintage style) gowns with all the appropriate accessories - and I'll volunteer to help you organize another one so that I could do it all over again. Send me to the Biltmore Estate for a day - and I'll thank you for the best therapy ever.

That is not to say that I would like to build a time machine and go live during that time period. Women couldn't vote or own property. Electricity and hot water were a luxury available to very few (having been born and raised in Soviet Ukraine, absence of these amenities is something I am very familiar with and would not care to experience again). There was no Internet (oh, the horror!) - a medium I love not because of its instant gratification aspect, but because it allows me to meet and stay in touch with so many wonderful people I would have never head of otherwise. So, to combine the best of both worlds, I seek out and incorporate romantic old-fashioned pieces into my life and my wardrobe - including but not limited to those with Victorian flair.

I initially intended this article for ladies only, but just as I was assembling all the links and photos for it, I was chatting with a good friend and fellow martial artist, who happens to be a man. We were exchanging the latest activity news, and I told him I was getting ready to write this piece. He said, "Oh really? Well, make sure to include me - I love Victorian stuff!" Uhh... I couldn't refuse a friend, so I did a bit more research to explore old-fashioned clothing options for gentlemen. While they are not as extensive as those for the ladies, they do exist. So, are you man enough to be dapper?

To all of me readers, please be aware - all of this sites are gorgeous and will inspire uncontrollable desire to buy one of everything. If you are a person of limited means - do your best to restrain yourself. I will provide a few less-expensive options to soothe your pain.

Victorian Trading Company

Victorian Trading is such a favorite with me that I borrowed the title of their clothing catalog Hopeless Romantic for this article. Unfortunately, outside of their Halloween costume edition, all of their fashion products are for ladies with the exception of a top hat and a walking stick (in all fairness - both of them are very handsome!). Much of this seller's selection is truly old-fashione in nature. In other words, it is not something you can wear outside of a Victorian-themed party.

There are, however, a few options that can be worked in with your contemporary garments. There are the gorgeous sweaters that go as well with jeans or a pencil skirt as they do with a longer petticoated creation. There are also the lovely accessories and jewelry that can be easily worn on an everyday basis.

These seductively gorgeous and feminine gloves work just as well to keep your hands warm as the latest Isotoners.

You can absolutely wear one of these cuties with a princess-cut coat (either full- or three-quarter length) and a chic pair of boots. It is truly sad that hardly anyone wears hats anymore. We just don't spend enough time outside, I suppose. Well, let's revive the fashion! If you peruse the Victorian Trading hat selection, I am sure that you will agree that it is completely worth it.

If you can afford to splurge, definitely explore the dresses, the luscious night- and loungewear and those stunning Mary Frances purses.


Of course, I had to insert the photo of my favorite. As always - my eyes are much bigger than my wallet, but is this not a gorgeous creation? Well, back to all things practical and wearable. While, sadly, the gentlemen's pickings at Recollections are fairly slim, the ladies' selection is bound to make you giddy.

Not all of this seller's dresses and suits are so wide-skirted or old-fashioned looking that they cannot be worn in this day and age. Consider the two options below.

I can absolutely see myself (or any lady of fashion) wearing this - possibly even to the office - with a classic blouse and a pair of sleek boots. These styles are eminently forgiving to those of us who sport a tummy, as they clasp around the narrow portion of the body and then gently flare out and away from the wobbly bits.

Recollections' blouses may seem too elaborate - but that is because they are shown with their long skirts with trains and bustles. Try pairing something like the one shown above with a pair of bootcut jeans or a denim skirt - it works! The part I love the most? Those beautiful broad sleeves are perfect for those of us who are self-conscious about our larger upper arms. They show off the slender forearm and wrist, making even the heftier of us look dainty and refined.

My mom loved shoes. She was a fabulous, fun incredible woman - a veritable 4 ft 10 in tall fairy, who made 90% of things in her wardrobe and could turn Christian Dior green with envy. When a bone tumor in her hip and a subsequent surgery rendered one of her legs an inch shorter than the other, she took her shoes to a shoe repair guy and had all her left heels cut by an inch to make up for the difference - but she refused to stop wearing pretty shoes just because she had a limp. Well, I am my mother's daughter, and I LOVE shoes. Not so much, mind you, as to squander my mortgage payment on a pair of Jimmy Choos (they wouldn't fit me anyway) but enough to seek out shoes that are pretty AND affordable. Victorian-style shoes are definitely in that category. What can I say? Are they not adorable?

If the dresses, the skirts and the blouses are out of your price range, but you still want to throw a little bit of Queen Victoria's reign into your sartorial selection, consider something small, such as this lovely little watch. There are also bautiful purses, gloves and jewelry sets you may wish to consider - all perfectly feminine, romantic and very wearable.

Gaelsong and Scottish Lion

No, ladies and gentlemen, I am not suggesting that you dress up like that and go breezing into the office. Unless you really want to, that is... Do not get me wrong - I love those outfits. It's just that... Well... The first time I watched Cinderella (our Russian version of Cinderella) at the age of five, I asked my Mom, "Why don't we all wear pretty dresses like that?" and she answered, "Can you imagine getting onto a bus wearing a dress like that?" Even if you do not commute by public transportation, an outfit like that might prove a tad impractical for everyday use. There are, however, small things you can opt for instead.

I positively adore any hair ornament that sparkles, has filigree ornamentation or a precious stone on it - not necessarily all at once, and I am not talking about the sparkly clips teenage girls wear - but I do adore things like that. If you peruse more of Gaelsong and Victorian Trading, you will discover that there are many beautiful and sophisticated options to adorn your tresses if you so desire.

Ladies are not the only ones allowed to wear bracelets. I think this leather cuff is very manly and very sexy. Wear it with a white shirt - sleeves rolled up - and a pair of jeans and nice casual shoes or boots, and you got it!

Scottish Lion can provide you with everything imaginable when it comes to the Highlander wear. Sadly, the kilts are not widely accepted in America (too bad - some guys have really good-looking legs and would look awesome in a kilt), but you can try their shirts.

Something like that worn with jeans is a lot more interesting (not to mention alluring) than your college t-shirt.

Realm Collections

Confession time: the main reason I like Realm Collections is because they have a hair dagger. I am a martial artist. I am also a very girly girl. So, a weapon that is also a lovely hair ornament is very much up my alley. Deadly weapons aside, their medieval clothing selection is amazing and their capes would do honors to any black-tie outfit.

That said, there are some more casual options that can me worked in with contemporary garments.

Do not panic, my handsome gentlemen! Subtract the hat, the pants and the boots. Keep the shirt. Add khakis, cords or jeans. You'll look dashing and debonair - I swear! Consider swapping your Birkenstocks for something more supple and comfortable for knocking around the house, such as these medieval-style boots.

Ladies, I am not forgetting you. Aside from the hair dagger (and a few other innocent-looking ladylike trinkets that could also be used for self-defense purposes), I do love these beautiful shoes. Dark Ages, or no Dark Ages, those Medieval cobblers were onto something, don't you think?

Gentleman's Emporium

One of the reasons it is so challenging to find quality old-fashioned gentlemen's clothing that could be worn today is that it is either too much outside of this day and age (Louis XVI, anyone?) or it has changed too little. If you think about it, a classic man's suit is very much the same as it was a hundred years ago. That is not to say that there are not some supremely dapper options out there - you just have to know where to look.

You may not feel quite up to going to the office in this outfit, but if you subtract the bowler hat and the pocket watch - it really is not that out of date. I think it looks quite smart. So what if nobody else at your workplace dresses like that? If you are determined to create your own style, do you really care?

Here is a more casual option - a shirt that can be easily worn with khakis or a modern suit. You can also throw in one of the more casual vests for an additional dash of dapperness.

In general, if you want to venture into the old-fashioned style, gentlemen, please consider perusing everything that Genleman's Emporium has to offer. It is quite refreshing against the background of eternal American sweatsuits, t-shirts and jeans. If you are a more formal type, there are some very handsome accessories - ascots, canes, gloves, scarves - that you can wear with contemporary suits and coats.

There is also the Ladies' Emporium. As with Recollections, many of their wares are much too outside of the modern era. However, an accessory here and there is definitely usable. Conside this sharp vest - it would equally well with a modern skirt suit or with a crisp blouse and a pair of cords, khakis or jeans.


Yosa's site is where I go when I want to imagine myself a fairy princess. While we are talking about smaller, less-elaborate things at the moment, I would strongly suggest exploring her gorgeous dress collection if you are getting married or have a formal event coming up. She truly is an artist and every garment she creates (I can't say - makes - it's just a wrong verb for what Yosa does) is a unique beautiful work of art. Who wouldn't want to have something like that?

Yosa's pieces are not inexpensive. However, if you would like to bring your inner diva out, consider one of her amazing corsets.

This particular one is from her Seduction collection. The name speaks for itself, does it not? These can be made to wear under your clothes (do give you that extra edge of knowing that you have something incredibly gorgeous and sexy against your skin) or outside. Remember Rene Russo's "business corset" suit in the movie Thomas Crown Affair? Yosa can make you one just like it - you get to pick the style, the exact dimensions and the fabric before you let her do her magic.

More and more modern clothiers incorporate romantic old-fashioned elements into their contemporary collections. If you are more comfortable shopping on the familiar grounds conside exploring the Together collection by Newport News (for ladies) and Men's Wearhouse semi-formal collection as well as Paul Fredrick's suits (for the gentlemen). Please keep in mind that good vintage-style clothes are not inexpensive. Howeve, when bought from a quality retailer, they will last (and be fashionable) for a long time, creating a solid foundation for your timeless wardrobe.

Images courtesy Gaelsong, Victorian Trading, Recollections, Realms Collections, Gentleman's Emporium, Scottish Lion, Yosa

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