Thursday, March 4, 2010

Emma Pillsbury: Queen of the Retro Mash-Up?

I hope you haven't forgotten about the Emma Pillsbury-inspired ensemble I'm sewing! I've been working away on it, with brief interludes into other projects. (My sewing has been so scattered lately!) I made the blouse last week, and the skirt will be done this weekend. (I picked a different skirt fabric; more on that soon!) Jeff and I have also finished watching every episode of Glee, so I've had plenty of time to watch my muse.

I've only just realized how seventies-influenced Emma's look is. (That fabulous feathered bob is exhibit A.) And yet! The sweater guards, the enamel brooches, and shrunken cardigans hearken back to decades earlier. She'll also sometimes wear 70s-style secretary blouses and pleated skirts, but I absolutely couldn't picture her in platforms - only her ladylike pumps. Isn't her wardrobe an interesting paradox?

Just look at this Emma-lookalike on the pattern below! Now I think we know she wouldn't be caught dead in this get-up, but isn't the hair spot-on?

Musical mash-ups are a big theme in Glee, and I think it's absolutely fascinating that one could call Emma's costumes a mash-up in themselves. The costume designer has drawn successfully from so many decades. Yet Emma's hair and clothing manages to blend seamlessly in a way that reads retro but doesn't look at odds with itself.

It's also interesting that her hair and makeup is clearly from the 70s, while her clothes and accessories skew more 50s/early 60s. I think trying to pull off this melange of decades could spell disaster, but for some reason, it just works.

So, my question is this: why does it work on Emma Pillsbury? Certainly, many looks in today's postmodern fashion world are mash-ups in themselves, but I think it's surprising to see two decades normally at odds with each other in such pure form together.

Do you ever borrow so liberally from different eras? Have you tried hair from one distinct era and clothing from another? Are you dying for Glee to come back from hiatus? Do share!

{Images courtesy of What Would Emma Pillsbury Wear? which you absolutely must read.


  1. Are they really so at odds with each other though? There is the well mentioned "80s-does-40s" style where you shrink the collar, take out or shrink the shoulder pads and remove the polyester to end up with a wicked 40s dress; sometimes in a crazy print though...usually again, too big of a print. That 70s pant/blouse set looks quite a lot like some 30s patterns I've seen; the 70s was less frilly in general though. The biggest changes of the 70s/80s were the prints and overall colour schemes.

    I think that as long as you're take the subtle from any decade it can work with the subtle from any other. Her hair isn't extreme, her colours are universal, the prints aren't outrageous...(granted I have never seen Glee, just going off what you've posted.)

  2. I don't actually know who Emma Pillsbury is, but I've seen images of her around the web quite a bit and I really like the look. I agree with Rueby, I think the styles and eras meld quite well. It's a cute and interesting look style.

  3. I don't think if Emma was a real person she'd describe her style as retro, or go shopping looking for 70s-ish _____ and 50s-inspired ____. Her character has a color palette with feminine touches and interesting details, so the era doesn't really matter.

    I think calling things retro/vintage inspired is actually a big fad right now. I see it all the time and sometimes wonder what exactly they think is "vintage" about it, or if it being "retro inspired" is actually even original. We're always influenced by what happened before us, whether we're steering towards or away from it.

  4. My haircut is a 20's sort of layered wavy bob, and I love cloches and other hats from that era, but I would never wear a 20's style dress or top because I am far too busty for the style and it isn't flattering on me. So I am pretty much always an era mash-up. I have no problem taking the things I like from different fashions and making them suit my life, rather than making myself suit a particular period in time, including the current fashion.

  5. Really, the 70's had a lot of 50's influence. You can see it in tv and movies (Grease, Happy Days). Mid-70's punk rock had a lot of 50's in it's look, too. I imagine looking back to that kind of structure in clothing must have been a reaction to the loose silhouettes of the late 60's, all those a-line shifts and peasant blouses.

    It seems like it takes about 20 years for things to reappear in fashion. Maybe that's long enough for the kids in the first period to grow up and reimagine the clothing they first thought of as grown up and glamorous. I think I'm starting to see grunge-inspired looks coming back. It's making me feel old!

  6. I agree with Reilly that Emma's style isn't really retro. It's a very current prim and proper look, like what you can find at J crew. Her hair gives the look an interesting twist but maybe she's been doing her hair like that since she was a child. There were a lot of layered feathers still in the early 80's. I think they needed to give her a hair style that was very "done" yet neither too strict nor too seductive looking and that's what they came up with.
    I think today's styles draw from many different decades and you could wear a coat with 60's proportions with a 30's style dress and platform shoes and just look current, not vintagey.

  7. The only breaks I took while moving were to watch Glee. I finished all episodes in less than a week. I suppose you can say that I'm slightly addicted to the show. Emma definitely has style and than it doesn't really matter which era her clothes are from.

  8. Yes, Gertie, yes! This is a brilliant assessment of Emma's style, I think! (LOVE the reference to the show's mash-ups.) Now the real question is, when do we get together for sewing lessons? ;)

    I have got to link this series of posts on my blog. People will LOVE this.

  9. Aurora beat me to the punch, but as someone who was in high school in the '70s, I can vouch for what she posted, right down to the yearbook photo of me at a sock hop, wearing a pleated plaid skirt, saddle shoes, and a cardigan backwards, so it could button up the back. Fashions definitely are on a 20-30 year cycle--the pleated plaid skirt was my mom's; she wore it in high school in the '40s. Since I've started looking at vintage patterns, I've really noticed the cycles. Didn't the French (those paragons of fashion) say "the more things change, the more they stay the same"? :-)

  10. Well, I can't comment directly on Emma Pilsbury's fashion choices, having not seen Glee, but here's my thoughts on decade mixing:

    I am a chronic decade mixer myself (even though I adhere mostly to the 40s, I sneak a lot of other eras in!). Just yesterday I was wearing a 80s red pencil skirt, a 1920s chemise as a blouse, and an early 60s cashmere sweater. The thing was, that despite the different decades the items came from, the meshed correctly because the overall silhouettes and colors worked. I think that's the key with any decade mixing: there has to be some thread of harmony throughout the entire outfit.

    Plus, as other commenter's pointed out, there was a huge fad for 50s styles in the 70s as well. (There was also another fad for 20s/30s fashion in the very early part of the decade.) Which means that Emma's look isn't quite out of the ordinary.

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  11. vintagekitchenkitschMarch 5, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    It works because she is so darn cute!! Go to Anthro, Forever 21, even Lands End and you will see clothes like she wears. I think it is vintage-inspired with a modern twist. Her style leans more towards granny chic I think. Right now collecting vintage patterns is so much fun because now that it is "in style" we can make up our old patterns and wear them out without anyone even knowing. : ) We're in style!

    Today I am wearing a denim 60s inspired a-line dress (thrifted but with tags on) and a bright yellow mini-cable cardigan (also thrifted--I'm a thrifty gal) and brown t-strap wedges. I have a bright yellow vintage enamel flower pin on my cardi. So, I guess you can say I am inspired by Emma Pillsbury. Mostly in being bold with color as I would never have thought to wear a bright yellow anything before seeing Emma wear the "insane yellow blouse."

    Thanks, Gertie, for showing me the bandwagon so I could jump on. : )

  12. We are in the most privileged era of fashion to date. Of course there are some looks that are just wrong, but not because the periods don't match in my opinion, but because the silhouettes aren't pleasing to the eye, either for a particular body type or just in general. Sometimes I see women dress strictly in one decade and they can appear to be overdone and trying too hard. I love Emma's look because of the lushious color palette she wears and because her ensembles are predictably unpredictable. She evokes nostalgia while at the same time scratching that itch that we all have for something new or unexpected. When I get dressed I tend to want to be everything all at once (by everything I mean; Betty Paige, a Bond Girl, French, Brazilian, girl next door, Bridgette Bordeaux, Marilyn Monroe, edgy rocker chic, or whoever I saw at the grocery store the day before who looked awesome!, and the list goes on). I have to be careful not to incorporate too many styles at once but try to allow one to dominate. I think the important thing is to study yourself and figure out what style accentuates YOU.

  13. I love her clothing, although I don't often watch the show. I agree that she's got a vintage-inspired prim and proper style that many younger people working in high schools tend towards (so they can be clearly distinguished from the students), but also slightly quirky (with the hair). You can find a lot of these looks on high street retailers, with various degrees of quality. I first saw Jayma Mays on Ugly Betty, and she seemed to have a similar style, which was supposed to emphasize her "small town-ness" vis-a-vis the New Yorkers.
    I love decade mixing. But I agree that this is not new. Didn't Grease create a 50s revival in the 1970s? I've seen 1940s style suits on Etsy from the 1980s and 1970s. The challenge is how to do it without seeming like a crazy bag lady? I suppose it's all about balance, color, and an eye for silhouettes.
    Whoever styles Glee is a genius.

  14. I think the hair is just so right for her little face. And the clothing, well, that doesn't really need an explanation :)

  15. I'm a curatorial practices student at an art university, and we often critique historical home museums because of their adherence to the single decade they are trying to trap in time, without including objects from earlier. Homes are a collection of objects from many different periods leading up to and including the present. Very few people have only objects from the present decade.

    I think wardrobes and fashion function similarly, especially on real people. What's so wonderful is to see this collecting of styles on a character in a TV show, where they often suffer from the same time trap as museums.

  16. Hi Gertie! Catching up on my blog roll today. I am what Trinny & Susannah (do you know them? The original BBC What Not To Wear duo) call "Cello" shaped. Lately I have been leaning towards a late 50s/early 60s look of fuller skirts or pencil skirts and more fitted tops which I wear with "soft" rolls that evolved from my Victory roll efforts, and strong red-brwon lips.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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