Oktoberfest “Black Forest” Dirndl

As a girl of strong German heritage, and a lover of vintage fashion, an old-fashioned ethnic outfit to celebrate Oktoberfest has long been on my to-make list, and is now – finally – a reality!  Here’s my year 1942 dirndl! Each piece is separate for ultimate mix-and-matchability, so can wear each on its own in the future or change up my dirndl in the future. This is something I am so happy with…it tuned out every bit as wonderful as I imagined.  Prost!

I was inspired by the traditional late 30’s/40’s “Black Forest Maiden” when making this.  The “Black Forest” is a very ancient, forested, mountainous region in southwest Germany.  It was already being named in Roman times.  The cultural dress and traditions of this region is likewise very old, and the rich dirndl customs associated with it have been around for the last several centuries.  Thus, I find it so sad that an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, temporarily became twisted by Hitler, used to suppress and subjugate women nationally in the late 30s and early 40s.  As a girl with very German roots I recognize that interpreting this can painful, but this is an outfit made to honor a woman I don’t know with a story I will never forget.

At a WWII reenactment two years ago, I met a wonderful, friendly, and knowledgeable man with a thick German accent. As we chatted, I seemed to bring to mind something for him by wearing my vintage garb, and he proceeded to tell me about his mother. She was 11 or 12 when Hitler started his invasions, and the local Nazi Youth Movement chose her as the town’s “Black Forest Maiden” since she had the “perfect” body, hair and eye color. Terrified and crying, she was forced to lead the town’s parades, forced to wear what they chose, and be the “mascot” with her official photo. When I was shown that woman’s picture from back then, in her beautiful dirndl vest, with her stereotypical ‘Gretchen’ braids, she was so sad through that ‘perfect’ smile – that image is burned in my memory. And you think image crafting and body shaming is hardcore today…!  All the advancements that women of central Europe had been fighting for during the 20 years of the Inter-War period (and they were many) were threatened by the Nazi Idea of the model German woman.

I had no idea before hearing his emotional maternal story that a “Black Forest Maiden” was so forced on women and young girls who happened to fit the “faultless” Aryan mold, much like living out a punishment.  As if the way we are made is by choice!  Instead we have been incessantly fed a need to change one’s own inherent individual beauty for ages.  I have read that blond hair dye was extremely popular and encouraged back then for the brunettes, and posters and publications pressured a certain living ideal, too.  There is nothing like a first-hand account from those who lived through those times to get the real stories of the past.  Luckily, I can choose to wear what I want, and be happy celebrating heritage the way I choose in the fall, but making this dirndl reminds that was not always the case.  This is why I did not strictly adhere to the “Black Forest” ideal with my outfit – this is (to me) a freedom-of-expression version for a non-pale skinned, brown hair and dark eyed girl like me of today.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all fabrics are authentic to a vintage dirndl of the times – cotton for the skirt and a ribbed cotton velveteen for the vest, lined in basic broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4230, year 1942

NOTIONS:  I only wanted to use supplies that were on hand already, and all I absolutely needed to buy was the front zipper!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 20 hours to complete and was finished on October 13, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  As everything I used had been on hand in my stash for at least a few years (yay for whittling down my hoard of fabric), and (knowing me) I probably got it all on a good discounted price anyway, I’m counting this outfit as free!

I had the best surprise as I opened up the dirndl jumper pattern, the kind which don’t come that often (and I believe I have seen and opened up a lot of vintage patterns in my life).  This one copy of mine is in top tier condition.  It was still factory folded inside, no discoloring, smell, or brittleness and the trailing floral embroidery transfers were miraculously as pristine as the day they were made – never used and still shiny and waxy beaded up on the tissue paper strips.  I always see transfer papers either missing, used already, or the ink dry and crumbly.  Needless to say I really have no intention of actually using them, but it is neat and rather tempting knowing they are there and fully usable!  Perhaps once my commitment to full scale embroidery is more guaranteed in the future, I might make a copy of these transfers and try the design, but I would have to start such a project two seasons ahead at my rate and I have enough going on in my life.

The bodice vest’s novelty velveteen – already thick, sturdy, and lovely to touch – was fully lined and fully interfaced with sew-in muslin so it would end up almost like a corset, or at least a very substantial jacket weight.  Lining is always such a nice and easy way for both a professional finish and a clean way to finish all your edges and hide all your seams!  It was chilly the day of our town’s Oktoberfest, so my vest kept my entire middle so warm I needed no coat.

As I am a married woman, I have no red trimming (meant for single ladies) and my vest is primarily black.  There is a matching color separating front zipper wedged in the middle to close the front of my dirndl vest.  Happily it is not very noticeable at all.  I really considered a laced up front, but as zippers were the latest and greatest fashion edge in the late 30’s, I wanted this traditional-influenced dirndl to follow suit.  Besides, a simple closing accommodated the fancy trim I planned on using.

The braided trim is complex and dramatic, perfect for a dirndl where your haberdashery cannot be too fancy or your details too scrumptious.  It is a Simplicity brand roll that I had bought on deep discount years ago.  It is something so novelty that I had no clear idea of what to use it on at the time, but as something like this is hard to come by – and normally expensive – I had to have it.  I’m glad I did, because it was meant for this dirndl…the 4 feet on the roll was exactly the length needed to go completely around the front and neckline edge.  Even an inch less would have not worked.  It is a cotton rayon blend of a white satin soutache-style rope braided with multiple strands of twisted black rope which reminds me of what is on decorator’s tassels.  As much as I wanted a quick and easy way to attach the trim down, I put up with hand-stitching it down for a precise placement with threads unseen.  I am in amazement at how this special trim made my dirndl vest go above par. 

My skirt is self-drafted of a 40’s reproduction print.  The color is not as green as I would have liked, but neither is it solidly turquoise.  Whatever the tone, happily my skirt is very much a copy of the skirt and apron colors worn in the West German movie “The Black Forest Girl”, made in 1950.  The story for this movie is based on the operetta “Schwarzwaldmädel” by Leon Jessel, who died in the same year as my dirndl pattern – 1942.

It’s merely your basic gathered skirt, and for a good amount of pouf I brought in just over twice my waist length into a very nice, 1 ½ inch wide, lightly interfaced waistband.  In order to use the whole of my fabric with minimal cutting, I hand-stitched down a 12 inch hem to shape some fullness into the skirt, weigh it down, and keep it opaque.  There is a true vintage metal zipper in the side for an old-fashioned touch.  It should definitely be a great basic wardrobe staple during the spring and summer worn on its own with a tee or blouse apart from this dirndl.  I hope to make another skirt like this one, using a completely different print and material, to see how that changes the overall feel of my Germanic outfit.

An apron is a must with a dirndl!  I am using a handcrafted fine cotton apron that my mom had ordered from a vintage reproduction company, so it is not of my own making, but the details are just what I would want to pair with my outfit.  There is crocheted lace and both pintucks and ½ pleats for more texture and interest to the outfit.  The apron I had on for the day is a very wearable new version that reminds me of the apron I would have preferred to wear (but wouldn’t dare out of respect) – my Great-Great Grandmother’s apron handmade apron from circa 1890 (pictured at left).  This family history treasure was made on her way over to the United States, and the fine details are mind-blowing.  Just studying it is improving my sewing skills by practicing to imitate such tiny, regular feather-stitching on other items.

I do intend on sewing up the dirndl vest’s matching underblouse in a sheer white organdy just like the cover shows, but I ran out of time for this weekend.  It will be made soon, anyway, and be ready for next year.  Until then, I wore a fine linen blouse already in my wardrobe, one that has lovely floral-and-vine shadow work along the neckline, visible above the sweetheart neckline of my dirndl vest if you look closely.  The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother (on my father’s side).

There is heavy German influence on all sides of my family, and around the last turn of the century they had immigrated over (before the First World War, when eight million German-Americans comprised this country’s largest non-English speaking group).  This was at a time when being a “Hyphenated American” was paramount to asking for the finger of suspicion to come to you.  Yet, during the First World War, when Ellis Island immigration was high, about 20 of all Americans who answered the call to arms were foreign born.  Quick assimilation was important to “Hyphenated Americans” for both their safety and because of their likelihood for a successful new start.

Even still, our families have not forgotten our past heritage over the last 100 years.  My dad has memories of going to Oktoberfest celebrations as a child in his little Lederhosen, and his Grandfather – who operated his own bakery for many years – always had stollen and coffee on hand to enjoy with him every Sunday after church.  My husband’s paternal side had originally settled in a city actually called Germantown, with German still on the tombstones and street signs.  Conversely, our relatives did their part for America fighting against the Reich in both wars.  The German influence that still surrounds me in the Mid-Western United States where I live is all good stuff – stately, impressive churches, strong homes made to last, delicious and hearty food, creative micro-breweries, beautiful winery vineyards, and happy, down-to-earth, hard-working people.  So why did I not make a dirndl earlier than now?!

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The One Piece That Made Two

Refashions are just my recipe for having a great time at my sewing.  A slightly ill-fitting vintage 1980s dress came out from under my sewing machine a very fresh and fun 1950’s two piece set of a crop top and simple skirt.  One vintage era went backwards in time through my sewing to suit another era…what a time warp!

I do love a good summer-time-fun combo, and more separates that work well with my existing wardrobe are most welcome.  This is no exception.  If you follow my blog you may notice or might have read that I have a weakness for turquoise (and purple) so this set matches with so much!  Besides, it is really lovely floral that is like flowers scattered in the wind, in a basic white print…something I don’t have.  This fabric is so soft and semi-transparent, too, making this a cool, fun, and breezy set that’s put-together enough for dashing around the city in summer yet made for lounging around by the water.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Well, it’s more than just fabric, really, since I started with a dress that that from the 1980s, but it is a soft cotton and polyester blend knit.  A remnant of cotton knit, leftover from this project, went towards the waistband of my new skirt.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4213, year 1953, was used for the top and I self-drafted the waistband for the skirt

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This re-fashion project only took me a handful of hours and it was finished on May 29, 2015.

TOTAL COST:  Not counting – this was a special gift! Read on…

This the original dress before re-fashioning

The 1980s can be a hard era to re-fashion, especially with this dress.  When something is frumpy from the beginning, with a lot of extra fabric, it can be tough to envision anything else working better!  This dress was so worth it to save, though.  This was something from my hubby back when we were only dating in 2009.  I remember we were out and about in downtown on a bitter cold winter day after an early morning breakfast one Saturday.  I had on so many layers to stay warm that I didn’t first try on this dress that caught my eye in a vintage resale shop, but he bought it for me anyway.  As it was, it really didn’t do anything for my figure, so I didn’t wear it, but was determined to make it into something I would enjoy.  Thus, it was kept it on my backburner of my ‘to-be-re-fashioned’ queue until the right idea struck.  Well, it took a few years to get the feel of what I wanted to do with that 80’s dress, and a few years more to post about it, but here it is, finally!  When good memories are attached to what you are wearing, it somehow seems to make the current moments so much sweeter.  This is definitely not my most interesting sewing project, but to my mind, with the background history to it that I know, it feels so very interesting to wear.

Now, at first glance this set probably appears to be a dress, and I intended it that way.  You see I really wanted to keep the dress, well, a dress, but ideas for doing that were not popping in my head.  Besides, to make a divided dress that deceptively seems like a one-piece would be just as good, maybe even better.  I made sure the top was only long enough to reach the skirt when I’m standing straight and the waistband was wide enough to look like some sort of belt or middle cummerbund.  In all, I love this!  When I reach around it feels so subtly sexy to have a crop top, and wide waistband is great to wear and doesn’t roll.

The blouse/top pattern is labelled “Simple to Make” and boy are they ever right!  It was the perfect answer for my desire to leave as much of the original seaming intact.  Keeping with the kimono sleeves, the bodice was more or less only trimmed a little.  I re-cut half of the shoulders and side seams only, marking the darts after the skirt had been detached.  I left the neckline as it was because I love a V-neck for my face but did remove the sleeve elastic.  Then the top came together before I knew it and fits like a glove.  As the fabric is a knit, I am able to slip this on over my head without a zipper or any closure, which always surprises me every time I put it on.  The waist is so tapered in and defined!

For the skirt, I adored the triple rows of shirring at the waist, so I made sure to keep them.  They do stretch, since there is elastic thread sewn into the stitching, which is good because this is a pull-on skirt with no closures, like the top.  I chose 2 ½ inch wide elastic for the waist, and drafted the casing accordingly – double the width plus two seam allowances.  Then the empty casing was stretched and stitched on, the elastic run through it, and the opening closed up.  Easy-peasy!  I left the hem alone, so that is original to the dress, and also was able to keep the original side pockets that added to the appeal this garment had on me from the beginning.

I kind of feel bad for my hubby actually because this outfit reminds me of a conundrum.  He really likes me in what I chose to make for myself, yet he used to like to buy things for me, too.  Sewing for myself has completely cured me wanting anything from a store nowadays, and it has taught both of us to look for quality…which we generally do not find in ready-to-wear.  So – he really can’t buy me clothes anymore!  I make what I need and I like it that way.  I guess my dress re-fashion merely reminds me of a sweet thing he used to do for me that my current sewing practices (which I wouldn’t change) have curtailed.  Now, he is really getting good at picking out neat fabrics for me, though!!

Have any of you also found some interesting aftereffects to sewing for yourself?  Do you (like me) also find yourself unhappy with much RTW the more you find yourself pleased with how you feel in your own handmade garments?  Do you also find fabric so very inexplicably exciting, much more than buying a new outfit in the store?  Does your significant other or friends understand that wonderful “hooked on fabric” bug?  (If so, they’re a keeper!)  Let me know because this re-fashion project has made me ponder just how far I have come along in what I wear and who it comes from over the last few years.  At least with my sewing skills, I was able to hold onto a little bit of the past and continue to wear a good memory.

Little Pieces of Tropical Paradise

Vintage multi-piece play suits have always intrigued me with their lovely mix-and-match factor and smart wear-ability.  Thus I had to make my own rather than just keeping up the looking and admiring!

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When I say ‘play suit’, I am not talking about the modern interpretation of the term as a sort of jumpsuit.  I mean the 1930’s to pre-1960’s outfits geared for play, sport, leisure, and/or swim time which are often comprised of several pieces layered for practicality – a more skin revealing under set complete with add-on pieces for more decency when going out, as well.  (See this blog post on the “Vintage Dancer” for more info and pictures on 1940’s play suits.)  Here, my play suit is a four piece set of a self-drafted sarong skirt, a tie-front crop top, and a pair of skirt-like shorts (skort), all true to the 1940’s, while part four is a knit ¾ sleeve shirt for a modern touch.          100_3646a-comp

These pieces were made a while back as my submission for the “Vintage Play suit Sew Along” in May 2014 sponsored by “Girl with the Star Spangled Heart”.  The skirt is what sees the most wearing, with the sports skirt/shorts and the knit shirt both coming in second.  As our land-locked mid-west of America is woefully lacking in bodies of water, the crop tie top is the least worn (not what I would wish).  Pool side lounging here I come!

The location for our photo shoot is again our town’s lovely 1930’s wonder in architecture, the Chase Park Plaza.  Our last photos taken at this location, albeit inside, were for the blog post about my emerald green 1930’s Vionnet evening gown.  This time we took advantage of their lovely pool courtyard and a slow, unpopulated lounge area to have a period background…complete with palm trees to match my fabric!

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All of the 1940’s pieces (the skirt, the tied crop top, and the skirt-like shorts) are all in 100% rayon challis.  The ¾ sleeve modern top is made of 100% cotton interlock knit.  All fabrics were bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.

hollywood-1479-combo-wPATTERNS:  A vintage Simplicity 3356, from the year 1940, was used for the skirted shorts; a vintage Hollywood 1479, from the year 1944, was used for the crop tie top; a year 2006 Simplicity 4076 was used for the knit shirt; and the long sarong skirt was self-drafted by me…so no pattern here!  By the way I definitely have plans to make the jumper ad blouse from Simplicity 3356, as well as the nightgown from Hollywood 1479!

simplicity-4076-knit-tops-year-2006NOTIONS:  Just the normal notions were needed and were on hand – thread, interfacing, bias tape, and buttons (which were from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash). The only thing I had to buy was a duo of zippers.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making a play suit is a bit of a time investment, but the two tops and the skirt were easy and quick, taking only about 3 or 4 hours each.  The skirted shorts took longer, at about 20 hours.  The tie-front crop top was done on May 23 while the sarong skirt was finished on June 2, and the skort on June 12, all in the year 2014.  The ¾ sleeve knit top was made in 2006 or 2007.100_3192-comp

THE INSIDES:  Well, the older knit top was made at my parents’ house so I took advantage of their serger (overlocker) for the seams.  Otherwise the rest of the seams on the rest of the garments for the play suit set are in mostly French seams with some bias bound seams, too.

I know, I know – my tie-front crop top actually comes from a pattern for nightwear – how risqué!  It is pretty much similar to other play suit and bra top patterns from the 1940’s.  I love how it shows just enough skin while still keeping me covered (it still has puff topped sleeves, after all).  I can wear normal underwear or a swimsuit top under this easily, which is nice that it does not require anything different.  Actually, I anchor the tie front of the top to the center front of my bra…oops, too much info.  Best of all, it was super easy to whip up.  This is the main reason I took the extra time to do the tiny hem and the French seams.

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The sarong style wrap-skirt was very fun to make and I am happy that I was able to re-create what I envisioned, something not always achieved.  Sorry if I get a bit technical here but simple complexity is hard.  You see, when I think of sarong, I picture a skirt that is in 3D, meaning I see it as supposed to have flowing movement yet clinging drape.  All the reprints and reissues I see available did not fit the bill – they are all either merely side tie skirts with some sort of gathers or tucks to create drape and a simple back view but basically just plain skirts, still not the ultimate hottie level.  At first planning, I will confess, I was going to use something simple from on hand such as McCall’s 6519, from 2012, or a McCall’s 5430, from 2007, but after making the crop top I was left with only 1 ½ yards making all my chosen patterns no longer feasible, so I went for the self-draping route.  Since I do not have a mannequin I had to stand in front of our full length mirror with my pin box nearby and experiment with different tuck and dart placement and direction.  I did not cut into the fabric at all, merely stitched and manipulated one yard and a half cut (60 inches wide) into what you see.

100_3200a-compI will lay out my method of drafting the skirt as best I can so hopefully you can do the same if you’d like too!  First I chose which length would be the circumference of my waist and hemmed that edge.  Next, I found the center of that waist edge and figured that would be the back, then measured several inches out from that point to make some small (maybe ½ inch) darts for about 8 or less inches down.  Now the back of the skirt is done.  Next, I put the back up against myself and marked with pins what would be the side seam points on each side.  Then I started the experimental parts where adding a few small angled tucks to each side seam was successfully tested.  My tucks are angled opening up towards the back of the skirt – this brings in the skirt to gently shape under the booty and around and over the hips for an hourglass outline.  This step was hard to do.  I actually had to pin the waist100_3201-comp back to the top I was wearing that day so I could experiment with the darts.  After the waist sides were o.k. and top-stitched down, I worked on adding deeper tucks to the ends of the wrap.  These tucks are also sloping, between horizontal and vertical, and there are more on the end that is seen from the outside than on the end inside.  The front corners were softened to a rounded drape by merely turning in the bottom hem front points at an angle and simply taking them down.  To close the wrap inside is an elastic strap with a waistband hook (to make things semi forgiving), and on the outside a lovely olive green shell button with another loop of elastic.  Totally ready to be whipped on…or off if I need to just wear the skirted shorts underneath.

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I’ve worn my skirted shorts with my vintage blouses, and this gives me a very 30’s looking sports outfit.  I can wear them with modern tops and it looks fun and flirty, especially with some flat sandals.  Tops from other decades, with some large victory rolls or a ponytail, give a vintage-does-modern appeal.  The way I can change up the aura of the date of these skirt-like shorts is the best perk.  These shorts do have such a wide hem they are not the best for some exercising (too revealing) but are awesome for playing tennis in, I tried that out!

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As great as these vintage skorts are, I do need to try again in the future to make a better version.  The main problem with this pair is I believe the rayon challis fabric I chose.  It’s so wrinkly for something with details that you only sit on to mess up any ironing work, it doesn’t hold up well the minute I start to sweat – the fabric not tight enough.  With the rayon, I end up with darker colored spots where it’s wet from sweat (…embarrassing) and I’m beginning to get obvious holes from tension at the spots where the pleat top-stitching ends.  Rayon on top of rayon is also rather too stifling to wear for the summer.  Perhaps next try, I’ll sew these up in a cotton blend gabardine.  Reconstructing History has some 1944 play shorts  that are very similar to the one’s I made and they recommend rayon, linen, cotton (all too light and wrinkly) as well as denim.  Any other suggestions for another fabric thick enough, low on the wrinkle factor, and good for summer comfort all combined for my next play suit shorts?

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I kind of fudged my way through these vintage shorts as best I could but it was a real struggle.  What took the most time to make the skorts was due to the fact that the pattern was unprinted.  I’ve worked with unprinted patterns many times before, but with all the pleats, together with the grain line markings and such, my limits of comprehension of connecting the right dots was put to the ultimate test.  To top it off, in order to support the skorts’ pleats across the belly and cut down on any see-through issues, I had to draft my own one piece liner to go inside.  The liner was a great idea and really needed, but a second layer of rayon, on top of rayon, was not the best idea…should have used something else 100_3194-compwhich was lighter like batiste perhaps.  The instructions gave no clear designation of what to do with the space under the side button closures – I had ideas of adding in pockets, or full button closure (sailor-style), but finally settled on the easy-but-not-so-authentic option of zippers.  Looking back, I really don’t need double closures (there are buttons and zippers on each side seam), and next time I will eliminate one side to sew it closed and add in a button or hook-and-eye method like I’d thought.  Darts were even added to the inside of the waistband to give it more curve and bring it in – I believe it was drafted too straight.  I’m tired just going through its problems.  Oh well, I like what I have and now I know what to do and what to change for the next attempt at this lovely, complex design.

100_3643a-compLast but not least is my modern ¾ sleeve knit top, which was picked out of my closet during the planning stage of my playsuit as something which was finally going to have a specific outfit to match with.  I had made it such a while back and it never has seen that much wearing previously because it’s gentle dusty green never match with much but a solid skirt or denim.  Not that this is the only modern top I wear with the play suit, but it gives me a reason to highlight what I remember as my first totally successful me-made top.  It really has some body hugging shaping if you make your “correct-according-to-the-chart” size.  If you don’t want it to fit you as snugly, go up a size.  Also, I found the length to be a bad spot – too short to tuck in and not long enough for it not to ride up untucked – so making the hem longer might be a good idea.  Otherwise, this is a great top and easy to make and wear.  I’ll have to go back to the pattern and make some of the other views offered!

Gertie’s summer 2016 release of Butterick 6354 Gertie's B6354 combo picgave me quite a surprise at how similar it is to my own play suit – especially in the choice of fabric pattern and colors – as I mentioned before in this post.  These colors and this “palm leaf with flowers” seems to be rather prevalent when I was looking at play suit inspiration – see this color picture of actress Peggy Moran at “Glamourdaze”, or visit my Pinterest board for more.  I do find Gertie’s play suit as sort of a hybrid blend of pieces that make it more of something from the 50’s era, though it does seem awkwardly like it sort of should be from the 40’s.  Besides, one could make this set from patterns already released (such as Simplicity 8130 for the tops, Vintage Vogue 9189 for the shorts, out-of-print Vintage Vogue 8812, year 1940, for the bolero, and any adapted pencil skirt or real wrap skirt pattern for the mock-wrap skirt).  Sorry…I’m not meaning to criticize, I just would rather see variety than redundancy in the patterns that are released.

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As I mentioned above, play sets are a bit labor intensive, after all you have to make three or four separate garments just for a finished set!  However, it’s well worth it, especially when done with a vintage perspective for those of us who love the styles from the past.  Now I have some easy vintage garments that set my wardrobe up for some playtime, or easy dressing in style!  Plus, it doesn’t hurt to feel a little of the past’s relaxed associated with holiday or hot-weather wear, does it?!  This is much more fun than for me to wear than whatever most people wear for modern leisure/exercise time.  Yet I’ll bet it’s more comfy…and less confining! I actually just finished sewing a year 1959 play set, so get ready for an upcoming post on my interpretation of vintage sporty wear courtesy of the next decade!  Now if only summer would last a bit longer…

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