Ask Miss Vivian DuBois, Vintage Fashion Advice

by Crystal Cook

Miss Vivian, the Queens need your help! We are hosting a fabulous “Tiki” party, but we have no idea what to wear- any advice?

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Oh, Kittens- of course Miss Vivian has some advice for you; in fact, she is utterly delighted that you ask!

First, a little background: the Tiki phenomenon started with- oddly enough- a restaurant. A nice young man from Louisiana, with the improbable name of Ernest Beaumont-Gantt, opened his Polynesian themed “Don the Beachcomber” in Hollywood in 1934 after a stint as a sailor in the South Pacific. Mmmmm… sailors! Polynesia, as you will recall from freshman geography class, is a series of islands, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, and- my personal favorite- Easter.

Mr. Beaumont-Gantt served wonderfully exotic food and cocktails (in fact, Kittens, he is the man who is credited with single-handedly inventing the tropical drink; a tip of the mini-umbrella to you, Ernie!) in a delightfully novel setting that was rather loosely based on the Polynesian aesthetic. His restaurant was so popular with the cognoscenti and glitterati of Hollywood alike that he was soon imitated, first by Trader Vic’s, then by a growing cadre of others.

By the 1950’s, fueled by post-war consumer culture and the easy accessibility- for the first time in history- of travel to tropical paradises like Hawaii, Tiki culture spread across the county, where it reigned in all its growing and glorious kitschiness through the 1960’s.

So with that in mind, what to wear? Close your eyes, Kittens, and imagine a warm, tropical breeze caressing your silky skin. Smell the gaudy, gorgeous hibiscus blooms. Hear the gentle roar of the sea on clean white sand. Now, tighten your sarong a bit, and let’s get to work!

A few key phrases: Bright, perhaps clashing, colors. Big, tropical florals. Novelty Hawaiian prints. Sarongs. Batik. Tribal. Think the dark haired, flower bedecked beauties of Gauguin, the muumuu’d and lei’d Hawaiian princess, even the uber-Americanized pop culture tikiness of Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. You can dial up or dial down the kitsch factor to suit your needs, Kittens; Tiki style tended to grow further from true Polynesian culture and more bastardized and silly (nothing wrong with that, however- I love a silly bastard!) as time passed.

For the big night, why not check out those bastions of vintage goodness, eBay and Etsy? Search for terms like “tiki dress”, “sarong dress”, “Hawaiian dress”, or “kamehameha dress”. Genuine tropical splendor from the salad days of Tiki- the late 40’s and 50’s- won’t come cheap, but they are often absolutely stunning sartorial creations which, when combined with a bold bloom tucked behind one ear, have the power to turn any modern girl into an exotic pinup almost immediately! Look for halter-neck or strapless styles, distinctly Polynesian prints and colors, and a wiggle silhouette (although there are numerous nipped-waist, full-skirted dresses in fabulous Tiki fabric which might work brilliantly, if you prefer that shape). If budget presents a problem, there are a plethora of adorable 80s-does-40s/50s, Tiki-inspired little numbers on offer as I type, and newer means cheaper! (Oh, forgive me, Kittens- I meant to say “newer means more affordable”!)  If you prefer a more mod take on Tiki, look for tropical or tribal print shifts and minis from the 60s.

Whatever your shape, style, or budget, I guarantee there is a Tiki dress out there for you, Kittens! Once you find it, accessorize yourself like an island goddess, and enjoy your warm summer evening in all its tropical Polynesian-esque splendor!

4 Comments to “Ask Miss Vivian DuBois, Vintage Fashion Advice”

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