A Tiny Bite of Fashion History

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   It is not an urban legend of yesteryear, the ancient Romans did launder their clothes in urine; and not their own urine. (um…if it makes a difference). Fullers, or fullones (akin to today’s dry cleaners), collected the urine of travelers by placing pots on streets, a marvelous convenience after a long day on the road, we can certainly surmise. Also used was animal urine, as it had the requisite alkaloid nature to whiten those toga whites to as pristine a condition as would make any charioteer proud.

   Males wore togas (and sometimes tunics), which were neither pinned nor sewn, but draped (and draped carefully). White was the order of the day, as true colors were reserved for boys prior to state citizenship at mid-teen years; and for adults, reserved for wear at certain assemblies, as dictated by the powers that were. They must have been terribly uncomfortable in that Mediterranean climate since they were usually fashioned of wool.

        The ancient Romans were familiar with soap, so it’s a bit confounding for us to think they preferred urine. But it was all in the name of getting whites their whitest and brightest. Sulphur was another favorite, and another awful smelling Clorox alternative. Let’s face it: sometimes living “green” is just too unpalatable!

        The children of the time dressed much as their parents, but also typically wore lockets, called bullas, thought to protect them from evil forces. Girls wore their bullas until the day before their wedding, when, I suppose, they were either capable of deflecting evil all on their own as adults, or their husbands could do it for them. Perhaps, like the modern wedding band, a lack of locket on a female was an observable indication of being spoken for.  Boys surrendered their bullas on becoming citizens of the state and donning white togas, around the age of 16.

 

lady12[ Attribution:       Ancient Egypt – KingTutOne.com a
Resource Center for Ancient Egypt]

I think the ancient Egyptians had far better ideas. Except for the fact that children typically went naked until the age of around six years. Happy Penguin would be out of business! But their garments were typically fashioned of linen, a product of flax, which grew bountifully along the Nile. They also had an edge up on comfort and simplicity: men and older boys donned simple belted skirts. The women wore long straight sheath dresses, still popular today in varying lengths. We also love that they apparently eschewed the use of urine and sulphur in laundry matters, instead using elbow grease to ‘beat, rinse, and wring’ down by the river. Their whites likely got brighter around 1200 BCE when boilers were introduced- probably welcomed as an innovation on par with the front loading washers of today.

 

        Anyone remember the commercial where a Chinese couple who owned a dry cleaners answered their happy customer’s comments of beautiful results by saying “ancient Chinese secret”? Then the ‘secret’ was revealed to be a popular brand of laundry detergent. The real secret to ancient Chinese laundry turns out to be plant ash and gleditsia fruit.       chinese

   Plant ash is as it sounds, the ash resulting from the burning of plant material—leaves, stalks, roots. What you get is a residue with the added benefit of resisting insects. This can only be a good thing when we consider how many dedicated and ambitious worms it takes to make enough silk thread for just one blouse.

   Gleditsia fruit is not one which peppered the ancients’ fruit bowl, but is actually an acrid medicinal herb, used as an expectorant in addition to a cleaner. Despite its curative action upon the lungs and large intestine, it apparently makes users quite sick, and is approved for no uses in modern times.

   We have discovered that children of the time wore jade bracelets or anklets, which were thought to grant protection from harm. How delightful that these jade pieces are still popular.

 

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   It’s fun to look at the past, to see how things have changed, evolved over time. Elizabeth I, for example, required all children over the age of seven to wear hats on Sundays and holidays.  In the late 18th century, button die makers in England were prohibited from leaving the country for fear of their trade secrets popping up abroad. (Did they really think they could prevent others from remarkable button manufacturing?) The simple plastic buttons so common on clothing today are a creation of the 20th century, during the 1930’s, cutting costs and adding simplicity not known before. Still, we love England, and thank it daily for being the first to invent smocking, a mainstay in many finer children’s garments today. It was originally used for the billowing shirts of estate workers, (shepherds, gardeners and such), during Anglo-Saxon times, but soon found its way to finer materials and fancier fare.

 

   Just so you know: we promise that no urine is used in the laundering of your purchased garments. Animal, or otherwise.

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In Praise of Resale

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   Ah, the ruffles and bows, the pleats and plaids, silks and woolens, fancy buttons and precious appliqués, vibrant colors in garments and inviting websites offering products donned in dynamic packaging that just makes a mom want to treat her kids to the best stuff out there! And why not? We indulge where we can and take a taste of the good life in honor of our beloveds. We feel happy and proud.

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   I recently set myself to the mission of searching for marvelous kid finds on the web, looking for both apparel and gifts. And I found wonderful and creative merchandise. I spent my time looking at children’s boutiques, knowing the items would be more pricey, but that they should also offer the unique and particularly well constructed. I made my way through the return pages of various google searches toward this goal, and began to notice that what is “unique” is everywhere, and that just about everything is “upscale”. Items and stores are described with words like trendy and posh, high-end, exclusive, and are almost always boutique and designer. Animal prints are all the rage, (particularly zebra, in case you’re wondering), along with rocker wear and deep, rich color (preferably with layers and ruffles and a splash of tulle). Storefronts are gorgeous, with trendy color combinations of pinks and browns, pinks and greens, and turquoise with just about anything. Motifs are retro, vintage, or ultra modern fashionista, many making me crave a double scoop cone.

 

  shapes-333 I reflected back to my little web shop, Happy Penguin Kidswear, and for a second, wondered how we could compete. But just for a second. The truth is, we are not competing. Gone are the days where moms glance aside sheepishly when another pre-school mom compliments dear child’s sweater and asks where it was purchased. Today, we say with pride that it came from a resale shop! It is not a matter of a faltering economy, or of ‘going Green’, but of sound economic sense. A quality garment lasts longer than it will fit a growing child. A classic design is as fashionable today as yesterday, particularly if accented with a few choice accessories. I confess to you that I have skimmed, on an occasion or two, our inventory for my daughter’s closet, and have received the warmest compliments for these choices. And though I avoid the sales pitch to friendly women at the park, their happy comments make me glow, and I can then let them know about Happy Penguin Kidswear.

 

 

 

   A few additional reasons resale has become popular extend beyond exceptional pricing. shapes4442Resale is where moms find out of season items. One will not find that neutral, cream-colored, go-with-everything sweater in July by shopping retail.

   Resale is where moms find that enviable discontinued line from her favorite designer that has long since left the retail shelves. Going vintage means, by definition, going resale.

   Resale means taking home designer goods for the cost of a box-mart outfit; it means five pairs of pants instead of one; it means having your Little Ones looking like a million bucks, while you savor the satisfaction of the bargain.

 

 

 

   Baby girl has just turned four. We live at the park, the library, the zoo, pre-school. We shapes5551venture out to amusement parks and museums. We go out to eat and take local train rides for fun. We have yet to see a child in animal print or rocker wear, though those clothes are so very enticing. A pretty, everyday ruffle, or a couple of bows at her shoulders, and she is picture perfect, ready to go. And if I have ever doubted her style before locking the door behind me, I am certain of it by the time we arrive.

 

 

shapes661   We love children’s boutiques. We love the colors and the packaging. We love browsing the vibrant fields. We love how special we would feel on hitting the ‘add to cart’ button. There’s not a thing wrong with ‘upscale’, afterall, and we do our best to bring upscale down home to all. We all want our kids to be and look their best. Because we are moms and dads, and our kids certainly are the best. And I have not a thing bad to say about upscale children’s boutiques offering unique and beautiful items. We aim to emulate on some scale, and bring you the best for less.

 

   Buying Resale: Tips

 shapes-7772   –There are many resale sources for clothing, both for children and adults. These include on-line resale shops, thrift stores, eBay, and flea markets, among others.  On-line shops and ebay share the unfortunate reality of not having the ablity to touch and inspect garments prior to purchase. For both, verify an accommodating return policy in the event you are not happy with your purchase. For ebay, seek sellers with high positive feedback and generous terms.

   Both of these sources will generally require that you pony up for return shipping; often this means that if you spent $10 for item and shipping, you will have to pay $3-5.00 for a return, and you will then be out that amount for the privilege of being disappointed in your purchase. Many people will not go to the trouble, thereby “rewarding” the seller for oversight should your item(s) be flawed without advance disclosure.

   Ebay purchases can add the further disadvantage of having to pay shipping costs for separate items, even though a flat rate could cover, and could have covered, all items purchased. If you have purchased a “lot”, sellers will typically demand a return of all items within the lot, including those you would like to keep. This cost of return can easily exceed the cost of the items you hoped to add to your wardrobe.

   There are many wonderful resale stores online. A similar dilemma is faced, however. With both resale shops and ebay purchases, it is wise to start out with a low cost purchase, allowing you as the buyer to assess the value of the goods and trustworthiness of the seller. Are the items in the condition you expected? Are there any undisclosed flaws? Is the garment clean and fresh? If you’ve had contact with anyone at the store, how did customer service stack up?

   Thrift stores and flea markets offer the advantage of prior inspection, but have their own drawbacks. Be mindful not to shop when hungry or tired, as you may miss fatal flaws in the garments selected. Many items are stained, have hidden holes or other defects that take a careful eye to witness. Take your items to a bright light, such as a large window on a sunny day to ferret out subtle stains. Ask about the return policy at thrifts lest you get home and find that a stray moth loved your new woolen as much as you did. Do not expect a bonanza, as these outlets take patience- 99% of the items will be ordinary, available new on sale for less, counterfeited (brand name; usually purses and specialty items), faded, or just plain the wrong size. One to three special items an afternoon is about what you can typically expect; though one really good deal may be worth your efforts!

   Yes, we love boutiques. But we love Resale more! We wish you happy hunting, happy shopping, and the best for your Little Ones!

Put the Beanie Away!

beanieHere is an easy fix for “cradle cap”, a flaky build-up that can occur on an infant’s scalp, which is a sign of neither unhealth nor neglect.  Twenty minutes prior to bathing, gently rub olive oil on baby’s head. The oil will soak through and loosen the build-up. While bathing, use a soft wash cloth or soft toothbrush to remove the material without irritation to tender skin.  As a bonus, those lovely locks will come out super soft!

Baby Stuff Inundation!

   
    All Those Must-Have Products…
What’s A New Mom To Do??
March 7, 2009

 

 After you have that first kidlet, and a couple of years after that, you are presented with so many ‘must haves’ and, being a good mom who wants the best for Little One, you buy far too many of them. Well, I did, anyway, sometimes feeling the fool. Items to make your baby more comfortable, safer, cleaner, smarter; your life easier, cleaner, stream-lined, systematic– all those gadgets and gizmos the nice, well-intentioned moms in the park told you that you really should have. (Hey, made their lives better, right?) Well, the ads in the parenting magazine you’ve been reading  (with all those utterly cute kids’ pics in) say they are ‘must haves’.  And then, the flip side: those products you need that simply don’t exist, so you compensate, jerry build, wondering how it is that babies have been born since the dawn of time and what you need does not even exist yet.  Are the must-haves worth it? Can the non-existent necessities be fashioned affordably by mom?
  
   I’m an ‘expert’ by mom-dom alone.  No studies over time here, no surveys, no specialized market analysis. But if being a product target in the real world isn’t scientific enough, what is?  I’ll start the maiden launch of the Fingerprint Files with a few:
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Shopping Cart Covers:   Huh? Wow- sounded great to me, too!! But…huh? While Little Cookie was still in infanthood, I began my quest for a shopping cart gizmo. Got my mom in on the action. At a super hefty price tag, I grew discouraged- we were talking $50 plus here.  At that price, I expected functionality of purpose, ease of use, and it better be quality stitched and in a print I felt like showing off to any other moms I might run into while sifting through blinding arrays of soup labels.
   Not talking brands or makers here. But I finally found a gorgeous one, brightly colored, with safety straps, generous leg holes, lots of cushy drapy padded fabric…which brings me home to ‘huh’? Really, a baby in one arm, a mass of screaming colored material in the other, trying to align everything, getting baby in- then having to hunt mightily for the right way the straps were supposed to work…
   There are those who swear by these things. Power to them! Not me. I tossed the crumpled fabric in my cart and warned baby that she would have to work on her immune system, because that train wreck wasn’t on my already harried agenda. I still have it. Used less than once. Crumpled in the upper reaches of her closet. That was two years ago, and she is still alive and with us, and doesn’t get sick much.
   Fingerprint take: If you can do without: do without! If not, but the tag is on the steep side- take a piece of desireable fabric, cut a couple of leg holes, and drape it over the cart’s handle and baby seat. Same protection for about $4.  You can use the shopping cart seatbelt without having to juggle your child.  

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Safety/Walking Harnesses: Moms of twins, move on- this isn’t for you. All others, I am ashamed to say that my wild child earned her right to be harnessed, and that  I, as her mother, earned my right not to deal with all those straps and buckles after purchase, before first use. Okay, maybe I’m strap and buckle challenged, but I would rather write another college thesis than to have to figure that thing out! Maybe I just picked up the wrong one, but I ask you–why would I ever try another after that particular misery of motherhood failure?
   Same price alternative (and only a few nasty glares)- one of those marvelous, self-retracting dog leashes. For the strap impaired, it works just as well.  After giving up on the physics and mechanics and nano-mega- uber technology of the harness, I was thrilled to simply pull back a simple lever with my thumb, insert through belt loop, and have my child within any distance I desired!
   If you are anything like me, the glaring stares don’t touch you, as you know you are simply being protective of beloved kidlet. But there are drawbacks.  I was at my wit’s end at a large chain drugstore as Little One ran through the aisles, pulling things off shelves, thinking it all very funny, and I could get little done. So I dragged her lovingly to the pet section and grabbed one of these wonderful leashes and attached. And she was delighted, and I was delighted. Until she got on all fours and started to bark. Then only she was delighted. After a couple of weeks of demanding she be leashed for each and every minor outing (um…like getting the morning paper from the driveway), she then refused to be leashed for anything, insisting she was not a dog, afterall.
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 Wipe Warmers: Just before Little One was born, the most adamant advice I received was that I absolutely must make sure I had a ‘wipe warmer’.  It was like a mantra- ‘Need a warmer, need a warmer…’ I waddled my fat self to Target for a wipe warmer and read every word on every box to make sure to get the right one. Not sure which I bought, but I do know the box was very specific in dutifully letting me know that there would be no dastardly drying out of wipes, no browning, no burning.
   That wipe warmer was another piece of…well, let’s just say, good thing I had wipes on hand. As dry and brown as they may have been. And they were. Wipes aren’t cheap–at $7-$9 a family pack. My week of warmed wipes cost quite a bit more. And I started wondering–why is a warmer needed anyway, even if it DID work as promised? Wipes will be the temperature of the room, afterall, with a slight cooling based on alcohol content. Live next to Santa? I’m willing to bet you have heat. If not, then you’ll be spending on something more urgent than a little box that makes your wipes prematurely browned. 

 

dpr-b-gone1In-Nursery Diaper Disposal Doo-Dads:  Laugh outloud, I think all new moms either buy these or get them as gifts at showers from generous friends who are childless. Okay, I’ll admit to the purchase with high hopes of convenience. And, though I can’t name a brand because it’s been a while, it was great. It was spectacular! For the first few weeks, when all was “calm” on the olefactory front.  I did have a bit of a problem with my particular purchase, because I was alone trying to put the hard plastic pieces together in the final hours of pregnancy, utterly unable to force the pieces into place without fearing contractions, but that isn’t my biggest gripe.
   Biggest gripe:  Very short ‘shelf life’, so to speak. Really, what’s the ‘shelf life’ on a used diaper? Exactly. The reality is, no plastic bin is going to save your husband from having to empty the trash. Constantly. It’s a given. My opinion, just take the trash out from day one, because no matter how often you clean your diaper genorama, or try to cheat mother nature, in a short few weeks, you’ll be taking the trash out daily (hourly) anyway. Skip the doodad, spend the difference on that cushy monogrammed blankie that will be cherished and, no doubt,  loved forever.
   So much for the nay-sayer in me at the moment. Next time, a few ‘must haves’ that are really Must Haves.
Love to you and your Little Ones!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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