Della Street

Everyone who knows me is aware of this: I’m a big fan of Della Street. I have been for many years, ever since I was a kid and watched the Perry Mason TV movies until my grandma introduced me to the original show from the 1950s and 60s. That’s when I liked her even more, for her skills, her style, her elegance. She’s the epitomized girl Friday who was brought to life by Helen Trenholme, Claire Dodd, Genevieve Tobin, June Travis and Ann Dvorak in the 1930s, by Gertrude Warner, Jan Miner and Joan Alexander from the mid 40s to 50s, and ultimately by my favorite, Barbara Hale, in the classic TV show and movies.

Created by Erle Stanley Gardner in 1933, Della Street entered the scene along with her famous boss, attorney-at-law Perry Mason in The Case of the Velvet Claws. Included from the first novel on, Della was a little feistier upon introduction, but every bit as skillful and loyal as in the following eighty-one whodunits. It was made clear from the start that Della had quite an influence on Perry, that their relationship ran a little deeper than that of an employer and his confidential secretary. Always supported by their friend, private eye Paul Drake, their cases took center stage however and the couple never went beyond an ardent kiss. Proposing to her a couple of times, Perry Mason was generally turned down by his irreplaceable office pearl  who understood that he wasn’t the type to settle down, nor was she willing to spend her life without him in a large home as a housewife and mother. So she stuck it out with him through hundreds of cases in the books and movies, on radio and finally on TV.

Always a little altered in the adaptations, Della remained steadfast, pretty and faithful to her boss and got marry to him once in Warner Brother’s very free version of The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1936. In general, Della Street was quite sassy in the Perry Mason films of the 1930s and frequently involved in taking flight from the police on radio a decade later. With television being a more conservative medium in the late 1950s, Barbara Hale did not get to flirt with Raymond Burr’s Perry as much as her predecessors, but thanks to their on screen chemistry and her intuitive acting, the seething romance between Della and Perry continued in the hearts and heads of many Perry Mason fans until a kiss in 1993’s The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host finally confirmed their relationship.

Never described as anything but beautiful in Gardner’s original books, Della Street donned platinum hair and brunette curls, as well as alluring outfits that were appropriate for the office. As the Della Street who’s left a lasting impression on her audience, Barbara Hale wore outfits that were typical of the time between 1957 and 66: figure-hugging, feminine and always covering her knees. Upon the insistence of executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson, Della did not follow every trend when the 60s introduced new hemlines every year and thus stressed the classy elegance Ms. Hale had established for her TV alias. With her limited collection of clothes, Della often changed her outfits by combining her blouse or sweater with another skirt. Her trademark look can be pinned down to waist shirt dresses (including one with her embroidered initials), pencil skirts, cardigans and blouses that embellished her neck with a bow. In the first season, Della was also constantly running around on mules which she later replaced with a classy pair of heels. As an accessory, Della often wore a pearl necklace or a charm bracelet on her left wrist while her little finger frequently showed the presence of a simple ring, matching her boss’ on his own hand. From time to time, Della was also seen wearing a necklace with a pendant showing her initials, long before Carrie Bradshaw made it fashionable for a whole new generation.

In the 1980s, Barbara Hale returned to TV with her longtime screen partner Raymond Burr and continued the tradition of presenting Della as efficient, warmhearted and dressed to the nines. Again, following contemporary but conservative fashion, Della combined over-knee skirts with stylish boots, turtleneck sweaters, blazer jackets and two layers of pearls. Without changing her hair as much as on the original show (while avoiding the beehive), Della Street kept her cropped, practical curls which added credibility to the on-screen depiction of Perry Mason’s tireless associate.

Today, Della’s look can be re-examined on DVD and copied thanks to the many vintage stores and new designs that are inspired by more graceful times. With a circle skirt and scarf, a classy faux vintage suit or classy heels, it’s easy to feel as sophisticated and charming as Della Street. Add a full head of curls, matching intimates and a petticoat to your outfit and you’ll perfect the sentiment. From where I’m standing it is worth the effort, paying tribute to a character many real life secretaries still love to look at for inspiration.

Art, Fashion and Pin-Ups

For the past few days, I’ve been all covered in paint and charcoal, I’ll thus make it short and just throw a couple of book recommendations your way. I’m still in the middle of exploring these gems and don’t really know which one to pick first I’m so taken with them. If you’re like me and all giddy about vintage fashion, pin-ups and art, you may find these books just as helpful and amazing. What a lovely way to spend a “moody-weather weekend”, reading and sketching. See for yourselves if you agree:

Dressing in Style

All right, ladies (and interested gents), let’s talk beauty today. The kind that was fashionable some sixty years ago. Robes and girdles, wraps and circular skirts, petticoats, bullet bras, seamed stockings, stoles and shirt dresses…designed to make girls look glamorous, all-woman and elegant.

Are you like me? Do you miss the classiness of those bygone days? Hats, cardigans, playsuits and colorful scarfs embellishing female necks or taming perfectly trimmed curls…

Personally, I miss the 1940s the most, and then the 50s – those are my favorites: hairstyles, make-up, attire. The early 60s were swell, too, more so the 30s. But for me, those decades got nothing on those twenty years in-between with all the grace and stylishness celebrated then.

I love the colors, the patterns, the way a dress complimented a woman’s body, how it hugged female curves before it was in vogue to be all bones and boyishly slim. I love the exuberance of silk, lace and quillings as much as the rather plain, simple and almost linear suits. I like how stiletto heels perfect the femininity of a skirt,  a composition of an entire outfit with blouse, belt and lusciously cropped curls. I adore the room a 50s cocktail dress provides for my female belly, no matter how sporty and toned – I like to eat at a party, and sit for that matter, without that perpetual fear of blowing my favorite garment.

It’s  the great variety of styles from Katherine Hepburn’s sophisticated style to the all-American sweater, scarf, skirt and flats. Dolling up or roughing it, from those two decades I even love the pants.

If you want to learn more about vintage beauty, check out this blog called Glamour Daze.

You can also find new vintage clothes available in the US and in most of Europe at stores like Collectif, WhatKatieDid, Miss Mole or Joanna’s Wardrobe. There are a number of other stores out there, offering both original vintage clothing and new vintage style, including petticoats, hosiery and accessories.

For everybody who is as interested in vintage fashion design as I am and desires to create her own 40s/50s dream, check out the many blogs and websites for instructions and sewing patterns, e.g. WikiHow (here for hairdo’s).

You’ll see there’s a lot of information available for those of us who cannot ask our beloved grandmas about their precious secrets anymore.