Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That 70s girl

I've posted about Gunne Sax before, as matter of fact, the brand was the topic of one of my first ever posts in this blog, but since their 70s fashions are just as of the moment in the summer of 2009 as they were last year (and back then I probably had the readership of...well none), I think I ought to honer them with another piece.

It all began in the tumultuous summer of 1969, when the San Francisco label Gunne Sax (a name derived from the burlap materials used in some of the early dresses), was purchased by a young woman named Jessica McClintock. Closely attuned to zeitgeist, McClintock began turning out romantic sun-dresses, perfect for the flower children populating her hometown.

Lovely 70s GUNNE SAX Floral Dress

McClintock most likely drew inspiration, not only from the folk styles (like Swiss dirndl) popular at the time, but also from the thrifted garments that the cost-conscious hippie chicks unearthed from second-hand shops.

As the radical 70s transformed the hippie ideals to the more ecologically conscious back-to-the-land movement, McClintock's Prairie Revival-style dresses entered popular culture as one of garments that would define the seventies (sadly, along with lurex disco-wear, men's platforms, and polyester galore).

Strange as it seems now, women everywhere in the United States, from college students, to stay- at-home mom's, to new, alternative homesteaders, were perfectly comfortable in wearing, not only Gunnies Prairie Revival, but garments with Edwardian, and even Victorian touches. Puff sleeves, high-collars and bib-fronts, were everyday fare in this era of Holly Hobbie, women folk singers, and Laura Ingalls of the popular TV show The Little House On The Prairie.

1975 film Picnic At Hanging Rock

Holly Hobbie

Then came the 1980s, an era of tougher values, power suits, shoulder pads, and neon colors. Gunne Sax began to drift towards bigger florals, poofier cuts and finally, prom dresses, for which the label is still known today.

Forgotten for almost three decades Gunnies emerged from the renaissance fairs, and back of the costume rental stores, in 2006, when the rise of New Folk, anti-Folk, Freak-Folk, or whatever-the-heck-you-want-to-call-it-softer-acoustic-music-movement, coincided with the vintage fashion movement, thrift-blogging, the second wave of back-to-the-landers, and even the unfortunate "boho"-moment in mainstream fashion.

RESERVED FOR ARDENTEPATIENCE     The Classic Boho Girl Gunne Sax Dress XS/S

Since then, Gunne Sax by Jessica has been a constant in vintage stores, in both ebay and etsy, and since summer of '09 appears be greatly inspired by the one 40 odd years ago, there is no doubt in my mind, that Gunnies, and other similar vintage brands, will remain an important influence.

Joanna Newsom in a Gunne Sax-esque dress.

Gunnies garments vary from simple sundresses, to full-blown Victorian lace wedding gowns, to ren-fair and dirndl-styles, but all have in common an abundance of adorable detail; such as trims, laces, ribbons, floral buttons and beautiful stitching. One of the identifying details is that most Gunnies frocks have hidden pockets. Some Gunnies dresses are rather functional, in materials like cotton and denim, while others embody almost puritan-esque restricting sleeves and long hems.

In addition to dresses, Gunne Sax also made jackets and skirts, which can often be found online for fraction of the price of a dress.

In its heyday the brand spawned many impostors such as Candi and Ronda Roy, who's wares, while less detail oriented, are none the less, beautiful and can usually be purchased for much less than a Gunnies original. While all thrift stores are worthy of a Gunne Sax hunters attention, and an ebay search may produce results, some my favorite Gunnies and Gunnie look-alike vendors are:

Calico Vintage ebay and etsy

(check out their awesome blog)

A very archetypical Gunne Sax dress from Violet Folklore

Let your inner hippie chick (hang) out this summer, and get her a prairie dress!

Listening to: Mariee Sioux
Check out: my other blog


  1. Awww thanks so much Milla! We hope to see some pics of you in your *amazing* new Gunnies from our shop! You seriously scored two of the best dresses we've ever had.

    And thanks for this great post too, I have long dreamed of posting a blog all about Gunnies (in fact I think I will link to this post on ours).

    Sasha and I really do love them too, I will be posting a blog soon that includes a picture of us when we ran into each other at the store and we were both wearing long prairie dresses (though I don't think either were actually Gunnies).

    Anyway, I could go on and on about my love for these, but I'd better not.

    But did you know there is a Flickr group called Gunne Sax Girls?

    Okay, thanks, you rule, yay!

  2. Awesome post! Though I'm now lamenting the fact that my wardrobe is currently Gunne-free :( Seriously, I am still baffled as to how Amber and Sasha do it, hi girls! :). They find the most amazing gunnies and so many of them. I find none. NONE. Ok, once I found a skirt but it was so tiny I couldn't even get it closed around my waist.

    If I wasn't so broke from all the home remodel stuff we've been doing, I'd be on my way over to Violet Folklore right now, can't wait to see the dresses you got!

  3. i have a fondness for these dresses, i could see you gathering your morels in them! i just dont think i could pull one off myself, maybe if it were a gunne mini? i love the post...

    xo s

  4. You referenced two of my obsessions: Gunne Sax & Mariee Sioux!

  5. I posted about the violet folklore dress too, when writing a little something about Laura Ingalls Wilder! I love both your blogs, they're wonderful. And I love these dresses too, though I never knew so much about them - thank you for this very informative post :). I used to hunt them down when I still lived in Berkeley and San Francisco - my friends would always say "When are you ever going to wear that?" and I'd respond "Um, all the damn time!" They're perfect for every occasion.
    xo, Chloe

  6. I used to adore these dresses when I was younger! I just recently learned about the film "Picnic at Hanging Rock," and really want to see it!

  7. I adore your blog! It seems to have everything I like. In fact, this is the only non style blog that I have on my favourites. I really appreciate your input on films and books. It's a refreshing thing and I fully intend to look in to all your recommendations!

  8. This post has tempted me into some ebay searching.

  9. lovely pics from violet folklore and lovey post on gunnie sax too!

  10. I became obsessed with dresses like these after seeing The Virgin Suicides...and just last week i saw a similar style dress in a vintage store and stupidly didn't buy it.
    I'm pretty sure it was a real Gunne Sax too!

  11. Gunne Sax and general 70's prairie revival are by far my clothing and era of choice! (Oh hey you wrote this entry on my birthday.) Thank you for writing this up.

  12. Ooh! Your post...le sigh.
    9 or so years ago I found a Gunne Sax Maxi (VERY Maxi)prairie skirt at Goodwill. Because it was so long and I am so short, I took the ties off and used them as straps to create a sundress. It was PERFECT. And then...tragedy...I allowed my Mom's girlfriend's daughter to borrow it...and I've not seen it since. We believe the Moms probably packed it up for Goodwill. I could almost cry thinking about it. I LOVED that skirt-turned-dress. It was way cooler than my cousin's Gunne Sax prom dress circa 1987.

  13. really loving your photos lady! will be back for more...xox

  14. I remember all this stuff. In England it was Laura Ashley who made this style the best. I loved her fabrics. I even had my bedroom wall papered with her design.

  15. Hobbies plays a key role for the people who really came to the earth for this purpose, one or the other day people around the world would be discussing about the people who have collected Many World Coins,monuments, old stamps, old notes who will be positioned in the world of Guinness records.

  16. a bit strange to think all these beauties are from the same mind of that who created so many a prom dress!

  17. you pull off that style so well! lovely.

  18. love the floral dresses :D looks soo peaceful in the pics ...

  19. If I could wear all gunne sax, all the time, I WOULD. My mom's wedding dress was gunne sax and I can only dream that mine will be as well. It is by far my favorite brand of all time.