A Very Vintage Christmas

Posted by Liz T. on

In addition to bringing you amazing retro clothes at fabulous prices, we also enjoy digging into some of the context and history around the fashions we love so much. Today we're taking a stroll down memory lane to Christmas decorations of days gone by.

Image credit: Christmas tree  at Windsor Castle / drawn by J.L. Williams. Published in ‘The Illustrated London News,’ 1848.

Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, drawn by J.L. Williams. Published in ‘The Illustrated London News,’ 1848.

Christmas trees have been a popular holiday decoration in the United States for just under 200 years. Although some European immigrants had continued the tradition in their new homes, Christmas trees rose in general popularity after an illustration was published of Queen Victoria and her family decorating theirs in the late 1840's. Versions of this image were reproduced in newspaper and magazines worldwide.

College of images of mid-century aluminum Christmas trees

By the late 50s and early 60s, aluminum trees in silver and bright novelty colors were all the rage. Adding electric lights to a metal tree was a safety concern, so the trees were instead lit with a spotlight projecting from a rotating color wheel. While natural trees came back into favor in the mid 60s, these aluminum trees still hold a place in the hearts of many vintage and MCM-style fans.

A collage of images showing a vintage advertisement for Christmas tree candles, a black and white photo of a tree lit with candles, and a picture of mid-century bubble lights.

Before the advent of electric tree lights, trees were commonly decorated with either actual lit candles or with tons of tinsel to reflect the light already in the room. Lit candles and dry trees unfortunately contributed to many home fires, a danger that continued with the extreme heat or dubious wiring of some early electric lights. From the 40s through the 70s, bubble lights were another festive option. These were usually shaped like candles and contained a liquid that boiled from the heat of the incandescent bulb inside.


Left: A vintage picture of a Christmas tree, early 1900s, decorated with candles and a lot of tinsel. Right: Vintage tinsel advertisement.

 Early tinsel was made of pure silver - what an expensive decoration! This was later replaced with tinsel made of lead, which provided a tarnish-free shine and good drape. Yup, our trees were coated with inches of lead until 1972 - oops! Since then, most tinsel is made of mylar for a slightly safer sparkle and shine (although it can still be dangerous for the family pets.)

Left: Vintage photo of a heavily flocked Christmas tree from the 1970s. Right: Vintage Asbestos Snow Flocking box

Trees coated with a heavy flocking of "snow" have come in and out of style several times over the last century. In the 1930s, ladies' magazines shared DIY recipes for the flocking, made of soap flakes and canning wax. Later versions were made of the new ‘fire-retardant wonder material,’ asbestos. Modern versions are generally made with adhesive and cellulose fibers, a slightly safer combination.


However you decorate and whatever you celebrate, we wish you all the best this holiday season from all of us at GGR!

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