Monday, January 30, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued

Vintage shoes have sole

I am a great devotee of vintage shoes, but I know there are caveats. I have rarely had a pair of vintage shoes from prior to the 1960s that I dared wear regularly because age takes a greater toll on an item that handles your weight and activity so tangibly.

I have a collection of vintage shoes in size 9-9 1/2. My modern US size is 9, and vintage shoes in this relatively larger size are not very common, so I keep many that I find. You will find vintage shoes in my size and in longer sizes, so don't despair even if you wear a size 10 or 11.

Some of my vintage shoes, all size 9 or 9 1/2

I recently came across a great post by April of VintageVixen on the sizing, quality and maintenance of vintage shoes. As she writes, “vintage shoes are an unbeatable value when condition matches quality,” and she goes on to remind that style is a big reason for choosing vintage shoes. After recently shopping for a walkable yet stylish new shoe with a 1"-2" heel, I can wholeheartedly agree; all I saw were flats and towering heels. With vintage you have choices!

April describes how vintage shoes are sized more-or-less as modern shoes. She writes about how to compare your shoe size to a vintage shoe that you covet, how to read the more detailed widths, and finally, how to care for vintage shoes. April is thorough, so please read her advice if you have been troubled with vintage shoe woes, or are just starting to consider vintage shoes.

All these vintage shoes would fit my size 9B feet...race you to them!
40s spectators from FemaleHysteria, 50s-60s stilettos from Mags Rags,  60s mod silver shoes by Herbert Levine from greygardensboutique, 60s-70s lace-up boots from stellahsgroove, 60s pilgrim buckle shoes from voguevintage, 60s stilettos from Tangerine Boutique, 60s spectator oxfords from elclinto1

Friday, January 27, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued

Let vintage hats go to your head

I'll say it right now: I have a big head. I didn't think I could even wear hats because I had the experience of some not fitting, then I discovered that there are many styles of vintage hats that have a fit that works for many, and styles galore to choose from. My personal favorites are from the first half of the 40s, when all the pent-up whimsy and fashionability that couldn't be budgeted and rationed into clothing choices during WWII could go to a girl's head. If the hats are green, even better.

The actress Gene Tierney, photographed by John Rawlings
For those of you who think sure, that's fine for you, but I can't wear a hat, let alone a vintage hat, let me tell you a true story: A friend of mine (not a vintage wearer) found a vintage hat that she loved. It wasn't over-the-top, just a nice, simple navy blue felt hat with a small brim from the mid to late 40s. My friend took a bus to work daily, and her commute involved crossing a busy street to get to the bus stop. The day she started wearing her vintage hat, cars stopped for her to cross, people commented on how well she looked...and she felt well! Don't underestimate your ability to wear a vintage hat and make it your own.

Gene Tierney photographed by Rawlings again, with a hat not unlike my friend's
Photos sourced from

Like some more inspiration? Have a look at Already Pretty's blogpost on Flattering Hats for Every Head. Even though the information refers mainly to new hats, there is sage advice to be read. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued

See yourself in vintage glasses

I promised more on fit for this post, but being on the road, I'm going to take a detour to several pretty easy vintage wardrobe items to consider.

First, one of my personal favorites for adding great flair to a modern wardrobe is a pair of vintage sunglasses, or if you are ready to go further, regular glasses. I personally wear nothing but vintage frames. Look how fabulous these 40s sunglasses look on Tia:

Casey told me "I don't know if I could go back to normal glasses...They are a great start up item. I had lots of occasion items, but the glasses were the first step into daily wear."

Glasses are not without fit issues, so it is important to get some measurements here too. The Fifties Frames website has very helpful sizing information (and make sure you look at their great range of vintage frames, all with measurements clearly listed).

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued

Waist length, and your particular fit issues

Even though my last post covered tips for allowing ease in vintage clothing without stretch, there are still more points to be made. If you've ever tried on a vintage dress that ought to fit your waist judging by the stated measurements, but it was too tight, you have probably experienced a length problem. Remember how I wrote that back waist length would be important? For a fitted (not intentionally bloused or full) bodice, having your back waist length coincide well with the dress is vital.

This 80s shirt dress from Big Yellow Taxi Vintage features blousing that could add to the back waist length.
I recently saw a vintage size chart that declared 5'6" tall, and since so many of us are now taller, lengths can be a factor.

Melody of Tangerine Boutique suggests that you take into account whatever fit issues you have with modern clothing, and pay close attention to the corresponding measurement in vintage clothing. I have slightly broad shoulders and, from years of playing the horn, I have a relatively wide rib cage. You can be sure I ask for the under-bust measurement of any really fitted dress!

60s cheongsam or qi pao, a style of dress with fit galore. Notice that Viva Vintage Clothing rightfully gives lots and lots of measurements!

Next: Alterations, foundations and other ways to achieve a more
ideal fit

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued

Understanding vintage sizes, ease to allow for a good fit

A further word about vintage sizes. Sometimes you see an item with a size and believe this must have something to do with your current size. Vintage sizes do not coincide with modern sizes. Nor are they predictable as compared with other items from the same era. In her study of advertisements in Vogue magazine from 1922-99, Alaina Zulli found a great deal of irregularity, with a generally decreasing size number through the decades, due to so-called vanity sizing.

As summarized in the New York Times (“One Size Fits Nobody: Seeking a Steady 4 or a 10”):
A woman with a 32-inch bust would have worn a Size 14 in Sears’s 1937 catalog. By 1967, she would have worn an 8, Ms. Zulli found. Today, she would wear a zero.
Again, fit is all about measurements, not stated sizes.

Now that you have some knowledge of your measurements and sizing, are you eager to find that perfect Mad Men dress, something fitted from the 50s to early 60s? I'm eager to help you!

50s sheath dress from Personal Pursuits
A 1950s to early 60s dress is almost always designed to highlight an hourglass shape, with a relatively fitted waist, and a waist seam that doesn't usually have any stretch. With all vintage clothing you need to focus on the measurement that is the most fitted, and in this era, that measurement would most likely be the waist.

You now know your waist measure, and what you need to be able to enjoy yourself in your vintage dress is a little extra space.

I asked my colleagues at the Vintage Fashion Guild what they would recommend in the way of extra space. Nicole of Circa Vintage Clothing recommended allowing 1"-2" extra at the waist, smaller on the smaller end of sizes, larger on the larger end. Anne of Vintage Baubles recommends that since one moves more through the hips—walking, sitting, bending, etc.—you would want more room there. She sent me to this fantastic ease chart.

Amber of The Vintage Vortex made a great point: “I think if I were wearing a much older item than 1950s I would want more ease for myself as thread and fabric deterioration would be a factor...I think that the age of the garment should also play a part in determining ease.” Jody of Couture Allure Vintage Fashion added that fabrics are a factor in ease; taffetas, satins, and loosely woven fabrics are challenging because if a dress is too tight, the seams will get stressed and there will be pulling along vertical seams. I plan to discuss fabric and how it matters in your choices in more detail later.

Remember the style of the item makes a difference in fit. What if the dress is fitted and strapless? Hollis of Past Perfect Vintage cautions that if such a dress is not tight, it won't stay up! I believe that we can tolerate a closer fit for a more formal (and briefer!) engagement.

50s formal from Vintage Devotion
Although I've been talking about purchasing a classic fitted sheath dress, every era has a variety of styles and fits, and the ease will vary with the cut of the garment, and, as my colleagues pointed out, its age and fabric. 

Looking online you may notice that you end up spotting the waist measure you want, and the bust and hip measures look too big. Still, no matter what era of clothing you fancy, you have to start with the measurement that is tightest, and then...go to the next stage!

Next: Waist length, and your particular fit issues

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3

More about fit

There is no standard that vintage sellers collectively use to describe sizes, but let's be fair, there is no precise standard for modern clothing either!

I have tried to at least codify my own size estimates, as you can see by looking at a previous blog post Women's vintage clothing: determining size. Other sellers have done the same. However, even in my listings I would recommend that if you see size 6 say, or XL, do not assume it is the same as your idea of size 6 or XL. Go straight for the measurements and compare those to your own.

Many sellers, including me, suggest that you compare the measurements of an item you're interested in with something similar of your own that fits you well. This is great if you indeed have something similar in key ways, for instance non-stretchy if the item you want is woven not knit, and fitted in the same ways. I will later make suggestions about how to choose items even if you have nothing similar.
When should you ask for further help from a seller? By all means ask if there are no/not enough measurements or the condition is either not listed or described. If a seller offers almost nothing they may either be beginners or just not very skillful sellers.
 One characteristic of a good seller is that they offer most or all of the information you need to make an informed decision in the listing. Most good sellers will be happy to guide you if you need further help with the size or some other aspect. Just remember, don't ask if that 1950s dress is a size 6...ask about the item's measurements.
Now that you've taken a look at knits, you are ready to delve into woven items, items without much or any stretch. Here fit is so important.

A great beginner's vintage item is a flaring coat or jacket. These are chic, stylish items dating most often from the 40s-60s, and working for a range of sizes, even sometimes maternity. The most fitted dimension may often be the shoulder width. Think of them as just one step more fitted than a cape, which you can see also makes a great vintage choice.
50s pink satin swing coat at violetvillevintage, 60s tartan cape coat at gogovintage, 60s navy cape coat at alexsandras, 40s-50s red swing jacket at badgirlvintage, 50s black swing coat in my own shop

Next time: Still more about fit!

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 2 continued

Finding a vintage sweater

Now that you have your measurements, you are ready to choose vintage clothing that works well for you, and you are practically guaranteed success with a vintage sweater.

There are many styles of sweaters, from chunky knits to fitted Sweater Girl styles, cardigans, short sleeves and sleeveless, beaded, embroidered, hand knit and major vintage designer labels.

Hand knit from PenelopeMeatloaf, beaded knit tank from sabrosavintage, beaded cardigan from ticklepink, pink cashmere cardigan from LunaParkVintage. Photo on right from belle de couture on

What do you like in a modern sweater, something you could wear skiing, a simple basic or something a bit flashy? If you're looking for something warm and thick, try searching for vintage sweaters using keywords like Nordic, Irish, ski, Icelandic and cable knit. Sweater Girl sweaters are fitted, usually 1950s to 60s in vintage, and often waist length. Look for soft lambswool blends and cashmere, beads and sequins for something even dressier.

When it comes to basics, I love vintage cashmere sweaters. They beat most modern cashmere knits in the quality to price ratio by quite a lot. Cashmere is light, soft and warm, not likely to irritate the skin of any but a tiny fraction of the most sensitive wearers. It comes in a wide range of styles and colors, and it is a practical luxury.

This 70s vintage Scottish-made cashmere sweater from bigyellowtaxivintage is almost guaranteed to lower your heating bill!

Knits have various appropriate fits. If you like a Sweater Girl fitted fit, look for a sweater with a bust measure about the same as your own. Very often the hem of a sweater is ribbed, and the ribbing stretches more than would a plain stitch, as well as being sturdier. What that means is that you don't need to be afraid if a ribbed hem measures smaller than that place (waist or hip) on you.

If what you are after is a thick, chunky knit, you may want it to be larger than you at the bust. I would allow 1"-2" of ease.

Look carefully at the condition of vintage sweaters. Holes can be mended, but when just starting out with vintage, look for a sweater in excellent shape, clean and either hole-free or with just one or two tiny mended holes in inconspicuous places.

I often mention in my listings that I wash vintage sweaters in Eucalan. This is an eco-friendly wash for hand washable items, and I find it particularly great for sweaters. You do not need to rinse it out, and it contains lanolin, which is often stripped from natural fiber sweaters in washing. I believe in this product so much that I am including a sample with any washable sweater purchased from me.

Next time: More about fit, and another great vintage starter item

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 2

Getting started with vintage fit

I've already mentioned condition when purchasing vintage clothing, and another one of the handful of Really Big Issues in making your selection is fit.

Vintage clothing online is almost always sold with the item's measurements listed. That means you have to know your measurements and know how to choose what will fit you comfortably.

Let's start with measurements. Dorothea's Closet Vintage shows most every pertinent measurement a seller might list for vintage garments. The only time you might see more measurements are in the cases of pants or swimsuits. (I'm leaving shoes and other fitted accessories for another post):

Leigh Ann of Freckled Nest posted about measuring yourself for vintage. I strongly urge you to follow her suggestions, including wearing your bra. I also would add that getting a friend to measure helps with accuracy, and is imperative for getting accurate length measurements, and your shoulder width. Leigh Ann doesn't stress lengths, but your waist length (base of neck or shoulder to waist, measured in back) will eventually be very important in choosing vintage.
Allow me to digress a moment here. You can be any size and look great, you just have to be honest about the size you really are. As Leigh Ann wrote about measuring your waist: Don't suck in or you'll have to live that way and you'll turn into a fish. Be honest because the result will be you looking good. If you lose that weight you've been meaning to lose or whittle your waist with exercise you can find a new vintage item. Now is now. There are vintage foundation garments that can change your size somewhat, but that is more advanced material. We are starting out slowly.
Of course, if you are lucky enough to have a vintage clothing store in your town, you can try things on for size. Still, it helps greatly to know your measurements to begin with.

Now, what vintage garment are you going to look for first, remembering we are taking this in stages?

My suggestion is a sweater, because 1. a sweater's fit is flexible and 2. vintage sweaters are the best!

Next: Choosing a vintage sweater

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 1 continued

Some more good first vintage choices, and a reader suggestion

Have you found your vintage brooch? As I described in my last blog, a vintage brooch, or vintage evening bag, may be just the item to get your vintage wardrobe started.

Of course, other items without fit issues are great starters too. If you like scarves, hooray for you, because there are many gorgeous vintage scarves to be found.

Just a few of the variety of vintage scarves to be found at Northstar Vintage on Etsy

I'm sure you can think of other vintage items without fit concerns, such as capes, umbrellas and earrings. These all make good first steps in the land of vintage.

In a comment on my first blog in this series, Pam wrote
...if there's a piece a loved one has (or had) that has some sort of sentimental value, wearing that piece might be a great, heart-centered way to begin. It's a tangible way to time travel that has personal meaning.
That is such a great point, and so often there is a brooch, necklace or other item still in the family from times gone by.

Angela Neustatter (mailonline) wrote about keeping the memory of her mother alive by wearing her clothes and accessories, including this brooch

Next time: Get out your measuring tape!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 1

Great first vintage items, a little about condition

I have been wearing vintage clothing a long time now, but I realize many people are new to it. You keep hearing about vintage styles, you see it in television shows, on Hollywood stars, and even the First Lady. It's a New Year's resolution to start wearing vintage. How do you get started?

I recommend choosing something that has no fit issues, such as a vintage brooch. What sort is up to you and your style. Go spare and refined or go over-the-top gaudy; Deco rhinestones or plastic; your initials or your favorite dog. Try browsing on Etsy, in the vintage category.

Mod blue/green flower at linea72, Lucite Y at decotodiscovintage, rhinestone poodle at mimisvintageshop, Art Deco at ThePrancingFox, bakelite cherries at cherylkumiskiglass, all Etsy shops. Photo on right, J. Crew

Another good choice for a starting piece is a vintage bag. Although a huge array can be found, generally bags over 20 years old were not as large as they are now. Even if a large tote is not as common to find, there are lots of choices in evening bags. This 60s beaded clutch is on sale at TravelingCarousel:

For a beginning vintage buyer I'd recommend buying items that are in excellent condition, which generally is the top condition other than unused or mint, which is quite rare. If something is listed as excellent, there should be no real flaws, or flaws that are so small that they don't call attention. You need to look carefully at the condition, including details about flaws. Also, look at the seller's feedback and reputation.

As a member of the Vintage Fashion Guild I can vouch for the members' reputations; although you don't have to be a member of the VFG to be an excellent, reputable vintage seller, I believe you won't go wrong with a VFG member.

{to be continued}

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year, New Theme-o-matic!

It's once again time for a roundup of my past year's themes (including a couple of my faves, Honk and Pictures), and you can see most of them here:

If you are avid, there are the previous theme-o-matics, found here


and here

Monday, January 2, 2012

We did it!

Thanks to your purchases in December, I am now able to make a donation of $525.50 to Conservation Northwest!

I've said it before and I'll say it again...
Denisebrain has the grrrreatest customers!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

You wanna start something?

It's a New Year, and I'm getting it started from the ground up! Click on image, sound up, for my latest theme.