Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 6 continued

For further research and understanding

For a couple of years now I have been very grateful to Archivia Vintage Fashion & Textiles for the post Useful Vintage, Antiques and Collectibles Resource Links.  Please explore this wonderfully comprehensive list!

I also want to share this book list created by Leila of Corsets and Crinolines, including her notes on the books. She is particularly interested in, and knowledgeable about, antique clothing and lingerie. She has an amazing collection! My own favorite books are toward the end of this post.


1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog (reprint)

1901 Eaton’s Catalog (reprint)

1908 Sears Roebuck Catalog (reprint)

Madeleine Brant
-The Etiquette of Dress

K.B. Brett
-Women’s Costume in Early Ontario
-Women’s Costume in Ontario, 1867-1907 (Royal Ontario Museum books)

Penelope Byrde
-Jane Austen Fashion

Nancy Villa Bryk
-American Dress Pattern Catalogs, 1873-1909: Four Complete Reprints

Virginia A.S. Careless
-Responding to Fashion, The Clothing of the O’Reilly Family (One of my FAV books about the Vancouver museum acquisition of the O’Reilly family’s clothing along with photos of the family in the clothes, etc.)

Eileen Collard
-Clothing in English Canada Circa 1867-1907

C. Willett Cunnington
-English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century
-The History of Underclothes
-The Perfect Lady (A rare book showing clothing from the author’s own collection on live models)

Priscilla Harris Dalrymple
-American Victorian Costume in Early Photographs

Alison Gernsheim
-Victorian and Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey

Madeleine Ginsburg
-Victorian Dress in Photographs

Kristina Harris
-The Child in Fashion: 1750-1920
-Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Women, 1840-1919
-Victorian Fashion in America: 264 Vintage Photographs

Talbot Hughes
-Old English Costumes, A sequence of fashions through the 18th and 19th centuries. (A VERY rare book from the 1910s showing clothing from the V&A when it first opened it costume gallery on real people. Edwardians in antique clothing, how wonderful!!!)

O. Henry Mace
-Collector’s Guide to Early Photographs (How to date antique photos by clothing, etc)

Doris Langley Moore
-The Woman in Fashion (Fabulous book written in 1949, showing clothing dating from 1800 up to 1920 from her own collection shown on her celebrity friends!)

JoAnne Olian
-Victorian and Edwardian Fashions from “La Mode Illustree”

Jacqueline Beaudoin-Ross
-Form and Fashion, Nineteenth Century Montreal Dress (McCord Museum book)

Linda Setnik
-Victorian Costume for Ladies

Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig
-Women in Pants (Fascinating history of women in the 19th century who wore trousers and why. Loaded with antique photos!)

J.A.E. Wood
How to Make a Dress (1897) (An original rare book on how to make a leg-o-mutton sleeve dress). 


John Peacock
-The Complete Fashion Sourcebook

Jonathan Walford
-Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look
-Ready to Tear: Paper Fashions of the 60s

Christa Weil
-It’s Vintage Darling, How to be a clothes connoisseur


LaRee Johnson Bruton
-Ladies’ Vintage Accessories

Maryanne Dolan
-Vintage Clothing 1880-1980: Identification and Value Guide

Carol Harris
-Miller’s Collecting Fashion & Accessories

Kristina Harris
-Collector’s Guide to Vintage Fashions: Identification and Values

Diane Snyder-Haug
-Antique & Vintage Clothing: A Guide to Dating & Valuation of Women's Clothing 1850 to 1940

Rosemary Hawthorne
-The Costume Collector’s Companion 1890-1990

Kyle Husfloen
-Antique Trader Vintage Clothing Price Guide

Susan Langley
-Vintage Hats & Bonnets 1770-1970: Identification & Values 


Nigel Arch and Joanna Marschner
Splendour At Court (A lovely book showing what was worn at court over the centuries)

Jane Ashelford
-The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society 1500-1914 (National Trust museum book)

Karen Baclawski
-The Guide to Historic Costume (Chock full of photos and reference numbers to clothing and accessories held in UK museums)

Talbot Hughes
-Old English Costumes, A sequence of fashions through the 18th and 19th centuries. (A VERY rare book from the 1910’s showing clothing from the Victoria & Albert museum when it first opened its costume gallery, on real people. Edwardians in antique clothing, how wonderful!!!)

Keith Jopp:
-Corah of Leicester 1815- 1965 (The history of the famous knitwear company in Leicestershire)

Carl Kohler
-A History of Costume

James Laver
-Costume and Fashion: A Concise History

National Geographic, Swimsuits, 100 Years of Pictures.

Mary Brooks Picken
-A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion

Lynn Schnurnberger
-Let There Be Clothes

The Kyoto Costume Institute
-Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century

Shelley Tobin
-Marriage a la Mode, Three Centuries of Wedding Dress (National Trust book)

-Costume (Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides) 


LaRee Johnson Bruton
-Ladies’ Vintage Accessories

Valerie Cumming
-The Visual History of Costume Accessories

Carol Belanger Grafton
-Shoes, Hats and Fashion Accessories: A Pictorial Archive, 1850-1940

Susan Langley
-Vintage Hats & Bonnets 1770-1970: Identification & Values

Althea MacKenzie
-Hats and Bonnets: From Snowshill, One of the World’s Leading Collections of Costume and Accessories of the 18th and 19th Centuries
-Shoes and Slippers: From Snowshill, One of the World’s Leading Collections of Costume and Accessories of the 18th and 19th Centuries

Alan and Gillian Meredith

Jonathan Walford
-The Seductive Shoe (THE BEST book on shoes!)


Elizabeth Ewing
-History of Children’s Costume

Kristina Harris
-The Child in Fashion: 1750-1920

Anna MacPhail
-The Well-Dressed Child: Children’s Clothing, 1820-1940


Bonnie Holt Ambrose
-The Little Corset Book: A Workbook on Period Underwear

Michael Colmer
-Whalebone to See-Through, A History of Body Packaging

C. Willett Cunnington
-The History of Underclothes

Elizabeth Ewing
-Dress and Undress: a History of Women’s Underwear

Peter Farrer
-Tight Lacing, A Bibliography of articles and letters concerning stays and corsets for men and women. Part 1, 1828- 1880.

Beatrice Fontanel
-Support and Seduction: The History of Corsets and Bras

Rosemary Hawthorne
-Bras: A Private View
-Knickers: An Intimate Apprasial
-Stockings and Suspenders

David Kunzle
-Fashion & Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture (contains adult material but interesting history!)

Tanya Marcuse
-Armor and Undergarments

Gilles Neret
-1000 Dessous (A wonderful pictorial history of underwear right up to the 1980s but does contain pornographic images due to the nature of underwear and undressing!)

Jill Salen
-Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

R. L. Shep
-Corsets: A Visual History

Valerie Steele
-The Corset: A Cultural History

Shelley Tobin
-Inside Out, A Brief History of Underwear (National Trust book)

Philip Warren
-Foundations of Fashion, The Symington Corsetry Collection 1860-1990 (Leicestershire Museum book)

Norah Waugh
-Corsets and Crinolines


Bonnie Holt Ambrose
-The Little Bodice Book: A Workbook on Period Bodices
-The Little Corset Book: A Workbook on Period Underwear

Janet Arnold
-Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860
-Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction C.1860-1940

Norah Waugh
-Corsets and Crinolines


Jane Ashelford
-The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society 1500-1914 (National Trust museum book)

K.B. Brett
-Women’s Costume in Early Ontario
-Women’s Costume in Ontario, 1867-1907 (Royal Ontario Museum books)

Virginia A.S. Careless
-Responding to Fashion, The Clothing of the O’Reilly Family (One of my FAV books about the Vancouver museum acquisition of the O’Reilly family’s clothing along with photos of the family in the clothes, etc.)

Jacqueline Beaudoin- Ross
-Form and Fashion, Nineteenth Century Montreal Dress (McCord Museum book)

The Kyoto Costume Institute
-Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
-Man and The Horse (History of riding wear of the ages)

The Museum of Costume, Assembly rooms, Bath
-Authorised Guide

Shelley Tobin
-Inside Out, A Brief History of Underwear (National Trust book)

Shelley Tobin
-Marriage a la Mode, Three Centuries of Wedding Dress (National Trust book)

Philip Warren
-Foundations of Fashion, The Symington Corsetry Collection 1860-1990 (Leicestershire Museum book)

Some favorite books not listed above

I have literally a hundred books on my wish list, and so I'm sure there are more recommendations to come.

Caroline Rennolds Milbank
-New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style (My one most necessary book, as inspiration, American designer history, and visual reference)

Georgina Howell
-In Vogue: Sixty Years of International Celebrities and Fashion from British Vogue (This book covers 1918 to 1978, the year it was published. You can see the evolution of style year by year.)

Melody Fortier
-The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping: Insider Tips, Helpful Hints, Hip Shops

Jonathan Walford
-Shoes A-Z: Designers, Brands, Manufacturers and Retailers

Everyday Fashions As Pictured in Sears Catalogs (I have and can recommend the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s)

Cally Blackman
-100 Years of Fashion Illustration

These were highly recommended by colleagues of mine (and have just been added to my very long wish list):

Harold Koda Richard Martin
-Flair: Fashion Collected by Tina Chow

Harriet Worsley
-In Vogue: Sixty Years of International Celebrities and Fashion from British Vogue Decades of Fashion (This book was published in 2000, and may be an update to the Howell that I mentioned above)

Nicole Jenkins
-Love Vintage (I know and greatly respect Nicole...I'm dying to read her book!)

If you have a favorite link not on Archivia’s list, or a favorite vintage clothing book...please leave a comment and let us know.

Happy exploring! 

Monday, February 27, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 6

Vintage myth busting

My colleagues at the Vintage Fashion Guild helped me compile myths we often hear.

1. All vintage is small.

Absolutely not true. Although there are more vintage items in the XS, small and medium sizes, there is plenty in larger sizes.

Among other searches, search XL vintage dresses on Etsy. Search plus size vintage dresses on Etsy. Always check the measurements and compare them to your own, as I described in my post Understanding vintage sizes, ease to allow for a good fit.

If you are plus size and have questions, you might find an answer (and inspiration) in the honest and positive writing and photos by Va-Voom Vintage.

2. You can find all vintage at a thrift store cheap.

If you can, would you mind sending me the address of said thrift? If you love the thrill of the hunt, feel free to hunt—you may find something you love. In many places, thrift store vintage tends to be ordinary to lower quality 80s and newer. Some may live where there are great finds to be had, but many are not so lucky.

3. Everything that is listed as Mad Men dates from the era portrayed in the show.

Beware of popular keywords used to sell vintage items. I have seen 70s dresses listed as Mad Men, along with “flapper dresses” from the 1980s. Some popular keywords that I've seen used, shall we say, cavalierly: Mod, Hippie, Flapper, Gatsby, Titanic. There are more...many more. If you are looking for a vibe, and don't care when the item comes from, then you may be fine picking out a sequined dress made in India in the 80s and wearing it as a flapper. It may be the best choice among wearable clothes for the purpose. Just be informed so you don't pay authentic flapper prices!

4. The size tag in a vintage item is the current size.

I worked to cover this in Understanding vintage sizes, ease to allow for a good fit. I've seen people put down vintage size 14 items that would fit them perfectly because they are sure they would never wear a 14. Numbers are just numbers, and vintage numbers are particularly disconcerting to the modern mind.

5. A price tag in a vintage item indicates something like the current value.

See my post Getting started with vintage quality and value.

6. Sears items from the 1950s are like Sears items now.

Sears, like many US stores, once stocked clothing made in the US almost exclusively. The quality, style and construction surpassed what you will generally see today. Even though it was considered day-to-day, vintage ordinary quality beats new ordinary quality, hands down.

Black party dress from TiddleywinkVintage, Asian-style cocktail dress from bombshellbettiesvint,  party dress with matching cardigan from onearmedmannequin, oxfords from GingerRootVintage, swimsuit from Jumblelaya...all with Sears labels from the 50s, 60s and 70s. 

7. All used clothing is musty, dirty, etc.

Some is, much isn't. For those just getting started with vintage, it is a better bet to purchase items in excellent condition, and keep a sharp eye (and nose) out for damage. In my experience, most odors can be removed from clothing (some take awhile), except sweat.

8. Vintage clothes look like costumes.

Tell that to Lazy Bones on Chictopia, wearing her vintage blazer, and Islabell in her vintage coat, dress and shoes. Chictopia is one place to find lots of people wearing vintage clothing in their own way. 

9. You can buy a 1920s flapper dress to wear to a roaring 20s party.

This quite stunning authentic 20s beaded silk dress at Shrimpton Couture is (justifiably) $2,400. It weighs 3-4 pounds with the beading, and the silk is sheer. Wearing this gorgeous dress would take the utmost care, and I'd say the Charleston is out.

10. The most valuable vintage items from your closet (your mother's and grandmother's too) are your wedding dress and your fur coat.

I'm very sorry to say it, but the prices paid for these two categories of items set up the assumption that their value must be quite great now. Wedding dresses are such a personal thing, and although there are beautiful exceptions, often a vintage wedding dress is not classic enough, and has stains or other frailties that make a woman not want it for her big day. I love to see wedding dresses passed down in a family. Furs likewise.

11. Wear what your grandmother wore? It has to be frumpy!

Oh yeah?

From Vintage Me

12. You'll find an original Dior New Look or 20s Chanel suit or Westwood punk outfit at your local vintage clothing shop if you ask nicely.

You can bring a box of chocolates, and a million dollars, but the most desirable items will not materialize often.

13. This belonged to my mother’s best friend’s aunt and she had good it must be valuable.

and 14. I just tossed 3 huge trash bags filled with my mother’s 50s dresses...they’re worthless aren’t they?

The extremes are often wrong: For the most part vintage (New Look Dior aside) is not worth its weight  in gold, but it certainly has value. You can get a feel for its going rate at any given time by searching the internet.

15. If it has a side zipper it is definitely from the 40s. If it has a nylon zipper it is definitely 70s or newer. A crinoline slip in a skirt or dress means it is from the 50s. If it's beaded it's flapper. If it has shoulder pads it is from the 40s. If it has pinked seams it has to be vintage.

There are ways to identify the vintages of items, but there are no blanket statements like these that hold true in every case. Look at the Quick Tips for Dating Vintage on the Vintage Fashion Guild site for some basics, but realize that it isn't a perfect science. For instance, metal zippers were used by home seamstresses long after they went out of use by manufacturers. Reproduction and vintage-inspired clothing can often fool a newcomer to vintage. In my next post I'm going to make more suggestions for further research.

16. Everything vintage belonged to dead people.

OK, this one makes me laugh, but it is a serious issue for some. If you truly feel squeamish at the thought of wearing something someone else wore, keep in mind that the new clothing you try on may also have been worn by someone else, in the dressing room, or before being returned to the store.

Yes, many a person has passed on whose clothing is perfectly fine. You honor them by keeping this facet of their history alive. Older women have told me they are very pleased to have their clothing be worn by younger people around the world.

17. There is such a thing as vintage condition.

This is a term often used to say something like “good considering it is old.” That kind of muddies the waters, as in reality, vintage items can be good as new, excellent, etc., without further qualification.

18. This belonged to my mother's best friend's mother and she swore it was from the 1920s, so it has to be.

It is amazing how many people remember with scientific clarity exactly when and where they purchased and wore certain items. Then there are those who don't.

19. If it does not have a label it must be a knockoff or is poorly made.

and 20. All labels are important.

When you get more into vintage, you will find that some of the very best items are without labels. Labels are great to see, and sometimes help you understand the history of the item, but not all are distinguished. On the flip side, some people removed great labels, perhaps as souvenirs. I have had a 1950s Dior suit without label, and only by consulting a number of experts was I able to confirm that the Dior jacquard lining wasn't lying!

21. If it has a label with a name, that name was a designer.

Often there is a designer name or two behind a label, but the label itself may not give you a clue. One case in point, Suzy Perette...there was no Suzy. See the Vintage Fashion Guild's Label Resource for the story behind the labels.

50s Suzy Perette dress offered by badgirlvintage
22. Don't worry about the stains, you can just dye it.

I you are a dyeing expert, maybe. If you are a dyeing expert, you will know that some fabrics (assuming they are washable) take dye much better than others, and some older fabrics simply can't stand up to the conditions of a dye bath. I would not suggest purchasing something while making the assumption that such a project will work out.

23. Every bathing suit was pin-up and every secretary was sexy.

Would that it were so. The clothing certainly helped though!

Next time: Sources for more information

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5 continued

Alternatives to authentic vintage

If you want something very specific in vintage clothing, something in a size that is not easily found, or something with a certain je ne c’est quoi that you don't think is available to you in the market, you may find a solution by going with a newly made item.

pattern available at VtgSewingPatterns on Etsy
If you are a skilled seamstress you probably already know you can pick out a vintage pattern (or a newly made vintage reproduction pattern by one of the major pattern companies) and find a vintage fabric or one that has a vintage vibe, and make your own garment. If you are not able to do this yourself, you might wish to find someone who can. Your local seamstress may be up to this task, and may also be able to alter the pattern to fit you just right. There are Etsy seamstresses who create vintage-style items that could create something to your exact specifications.

There are many vintage reproduction and vintage-style clothing sites out there, and I must confess, I have no personal experience with them. I had to ask on Facebook, Twitter and at the Vintage Fashion Guild for other's experiences with makers of new vintage-style clothing. I got so many thoughtful and detailed responses that I will probably devote more time to the subject in the future. For now, I'll be brief.

Some people out-and-out refuse to consider repro vintage. More about this later. Some of the websites that were recommended to me, and that seem to meet certain standards for quality, style and fair labor practices are:

Re-mix Classic Vintage Footwear, where the shoes appear to be faithful reproductions of vintage styles from the 20s through 50s, and are made in Spain. The Gal Friday 40s-style model is currently on sale for $98, down from $206.

Then there's the Esther Williams Swimwear Collection, and from all I can tell, she really is behind this, at the ripe old age of 90. I like this classic sheath suit, available in a range of sizes and colors, and all the swimsuits are made in the US.

Another site that was recommended to me was Vivien of Holloway, and a reply to my inquiry confirmed that all the items on the site are made in Tottenham, North London.

I also really like the look of the workmanship that goes into Whirling Turban items, which are made by skilled seamstresses in Bali.

You may be able to see already that these sites are making very popular vintage styles, providing access to these items for a wide range of people, without having to wait to see the right item come up for sale.

Several other prospects recommended to me: Heyday! Vintage Style Clothing (the clothes are made in the UK and New Zealand) Freddies of Pinewood (jeans made in Turkey, the rest made in the UK) and Time Machine Vintage Reproduction Clothing on Etsy (made in Vermont).

There are reasons for going with repro and vintage-inspired clothing: You might want to replicate an item that has become unwearable, or something you see in a photo. You might want to wear something from the Victorian era through the 1920s but relatively few genuine items are really safe to wear. Some would like to be able to swing dance like mad without having to worry about ruining a great vintage dress. Some would like to try their own hand at making something their mother might have made.

I am intrigued by repro clothing, and I see many cute styles, but I feel torn. I would want to know that the item is made where the workers are not underpaid (and as you can see I've tried to insure that with these recommendations). I can almost certainly guarantee that most repro clothing sites—some of the above shops may prove the exceptions—do not replicate the workmanship that went into the original models, and I mean even the quality of day-to-day clothing from the past. I think Mary Kincaid made this case succinctly on Zuburbia.

I have to say that for every several people who told me about her good experiences with repro clothing, one told me either that she was very disappointed with the quality or fit of an item, or simply would never consider repro. Again, this may be a choice for the individual. I've never considered it, but then I'm not exceptionally tall, in a rush to find a sarong dress from the 50s, or a swing dance champion. I also just don't buy much new clothing.

I have absolutely no misgivings about creating an item out of a vintage pattern, and I may eventually be able to endorse a repro vintage site personally...I do love that pink bathing suit!

Next time: Vintage myth busting

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5 continued

What flatters you

Now that I've expressed a bit of a carte blanche attitude about what vintage one could and should wear, I need to take one step back. I do believe you can wear what you feel good in, but you may feel better (and look better) in some vintage styles more than others. It is good to cultivate a sense of what flatters you.

Because “vintage clothing” has been defined as any garment twenty years old or older, you have a pretty big range to choose from!

Do you know what your best features are? Consider not just your figure, but your face, your hair, your neck, your ankles, your shoulders...heck, even your knees. There is an era and a style that is going to show off your best. In a general sense, the 20s and 60s favor a straighter, younger, thinner shape, while the late 40s through the early 60s was the hourglass era. I consider 1939-46 a somewhat more natural (neither straight nor exaggeratedly curvy) era, same with most of the 70s.

Take a look again at some styles I've shown from the 20s through the 80s:

ca. 1925

ca. 1930

ca. 1935

ca. 1940

ca. 1945

ca. 1948

ca. 1950

ca. 1955

ca. 1960

ca. 1965

ca. 1970

ca. 1974

ca. 1978

ca. 1985

ca. 1990

There are many more silhouettes from these eras, this is just a very general sense. Many more silhouettes and garment types are covered on This site contains an absolute gold-mine of information. I check this great reference often to help confirm my dating of items. Another great reference is the Vintage Fashion Guild's Fashion Time Line. Look for styles or components of styles that will help show you at your best. Many people tell me that they love such-and-such an era and that is all that interests them. If that is your case, you may limit yourself somewhat. I recommend staying open-minded.
One caveat: Before I get anyone too excited about very vintage and antique (defined as 100+ years old) clothing, let me caution you: Rare and delicate items need to be treated with respect and care, and may not actually stand up to wearable use. A great example of this, particularly because popular culture is currently mad for it: 1920s beaded silk dresses. These gorgeous creations are everything good except durable. The weight of the beading, sequins, and/or metallic threads applied to fine silk has just not stood the test of time in many cases. If you find such a dress in wearable condition, you should seriously consider (and I know this hurts) not wearing it, or just wearing it briefly for a photo. Clothing is in fact ephemeral. 
Next time: Alternatives to authentic vintage items

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5 continued

Some inspiration for wearing vintage your way

Of course you want to find your own style, and you are looking at vintage as part of that. You don't really need anyone to model yourself after but sometimes someone else's style seems so right that they can inspire you in your own style.

It isn't hard to think of stars who wear retro looks well, and Gwen Stefani certainly does it very well.

Dita Von Teese always looks impeccably lovely in her vintage style, while Zooey Deschanel has a fun, modern, vintage-inspired look.

Then there are the television shows that have showcased vintage and made us all want to wear the looks: Characters in Sex in the City, as well as Mad Men, and the most recent rage Downton Abbey.

I am inspired by Vintage Style: Buying and Wearing Vintage Clothing by Tiffany Dubin and Catherine Bardey's Wearing Vintage. Neither one of these books is new (they're both about 10 years old), but the inspiration and information has not aged. 

Look around online and you will find many archives and examples of vintage fashion from complete movies to magazines to advertisements. Look at myvintagevogue's flickr photostream, an archive of vintage fashion images from 1920 through 1965. If you want to be inspired not only by great fashion, but by great photography and modeling, search Google images for Horst P. HorstGeorge Hoyningen-HueneCecil BeatonIrving PennJohn Rawlings, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Richard Avedon and John French

I asked around for people who inspire others to wear vintage, and the range of examples I was given is incredible, a real testament to vintage fashion's reach and impact! Just a few: 
17-year old Annie profiled on Queens of VintageTziporah SalamonSolanah and Iris Apfelwho at 91 is still a tremendous inspiration

Next time: What flatters you

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5

How to wear vintage

For the past month and a half I've been writing about wearing vintage for the novice, including details of fit, quality and value. These are big subjects, and I think it's time to have a little fun with the subject of how to wear vintage. Do you wear head-to-toe 1960s Mod? Or do you wear just a 50s sweater with otherwise modern clothes?

This is really up to you, and both can look great. I often see dos and don'ts columns where the head-to-toe approach is treated as a big mistake. All I can say is, if you want to dress like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina from top to bottom, you have my respect and admiration. Do what makes you look and feel good.

The other basic approach does appear to be favored, from a survey of 50 vintage wearers that I recently conducted. 80% responded that they mainly wear a piece or two of vintage mixed in with more modern clothing, 14% wear head-to-toe vintage of mixed eras, and 6% said they wear head-to-toe vintage, as much as possible all from a single era at one time.

62% of the respondents like dresses the best, with strong showings for jewelry, coats, bags and sweaters. I love dresses most of all too, but if you like vintage jeans, kimonos or 50s novelty print skirts best (as did three respondents), great! Vintage really frees people to create looks all their own, with their favorite components. My first blog in this series suggested wearing a vintage brooch as a vintage starter piece. If all you ever wear over 25 years old are brooches, fine!

Personally? I usually wear 1-2 vintage items every day
Next time: Some vintage-wearing inspiration

Monday, February 13, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4 continued

More on vintage value

Louise wrote about what she most likes about vintage clothing in a comment on a previous post: “You are not supporting sweatshops. No new materials are being consumed. And most vintage clothing sellers are small businesses—you are supporting an individual rather than a multinational corporation.” For her, the greatest value in vintage clothing is in its impact on the world, economically and environmentally. I have talked with others who are most attentive to the fine construction of the vintage they collect. Some time ago I did a graphic showing off my own favorite aspects:
{click to enlarge}
You may have noticed by now that I haven't said that a 1950s dress should cost X amount. I don't think there will ever be a point at which I would be able to say that a certain vintage piece should cost a certain amount. Dealers set prices that are based on the availability of the items for them, the work they need to put into finding the items and preparing them for sale. They research the going rates. There are dealers that also have a certain right to say that with their knowledge and experience they can offer items of a certain caliber for a certain amount. 

You may be fortunate to find some great items on your own or from beginning sellers, and if so, more power to you. By contrast, I have a friend in a big city nearby that says that she hasn't seen an item older than the 70s for some time, looking in 2nd-hand shops, garage and estate sales. The 40s and 50s that I love so dearly aren't to be found in some areas. If you are interested in 20s and 30s, believe me, the pickings are rare no matter where you are. Rarity does indeed increase value. 

And great vintage sellers, the kind that are knowledgeable, passionate, resourceful, careful, honest and dependable, are a bit rare too. If you find you like and trust certain sellers, you may wish to visit them more than once. As Louise wrote, these are small business owners who will appreciate your support. 

Next time: Thoughts on how to wear vintage

Friday, February 10, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4 continued

More about quality and value

In vintage, quality is often in the details. Better fabrics, lining and better-grade components such as buttons and trims add to the quality of items. Quality can also be in the design, which sometimes means better brand labels, and designer labels. Sometimes no-label or lesser-known labels are designed and made very well, so don't let the labels mean everything to you. Also, some designers sold their names for use in lower quality items, so a designer's name isn't everything either.
Right now there are some healthy prices being paid for lesser-made items from the 70s, 80s and 90s. There is a gradual change from better to lesser quality that has taken place from the late 1960s through today. Many labels (designers, makers) have transcended this in these decades, but the trend has been toward more disposable, briefly fashionable styles. The more you know about clothing details and manufacture, the less likely you will be to pay an exorbitant rate for something that is in actual quality, lower end. You may gain the power to find these relatively common items yourself at thrift stores and garage sales, and you may not need to see the item styled for you to get how it could look. I don't mean to say these items are not worth anything (especially if they make your heart sing) but it is best to arm yourself with the knowledge of their true value. If you still want to pay a top price, you will at least know what you're doing!
Condition is also a part of value. I recommend beginning vintage buyers be aware of the condition component in purchasing vintage. A great item in very flawed condition is of lesser value, possibly lower than a relatively lower quality item in excellent condition. The more you know, the more you will be able to assess this.

Value may also be judged in terms of how long a garment has been around, and how long it may continue to be around. Our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did not live with disposable items the way we do now, clothing included. Purchases were made carefully, alterations were done, care was taken, mends were made, and quite a bit of wear was expected. If you find a vintage clothing item you love, consider grabbing the baton, wearing the item with the same care and thought that was used 30, 60 and 90 years ago. If you do, you may pass the item on for further use in 30 years!

This 1884 wedding dress has been worn by family members ever about longevity! (The story is at MailOnline)
Next: More on value

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4 continued

Getting started with vintage quality and value

After my post on alterations you may be thinking that you are looking at a huge expense just to have one great vintage dress. You have to pay for the dress, possibly have to pay to have it cleaned and altered. I've been writing a lot about fit. This post is about value and quality, two more of the handful of Really Big Issues to consider when shopping for vintage clothing.

First, know that if you are used to purchasing an item of clothing in the $25-250 range (more or less average modern clothing from budget-conscious to relatively costly), know that the 1940 equivalent would be $402-$4,017 according to the Consumer Price Index inflation calculator, in 1970 that range would be $145.00-$1,449.

1938 catalogue prices (and style!) from the Chronically Vintage blog. That $4.98, adjusted for inflation, would be $79.45 today
If you see prices in vintage catalogues, on vintage price tags, etc. that make you think the items were inexpensive in their day, remember this.

Next, understand that when you buy a vintage piece you pay for something that is usually better than you are paying for today. As a vintage clothing dealer I can vouch for the superior quality of most vintage items—I find it hard to buy modern items in large part because of their lack of quality.

In the 1950s, most of what was available to wear in the US was made in the US, from the raw materials, to the textile, to the design and finally to the finished product. Union tags will let you know that fairly-paid garment workers made the item.

The ILGWU, once one of largest labor unions in the United States, was one of the first U.S. unions to have primarily female membership (from Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle
By comparison: Green America's Retailer Scorecard gives Wal-Mart an F, J.C. Penney a D-, and Target a D+ for their use of sweatshops and forced child labor. In choosing a vintage article you not only recycle it for current use, but you can be fairly confident that it was made with better values in its day.

Elizabeth Cline's The History of a Cheap Dress should give even the most inveterate H&M shopper pause. I lament, as does Cline in fascinating detail, the trading of quality for quantity.

{to be continued}

Monday, February 6, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4 continued

Altered reality

Most people now purchase new clothing without an exacting fit—the one exceptional time might be around a wedding, when there is a scramble to find an alterations expert. In our parents’ and grandparents’ times, alterations were done routinely, almost nothing was a perfect fit right off the rack. One might have the skills herself, or have a relative or friend to do the work, otherwise it was off to the seamstress or tailor, with whom one might develop a strong bond. She would know what worked best for her individual clients and make astute suggestions.

Since vintage clothing is often more fitted than modern clothing, the alterations expert is still absolutely an invaluable resource...and more than just for weddings!

My colleagues at the Vintage Fashion Guild unanimously agreed that altering vintage clothing for personal wear is fine, so long as it doesn't change the integrity of the original design permanently. Keep in mind, probably 20%+ of vintage clothing has been altered, most likely to fit the original owner.

A few caveats: 1. If possible, leave all the extra fabric inseams and hem in an alteration so that the piece can be altered back again. 2. The fewer changes you need made, the less expensive will be the alteration, so if economy is important to you, choose something that just needs one or maybe two changes. 3. A terribly rare or extremely valuable item is probably best to preserve as it is. 4. It is easier (and usually less expensive) to make something a bit smaller than a bit larger.

Another thing that the alterations person can do is mend and fix if needed. A new zipper, a torn buttonhole, a hem restored...if these are not skills you possess, you need to find a seamstress.

How do you find a skilled seamstress? What should she cost?

These are hard questions to answer in any concrete way, because your town may differ from Paris or New York or Charlotte or Fargo. If you have any vintage clothing shops in your area you might try asking if they have any recommendations (some even have alterations people who come in regularly). If you know anyone who wears vintage, ask if she has a recommendation. If you have a trusted dry cleaner, inquire there. Look on your local craigslist, in your phone book, online. Ask on Facebook or Twitter. When you have someone in mind, take a test item, one that you wouldn't cry if you lost. If it comes out great, and you liked the seamstress, feel safe taking more items. I especially appreciate a seamstress who loves and respects vintage clothing. So often they do, because they are interested in the fine points of clothing construction.

Next: Value and quality

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4

What our mothers and grandmothers knew about getting a better fit

We are now on to more advanced aspects of fit. Fitted women’s clothing of the past has distinct shaping that sometimes seems unlike the human form. If you've ever encountered an impossibly small waist on a dress, or impossibly high darts, you might have wondered what sort of person could wear these?

Your mother and grandmother might have worn these, with the help of the arsenal of foundation garments that aided the in-vogue silhouette of the era.

1935 lingerie advertisement—You can see how this shaping could help achieve the long lean look of the 30s (Courtesy of Vintage Venus)
Jody of Couture Allure Vintage Blog did a wonderful job of exemplifying the fit of items from 1950, and the underpinnings that were integral to the look at the time, in her blog post Foundation Garments to Make Your Vintage Dresses Fit Correctly. Vintage foundations are really different from most of the shapewear that we see today; the control and shaping is much more powerful, particularly in the decades around the mid 20th century, and of course the Victorian and Edwardian eras. If you are able to find elasticized vintage foundations that are unused, they are more likely to still have their flexibility and stretch, particularly if they are 1950s and newer. Jody followed up on her blog with a post listing modern makers of vintage-style foundations. This post, and the comments after, offer quite a bit of helpful guidance.
On a personal note: I do not wear vintage undergarments (other than slips) except on special occasions and for special-fit items. I favor clothing that doesn't demand an extreme fit, I prefer the freedom without this fit. One of the reasons I'm fond of early to mid-40s clothing is that it is a more natural silhouette, one that tends to fit me. Others swear by vintage foundation wear for how it makes their clothes fit, how it makes their clothes look, and for how it makes them feel. I think this is a personal decision. I don't consider it wrong to skip the vintage under layer, but it is important to understand how it impacted fit and how you might be able to wear something you love with just a bit of undercover help.
Obviously glamour is one of vintage lingerie's greatest charms, as this fun little video demonstrates:

For more on fashionable silhouettes and how they were achieved, see the Met Museum article Twentieth-Century Silhouette and Support

Next: Alterations to achieve a better fit

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Love at first sight

Time out from writing about vintage clothing for first time wearers. My latest theme is up, and I think all vintage wearers know this first: Love at First Sight