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}


stuckinazoo said...

Fascinating article! It's amazing to compare the differences in quality of clothing today vs. decades ago. I've bought numerous items from mass retailers today that go through the wash once, and lo and behold, a hole emerges. There's a reason vintage clothing lasts so long- quality!

Louise said...

To me this is the biggest plus to vintage clothing- the value, both economically and environmentally. Vintage clothing is almost always well made. Even inexpensive clothing lines from the past were made to last.
The most important thing though, in my opinion is the 'greeness' of vintage clothing. You are not supporting sweat shops. No new materials are being consumed. And most vintage clothing sellers are small businesses- you are supporting an individual rather than a multinational corporation.

Gwen said...

Very informative about the Union tags...appreciating your Wear Vintage series. Yesterday, I was thrifting and found a blouse with the red, white and blue Union tag. I thought of this post, thanks. Now I know that its dated '74-'95.

denisebrain said...

The union tag is one of the great, clear ways to date quite a bit of US-made vintage clothing, so I'm glad you now know about it Gwen.