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


Anonymous said...

I so agree with #22...I have never had a dye project ever turn out (at least so it perfectly matched)!

Dina@VintageAdvantage said...

What a fantastic post! So true and so funny :-)
Thanks for sharing with us!
I must say, however that I beg to differ with #17 "there's such a thing as vintage condition". Don't you find that there's a difference between a pristine vintage item, perhaps even deadstock, and an item that is indeed new? I mean, even the most minty vintage dress is going to appear/smell/feel different than a dress that was just bought at Macy's yesterday, right? I just think it's a nice subtle reminder to the potential buyer that, yes, the item is old and was probably used, no matter how good it's condition is.
Anyway...just my thoughts. Thanks for the great post!

denisebrain said...

Thanks for your thoughts Dina, and I understand where you are coming from!

My personal feeling is that vintage condition would better be described in the details about the condition of an item. Say it is in very good condition, with three or four issues, those issues probably could be enumerated specifically. I try to include subtle reminders that the item is vintage in other ways, so I guess I try to cover that in my way.

Trying to think from the perspective of a novice vintage buyer approaching the subject, I don't think I'd know what vintage condition meant. Does it mean there could be odors? snags? slight stains? shrinkage? I'd want to know what those specific issues are.

Baubles and Bedknobs said...

This whole series has been delightful! It's so funny, yet astute, that #16 needs to be acknowledged! I know a couple of ladies who avoid vintage entirely because they imagine it belonged to “the deceased.” I can’t help but counter their stance with a little macabre teasing.

Amber said...

Great post!

So glad that you mentioned #17. I don't like this term. It's often used to gloss over age related imperfections in my experience. Vintage just like any other item should have a rating system of it's own that is clearly spelled out in a visible condition chart. It need not be compared to new clothing, which is essentially what's happening when using that term.

I also like that you addressed the zipper issue. There is so much confusing and incorrect dating information out there pertaining to this. Thanks for setting it straight!!

Unknown said...

excellent post and thank you for posting my flapper! It is amazing and I actually talked a girl OUT of buying it who just wanted to wear it to some wild party :) Gotta respect a 100 year old beauty! xxx