Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fabric term of the week: Block printing

Did you ever carve the smooth-cut face of a raw potato, ink it up and stamp prints with it? Same idea as block printing, only in my experience, the potato is a sorry mess before you can say French Fry. Block printing, using durable stamp surfaces, still must take incredible patience and skill. 
Block printing 
Hand-printing method, using carved wooden or linoleum blocks.
From Fabric Sewing Guide by Claire Schaeffer. Krause Publications, Cincinnati, 2008. Used by permission.

Hand block printing in process, courtesy of Rubina Magazine

Block printed cotton gauze from India ©Vintage Fashion Guild, photo by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain

Right now in my Etsy shop you can see the fabric from which I shot the close up, in its finished form. 

1970s dress by Anokhi - Jaipur India

This Treacy Lowe - London dress was also made in India in the 1970s, this time in block-printed silk.

Friday, July 24, 2015

How vintage clothing is priced

Why does this 1950s dress cost $49, this one $98 and that one $300? Ever wondered why the big differences?

I am sometimes asked if I can accept an offer of a lower price for an item I have for sale, and I don’t like to just bluntly refuse without an explanation. Sometimes I’m asked how to price a vintage item, or why an item I’m selling is a certain price. This post is to explain a little about the vintage clothing and accessories marketplace and the pricing one sees.

First, you need to know how vintage clothing is acquired by those who present it for resale. With the exception of some one-shot Ebay sellers, it is infrequently something from the seller’s own closet or family’s closets. Very infrequently it was given to the seller.

Usually, vintage sellers who have been around any length of time must find and purchase vintage fashions. They may get up very early to get in line for promising estate sales, garage sales, car boot sales and flea markets. They may put ads out for purchasing vintage clothing and go on buying trips to nearby (or far away) cities and towns. They may regularly scour the thrift, second-hand and antique markets. Auctions can also be sources. The seller has to make many good contacts, persevere and be resourceful.

What impacts a price

✔️ Location. In some areas there may be relatively more or less vintage available, and at more or less high prices. Just to sustain the business may take more income in some areas than others.

✔️ Scarcity. Vintage clothing and accessories that pre-date the 1980s are hard to find in many areas, and the older, the scarcer. One of the most rare things of all the 20th century seems to be a beaded silk dress from the mid 1920s in excellent condition. The amount of activity (think dancing the Charleston) that some of these dresses endured in their Roaring 20s heyday took a toll, and the combination of the delicate fabric and heavy decoration has made these dresses extremely ephemeral. With the popularity of 1920s styles over the past few years, many seek these dresses and are truly amazed at the prices...but what’s really amazing is that there is an authentic beaded silk dress from the 1920s left to sell!

Some other scarcity issues involve sizes (such as larger shoe and dress sizes) and types of items (generally trousers are more worn out and disposed of than skirts, menswear more than womenswear, swimsuits can take a beating, as can shoes...).

✔️ Condition. The example of a 1950s dress for $49, $98 or $300 may come even from the same shop, with the $49 dress being pretty but flawed, the $98 a simple dress in excellent condition and the $300 dress pristine and with a good label and great design. Condition means so much in valuing vintage because it really impacts the wearability, life expectancy of the garment, and acceptability for various occasions. Would you want to attend your friend’s wedding in a dress with an obvious and unremovable stain on the front? No, but you might wear the dress to a swing dance.

✔️ Quality. There is a reason why vintage haute couture is haute priced: It is the work of a great designer, skillfully and beautifully crafted with techniques that are becoming rarer and rarer. The materials will match the workmanship and the overall impression will be, most likely, breathtaking.

Unlabeled items can also be of great quality, and a good seller will take the trouble to explain the elements of an item’s quality. It is important to know that certain designers, labels, styles, eras, fabrics and embellishments can justifiably command high prices. Even color influences price. Would you pay more for an aqua blue dress or a similar dress in brown?

Dior in 1957
✔️ The seller. If a seller has a great reputation, with excellent references and knowledge, he or she can charge more for an item. Some excellent sellers don’t charge at the top of the spectrum, but many do. They also will stand by their sales, something that is not easy to do with vintage, each item being unique. If you enjoy the offerings of particular sellers, and you know you can trust those sellers, their finds will probably be worth more to you.

✔️ The selling venue. Are you walking into a posh Manhattan vintage shop or an antique mall in a small town? Which do you think will need to charge more for that vintage handbag? Right.

✔️ Provenance. If an item was worn by Marilyn Monroe (such as the dress she wore singing Happy Birthday Mr. President, which sold at auction in 1999 for $1,267,500), it is worth many times more than its weight in gold. Even if there is not a famous person tied to the vintage fashion item, a sweet or interesting story can push the value of the piece.

The famous gown worn by Marilyn Monroe in 1962

✔️ Going rates. Experienced vintage fashion sellers usually research before they price an item, working to find the right price for what they consider to be their place in the market, seeing how other sellers have priced. Sometimes a movie or show (Titanic, Mad Men and Downton Abbey immediately come to mind) will drive the interest in a style and the going rate will go up accordingly.

✔️ Work on the item. Some vintage items are ready to go as found, but usually they need washing or dry cleaning, often a bit of mending. In some cases a large amount of work goes into preparing a vintage garment or accessory for use. Some items are definitely worth the time, like one of those rare 1920s beaded silk dresses—if they are damaged but reparable, the repairs are often worthwhile for bringing such a beautiful piece of history back to life. Of course excellent work takes knowledge, skill and time.

✔️ Desirability. This is kind of a catch-all that overlaps the quality, scarcity, selling venue, seller...everything. Sometimes there is a certain je ne sais quoi about how the item is presented that makes it—and the seller—hot stuff. The same item may be almost worthless in other hands.

Do all these add up to a formula for how much that 1950s dress should cost? No, not at all. Pricing changes every day and it is nebulous. Even the best sellers make mistakes in pricing, and the least experienced seller may earn top money on a particular item. Desirability may make an item of low quality into the coolest and most valuable thing in the shop for some people. The best shop owner may have prices so low that you wonder if the item is of any quality. There are simply no hard and fast rules about pricing.

Then there is the thrift shop purchase. You know, the one where you found a designer dress from the 1950s in top condition and half off of $7.50? Almost everyone who has ever loved the thrill of the hunt has a story to tell of some incredible deal. This has the effect of making the general public think that all one needs is a bit of pocket change and a trip to the thrift. Of course finding something great and vintage for next to nothing is rare and getting rarer, so if you fancy items that predate the 1980s, you will mostly come up empty.

There may also be the perception that a vintage seller doesn’t do anything but buy, mark up the price and resell. Some might do no more than that, but those who take the business seriously do lots more. For instance, I do a lot of research and stay in close touch with colleagues at the Vintage Fashion Guild who can help me when I don’t know something about a vintage piece. I have a couple of bookshelves full of vintage fashion history books. I did so much research on fabric that I ended up volunteering to write and compile the VFG’s Fabric Resource. Over the course of years I’ve built up many contacts and quite a lot of knowledge.

In my house there are always buckets of vintage items soaking, needles with every color of thread stuck in a pincushion, bags of metal zippers, jars of vintage buttons. I have a very careful dry cleaner that I trust and an expert seamstress for things I can’t fix myself. I have a storage cabinet full of various stain removers, gentle washes and odor lifters. Not only do I read and write blogs about vintage fashion, I participate in the conversations about it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. In my selling practices I am as careful and honest as I can be. I am passionate about what I do. I sincerely care about each individual who crosses my vintage path. And I am not alone in any of this—there are quite a few really excellent vintage fashion shops. Is what we do more than buying and reselling? I think so.

Bottom line? There’s no magic formula for pricing vintage, but these are some of the considerations that might be taken into account.

📧 Keep track of my vintage fashion ideas and deals by subscribing to the denisebrain newsletter!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fabric of the week: Jacquard knit

If you have a patterned knit (not printed, but patterned by the design of the yarns used), you have a jacquard knit. Think 1970s and 80s rainbow heart sweaters...among many other items from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. A jacquard knit may also be a patterned hand knit. 

Jacquard knit
Either a single or double knit made with a pattern on its face, achieved with jacquard controls on a knitting machine. Any yarn may be used.
The single knit jacquard will have floats across its back, while the back of a double knit jacquard will have a birdseye pattern.
See also:
Double knit  
Jacquard, woven 

Nylon double knit jacquard, face
Nylon double knit jacquard, reverse ©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter
Right now I have this 1960s polyester and lamé double knit jacquard dress in my Etsy shop:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The best feedback ever, part II

Yesterday I explained that from time to time I get some really lovely feedback from people about denisebrain, and I save these in a special folder to read when I’m feeling low. This is the second group of notes from my favorites folder.

Your photos seem like more than photos to me. Each of your photos looks like a stand still scene from a fun or interesting event.
It is fun to go shopping there, every item has a story and she tells it well. She is as happy and cheerful as she looks in all her presentations, shows a real love for what she does, and this spills over into the sweet considerate way she treats her customers.
available from thespectaclednewt on Etsy
Margaret, quick story: received 2 packages today—put the yellow top on, did not notice stain; put box on back porch. Other package—was overcharged, etc. and telling my husband about it got out your box to show him, by contrast, how nicely packaged and personal yours was, compared to other, which was crammed in re-used envelope that seller had not even taken her own papers from. As I was showing Rush your sweet little box, sticker, etc., I saw note and money. I want to write a story, “A Tale of Two Sellers” in which you are the star! Thanks for being so honest and generous. The world needs more folks like you!
I just saw this great jacket and when I read the listing I wanted to let you know that I appreciate your accurate descriptions very much. You are so honest about any condition issues and detailed with your pics it’s wonderful to see a seller like you. Some time ago I bought a dress from you—it was in fantastic condition and I was positively surprised as the tiny “flaws” you mentioned turned out to be even less visible. Thanks again and all the best for you!
available from TheHammersmith on Etsy
Maggie is a true vintage expert, she knows what we like, and she sends every one of my items in excellent, wrinkle-free, smell-free, fresh condition! I am always waiting in such anticipation when I order something from denisebrain, and I have never ever been disappointed, Thank you Maggie, for the wonderful store keeper/entrepreneur/and just STERLING person that you are to us.

Believe me, the feeling is mutual; there are so many sterling personalities out there that make my business a joy! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The best feedback ever, part I

My business is now in its 17th year, and between my years on Ebay, then Etsy, public comments and personal notes, I have received a lot of feedback from both customers and colleagues, thankfully mostly good.

I save out and cherish some of the best feedback I’ve received, the kind of feedback that can lift me when my business (or life!) is in a slump. I hope you don’t mind my sharing some of these.

available from ElGranero on Etsy
I love your pics Maggie - you always give the impression of living in a beautiful, kind and glamorous world. 
I like denisebrain because she has a distinct, individual and funky flavor…and she seems to invite everyone else in for the fun, instead of trying to be cooler than her buyers.
One can easily put herself in place of denisebrain and imagine stepping out on the town.

available from Tranksandtravels on Etsy
Honestly one of the best (& nicest) vintage dealers around & exactly the kind of seller we should all strive to be! Beautiful merch, customer service beyond all expectations, exceptional attention to detail & a huge heart—a percentage of her sales goes to very worthy causes. I’m a huge fan! 
You are one of the truly rare people that touches folks right down to their hearts with just a smile. And what is truly wonderful is that your gracious spirit and concern for people is genuine. Your surprise at this honor just makes it all the more sweet. On top of that all of your hard work and attention to detail show your true character. 
available from DriftNiceties on Etsy
Even if you just need a mood lifter, window shopping at denisebrain will always bring a smile and thoughts of long gone eras. She makes us all realize we CAN turn back the clock to a brighter, classier, simpler time. 
I always check out what denisebrain is selling—she makes vintage look fresh, modern, classy and FUN!
sizing is dead on perfect, shipping and communication: best ever!!! 
Class Act, fabulous personality, exquisite/exciting clothing, unsurpassed service
Always a great source for vintage finds! Weekly shopping here is a must! 

available from RetroandRevamped on Etsy
Is that you modeling your own stuff? Okay, now I have to hate you...except, I can’t. You look like you’re having too much fun and feel so pretty, and it’s contagious! Makes me smile just looking at you.  
You have really inspired me. I came away from your site so happy! It was fun, thoughtful and very interesting, and I love pink! I have had a difficult time this week with new bidders and was about to give up—“I know you do not take returns because it doesn’t fit but your feedback will reflect my feelings” kind of totally awful stuff. Your listings were so refreshing and I loved the little monthly videos—adorable, and they made me laugh! So, I’m not quitting and I owe you all the credit, you really made MY day! When I get down from now on I am going to just go browse around your store for a few minutes and I’m sure it will pick me right back up! 

available from Mom2Will4Real on Etsy
Hi!  I buy quite a lot of vintage from the US but I really need to send a heartfelt personal “thank you” for the most beautifully presented, carefully packaged piece I’ve ever received! The time taken by you in treating this dress so tenderly has the effect of sprinkling fairy dust over it for the recipient—it’s really special! Just wanted to let you know that your superlative service is much appreciated and makes a huge difference.
I am such a huge fan of vintage and one picky dame about it as well. I just wanted to say I LOVE how your site is arranged, how you do your photos, the whole sh’bang is just so pretty and girly and well thought out. I love marketing and visuals and all that and you present such a lovely, polished front!...So, you need to know that I got so giddy and happy looking at your site and clothes and can’t wait ‘til I’m back up on my feet (recent new career path impeding my vintage shopping). Looking at your site gives me extra motivation, because I love nothing in the world more than vintage clothes!
Your descriptions of your vintage items are charming and accurate. You clearly are very knowledgeable and have an excellent sense of style, across all the different decades from which you hand pick these lovely outfits. I truly appreciate the service you provide and am 100% behind your eloquent “Why Wear Vintage” article. Don’t have a question. Just
wanted to voice some admiration.
available from ElGranero on Etsy
Maggie runs this shop as if her customers were her family, working hard to bring the best vintage “lost treasures” to we lucky buyers. She does not stop there. These items have to be in the best condition possible, washed or dry cleaned, wrinkles to a minimum and no horrid odors...That’s why Maggie is so refreshing, because she puts a lot of effort into her clothes and great, cheerful service. She means what she says about her treasures being “top drawer,” she would wear them herself. She goes to great lengths to put as much information about each and every item as possible in the description, that makes her store so fun and interesting to browse through! 
And what a fashion plate! The authentic presentation of these clothes complete with all the fashion accessories of the day bring out the true beauty of what you are buying. This gorgeous and romantic blouse was neatly folded, wrapped in tissue and beautifully boxed with designer pink ribbon, that surpassed any fine department store wrap. She takes pride in all she does for us, and I am proud to be her customer. First class all the way!

A little feedback from me to you: WOW. Thank you each so much for making what I do feel noticed and appreciated, and then taking the time to tell me with such personality and eloquence.

Some more of my favorite feedback tomorrow; thank you for indulging me!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fabric of the week: Percale

If you’ve ever thought a fabric felt like a sheet, you might have had your hands on percale. The exact definition will help you be sure:

A cotton or a cotton/poly blend fabric, percale is a balanced plain weave with a smooth hand and no luster. It can be limp to relatively crisp depending on the finish. It is finer and has a higher thread count than muslin.
          Uses: Sheets, shirts, dresses, children’s clothing, pajamas

          See also: Muslin

©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter
Right now I have a lightweight poly/cotton blend percale tent dress from the late 1960s or early 70s—so summery!

Friday, July 3, 2015

It’s Fair Weather, friends

Just in time for my July theme:

{click to view, sound up}

Fabric of the week: Gingham

I would be surprised if anyone hasn’t heard of gingham. I first new of it at a very young age from the Eugene Field poem “The Duel” (better known as “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat”).

Gingham has had an almost constant popularity in the warm months because of its cotton fiber, lighter weight and crisp checks. Of all fabrics, it might say summer most loud and clear.

A light to medium weight balanced plain weave fabric usually of cotton or a cotton blend, gingham is most characteristically one color with white in even checks, called gingham checks. Tissue (very lightweight) gingham can have corded edges between the colors (see crossbar dimity). 
The name gingham is thought to come from the Malay ging-gang, meaning “striped.”
Uses: Dresses, blouses, house dresses, aprons, pajamas

See also:
Crossbar dimity, 
Shepherd’s check
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter
This 1950s dress and wrap is of gingham check cotton:

There’s always plenty to find in vintage gingham, no need to go with anything new! (If I do say so myself!) Gingham in my Etsy shop

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How to feel 10Âș cooler in vintage

No way around it, it’s hot. Here in Spokane the mercury is climbing to over 95Âș F day after day. It was 107Âș a few days ago, and chez denisebrain we are thankful for ceiling fans and a house with tall trees around it since we don’t have air conditioning. Oh, and we LOVE ice water.

And vintage!

Staying on trend and in vintage is not a problem this summer, starting with the most obvious of vintage-inspired modern trends, gingham.

Choose a gingham check in 100% cotton for the crispest, coolest look and feel. I love this picnic-y dress from SmallEarthVintage:

White linen is a perpetual summer choice. Yes I know linen wrinkles, yes I know white stains. The trick is to wear something slightly slouchy and casual, where wrinkles and a small mark will not ruin the effect. For me, this oversized 1980s jacket from persephonevintage is the perfect summer cover.

Shorts, especially the skirt-y, high-waisted type from the 1940s. These are not very easy to come by, but they are worth it for the pure flattery. This pair from NiftyLunch is the sort I mean:

A short kimono-style robe is easy to wear, on trend and amenable to lounging, going out, the beach... There are many vintage options along this line, including genuine antique Japanese haori in silk if elegance is what you’re after. This 1970s wrap from NewOldFashionVintage would make a great cover up and has sleeves short enough to allow you to make breakfast in it too:

Try the natural air conditioning of crochet. Crochet is having a big moment right now and you can avoid cliché with an unusual vintage item. This beautiful Edwardian blouse is available from TrunkofDresses:

Another big modern trend that can be interpreted very effectively with real vintage is the cropped top. OffBroadwayVintage has this cropped top with another great vintage choice for summer, a full skirt. Think about it: Only the waist is going to be fitted with this skirt, the rest is pure breeze catcher. The amazing outfit is 1950s-vintage, hand-painted cotton from Mexico:

Some of my absolute favorite summer vintage items are not necessarily part of any current trend, but I couldn’t do without my paper parasol (I get sick of dumping on the sunscreen) and my c1960 Ray-Bans. Jessica of No Accounting for Taste says that it isn’t summer without her 1940s novelty print day dress and a big sunhat. Isabelle’s summer vintage favorites are her 1950s swimsuit and her 70s Guy Laroche sundress, perfect for a picnic. —All great vintage ways to approach summer!