Hello, and welcome to a new year of Desert Island Vintage, a blog series in which I ask vintage mavens the straightforward, yet ridiculously difficult question:
IF YOU COULD HAVE JUST EIGHT VINTAGE FASHION ITEMS, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
You can probably sense why committing to a mere eight items is a challenge. Not one of the vintage sellers, wearers, and bloggers I've interviewed has mentioned more than a couple of the famous vintage pieces in the world. Their answers, really more personal, have included much-worn items in their own closets, impossibly rare and obscure pieces, and fantasy items. Some have thought of how they would like to be wardrobed for an actual desert island. The variety has been incredible, but not surprising—it's one of the great things about vintage, just how many different directions you can go.
The latest vintage aficionado to accept the Desert Island Vintage challenge is Liza Maltin Dolensky, the woman behind Better Dresses Vintage. The name of the website evokes the days of fine department stores and their best quality dresses shop— a glimpse into heaven, as Liza writes on her about page.
With that 1950s better dresses department in mind, I thought her desert island picks would include mainly frothy 1950s numbers, but Liza is an eclectic soul. You are as likely to see her posting a photo of herself in 1920s (and earlier) garb as more recent vintage. She definitely accepts the challenge of dressing fully for period events, with gusto! Here she is on a tour of Swan House with her Atlanta Time Travelers: Vintage and Historic Clothing Enthusiasts Facebook group.
Liza's desert island choices might be summarized as eclectic, nostalgic—and longing. Get ready for mid-Victorian to disco, with stops all along the way!
"In order from least to most coveted, are the eight items I'd need to take with me. True, it's closer to a wish list than a packing list, as the only things I'd really need on a desert island are my 30s beach pajamas and a mosquito net! Nonetheless...
8. "My own, beloved, Lee jean jacket. Cropped, form-fitting, well worn, and highly customized by me. And no, it's not the 'thick air' at Madison Square Garden that has me looking dazed. I had mono! The doctor said 'no way,' but I already had my Queen concert tickets and my parents relented. I was so exhausted, I sat through the entire show. But I got to see Freddie Mercury.
7. "An original 'over petticoat' for my mid-Victorian ensembles. I only have a chintzy modern reproduction. Intact originals tend to be very expensive.
6. "A 1970s Whiting & Davis metal mesh halter top. Gold or silver, I'll gladly take either one! Both will coordinate perfectly with my black spandex pants—the ones I wore to see Van Halen (original lineup). They still fit. They're spandex, after all—very forgiving. In case there's a disco on the island.
5. "I suppose I'll need a fan to keep cool. Preferably one like this. I'd add a silk ribbon so it can dangle from my wrist. I do that with all my fans. No, really. I actually do.
4. "I guess I'd need a swimsuit. I'm not feeling very fit these days and don't want to show more skin than my Gramma Bessie did at Coney Island in the early 1910s. In fact, were any of these ensembles made with long sleeves?
3. "An original natural-form era (late 1870s-early 1880s) bustle dress. Incredibly flattering to the figure, lovely, and feminine, without any bizarre extremes. Here are some examples. Can't go wrong with stripes. Perhaps a pastel shade, though, for seaside wear. Have corset, will travel.
2. "This antique chatelaine. It's 'the one that got away.' I lost the auction by about $2. So sad. It's not especially fine or fancy, but it's so sweet. Look at the little love birds and hearts! I'd load it up with sewing tools, so I can make repairs to my eclectic island wardrobe.
Then there's this dress, at the top of Liza's list:
1. "When I stumbled across the listing, it was already on layaway. Sob! I even contacted the buyer with an unsuccessful 'money is no object' attempt to pry it from her closet. This is my 'vintage holy grail.' Surely it can't have been the only one made? But I've never seen another quite like it. The label is Lauhala, 100% silk. The fabric! The color! The hip swag! Those sexy bodice seams! Swoon. And, being Made in Hawaii, entirely appropriate for a castaway. No?
(This gives me a chance to remind you, and I'm sure Liza would agree: If you love something vintage, grab it while you can, because it may haunt you forever! Vintage has a way of doing that.)
"So, there you have it, Maggie. Perhaps a bit of an odd wardrobe for a desert island. But at least I'll be well dressed as I await rescue."
I forgot to mention, but I guess it's pretty obvious by now: Liza has a well-honed sense of humor!
Check out the Better Dresses Vintage website and Liza's always interesting and beautifully-written From My Closet - The Better Dresses Vintage Blog; Better Dresses Vintage on Facebook, and @betterdressesvintage on Instagram.
I'm tempted to say, so I guess I will: From Freddie Mercury to Swan House...you've come a long way, baby!
Many thanks to Liza for her fascinating assortment of favorite vintage!