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Reason to love vintage #7

It is terribly easy to think of reasons to love vintage clothing, and this is just one of them: The quality.

Yesterday was a fairly typical day for me, photographing clothing from various eras. I photographed a dress from about 1924, and a sweater from the 1950s.

The sweater’s appliqués are organza, and light but sturdy fabric backs the appliqués on the reverse side in order to stabilize them. When’s the last time you bought a new item of clothing that had a feature designed to make it last? Oh, and the rhinestones are prong-set and are solidly in place. The buttons are mother of pearl, the yarn is softest lambswool, angora and nylon. 

1950s appliquéd sweater in my Etsy shop
The 1920s silk dress seems to have been made commercially, because it has a small size tag. The amount of meticulous hand sewing to be seen is astonishing to me. For instance, those rounded tabs featured on the sleeves and skirt of the dress have self-fabric narrow bias binding that is hand sewn in place...and there are yards of this detail!

1920s dress in my Etsy shop
Also yesterday I photographed a 1950s sweater in teal blue with shell buttons dyed to match the sweater...and this is just an “average” sort of item made for J.C. Penney. 

This one sold really fast
If you ever need talking into vintage clothing, just ask me! This is only one reason to appreciate it, but it’s a major one!



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



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



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}