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wear vintage


Survey: Advice for a beginning vintage buyer

“If you were to give one piece of advice to a beginning vintage buyer, what would it be?”

I asked this question recently in a survey of people who wear vintage, and the responses were really thoughtful. Also, even though it required a written answer, 110 out of 112 survey takers responded, which is a pretty overwhelming rate.

First, because I love a good word cloud:

See that big measurements? This is a very important issue for vintage wearers, with 21% of those surveyed urging a beginner to get accurate measurements both of herself and the clothing she is interested in.
Measure yourself and measure the item! Know how those two sets of measurements relate to each other. 
Measure twice, buy once. Know your own measurements and what that entails in a piece of vintage so you can better locate what you’re after. 

Condition and care were mentioned by 14% of the respondents. They wrote that purchasing something in excellent condition is important and that knowing how to repair and clean is critical. Some don’t consider buying anything with noticeable flaws, suggesting—
Never buy planning to fix.
while some, perhaps because of their own abilities, just suggested—

Make sure you check items over and if they need repairs make sure you can do them and plan a time to do them.  
Gaining knowledge about vintage was the top priority of 8%. What sort of knowledge? Mentioned was learning to tell if an item is truly vintage, learning the best ways to care for items, and learning how vintage is priced. And why should you gain knowledge of vintage?

There are so many resources to help you date clothing, make sure you know what you are buying and what it’s worth to you. Spending more than that on something will rarely make you happy. 
Study the era(s) that you feel drawn towards and really get to know the cultural history, as well as the fashion themselves, from those years. The greater you appreciate and understand the decades that you’re emulating or drawing inspiration from, the more cohesive and inspired your outfits stand to be. 
Slightly more people (11%) gave answers suggesting what and how to choose vintage for the beginner.

Start small, find that one piece that can work with things you already own and build from there with what feels right. 
Try out different eras. Don’t be intimidated. You totally do not have to look like Viva Las Vegas. 
Figure out which silhouettes look best on you, and buy what you like. Ignore labels. Ignore what’s “hot” or “trendy” (yes, there IS trendy in vintage), and go with your gut. Personal style is never based on popular consensus or trends.  
Pay attention to your lifestyle. If you hate to dry clean, go to a lot of black tie gatherings, never dress up, etc., let that be your guide. I have a closet of fancy dresses I have never worn—all purchased for a specific event, and then I didn’t. I do reach for my vintage cashmere coat, vintage blazers, etc. again and again. I am comfortable spending more on those items because they won’t just sit. Also, be mindful on how to care for your items in a way that makes them last and choose fabrics and items based on how much maintenance you are willing to do. 

5% mentioned the quality of an item, paying attention to what the price ought to be for a vintage piece of a certain type, era, and condition; investing in fewer but better things; and spending money wisely.

A few mentioned where to buy. Several stated that patronizing a good, reputable seller is mutually beneficial. Others suggested looking everywhere until you find your favorite haunts, both online and in person.

The largest percentage of respondents (37%) wrote a variation on a couple of intertwined themes.

Essentially, buy what you like, and don’t wait if you like something. Once you have it, wear it. Something like Nike’s Just Do It. 
If you love it, buy it then and there.  
Use the items, otherwise you are just a warehouse.   
Buy what you love so you will wear it!  
If you love it, buy it! Chances are you will never see one again. Buy what makes you feel happy/fun/beautiful etc. If you have to talk yourself into it, leave it.  
I love the enthusiasm that glowed from many of the answers I got to my survey questions. These were not the answers of fence sitters, but of vintage devotees!
Be confident in what you wear! Vintage clothes will make you stand out anywhere (office, party, walking about, etc.), so make sure you are happy in the skin you are in and the clothes you are wearing. Your clothes are just an extension of your persona, so have fun with how you dress! 




Vintage resolutions

I happened to run across someone’s New Year’s Resolutions on Pinterest recently, laid out with one per month, twelve resolutions in all.

This sounds really doable to me, having a single goal per month—and I’m all about finding a way to accomplish resolutions! Maybe by the end of the year the best will have stuck.

I hereby announce my 12 Vintage Resolutions for 2014, and believe me, these actually all do have to do with vintage clothing and accessories.

Image via Photobucket
January: Edit out and recycle everything that is not being worn in my closet. My closet is smaller than this one, and certainly not as neat. I would like to make it as happy, bright, inviting and wearable as I possibly can.

How does this have to do with vintage? I will be making room for the great vintage items that I don’t feel I can squeeze in right now!

A 1940s satin dressing gown that I sold a few years back
February: Dress like a star at home. No, I don’t mean to start sitting around sipping champagne, dripping in diamonds! I mean always treating myself well, even at unseen moments, by dressing in something that makes me feel happy. As a vintage clothing dealer I have sold many an item that would certainly qualify, and these items tend to tug at me...I feel slightly jealous of the people who purchase them. I actually feel spiritually unhappy when I dress down, so why not carry this into every moment of my life?

Emma Stone in a red that might work for me too
March: Wear a color I don’t usually wear. Yes, I am fairly aware of the colors that work well on me and make good use of those as often as I can. I do think, though, that I could see what happens with some colors that I am not so used to wearing. Perhaps I can find a red that looks best on me, and a white that doesn’t make me feel too stark. I plan to experiment, both with colors and combinations of colors, from various eras.
Threads magazine tutorial
April: Mend and clean clothing and improve skills. This is a first-class no brainer! My pile of mending and washing is ready to go, and almost everything in it is a vintage item I love. I keep up on the mending and cleaning for my business much better than I keep up with my own. I think it’s time to catch up, including figuring out how to take care of some things that I find tricky.

Yes, a black jacket is absolutely basic to me
May: Supplant my search for basic clothing with vintage basics. I don’t buy much new clothing, but find it occasionally imperative to go with new to keep myself in shoes and socks, for instance. I will spend May making a list of the basics I tend to need every year or so and then look for their equivalents in the world of vintage. I also will decide for myself what is a basic...we probably all have a different set of ideas.

June: Wear scarves. Oh fun! I have scarves galore, almost all vintage from my own past and family members’ pasts. There is positively no excuse for how little I make use of these. I hope to learn new ways with scarves of all shapes and sizes.

From the RLPhotography blog
July: Look for style inspiration. I always am looking for style inspiration, but this July I will put extra focus on vintage style inspirations, whether from the past or being worn well by modern women. Expect to see too much of me on Pinterest!

Could this be it? From VintageFrocksOfFancy on Etsy
August: Find or decide upon the perfect go-to black dress. If ever there was a usable item, the perfect black dress might be it. I will look at this from various angles, including what I’d wear the dress for and what suits me best. You can be sure it will be vintage.

Vogue - July 1939  by André Durst
September: Wear hats. I have some beautiful vintage hats and I tend to wear them for special occasions if at all. Everyone tells me they love hats, but just can’t bring themselves to wear them. Maybe they need someone to lead the parade?

1930s dress resolution may involve sewing
October: Wear an era that I don’t usually wear. I am big on 1940s and 50s and some 1960s and 70s styles. I really like the look of a sweet 1930s print, and the longer lengths of the time, but I’ve never worn 1930s clothing myself. 

Or maybe I will find something to knock me out from the 1980s...or explore Victorian...

I know I will wear my mother’s beautiful blue glass ring from the 1940s
November: Wear something meaningful to me every day. I have plenty of interesting family items, souvenirs from long-ago vacations, gifts from my favorite people and other items with great karma. I resolve to wear at least one of these each day in November. 

Vogue, December 1, 1935
December: Find at least one vintage item to give for Christmas. I don’t take this lightly because I know that I can impose my taste on someone else if I don’t watch out. But deep down I know there is something vintage that would please and suit every man, woman and child. I just have to figure out what that is!

Anyone care to play along? I’d love to know what your vintage resolutions are, and I‘d also love to have you join me with my resolutions during any of these months. I promise to share my results, if you promise to share yours!



New Year's resolution: Wear vintage guide

Since the beginning of the year, I've been writing about getting into wearing vintage stage by stage.

Here is a guide to my guide:

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 1
   Great first vintage items, a little about condition

Wear vintage, stage 1 continued
   Some more good first vintage choices, and a reader suggestion 

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 2
   Getting started with vintage fit

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 2 continued
   Finding a vintage sweater

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3
   More about fit

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued
   Understanding vintage sizes, ease to allow for a good fit

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued
   Waist length, and your particular fit issues

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued
   See yourself in vintage glasses

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued
   Let vintage hats go to your head

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued
   Vintage shoes have sole

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4
   What our mothers and grandmothers knew about getting a better fit

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4 continued
   Altered reality

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4 continued
  Getting started with vintage quality and value

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4 continued
   More about quality and value

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 4 continued
   More on vintage value

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5
   How to wear vintage

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5 continued
   Some inspiration for wearing vintage your way

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5 continued
   What flatters you

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5 continued
   Alternatives to authentic vintage

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 6
   Vintage myth busting

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 6 continued
   For further research and understanding

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 6 continued
   Condition continued

New Year's resolution: Wear vintage wrap up
    A few loose ends

I hope this has helped some of you get started wearing vintage, or increased your confidence and knowledge.

Wear vintage!
photo from Brownstoner



New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 6 continued

Condition continued

Because there was some discussion of condition after my vintage myth busting post of last week, I was reminded that one of the Big Issues with vintage clothing has only been lightly touched upon by me. I've written several times that it is probably best for a vintage newcomer to stick with excellent condition, or the rarer mint condition. You may have seen good condition listed, or very good, and wondered what that meant. I mean, isn't good perfectly fine?

Years ago, a group of online vintage sellers worked hard to hammer out a set of words to codify condition ratings. This chart has been edited and tweaked by various groups and sellers, this is one version of it which Maggie of magsrags posted at the Vintage Fashion Guild:

Note (dare I say?) how much the word noted is in this chart...noting the flaws is a big job for a seller, but this is the only way for an online buyer to have a sense of what might be wrong. I do not use this chart in my listings, I don't actually use a chart. My own belief is that what matters is the detail of the condition, in words and pictures. I use the words Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good and Fair, more or less as shown in this chart, and then I try to innumerate the issues. 

For the beginning vintage buyer online, I stand by the need to consider condition seriously, and to stick with the top levels of condition. A bargain price on an amazing looking item may reflect serious problems. If a seller calls the condition anything less than mint or excellent and doesn't describe the flaws, ask. The seller needs to describe (and ideally also show) what keeps the item out of excellent or mint status.

I know—I have purchased from sellers who didn't adequately describe the flaws that I'm sure they saw, like gaping holes in the lining. The buyer does not need to accept really faulty condition if she receives an item not as described unless the seller specifically states that the item is as-is and there are no refunds. You have to get in the habit of reading a seller’s terms of sale. If you are looking at an item from a seller whom you trust, you may not need to question what very good means but if someone you don’t know says something is very good without explanation, I would ask for more detail. For good condition, even more so.

As I wrote in my vintage myth busting blog post, I don't really believe in the term “vintage condition.” I don't begrudge the excellent sellers who use the term, and think I understand the reason they do. However, I strongly believe that all issues have to be addressed whether they are due to the age of the garment or any other reason, so why bother adding a vague age-related factor? As an online vintage buyer (particularly thinking of the novice buyer), I believe a seller would need to say what causes an item to be in excellent vintage condition as opposed to excellent condition. Sellers, if you do use that term, I would suggest letting everyone know what you mean by it, ideally on a case-by-case basis.
To be honest, I personally wear plenty of vintage items with flaws. If you love the item and know you look and feel good in it, the flaws tend to be minor for you. It takes a little experience with vintage to know how far you are able to go with condition issues. Start with very small problems and discover your personal tolerance.

I didn't want to sell this 40s dress due to the number of flaws, but I wear it happily myself because the print disguises the issues pretty well. With experience you can figure out what you can fix and what you can put up with.

Next time: Loose ends round up



New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 6 continued

For further research and understanding

For a couple of years now I have been very grateful to Archivia Vintage Fashion & Textiles for the post Useful Vintage, Antiques and Collectibles Resource Links.  Please explore this wonderfully comprehensive list!

I also want to share this book list created by Leila of Corsets and Crinolines, including her notes on the books. She is particularly interested in, and knowledgeable about, antique clothing and lingerie. She has an amazing collection! My own favorite books are toward the end of this post.


1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog (reprint)

1901 Eaton’s Catalog (reprint)

1908 Sears Roebuck Catalog (reprint)

Madeleine Brant
-The Etiquette of Dress

K.B. Brett
-Women’s Costume in Early Ontario
-Women’s Costume in Ontario, 1867-1907 (Royal Ontario Museum books)

Penelope Byrde
-Jane Austen Fashion

Nancy Villa Bryk
-American Dress Pattern Catalogs, 1873-1909: Four Complete Reprints

Virginia A.S. Careless
-Responding to Fashion, The Clothing of the O’Reilly Family (One of my FAV books about the Vancouver museum acquisition of the O’Reilly family’s clothing along with photos of the family in the clothes, etc.)

Eileen Collard
-Clothing in English Canada Circa 1867-1907

C. Willett Cunnington
-English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century
-The History of Underclothes
-The Perfect Lady (A rare book showing clothing from the author’s own collection on live models)

Priscilla Harris Dalrymple
-American Victorian Costume in Early Photographs

Alison Gernsheim
-Victorian and Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey

Madeleine Ginsburg
-Victorian Dress in Photographs

Kristina Harris
-The Child in Fashion: 1750-1920
-Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Women, 1840-1919
-Victorian Fashion in America: 264 Vintage Photographs

Talbot Hughes
-Old English Costumes, A sequence of fashions through the 18th and 19th centuries. (A VERY rare book from the 1910s showing clothing from the V&A when it first opened it costume gallery on real people. Edwardians in antique clothing, how wonderful!!!)

O. Henry Mace
-Collector’s Guide to Early Photographs (How to date antique photos by clothing, etc)

Doris Langley Moore
-The Woman in Fashion (Fabulous book written in 1949, showing clothing dating from 1800 up to 1920 from her own collection shown on her celebrity friends!)

JoAnne Olian
-Victorian and Edwardian Fashions from “La Mode Illustree”

Jacqueline Beaudoin-Ross
-Form and Fashion, Nineteenth Century Montreal Dress (McCord Museum book)

Linda Setnik
-Victorian Costume for Ladies

Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig
-Women in Pants (Fascinating history of women in the 19th century who wore trousers and why. Loaded with antique photos!)

J.A.E. Wood
How to Make a Dress (1897) (An original rare book on how to make a leg-o-mutton sleeve dress). 


John Peacock
-The Complete Fashion Sourcebook

Jonathan Walford
-Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look
-Ready to Tear: Paper Fashions of the 60s

Christa Weil
-It’s Vintage Darling, How to be a clothes connoisseur


LaRee Johnson Bruton
-Ladies’ Vintage Accessories

Maryanne Dolan
-Vintage Clothing 1880-1980: Identification and Value Guide

Carol Harris
-Miller’s Collecting Fashion & Accessories

Kristina Harris
-Collector’s Guide to Vintage Fashions: Identification and Values

Diane Snyder-Haug
-Antique & Vintage Clothing: A Guide to Dating & Valuation of Women's Clothing 1850 to 1940

Rosemary Hawthorne
-The Costume Collector’s Companion 1890-1990

Kyle Husfloen
-Antique Trader Vintage Clothing Price Guide

Susan Langley
-Vintage Hats & Bonnets 1770-1970: Identification & Values 


Nigel Arch and Joanna Marschner
Splendour At Court (A lovely book showing what was worn at court over the centuries)

Jane Ashelford
-The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society 1500-1914 (National Trust museum book)

Karen Baclawski
-The Guide to Historic Costume (Chock full of photos and reference numbers to clothing and accessories held in UK museums)

Talbot Hughes
-Old English Costumes, A sequence of fashions through the 18th and 19th centuries. (A VERY rare book from the 1910’s showing clothing from the Victoria & Albert museum when it first opened its costume gallery, on real people. Edwardians in antique clothing, how wonderful!!!)

Keith Jopp:
-Corah of Leicester 1815- 1965 (The history of the famous knitwear company in Leicestershire)

Carl Kohler
-A History of Costume

James Laver
-Costume and Fashion: A Concise History

National Geographic, Swimsuits, 100 Years of Pictures.

Mary Brooks Picken
-A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion

Lynn Schnurnberger
-Let There Be Clothes

The Kyoto Costume Institute
-Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century

Shelley Tobin
-Marriage a la Mode, Three Centuries of Wedding Dress (National Trust book)

-Costume (Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides) 


LaRee Johnson Bruton
-Ladies’ Vintage Accessories

Valerie Cumming
-The Visual History of Costume Accessories

Carol Belanger Grafton
-Shoes, Hats and Fashion Accessories: A Pictorial Archive, 1850-1940

Susan Langley
-Vintage Hats & Bonnets 1770-1970: Identification & Values

Althea MacKenzie
-Hats and Bonnets: From Snowshill, One of the World’s Leading Collections of Costume and Accessories of the 18th and 19th Centuries
-Shoes and Slippers: From Snowshill, One of the World’s Leading Collections of Costume and Accessories of the 18th and 19th Centuries

Alan and Gillian Meredith

Jonathan Walford
-The Seductive Shoe (THE BEST book on shoes!)


Elizabeth Ewing
-History of Children’s Costume

Kristina Harris
-The Child in Fashion: 1750-1920

Anna MacPhail
-The Well-Dressed Child: Children’s Clothing, 1820-1940


Bonnie Holt Ambrose
-The Little Corset Book: A Workbook on Period Underwear

Michael Colmer
-Whalebone to See-Through, A History of Body Packaging

C. Willett Cunnington
-The History of Underclothes

Elizabeth Ewing
-Dress and Undress: a History of Women’s Underwear

Peter Farrer
-Tight Lacing, A Bibliography of articles and letters concerning stays and corsets for men and women. Part 1, 1828- 1880.

Beatrice Fontanel
-Support and Seduction: The History of Corsets and Bras

Rosemary Hawthorne
-Bras: A Private View
-Knickers: An Intimate Apprasial
-Stockings and Suspenders

David Kunzle
-Fashion & Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture (contains adult material but interesting history!)

Tanya Marcuse
-Armor and Undergarments

Gilles Neret
-1000 Dessous (A wonderful pictorial history of underwear right up to the 1980s but does contain pornographic images due to the nature of underwear and undressing!)

Jill Salen
-Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

R. L. Shep
-Corsets: A Visual History

Valerie Steele
-The Corset: A Cultural History

Shelley Tobin
-Inside Out, A Brief History of Underwear (National Trust book)

Philip Warren
-Foundations of Fashion, The Symington Corsetry Collection 1860-1990 (Leicestershire Museum book)

Norah Waugh
-Corsets and Crinolines


Bonnie Holt Ambrose
-The Little Bodice Book: A Workbook on Period Bodices
-The Little Corset Book: A Workbook on Period Underwear

Janet Arnold
-Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860
-Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction C.1860-1940

Norah Waugh
-Corsets and Crinolines


Jane Ashelford
-The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society 1500-1914 (National Trust museum book)

K.B. Brett
-Women’s Costume in Early Ontario
-Women’s Costume in Ontario, 1867-1907 (Royal Ontario Museum books)

Virginia A.S. Careless
-Responding to Fashion, The Clothing of the O’Reilly Family (One of my FAV books about the Vancouver museum acquisition of the O’Reilly family’s clothing along with photos of the family in the clothes, etc.)

Jacqueline Beaudoin- Ross
-Form and Fashion, Nineteenth Century Montreal Dress (McCord Museum book)

The Kyoto Costume Institute
-Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
-Man and The Horse (History of riding wear of the ages)

The Museum of Costume, Assembly rooms, Bath
-Authorised Guide

Shelley Tobin
-Inside Out, A Brief History of Underwear (National Trust book)

Shelley Tobin
-Marriage a la Mode, Three Centuries of Wedding Dress (National Trust book)

Philip Warren
-Foundations of Fashion, The Symington Corsetry Collection 1860-1990 (Leicestershire Museum book)

Some favorite books not listed above

I have literally a hundred books on my wish list, and so I'm sure there are more recommendations to come.

Caroline Rennolds Milbank
-New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style (My one most necessary book, as inspiration, American designer history, and visual reference)

Georgina Howell
-In Vogue: Sixty Years of International Celebrities and Fashion from British Vogue (This book covers 1918 to 1978, the year it was published. You can see the evolution of style year by year.)

Melody Fortier
-The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping: Insider Tips, Helpful Hints, Hip Shops

Jonathan Walford
-Shoes A-Z: Designers, Brands, Manufacturers and Retailers

Everyday Fashions As Pictured in Sears Catalogs (I have and can recommend the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s)

Cally Blackman
-100 Years of Fashion Illustration

These were highly recommended by colleagues of mine (and have just been added to my very long wish list):

Harold Koda Richard Martin
-Flair: Fashion Collected by Tina Chow

Harriet Worsley
-In Vogue: Sixty Years of International Celebrities and Fashion from British Vogue Decades of Fashion (This book was published in 2000, and may be an update to the Howell that I mentioned above)

Nicole Jenkins
-Love Vintage (I know and greatly respect Nicole...I'm dying to read her book!)

If you have a favorite link not on Archivia’s list, or a favorite vintage clothing book...please leave a comment and let us know.

Happy exploring! 



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



New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 5 continued

Alternatives to authentic vintage

If you want something very specific in vintage clothing, something in a size that is not easily found, or something with a certain je ne c’est quoi that you don't think is available to you in the market, you may find a solution by going with a newly made item.

pattern available at VtgSewingPatterns on Etsy
If you are a skilled seamstress you probably already know you can pick out a vintage pattern (or a newly made vintage reproduction pattern by one of the major pattern companies) and find a vintage fabric or one that has a vintage vibe, and make your own garment. If you are not able to do this yourself, you might wish to find someone who can. Your local seamstress may be up to this task, and may also be able to alter the pattern to fit you just right. There are Etsy seamstresses who create vintage-style items that could create something to your exact specifications.

There are many vintage reproduction and vintage-style clothing sites out there, and I must confess, I have no personal experience with them. I had to ask on Facebook, Twitter and at the Vintage Fashion Guild for other's experiences with makers of new vintage-style clothing. I got so many thoughtful and detailed responses that I will probably devote more time to the subject in the future. For now, I'll be brief.

Some people out-and-out refuse to consider repro vintage. More about this later. Some of the websites that were recommended to me, and that seem to meet certain standards for quality, style and fair labor practices are:

Re-mix Classic Vintage Footwear, where the shoes appear to be faithful reproductions of vintage styles from the 20s through 50s, and are made in Spain. The Gal Friday 40s-style model is currently on sale for $98, down from $206.

Then there's the Esther Williams Swimwear Collection, and from all I can tell, she really is behind this, at the ripe old age of 90. I like this classic sheath suit, available in a range of sizes and colors, and all the swimsuits are made in the US.

Another site that was recommended to me was Vivien of Holloway, and a reply to my inquiry confirmed that all the items on the site are made in Tottenham, North London.

I also really like the look of the workmanship that goes into Whirling Turban items, which are made by skilled seamstresses in Bali.

You may be able to see already that these sites are making very popular vintage styles, providing access to these items for a wide range of people, without having to wait to see the right item come up for sale.

Several other prospects recommended to me: Heyday! Vintage Style Clothing (the clothes are made in the UK and New Zealand) Freddies of Pinewood (jeans made in Turkey, the rest made in the UK) and Time Machine Vintage Reproduction Clothing on Etsy (made in Vermont).

There are reasons for going with repro and vintage-inspired clothing: You might want to replicate an item that has become unwearable, or something you see in a photo. You might want to wear something from the Victorian era through the 1920s but relatively few genuine items are really safe to wear. Some would like to be able to swing dance like mad without having to worry about ruining a great vintage dress. Some would like to try their own hand at making something their mother might have made.

I am intrigued by repro clothing, and I see many cute styles, but I feel torn. I would want to know that the item is made where the workers are not underpaid (and as you can see I've tried to insure that with these recommendations). I can almost certainly guarantee that most repro clothing sites—some of the above shops may prove the exceptions—do not replicate the workmanship that went into the original models, and I mean even the quality of day-to-day clothing from the past. I think Mary Kincaid made this case succinctly on Zuburbia.

I have to say that for every several people who told me about her good experiences with repro clothing, one told me either that she was very disappointed with the quality or fit of an item, or simply would never consider repro. Again, this may be a choice for the individual. I've never considered it, but then I'm not exceptionally tall, in a rush to find a sarong dress from the 50s, or a swing dance champion. I also just don't buy much new clothing.

I have absolutely no misgivings about creating an item out of a vintage pattern, and I may eventually be able to endorse a repro vintage site personally...I do love that pink bathing suit!

Next time: Vintage myth busting



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}