Does vintage spark joy?


Are you a fan of Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Or her recent reality show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo?

I read the organization guru’s first book early on. My husband and I live in a 1907 house that has 698 square feet. We really don’t have much extra space to get sloppy in, and so organization fascinates me. Am I organized? In a sense, I think so. I always know where things are, even if they are stacked or cluttered. Could I do better? Oh yes.

One of the central tenants of Kondo’s KonMarie method is that the items you keep must “spark joy” for you. According to her, you must hold each of your items in your hands and see if you register that feeling of joy. If you don’t feel it, you must let the item go, after properly thanking it for doing its best for you.

Spark joy. Hmmm. I can honestly say that is the best way for me to choose what to purchase in the first place, especially clothing. If I don’t love something viscerally—immediately and terribly—it isn’t going to serve me very well. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pair of black socks or a sequined green dress—it has to be exactly what I want. Once I have a loved item, it doesn’t usually fall out of favor for me. I might not fit in it properly forever, but I still love it.

Another important aspect of Kondo’s technique is the spiritual connections she makes. She explains that she is informed by her background in Shintoism, the traditional Japanese religion that emphasizes ritual and the spiritual essence of everything. The connectedness that she teaches making with a home, and with each item in it, gives each thing a value that maintains it as not readily disposable, but also not readily bought. I think this is the soul of her method. How many of us who would take the time to really connect to an item would buy the wrong thing? At the time (eventually) that we let the item go, we would offer it thanks, and it would feel very real.

I love that. Everything that we own is a piece of the world; its creation uses the world’s resources, and it should not have been made in vain or for one use and immediate disposal. I don’t know if that is Marie Kondo’s message, but her thinking slows you down and makes you contemplate each item in your possession. It makes you see everything.

How does vintage clothing fit into this? I think it fits very handsomely.

  • A vintage item has not just been made, so it is part of a history of passing something along. It most likely has been used, appreciated, and thoughtfully let go of already in its life. You can be part of its continuing story.

  • A vintage item is usually not a quick and easy purchase; it demands some thoughtfulness.

  • A vintage item is not usually briefly and faddishly fashionable the way readily available fast fashion is. It stands to reason that if it is not the newest style, it isn’t going to be only temporarily the hottest thing.

  • A vintage item is most often better made, with better materials and workmanship than the majority of modern-made clothing. It is meant to be preserved through care, and not ruined after several wearings.

  • A vintage item has undeniable karma, the sort that gives it a presence that transcends a brief existence. Think long simmering stew vs. instant noodles.

A vintage item slows you down in all good ways: It takes more patience to find, it gives you more time to think about how much it sparks joy for you, it doesn’t fan the flames of instant gratification, it doesn’t break down if cared for properly, it demands a certain respect and sustenance. It will care for you if you care for it, and then be glad to go on to its next home.

What do you think…am I missing something? How does Marie Kondo’s method work for you and your vintage? Have you taken the KonMari technique to your clothing yet?



Will you be my Vintage Valentine?


I have no trouble promoting pinks and reds any day of the year, but get heated up around about February 1st, with Valentine’s Day looming. Have you had a look at my Etsy shop recently? It’s positively bursting with these colors!

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And, as extra incentive to take a look at these beauties, through February 7, take 20% off anything primarily pink or red in my Etsy shop, no coupon needed. ❤️💘❤️💘❤️💘

Here are a couple of my favorites:

This gorgeous pour of magenta silk satin was created by Carlye in the late 1950s

This gorgeous pour of magenta silk satin was created by Carlye in the late 1950s

This rosy dress and swing coat is labeled Sandra Sage

This rosy dress and swing coat is labeled Sandra Sage

While on the subject of pink and hearts, I want to remind you that the Pink Heart Shop section of my Etsy store is stocked with vintage with all proceeds benefitting Dress for Success worldwide. 


(And yes, my model Kendra and I were inspired by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel when we photographed that last set above! We are both diehard Maisel fans!)



What do 3,000 sales look like?

It says it right there at the top of my shop: “On Etsy since 2008”

Years before using Etsy as a selling platform, I sold vintage fashion on eBay. Then when Etsy came along, I decided to make the jump. It has been 10 years now on Etsy, half the time denisebrain has been in business, and my shop recently reached the milestone of 3,000 sales. Would you like to see what 3K pieces of vintage finery look like?


OK, so that’s not half—it’s not even close to half, but I figured it was sufficiently dizzying!

To celebrate, I am offering 25% off any sale of $50 or more from my Etsy shop through January 26. Just use the coupon code HAPPY3000 when you check out, or use this link to receive the discount automatically.

Now, what do 3,000 sales look like on my face?


Yup, I’m pretty excited! Thank you!!



Denisebrain best of 2018

It’s time once again for my annual round up of favorite vintage sold last year. It’s always so hard: One can’t choose everything, but I really do fall in love with the things I sell, and this fact comes through in the sheer lack of editing down you can witness below. Sorry not sorry.

Also in the mix you will catch a glimpse of a few customer images, and you can see more of these on the Vintage You page.

You will also see a lot of non-me models in my photos here. I’ve gone from being terrified of having anyone but me in my shots (because I was afraid that no one would know it was my shop anymore) to being overjoyed for the unique character that all the models have brought to my clothes. This is what I want for my denisebrain business, a feeling of everyone being welcome in. I think the models are helping me show that, and I’m so grateful to them all.

I have a lot—I mean A LOT—of vintage to show you in 2019, so hold your horses!! (And yes, there will be more wooden horse pins!)

I hope you have found as many unexpected reasons to smile this year as I have, and that 2019 brings us all our share of joy, health, love, and hope—oh and of course, vintage!

My very best to you, Maggie of denisebrain


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Giving the gift of vintage

Made your list and checked it twice? For those who have been especially nice, I suggest vintage! Here are a few pointers.


giving vintage items as gifts

Always make sure the item is in excellent condition or has a great reason for not being in excellent condition (a vintage book marked up by the author would probably be a treasure).

Make it personal! Consider the birth year of the giftee, or some another significant year in that person’s life. Initials or name, hometown or another meaningful place are also good bets. Favorite activities, favorite color, artist, era or material—maybe something that belongs to a collection that the recipient already has (and isn't sick of!).

As much as you personally love something, remember it is a gift so think of the recipient’s own style (no shabby chic for a mid-century mod fancier!).

Allow yourself plenty of time to look around.

Combining vintage with new items makes old new again: How about your famous holiday bread wrapped in a vintage tea towel?

An item passed from one generation to the next can be very meaningful, especially if you add the history of the item—or even a photo—that gives context for the item.

My great grandmother’s locket was a very meaningful gift for me as a young person, especially with this photo of her wearing it included.

My great grandmother’s locket was a very meaningful gift for me as a young person, especially with this photo of her wearing it included.

Some vintage fashion gift hits

Fashion—whether new or vintage—may be the most difficult type of gift to give because it is so personal. Still, it can be the best gift to give! Thinking over my two decades of holiday seasons here at denisebrain, these are the vintage items sold as gifts most often:

Jewelry So many options! How about something Christmas-y like a vintage garnet necklace? Or a novelty brooch with the recipient’s favorite animal? Or an initial brooch?

Capes Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but you can see how a vintage-wearer would like one—very few fit issues! On Etsy, there are nearly 500 vintage plaid capes alone, and over 7,000 vintage capes in all! I own a vintage Pendleton tweed cape and I always get compliments when I wear it, so I found the same model to show you (bottom right in the collage below), available on Etsy now.

Hats For the man or woman who has everything (vintage), a hat can be a fantastic choice. A good quality vintage faux fur hat is a perennial favorite, as is a vintage fedora.

Robes Fairly easy to fit, and a woman can wear a man’s robe just fine, so there are many options. (Since they will be spending a lot of time in it make sure it is in truly great shape.) Silk and rayon kimono-style robes are having a fairly strong fashion revival, and you may as well find a vintage equivalent!

Scarves Not everyone wears every kind of scarf, but almost everyone wears some kind of scarf, whether of warm wool or fine silk. I just happen to have a few in my shop right now (wink, wink).

These items, being offered by other vintage sellers, are in my Etsy Giftable Vintage Fashion list:

BeFunky Collageb.jpg

In the accessory category, another current “hit item”—vintage train cases. Some use these for decorative storage, some even for (gasp!) travel. The kind with the mirror inside the lid is great for keeping and putting on makeup or hair products.

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Don't forget using any vintage gift wraps and ribbons you’ve been hoarding/saving to add the finishing touches. You can even incorporate those sadly orphaned or broken vintage clip-on earrings into your package wrapping!

Image from  hausbest.com

Image from hausbest.com


Giving the gift of vintage—while rewarding—isn’t always a sure bet. Here are a few of the less than perfect gifts that I’ve learned about over many Christmases (and other holidays) past…


Gloves. We’re not used to this dilemma because these days it is rather rare to find fitted gloves with a specific size beyond S, M or L. Don’t assume that, for instance, a pair of vintage leather gloves will fit the recipient without knowing that person's glove size. I mentioned a hat being a popular choice, but there are fit issues with hats too, so it is best to avoid a hat that fits down on the head (a cloche style for instance) unless you are certain of the wearer's size.

Anything that is valuable and covetable but not the giftee's taste is liable to be a flop. There isn't anything sadder than giving something truly wonderful to a person who simply isn't interested and just hides it away. I can tell you about a deeply carved Bakelite bangle and a 50s Hawaiian shirt that seem to have disappeared from the face of the Earth...

Anything with major problems is almost surely a miss—unless you know the person well and he/she loves a well ripped up vintage rock band t-shirt or something else well used. Clean and mend any tiny flaws in your gift and package it up beautifully. Yes, there is always that "old stuff" ick factor to consider for those on the (vintage) fence.


Even with caveats, I predict there’s a vintage gifting hit for just about anyone on your list. Many people care about the environment and love the idea of recycling, including fashion. If you do a great job of picking and presenting, who knows, maybe you will make a vintage fashion convert!

So...What vintage is going under your tree this year?

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So thankful

My most sincere thanks—for everything.

I am thankful every single day that I am able to run my vintage fashion business. I have met the most wonderful people through vintage. You are customers, colleagues, collectors, historians—stylish, fascinating, caring people with so many stories to tell. And you even put up with my talk of manatees!

You read my blog, my newsletter, and my wordy (!) item listings, you visit my website and let me know what you think. You cheer me on when I do a good job, and forgive me when I make a mistake. You constantly make me realize that we aren't such a bad lot. Thank you.

I wish you every happiness on Thanksgiving Day, and hope you are surrounded by all that you love best.




Gray Friday

…and you thought it was Black Friday

I always donate 10% of sales to the Save the Manatee Club, but now through next Tuesday, a full 50% of my sales will be donated for the protection of this beloved endangered species. I am calling this my Gray Friday fundraiser. I also have an Everyday Hero page set up for donations, in case no vintage finery from my shop beckons. My goal is to reach $400 between now and Tuesday, November 27. With your help, I know this can be done.

Manatee painting by Anna Davies

Manatee painting by Anna Davies

Of mannequins and manatees

I know what some of you must be thinking: What is it about the manatee that attracts a vintage clothing seller? Well, I'll tell you.

It all began about a dozen years ago when I was visiting relatives in Florida, and they took me to an area where manatees are sometimes seen. We saw plenty of alligators and beautiful birds and plants, but not a manatee. Then, as we were getting ready to leave, a truck pulled up, and a group of people jumped out to lift a manatee down to the water, cradled in a sling.

My manatee moment, Blue Springs, Florida

My manatee moment, Blue Springs, Florida

You see, this manatee had been rescued and rehabilitated after being found injured by a boat strike, and was now strong enough to be released back into the wild. As the manatee gently swam off, another manatee came up from the bottom of the stream and nuzzled the returnee...an unmistakable greeting.

Tears were streaming down my face. I was IN LOVE with manatees!

I decided then and there to learn about this endangered species, and to help it survive. I believe this fits pretty neatly with my—and many vintage lovers'—interest in walking a bit more gently on the Earth, recycling instead of buying new clothes. It's just one of many reasons to love vintage, but it's a mighty good one.

Thank you for caring right along with me!

That’s not all that’s going on

Right now and through November 25, with every purchase of $100 or more, you will automatically get 20% off in my Etsy shop.

Saving money and saving manatees? Talk about a win-win!



Whose dress was it?

I am asked fairly often if I know anything about the original owner of a vintage item. What did she do, what did she look like—who was she?

I have written about some of the women I have either met or gotten to know a bit through their clothing, and it’s about time I updated with a few more. I don’t always have the good fortune to know anything about an original wearer of the vintage fashion I find, but when I do I pay close attention so I can share their stories.


I’ve written about Jacqueline, the mother of a very good friend of mine (I love my vintage clothing sources)


Juana, who worked as a model for one of Spokane’s department stores (Another favorite source)


A woman I only know through her grand niece (The suitcase lot)


Mrs. Gordon, whose husband was blinded in WWII yet she dressed to the nines (You’re a sight to see, Mrs. Gordon!)


Alice, about to be married for the second time at the wonderful age of 85+ (Lovely lady lot)


Betty, who was a manager at one of Spokane’s department stores (She’s a Betty)


There are more, and they have been so gracious to me. I have many unofficial grandparents!


I think of Ruby, who made her own clothes with impeccable skill and cried when I offered her money for the clothing, which she was just going to “put out on the curb.” All 100+ pieces of it!


Mrs. Walls, who had “forgotten she had all these clothes” in her basement


Shirley, who let me come to her garage sale way out in the country a day early because she figured no one would care about the clothes (there were enough to open a store)


Carol sat on the stage with her boyfriend, the pianist with Lawrence Welk, while they were taping shows.


There was the gentleman whose wife had passed away and he was finally ready to let go of some of her clothing. He gave me a fantastic set of highballs he bought at the 1963 Seattle World’s Fair when he found out I’d grown up in Seattle.


One man I met had just purchased and laid down a load of stones to make his driveway a little smoother for my visit. His wife had been a manager of better sportswear at a department store in Spokane. We talked quite a bit because my father played jazz trombone and he had a boatload of jazz albums and played jazz himself. He asked me where I thought he got his accent and I guessed New York. He said Chicago, which is his nickname. He came to Spokane when he was 12 and he was then 105. 


Then there was Elaine who was sweeping her walk when I first met her. She is African American and came to Spokane on V-J Day, September 2, 1945. Her clothes were so precisely cared for and pristine that they were as if new.


There are many more. One that truly haunts me was an Italian-American model whose daughter offered me her mother’s clothing. She had wonderful items, including this Howard Greer dress. I happened to see her photo and she was one of the most beautiful women you could possibly imagine. She had died estranged from her family and had a very hard life, including alcoholism. Her clothing was very well kept and of spectacular design.

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Sometimes there are the hints of a prior owner, left in bags or pockets. I’ve written about some of these in The contents of a vintage pocket and the dating of vintage


Sometimes there is a name tag or signature.


I especially love it when items have notes or pictures with them, giving us an idea when and how something was worn.


One of my most recent acquisitions is an intriguing (and large!) collection that belonged to a ballet dancer and her mother. Both apparently dressed to be center of attention—the dancer just more youthfully. Many things were altered or embellished…there is an overwhelming sense of flair to everything belonging to these women, which seems fitting!


I like to think that we perpetuate these people through carrying their stories—along with their clothing—forward.



Spectacular Modern Art Poster Print Dress

Every now and then I get to offer something that brings tears to my eyes. If I’m feeling even the slightest bit jaded about vintage clothing, the passion comes roaring back when certain items come up.

Right now in my Etsy shop, I’ve just listed such an item, a dress in excellent shape, cut of silk. It looks like a Beatnik top with a printed skirt, but it is all one piece. The top is black silk shantung, and the skirt is silk surah. What makes the dress so special is the skirt print: Reimagined in orange, brown, gold, lilac, black, and white, are actual modern art exhibition posters that date from 1950 through 60.


The art exhibitions took place in France, Germany, and Japan, and were shows of the works of Joan Miro, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. I have located originals of these posters available online, and they are glorious works in themselves.

Imagine wearing this dress to a gallery opening, or an art museum—You would feel among the works of art!