Category Archives: Editorials

Dry Cleaning Vintage Clothing: A Museum Curator’s Perspective

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Just be glad you don't have to dry clean this dress...

As a follow up on my Taking Care of Your Vintage Clothing post, I’m re-posting an article written in 2000 by Kathleen Keifer of the U.S. Department of the Interior entitled “Dry Cleaning Museum Textiles.” (The link is a PDF, it may ask you to download.) While the focus here is museums, many of the same issues arise in museum textiles as in vintage clothing.

The important thing to cull from this article is the process of analysis. Most of us may have picked up a vintage garment and don’t know much about it. This article gives you a comprehensive process about assessing the garment’s viability for cleaning, information about dry cleaning processes, how to select a dry cleaner, and what to discuss with your dry cleaner. While you may not need the process outlined in this brochure for every garment, when you do encounter a garment that leaves you baffled as to how to clean it, you will know what the professionals would do by consulting this handy guide.

Top 10 Places You Should Be Shopping for Swing

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

(Another article for Yehoodi – enjoy!)

Inspired by Rebecca Brightly’s “Top 20 Online Resources For Becoming a Bad-Ass Swing Dancer” (and delighted to be included in her list!), I decided to come up with a list of my own. Unless you are a regular reader of the Lindy Shopper blog, it may be hard to determine what sources may be most helpful to get you started in your swing dance shopping endeavors.

I usually try to stay away from lists because I find that they can become outdated quickly (stores no longer in business, styles no longer relevant, etc.), so we are going to say that this is my top 10 list as of the date of publication. Most of these sources have been tried and true for me, so hopefully the list will withstand the test of time, at least for a few years.

1. Dancestore.com

This is kind of a no-brainer if you’ve been dancing for any length of time, but if you are just starting out you may not know where to find dance shoes. Most people outside of the swing dance community see character shoes as an option and I’ve definitely seen newer dancers show up in ballroom shoes, but it shows a level of commitment to the dance when you invest in your first pair of swing dance shoes.

Dancestore.com provides the work-horses of my dance shoe collection, as well as thousands of other dancers, with their Aris Allen line of shoes – shoes that are comfortable, relatively inexpensive, and offer vintage styles that work well with both vintage and modern outfits. I think we sometimes take Dancestore.com for granted – when I have worn my Dancestore shoes outside of the swing dance community, they tend to garner a lot of attention because they don’t look like shoes that are available anywhere else – and really, aside from a couple of other vintage repro shoe makers, they aren’t. Dancestore does the swing dance community a great service with their products and makes it easy for us to point new dancers in their direction and say THIS is where you should get your first pair of dance shoes.

2. Re-Mix Vintage Shoes

Let’s say you’ve accumulated a few pairs of Aris Allens in great neutral colors, but you’ve just acquired an outfit that requires some color or something extra fabulous in the way of footwear – Re-Mix Vintage Shoes is the next step. Offering an array of vintage styles from swing-era decades with divine details and fabulous color, Re-Mix is the place for the most stylish reproduction shoes I know of online.

3. Your local vintage store

If you are blessed with a wonderful vintage store in your area, then you already know this is a great place to shop. More likely, your vintage store does not stock swing era clothing or men’s clothing and is full of polyester, but don’t be discouraged! It is important to check in on these places for two reasons – first, you never know when they might get something in stock that you would die to have; second, if the store owner doesn’t know that there is a demand for these things, he or she probably won’t buy it from a seller or an estate. It is so important to develop relationships with the vintage store owners in your area and tell them what you are looking for in terms of clothing. Then, when something does come across their desk, they will have you in mind, they might even give you a call to let you know that something has come in, and they also might give you a better price on it because of that friendship and loyalty. Don’t assume you can come into a store and tell them you are a swing dancer and that they will instantly know how serious you are about collecting vintage clothing – to them, you are no better than the random college girl or boy looking for something to wear to a theme party. Distinguish yourself!

4. Your local thrift store

This is mostly for the gents, although ladies may find a diamond in the rough every now and then. But, seriously, menswear hasn’t changed so much in the last century that you can’t go to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or any local thrift store and find a sportcoat, old pairs of dress shoes, entire suits, pants, just about everything you need at a fraction of the cost of buying it new in a store AND with a cut and quality that is more likely to be in line with that of the swing era. It must pain most men to spend money on clothing because I talk about thrift store shopping (usually after hearing a complaint about needing more vests, pants, etc.) to dozens of men every year, only to hear the lamest excuses. You obviously went somewhere to buy those jeans and that tee shirt…and if you didn’t, you should tell the person shopping for you about the thrift stores…

5. eBay

I post a lot of items on Lindy Shopper from eBay because there are so many good things at good prices, if you are patient and willing to look. I spend the time looking on eBay because it’s worth it – I don’t have lots of vintage resources locally and it’s more efficient to shop on eBay because you simply type in your search terms and – voila! – what they have available pops up on your screen. Because eBay has continuous auctions and it’s not practical to search for the same items every day, you can save your search terms if you don’t find what your are looking for and have eBay email you when something you want does pop up on eBay. It’s that simple. For example, I get daily emails for 1940’s dresses and sometimes I go through the listings (looking at the most recently listed items), but other items, like 1930’s suit in size 40 (for my husband) only pop up every few months. Yes, it can be hit or miss and auctions can go for astronomical amounts, but even with the gamble it is still the best place to find the most rare items and the quickest way to find specific items, new and old.

6. Etsy

I am addicted to Etsy for many things. It’s almost as good as eBay for vintage finds (usually pricier), but it’s even better for new items that people have hand-crafted. If I can dream it or find it in a vintage photograph, someone on Etsy can make it. Etsy is my go-to source for hair flowers, fascinators, and affordable reproduction garments. Some Etsy sellers have ties to the dance community, like Jitterbuggin and Allure Original Styles, while others, like Time Machine Vintage and Raleigh Vintage simply have a love for vintage and reproduction clothing.

7. Your relatives’ closets (or anyone within earshot at least 40 years older than you)

The odds are favorable that you have a relative who was alive during the swing era, and the odds are pretty favorable that they have kept things from that era (being products of the Great Depression in some fashion – anyone else’s grandparents have giant freezers full of food?). I have been the recipient of so many items, mostly accessories, that relatives have given me that they didn’t want to get rid of, but were delighted to give to me knowing these items would be used and loved. Once word got out that I was looking for vintage items, other people (aunts, friends of grandparents) started digging through their closets or finding things at yard sales (for pennies!) that I might like. Even people I’ve encountered and simply had a conversation with about my vintage clothing has yielded items from closets, lovingly tucked away for years, but brought out for me because they thought I might like the garment and get some use out of it. The key here is to talk to people – a simple “Hey Grandpa, do you have any old suits you don’t wear anymore?” or “Grandma, do you have any jewelry from the 1940’s?” Even if they don’t give it to you, it can make a nice connection or revive some stories from the past. πŸ™‚

8. My Heinies

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of covering your butt at swing dances. If you are not vintage-inclined and are buying the very short dresses that are in style now, don’t assume that the dance floor won’t be able to see your underwear. We all see it and I, especially, SEE it. Dancer Carol Fraser is a saint with her dance pants, My Heinies, developed based on her years of experience as a dancer and instructor, with the dance community and clothing styles in mind. There’s something for everyone on the My Heinies web site and I would encourage ladies who wear skirts and dresses to invest in this product so that you can dance uninhibited and free from worry that the entire room will see your private parts.

9. Vintage stores at out of town dance events

For me, the grass is usually much greener on the other side, so I take the opportunity when I travel to out of town swing dance events to visit that town’s vintage stores. Before I travel to a new city, I like to ask one of the local dancers where they recommend shopping (and if it’s worth it to try), or I’ll check to see what information I can find on the internet and, if it’s not apparent from the information on the web, give the store a call to find out if they carry swing-era merchandise. I relish every trip to Cleveland for All Balboa Weekend for the event and for Cleveland’s vintage stores, and I can’t wait to get back to Portland and Seattle. By the way, anyone know of any good vintage shops in Iowa City? Hawkeye Swing Festival, I’m coming in April…

10. Clothing swaps

One of the best places to get clothing and shoes for swing dancers could be other dancers. The ladies in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill swing dance community have been organizing periodic clothing swaps for the past couple of years, which include all clothing and accessories, but have been particularly helpful in passing around dresses and shoes that are good for dancing. That dress you are tired of wearing is brand new to someone else, so rather than give it to Goodwill, why not take it to the clothing swap and find it a new home? I’m always delighted when I see other girls in dresses that don’t fit me anymore, and they are always grateful for the garment. It’s a win-win.

Vintage v. Repro

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

This is another article I’ve written for Yehoodi, with this topic at the request of the Yehoodi staff – enjoy!

Vintage or reproduction? The obvious answer is both, but I’d like to delve into the pros, cons, and considerations that go into the collection of both and the considerations that go along with the decision to wear each of them.

CRAFTSMANSHIP

Gorgeousness from Trashy Diva

Clothes made in the swing era were rarely mass-produced, and certainly not on the scale that clothing is produced today. The techniques for tailoring and the training that most women went through as a part of growing up to learn how to sew and mend their clothing is almost a lost art today, as is the art of tailoring men’s suits. So, while the clothing is old, it is usually very well made and, if in good condition, can be mended and altered with relative ease. The tailoring and details like pintucks, smocking, and embroidery can take many working hours to make, hours that modern retailers rarely put into their garments without passing on a lot of cost to the consumer.

That said, there are some reproductions that do provide these details, but they don’t come cheap. Trashy Diva, who mass produces dresses, puts a lot of thought into their reproduction garments, keeping the tradition of matching belts, contrast buttons, and interesting dressmaking details. Likewise, ordering something custom from a tailor or online custom clothing service will get you that quality, but you’ll also see that quality come out of your bank account.

DURABILITY

Here’s the big argument – what if I rip something? The fear of destroying vintage is something I dealt with for a long time, even after ripping the back out of two vintage dresses and seeing that they could be fixed without noticeable signs of mending. Obviously, reproduction garments will be more durable because the fabric is newer, but that doesn’t mean that the newer fabric won’t rip. Part of the durability issue, for both new and old garments, can be tackled by some careful considerations before purchase – does the fabric feel durable? Can I move in this (do some solo jazz steps in front of the mirror in the dressing room)? Does it fit me properly or is it too tight in one or some areas? Are there parts of the garment that could get in the way of dancing?

Even model and vintage clothing collector Kate Moss has had mishaps with her vintage - but look how gorgeous this gown is!

Reproductions will win this point, but not all vintage should be discounted. I’ve got some vintage crepe dresses that are indestructible and the construction of vintage men’s jackets really speaks for itself.

ORIGINALITY

Reproductions have come a long way since I started dancing, as clothing makers have begun to move away from the black, white, and red with polka dots color scheme and embrace prints, period colors, and period appropriate fabrics. I’ll continue to use Trashy Diva as an example because they do it so well on a large scale – some of the rayon prints they choose for their fabrics are so spot-on that it’s hard to tell if the dress is vintage or new. Other fabric choices, such as silk crepe or a knit that looks like wool jersey (but without the itch), are period appropriate, upgrade the look of the garment, and, in some cases like the jersey knit, provide a modern upgrade of a classic fabric that makes it even more wearable for today.

You can work with a dressmaker or tailor to make your vintage reproduction unique or an exact copy a garment. This does require you to become involved in the creative process of the garment by selecting fabrics, buttons, details, notions, and any considerations you have about the fit of the garment. It took me a while to become comfortable being a part of the creative process (what if the fabric I picked out looks bad?), but after spending a little time in a fabric store and familiarizing myself with fabrics used in both modern and vintage clothing, I was able to embrace the creative process as a new challenge – to collaborate with the tailor to put together a look, in a fabric and color/print I love, with a pattern I love, to create a new garment that is vintage by design with a reflection of my personal style.

With all this in mind, there is hope; however, the creativity of seamstresses and tailors past is far reaching and the patterns much more complicated – as the number of skilled sewers was higher, the patterns of the swing era were more complicated and counted on the person sewing the garment to make certain dressmaking leaps in creating the garment. I say this because my mother has made me a few dresses and even though she is an extremely skilled seamstress, her experience was primarily through the streamlined silhouettes of the 1960’s and 70’s, not the draped, detailed, side zippered, crazy seamed 1930’s and 40’s. What I’m getting at is that, on top of the already unique nature of these clothes and fabrics that are no longer made, you have a skilled population who more often embraced the task of clothing design/creation and the creative challenges that go along with it. I believe those creative challenges resulted in some truly original designs – some of them may fall short, but many of them are what makes owning vintage clothing such a pleasure in our mass produced world. I often use these creative choices of the past to inspire my own reproduction creations.

AVAILABILITY

The reproductions will win this point – even though vintage comes in all sizes, for the most part, it’s one of a kind and finding something with your measurements can be difficult. For men, vintage daywear is nearly impossible to come by. Reproductions, whether mass-produced or custom, are able to be replicated in multiple sizes. With the rise of Etsy, the Vintage Pattern Lending Library, and other web-based and local tailors who have taken an interest in making reproduction garments, reproductions of swing era clothing are more available now than ever.

FIT

Fit actually works three ways in this discussion. The best way to get something fitted is to have a reproduction made for you. In my opinion, the next best fit usually comes from vintage clothing, especially if you are going for accuracy. For example, Trashy Diva, while divine, mentions in some of their garment descriptions that they have raised the waist line to a more empire waist, which is neither period appropriate nor the most flattering cut if you have an hourglass shape or a small waist. Other reproduction makers will cut corners, either with tailoring or fabrics (stretch fabric, while sometimes helpful for movement, does not make a garment FIT any better if the garment is ill cut), to make a one shape fits all silhouette which really only flatters a certain body type that most of us do not have. Vintage garments are usually constructed in such a way that they can be modified, while mass produced reproductions are made without ample hems to be let out or seams that are surged and tight, without that extra 1/2 inch or inch of fabric that might be available to be let out to make something fit just right.

SUITABLENESS FOR DANCING

This can be pretty garment-specific, or even year-specific. I don’t see a lot of early 1930’s reproductions because the hemlines were lower and some of the skirt shapes not necessarily movement-friendly. When using an early 1930’s pattern to create a reproduction, I usually ask that the hemline fall just below the knee, instead of at mid-calf level so when I dance and compete people can see my legs. The designs of the late 1930’s through 1950’s are, overall, pretty dance friendly and I think most reproduction swing dance garments draw from this time frame. Reproductions usually come in more wash and wear fabrics, which is helpful to dancers because we sweat a lot. Only a handful of reproductions I’ve encountered seem to have issues with dance-ability, usually relating to fabric choice (silky/slippery, wool, synthetics that don’t breathe) or the cut of the sleeve or arm hole – I always do an over the head test with my arm to test a garment’s range of movement.

COST

Overall, vintage clothing is cheaper than buying a reproduction. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, but generally, if a vintage dress costs more than the reproduction, it’s probably not something you’d want to wear to a dance to sweat in because it’s a quality piece. Most of the vintage I purchase for dancing is less expensive because it’s a common silhouette, in a common (usually durable) fabric, and it’s second-hand goods. Because it costs less, I won’t feel so bad if something happens to it on the dance floor. With reproductions, you are paying for the labor and fabric with today’s costs of producing, distributing, and marketing the garment. However, that added cost can mean piece of mind if you are truly concerned about ruining something vintage or if you are particularly rough on your clothing.

I’m sure there are other pros and cons and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic – feel free to chime in or let me know if you have any questions.

Taking Care of Your Vintage Clothing

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I’m excited to announce that the Yehoodi staff has invited me to contribute featured content to the Yehoodi website. This is my first article for Yehoodi, which I am also publishing here on Lindy Shopper for your use and enjoyment.

Following the Why I Wear Vintage post, Evan Philips requested an entry on how to take care of your vintage clothing and I am happy to oblige. Taking care of any wardrobe requires some maintenance if you want to keep it looking nice. Vintage clothing sometimes requires a little more effort to keep it looking fresh, but if you are careful in your choices for maintaining your vintage garments, you can enjoy them longer and with less worry.

For this article, I consulted with the all-knowing Movie Diva, Laura Boyes, who has experience working with the costume collection at the North Carolina Museum of History. I’ll share my observations from experience, but Laura will be providing the pro tips!

CLEANING

So you bought an article of vintage clothing, wore it to a dance, sweated in it for three hours, and now it’s a little ripe. You’d like to know how to clean it, but there’s no convenient garment tag telling you if it’s dry clean only, hand wash, or wash cold/tumble dry low. Think about what you have in your closet that is in the same fabric – what instructions for care are on that garment? Now, consider that this garment is vintage and, as a precautionary measure, what method of cleaning would be a bit more delicate than that, just in case?

Identifying the fabric is very important. Unless a garment is made of cotton, I will be sending it to the dry cleaners, and even the cotton garments sometimes get sent there if I’m particularly squeamish about hand washing the garment or putting it into my washing machine on the hand wash setting. If I am washing a garment myself, I always hang it up or lay it flat to dry, rather than putting it in the dryer. Laura recommends washing your vintage clothing in a gentle detergent, such as Orvus WA Paste, “a synthetic anionic detergent with a neutral pH which will remove most common dirt and stains.” You may be able to find this at farm supply stores, as it is used to shampoo show horses.

Finding a dry cleaner you trust is worth its weight in gold. You want to find someone with years of experience – don’t cheap out on this just because the $1.99 cleaner is near your house. Do some research, make calls to find out how long they have been in business, if they have worked with vintage and antique clothing, and be willing to sign your life away for them to clean it because most of them won’t want the liability of having to deal with you if the garment deteriorates. Usually if a place has been in business for a long time, they will have a good reputation and will also have older clientele who may have some of these older fabrics and older items that need some extra care when cleaned. I feel truly lucky to have found an amazing dry cleaner in Chapel Hill, NC, Plaza Dry Cleaners. Not only are they the oldest dry cleaners in town, one of their cleaners has taken classes in clothing preservation at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. I’ve been using their services for 6 years now and they have yet to ruin one of my vintage items; in most cases, the garments come out looking even better, with fewer stains and a fresher look to the fabric.

When you take a garment into the dry cleaners, you will need to make a few declarations about the garment so that they know that you are educated about the garment, so they have the information they need to make an informed decision about cleaning the garment, and so they are on notice that this is a special care item. If you know the decade, tell them how old the garment is, note in advance the flaws you are aware of (spots, holes, etc.), indicate whether or not you want them to try to get the spot out, and tell them what you believe to be the correct fabric. If you don’t know what kind of fabric you have, someone there will be able to identify it.

They may not want to clean the item for fear that the process will do something to the fabric or that something on the garment will be harmed in the process. I will say that this situation is pretty rare and limited to uncommon garments, like a 1920’s velvet dress with a jeweled piece or a 1930’s rain coat. In this situation I usually ask if there is some other way I could clean the garment myself or ask if hand-washing would damage the garment. If I really want the item cleaned and do not care if the garment could be harmed in the process, they will usually have me sign a waiver stating that I have been informed of the potential consequences and waive their liability.

Unless you are wearing vintage every day, the cost for your vintage dry cleaning shouldn’t be prohibitive. I might have two items per month that I take out for cleaning.

In those extremely rare cases where the garment can’t be cleaned, don’t wear those garments dancing or in places where you will sweat a lot. Hang them up after you wear them and let them air out for a few days before storing them again.

MENDING

Almost everything can be fixed. Many times, if you look closely at a vintage garment, you can find places where it has already been fixed or altered by the previous owner. Earlier generations mended holes in garments, rather than discarding them, because resources and clothing were more limited. I find that vintage garments tend to take a mending much easier than newer garments because of the way the garments were constructed.

Order of operations number one is to find a tailor who has either worked with vintage clothing in the past, works with fine fabrics, and/or has been sewing for longer than you’ve been alive. I once made the mistake of handing over a silk 1940’s suit in a strawberry print for my mom to reinforce the seams on the sleeves and, having never worked with silks, made the mistake of putting the suit under the needle of her Singer sewing machine on the regular setting. She might as well have put it under the knife, because the silk shredded into a million pieces. I should have told her to hand sew the sleeves, but this is a lesson in assumptions – don’t assume that every tailor will know how to fix your garment. Ask lots of questions and err on the side of caution.

I found my vintage tailor through a locally owned fabric store that sells fine fabrics and other fabrics for clothing. The had a list of people they recommend for people who want custom made items, with a description of each person’s areas of expertise. After talking with the ladies in the store about what I was looking for, they were able to make recommendations as to which tailor(s) would be best for the job.

You may have noticed that article of clothing purchased new that you wear frequently for a period of several years may begin to fall into disrepair, or even fall into disrepair after one season if not well made – remember this when you are cursing that newly discovered hole in your 1940’s pants or dress. The tendency for modern clothing is to get rid of it – throw it away or donate it to a thrift shop, because there will always be something to buy new. The approach to wearing vintage clothing is entirely different and is rooted in that era’s sensibilities. There may be more vintage clothing, but the supply is not replenishing, so repairing a vintage garment becomes an act of preservation.

To preserve your vintage clothing, you sometimes have to think outside of the box, or ask your tailor to be creative. If a button falls off, there’s no little plastic baggie with an extra button for you to sew on and finding a matching button is impossible. So, you find new button and use this opportunity to make the garment even better – something as simple as buttons can change the entire look of a garment, and you can update the garment with new buttons or find vintage buttons on Etsy, eBay, or a few other online resources. I had a 1940’s dress with terrible buttons on it and just switching out the buttons took the dress from matronly to swing-worthy with just a few stitches.

What if there’s a giant hole? Your tailor may be able to harvest some fabric from a hem or inside part of the garment to create a seamless patch, or come up with another way to cover the hole.

What if the seam split? Get your tailor to sew it up and perhaps reinforce it.

You get the idea. πŸ™‚

STORING

Enemy target: eradicated

Moth balls smell like old people. Vintage clothing was once worn by old people and stored by old people. Why is vintage clothing still around? I’m not going to credit moth balls with saving all vintage clothing from moths, but I am going to credit it with maintaining a good portion of my wardrobe and the portion of my wardrobe inherited from others who used moth balls to keep their clothing free from holes. I initially shunned moth balls because of my mother’s over-use of the moth ball when I was growing up – she would toss a whole box into a closet and stuff them in drawers, until every time you tried to wear something that hadn’t been just laundered, you’d come out of the house smelling like a great-aunt. When I went to college I stayed far away from moth balls until I pulled my favorite red wool dress out of the closet to wear at Christmas and discovered two large moth holes in the shoulder; a deeper dig into my wardrobe and I discovered even more casualties. In tears on the floor of my bedroom, I vowed that the moths would never claim another victim from my closet.

Moderation is key. I don’t need moth balls to protect everything, so I have a moth ball section in my closet. I use a hanging moth ball basket I got at the grocery store, which initially came with moth cakes, but I can also fill with moth balls. The moth cakes/balls dissipate over time, so you do have to refill them from time to time. The hanging basket allows me to group my most vulnerable clothing (wools and other natural fibers) in one section of my closet and hang the basket in the middle of that group. It has limited the extreme moth ball smell to a smaller group of garments, which I then air out a few days before I plan to wear them.

Let’s talk about hangers – next to moths, wire hangers are your clothing’s worst enemy. Wire hangers are too sparse to hold clothing without almost penetrating it and, over time, the wires begin to rust and that rust is corrosive to clothing. I’ve seen countless casualties created by wire hangers, where the rust stains have eaten holes in the garment and you can see exactly how that garment was hung on the wire hanger. Please invest in plastic, wooden, or fabric covered hangers for your clothing. Plastic and wooden hangers are good for everyday clothing. If you have a more delicate item, such as mesh, chiffon, or other sheer fabric, pick up a few padded, fabric covered hangers.

If an items is particularly fragile or the weight of the garment is too much for the straps or shoulder of the garment, consider storing the garment folded in a drawer, with ample space and nothing stored on top of it (i.e. don’t cram it into an already full drawer). According to Laura, it’s also a good idea to have some acid free tissue paper on hand to line drawers, separate layers, stuff hats, or pad hangers, as needed.

If you have clothing that is from the 1920’s or older, Laura states that these garments should be stored flat. “If you buy one of these boxes (and keep it under your bed, or on a closet shelf) and layer in between with acid free tissue, it will preserve your dresses from the stress of hanging. You would probably want to store items this way that you wear only occasionally.”

The rest is common sense: Don’t leave things where your pets have access to them; men, hang up your ties, don’t leave them on the floor; don’t store things where they might get soiled; etc.

If you have any further questions about this topic, please feel free to ask! We want to keep these articles of vintage clothing alive and wearable as long as possible.

Why I Wear Vintage

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I’m certain there are many arguments against wearing vintage clothing and I’ve probably heard most of them:

“I can’t afford it.”

“It’s too fragile.”

“Vintage clothing doesn’t fit my shape.”

“Wearing other people’s old clothing is gross!”

In spite of the naysayers, I’d like to share my love and philosophy about vintage clothing and perhaps refute some misconceptions or perceptions about vintage clothing in the process. I’ve come up with a list of reasons why I think vintage clothing is worth adding to my wardrobe and why I enjoy vintage clothing so much.

Quality

If you are looking for sheer quantity of clothing, then vintage clothing probably isn’t right for you, unless you make a lot more money than I do in a year. What I am looking for is quality clothing, something that fits well, is made with nice materials, and will withstand the test of time. I’ve watched a lot of What Not To Wear in my life and Clinton and Stacy always talk about spending a little bit more on clothes to get items that will look more luxurious and quality to improve your overall appearance, clothing that you can wear for years, not just this season.

Not all vintage clothing is deteriorating and some of it is in quite durable condition, especially if you find a dead stock item or a person who had items that were well-cared for and rarely worn. The fabrics used in the first half of the 20th century seem more luxurious, the prints and colors more desirable, and the cuts of clothing more flattering. It’s the details that really get me, details that are overlooked by modern clothing designers (or at least the modern clothing I can afford) – bias cuts, goring in skirts, the impeccable cut of a man’s jacket, the use of buttons, beautiful belt buckles, pintucks and pleats, the use of contrast fabrics, the matching of prints, the use of ribbons and other embellishments, beaded details, a snap closure to hold that tab or collar down, structure in a collar or sleeve to make it retain its shape, and on and on. I love getting a new vintage garment and turning it inside out to see how it is made. There are elements in some of these clothes that you can only find in modern designer and couture clothing, which leads me to my next point…

More quality for less money

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I don’t spend any more on a vintage dress than I would in a modern retail store. That said, I generally pay less for a vintage garment that has more tailoring and details than I would for a comparable new dress. The same holds true for all used clothing – with new clothes you are paying for the new-ness of the garment, the salaries of the people who made it, and the company who is marketing the clothing. If I can get the same or better details for less money and the only difference is that the garment is old or used, I’m going to go with the more cost-effective option.

Fit

I’ve talked in the past about how vintage clothing was made for people of all sizes, not just tiny people, but I also find that vintage clothing just fits me better than modern clothing and is often easier to tailor than modern clothing. Modern clothing is made for the most common size, whatever that happens to be, and doesn’t take into account that everyone has a different bust/waist/hip ratio. If you are a little bigger on the top, bottom, or middle, that ratio isn’t going to work for you, especially if something is supposed to look “fitted.” Checking size charts can be deflating, especially if your bust, waist, and hip measurements land you in 3 different sizes. With vintage clothing, I find that the ratio can be more forgiving – generally fuller skirts, belted waists that can be cinched, and more ample areas in the bust because of how the garment was supposed to be worn. With eBay and online vintage stores, I am able to search for garments that fit my exact measurements, making fit even less of an issue.

Apparently this is what the masses/Google think of sleeves - leg 'o mutton is all we're going to get, after tattoo sleeves and laptop sleeves. I couldn't even find a photo of a regular dress sleeve. Boooooooo...

Coverage

I don’t like strapless or spaghetti strap dresses because I want the comfort of supportive undergarments; however, I am hard pressed to find dresses with sleeves, even in the winter, in modern retail stores. They want you to buy a jacket to go over it, or you have to find a cardigan. What if I want sleeves and a cardigan because I’m cold? I just find the whole thing impractical. I generally find it easier to find a vintage dress with sleeves in my size than I do finding a dress with sleeves at the mall – I think that’s saying a lot.

Unique

If you buy an article of vintage clothing, the odds of someone else having this exact article of clothing is slim to none. Much of the clothing of the swing era was hand made, not mass-produced, but even the mass produced items are rare and far flung. I’ve only come across a couple of items in multiples, one being a dressing gown I found at both Design Archives in Greensboro, NC and on eBay and the other being a 1940’s dress I wore at Lindy Focus last year that several people insisted was exactly the same as a dress owned by Naomi Uyama. Aside from those rare exceptions, my vintage wardrobe remains one-of-a-kind and I think there’s value in finding your own style via these unique garments.

Personal style

Personal style can be maintained via vintage clothing without having to change your entire wardrobe to the stereotypical “vintage” look. I have friends who can pick out both modern and vintage garments and say “This looks like you!” Clearly, there would be major differences in the garments, but there are certain elements that make up personal style that can translate across the decades – cut, shape, color, and decorative notions are a few that come to mind. Sometimes people have trouble discerning whether or not a garment I wear is vintage, but I think the general consensus is that, whatever I am wearing, it is very “me.”

Letter sweater, 1940

It’s been done

Designers are inspired by the designs of the past. It’s that simple. You can look at just about any garment and relate its shape and design to some article of clothing created in a past decade. In my opinion, most of the time, the past did it better.

Ralph Lauren's version for fall 2011

Feeling good about yourself

I’ll admit it, I feel really special when I wear vintage clothing. Clothes from the past tended to be more dressy than today’s jeans and tee shirt uniform (which I do still wear), so when I wear something vintage it’s because I’m going somewhere special, so I want to look special. Maybe I want to be going somewhere special every day, so I try to wear vintage dresses as much as possible so I feel better about myself, even when I’m not going somewhere special. Vintage clothing can definitely elevate your look, your mood, and your surroundings, and I find that people smile more at me when I wear vintage.

Sustainability

I feel like there’s been a lot of talk about sustainability and being conscious about the environmental impact of our clothing purchases and, while I didn’t initially purchase vintage clothing for this purpose, it’s certainly an incentive to continue to do so. I like to think that I am rescuing this clothing from the garbage heap, keeping its wonderfulness alive while eliminating its clutter and deterioration in a landfill.

As for vintage clothing being gross, well…I guess I’ll just have to be gross. There’s nothing like a trip to the dry cleaners to make an old garment feel new and get out that musty attic smell. πŸ˜‰

I’ll agree that this is a labor of love. I think some people get frustrated because they treat a vintage clothing store like they would treat a store at the mall. When you are shopping for vintage clothing you have to shift your approach, know that not everything comes in your size, and be patient. Just like any good wardrobe, building it takes time. I’ve been collecting vintage clothing for over a decade now and I’m just now getting to the point where I feel like I have a vintage outfit for almost every occasion. The result – a wardrobe that I love and adore – has been worth the wait.

The Price of Vintage Clothing

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I have received a request from Laurel Carpenter to write about evaluating vintage clothing prices, based on the tendency of some vintage retailers and eBay sellers to overprice their vintage pieces. What is worth it? What should you leave on the rack or the proverbial auction block?

I have found that this becomes a very personal decision, based on your income, the priority of incorporating vintage clothing into your wardrobe, the availability of vintage clothing in your geographic area, how well the garment fits, how much you like the garment, the condition of the garment, the similarity to other vintage items in your wardrobe, the cost of any potential alterations, and occasions to wear a particular garment, among other factors. When I go shopping for vintage clothing I sort of run through a series of questions based on these factors.

When it comes to the price of vintage clothing I look at things on a sliding scale – the garment is more valuable to me if it fits like a dream, it is unique and flattering, and in great condition. And if it’s green, I’ll be willing to pay even more. πŸ™‚ However, just because it is old doesn’t mean that it is worth hundreds of dollars and just because it is vintage doesn’t mean that I’ll open my wallet any wider than I would if I shopped at the mall.

I’ll speak generally about prices, focusing on swing era garments, which are a rarity in your average local vintage store and more plentiful on eBay. Some sellers just want more money for their stuff – they either live in an area where people pay these prices or they think they’ve hit the jackpot at an estate sale and have dollar signs in their eyes. With the advent of eBay, these rarities have become more available to the masses and I have noticed the prices of vintage in my area either going down or staying the same as when I started shopping for vintage clothing, around 1999. It’s become more competitive, which is good for you as the consumer, to have a wider selection at competitive prices.

1920’s clothing, due to its age and fragile nature, tends to cost more because most of the materials in clothing from this era have deteriorated – to find something in excellent condition from the 1920’s is rare. To translate that into cost you have to consider how good the condition is and how fabulous the item – do you pay $1,000 for the beaded 1920’s dress/gown? No, no, don’t do that – would you spend that much on an evening gown? Maybe your wedding dress, but consider how old this garment is, the likelihood that the fine mesh will deteriorate, and what happens if it gets a tear or the beads start coming off? Devastating. Do you pay $200 for it? Maybe. If it fits you like a glove, you can Charleston in it without shedding beads, and you have the perfect occasion to wear it, then consider it a viable option. In a similar fashion, what if you find a 1920’s cotton day dress? How ornate is it? If it’s got wonderful embroidery or tailoring details, you might want to spend that much on a day dress that you could wear more often. Fabulous-ness and wear-ability equate value.

That said, you don’t have to spend $200 on a 1920’s dress. I have found wonderful 1920’s dresses for $80 (at Sweet Lorain in Cleveland, slate gray and cream day dress with about 50 tiny covered buttons up the front, perfect fit), for $40 (eBay, pink day dress with hand embroidered roses, my tailor had to enlarge the arm holes), and for $30 (1920’s maid uniform, black with white lace collar and cuffs, mint condition, possibly never worn).

$200 is my benchmark, I won’t pay more than that for anything vintage and I try to implement that policy here when I write about clothing on Lindy Shopper. It has to be the most fabulous thing I’ve ever seen to get me up to that number and it has to be close to the most fabulous thing I’ve ever seen to get me over $100, or I have to really, really need it for an occasion. Beyond that, it becomes unaffordable and I’ll file it with the Miu Miu and Prada dresses I want, but will never own.

The more you shop for vintage, the more you are aware of what is rare from each era and what constitutes a reasonable price. I have been sorely spoiled here in Durham with Dolly’s Vintage, which hasn’t priced anything I’ve picked up in the store over $35, but then Dolly’s doesn’t have a lot of swing era items. You may pay anywhere from $30 to $80 for a vintage 1940’s or 1950’s day dress – would you pay that much for a dress at, say…Banana Republic? Probably, maybe even more. And if it fits you better than a BR dress and it’s one of a kind, it would be worth it, right?

eBay can be tricky, since you are bidding against other people. I find that placing my maximum bid and just walking away until the auction is over is the best policy for me, which is how I acquired those two 1920’s dresses at such a low price. I can’t rely on eBay to absolutely get me what I want unless I’m willing to wage a bidding war, but you really have to choose your battles on eBay and only wage war for those items that you absolutely must have. You’ll feel it in your gut when that item shows up. There are no guarantees you will win and losing something you’d like to own can hurt, but the odds of getting something amazing are much greater overall because there is a larger selection of items.

There are also those eBay sellers who have severely overpriced their items (Buy it Now $198.00 for a cotton 1930’s day dress that is fairly unremarkable) and they keep showing up in my searches week after week after week (*cough* VioletvilleVintage *cough*), but there’s a reason the items continue to be re-listed – no one is willing to pay that much for that particular item. If no one is willing to pay that much, then why don’t they lower the price so they can sell it? I have no idea. I’ve been tempted to write to these sellers and let them know what price I would be willing to pay for their wares, but it’s not worth my time because there are so many other dresses out there.

I’d love to hear your experiences with prices, both eBay and retail, and I’d be happy to take any follow-up questions you may have. It was hard to organize my thoughts on this topic because there are so many factors that go into my decision to purchase a particular item of vintage clothing, but price is definitely a big factor.

Cover Your Bits

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Marilyn wears her dance pants!

I don’t like to use this blog for more outspoken opinions, but after seeing enough of this and blogging about options to no avail, I’d like to say something more explicit in hopes that something constructive may come of this.

For the record, at any dance event, I would prefer not to see any other follows’ hoo-ha, jiggly bits, cheeks, thong, sheer or lace underwear, or tanga. The last straw was at All Balboa Weekend this year when a follower in a competition wore minimal coverage undergarments that were visible when she turned. Someone commented that “She needed some Heinies” and several others agreed that, yes, it was distracting from her dancing to see so little there.

You can call me a prude, but I believe I speak for a number of follows (and maybe leads…maybe not) when I say that the allure of sharing your bits with the group is not there for us. Showing leg and some bloomer are great and I love twirly skirts, but there’s a line that is crossed and I believe a number of follows have no idea what this line is. It’s the line between your thigh and your bottom, and is carefully skirted by the opacity and size of your undergarments.

With hemlines on some modern dresses between mid-thigh and somewhere below the nether regions, it’s even more important to make sure things under your dresses are secure. I’m going to use amazing follower goddess Kara Fabina as an example – Kara wears shirts as dresses, garments that are so short that they were intended to be worn with pants underneath them. Kara does not wear pants with these dresses. I’ve marveled at how short she can wear them, yet I’ve never seen Kara’s hoo-ha. I approached Kara about this at All Balboa Weekend and her secret is that she wears a pair of tight fabric shorts underneath her shirt/dresses. The result is the opposite function of a slip – instead of adding flow, it secures and locks in both fabrics so that they do not move and her short shirt/dress stays in place.

There are many ways to go about this (My Heinies, granny panties, biker shorts, cheerleading bloomers, underwear that actually fits) but please, ladies, let’s keep things under your dresses secure and covered so you can show off your dancing as your asset.

Vintage Mythbuster: Vintage Clothing is Only for Tiny People

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I hear a lot of positive remarks about my vintage clothing, but there’s always a BUT when people who don’t own vintage clothing talk about buying it for themselves – “I’d love to have vintage clothing, but…” there’s always something stopping them. I’d like to address some of the myths and concerns that people have because there is a world of wonderful, one of a kind clothing out there and you can own a part of it.

The most common myth I have heard is that vintage clothing only comes in tiny sizes or that people were smaller back then and I can’t find anything to fit me. Yes, a lot of people were smaller back then, didn’t get enough calcium in their bones, and many people didn’t grow to some of the larger proportions we have today; however, that doesn’t mean that people in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s came in one size: small. Just like today, there were people of all sizes, including YOUR size.

I’ve looked at photographs of my great-grandmother and great-grandfather from the 1930’s and she is bigger than he is. She certainly had clothing to wear every day of her life. While I don’t have any of her clothes, I am certain that she would be considered around a size 14 or 16 by today’s standards. These clothes existed!

So where do you find these not-25-inch-waist sizes? You just have to look for them and be patient. Your average vintage clothing store may not even carry 1930’s and 1940’s, much less 1920’s, clothing; if they do, they will probably only have a few garments or a very small section. They may only have one garment in your size or they may not have any. Out of the many vintage stores I visit every year I may only come up with 2 or 3 garments. If you live near a vintage store, make friends with the owner, tell him/her what you are looking for and give him/her your measurements. If you are traveling to an area with a vintage store you want to check out, call ahead – I’d rather not waste my time if they don’t carry clothes from the swing era or don’t have anything that would come close to fitting me.

As a side note to men: Men wear their clothing out. This is true back then, perhaps even more so than it is today. An exception is formal wear, which I seem to find in abundance. I wish you the best of luck, as it is generally harder for you to find garments than it is for the ladies.

This is a labor of love, if you are looking the old fashioned way; but this is the internet age. Ladies and gentlemen, the secret is eBay.

With eBay, the key to success is knowing your measurements. Items in your size are out there! For the ladies, know your bust, waist, and hip measurements, and maybe rib cage, shoulder, and arm circumference. For gents, the same, plus inseam for pants and chest, maybe a few other measurements depending on the garment (feel free to weigh in, fellow shoppers). Knowing your measurements is power with vintage shopping, as many garments come without size labels or were handmade. Even if they did come with a size label, those sizes are different than the sizes we have today. The tape measure never lies. If the seller does not have the measurements listed on an item you like, simply message the seller for the measurements you need. If you are concerned about not being able to try on the garment, I repeat, the tape measure does not lie. Get more measurements from the seller and ask questions if you have concerns.

Once you know your measurements, start looking for clothing that you like. Some sellers will try to label things with S, M, L, XL, etc., but these are never accurate – I have purchased dresses labeled M to XXL, so there is no universal set of measurements for these seller labels. Ignore them. They only make you feel bad about yourself. Even if the dress looks too small or too large, click on it. You never know what size the model/mannequin is or if the garment has been pinned to appear fitted.

Once you find an item you like, compare its measurements to yours. If even one of the item’s measurements is smaller than yours, it’s not going to work. A bad idea is trying to squeeze yourself into something vintage – there is no lycra or spandex in these garments. If the item’s measurements are the same or a couple of inches larger than yours (or for ladies if the skirt is full, it won’t matter) then it should work. If the one or some of the measurements are more than a couple of inches larger, you may be able to have a trusted tailor work on the garment to tailor it to your body, or it may arrive and you like the way it fits. I have fallen in love with dresses that were a bit too large and a tuck here and there or a belt made all the difference. Also, some sellers measure circumference and others lay the garment flat to measure it – if the garment is measured flat, make sure to double the flat measurement to compare with your measurements.

This is all fine and dandy, but where are the clothes? I find dresses every day on eBay that are in my size and larger than my size. To give you some perspective, I have a 30 inch waist, which translates to a modern size 8 or 10. I actually think buying vintage clothing is easier than buying modern clothing because with supposedly (but not actually) homogenized sizes, who knows how the garment is going to be cut in the hips, waist, or bust? Measurements take a lot of the guesswork out of fitting clothing. But I digress. I know people get sensitive about sizes being labeled large or plus sized, so I’m treading lightly here, but with the myth the bar is already set so high…if vintage clothing is only for tiny people (modern size 0, 2, or 4 for women, or for men, any chest size 38 or below? Sorry gents, I’m not sure), then any sizes above tiny will bust the myth, right? Let’s go with that. Here are some mythbusting items from eBay:

Blue 1930's Dress

1930's three piece tuxedo

1940's rayon dress with peplum

This 1950's suit is rad

1940's dress - check out the detail at the neckline

How sharp is this 1930's tuxedo?

1940's rayon dress