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

Swing Outfits: Custom 1930’s and 1940’s Clothing for Men, Women, and Lindy Ensembles

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Amapola dress

Someone posted on Yehoodi this week asking about where to find skirts for a dance team, either to be made or to order. This post jogged my memory and I immediately thought of Swing Outfits, a website that sells custom, made to order clothing for men and women from 1930’s and 1940’s patterns. Swing Outfits offers some wonderful options for just about any basic swing garment you could think of in an almost endless selection of fabrics.

Swing Outfits has a section of their website devoted to dance team shopping. I understand that selecting an outfit that everyone agrees on is nearly impossible; however, Swing Outfits offers some sound advice on selecting a team or couple’s costume:

“For couples that dance regularly in competition or performance it is especially important to have a costume. It is one thing to dance at a party, and a different thing to dance on a stage before an audience. It is not enough to just have nice clothes on each individual performer – you need to look like a unified couple.

What makes a good stage costume for a couple? First of all, your costume must be tailor made for you – we will need measurements from both dancers. You will also need to select a fabric and a design for your costumes. Pictured below are three sets of costumes: Silk, Polka Dots, and Plaid/Stripes. Within each set are a number of elements that you can select for your costume, and each will be made from the same material you have chosen.”

The website then walks you through three easy steps to select pieces for your performance outfit. The beauty of these pieces is that they can be mixed and matched with anything – with each other or with something you might find at Target or H&M.

Another great thing about having team costumes made for the team members is that you avoid the one-pattern-fits-all problem that you encounter when purchasing something from a retail store. Having personally experienced the pain of not fitting into the mold of a chosen team costume, I would personally rather pay more and get something that fits perfectly, that I don’t have to pay someone to alter, and that I might actually wear again dancing.

Which leads to my next point – you don’t have to be on a dance team to wear and enjoy an outfit from Swing Outfits! Make sure to browse their selection of patterns, then their selection of fabrics, and think of the endless possibilities. The Libra in me may never be able to decide…

Here’s what I love from Swing Outfits:

Classic trumpet skirt
Knickerbockers - yes, this is the photo from the web page - why hide those pretty socks when you can do them justice with a pair of knickers?
Splanky dress
Student pants - 1930's style
Splanky blouse
Single-breasted cashmere vest
Sailor pencil skirt
A nod to classic ensemble Lindy Hop performances, your ensemble can also sport silky jumpers for the ladies with matching silk shirts for the gents

Jitterbuggin on Etsy

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I love the initiative and creativity of those seamstresses and tailors who take vintage patterns and make them come alive again. Etsy seller Jitterbuggin is one of these talented people who create garments of the past in the present, and adds her own bit of whimsy through her pattern and fabric selections.

Of particular interest is Jitterbuggin’s profile: “I am a dancer and stage performer with an enthusiastic interest for fun clothes. I make quality ready to wear ranging in eras, styles and sizes. I use vintage materials when I can and often substitute with vintage reprints. Almost every garment is a one of a kind creation. My garments are made with “danceability” and modern comforts in mind while staying true to the glamor of the eras.” Dancers making clothes for dancers is always a good idea, especially when considering cut, construction, and fabric selections.

Here are some of my favorites from the Jitterbuggin Etsy site:

Red jumper and sailor blouse
1930's blouse
High waist pants
1940's Hollywood style skirt
Anchors and stars playshorts
1930's style halter top

A.J. Machete & Sons Fine Tailoring

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Based out of Denver, Colorado, A.J. Machete & Sons offers bespoke, tailored menswear items of bygone eras through its Etsy store. While the suits are in the bespoke price range, their Etsy site does offer some more affordable garments and accessories that you may want to add to your existing swing dance wardrobe, such as custom vests, spats, cravats, and a 1930’s sports jacket.

They get a custom fit by using a muslin mock-up – if you’ve ever watched Project Runway or had something custom made before, you may be familiar with this process. Here’s their process for getting the right fit:

“First we get a rough idea of your measurements. You can measure yourself or a suit that you have. We would be glad to help you through this process and to mail you a cloth measuring tape, or, if you are in the Denver area, to measure you in person.
But even the most perfect measurements do not guarantee a good fit. All of our bodies are different shapes and sizes, moreover, we have different postures. A suit made from measurements is no better than a ready-to-wear suit…. it is unlikely to fit every aspect of your body smoothly. To remedy this, we first make the suit from a rough cotton muslin fabric and send it to you for feedback and (digital) pics.

Through examining the way that the muslin wrinkles and pulls, we can get an excellent idea of your figure and posture. At this point, we adjust the pattern based on your feedback and our knowledge and begin to create a suit that fits perfectly.”

Check out A.J. Machete & Sons’ blog, Denver Bespoke, for more examples of their handiwork.

Silk cravat/ascot, shown here in cranberry dupioni silk
Custom spats - not my first choice of fabrics, but if it's custom, I suppose the sky is the limit on fabric choices
Choose a 4 or 6 button vest
Four pocket high collared vest
Peak lapel vest
1930's style sports jacket

A Custom Gem for the Ladies

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I’ll leave you with this divine dress for the weekend – it comes in all sizes because the Etsy seller porshesplace will make one for your measurements from a 1950’s VOGUE pattern, in one of 45 colors of stretch satin. There are lots of other patterns on the seller’s Etsy site with the same offer, but this dress was the standout to me – Va-voom!

Indochino: Indescribably Stylish Suiting

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I really am speechless as to how to describe the suiting on the Indochino web site. It manages to be all things at once: cool, classic, vintage, modern, tailored, and edgy, with a slight sense of humor, a dash of executive, and a pinch of street cred. I’d like to think there’s a little something for everyone here and, with suiting tailored to your measurements, perhaps there’s a perfect fit for everyone as well.

I started out looking for three piece suits and quickly noticed the attention to detail on these garments. There were varying lapel widths, peaked lapels, excellent fabrics, and options like choosing your pant leg width, pick stitching, and a functional buttoniere. The term bespoke is tossed around a lot – items custom-made to the buyer’s specification – and I like it! The best part is that these custom suits cost much less than even your local tailor would probably charge you – I do try to keep the things I post on this blog under $200, but considering comparable expense for such suits as these, the Indochino price is a discount.

Never fear! There are things other than suits on this website, and well under $200. Shirts with custom cuffs and collars, vests in three different cuts, ties, cufflinks, pocket squares, and even a tie clip! *nods to Lindy Dandy* There are also gorgeous blazers, overcoats, and pants that are in that upper range, but…well, you should see for yourself.

I am, perhaps, most impressed with the construction of suit jackets, which have a canvas interlining to provide structure and drape. That extra layer is just another barrier between the lead’s sweat and the follower – just think followers, if the guy is wearing an undershirt, a dress shirt, and one of these jackets, that’s 5 layers of fabric the sweat has to wick through until it reaches you! Every little bit helps.

Here’s what I’m loving:

The Havana Suit - a lovely linen suit for summer
The Montecristo - the brown linen adds a nice twist on summer suiting
The Black Pinstripe Suit - classic, and check out those peaked lapels!
Blue Pin Stripe Double Breasted Suit
Navy Blue Pin Stripe Suit
The Nouveaux Socialite Tuxedo - LOVE this
The Performer Full Dress Tuxedo - it's killer diller!
The Weekend Jacket
The Nouveaux Socialite Vest
Light Gray Vest
Metallic Trifecta Cufflink
Good Groove Tie Clip

All Balboa Weekend

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

This weekend, Lindy Shopper will be attending All Balboa Weekend, the grandaddy of all Balboa events. I’ll be getting into a car heading to Cleveland in T minus 25 minutes…

I hope to participate in ABW’s first ever Project Runway competition, which should be of particular interest to shoppers – sure the Balboa ladies can wear beautiful clothes, but can they make them? We’ll find out. The word on the streets is that we can use duct tape, scissors, and something about the Bart Bartolo “Keeping it casual” shirts…curious.

I also hope to be able to update the blog with finds from ABW vendors and, perhaps, a local vintage clothing store, but that will depend on the internet connection at the hotel and any free time I may be able to scrape together. If you don’t hear from me in the next few days, I’ll be back on Tuesday to report my ABW finds! đŸ™‚