Buying 50s vintage clothing - a guide
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18 November 2006
Buying and collecting vintage clothing on eBay can become an addiction - but here's a quick guide to help you avoid the common pitfalls. THE FIT: Make sure you buy something that is actually going to fit ! Most sellers don't offer returns on grounds of fit. A beautiful vintage dress that is just too small is pretty useless, unless you have bought it to collect rather than wear. Still, you can always sell it back on eBay if it doesn't fit, but that's a shame if you saw it as the dress of your personal dreams. SIZE: Not only are vintage clothes sized differently - a 1950s size 18 is often about a modern UK 12 -but they often cater to a different body shape. 50s clothing in particular was aimed at showing off the hourglass figure - a defined small waist, fitted trim bodice and shapely full bustline. 50s women often wore padded bullet bras and waist cincher corsets to help achieve this shape! And the clothing was more closely fitted to the upper body than we are used to. MEASUREMENTS: It's important that you know the bust ,waist and hips measurement of the vintage garment you are buying on eBay. Most vintage items either have no size label or else a vintage size label that is not equivalent to modern day sizing (even 1970s sizing runs smaller than modern day). Remember you can't try your dress on in a fitting room before purchasing. You'll need at least an inch leeway for a comfortable fit. For example, if your bust measures 36 inches, a dress that measures 36 inches exactly over the bust will be literally skintight - vintage fabrics rarely have "give" or stretch apart from knitwear - so you'll need an actual measurement of about 37 inches or even 38. Get out the tape measure and get to know your own vital statistics ( be honest!) and ask the seller to provide bust, waist and hip figures if they havent added as part of the listing. It's worth keeping a tape measure in your handbag in case you find yourself in a vintage clothes shop or stall without changing facilities. A quick measure of the bust and waist of the garment ( you can just measure the front and then double it) and you should have a pretty good idea if it's going to fit you or not. . THE VINTAGE STYLE FOR YOUR SHAPE A lot of 50s vintage dresses are petite and somewhat short-waisted in size - women on the whole were slimmer and shorter - and the lucky modern day size 6-10 is going to find a lot of choice and your delicate frame and small waist will look perfect in full-skirted prom style dresses - think Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. But you can still get great vintage dresses in bigger sizes too. Indeed, if you are a voluptuous curvy Marilyn Monroe shape the fitted hourglass 1950s wiggle dresses are going to look a whole lot better on you than flat-chested skinnies. Look for listings that say L XL or LARGER SIZE.Having said that , good 50s dresses larger than about modern day UK 14-16 or 16 are thin ( if that is the word!) on the ground. CONDITION A vintage garment can be 50 plus years old and ( unless it is new old stock) will have been pre- worn and loved - so dont expect it to look fresh off the rack at Marks & Spencer! That is part of a vintage item's unique charm. If a vintage item has survived this long, the chances are however that it was treasured and preserved by its owner all these years because of its beauty and good quality. Good vintage eBay sellers should however mention any flaws such as tears, stains, rust marks or buttons or belts missing. Some vintage items may have a slight storage aroma so you may wish to dry clean or at least air them to freshen up. In general however, try to buy items in as good wearable vintage condition as possible. Old stains have a habit of not shifting, professional alterations are expensive and will you really ever get round to mending that damaged garment? AMERICA? There are many fabulous vintage sellers on UK eBay offering wonderful outfits. Look for sellers with a high feedback rating, But, especially if you are a slightly larger size, it is worth also having a look on US eBay where the choice of vintage dresses are, I've found, extensive, good value and great quality. There wasn't the same war and post-war clothing rationing and austerity over there as there was in the UK and the 1940s to early 60s dresses in particular can be fabulous. There are some great vintage sellers in the USA (again, always check the seller's feedback before bidding). And the strong pound against the dollar means you can get some great bargains. BUT remember you'll pay more for postage (or shipping as they call it there), especially on heavy items such as coats and items can take some time to arrive - always go for air mail or GPM rather than the cheapest surface mail which is VERY slow. And you may be liable to customs charges on more expensive items. Good luck and happy vintage hunting!
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