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Here are some of my photos of vintage clothing modelled, purchased or offered on e bay recently and a brief guide to choosing what's right for you...
For decades fashion designers have derived looks from previous eras to inspire them. For example, Madonna's famous pink Jean Paul Gaultier corset, made for her Immaculate tour - it looked straight out of a Hollywood movie of the 30's or 40's didn't it? And now the 'burlesque' look is in vogue in 2006 /7 we are seeing the idea rehashed yet again!
Above - vintage peach stain bra and lace up corset and gloves circa 1930's
Overwired bra pre 50's
Of course, there is nothing wrong with designers gaining inspiration in this way. Indeed, for buyers, later 'copies' are likely to be easier to come by, in better condition, sized more generously, of harder wearing fabric and have laundering instructions. They are likely to be cheaper too!
So if it's genuinely old or if it just looks like the genuine thing, and you like it - BID FOR IT!
Above - A genuine Jean Varon (John Bates) 70's coat dress I recently offered on e bay. John Bated designed for the Emma Peel character in the Avengers t.v. series and the Museum of Costume in Bath, UK has recent displayed a retrospective of his work.
It follows that the more recent the period, the easier it will be to find the items you want. During the 30's and 40's in Europe the thrify 'make do and mend' philosophy meant that lots of clothing of that period and earlier didn't make it to the present day, so be prepared to look further afield for some early items. When you do find true vintage textiles, rust marks, fading, moth nibbles, musty odours and general deterioration of the fabric is common. Anything significant should be mentioned in the advert and affect the price. Condition, as they say is everything.
(Want to create the top to toe the look? Don't forget to view and vote for my guide to creating Hollywood Movie Star Hairstyles like this! Just click on the 'other guides' link at the top of the page)
The 1980's 'did' the 1940's very well for a while, so you will find a lot of repros from this period. However, if it is a real vintage item you are looking for and don't want to be disappointed here is a rough guide.
Read the ad very carefully - '1930's / 40's style' probably means it was made much later.
Mass production of clothing is something that is still fairly new in fashion history. Until relatively recently dresses, blouses, skirts, coats, corsets, hats etc. would have been made indvidually by a specialist tailor, dressmaker, milliner or a talented family member. Detailing in the cut of the garment, the seams and the quality of the finishings are good indications of a true vintage garment, as these would all be too expensive to manufacture on a large scale.
Synthetic fabrics like viscose, polyester, acrylic, lycra, pvc etc were not around until about the 70's or 80's. However, nylon and rayon were earlier synthetics and have been around since wartime. Wools, cottons, linen, silks and other natural fabrics have been used for hundeds of years of course, but have usuaully suffered the ravages of time.
Above - 40's / 50's tulle halter neck black ball gown
Washing instructions were not in early garments and neither were international sizings like 10, 12, 14. Expect to see these from the 70's onwards. Even when these are present, they are usually much smaller than todays equivilents so do ask the seller for actual measurements if possible.
Look at the finishes. Metal zips are a good indication of age and were replaced by nylon ones generally by the late 60's. Look at the buttons too - if they are bakelite, celluloid, bone or mother of pearl they are more likely to be from an original vintage piece. During the wartime years, it was necessary for women to take on a the male role at home - in offices, factories and on the land. It followed that women's fashion became more masculine with the popularily of the tailored, square shoulder look. Shoulder pads in ladies clothing were common in both the 40's and again in the 1980's when they became very extreme. This was the period when women were competing with men in their careers and the art 'power dressing' became known. Actress Joan Collins and the cast of television hits like Dynasty and Dallas popularised the iconic massive shoulder pads of 1980's and early 90's.
Above - the iconic '80's dress complete with huge shoulder pads, peplum skirt and oversized satin bow
Overlocking on seams to stop fraying did not occur on early garments (dressmakers often cut the edges with pinking shears instead) and hems on skirts were hand sewn and not machined up.
Vintage underwear has a unique quality. The bullet bras of the 50's give a totally different shape to the bosom than today's Wonderbras. Bras were not underwired or padded until around the 60's or later. Boned corsets gave way to roll-ons or panty girdles by the 1950's but have recently been making a comeback. Originals can still be found. Silk cotton and satin were common choices of fabric for underwear until the synthetic fabrics like nylon synthetics took over from 50's - 60's onwards. Nylon, silk or lyle stockings were the norm. Panty hose did not arrive on the scene until the mid 60's
Above - Richard Shops dress from the 60's
Above - 60's inspired PVC boots with viewing hole! Mary Quant look.
Wearing vintage clothing gives a truly unique look to your wardrobe. For best results, combine vintage items with contemporary ones.
Add your own personality!
Celebrities like Gwen Steffani, Kate Moss and Dita von Teese have done this to great effect recently. I have sold vintage pieces to at least two well known people on e bay (not telling who though!) which just proves, you just never know who may appear on a million t.v. screens wearing your old cast offs! You will enjoy a great sense of connection with the past when you wear vintage clothing and feel deep satisfaction knowing you have breathed new life into an outfit. If absolutely necessary, hand launder or specialist dry clean vintage clothes or follow the instructions in the garment. Personally if I think laundering will risk the colours running, the item shrinking or falling to pieces, I will put up with a little stain or two. After all, the garment's battle scars are what makes it what it is!
A vintagejacket made from weasel
A brief word about vintage furs. Like them or loath them, it looks like they are here to stay. I notice that sales this year are climbing and a new interest is growing in the fine furs of yesteryear. If you have a fur in the wardrobe and want to find out what kind of fur it is, do click on the link below - a thoroughly researched guide into identifying your vintage furs with close up photos of some of the most common furs. If you can't bear to wear your fur (and who could blame you), but don't want to throw it away, don't give it to a charity shop - most have a no fur policy, and it will get binned or burnt. Instead, sell it on e bay, take it to a car boot sale or a vintage clothing specialist.
This has been a very brief guide for those who have little knowledge of vintage or repro fashion. There are books on the subject for more indepth information.
About the author- My e Bay log on name is Dressing-2-Kill. I have been a small collector, seller and wearer of vintage clothing for thirty years, and I have a B.A. Degree in Fashion & Textile Design from Kingston University, UK.
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P.S. I have written other guides...
identifying vintage furs
car boot sales - do's and don'ts
e bay listing tips
and many others so do take a look