What is the appeal of Vintage clothing? Fit, repairs and fabrics…..
If you are interested in the history of fashion, you are interested in vintage clothing, and maybe already be knowledgeable about different eras and styles , about specific designers and about the development of signature looks. Choosing to wear vintage often means expressing your personality through a specific look, from a hairstyle to an outfit, right down to your shoes and accessories. You can choose a specific era, e.g the 1960s or the 1940s, and style yourself accordingly as a 60s dolly bird or as a 40s land girl. Or, you can choose key vintage pieces, e.g a coat, a dress, a knit, and combine them with your contemporary wardrobe to add a vintage twist.
The great thing about shopping for an wearing vintage is that you are often looking at unique pieces, and when you create your own style you can be sure that your look is your own!
It is still possible to come across clothes that date from the late 1800’s, and those would be classified as antique. Victorian and Edwardian pieces are often fragile, and personally, I would regard them as collectors or museum pieces. Similarly, pieces from the first two decades of the 1900’s are often un-wearable…with some exceptions. Probably the best preserved pieces from the early 1900s are evening dresses as they were often stored well , particularly the expensive heavily beaded pieces that we associate with 1920s flappers.
If you want to look into 1920s fashions, the names and labels you can look for include Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Elsa Shiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet & Norman Hartnell.
For practical purposes, Anything over twenty years old is regarded as vintage, and wearable styles can be found from every decade stretching from the 1980s to the 1930s.
If you are aiming for a complete look, do your research. Look at books and fashion magazines from the era that interests you, do some on-line research, visit fashion collections in museums….there are plenty of resources out there!
When shopping for Vintage clothes there are a few things to bear in mind.
When you are looking at vintage clothes, particularly at anything pre-1960, production methods are quite different. Unlike today, when clothes are mass produced, often abroad, vintage pieces are often made in small runs, or even made for individuals by a tailor or dressmaker. Some pieces that you find will have been made at home, probably cut from a commercially available paper pattern produced for the home dressmaker. The size charts that are more or less standardised today, i.e bust waist and hips measurements, were often quite variable before the 1960s. It is also true that the changes reflect the current average body shape of the 21st century woman or man, which is taller and broader than it was in our mothers or grandmothers era.
Do not take the size on the label for granted! Generally waists are smaller and the general silhouette is curvier on older pieces, so make sure that you know your own measurements and take a tape measure with you when you shop! Expect to have to make a few alterations to the fit of your vintage garment to suit your own body shape, so check seam allowances and depth of hems, or check if there is room to move buttons etc. If you do not already own a sewing machine, think about investing in one so that you can make your own alterations!
It is useful if you are handy with a needle and thread, or with a sewing machine ( see above). Some alterations are easy for beginners, e.g. Sewing on buttons, stitching a split seam….but some take a bit more skill, e.g. Replacing a zip, adding tucks or darts to a bodice. Check over your vintage finds carefully for any obvious flaws, rips, moth holes, stains etc., and before you buy, consider if you can remedy the flaw . Sometimes, a piece is beyond repair, but some beautiful fabric can be salvaged and up-cycled.
Vintage clothing up until the 1960s is likely to be made from a quality fabric such as wool, silk or cotton, with rayon or viscose or early synthetics like Tricel mimicking silk. These fabrics drape and hang well, and looked after properly, will last for many years. However, they often need specialist cleaning. True synthetics, polyester, nylon etc. Came in to their own in the 1960s. 1960s fabrics are often harder and harsher, distinguished by their bright colours and designs. This was the start of easily washable fabrics that can often be drip dried or spun and that need no ironing. Much of the fashion clothing from this era was aimed at a young consumer, and was not made to last!