The old saying goes, “Three of anything makes a collection.” Just a few years ago I’d have probably agreed, but the more collections I see, the more I realize that a great collection requires focus.
For this reason, I’m more inclined to believe that three of anything usually makes an accumulation. Not that that is always a bad thing, but it completely changes the way a grouping of objects is perceived by knowledgable viewers.
I recently attended the auction of the collection of a long-time vintage clothing lover. My first reaction to it was to be completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it! There were hundreds and hundreds of clothing items, and dozens of trays of jewelry, hats and handbags. The items ranged from the late 19th century through the 1990s. There were couture items, and items from Sears. And basicly there did not seem to be any criteria for an item’s inclusion in the collection, except that all items were “old.”
The items were auctioned off piecemeal, with little identification or explanation. Items that had been collected as a unit were long ago separated, including a 1920s blouse and its matching underskirt. It was an auction of “old clothes.”
I couldn’t help but wonder about the collector, a woman who was down-sizing and moving to a smaller place. Did she just buy any old clothes she came across in her estate, antique or flea market shopping? Did she buy only that which she found to be attractive (something that might explain the over-abundance of chiffon!)? Did she have anything in particular that she looked for in acquiring a piece of clothing.
There seemed to be no answer, as lot after lot of vintage finery crossed the block. It wasn’t until I returned home that I got a bit of an answer. I had bought a box of her books on clothing – this one being mainly books on Hollywood fashion. Stapled in the front of one book was the business card of the collector. She was running a costume shop! That certainly explained a lot, but it didn’t explain how most of the items were in such excellent condition. My guess is that she made costumes, and used the vintage ones for inspiration.
Every time I view a collection, it forces me to think of my own. Do I want just an accumulation of old things, or do I want a grouping of items that make a statement about fashion history? I guess the answer is fairly obvious, but it’s a question that I have to keep asking over and over in order to keep my own accumulation under control!
When I first started collecting, I thought what I wanted was a representative dress from every decade of the 20th century. This soon proved to be too limiting, so it became every five years. But then I discovered the charm of vintage shoes, and bags, and hats… So I now work on ensembles, and even travel wardrobes, and I’ve narrowed the time frame from 1917 to 1973. And even that’s probably too long a time period!