I belong to several chat groups that are devoted to discussing vintage clothing, and this is one question that keeps cropping up. My guess is that the debate keeps going because there are so many sellers now who make chopping off the bottom of vintage dresses a regular part of business.
We all come to a discussion like this from different perspectives. My perspective is from a collector, but it is also from a child of the 70s who didn’t think twice about cutting/altering/improving a piece of old clothing. And it’s from the perspective of a VERY short person who has lopped off the bottom of many a bell-bottom pant back in the day! So I do understand the urge to cut.
I’ve been in enough thrifts and vintage clothing stores, seen enough ebay and etsy and other website listings to realize that the world will probably never run out of 1970s maxi dresses, 1980s MOB dresses and 1990s grungewear. People have come to think of clothing as disposible, and considering the way it has been constructed in the past 30 or so years, that’s probably a true assumption. We can’t possibly save every single piece of old clothing in original condition. As someone rightly said, clothing was meant to be worn.
But as a collector, I just don’t want things that have been altered to the place where they can’t be put right. And I’m not just talking about high dollar items. Right now I’m looking for a pair of Bobbie Brooks elephant bells to match a sweater I have from about 1972-3. When I find them, I expect they will be cheap, but I have to have a pair in the original length. To put it in $$$$ terms, for a pair of un-shortened ones, I’d pay around $30; but for shortened ones, $0.
So the purpose behind this post is to encourage you to put the scissors away. If you must make alterations, try to make them without cutting the fabric so that the garment could possibly be put back in the original state.
But what if you find a great vintage piece that has already been altered, or that has severe damage. I pulled a wonderful 1946-7 black cocktail dress with a sequined design off a thrift rack yesterday. I left it there, as the skirt was maybe 12 inches long! But I nearly took it just for the sequins. Or it would have made a seriously cute top, but there are plenty of vinties in Asheville and I’m sure someone else will spot it and remodel it somehow.
I buy “sick” vintage all the time just for the fabric. I have a holey and faded work smock made from a print of airline logos, probably from the late 40s. (See above photo) It’s going to make a great travel journal cover. And I just finished making a bag for my gym shoes from the skirt of a 1950s dress that had unfortunate holes in it. I added a bit of vintage rick-rack and ribbon, and some black fabric from a thrift.
But again, be sure before you cut even a damaged garment. There are some labels that are so rare that even a damaged item could have considerable value. So do your homework before cutting. Visit a forum like VFG and ask questions.