What Is a Swirl Dress Worth?

photo copyright Pintucks Vintage

I visit several online forums that discuss historic and vintage clothing.  On one of them recently, there has been quite a bit of talk about value.  Since this forum is frequented by both buyers and sellers of vintage, one can get a pretty good view of both sides of the current pricing of vintage clothing.  As you might expect, sellers tend to think vintage clothing is an excellent value, but buyers tend to think that prices are too high.
One garment in particular that is a part of this debate is the Swirl wrap dress.  When I did my research and wrote my history of the Swirl company in 2005, I thought that the Swirls that came up for sale on eBay were terribly undervalued.  Most of them were selling under $15.  I say “on eBay” because at that time, Ebay was the major shopping site for vintage.  Today that is not necessarily the case, with all the new sites and private websites that have sprung up in the past 5 years.
A quick look at one of these newer sites, etsy, brought up several Swirl dresses, with the least expensive being $60, and it has some stains.  So why are Swirl dress prices so far above the inflation rate?
It all has to do with demand.
Back in the early 1980s I was collecting antique and vintage Christmas ornaments.  They were relatively inexpensive, and I was getting a very nice collection.  One day in 1984 a dealer commented that I’d better buy now because a Christmas price guide was in the works.  And he was right.  Within a year there were 6 books on collecting Christmas published, and prices went through the roof.  People found the books, liked what they saw, and demand for Old Santas and ornaments skyrocketed, along with prices.
But it is not the price guides that have inflated the price of the Swirl dress; it is internet buzz.  There is a whole thread on Fedora Lounge that discusses the dress, there is a flickr group for it and several of the vintage lifestyle bloggers regularly show off their Swirls.  Is it any wonder that demand has increased?
Just out of curiosity, I went to several of the online historic price inflation calculators  to see what a Swirl bought in 1952 for $9 would be in today’s inflated dollar.  Surprisingly, the answer is about $72.  They were not cheap, but people did not have closets bulging with cheap imported clothing.  Clothing dollars were spent more wisely because people did not have as many to work with.  And Swirls were a wise buy, as evidenced by how many of them have survived from the 50s and 60s, many looking like new.


Posted by Twila Jean:

So true on all points! this is a great entry! Thanks so much!

Wednesday, June 30th 2010 @ 11:45 PM

Posted by Lin VintageVoyager:

I *love* the map/ships one you’ve pictured. I still have my solitary ‘carpet-print’ one. But guess what, I’ve recently stumbled across some matching pants – how confusing is that??

Thursday, July 1st 2010 @ 3:24 AM

Posted by Jen O:

Well, you are indeed a psychic!
I have found another ‘Swirl’–the cutest ever!
So yes, I was looking into the current value and noticed the skyrocketing prices for these dresses.
thanks for this post (and doing the research for me!)
here’s some pix of that dress on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39426423@N02/4752328750/PS, I am continually amazed by the price quotes on “Couture Allure” that compares the original sale price with the current dollar value. No question, that’s why everyone’s mom had to sew.

Thursday, July 1st 2010 @ 8:26 AM

Posted by Cat@ClubVintageFashions:

Swirls are not only comfortable & flattering to a woman’s curves they tend to have been done in the most interesting prints.

Thursday, July 1st 2010 @ 10:16 AM

Posted by samsara:

I love that nautical print madly. Deliriously. Sigh.Alas, I don’t have a single swirl dress, though it is not for lack of trying!

Thank you for posting this, Ms. Lizzie!

Thursday, July 1st 2010 @ 8:25 PM

Posted by Michelle:

I know what you mean. The problem with selling and buying on ebay is that there is an over abundance. Not just in garments but; in sellers that are not real sure of what they actually do and do not have. I have gotten countless garments that seemed authentic enough to have it arrive and the label was something else completely. From the 2000s advertised as 1950s! I think the reason garments sell so inexpensively on ebay is because many buyers are afraid the seller doesnt know what they are talking about. I much prefer to pay more from a dealer that knows thier product. Also, remember these high prices we are currently seeing can fall at anytime and like most everything else in fashion could just be a fad? I hope not I just love vintage fashion!

Friday, July 2nd 2010 @ 1:19 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Thanks, everyone. I knew this would strike a chord with some of you.Jen, that IS a really great Swirl!

Lin, I must see those pants… and soon!

Michelle, I agree; it is best to do any serious buying from an experienced vintage seller. And I really should do a post on past vintage fads.

Friday, July 2nd 2010 @ 6:17 PM


Filed under Shopping, Textiles, Vintage Clothing

3 responses to “What Is a Swirl Dress Worth?

  1. Thanks so much for all the wonderful resources you’ve provided! I posted about Swirl dresses on my own blog today and linked back to you a’course☺


  2. Lori Roberts

    I absolutely LOVE the traveler print!!! You are going to be adorable doing a road trip in it! I can’t wait to see pictures! I really enjoy all your information on the Swirl dresses, thank you SO much! I love vintage clothing, especially from the 1940’s, but I really took a special interest/love/slight obsession 😬 with the Swirl dresses. They are so comfortable to wear and have an amazing variety of prints. I have 9 dresses in my collection over the past 8 years. My earliest dress is from the 1940’s with the Swirl by Neat’N’Tidy tag and one hidden side pocket along a seam. The print is small, a white background with pink bows and grey flowers with a red center. Thank you to all those Swirl lovers out there who share their photos. I love seeing and reading about your experiences! 💗 Lori


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