One of the big selling points of vintage clothing is that it is perceived as being of higher quality than clothing made today. It is true that a visit to your local vintage store will produce item after item of clothes of a quality that today would make them prohibitively expensive to produce for the average consumer.
So, were all clothes in the past just made better of superior fabrics using sophisticated techniques? The short answer is no.
Since the dawn of ready-to-wear part of the market has been for people who are poor. My latest reading (A Cultural History of Fashion in the 20th and 21st Centuries, by Bonnie English) indicates that probably the first ready-to-wear clothing was manufactured for the very poor in England in the late 18th century.
I’ve seen some really poorly made garments, dating back to the 1920s, but the truth is, that most things that have survived do seem to be of a higher quality. My guess is that this is due to several things. First, clothing made of poor quality fabric couldn’t stand up to the wear. And if poorer people were wearing these clothes, then they had to be worn until the fabric was either fit only for rags or for projects such as quilts. Part of it might have to do with the things people tend to save. Even out of style garments that cost the wearer a lot to buy end up hanging on in the deep dark corners of the closet for years.
I bought this early 1950s camp shirt despite the obvious poor quality. It was interesting as the type of thing a woman might wear while touring with the husband and kids in their new station wagon. Yes, I know this a stereotypical 1950s family, but the vision is there and I had to share it.
The interior of the shirt is a mess. All the loose ends were just left hanging, and I can’t imagine why the wearer didn’t take the time to tie them off herself.
This is one wonky little pocket. Note how the right side is off at both the bottom and the top.
All the interior seams are flat felled, which is good, but they were stitched by a machine that did a chain stitch which is very easy to pull out. And notice that some of the edges did not get turned under properly.
While the center front does sort of match, there was no attempt to match the check at the side seams. It takes more fabric to properly match, and so is more expensive.
The shirt is nicely shaped with tucks and darts at the waist, but again, there was no attempt to make the two sides of the back look symmetrical.
There are some nice features, like this button at the collar and the elastic loop. And while the fabric is not really of a good quality, the color has held up quite well.
I do really like the fun, casual look of the shirt. It reminds me of a picnic cloth.