The Dress I’ll Not Be Buying

Very high on my wish list for a very long time has been a late 1920s white dress appropriate for tennis. The dresses above are from 1927, seen in a B.Altman catalog. It shows the type of thing I’ve been desiring for a long time.

These are hard to come by. It’s much easier to find a fantastically beaded evening dress from 1927 than it is to find a simple white linen or cotton frock. That does not keep me from looking. I have the usual hunting sites, like Etsy, eBay, and Ruby Lane, but occasionally I’ll venture into high price territory, in the hopes that a dress I can afford will magically appear.

So I went to one such high-priced site, and my search for “tennis dress” returned a list of five or six actual dresses, one of which was labeled as 1920s. Unfortunately,  labeling a dress “1920s” does not automatically make it so.

While old, the dress was not from the twenties, but was very similar to the third dress in this group. And this is from a 1931 B. Altman catalog. Still, it was a great dress, and the best part was a little tennis racket motif embroidered on the bodice. Yes, this was an actual tennis dress.

I’ll admit that at first glance I was smitten. I was charmed by the obviousness of the embroidery. Then I started reading the description and looking at the photos. There were numerous stains and even a tear in the fabric. But what really stopped me in my shopping tracks was a description of the underarms. They were described as having “authentic sweat stains”.  A look at the photos confirmed that yes, these sweat stains were indeed authentic.

I can’t remember ever having read an item description where sweat stains were spun into a good thing. Perhaps that helps explain the $1200 (plus $25 shipping) price tag.

For the most part, I don’t complain about what people choose to charge for their old stuff. I figure that the marketplace really does help establish prices. That said, there are definite trends even in vintage clothing that do affect pricing. I long for the old days when I could buy 1950s travel-themed skirts for $40, and when the competition for old sportswear was non-existent, but I realize these fads too shall pass. I can remember when plain Victorian white underwear brought hundreds of dollars, things that today bring less than fifty.

In the meantime the $1225 1920s-but-really-1930s tennis dress will not be added to my little collection.



Filed under Collecting

18 responses to “The Dress I’ll Not Be Buying

  1. “Authentic” sweat stains? What a hoot! Guess they’re the vintage fashion equivalent of carbon dating…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting. At the shop where I work we have many conversations about condition/rarity/quality/price. Generally we do not sell stuff with icky stains (particularly under the arm, pee stains on men’s trouser fronts (VERY COMMON!) or what looks like blood in the lower half of a female garment) and the owner (my boss) will not usually keep good but damaged clothes. She doesn’t want to sell “as is” for low prices. For a while I tried taking her cast-offs and selling them cheaply as a lot on Etsy as “damaged but attractive” items that someone handy with a needle or sewing machine could repair or repurpose. That didn’t work. We now pass them along to the charity thrift shop across the street, where they save them for Halloween or, I assume, throw them out or perhaps save them for fiber artists (I know they save moth-damaged quality woolens for someone who hooks wool rugs). You hate to throw away things that are good examples of a certain period garment, or where the fabric (where it’s not ruined) it still nice or the piece otherwise has some redeeming value. On the other hand, I am aware of dealers with vast social media followings who regularly, proudly list and show off dirty, damaged items and seem to be making a living. So I guess all it takes is a buyer who doesn’t care and a seller to sell things to them? (long post, sorry, but a lot to think about on this topic)


  3. Chris Aupperle

    There is no excuse for charging exorbitant prices for such severely damaged garments. The only people who purchase these garments are costume designers for theatre or film who wish to produce an authentic feature. You might consider looking for a pattern or hire a talented seamstress to sew one for you from a picture or photo!


  4. jacq staubs

    “You can’t buy good taste”?! You can buy old sweat? Who ever implemented the wear and tear factor when evaluating old anything has always been a puzzle / if not weird to me. Perhaps some collectors feel excrement of all sorts adds value? If – it’s provenance is significantly historic? I prefer the B Altman catalog for the wonderful fashion illustration. I loved that old store. Talk about fashion history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • B. Altman catalogs from the late 1920s and 1930s are the best ever!

      I have a few things that have stains (not excrement, mind you!) that I don’t mind, like a circa 1916 hiking skirt, and a pair of 1940s work overalls. In these cases the stains show a past life of the object being used, but I draw the line at things that are just nasty.


  5. I would be embarrassed to sell something pre-owned or vintage that wasn’t in wearable (or display-able) shape.


  6. On second thought: I guess the other audience for pieces like these (other than tue-blue vintage fashion-lovers and collectors) are designers and design teams who buy vintage for inspiration. So sweat stains wouldn’t matter to them. Just the silhouette etc.


  7. Jill E Richardson

    It’s an absolutely ridiculous price for a dress no matter how old!


  8. I’m sorry, I meant to leave a comment, but I can’t stop laughing. Good luck with your search.


  9. I could probably guess where you were hunting when you found that “authentic sweat.” I avoid the place like the plague, as it makes me angry, and who needs that? I will add your tennis dress to the ever-growing list of stuff I keep an eye out for on your behalf.

    In other news, I really wish I could say these yoga pants and exercise top were “30s beach pajamas” and have it be so.


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