Category Archives: I Didn’t Buy…

What I Didn’t Buy – Ties + Denim = Disaster Skirt

When shopping at the Goodwill Outlet bins, I never know what I’m going to find.  For each found treasure, there are probably one thousand pieces of drek.  I’ve gotten really good at filtering out the Forever 21 and the Kathy Lee junk, but sometimes a garment will surface that makes me stop and think.  This is such a piece.

I posted this photo on Instagram, and got some really interesting comments.  One person asked if it mattered when the ties were so ugly.  Another pointed out that it could be the work of a student, as some schools’ textiles programs assign a tie reworking project.

My objection to this skirt has nothing to do with the ugliness of the ties, though there are some ugly ties there.  I’m not concerned with the haphazard construction.  And at this point in time, I can’t see that there would be much of a market for these late 1970s and early 80s ties.  What really bothered me was that I’m very certain that 7/8 of each of the sixteen ties and 3/4 of the denim from the skirt ended up in the trash, all for a skirt that was probably never worn.

A lot has been written lately about how much textile waste each person living in developed countries generates in a year.  I’ve read everything from sixty to seventy-five pounds of waste per person.  At that rate we will soon be buried in fiber.

There is no way that the Goodwill in my area can sell in their retail stores all the stuff that is donated.  Much of it never even reaches the store, as items thought to be unsalable go straight into the bins.  Items that have been on the sales floor for over a period of time are culled and put into the bins.  Even after spending hours in a bin that is sorted through by dozens of eager shoppers, there is a lot of textile items that are left unsold. At that point the leftovers are baled and sold to a rag house.

There is a great article in The New Republic about how these raggers work.  Basically, cloth items are sorted into three groups:  the really good stuff and vintage which is sorted and sold to vintage and other resale shops, the okay stuff which is sent to developing countries, and the stuff that is so bad that all they can to is sell it to be made into rags, felt, and other reprocessed cloth.

The article mentions that there are people in these rag houses who are trained to spot vintage clothing.  I’ve read elsewhere that some of these companies actually let vintage shop owners come in and sort through.  I do hope that all the great things that I see, but can’t justify buying, end up in a nice vintage store somewhere.

There is never a shortage of neckties in thrift stores, and my Goodwill is no exception.  I imagine that ninety percent of the ones that go through that place end up at the rag house.  But at least those ties will be recycled into rags or whatever for industrial use, and will not land in a landfill somewhere like the unused portion of the skirt ties most likely did.

But what about the project itself?  Is there any hope for the dated and seemingly ugly tie?  What can be made with all the millions of out of style neckties?

Actually, I think there is some hope for a similar project.  In this case, not only was the choice of ties unfortunate, but the execution of the project was poor.  Instead of overlapping and stitching the ties, they could be placed edge to edge and zig-zagged.  They could even be left unstitched, to make a dancing skirt with a lot of movement.  But most importantly, some actual pretty ties could be used, like those from Liberty of London.  But then, how does one come up with sixteen Liberty neckties?

As I spotted this skirt, another shopper also spotted it.  In one of the great cross-overs from digital to real life, this shopper was Jessamyn, who is a reader of this blog and who recognized me.  We ended up in a conversation that included the question of what can be done with unwanted neckties.  She mentioned that she had made crazy quilts using some of the wonderful silk ones she had found.  And that is a good point, for though it seems like the thrifts are full of the tacky ones from 1982, there are also plenty of fabulous Italian silks.

I recently mentioned that I always buy the Liberty ties because they make great bias binding and can be used for small projects.  Reader Nancy was so kind as to send to me two lovely Liberty ties she had found.  It’s just too bad that not all the old neckties were made of such wonderful fabric.

One last thought: I can’t help wondering if the ties that I consider to be ugly and pretty much worthless will someday become desirable.  It has happened before with neckties from the 1940s.  

Interior look at how the ties were attached to the skirt.


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What I Didn’t Buy – Antique Hatbox

I really have a thing for old hatboxes, and I’ve been especially captivated after seeing some of the wonderful old ones in the Cooper Hewitt collection.  Antique bandboxes or hatboxes, especially those covered with wallpaper, are hard to come by around here, so I always look at them, even if I know I’ll not be able to afford them.

The one above caught my eye the other day.  While it is not one of the lovely scenic boxes, it is an older one, covered with a nice paper.  The inside had a beautiful border around the rim.

So what was so objectionable about this pretty box? Was it the price or the condition? No, although there were condition issues, and it wasn’t exactly cheap at $65.  The problem with this box was much worst.

The person selling this hatbox put an adhesive price sticker on the lid of the box.  I was hoping that it was one of those semi-sticky things that would just pull off, but a quick look at a loosened corner confirmed my fears.

Someone before me had already tried to lift off the sticker, and you can see where the paper of the box was pulled loose.  Whatever value the box had has been completely ruined by the person who stood to gain by its sale.

Over the years I’ve seen lots of thoughtless stickers slapped onto paper of all kinds.  Usually it is just a nuisance because it is a magazine or a catalog that is still useful despite the sticker.  Unfortunately this hatbox is ruined.

We need to make a rule that no stickers are allowed anywhere near antique and vintage paper.



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What I Didn’t Buy: Betsey Johnson Sweater, 1980s

There are several reasons I did not buy this Betsey Johnson sweater.  First of all, my collection stops around 1975, and this sweater dates from sometime in the 1980s.  It has the distinctive “punk” label which was used for about eight years, starting in 1978 when Betsey formed her own business.

More importantly, I did not buy this sweater because I do not like it.  Even if I collected the 80s I would not have bought it.  And that brings up the question of “taste” and where it fits into a collection.

When  I first started collecting I would buy anything I found that I thought was “important.”  I can tell you that for me, collecting that way led to a lot of mistakes.  It was not until I began to narrow the focus of my collection that I was able to chose a garment based on its merits, rather than the label.   And to me, part of the charm of an old garment is that it pleases me, aesthetically.

That is not to say that every item in my collection is beautiful, but given a choice between two similar objects, I know that my personal taste will play a part in which one I choose to add to my collection.  I recently met a seller who had dozens of late 1950s and early 60s casual women’s shirts.  I have been looking for some to pair with my novelty print skirts.  Because the shirts were all deadstock, the condition of all was equal.  I went almost entirely by which ones I liked when picking the ones I wanted to buy.

And this leads me to another thought – the mistaken idea that just because an item is old, it somehow has added worth.  I see a lot of old clothes, and so many of them are just ugly, to my eye anyway.  Others are poorly made, and yet others are in horrible condition.  These things might not matter if the item in question is an 1818 pelisse belonging to Jane Austin, but in a 1978 polyester dress from K-mart, they do definitely matter,

Sometimes I’m just amazed at how much clothing from the past has survived.  I grew up in a home where if an item wasn’t useful, it was sold for charity, so I’m often astounded to read about people who find houses with rooms full of multi-generational clothing.  I’m glad they do because it allows me to be very picky.


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What I Didn’t Buy – Tie Quilt

Last week I found a good reminder that your grandmother was reusing out-of-date materials and clothing to make something that might be useful, and she didn’t even have Pinterest to inspire her.  In this case, someone took a bunch of old ties and made a lap quilt.

Sometime in the early 1950s men started seeing a shift in tie design.  Ties became longer and more narrow, and the colors and designs became much more conservative.  What looked right to men after returning home from WWII now looked a bit clownish.  I’m sure that many men did like my Uncle Corky and just left the crazy ones on the tie rack.  When he died there were dozens of great 1940s ties buried under the somber 1950s and 60s ones, and there were even a few new 1970s polyester ones on the very top.

But some clever quilter saw patchwork material when looking at these old, unstylish ties.  I’m pretty sure this was made in the 1950s because of the type of rayon that was used for the backing.  Maybe it was a gift for the original owner, or maybe the maker collected them from friends who would no longer wear them.

I look at something like this today and realize that as far as monetary value is concerned, the seller of the quilt would be better off having the ties intact. But it’s hard to criticize the maker of the quilt, and she (or he, possibly) would never have dreamed that anyone would ever be caught dead in these again.

I see dozens of old ties in practically any thrift store I visit.  They are rarely older than the 1970s, but some of them are made from fine silks.  I’m not a quilter, but I’ll admit I’ve been tempted to collect then just so I’ll have a project in case I ever get snowed in for two weeks with no electricity.  And I always look at ties in thrift stores in the hopes of finding a Liberty Tana lawn one.  I always get them because those long strips of bias fabric come in handy for various projects.

That one with the swordfish is pretty nifty.

Nothing says “classy” like big old green and orange gems.

Do you know a steel-working man?  There was a tie for him.



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What I Didn’t Buy – Late Edwardian Shoes

I’m pretty sure this needs very little explanation, but I have a bit to say nevertheless.  As you can see, the shoes were in very poor condition to start with, and I’d not have bought them anyway, but using those plastic zip ties on an old object is a crime against vintage!

To be fair, it was really the stand that was for sale with the shoes just thrown in, and I guess the seller just did not want them to get separated.  Still, it seems a very odd way to display items that are for sale.   The end result is that shoes that were already pretty much gone are now crunched up and completely gone.

Instead, what if there was a bit of polish to make them look their best, with nice tissue stuffing to give them shape?  Add some ribbon ties and they might even make a charming display.

I’m not really too upset about these poor old shoes, but it does concern me that a visitor to this shop might see this display and think it is a good idea.   Who knows what might be zip tied in the interest of convenience?


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What I Didn’t Buy – Wool Bonnie Cashin Coat

I lucked into a vintage pop-up shop on the streets of Asheville yesterday, and as I was hurriedly pawing through the racks this coat appeared.  I was pretty sure it was a Bonnie Cashin for Sills, and sure enough I found the label in the side of the coat.

I went for the price tag and was shocked to see it priced at $8, and then I noticed the words, “As is.”  Not a good sign.

It didn’t take long to find the reason for the cheap price.  At the hem of the coat the leather had pulled loose from the wool in several places.   In addition there were places where the wool was a bit worn looking, and the lining, which was jersey knit, was riddled with holes.

For a few minutes, my mind was working through the problems, and I had myself convinced that I could save this beautiful coat.    It would involve removing the leather binding at the hem, cutting off an inch or two, and reattaching the leather.  I actually did this with a Pendleton coat a while back, but the bulky textured wool of this coat would be trickier than the smooth Pendleton.  And then there were all those holes to mend, and some reweaving to boot.  Then it occurred to me that my entire wardrobe consists of cool colors with only a piece or so of pink and orange, and no yellow at all.  I decided to leave this coat for someone who would love it, mend it, and wear it.

The wool was really special.  It could possibly be one of the Bernat Klein tweeds that Cashin is known to have used.

The only closure was a leather tie slightly above the waist.

A real heart-breaker, this one.

But all was not lost.  At the same sale I found a really special piece, which I’ll be showing off next week.


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What I Didn’t Buy – Woolrich Tweed Knickers

One old American label that I’ve neglected is Woolrich.  It was founded in 1830 by immigrant John Rich, who built a mill in Pennsylvania and proceeded to make woolen products for outdoors workers.  Over the years they became leaders in the buffalo check business, selling to hunters and other outdoorsmen.   They also made blankets and motoring robes.

At some point in their long history they began making men’s shirts out of the wool that was woven in the Woolrich mill.    This was more of a casual wear shirt rather than something a man might wear in the field.  They also began making casual wool jackets for women.

Later, probably in the 1970s, the company began to diversity its products.  Instead of making all the Woolrich clothing from Woolrich fabric, they, like many other American companies, began to add imported goods to their product line.  In 1980 they started a woman’s label, “Woolrich Woman.”

I can’t say when exactly Woolrich changed from a strictly sportswear company to more of a fashion company.  And I use the word “fashion” quite loosely.   It’s more like conservative clothing for people who like the woods, though I’ve seen that the company has recently upped its game.

As for the knickers that I did not buy, there are several reasons they stayed in the big blue bin and did not make the leap into my shopping cart.

The first problem was the condition.  You can see a hole near the knee in the top photo, and there were several other holes, some repaired.

I thought it was interesting that the legs closed with velcro instead of buttons.  Look right above the velcro and you can see where the velcro has caught the fabric.

Velcro was invented in the late 1940s, but it was not really used until the 1960s.  Even then it was not a common closure.

This is the label, which was first used in 1965.  As far as I can tell, it was used into the 1990s.  I’m basing this on listings on Etsy and Ebay, but the clothing is hard to accurately date due to the unchanging, conservative nature of it.  Due to what I’ve observed, my best guess is that the label changed to a similar, but dark blue label in the early 1990s.

A really nice feature of these knickers is that they have a double seat.  Also, the pockets are functional.

But I didn’t buy them because of the condition, and also because it was my gut feeling that these were from the 1980s.  My interest pretty much stops with the mid 1970s.

However, I did find and buy another pair of vintage Woolrich pants.  There were men’s trousers, made from a very heavy wool herringbone.  A former owner had cut them off quite short and did not hem them.  Thank goodness I am also quite short, and after a good hem the length will be just right for me.

They are a little too big in the waist, but being men’s pants they are easy to alter. The waistband is faced, and the center back seam is easy to stitch to a smaller size.  I’ll probably remove the suspender buttons.

These have the same label as the knickers, and they are so classic that I’d have a hard time accurately dating the,  I’m guessing early 1970s due to the flat front and the width of the legs.

For comparison, this is the label that was used in the 1950s and up to 1965.  Note the R (registered) symbol.  This trademark was registered in 1949.  This label is from a pair of very heavy wool hunting pants.  They are my snow pants.

Woolrich is still is business today, but most of the things with their label are imported.  They are still making wool fabric in the mill, and I wish they would follow Pendleton’s example and offer more products made from their wool.  They do have a hipster label, Woolrich Woolen Mills, where many of the products are made from their cloth in the USA, but they are not promoted as being so on the website sales pages.  Not only that, there are three different websites, two of which do not tell if the items are imported or domestic.  But I’ll forgive then, just because of these:  Cute Woolrich Wool Ballerina flats.


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