Tag Archives: 1980s

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.


Filed under I Didn't Buy...

Items from Our Catalog, 1982 and 1983

I thought I’d found a vintage LL Bean catalog at the Goodwill last week, but a closer look revealed something a bit strange.  A hound wearing a bra?  Now that’s one product I’m pretty sure I’d never seen at LL Bean.

And I was right.  This is not a catalog at all, but rather, is a parody of the famous Bean book.  The early 1980s were good years for LL Bean.  The Official Preppy Handbook  by Lisa Birnbach had been published in 1980, and suddenly everyone, even those who could not even name an elite prep school, was wearing chinos and duck shoes.  It must have been a very happy surprise for LL Bean, as they had been selling those products for years.

Items from Our Catalog, and its sequel, More Items from Our Catalog had a lot of fun making light of LL Bean.  I guess not everyone was sold on the idea of actually appropriating prep style.  Perhaps it was more fun to make fun of it.  So sit back and enjoy how Alfred Gingold reimagined the world of the preppy.

The first photo in each set is from my 1977 LL Bean catalog, and the second one is from Items from Our Catalog.

Bean’s Links-Knit Cardigan became…

the Como (as in Perry, I assume) Sweater.  Note the range of sizes.

The Bush Coat was a big seller among the LL Bean big game hunters.

The Our Catalog Bush Jackets were infinitely more creative.

Everyone need a drawer full of LL Bean turtlenecks in five different colors.

But how much more fun were the Invisible Print Turtlenecks of Our Catalog?  “An extraordinarily tasteful item that can not possibly offend anyone.”

Ragg Sweaters were an early 1980s wardrobe staple…

and no one did it better than Our Catalog.

Bean’s GumShoe was the “Three eyelet version of our famous Maine Hunting Shoe – for canoeing, yard work and campus or after ski wear.”

Our Catalog warned that their Gum Shoe was “…not recommended for rapid travel, dancing or carpets.”

The Boating Moc was another LL Bean and preppy standard.

The Our Catalog version was a bit pricier, but much more useful on the water.

LL Bean Madras Slacks were guaranteed to bleed, as all good madras does.

The Our Catalog Jackass Slacks came in “Three offensive Madras patterns” and were nonbleeding.

LL Bean was selling the fanny pack years before it hit mainstream fashion.

Our Catalog saw that there was another use of the pack.

Of course I focused on the clothing offerings from LL Bean and Items from Our Catalog, but there were plenty of great products for the outdoor lifestyle.  A favorite was the Field Litter Pan, a must-have for the camping cat.


Filed under Curiosities

Currently Reading: Halston & Warhol, Silver & Suede

When I visited the Mint Museum several weeks ago I picked up a card listing the upcoming exhibitions.  I was thrilled to see that Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede was to be traveling there next spring.   To celebrate I rushed home and ordered the companion book which was complied by the Andy Warhol Museum, the co-organizer (along with Halston’s niece, Leslie Frowick) of the show.

Halston and Warhol were, of course, contemporaries, but they were also friends and collaborators.   Warhol did his first flowers screen prints in the early Sixties, but he returned to the theme in 1970.  Two years later Halston had silk printed with the motif which was made into dresses.

Starting in 1979 Halston created a line of shoes for Garolini.  Warhol photographed a grouping of them in 1980 and created screen prints sprinkled with diamond dust.

In 1982 Halston commissioned Warhol to create art for his men’s wear line’s ad campaign.

The book is arranged in chronological order according to decades.  For each there is a handy timeline for Warhol at the top, and Halston at the bottom of the page.  It helps one see clearly how their lives and work connected.

Though Warhol was an artist, he was also a fashion illustrator, and he continued to be interested in fashion throughout his life.   His work for fashion companies and for fashion magazines spilled over into his non-commercial art.  Shoes was a prominent theme.  In the late Fifties he made stamps, as seen on the right, that he printed on paper and then hand colored.

The exhibition also shows examples of Halston’s signature looks, including the sarong dress.  Inspired by a friend and model who wrapped a towel around herself as she emerged from a swimming pool, Halston began working with the form.  The dress looks simple, but it is meticulously constructed on the bias.

This photograph was taken in 1974 at the famous Studio 54.  Halston is on the left and Warhol is on the right, with various other celebrities mingled in.

If you are a fan of the work of either Warhol or Halston, the book is a great resource to have whether you get to bee the exhibition or not.  It is currently showing in Pittsburgh at The Warhol until August 24, and then it travels to Des Moines.  It ends up in Charlotte next spring.

Hopefully that gives me time to do a little re-reading.  I’m currently in the middle of Popism: The Warhol 60s.  Next up is Simply Halston: A Scandalous Life by Steven Gaines which is a bit soapy and a lot gossipy.  I’ll finish with a marathon reading of The Andy Warhol Diaries, which Warhol narrated over the telephone to his friend Pat Hackett from late in 1976 until his death in 1987.

Talk about gossipy!  After the Diaries were published in 1989, Halston was reportedly so upset at the way he was portrayed that he sold his valuable collection of Warhol works.  But as my sister used to say, “If you don’t want to be portrayed in a bad light, then don’t do and say bad things.”  Unfortunately Halston didn’t have the benefit of my sister’s advice.


Filed under Currently Reading, Designers

Bonnie Cashin for Russ Taylor Rain Coat

I really did not intend to write anything else about Bonnie Cashin, but when I opened today’s mail, this coat fell out of a package.  It was from April of NeatBikVintage, who really does know how to make someone’s day special.

Bonnie Cashin’s association with Philip Sills ended in 1977, and the next year she started designing for Russel Taylor, a maker of rainwear.  Until she retired in 1985, Cashin made coats under the Weatherwear for Russ Taylor label, most of which were two colors of water-resistant cotton.  The outer shell was often a tan or khaki, and the interior and trim was a bright color like orange, or a cool color like charcoal grey or marine blue.  Or a black coat might be paired with tan trim and lining.

Cashin continued to use the features that she loved so much, and which makes her garments uniquely hers – metal closures, large pockets, simple shapes, supreme comfort.

These snaps at the side might seem to be purely decorative, but this is car coat length, and undoing the snaps would make the coat roomier in the car seat.  They could then be snapped to help protect against the weather.

The bright orange lining adds a spark of warmth to a gloomy, rainy day!

Thanks so much April.  You are a dear!


Filed under Collecting, Designers, Vintage Clothing

In the Beginning…

I couldn’t resist this Sotheby’s Belgravia catalog from 1981, as it was from a sale of Costumes and Textiles.  While most of this sale was for antique textiles, tapestries and embroideries, a good third of it was old clothes.  I thought it would be interesting to see what prices were being realized in 1981.

You have to remember that in 1981, the collecting and wearing of vintage clothing was a relatively new concept.  In the late 1960s, the Hippie Generation began wearing the castoffs of the past in their quest for anything that would make their parents cringe.   Stores selling old clothes with names like Aardvark’s Odd Ark in Los Angeles, Bizaare Bazaare in Oakland, and Jezebel in New York sprang up to feed the growing demand.

The first I remember reading about people buying and wearing old clothes was in 1975, with the Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy book, Cheap Chic.  The book wasn’t just about old clothes, but the idea of searching through thrift stores and antique stores for wearable old clothes was one of the main points of Cheap Chic.  What is really interesting is that the authors don’t even use the phrase “vintage clothing” in their text at all.  I found those words one time in a listing of where to buy old clothes that was in the back of the book.  I suspect it was written by the shop owner who submitted their info for the book.

In a 1979 there was an article in Vanity Fair magazine about the new area of collecting, that of old clothing. Again, nowhere in the article will you find the phrase, “vintage clothing.”

In 1982, New York old clothing dealer Harriet Love released what was to my knowledge the first book about buying and wearing vintage clothing, Harriet Love’s Guide to Vintage Chic.  By that time, “old” clothing had become “vintage,”  and an industry was born.

At the same time, there was a new interest in collecting historic clothing.  Some people attribute this interest to the influence of Diana Vreeland and her showstopping exhibits at the Met’s Costume Institute.  Suddenly, under DV, old clothing wasn’t stuffy and dusty any more.

And there were a few people who had actually been collecting couture – people like Beverley Birks and Sandy Schreier who amassed incredible collections at a time when there was very little interest in old clothes.  Both of these collections are still pretty much intact, though Birks is a dealer.  Both women had their collections profiled in Architectural Digest, one in 1988, the other in 1989.  At those late dates, both collectors lamented that all the good stuff was either over-priced or impossible to find.

But it was a different story in 1981.  Prices were still reasonable, but they did appear to be rising.  The 1920s dress on the left was made in France, was pink and beaded.  The estimate was 40 to 60 pounds, but realized 110.  In today’s pound, that would be 371.80, or $583.  That seems to be about what a good beaded 1920s frock would bring today.

On the other hand, bargains were to be had.  This Balenciaga was only 26 years old, and it realized only 14 pounds.  That would be 47 pounds, or $74 today.  Perhaps the price would be a bit higher after Mrs. Vreeland’s 1973 show,  The World of Balenciaga.

The Balenciaga looks like even more of a bargain after looking at the very next lot, a cowboy hat that came from Dallas star Larry Hagman, probably as a publicity stunt.  The hat realized 190 pounds, or 642 pounds in 2012, or $1008!

As a side note, Architectural Digest for several years devoted the entire September issue to the homes of fashion designers and to the the collecting of fashion.  I know of 1988,1989 and 1994, but there may be others.  They are a marvelous resource.


Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

Movie Inspirations ~ Out of Africa

This post is just so all of you will know that not everyone in the 1980s was dressing either like Madonna or Cindy Lauper, or was running around in huge Victorian wallpaper dresses.   No, there were those of us who were directly under the influence of the movie, Out of Africa.   The clothing in this romanticized view of the life of Karen Blixen’s life on the Dark Continent was the solution for a person like me, who was really into vintage, but didn’t want to look like a walking thrift store.    Take a pretty Edwardian waist, combine it with a linen skirt from Ralph Lauren or Banana Republic, add a pair of little boots, and I was set to go.

At the time, Banana Republic was nothing like the store of today.    It was founded in 1978 by Mel and Patricia Ziegler as an army surplus import business. As their supplies began to dry up, they began to manufacture copies of some of their most popular items.   By the early 1980s, most of their merchandise was designed and made for them, and the surplus disappeared from their catalogs and stores.

Both the stores and the catalogs had a vintage travel theme.   The catalogs read like travelogs, and the stores were decorated in a safari theme.   It was almost like being in a 1940s movie, with jungle sounds and 40s music playing in the background.   You almost expected Hemingway to come storming out of the dressing room!

I still have most of my Banana Republic wardrobe from the late 1980s (all except a certain jumpsuit that I left in a closet in a chalet in Switzerland), and I could wear any of it on the street today without feeling foolish.    I bet my friend can’t say that about wearing a particularily ornate Laura Ashley dress she bought in 1986!


Filed under Vintage Clothing