Tag Archives: collecting

Flea Marketing Rules

I first wrote this list ten years ago, and I’ve repeated it and updated it several times since then.  Since flea market season is upon us (I’m headed out early tomorrow for the big Liberty Antiques Market!!) I thought it would be a good time to remind myself of my own rules.

Every year I miss some good stuff at the first market just because I forget to follow my own rules.  I thought writing them out might make them stick, kind of like the teacher making you write “I must not chew gum” 100 times!

1.  Go prepared.  Many of these events are partially or entirely out-of-doors.  I keep my VFG totebag packed with a hat, lipgloss, hard candies, tissues and antibacterial lotion.  I usually throw in a snack and a bottle of water. Food is often of the junky variety, so a healthy snack that you bring along might be more to your liking.  Keep in mind that restroom facilities may be primitive (so stop at the closest fast food place before entering) and handwashing not possible.

2. But don’t take stuff you don’t need. If the fair is in a field, a rolling cart is pretty much useless unless it has very large wheels.  Leave your big and full-to-bursting handbag at home, and carry a small bag with just the essentials.  I have a little wrist bag that holds just my cash, cards and cell phone.  I attach it to my totebag so I won’t accidentally drop it.  Do not bring along family members or friends who will slow you down and whine about being bored.

3. Take cash. Many vendors will take a check, but few take credit or debit cards, and they don’t give the best deals if they have to pay bank fees.  Most big flea markets do have an atm, so credit cards can be handy.  Try to have a stash of small bills for cheap purchases.

4. Dress comfortably. For now and the fall, layers are great.  The mornings are cool, but the afternoons hot.  And wear comfortable walking shoes that you are not afraid to get dirty! If it has been rainy and the event is out of doors, take a pair of rubber boots.

5. Identify yourself. With your clothing, I mean.  I carry a Vintage Fashion Guild tote that has a  logo that identifies me as a person who is interested in fashion items.  I also often wear a Scottie dog pin, as I also collect Scottie items.  Dealers notice these things, and will offer you things you might have overlooked.

6.  Buy it when you see it.  I don’t care how big it is, I don’t care that your arms are full, I don’t care that the vendor is very busy and you are in a big hurry.  If you spot something that you intend to buy, do NOT leave the booth without buying it.  If you do, one of the following will happen – You will forget about the item until you are half way home.  You will go back to the booth just in time to see another buyer happily paying for YOUR item.  You will forget where the booth is and spend hours searching for it a second time, but never finding it.  Trust me on this one.  If I had time I’d tell you about the 1920s velvet cape with a Paris label, but it always makes me cry.

7.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Most dealers will give you at least 10%, and if it is near the end of the show, often they will offer quite a bit more. But be nice and not demanding.  Please, don’t be greedy.  If the price is $1, just pay it!  If you pull a pristine Pucci scarf out of a box of ratty old linens, please give the guy his $2 asking price.  It’s good Karma.

8.  Ask dealers if they have what you are seeking. If you find a dealer who seems to have a lot of vintage clothing, or whatever you want, ask if he or she has more.  Chances are they do, and chances are you’ll be going to other fairs where that dealer will be selling.

9. Carry some of your business cards and give them to anyone who might have leads on what you are looking for.  Even if you are not in a “business”, you need business cards if you collect or blog.

10.  Inspect items carefully.  I’ve been known to get so carried away with a find that I neglected to give it a good going-over. This can lead to heartbreak when you get home and realize half of the 1920s Vogue bargain magazine was used to make paper dolls.

7 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Shopping

Currently Reading: All the Best Rubbish by Ivor Noël Hume

When I was a freshman in college I discovered history.  I’d always liked reading about the past, but for the first time I became really excited about it.  I was all ready to major in American literature when I was thrown into the core program at my small, public university.  All freshmen were required to take a year of “humanities” classes which consisted of history, sociology, literature and writing.  My teacher of the first term was a history professor, and he approached the curriculum through the study of history, incorporating the literature of the era along with other social studies.  I was hooked.

It wasn’t enough that I was studying history in class, so I went in search of other things to fuel my interest.  I can’t remember how I came to pick up this book by historical archaeologist Ivor Noël Hume, but I suspect it was a happy accident from repeated browsing at the newly opened B. Dalton bookstore in Asheville.  But however I came to own the book, I quickly fell under the spell of the “Pleasures and Perils” of collecting.  For a while my greatest ambition in life was to go mud-larking on the banks of the Thames, as the author made it sound so appealing.

But my life took a different turn, and instead of becoming a mud-larker, I became a teacher.  And I had not picked up this book for thirty-five years.

Recently I was moving furniture around and in doing so was moving books to a new bookcase.  I ran across my much-loved copy of All the Best Rubbish, and was reminded of what it had meant to me all those years ago.  As a result, I put it in the reading queue.

To my surprise, the book seems to have had a lasting influence on my collecting.  Ivor Noël Hume is not only a renowned archaeologist, he is also a collector, and the book, while it tells much about his job at Colonial Williamsburg, is mainly about the things he found over the years and what he learned from them.  The main take-away is this: The most expensive artifacts are not always the most valuable in terms of history.  Simple, everyday objects are most often the ones that can teach us the most about the past.  And while Noël Hume’s examples were often ceramics and glass, the same can be said for clothing.

Collecting only the best and rarest may be satisfying to the egotist or to the person needing aesthetic stimuli to get him through the misery of life in a world of mediocrity, but it does nothing for anyone wanting to know what it was like to live in other centuries.

Another valuable lesson is that value is subjective, and is more often than not, based on opinion.  Something that is thought to be ugly becomes less so when there are lots of dollar signs attached to the item.

Even though this book was published over forty years ago, so much of it will strike a chord with modern collectors:

The collector…has the residue of a lifetime for research and the acquisition of keys to doors beyond which lie journeys, adventures, and dramas that are not uniquely his own.

After all, it it not just the owning of objects, but the history that we can learn from these objects that is important.

UPDATE:

I could not resist adding a photo of this 18th century engraving, as the woman on the left and I share a name.  My grandmother was Elizabeth Adams (but was called Lizzie) and I was named for her, being Sharon Elizabeth Adams. I never knew the original Lizzie as she died the year before my birth, but by all accounts she was a kind and generous woman, with not a trace of larceny in her heart!

12 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Currently Reading, Viewpoint

Waist Management: A History of Unmentionables

The Fashion History Museum has a newly opened exhibition at the  Peel Art Gallery Museum in Brampton, Ontario,  Waist Management  It’s all about how undergarments have been used to help women achieve a fashionable silhouette, something that is apparent in just one photo from the display.

A while back I wrote about selling items from my collection and how I’d do it only if I were convinced that the person wanting an item wanted it more than I.  The truth is I’ve also been known to actually give things away if I know someone needs it.

Back in the very early days of Ebay I was smart enough (actually that would be lucky enough) to buy a bit of the lingerie line that Emilio Pucci designed for Formfit Rogers.  At the time it was considered to be a poor alternative to the wonderful silk jersey vintage Puccis that were already getting nice ending prices on the auction site, but the lingerie was cheap and so I bought a few miscellaneous pieces.

After the onslaught of fast fashion made of tissue paper thin poly, the thin nylon Formfit Puccis soared in price.  They were seen not only as wearable clothing, but gained deserved respect as a part of fashion history.

Several months ago I was mindlessly browsing the site I love to hate, Pinterest, and noticed that the Fashion History Museum had begun posting parts of the collection.  In their lingerie section was a Pucci Formfit Rogers matching bra and girdle.  I was pretty sure I had a matching piece, and a quick look through my catalog revealed that I did have a matching robe.

I emailed Jonathan at the museum to ask if he would like to have my piece for the museum’s collection, and of course he did.  I sent it off along with another donation and an ad that showed that this design dates to 1969.

I was delighted to get the photo in my inbox last night.  Knowing that something I had accumulated is now being used to educate others about fashion history is a great feeling.

12 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Museums, Uncategorized

Looking at a Collection

Recently I was lucky enough to be asked to look through a collection of antique and vintage clothing and linens.  I was asked by an acquaintance of an acquaintance, so it shows how important making friends can be, even in the online world.  Anyway, the clothes were the property of a woman who had been in the home economics department of a local university.  She taught construction and pattern drafting.

Even though her interest in clothing and sewing was well-known, her family had no idea about the collection until after she died.  Quite a few large plastic tubs were found, all neatly labeled “Antique Clothing” or “Antique Linens.”  Her cousin, the administrator of the estate knew little about old clothing, and so that’s when I was called in.

Almost all the clothes were Victorian and Edwardian whites – lingerie pieces and white embroidered waists.  Much of the collection was of a very high quality with all the embroidery and laces made by hand.  Other pieces were more common, with little ornamentation and  cheaper laces.  There were chemises and nightgowns and dressing gowns and a few wonderful dresses like the one shown above.

There were vintage linens of all kinds, especially bridge tablecloths.  I love this windmill one.  That one blade moves to indicate the bid.

There was also a nice selection of vintage crafted handbags.  The collector may have used them for inspiration, as she was a contributor to quite a few craft books that were published by Lark Books and in their magazine Fiberarts.

A big mystery was this incredible jacket.  It is not embroidered, it is appliqued, and is all in wool felt.  I’d never seen anything like it and would sure appreciate being enlightened.

The collector’s interests also extended into textile making, and in the basement of her house a huge loom was set up.  You can also see a spinning wheel, a quilting frame and an embroidery stand.  As far as the family knew, she was not actively involved in activities that would actually use these tools.

But she did sew, and this folding cutting table was in her sewing studio.  That big drawer was full of vintage patterns, all neatly categorized.  After much thought, I decided to buy the table, as I’ve been cutting on a folding picnic table.  I’ll be reorganizing my sewing room and will show it later.

It was really a shame that the collector did not leave any information about her collection.  The cousin suspects that some of them were family pieces as they were tagged with a code that included the collector’s hometown.  Others still had price tags attached from where they had been purchased at an antiques store many years ago.  Perhaps she used them as examples in the classes she taught.  She may have used them for sewing inspiration.  As a lover of textiles, maybe she just appreciated them as lovely objects.

39 Comments

Filed under Collecting

Currently Reading: Vintage Fashion and Couture

I bought this book in a moment of weakness.  I had sworn off any more books aimed at the vintage market, but after seeing some of the pages from this one, I let my guard down.

First, it has to be said that Kerry Taylor is a professional in the vintage business.  After running the Costume and Textiles division at Sotheby’s, she went on to establish her own auction house that specializes in clothing and textiles.  She’s handled thousands of old garments, and has seen works come through her business that most of us see only in museums.  Kerry Taylor knows vintage clothing.

But that aside, her book is like most other books on collecting vintage clothing.  It tries to be both history and sales guide, and it ends up failing at both.

It was this type of page that made me order the book.  Kerry picked out influential designers from each decade, and then showed typical garments, and even details and labels.   The Delphos dress on the right is quite commonly seen, but the stenciled velvet coat and jacket are not, and it is great having them illustrated in the book.  Had all the pages lived up to this quality, the book would be a real treasure.

In this page on Jeanne Lanvin, we are shown two dresses, including an example of her famous robe de style.  I know you can’t read it, but on each of the pages the last paragraph or two is about the market for that designer.  This information is very valuable, especially for people who can afford to buy at that level of collecting.

And while I’m not a fan of Martin Margiela, I did like the section showing and explaining his work.

Taylor also has sections illustrating style “icons.”  This one is, of course, Audrey Hepburn.  We’d know that dress anywhere, which is a problem.  Many of the photographs in the book are so commonly seen as to be nonessential.  Why show a photo of Hepburn in this dress, when most people have seen it many times?

Another example is this photo of Coco Chanel.  This section was, however, saved by the inclusion of the early Chanel labels.

But my biggest problem with the vintage photos is this particular one showing Dior’s famous Bar suit of 1947.  This photo has become almost synonymous with the suit, even though it was taken in 1957.  There is quite a bit wrong with this photo, as Jonathan Walford has explained.  Seriously, fashion publishers, it is time to retire this photo.

Unfortunately, there are also quite a few factual errors in the book.  The first one I noticed was in the Lanvin information.  Taylor wrote that Antonio Castillo was the designer at Lanvin from 1963, when actually he was there from 1950 through 1963.  In writing about Schiaparelli, Taylor declares that there does not seem to be a surviving example of her skeleton dress of 1938, when in fact, there is one in Taylor’s own city, at the Victoria and Albert.   Taylor also changes history by putting the Woodstock festival in 1968 instead of 69.

After catching the first error, I had to make myself stop looking for others.  The temptation was to sit with a fashion encyclopedia at hand and fact-check the entire book.  Since the book is somewhat UK-centric, I have no idea about so many of the labels she discussed, but I know I’d never quote this book without double-checking elsewhere.  In short, it is pretty much useless as a reference.

It makes me wish that Taylor had just stuck to what she knew, and that is the vintage market.  There was so much potential that just did not materialize.

22 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Currently Reading

Buttons

Click for the full effect

I sew, therefore I collect buttons.  By collect I don’t mean that I am a button collector in the strictest sense.  I’m more of a saver, an accumulator, maybe even a hoarder.  I just never know when I’ll need seven purple plastic buttons to complete a project, so when I see them, I buy them.

I mentioned last week that I still have my grandmother’s button box.  When she sold her house and dispersed her belongings it was one of the two things I wanted most. (Along with her sewing machine, which I foolishly let a cousin take to save a nasty scene.  But that’s another story.)

Button boxes used to be a household necessity.  Worn garments were not simply tossed into the trash.  The buttons and zippers were removed for later use, and the fabric was either used for rags or if any of it was suitable, was used in quilts and other projects.   Because buttons were saved, it is now possible to find boxes and jars filled with them at flea markets, antique stores and estate sales.  I’m always looking for them.

Over the years I’ve accumulated quite a few.  Some of the more special of them I keep in one of those metal boxes that have the little drawers that are meant for nuts and bolts and screws and such.  They are perfect for organizing buttons.

In the first drawer I have single buttons, in the second drawer I have doubles, then triples, and so forth.  I also have a drawer for just single metal ones, and a drawer for black glass buttons.

I’m always looking for great old (and new) buttons.  I’ve been known to buy trashed dresses and holey sweaters just to save the buttons.  I also love shopping for buttons when I travel.  The wooden buttons with the oak leaves came from a button shop in Munich quite a few years ago.

These buttons came with an old sewing box I bought years ago.  I love how the owner of it arranged the same colored buttons on wire.  The rest of the box is filled with old zippers.

Even if you do not sew, terrific buttons can really transform a plain dress, sweater, or jacket.  I’ve always switching buttons around on the things in my closet.  But sometimes I get it right, and no switching is necessary:

Carved wood, made in Czechoslovakia.

21 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Vintage Sewing

Managing a Clothing Collection

I’ve had several people ask how I store and manage my collection, so today’s post is devoted to the working side of collecting.  You have to keep in mind that I’m a collector, not a museum, but I do the best I can to preserve the items in my care.  What I do is far from perfect, but I’m always looking for ways to improve.

First, a few details about what is in the collection.  I have almost 1000 items of clothing, shoes, hats, handbags and other accessories.  The oldest items are around 100 years old, and the newest are about 40 years old.  There are very few items made from fur as it requires a more complicated storage for which I’m not equipped.

I store my collection in a late Victorian cottage we own.  It is not ideal, as there is no air conditioning.  It is heated and has humidity controls, and we are very careful about pest control.  I use two rooms that are quite dark, and in addition I have shades on the small windows that further block the light.

Most of the clothing is stored by hanging.  There are two large closets that allow for quite a bit of hanging garments.  The closet here actually has a second rack behind the one you can see.  The  colored boxes are full of shoes.

All items are hung on padded hangers for which I’ve made muslin covers.  After hanging the garment I then cover it with a cover that I’ve made from muslin or from white pillowcases.  I try to find unused ones at thrift stores.

Knits and fragile items are stored either flat or folded with padding.  Each is stored in its own muslin or linen cloth envelope.  I store these in old hatboxes that have been sprayed with an acid neutralizer.  Inside each box is a list of the contents.  I’m working toward acquiring acid free flat boxes, but they are very expensive.

I always have a piece or two on display just for inspiration.  I switch these out quite often.

Once the collection started growing, I realized I had to have a system that would make it easier to find items when I needed them.  I also needed to be recording the details of each item.  I came up with a number system, based on the estimated year of manufacture.  I limited the system to every 5 years, so items are dated 1917, 1922, 1927 and so on.  There is a number for type of item, such as 1 for clothing, 2 for shoes, 3 for hats, and so on.  Then each item is given a numeral in the order acquired.

The card above is for a late 1930s pair of pants.  I put a lot of information on the card, including a short description, a condition report, any labels, where and when acquired, and the price paid.  On the reverse of the card is other info such as any known provenance.  I also put the date of any blog post that I’ve made about the object.

I also keep a notebook for each decade that has a photo of each item, along with the item’s number.   I group items together as they might have been worn.

I also include scans of vintage ads that I find of the items, when I’m that lucky.

That is it in a nutshell.  If you want to see how far I have to go, you need to view this video of the V&S’s new storage facility.  I am humbled!

 

37 Comments

Filed under Collecting