Tag Archives: 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.

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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.

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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!

 

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What I Didn’t Buy – 1940s Cowboy Print Skirt and Blouse

My dad used to joke that my mother’s middle name was “Go” and now my husband makes the same joke about me.  But a more appropriate name for me would be “Stop!”  That because I can’t pass by an antique store without stopping.  Seriously, it’s a miracle I ever get to a destination.

My trip last week was no exception.  I had plenty of stops scheduled on the way to West Virginia and on the way home from Washington.  Actually I had too many stops planned, but more about that later.

One thing that caught my eye was this great little top from the 1940s.  I hope you can tell that the print is a bucking bronco with a cowboy flying over the fence.  I pulled the top from the rack and checked the price.  It was a bit more than I wanted to pay, but then I realized there was another piece – a skirt.  The price became more in line with what I would have expected, and I started contemplating a purchase.

I never let myself get too excited about a piece until I check it over for condition issues.  At first glance this looked pretty good.  There was an open seam in one armhole, which is an easy fix.

But then I noticed what looked to be bleach spots on the skirt.

That was problematic, but was still not a deal breaker.  Then I looked at the buttons, and that is what changed my mind.

There was only one button left, and the others had been torn away with gaping holes left in their place.  I put the set back on the hanger and left it for someone who could love it as it was.

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Getting My Fifteen Minutes

Back in March I was contacted by Stephanie, a writer at Treasures magazine, to see if I would tell a little about my swimsuit collection.  Since I’m always up for a good swimsuit discussion, I couldn’t say no.  So I sent some photos and answered some questions and then, well, I forgot about it.

And then yesterday I got some copies of the June issue of Treasures in the mail and I was just floored by the beautiful job the magazine staff did.

Here is a preview of the article.  It will be on the website soon, where you can now see a preview of the May issue.

As a lover of old stuff, I’m really enjoying reading the entire magazine.  This issue has articles on wedding cake toppers, honey pots, samplers and glassware.  There are also several question and answer columns and information about upcoming antique shows.

My thanks to Stephanie Finnegan and the staff of Treasures.  All photographed material copyright, Pioneer Communications.

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Back to the Seventies

I graduated from high school in 1973, and this outfit would have been the very thing I’d have worn that year.  The girls at my school had just been granted the right to wear pants, mainly because the school officials didn’t seem to be able to control the shortness of the minis we were wearing.  Yes, there were rules, but they couldn’t send us all home.  So rather than have the constant parade of over-exposed thighs, the powers must have concluded that covered up, even if it meant pants, was better.

It was a whimsical time in fashion with lots of silly little prints of Holly Hobbie and cartoon characters that were popular with girls at my school.  We liked pinafore tops and I even had a dress with a back tie sash.  I guess we knew it was pretty much our last chance to really be kids.

So, sure, I’d have worn the mouse sweater.

I’ve had this little Bobbie Brooks sweater for at least five years, and possibly longer.  When I found it I had a perfect vision of the pants that would go with it.  First, they had to be plaid.  The main color would be light, or even white, but the blue would match, and there would be a darker color, maybe a deep gold or a red.

When I found these last week, I was pretty sure I’d found my pants.  Still, I was working the color from memory and could not be sure.  It helped that colors are fashion-driven, and this was a good color in the early 70s.

It was such a good match that you might think that the pants are also from Bobbie Brooks.  Actually, the label is Gordon of Philadelphia, which was geared toward a slightly older, more conservative consumer.  But I guess even the preppy had to capitulate to the way of fashion, at least for a few years.

 

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With a Little Help from My Friends

It really amazes me how many people I’ve made friends with here on the WWW.  There are a few that go back over ten years – people I “met” on the Ebay vintage clothing board.  And it seems like other vintage lovers just seem to find one another amidst all the noise of the internet.

Today I have a few “thank yous” to hand out, because sometimes kind friends will spot something and think of me.

When Mod Betty came to town last month, she came bearing gifts.  But that was not a surprise, as she is the type who loves matching objects with the perfect recipient.   She knows I love Tammis Keefe designs, and since she is from the Philadelphia area, that hankie showing the famous Wanamaker’s department store eagle was quite the thing.

Janey, the Atomic Redhead, lives in the Portland, Oregon area, and so she was lucky enough to run across this vintage White Stag hanger.  I was lucky enough that she sent it to me.

Monica recently lucked into a nice collection of vintage shoes, and she sent three pairs of them to me.  Among them was this pair, made in France by Andre Perugia.  Even the box is Parisian!

Also from Monica is this absolutely perfect Vera scarf.  Every Vintage Traveler needs a vintage travel themed scarf.

This super hat from the Columbia Sportswear Company was sent to me by April of NeatbikVintage.  I’ve never written about Columbia because I’ve never found an older piece from the company.  Started in 1938 in Portland, Oregon, they were the Columbia Hat Company until 1960 when they changed the name to the Columbia Sportswear Company.

So thanks to you all for the gifts.  They were all welcome additions to my collection.

And while I’m in a grateful mood, I’d also like to thank all of you who take the time to email with additional information about things I post here.  I’ve learned more than I can say from Lynne and Nathalie and Susan and Christina and Jen.  And that goes double to those of you who answer my inquisitive emails, Lynne and Jonathan.

Now I just hope I haven’t left anyone out.  But if I did email me a swift kick in the butt reminder and I’ll make amends.

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