Tag Archives: Vintage Clothing

Cheap Chic: The 40th Anniversary Edition

I’ve written a lot on this blog about the book Cheap Chic, and how it was the book that introduced me to vintage clothing.  That was in 1975.  I was in college, and I found the newly released book at the library.  No one else got a chance to read it because I hoarded that book for the next two years until I bought my own copy.  I still have it, and I still pull it out from time to time to reread parts of it.

When the book was released forty years ago, I’d never seen anything like it.  Most fashion books that I’d been exposed to were advice books for teens, and all were terribly out of date for the late Sixties and early Seventies.  But Cheap Chic was relevant to me, a very young woman in the mid Seventies.  At that time fashion rules were being broken, with the young (and not-so-young) taking up the wearing of everything from antique underwear to the uniforms of the working class.

To me the biggest value in Cheap Chic today is that it is a good document of how many people in the Seventies were dressing.  To completely understand the attitudes toward dressing in that decade, you really must read this book.

But what about the “hundreds of money saving hints to create your own look”?  To be honest, much of the content is still relevant, while some of it is now old hat.  Still, it is hard not to be inspired by the content, even though a lot of it is a bit quirky.   Or maybe we can be inspired because it is quirky.  At any rate, the writing is honest and sincere, and very 1970s.

It used to be that to get a copy of Cheap Chic, you had to search for a used copy, but as of yesterday the book is back in print.  And the good news is that the publicist for the book has sent a copy to me to offer as a give-away to readers of The Vintage Traveler.  All you have to do to put your name in the hat for the book is to leave a comment on this thread.  I’ll be taking names until Sunday, September 6 at noon, EDT.

And to encourage participation, here’s a little taste of the contents.

Cheap Chic, by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, 1975


Filed under Currently Reading

Quality, Part III

I’ll finish up today talking about quality with an example of a vintage blouse that shows why so many people have fallen in love with the superb craftsmanship we often find in older clothes.  This blouse is from the 1950s, and I imagine it was quite expensive when new.

Let’s start with the fabric.  This blouse is made from Irish linen, and the little pink circles are appliqued to the fabric.  The dots are hand embroidered.

That is a neat job of applique, and what about the pink buttonholes?

The scalloped collar is actually two pieces, which helps with the curve of the neckline.  Notice how neatly finished the neck edge is, and the uniformity of the neck darts.

The seams are all French seams, which is a neater alternative to the flat-felled seams we saw in the cheaper shirts.

It may look as though they skimped on buttons, but this was meant to be tucked into a skirt and a button below the waistline would have left an imprint.  So instead, they put a snap to hold the bottoms of the blouse closed.

There is a little button under the collar in case the wearer was going for the buttoned-up look.

The label was sewn into the side of the blouse rather than at the neck where it might show and where it might irritate the wearer.

“Blouse du Jour.”  It would be nice to have seven – one for each day of the week.


Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing


One of the big selling points of vintage clothing is that it is perceived as being of higher quality than clothing made today.  It is true that a visit to your local vintage store will produce item after item of clothes of a quality that today would make them prohibitively expensive to produce for the average consumer.

So, were all clothes in the past just made better of superior fabrics using sophisticated techniques?  The short answer is no.

Since the dawn of ready-to-wear part of the market has been for people who are poor.  My latest reading (A Cultural History of Fashion in the 20th and 21st Centuries, by Bonnie English) indicates that probably the first ready-to-wear clothing was manufactured for the very poor in England in the late 18th century.

I’ve seen some really poorly made garments, dating back to the 1920s, but the truth is, that most things that have survived do seem to be of a higher quality.  My guess is that this is due to  several things.  First, clothing made of poor quality fabric couldn’t stand up to the wear.  And if poorer people were wearing these clothes, then they had to be worn until the fabric was either fit only for rags or for projects such as quilts.  Part of it might have to do with the things people tend to save.  Even out of style garments that cost the wearer a lot to buy end up hanging on in the deep dark corners of the closet for years.

I bought this early 1950s camp shirt despite the obvious poor quality.  It was interesting as the type of thing a woman might wear while touring with the husband and kids in their new station wagon.  Yes, I know this a stereotypical 1950s  family, but the vision  is there and I had to share it.

The interior of the shirt is a mess.  All the loose ends were just left hanging,  and I can’t imagine why the wearer didn’t take the time to tie them off herself.

This is one wonky little pocket.  Note how the right side is off at both the bottom and the top.

All the interior seams are flat felled, which is good, but they were stitched by a machine that did a chain stitch which is very easy to pull out.  And notice that some of the edges did not get turned under properly.

While the center front does sort of match, there was no attempt to match the check at the side seams.  It takes more fabric to properly match, and so is more expensive.

The shirt is nicely shaped with tucks and darts at the waist, but again, there was no attempt to make the two sides of the back look symmetrical.

There are some nice features, like this button at the collar and the elastic loop.  And while the fabric is not really of a good quality, the color has held up quite well.

I do really like the fun, casual look of the shirt.  It reminds me of a picnic cloth.




Filed under Uncategorized, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

Vintage Charlotte Holiday Pop-up Market

I first went to the Vintage Charlotte Market in June, and I liked it enough that I made the trip for their holiday show.  I was not disappointed.  The show is not just for vintage clothing, but rather, is a mix of all kinds of old stuff.  The vendors were well stocked and prepared for the 10 am opening.  By 11 the place was packed.

Many of the vendors did have clothing, and so there was quite a bit to look through.  I bought a pair of 1960s bowling shoes from the owner of this booth.

With Christmas and the Holidays coming up, there were boxes of vintage decorations.  I can remember when these could be found for a dime each at the thrift stores.  That was before Martha Stewart showed the world how to make a wreath from them.

The fishy bag was unsigned, and was a craft project, maybe.

This basket bag was not a craft project, as it still had a JC Penney tag attached.  I can remember when these were popular in the late 1960s.  I made one from a fruit basket and some red, white, and blue canvas.

The dress does not look like much in my terrible photo, but it was very nice.  It is net with appliques and an attached under dress.

And here is a close-up of the sleeve.

I had these shoes in the 1980s, and if these had been my size I would have bought them.  Made by Hush Puppies, they were the most comfortable shoes ever.  It is a bit of a bummer seeing the very same stuff you wore not too many years ago being sold as vintage, though.

From 1968, this “Misses Gay Nineties Costume” might be something to carry in the back of my mind just in case a weird “old” bathing costume comes my way!

The market was held at the Fillmore Charlotte, which is a music hall located in an old industrial building.  The only real problem with the set-up is the terrible lighting.  The room is dark, as you can see, and all the lights are extremely bright.  The lucky sellers were located near a window because they could get a little natural light.

So pretty… so distracting…

Finally, the mustache craze makes sense to me.  Isn’t this the best food truck?

At the last minute I decided to drive a few miles to Concord, NC, to two malls I’d heard of but never visited.  First up was The Depot at Gibson Mill.  Housed in an old cotton mill, the building itself was very interesting.  Best of all it is huge.  I could have spent the entire day there, and by the time I’d seen it all, I was pretty much out of energy.  I did manage a quick walk-through at the White Owl Antique Mall, which was also nice.

Concord is in the middle of cotton country, and today there are dozens of the old factories standing empty.  It was great seeing the Gibson Mill being used not only as an antique mall, but also housing offices and other businesses.  The community around the old mill consists of mill houses, many of which look to have been restored and nicely maintained.

My eight-year-old self wanted this badly.

I’m always happy to see Vera Neumann designs.  This is a tablecloth.


I’m looking at this Yuengling calendar, wondering why I did not buy it.  Why?

What is it about old letter sweaters?  I love them so much.


This beautiful old tennis graphic was glued inside an old box, which I assume held lawn tennis equipment at one time.  Still, the box was a real find and it was in nice condition except for the crack.  It also was not for sale.

More tennis, a few decades later.  This is a poster ad for tennis shoes.

All in all it was a great day.  I’ll share what I bought in another post.


Filed under North Carolina, Road Trip, Shopping

Sporteen Skirt with a Surprise

At first glance this skirt simply looked like a nice early 1950s straight skirt in a lovely  color and with an interesting button placement.  But then I noticed the belt.  It was a golf tee holder.

By that time the seller was starting to unbutton the skirt, which is not a skirt at all.

It is actually a culotte or divided skirt, but  it is cleverly disguised by the stitched pleats.  The back is also stitched, and it just looks like an inverted pleat.

This was not a new idea in the 1950s.  Before it was acceptable for women to wear trousers, there were all kinds of ingenious ways to make a skirt have two legs.  I have an example from the 1910s in my collection, and it is quite similar to this 1950s culotte skirt.

I really don’t know a thing about Sporteens, except that the listings that I’ve found of items for sale with the label are overwhelmingly skirts.   I also found a 1944 ad for a jacket and matching skirt.

And here is a very similar one, but without the buttons, from California sportswear designer De De Johnson, 1952




Filed under Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Are You Too Old for Vintage?

I actually wrote this post for another blog almost a year ago.  For some reason that blogger never published it on her site, so I’m going to put it here.  It’s very different from my usual posts, so I hope you enjoy it.  I was reminded of this after reading Michelle’s post on striking a balance between dressing too young and too old.  And my apologies to the blogger for whom this was intended.  If you ever decide to publish this on your site I’ll be happy to remove it from mine.

I’ve been into vintage clothing for a very long time, and at 57 I got to wear a lot of the styles that are vintage favorites today back when they were the height of fashion. When I discovered vintage clothing in the late 1970s, the vintage “industry” was quite new.  Wearing vintage was not the popular clothing option it is today.  I was discovering lovely pieces of old clothing but I didn’t want to look like it was Halloween.  So instead of wearing a complete vintage outfit, I began incorporating vintage pieces into my modern wardrobe.  This is a system that I’ve continued to use throughout the years.

For young women today, wearing vintage clothing is a fun alternative to modern clothing.  But we older women sometimes are hesitant to go all out in a vintage ensemble.  Often fit is an issue with a middle-aged figure, and many times the best vintage styles are simply too young looking.

There’s an old adage that says if you wore a fashion the first time it was popular, then your time is over.  When it comes to vintage the “rule” might be that it is really hard to pull off a look that you remember wearing in years past.  I’m not so sure one has to always adhere to such a rule, especially when it comes to classic pieces, but the truth is that an older person who wears something that dates to her adult lifetime runs the risk of looking like she raided the back of her own closet.  This is not the image most of us want to put out there.  Vintage is fun, but looking like you have not been shopping in 30 years is anything but.

So instead of revisiting the 1980s, go back further in time, to the early 1960s perhaps.  I remember these clothes on the women in my childhood, but I was too young for the Jackie Kennedy look.  Maybe that is why I find the clothing from the early 60s to be especially appealing.

That’s me in the photo, circa 1985.  Clearly, my time for puffed sleeved sweaters has come and gone.

Forget looking for vintage that would be “age appropriate.” By that I mean don’t try to wear things a 55-year-old woman would have worn in 1965.  Do you remember Aunt Bee from the Andy Griffith Show? That’s how middle-aged women were expected to look, but you should be going for pretty or sophisticated – anything but dowdy.  A 25-year-old woman might be able to pull off your grandmother’s 1970 poly dress with the elastic waist, but you will just look like your grandmother.

Photo copyright CBS Paramount Television

Look for things that fit in with your sense of style. If you love plaids or stripes or blue or floral prints, use that love as a starting point in looking at vintage clothing. Buy things you would be comfortable wearing if they were new. One of the advantages of being older is that we generally know what we like and what suits us. I’m not saying to not be adventurous; I’m saying if it feels like someone else’s clothes you are not as likely to wear it.

I may not want to wear a 1980s puffed sleeve sweater, but this one from the 1940s fits my sense of style and love of the color blue.

Vintage dresses can be hard for the older woman to wear. Combine the fact that your waistline is likely a few inches larger than it was when you were 22 with the fact that until the late 1960s (and sometimes beyond) most women wore firm body shapers. You will probably find that most vintage dress shapes between 1930 and the mid 1960s are just too small in the waist.

If this is your concern, you might try these two dresses from the mid 1960s, the shirtdress and the shift. Contrary to common belief, not everyone in 1966 was running around in super-short minis. That was a few years later.

Look for clothing that was meant to have an easier fit like coats, jackets and sweaters.  Because they were designed to wear over other garments, the fit is not as precise as a dress or a slim skirt.  Most of the vintage I own that I actually wear is outerwear purely because it is easy to find things that fit.

Again, be careful regarding style.  You want to find the right balance between too young and too dowdy.  Many vintage coats were cut to fit over the big skirts of the 1950s and early 1960s, and these tend to look shapeless without something beneath to fill them out.  An a-line coat like my Pendleton above is flattering for many body shapes.

If you are not sure about vintage clothing, start out with an accessory.  The selection of vintage handbags is simply staggering, and the quality is often much better than in handbags available today.  Evening bags are an exceptionally good buy, along with vintage bags in shapes that designers still turn to today.

If you love scarves, they are another great vintage value, not only silk ones but also cashmere and fine wool.  Other accessories to consider are jewelry, belts, hats and even shoes.

I’d love to hear your tips for wearing vintage, regardless of your age.


Filed under Proper Clothing, Viewpoint

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