Tag Archives: wardrobe

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.

28 Comments

Filed under Proper Clothing, Viewpoint

Wedding Attire

Last Saturday my nephew got married and it was an occasion to get out of the plaids and cashmere sweatshirts.   I toyed with the thought of making a dress, but realized it was going to be black and I did not need another black dress.  So I pulled out one I’ve had for several years and piled on the vintage gold.

My sweater is an early 1960s Hadley cashmere with applied gold braid and little gold studs.  It is made out of what they called “Cashmere Souffle” which was their best product, being an 8 ply yarn.  I found it years ago at a Salvation Army store bag sale.  The best 50 cents I’ve ever spent.

I did make the belt, which doesn’t show up very well.  I was rather fond of it.

And unfortunately, I don’t have a photo that shows my shoes, which were the finishing touch.  I found them, again, years ago, at a Goodwill.  They are from the late 1950s, from Saks Fifth Avenue.  This pretty pathetic photo shows just the toes.  The heels are also decorated with little jewels and that web design.  Every woman there was envious of my shoes.

PS:  My hair is not that blonde.  The late afternoon light was quite strong…

17 Comments

Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

The Question of Age

Is it me, or is everyone talking about AGE these days?  At first I thought it was me because I’m in the process of writing a post for another blog about vintage for the over 40 set.  I’m been giving the issue a lot of thought, but you’ll have to wait a few weeks for that one.

But while pondering the question of how wearing vintage clothing might be different for a person in their teens and one in their 50s, I keep stumbling over articles that deal with the issue of aging, and in particular, aging and fashion.

First up, the fall 2012  Lanvin ad campaign.  For this campaign, the people at Lanvin decided to use “real” people, including Advanced Style blog regulars 62-year-old   Tziporah Salamon and 82-year-old Tajah Murdock.  According to Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz, “The phenomenon I see today of women erasing their age – nobody is allowed to have an age anymore, nobody is allowed to have wrinkles or imperfections.  I thought, let’s change that, let’s show that fashion can be amazing on 81-year-olds and 17-year-olds, on Tziporah, who is not size 36, and she looks gorgeous.”

Okay, I can relate to that, being 57 and not size 36 myself.  (A European size 36 is like a US 4, and a UK and Australian 8)

Even more interesting is American Apparel’s  use of 60-year-old  Jacky O’Shaughnessy as the model in a recent campaign, Advanced Basics.   She was spotted while having dinner in a restaurant.  You’ve got to wonder if the ad people were told to “get out there and find us a stunning old lady.”  Not that 60 is THAT old.

I think is is a sad commentary on our society that this is even news.  Everyone wears clothes, so why aren’t clothes marketed toward everyone?  I really started thinking about that this week when Jody posted on her blog about how companies, even those that have been known for their quality products, have started skimping in order to save a buck on construction costs.  As an example, she posted a tee shirt from Eileen Fisher.

If you aren’t familiar with Eileen Fisher, you should know that the line is pretty much targeted toward the 40+ set.  The shapes are simple and forgiving, the colors neutral, and they make their products up to a size XL.  So why are all the models on the site a size 0 with an average age of 22?  Whether we like it or not, the simple truth is that as we age, our body shape changes.  Very few women have the same shape at 55 that they had at 25, even women who watch their weight and have remained slim.  With so much of our clothing purchases being made on-line with just the aid of a few photographs, it would be helpful if the photos featured women of the target purchasing group.

(Not to bash Eileen Fisher, as this is a problem industry wide.  And there is a nifty feature on their site where the Eileen Fisher employees get to play dress-up with the goods.  I got a much better sense of how the clothing actually would look on different body types from that slide show than I got from any of the sales pages.)

So two ad campaigns do not a trend make, but it is a step in the right direction.  Maybe we’ll even see a model who is 60, 5’2″ and weighs 130!  Don’t hold your breath.

17 Comments

Filed under Viewpoint

Colors You Can and Cannot Wear

How’s that for a straight forward title?  Well, this little pamphlet came from a straight forward company, the Woman’s Institute of Scranton, Pa.  The Women’s Institute was the brainchild of Mary Brooks Picken, sewing guide author, the first woman trustee of FIT, and and one of the five founding members of what was to become the Costume Institute of the Met.

Picken was a very busy woman who accomplished much in her 95 years, but the Woman’s Institute was how she spread her influence across the country.  It was basically a mail order business, and a woman could take a course of study in home dressmaking, professional dressmaking, millinery or cookery.  Much of the sewing course material was written by Picken herself.

Reading through the promotional literature put out by the Woman’s Institute, you get the distinct feeling that it was Picken’s mission in life to stamp out UGLY.

If you would like to be able to plan and design clothes that will always be a charming expression of your own individuality – to select the lines, colors and materials that will bring out your natural beauty and minimize any little defect – if you would like to have all the pretty things your heart desires at only the cost of the materials – then check  below the subject in which you are most interested…

As a sample of the types of things the Woman’s Institute could help with, this folder has an actual chart that helps one select the colors that are most becoming:

Click to see an enlargement

The problem is I can’t really decide where I fit in on the chart.  I’m sort of between a Pale Brunette and a Blonde-Brunette.  I guess that means more options for me!

12 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing

Currently Reading – Overdressed

I first read about Elizabeth Cline’s work through her blog, The Good Closet.  On it she has been encouraging people to send her photos of their closets, the point being that it was a graphic demonstration that we all have too much stuff.

Turns our she’s been busy writing more than a blog.  Yesterday her book, Overdressed, The Shockingly High Price of Cheap Fashion was released, and due to the very good press the book has been receiving, I knew I’d be interested in her message.  So I downloaded the book to Kindle and quickly read through it.  I plan to go back and re-read it, as there was just so much information it was hard to absorb it all.

So what exactly is the high price we are paying for fast, cheap fashion?  There are quite a few things, starting with the collapse of the American clothing and textile industries.  We went from having almost all our clothing made in the US in 1960, to an estimated 2-5% today.  Living in a state that was highly dependent on textile jobs, I can tell you the negative effect this has had on the economy of North Carolina.

But the problems go much, much farther.  Much of the textile and clothing production moved to countries when environmental laws are practically nonexistent.  It is an ecological disaster of major proportion with piles of polyester scraps littering the landscape and dyes being dumped directly into streams.  These countries also have few laws to protect workers, and the minimum wage which is the norm in clothing factories, is not a proper living wage.

None of these ideas are surprising, as these problems are well publicized.  But Cline brings up a very interesting point, one that I had floating in the back of my mind, but had not seen the scope that she presented.  And that is that much of our clothing has become so cheap that it is considered to be little more than disposable.  And in fact, clothing is being consumed at an alarming rate in first world countries, and there are indications that the tendency to over-consume is spreading to countries like China, where clothing consumption has been very low due to the poverty of the population.

I’ve been shopping in thrift store since the late 1970s, and the increase of the amount of clothing seen in stores today is just astounding.  Not only that, but there are many more thrifts in which to shop.  Cline writes about a Salvation Army processing center she visited, and tells how the excess clothing is sorted and baled.   Very little of what is donated ever makes it to the sales floor.  There is simply too much of it.  I’ve seen the very same thing at my local Goodwill Clearance Center.

So, what happens to all this clothing?  The quality of so much of it is so poor that it ends up either in the trash or in donations to thrift stores within months of having been bought new.  For years clothing recyclers have been selling huge bales of clothing to re-sellers in Africa (causing the collapse of the clothing manufacturing industry in several African countries), but now there are indications that cheap new clothing is making inroads in some African countries.  With some of the major cheap clothing retailers selling clothing that is counted in the millions of pieces a year, where exactly is it all going to go?

It’s a troubling question.

The solution to the problem has to lie in a change of attitudes toward clothing.  Cline advocates a return to “slow” clothing, much like many people have made slow food a movement.  She suggests that people learn about how clothes are made so that they can tell a quality garment from all the trash that is being sold.   Look for quality in the clothes you buy, and be prepared to pay a little more.  Search out clothing that is made in the USA (or in the country in which you live) or that is made in countries that have and enforce fair labor laws.

In the past, I’ve put it this way:  Shop responsibly.  It’s the very same thing.

There is an excellent interview with Cline on the NPR program, On Point, and you can listen to it online.

Note: Cline does talk quite a bit about vintage clothing as a good way to contribute to the solution of this problem.  She also advocates the refashioning of clothing, including vintage that is “stained, torn or too out-of-date to sell.”

18 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading

Know Thyself

School started back this week (hard to believe, but true) and for the sixth year, I did not have to go.  Being retired is the life I was born to.  People still ask if I don’t miss teaching, and I’ll say that I do, but what I really miss is getting dressed every day.  I miss my skirts and shoes and all the things I worked so hard to assemble as a professional wardrobe.

Actually, I haven’t really missed these things because much of it was still lurking in the back of my closet and in my storage chest.  But after reading earlier this summer that most people wear 20% of their clothing 80% of the time, I realized that I was nothing but a statistic, and that  it was time to address the closet problem.  Starting in June, I began the slow, painful process of letting go.

There have been volumes written on how to develop a wardrobe, and how to clean out the closet.  They all make it sound so simple, but the truth is that there are memories in each item of clothing.  It’s hard to give away the pair of sandals I bought in Athens, even if they are a half size too big and keep slipping, or the perfect suede jumper I got in Montreal that now refuses to stay buttoned.  I seem to have formed a personal attachment to the things that gave me an air of professionalism, but that were still fun to wear.  How could I just turn and walk away?

I actually decided not to try and weed out everything at once.  The first go through I focused on things that were flawed – shoes that were a little tight, the previously mentioned jumper.  This produced a gigantic pile of things for the thrift store.  After a month or so, I was ready to give it another go.  Any orphan-colored pieces or thrifting mistakes went into the donate pile.  Also, I scrutinized each piece for quality.  If it was not well-made, out it went.

Finally, this past week I got really firm and vowed that if I’d not worn it since I retired six years ago, I’d have to have a very good reason for keeping it.  As it turned out, the only clothes from my old teaching wardrobe that I ended up keeping were the really great pieces that I have been wearing:  skirts from Gaultier, Celine and Courreges, the perfect black tee shirt dress from Lands End, cashmere sweaters and a leather jacket I’d bought in Florence.

But even more valuable than having extra space in my closet was a new-found awareness of the types of clothes that were now working for me.  The glimpse inside my closet reveals that I love blue and I love stripes and plaids.  There are no florals and very little green.  I prefer V-necks over crew, and bateau over scoop.  This has given me a nice list of things to look for while thrifting, to help zone in on the things that I’ll actually wear and love.

It also has helped me identify any gaps that needed to be filled.  After throwing out the four pairs of sad-looking sweat and yoga pants that were my wintertime staples,  I’d been on the lookout for a source of comfortable chinos, which I found at L.L. Bean  (Love them, but I had to compromise my vow not to buy anything made in China).  I’ve been able to see where I need to up-grade (and up-date) a few items.

It’s rather nice knowing that the clothes in the closet now fit with the way I live, but without making me look like an out and out slob.

Life changes, and so should your wardrobe.  What’s really interesting is that now my closet looks a lot more like it did in 1975 (college days) than it did when I was working.  Plato was right.  To have a wardrobe that works, you have to know yourself.

22 Comments

Filed under Proper Clothing

Vintage Shoes – The Loafer

I read a recent study that found that the average American woman wears about 20% of the clothes in her closet, 80% of the time.  It got me to thinking about my own closet, and so I took a little tour, appraising each garment and the amount of time each had spent on my back in the past year.  Fully 50% of the clothing, and even an even higher percentage of the shoes have not been worn in in past two years.

This was eye-opening in a couple of ways.  First, I don’t consider myself to be a “shopoholic”.  I rarely ever shop retail, but I’ll admit that thrift store shopping has let to an over-inflated wardrobe.  Stuff is so inexpensive that I will buy if there is the slightest chance I’ll get it home and love it.   That goes a long way toward explaining how the closet got so full of things I never wear.

Also, I started thinking about why I don’t wear some of these incredible bargains.  I seem to be attracted to certain things that I never wear.   It appears that I have an image problem.  I must somehow *see* myself in flowy linen pants with drawstring waists and loose rayon tees from Eileen Fisher, but in reality, I’m just not that person.

So for the past few days I’ve been going through my clothes and shoes and being very honest with myself.  The donate pile has gotten quite large, but what I’m left with is a closet full (yes, still!) of things I love and know I’ll wear.  I’ve also been working on  a plan of replacing worn items in a more thoughtful way.  You’ve heard it a thousand times from styling experts – buy quality over quantity.

This is especially true when it comes to shoes.  I’ve said before that I’m a real sneaker person.  I have multiple pairs of Keds Champions,  Sperry Topsiders  and vintage Converse All Stars.  I tend to wear them all the time, even in the winter, but this spring I found a wonderful pair of Ralph Lauren oxfords, and found myself wearing them a lot.  So that has me thinking, what other great, comfortable shoes have I been missing out on?

That brings me to a shoe I’ve not worn since elementary school – the loafer.  According to shoe historian, Jonathan Walford, the loafer was developed from the moccasin.   In 1876, George Henry Bass started  GH Bass and Co. in Wilton, Maine.  His product was footwear for the outdoorsman, and included camp moccasins and hiking boots.

In 1936, the company came out with a new shoe – a hard-soled moccasin based on a traditional Norwegian shoe.  Bass called their new shoe the Weejun, and it was soon a favorite for casual wear.  In the late 1940s, and into the 1950s, teenage bobby-soxers  loved their Weejuns (along with saddle oxfords, which were also made by Bass).   By this time other companies were making similar shoes, which were called loafers, or penny loafers because of the slot on the instep which was perfect for inserting a penny.

I’m showing off my cute mother again so you can admire her bobby socks and loafers.  Circa 1945.

1951 Bass Weejuns ad, Holiday magazine

1961 Bass Weejuns ad, Glamour magazine

Penny loafers in a 1962 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

This is my cousin Nancy in 1960.  If you can take your eyes off that fantastic basket handbag, you’ll notice she is wearing penny loafers.  In the early 1960s loafers were wildly popular with teenagers and college students.  As a great admirer of Nancy’s style, I had to have a pair of them as well, and I wore loafers to school all through my elementary years.  But by the time I went to junior high in 1967, the loafer’s popularity had faded as Mod finally hit our 2-years-behind-the fashion little town.   I haven’t owned a pair of loafers since.

It seems that Bass is coming back on the fashion scene.  Designer Rachel Antonoff has done a line of loafers and saddle shoes that have received a lot of press, and the next collaboration is with Tommy Hilfiger.   I’m seriously thinking about revisiting this childhood favorite.   Any loafer wears out there?

Another 1940s loafer girl

This is a page from the 1977 L.L. Bean catalog.  As you can see, they used the term lounger instead of loafer.  I have seen this term used in other places as well.   By 1977, Bass Weejuns were no longer stylish, as the loafer of choice became a bit more pricy and was made by Gucci.

28 Comments

Filed under Shoes, Viewpoint