Purchasing Vintage, Antique, and Second-Hand Clothing: Every Label Tells a Story

Part Two of a Three Part Series

There are a few better things to tell the story of a piece of vintage or retro clothing than the labels inside the clothing.  Labels can tell you the manufacturer, the designer, or the store where a garment originated.  They can also give you a nice bit of history

Keep in mind, though, that some clothes might not have any labels.  Custom clothing, altered clothing, antiques and some retro clothing that is re-sold may not have a label.  Designer clothing almost always has the label, as the label is part of the garment’s designer cachet.

the red, white, and blue ILGWU label--later 20th Century

the red, white, and blue ILGWU label–later 20th Century

The first label you might want to look for is an ILGWU label. “ILGWU” stands for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, and almost all American made clothing, hats, and accessories from the 20th century contained these labels.  The Union was

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Purchasing Vintage, Antique and Second-Hand Clothing: Understanding the Terms

First in a Three-Part Series

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to talk with a really great young saleswoman at the new F & F store in the Holyoke Mall about all things fashion!  It was such a great conversation!  During the conversation, we discussed vintage clothing, and the differences in vintage sizing, modern American sizing, and European sizing.  I realized that over the years, from collecting vintage clothing myself to all the stuff my Mom taught me in the 60’s and 70’s, that there’s quite a bit of knowledge needed to make good vintage clothing purchases.

We’re not talking just a perfectly distressed pair of Levi’s from the Salvation Army.  I’m talking suits, evening dresses, designer duds, and other items that take a discerning eye to evaluate.  First, let’s talk terms…..

Antique.    According to RubyLane.com (a great site if you are looking for beautiful antiques/vintage,) an antique item is something over 100 years old.  Right now, you might be able to find gorgeous antique jewelry, but antique clothing is definitely difficult.  Most items of this age will be extremely delicate and perhaps not wearable, except maybe on special occasions.  In a few years, all that beautiful ‘flapper’ clothing of the 1920’s will be considered officially antique.  If you love that style, you might want to purchase now, and hold on to it.  Make sure to preserve it though.

Vintage '60's gold and pink evening coat.  Most Etsy sellers will tell you if there is any damage to a vintage item.  See this page  for a closer look

Vintage ’60’s gold and pink evening coat on Etsy.  See this page for a closer look

Vintage.   Vintage items are ones that are less than 100 years old.  Something from the 1980s can be considered vintage, as will be something from the 70’s, 60’s and earlier.  Great vintage clothing can be purchased in stores, on Etsy or even eBay.

Retro.  This term can be applied to items less than 20 years old, perhaps what we call “out of style” or “dated.”  Items from the 1990s are “retro.”  Retro can also be applied to clothing that resembles items from other decades, like the 50’s and 40’s, but are not from that decade.  There’s a lot of “retro” out there, and sometimes this is better than buying vintage.

one of the many great Simplicity patterns for making your own "vintage" clothing. Click for more info

one of the many great Simplicity patterns for making your own “vintage” clothing. Click the photo  for more info

Reproduction.  Yes, that means it comes from an original.  One can find reproduction sewing patters for dresses and suits from various decades.  Companies like Simplicty have reproduced them from the original, and may have made slight modifications for current sewing standards.  Materials have changed, so a type of material called for in a pattern may no longer be available.

“Gently Used” or “Second Hand.”  These terms are often used in conjunction with clothing a few years old, but not necessarily from a past season (that’s simply “Last Season.”)  These items might have high end designer labels or might be good quality department store clothes that have no damage and may or may not have been worn.   Depending on the shop, one might be able to find items with the original sales tags! (sometimes people purchase items but don’t wear them, for whatever reason.)  These items can be super fantastic finds, depending on how old they are or if the purchaser  doesn’t particularly care whether the item is “in” or “out”  A ten year old Chanel piece is neither retro nor vintage nor antique, but it still might be something you want to add to your wardrobe.  That is, if it’s in good shape.  A Chanel piece might be something you wear and wear for many years, so if it’s in bad shape, it’s probably not a good buy.

One more thing:  retro items can turn up just about anywhere.  For the past 20 years or so, retro has been “in” and many styles offered by “hip” retailers like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie are retro.  Sometimes, “vintage” retailers may want to pass off a retro piece as original.  Look for labels.  If the label is missing, ask about the item.  The seller may be able to tell you where she got the item, and if it is vintage or retro reproduction.

More on labels in my next post…..

Fashion #TBT The 1920’s: Women Get Dressed By Themselves

We don’t think much about dressing ourselves, by ourselves. By the time most kids are between 3 and 5, they’ve learned how to put on their own clothes. So we take for granted that people have always been able to pick their own clothing and get dressed by themselves. That wasn’t always the case. In fact, the idea of getting dressed all on one’s own did not become a reality for women until the revolution in fashion that happened in the first 20 years of the 20th Century.

A fashionable woman in 1900 wasn’t much different from the woman of the 19th century. She was still in a harshly tied corset, with many petticoats, all covered by an ornate dress of some sort. It was the underpinnings that gave the dress its particular architecture, and for most women they would need the assistance of their mothers, sisters or maids to get all the proper pieces in place. Not to mention the amount of time needed to put all the pieces on in the correct order.

That changes slowly over the next 20 years–with a stop in 1914 for the ridiculous “hobble skirt”. What made the hobble skirt possibly one of the worst fashion trends was that the corset was impossibly long, which in turn made it almost impossible for women to move or walk properly. The following graphic demonstrates how corsets changed from 1986 to 1917, with a brief stop in i194 for the extra-long hobble corset.  corsets

The odd thing about the hobble corset is that it was meant to be worn under a very simple columnar dress inspired by the Ancient Greeks!

The advent of the Flapper heralds a type of lingerie that allows for both freedom of movement and shorter skirts.  If one happened to be slim, a simple unboned brassiere of silk or cotton and a pair of bloomers would be all that was needed.

flapper era bra

Here’s a typical brassiere of blue silk and lace.   One had to be quite slim and small breasted to wear this sort of brassiere.  So the corset didn’t totally go out of style.  It just morphed into a garment that women could easily step into, right over their bloomers, attach their stockings, slip on their dress and be on their way!

The first flapper-era corsets were known as “corselets” and yes, they did minimize the breast by flattening them down, but they were a whole lot easier to get into–and one could get into it without needing a mom, a sister, or a maid (or even a roommate or best friend.)  Warner's corselet

Women could also sew their own corselets rather than relying on a dress or corset-maker.  And, as the decade moved into 1925, the bustline of corsets started to free up and be less restrictive as well.  By the 1930’s most women were wearing a bra and tap pant, maybe a girdle of some kind if needed.  But there was no way that a woman would need a drawerful of petticoats and a coterie of maids, sisters or others to help get dressed.

So, next time you find yourself complaining about having to wear a control panty, or that your bra bothers you,  be happy that, at the end of the day, you can reach in, remove, and fling the bothersome bra across the room all by yourself!


Hat tip to : Witness2Fashion, designmatters, and Edwardian Promenade

It wasn’t just corsets that made it difficult for women to get dressed prior to the 1920’s. for more excellent info, see this post on the contribution of Jeanne Lanvin and others to the Dress Reform Movement at the New York Public Library blog

Trend Report: Five Patterns for Fall 2014 That You Can Try NOW

There are some real surprises in the patterns this fall.  Ubiquitous leopard is less this year than before (thank goodness!)  Here’s a gallery of what you’ll find lots of now and what will look good going into winter….

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You Get What You Don’t Pay For: what you should know before you shop (again) at an outlet shop or retail discount store

Remember that little red Calvin Klein dress?wpid-img_20141002_125951_263.jpg

Yesterday, as I was reading  Jay & Katie’s “The Myth of the “Maxxinista”: The dirty little secret behind outlets and discount stores,”  I got to wondering if one of my local mall-based discounters, that always claims to sell “department store brands,” was selling the brand but not the same kind or quality garment that one might get in a department store.  So, I did a little investigating….

First, though, a little recap of what Jay & Katie investigated and revealed in their post (and something I figured out a couple of years ago by observation:)  we are always overjoyed when we’ve snagged that designer labeled dress for a steep discount.  Or when we shop those outlet stores and find fabulous bargains on clothing that we’ve *never* seen in the mall or city store.  The reason we never see the same clothes in the mall as we do at the outlet is that outlet stores must compete with fast-fashion stores (Forever 21, H&M) and so sell lower quality clothing, made especially for the outlets.  Outlets and discounters (like TJX and probably Burlington) license the labels like Calvin Klein or Rachel Roy–but the sourcing of materials and manufacturing is more often than not done by the licensee and not the name-brand.

Why is this such a big deal?  Well, the fashion industry is a very “dirty” business.  By “dirty” I mean polluting to the environment.  It’s also “dirty” in its labor practices, its working conditions, its lack of accountability when it comes to where and how raw materials like cotton are grown and processed.  What we don’t know about our clothing hurts not just the people over in Bangladesh and China where materials are sourced and clothes are manufactured, but hurts us as well.  It hurts our economy because we’ve lost clothing manufacturing jobs, it hurts our environment because pollution is a global phenomenon, and it sometimes hurts us through toxic dyes and other materials left in the processing of clothing.

This is also a very misleading practice.  When consumers see a label, consumers expect to get the quality and manufacturing standards that the label may be known for.  We don’t expect a garment to be made of lesser quality materials in perhaps really awful working conditions ( read more in the post by Jay & Katie about FTC petitioning and more…)

the real thing at Macy's

the real thing at Macy’s

So,  what I found as a Calvin Klein label dress at Burlington Coat Factory might not be Calvin Klein proper, but more like “Calvin Klein” licensed.  I went over to Macy’s to see if there was a distinct difference between Calvin Klein dresses sold there and the red one sold at Burlington Coat Factory.  There are several differences.  The material of the Macy’s Calvin Klein dress was softer.  The ruching was not just across a portion of the midsection, but  across the entire midsection.  The facing was beige, not black, and was beautifully finished, so there would be no need to reach in and smooth it down after putting it on.  There was also a large thick, square price card attached to the left underarm of the dress.  Everything about the Macy’s dress spoke of a dress manufactured by the Calvin Klein Company for Macy’s.

I looked at other Calvin Klein items in Macy’s, and all had the large cardboard tag, even if the styles and colors were slightly different from what the Calvin Klein stores and online shops are offering.  The difference is sometimes an aspect suggested by the department store’s buyers (“we love that style, but would like to offer it to our customers in cobalt blue as well as black and gray.”)

Another interesting little thing about Calvin Klein items I viewed on the CalvinKlein.com site:  the prices are fairly reasonable (about $134 for an average dress,) and there is a good size range.  If I were truly status conscious, or if I needed quality clothing for my job, I would purchase Calvin Klein clothing in my size, from the site, or from Macy’s or another high-end retailer (if the price was comparable to the website) and have it altered.  Yes, this takes time and planning and extra cost for tailoring.  But do I really want to pay simply for a license, and support shoddy materials and bad working conditions in a country that doesn’t care?

Not really.  Not that I know something about those discounters and outlets.  How about you?

Fashion and Beauty Need a Place on the Climate Change Agenda

People's Climate March, Sept. 21, 2014

People’s Climate March, Sept. 21, 2014

Did you know that most of the clothing we wear–and especially “fast fashion”–is made in China, where the pollution regulations aren’t as strict as in the U.S.?  Did you know that some of those dyes that make all those day-glo shoes and tops and such are toxic to the environment?  Did you know that even the manufacturers of “space age” and new, shiny fabrics have no idea the environmental impact of those fabrics?  They do not even know if the fabrics are recyclable, or, if they are, what to make with them.  And, did you know that some of the ingredients in perfumes, body lotions, and cosmetics are grown only in certain regions in France, Mexico, and other countries that are now adversely impacted by Climate Change??

All of the above is true.  Over the past three years, as I’ve delved into the fashion and beauty industries, I’ve discovered things that have baffled and frightened me with regard to how the fashion and beauty industries create havoc with the environment.  It seems that many of us are starting to view fashion and beauty the way we view meat in our grocery stores:  we don’t want to know where it came from, we just want it to taste good and cost little.  We forget that not all fabrics are grown in a lab.  Even the ones that are, like rayon, start with, well, trees of all things.  We forget that some natural beauty ingredients that are good for our skins, like aloe and shea butter, are sometimes cut with dimethicone, which does nothing to help skin, and might actually stop skin from doing what it’s supposed to do.

Yesterday was the start of Climate Week NYC, and tomorrow, September 23, the United Nations will host the UN Climate Summit 2014.  Whether or not representatives of the Fashion and Beauty industries will be there, well, I don’t know.  What I do know is that we consumers need to understand what’s going on in the fashion and beauty industries.  We need to understand that the beginning of the supply chain for making a lipstick or a dress starts at a farm, somewhere, with raw materials that are part of our earth.  How these materials are processed, who processes them, and how they reach us is a Big Deal and has a HUGE impact on the environment, perhaps not in the best of ways.

We can change our attitudes and our purchasing choices–but first we have to know what’s going on.  We need to be informed.  In the past, I’ve written a few pieces on environmental damage in China, horrendous labor practices in Bangladesh, and Greenpeace’s efforts to “detox” fashion.  Starting today, you will see more stories on the environmental impact of fashion and beauty,  as well as more information on fair (or un-fair)  labor practices, supply chain cost drivers, and other aspects of those industries that we need to know.   History of both fashion and beauty–knowing how things used to be in grandmother’s days–might also help us understand where and how these industries have changed.  To be informed is, perhaps, the best way to begin to change an industry and, subsequently, improve our world.




What I learned about luxury designer clothing from an afternoon on Net-a-Porter.com

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