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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Tuesday Menswear Moment: Spice up your wardrobe with vintage cufflinks and French cuff shirts

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This week is all about incorporating vintage and antique clothing into one’s wardrobe–and what better way to start than to write about how the guys can do it!  Aside from ties, which can be really ugly (if you consider the 70’s and the 90’s) French Cuff shirts can be the easiest item to add to your wardrobe….

Since men’s shirts are sold by the collar size and the arm length, little has changed in the sizing.  Yes, there’s slim cut or tapered, but for the most part, if you are buying vintage, you can look at the tag in the collar for the collar and sleeve length and have yourself a pretty good fitting shirt.

Once you choose a shirt, you’ll need some cufflinks.  Cufflinks were a staple of men’s wardrobes, but I’d bet a lot of y’all don’t own a pair or two!  That’s remedied pretty quickly at any vintage, used clothing or “Goodwill”-type of store.  Most will always have cufflinks and the price will often be pretty reasonable.  Look for some with monograms or semi-precious gemstones for an extra touch.

And if you didn’t know, collecting cufflinks is a “thing”.  Some are quite valuable as well as stylish, and

Celtic revival cufflinks circa 1900

Celtic revival cufflinks circa 1900

styles change from the 19th and across the decades of the 20th century.  So, not only are they practical for use with French cuff shirts but searching out the various decades of cufflinks can be fun, too.  Cufflinks say a lot about a man, so imagine what a cool pair of vintage cufflinks might say about you and your sense of style.

So, if you’re looking to bring vintage into your wardrobe, start with the classy French cuff shirt and some cufflinks.  From there, you can easily co-ordinate your tie and sport jacket (other items that are  also easy to purchase vintage and designer.)  Or, spice up a date night outfit with a vintage shirt and an old tux or formal wear jacket.  You too can be like Bond….James Bond!

**This weekend, if you live in the vicinity of Hartford, you may want to check out the POSH Sale fundraiser for the Wadsworth Athenaeum Costume and Textile Society.  I was privileged to a preview last Saturday, and they have a whole lot of great vintage and designer men’s items, including cufflinks!  You can pick up a great pair of vintage cufflinks and even a vintage men’s fedora and support a great cause too.  The other great thing about vintage: it will not bust your wallet and you will get some great quality, American-made clothing.


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

Tuesday Menswear: Jeremy Renner and the Three-Piece Suit

Jeremy Renner in a 3 pc suit with Jimmy FallonLast night, adorable Jeremy Renner was on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, talking up his new film, Kill the Messenger (which looks *really* great.)  AND he was wearing a Three-Piece Suit! I haven’t seen a three-piece suit in years, but Renner seems to be fond of them.  He’s worn them to movie premieres and other TV appearances over the years that his star’s been rising.  The suits all seem to have a great slim cut, which looks superb on Renner’s slim build.  I love the way he’s wearing it on Fallon’s show: with a white shirt and slim black tie.  So retro 60’s, yet so modern at the same time.  Got to say that Renner is truly a Man of Style!  (not to mention that I’m looking forward to his new film….)

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?

Tuesday Menswear: Ben Affleck at the Gone Girl Premiere 2014

Ben Affleck’s new movie “Gone Girl” premiered last week at the 52nd New York Film Festival to some darned good reviews.  This wasn’t a big Hollywood-style Red Carpet premiere, so Affleck showed up in a fabulous blue shadow-stripe suit, with a simple white shirt and bronze raw silk tie.  He complimented the suit with simple brown oxfords polished to a high shine….."To The Wonder" Los Angeles Premiere

This is a great,  suit for any occasion–classy, professional, conservative color with a dash of style in the shadow stripe and top-stitched lapels.  It’s a modern fit, but not too tight in the legs (as I seem to be seeing a whole lot of with men’s suits these days….esp. revealing if the guys have muscular thighs.) Affleck is looking much cooler and less cocky as he’s getting older.  His film work has also stepped up a notch, with directorial and acting credits in The Town and Argo, and, from what critics have said, this new film (which is directed by David Fincher, so expect some jumpy moments for sure!)  The bronze tie is a particularly nice touch.  This particular tie seems to change colors with the light–here looking more gray than the golden-brown I’ve seen in other photos.  However, you get the gist of the contrast here.  Affleck also wears a spread collar shirt vs. a button-down collar.  He’s getting a bit full-faced, so the spread collar is a better choice.

I was particularly impressed by the shadow stripe suit.  A shadow stripe suit in black would be too formal.  In navy, it sets a stylish, professional tone.  However, some men seem to be averse to choosing anything other than a solid when purchasing a suit.  One can very simply add variety to one’s suit wardrobe with a shadow stripe suit or even a subtle glen plaid.  If you’re wondering about how to identify various suit colors and patterns, check out this quick guide to suit colors and patters to help choose one that might add a little style to your wardrobe.

Remember: you don’t have to choose a suit cut that is wrong for you just to update your wardrobe.  Choose a different color or pattern to add variety and style.




Photo courtesy of PopSugar’s photo gallery  

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.