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Truths About Buying Vintage Fashions

By , 18 February, 2009, No Comment

There’s an article on buying vintage fashions over at Chloe Jo’s GirlieGirlArmy — a guest blog by Chrissie Eden Våzquez called How to Shop for Vintage. I’m usually happy when people write about buying vintage fashions, but I have a few bones to pick…

The first vintage fashion shopping tip is this:

Before you even begin looking for a vintage gown, find a tailor in your area that you can trust to handle any alterations or repairs necessary. Keep in mind that an evening gown can be a rather large and labor-intensive project. If you’re going all out for a black tie type of event, you want to allow time for proper handling of delicate fabrics, as well as any detail work like beading. A rush job might cause irreparable damage to a one of a kind piece, leaving you scrambling last minute to find a back up dress.

The advice on the importance of being selective in choosing a tailor is sound — but after all these years, I’ve never used a tailor or had any alterations done. There are a few pieces I’ve set aside for such things. But to say that you need a tailor, let alone before you buy, seems inappropriate. I bet just hearing that puts a lot of people off buying vintage.

So I’m here to say that a tailor is not a requirement for buying and/or wearing vintage clothes.

Should you require alterations, repairs or otherwise require the services of a seamstress or tailor, be as picky in selecting them as you would be a cobbler to work with vintage shoes.

The information on knowing your measurements for sizing is good, as is giving yourself lots of time to shop (the latter is especially important if you’re looking for something to wear to a special occasion). But then she talks about foundation garments and my hackles rise a bit…

Dare to think about underwear. Vintage silhouettes were very heavily shaped by the wearer’s undergarments (think about the bullet bras of the 50s and the tiny corseted waistline that defined Dior’s New Look). {EDITORS NOTE: YOU CAN FIND AUTHENTIC BULLET BRAS ONLINE ON BULLETBRAS.NET} The dress may look different on you than it does on a mannequin or on a model wearing period undergarments to complement the style. If you’re determined to keep it authentic by wearing a vintage or vintage inspired corset or bra, ask the seller if they have any recommendations. However, if you value free breathing or don’t like the idea of wearing someone else’s undergarments, relax, and remember that it’s your dress. You can have it restructured or changed any way you want! As long as you’ve followed tip #1 and acquired a good tailor, you should be able to rework the gown so that it is more flattering to your body without the use of bionic underwear.

One of the primary reasons for buying & wearing vintage clothing is to have the fabulous fashion silhouettes, so having them restructured to change the silhouette defeats the primary purpose!

And it makes me cry — even die a little — on the inside.

Taking out the waist & flattening the skirts on New Look fashions is like nipping the waist & putting a bustle on a flapper’s dress — it can be done, but heaven’s why?!

(I know some folks restructure vintage fashions. Usually people do this only when there is no other way to salvage the piece, saving the beaded top from a nearly destroyed party frock, for example.  Some, I’m sure, do much more… When they own them, that’s their choice, of course, but gone is the real vintage style.)

Yes, you need the proper foundation garments to get the proper silhouette; but no, you do not need to give up “free breathing”, nor do you need to “wear someone else’s undergarments”.

Vintage bras & girdles are not the restrictive nightmares you might imagine. Many of them are, when worn in the proper size, no more uncomfortable than today’s spandex lingerie.

You can buy authentic vintage lingerie which has not been worn — typically described online as “New Old Stock” (NOS), “New With Tags” (NWT), or “New Without Tags” (NWOT).

But if you cannot find the proper vintage foundation garments in the correct size, don’t overlook modern makers.

Here’s a (very short) list of modern makers of lingerie designed to give you & your fashions a vintage silhouette:

BulletBras.net (currently only carries Bullet Bras™)
Cameo Intimates (vintage & more risqué styles)
Petticoats A Plenty (aka crinolines — which I’ve written about here)
Secrets In Lace (also carries a large collection of authentic Rago Shapewear — the same stuff you often see listed as “vintage” when it’s actually a modern-made piece)

A few modern makers also continue to make girdles, long line bras, slips, etc. I’ll try to cover more of them here; but I also recommend A Slip of a Girl, the lingerie blog heavily devoted to vintage lingerie.

So, kids, don’t worry so much about getting a tailor or fear fancy underpants — just go out and explore vintage clothing.  It’s not always easy, but I think that’s part of the fun.  And wearing it, transforming yourself in to those silhouettes of yesteryear, is heavenly.

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  • Brabarella

    We actually started out selling vintage clothing, but soon discovered the demand for vintage lingerie, especially girdles. Eventually the demand led us to selling primarily new intimate apparel. Rago, Grenier, Venus of Cortland and Silhouette still make many classic styles and they are very popular. Many vintage fitted dress cuts require vintage corsetry – beyond that which Spanx can provide. In terms of fit, it’s no different from finding the right bra. A girdle should not be uncomfortable. If it is, you have the wrong style or size.

  • Brigitte

    I know what you mean. Actually I like to decorate with
    vintage lingerie

  • Couture Allure

    Hear, hear. Very well said, and thank you for correcting these common misconceptions!

  • mad fashionista

    Bravo, dahling! It is so true about needing to wear the proper foundations under vintage clothing! I sell plus-size vintage, and even for that, one needs a good waist cincher at the very least! I have written guides to buying and wearing vintage clothing, and that is something I cannot emphasize enough! Wonderful article.

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