Please, please, please come visit me at the new site: heres-looking-like-you-kid.com!
To celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day and this thrifty fashion lovin’ girl’s concern for her budget along with the planet, I present this, my “ultimate green post.”
As reported at Things Your Grandmother Knew, eBay’s latest ad campaign includes promoting the eBay Green Team by pointing out how environmentally kind and ethical wearing previously owned clothing is: The greenest product is the one that already exists. And that certainly includes vintage fashions and accessories!
In the ad in the April issue of Marie Claire, eBay shares the following facts:
Choosing new-to-you leather shoes saves more energy than an average household uses in a day.
Buying a pre-loved silk dress saves 95% of the CO2 needed to make a new one.
Choosing a previously owned leather clutch saves as much energy as not watching TV for 3 days straight.
The facts may be new, but the principal probably isn’t news to vintage fashion lovers. The question is, do you think this will change buying habits?
After getting the following email from Crystal, I decided it was time to do another primer on buying and wearing vintage:
I have a question… After hearing that “vintage full fashioned stockings are the best!” I bought several pairs on eBay. They feel lovely, but after a few hours of sitting at work I find they are bagging around the knees and wrinkling at the ankles… Is that normal? Am I getting the wrong kind — too cheap of ones? Or am I buying the wrong size?
Thirteen Points To Know About Vintage Fully Fashioned Stockings
#1 ‘Full Fashioned’ or ‘Fully Fashioned’ stockings are easily recognized by the sexy seam that travels the length of the stocking and the famous ‘keyhole’ or ‘finishing loop’ at the back of the stocking welt (the top portion of the stocking, made with a heavier gauge of nylon which is doubled over and finished closed, were the garters are attached).
#2 Full Fashioned stockings are also called ‘flat knit’ stockings because they were knitted flat and shaped to fit the leg; flared at the thigh, and curved to fit the calf.
#3 This ‘knit to fit’ shaping was done by decreasing the number of stitches towards the ankle, dropping stitches much like hand knitting. This cast off stitching gives the stockings ‘fashioning marks’ — the little V’s on the back near the seams — and so explains their name.
#4 The stockings are then joined at the back on a looping machine by hand, creating the seam up the back. This is how black, contrasting, or other color nylon seams can be made.
#5 Generally speaking, the ‘knit to fit’ shape of a vintage Full Fashioned stocking favors a long slender leg; lengths are available.
#6 For those who have shall we say a curvier or more difficult leg proportion, look for ‘outsize’ vintage stockings which were made wider for larger legs. Fewer outsize stockings were made, which makes them more difficult to find (and pricier when you do find them); but the better proportion makes for a better fit and so they are worth the extra investment.
#7 Because vintage Full Fashioned stockings are 100% nylon and do not contain Lycra or stretch spandex, they will generally wrinkle (and even sag a bit at the knees) after a few hours of wear, requiring some adjustment in the ladies’ room. (The good news is that perhaps your face could use a bit more powder, your lips more color?)
(I think we can all agree there’s not a thing wrong with the lovely Tiana Hunter‘s legs, yet her stockings have that — to be expected — bit of wrinkle at her ankle. So don’t take it personally; nylon is not Lycra.)
#8 Once the stockings stretch, they’re stretched — until you wash them. Washing them frequently not only helps them regain their original shaping, but prevents damages. (Even the smallest grains of sweat & dirt can do a great deal of damage to such fine nylon yarn.)
#9 I recommend that you always wash hosiery by hand. Don’t even be tempted to trust those hosiery bags for vintage full fashioned stockings.
When it comes to fit, some ladies also consider the denier and/or gauge of the stocking:
#10 Denier an Italian unit of measure for the density of knitting yarn — it’s mathy, and really all you need to know is the basic principals here: The lighter the thread (the less number of deniers) the finer the weave; stockings knitted with a higher denier tend to be less sheer but more durable. So a 15 denier (15d) yarn is twice as fine and sheer as 30 denier (30d) yarn. And some women swear that a 30d fully fashioned stocking resists stretching (wrinkling) twice as well as a 15d stocking. Also note that the seams usually are less visible on low denier stockings.
#11 Gauge is an English unit of measure, equally mathy, which measures the number of needles in a 38-millimeter section of a knitting bed, so a 60 gauge (60g) knitting machine has 60 needles to a 38-mm section. What you need to remember here is that the more needles you have in a section (the larger the gauge number), the finer the needles are — and the tighter the weave will be. The two most common gauges of Fully Fashioned stockings were 51g and 60g; the 60g stocking will have a have smoother, denser look (and feel) — and the tighter weave will help the stocking keep its shape longer.
#12 If all else fails, check your size. Vintage stockings are sized differently than modern ones; Stocking Showcase has great sizing charts.
#13 When buying vintage stockings, check the stocking welt itself for the stocking size rather than trusting just the box. The box may be easier to read (much easier than the previously worn & washed stocking welt), but the box may no longer contain its original contents. Even when the stockings appear never to have been worn or are “new old store stock,” what lies inside may be quite different — sometimes the pairs don’t even match! So look them over carefully or ask the seller to check for you.
Come back soon for more on buying vintage stockings!
Packaged along with my September issue of Marie Claire magazine was a special shopping supplement which included a “vintage 101” with Cameron Silver, owner of Decades, vintage boutiques in Los Angeles and London.
Favorite Quote: In response to “Why go vintage?” Silver starts his reply with, “The irony is that vintage is actually what all of the new stuff in stores is made to look like anyway.”
Boy, do I agree!
In fact, Silver & agree on many things, such as costume jewelry being the best way to “wet your feet” with vintage shopping, where to find vintage, and not to wear vintage from head-to-toe or it looks like a costume.
Yet Silver sort of annoys me when he says, “A tailor is more important than your shrink!” I think the reason so many fashion experts talk about tailors is that they think we all can afford them; but until there’s some sort of insurance that covers alterations that I can get through hubby’s work insurance… Well, hell, the mental health coverage for shrinks is slim enough; I won’t push my luck!
But I do wish the fashion folks wouldn’t keep acting as if we all can afford tailors, let alone have one on retainer.
Continuing to help Kim with her vintage Lucite purse problems (oh, those are problems I’d love to have! lol), Kim wanted to know if any of the cracked purses had any value…
Obviously, conditions are a large part of the value of any vintage fashion &/or accessory or collectible in general, so whether there are modest signs of wear and tear or outright damages, the price will be affected negatively in proportion to the flaws. That said, I don’t think you can say that even cracked & chipped purses, or those otherwise deemed unusable, are valueless.
A lot will have to do with the rarity of the purse itself as well as the intentions of the buyer; there are other ways to use such vintage beauties.
Damaged vintage Lucite purses which cannot be repaired may have value as…
* Salvaged parts: Handles, metal hinges, etc. to repair other vintage purses.
* Entry level pieces for collectors: If the purse is fine to look at one one or more sides, beginning collectors or (like me) collectors with small budgets for buying may find a low price fine to pay to have such a pretty purse to display.
* Something else: I’ve seen some topless vintage purses in antique booths holding hankies to purchase; I’ve seen some on counter tops at vintage clothing stores holding pens etc. It made me think of ways to salvage such pretty old handbags myself and use them to hold & display items on my vanity, on my desk, etc. I suppose very crafty girls could think of hundreds of ways to recycle vintage Lucite purses. (I’d love to do a post just on this — but first I’ll have to find some cheap damaged old Lucite purses!)
* Nostalgia: Never ever underestimate the sense of nostalgia in vintage things… A damaged old purse may be exactly like grandma’s or one seen in childhood and it may be worth money to own & display it, just to relive &/or retell the stories behind it.
So I don’t think, unless the Lucite is shattered into fragments, that old plastic purses are ever valueless. But naturally, the degree of their damages will lower their prices (and on the internet, with shipping charges, even more so); so adjust your expectations.
But that’s my opinion — please chime in with yours!
Also, dear experts & fans of vintage Lucite handbags, Kim is looking for some help in identifying the maker of this lovely carved caramel colored one. (If you don’t have any suggestions, I’m sure you’ll enjoy just looking at it!)
Kim & her family are cleaning out her grandmother’s home and she brought home about 20 vintage plastic purses she believes are Lucite (along with about 50 other vintage and antique purses), and after spotting my guide to vintage Lucite purses, asked for some additional help.
Like I told Kim, I’m not an expert; I’ve possess far more “book learnin'” & information from other collectors about these pretty babies than actual purses, so while I’ll share what I know, I ask that those of you in the know please add your two cents.
(Since Kim has so many purses (lucky ducky!) and even more questions, I’ll be breaking these up into smaller, more specific posts — so if you love these vintage purses, &/or have knowledge to share, please keep checking back!)
First up, Kim wonders if any of us can help her identify the maker of this confetti Lucite purse with metal handles, “It isn’t marked anywhere and I’ve not seen anything close to it in all the pics I’ve looked at.”
Personally, I’m at a loss; there were quite a number of makers, and as I said in the guide, if the purses were marked, most of the tags have fallen of with age… If you have any help or suggestions, please share in the comments!
I’ve long admired vintage Lucite purses — I say “admired” because these rare babies keep me at arm’s length with their hefty price tags and my fear of damaging them while using them. Don’t get me wrong; their rarity completely warrants the digits on tags. In fact, I don’t see them at antique stores or vintage fashion shops very often, and even online, they can be difficult to find. (All of this only reinforces my fear of using them.)
Anyway, because I don’t see them very often anymore, I was surprised to find not one but two sellers at my local antique mall selling multiple old Lucite purses; so I snapped some pics.
Shopping for vintage Lucite purses becomes even more thrilling when you consider the vast array of styles, shapes and colors these vintage purses came in. And that’s part of the challenge too — as with most fabulous vintage finds, when you fall in love with one, rest assured, finding another just like it is no picnic.
Of course, you can always fall in love again with another, right? (But trust me, your heart will still ache for that long lost love…)
Because I do far more longing for & playing peek-a-boo with vintage plastic handbags, I know more about them than a non-owner or non-collector should…
Here are Thirteen Things About Vintage Lucite Purses
1. While we collectively call these vintage purses “Lucite purses,” there’s a bit of irony to the name. Technically the purses are made of Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) poly(methyl 2-methylpropenoate), a thermoplastic and transparent plastic first patented by German chemist Otto Röhm in the early 1930’s and sold under the name Plexiglass. Lucite is the registered name of DuPont‘s acrylic:
Both DuPont and Rohm & Haas licensed the process and began commercial production in 1936. Lucite®, however, never generated substantial earnings for DuPont. Since it was that company’s primary product, Rohm & Haas was able to commit more resources to Plexiglas® and it consistently undercut DuPont in price.
While DuPont claims poor earnings for Lucite, it’s the name we give to these beautiful vintage plastic purses.
2. Some people mistake Lucite for Bakelite. This is easy for novices to do, but once you’ve held both old plastics, you can more easily discern between the two. Deanna Dahlsad says:
[Lucite] has a slicker feel and is lighter than Bakelite. Like Bakelite, it would be rare to find a piece with mold marks or seams. Generally speaking, Lucite comes in bright colors and patterns that are not seen in Bakelite. Sometimes in darker colors it is confused with Bakelite. However, if you’ve done the Bakelite tests (and feel the piece does not have a damaged or altered finish), the piece is likely Lucite. “No smelli, Plexi” is what I say.
(Her article on identifying and caring for vintage plastics contains the referred to Bakelite tests.)
3. The most expensive Lucite purses were made by Wilardy of New York and once they were showcased in major department stores throughout the country, as a cheaper alternative to leather handbags. Some of the best Lucite purse designers were Rialto, Llewllyn, Charles S. Kahn, Gilli Originals, Patricia of Miami, Evans, and Myles & Maxim. Over time, of course, many cheaper versions, including knock-offs, were made. Most companies marked their handbag creations on the inside, with a stamp on the metal frames or by affixing a clear or paper label — but over the years many of the clear labels have fallen off, making identification & attribution difficult — both for Lucite purses by famous makers and even for identifying other makers of vintage Lucite purses.
5. The most popular (and therefore pricey) color of vintage Lucite purses seems to be the tortoiseshell — followed closely by amber. My guess is that, along with being so pretty, the darker brown colors are more practical both in terms of keeping the purse’s contents hidden and, like brown leather, very easily mixed into one’s wardrobe.
Of course, the near rainbow of available colors, means fashionistas and collectors are always looking for the unusual shades, such as pearlized pastels and always-in-fashion black.
6. Vintage Lucite purses come in many shapes too. There are square & rectangular “box” styles, ovals, trapezoid, cylinders, “kidney” shapes, “beehives,” scalloped shaped “kidney” clutches… Some vintage Lucite purses will have “lids” that open, others open like “clams.” Most have Lucite handles, but some will have straps of chain or other material.
7. Along with the myriad of color choices & shapes, Lucite purses are often embellished with carvings, metal work (not just clasps, hinges & feet, but fancy filigree and woven metal work), and/or rhinestones, confetti, shells, flowers, lace, etc. embedded into or set upon it.
When it comes to some of the designs & themes, like this fantastic vintage Lucite purse with a poodle on it — or this wooden purse with a genie on the Lucite lid, you’ll be competing with collectors of poodles & genies.
8. One area of cross-collecting, and therefore pieces with higher prices, are the Lucite purses with built-in compacts. (These are my ultimate fantasy pieces.)
9. As I said, I’m very worried about damaging vintage Lucite purses. Along with cracks, of which no elegant & effective repairs are known (the glue discolors &/or muddles the old plastic), Lucite scratches rather easily. These scratches are especially noticeable on clear and lighter shades of Lucite. Use soft cloths and avoid products with abrasives when cleaning them; extra caution should be taken with tortoiseshell purses because the pattern can be muddled or removed. Novus Polish Kit: Plastic Polish & Scratch Remover is highly recommended for cleaning & minimizing scratches in Lucite. (A metal polish, such as Simichrome Polish, is recommended to clean & keep the metal hardware in good condition — just keep it confined to the metal.)
10. If you find a lovely vintage Lucite purse with a missing rhinestone or two, they can be replaced with care; Sparklz has very detailed information on how to replace missing rhinestones. You’ll have to consider if the vintage purse is worth saving in terms of price, other conditions issues — and your dexterity to make the repairs. (Do not replace/repair and then sell without disclosing that you did so!)
11. Clutches especially have metal frames which should be inspected for damages; if they are too bent to clasp properly, I’d avoid them. Likewise missing or damaged clasps, handles etc. Sure, if you search diligently enough, you can find replacement Lucite handles and metal fittings. (Some are old store stock; others are salvaged from purses too badly damaged to rescue.) Purse-onally, I’m not sure I’d try to tackle all the varying metal fittings — risking cracking the purse. But there are those who claim to be able to make such repairs. (Exercise extreme caution & investigation in these persons/companies before entrusting your vintage purse in their care; see my other vintage guides for more on evaluating professional repair services.)
12. The myth that antique shops and vintage fashion boutiques (real stores or virtual ones) price their items higher than eBay is false. The purses I found & photographed at my local antique mall were priced from $60 to just under $300 (for the torti), which when compared to eBay prices is fair if not actually lower than current auction prices (and recent past sales). Of course, prices will depend upon the conditions & attributes mentioned above. And if you’re looking for something specific or quickly for a special event, online searching will produce more options & more quickly than hunting in physical locations.
13. If you love the look of vintage Lucite purses, there are folks making reproductions & “vintage style” Lucite purses. These vintage styled Lucite purses (found via The DebLog) are beautiful, and if you fear using an authentic vintage purse, it’s an option…
The prices on the modern made Lucite purses are in the same range as their vintage inspirations; but, again, you won’t have the worry of having destroyed a potential one of a kind vintage piece. However, please note that even the new Lucite will be prone to scratches (and cracks).
For more on these fabulous vintage pieces, pre-order Carry Me: 1950’s Lucite Purses: An American Fashion by Janice Berkson.
I was honored to be a guest blogger at Shop It To Me’s blog back in mid-May, where I discussed not only where you can shop for vintage fashions but the pros & cons of each. The folks at Shop It To Me created a chart version of my small guide — which certainly is a fine cheat-sheet — but I wanted to elaborate on a few things which couldn’t quite fit in the chart (and still be legible). So that you don’t need to flip back & forth, seeing what’s there and what’s here, I’ve including the complete sections on the basic venues for vintage fashion shopping.
Here you’ll find it all. Everything possible from all decades, including the occasional antique garments & accessories.
Staff that knows what vintage is — and isn’t.
Wider selections & careful screening to present all the best items they can because that’s all they do.
Some stores/sellers even make customer lists and will notify you when they get pieces from time periods, styles, designers, etc. that you adore. (Hey, they want your loyalty — and your money!)
Because they know how valuable vintage fashions and accessories are, the prices usually are more expensive than the other options.
Smaller shops typically have shorter and more unusual hours — unless you’re shopping online, of course!
These are feast or famine settings; either they have vintage fashions or they don’t. What’s at these events depends entirely on what the former owner saved.
(I also believe that most who plan such events call in dealers who specialize in vintage clothing prior to the sale. I can’t swear this is true or that it applies to your location; but the slim pickings at most estate sales and antique auctions make me suspect they have a short-list of dealers and/or vintage fashion boutique owners they work with directly prior to the actual event date.)
Usually good companies running such events know authentic vintage from “used clothing.”
If you’re lucky enough, especially at auctions and at estate sales with “bidding boxes,” you can get super bargains!
No permanent location means continued reading of ads & sale promotions to find vintage apparel & other fashion items listed in the sale.
Usually do not have fitting rooms.
First come-first serve is the rule at estate sales, so you’ll have to be the early bird to catch the worms.
You might have to spend a lot of time at an auction just waiting for the clothing to come up for bidding (use this time to inspect individual garments and boxed lots carefully).
As vintage fashions have increased in popularity, so has the appearance of vintage clothing and accessories at antique shops — some antique malls even have “booths” that specialize in vintage fashions, just like a miniature vintage fashion boutique!
Depending upon the location & the seller’s dedication to vintage, the pros and cons vary from those of the vintage fashion boutiques to those of estate sales and auctions.
Along with the used household items, used CDs & DVDs etc., there’s a lot of clothing to be had at thrift shops. Depending upon staff and whether or not the shop works with antiques/collectible dealers, the vintage pieces may not even be identified as “vintage” and can be dirt cheap.
Not only deals on vintage, but more modern designer pieces and, sometimes, brand new stock dumped by retailers too; plenty of opportunity for a deal of some kind!
A smaller amount of authentic vintage pieces.
Vintage & retro fashions are typically mixed in with all the other garments or oddly sorted for a measly “vintage” sales rack. (One of our local thrift shops only puts out true vintage for Halloween!)
These are stores that take in your used clothing, shoes and accessories & sell it for you. If they purchase the items directly from you, the are usually called “resale” shops; if they give you your money when the items sell, it’s “consignment.”
The stores that manage to stay alive for years & years are those who have darn-near impeccable standards, so whatever you find will be in great condition.
If you take in your gently used clothing, you’ll get cash &/or credit towards purchases of your own.
Vintage isn’t always accepted/sold because some stores have rules about how new garments must be so that they don’t sell anything outdated looking. Call ahead of time to ask what their policies on vintage items are.
I’ve been oddly lucky at a few of these over the years… Sometimes even at sales where vintage clothing wasn’t mentioned. Like estate sales and auctions, it requires work to read the classified ads to find sales with it listed and be there early.
Jewelry and accessories like scarves are usually dirt cheap though, so it’s worth the effort to get in the habit of cruising yard sales on Saturday mornings.
You can (and should!) negotiate for lower prices. (And, usually, the more you buy, the cheaper it gets per piece!)
No fitting rooms.
The person handling the sale may know next to nothing (or, worse yet, has inaccurate information) about the items. …Then again, at some sales this is an asset for negotiating a fabulous deal. *wink*
There’s been a lot of press given to shopping for vintage fashions in this economy. Like Twolia’s Deanna, guest blogging at Shop It To Me, I’m not sure that all that many fashionista’s are jumping onto the vintage bandwagon… And if they are, I’m not sure they’re all finding their bliss — shopping for vintage fashions is a lot different than heading to the mall. If you’ve been thinking of giving vintage fashion shopping a try — or if you have tried, and were stymied — read Deanna’s article for some guidance regarding the realities, and then check out some of these basic tips.
When it comes to shopping for vintage fashion and accessories, we’re basically talking “used clothing.” (“Vintage” or “retro” sounds much better, doesn’t it? *giggle*) No matter what you call it, here are a few tips to help you when shopping for vintage fashions.
Most of these tips boil down to basic wardrobe building, judging quality pieces worthy of buying, and creativity.
Like any clothing shopping, you shouldn’t waste your money on anything you won’t really wear. So no matter how fabulous that New Look ball gown is, if you don’t ever go to a place where you can wear it, don’t get it. Even if it’s a fraction of what a new gown would cost. You don’t need a ball gown, remember? (Of course, if it’s for your “collection,” well then, all these wardrobe rules simply don’t apply!)
Look for vintage pieces which will work with what you have. As a general rule, I find it easier to purchase the basics & classic pieces, such as black pencil skirts and ivory ruffled blouses (oh and the ivory camisoles that you must wear beneath them!), from modern makers at modern stores. This makes it easier to ensure you have the basics — and then you can go crazy with colorful vintage suits, wild mod minis, cute retro dresses etc. to build your own unique wardrobe.
If you’re just looking to add some oomph and individuality to your wardrobe, try to confine your vintage shopping to accessories. Vintage jewelry, scarves, handbags, belts, hats, and shoes can take “off the rack” to “out of this world” easily and really inexpensively. Other women may have the same YSL suit as you, but who else will have the outrageous retro poodle pins? Or vintage chocolate brown suede & carmel leather striped shoes? Nobody but you, darling!
When you find stunning pieces it’s tempting to overlook flaws; but poor fit, spots, tears and needed repairs will likely mean the purchase will just take up closet or drawer space.
When you spot an appealing vintage item, inspect it all over. You’re looking for spots & stains, holes & tears, signs of alterations & repairs, and working closures (buttons, snaps, zippers, hook and eyes, etc.). Vintage pieces & classic designer clothing were generally made with much higher quality than most of today’s off the rack pieces and have solid construction, but because they’ve typically been warn you need to look for signs of wear that may make wearing the garment improbable if not impossible. There are some cases of NOS, “New Old Stock,” and NOSWT, “New Old Stock With Tags,” but even then you want to see if the old inventory had snags or spots.
To avoid problems with fit use the fitting room whenever possible. And always know your measurements & compare them to the garment’s measurements.
Problem areas often overlooked in proper fit are across the shoulders and sleeve length. (I can’t tell you the number of times that I, as a vintage buying newbie, was so in love with a dress that I ignored the tight shoulders and short sleeves — it was fine for a fitting room experience, but in real life, the range of daily body motion was impossible &/or threatened to bust the seams.)
Unless you are an excellent seamstress, or know and can afford an experienced seamstress who specializes in vintage fashions, don’t buy pieces which require anything above button replacement, minimal hem or seam fixes, or other easy sewing fix. (And don’t kid yourself, vintage zipper replacement is not an easy fix for most of us.)
When in doubt, consult with store staff (online and in physical stores) and if they can’t provide the information you seek, discount the item to have the price reflect the cost of repair, or otherwise provide a satisfactory solution, I suggest that you walk away — or risk buyer’s remorse.
OK, so what happens when you come home with that grand vintage fashion and discover that there’s a boo-boo or two that you missed?
Dealing with small spots holes: Some garments can easily be dyed a darker or deeper shade, hiding the spots. If you’ve got just one spot or small tear to deal with, a quick fix is to apply vintage jewelry to hide it. (Vintage jewelry is quite often substantial enough to hide it completely — an authentically.)
If the spot is on a skirt or someplace you wouldn’t put a pin, or you have multiple places to hide, consider cute appliqués and creative patches. (Even if there’s just one spot, multiple appliqués scattered about help disguise the repair!)
If the piece is a great find but is beyond your skills, consider having it repaired by a seamstress experienced in vintage. Many good seamstresses will give you an accurate appraisal of cost which will help you decide if it’s worth the investment.
Should you discover that the vintage piece is so riddled with problems that repairs will render it more new than old, don’t be blue! Consider having the skirting of the dress salvaged from the stained top of the dress, or vice versa. Maybe having the sleeves shortened to three-quarter length will save the coat — and send you shopping for opera length gloves. *wink* Removing the sleeves entirely may be the creative solution to badly worn or stained armpits & sleeves. Maybe just the fabric can be recycled (sometimes referred to as “upcycled”) into another garment altogether. It may not be cheap to do, and it might even be outside your abilities — but someone out there probably sees value in your vintage item, so don’t throw it out without consulting someone else about salvaging options. (You might just find that you can trade your “useless” vintage dress for a recycled or upcycled vintage piece!)
PS Don’t forget to enter my The Get Fab-U-Lush Eyelashes Contest!
When shopping for vintage fashions from the 1920s – 1930’s, it’s especially difficult to find women’s pajamas and pantsuits. You certainly can find advertisements, editorial fashion articles, and illustrations extolling such styles when paging through vintage magazines…
In fact, you see them so often it sets your heart to pitter-patter.
But finding such items available for sale is one of the toughest searches a vintage-loving fashionista can have.
Given that flappers were all about freedom, it’s easy to think that fashions with ‘male trouser bottoms’ — which offer more mobility and less worry about ‘upskirt’ issues — would have been all the rage, leaving you to find vintage pyjamas and pantsuits from those decades. But pants and pyjamas were not as popular a purchase as you’d imagine.
Some of the reason for such unpopular pants has to do with simple economics.
Most flappers, especially in terms of dress, were younger single women. As such, they would have had, in very general terms, less money to fund their wardrobe purchases. (And as most women knew how to work a needle and thread, rather any dress of the time could, in a pinch, be altered to suit a flapper’s style.) Often their living arrangements would limit their ability to entertain at home as well, meaning the lounging pajama was not only unnecessary, but ill-advised in mom and dad’s house where pajamas were tantamount to declaring a morality debate.
Older women who would have had more discretionary income to throw at the latest fashions would have also had, in general, positions which required them to join the stance against pants that their more traditional or conservative friends and family had. So they too eschewed the manly fashions, opting for the ‘more feminine’ skirts — with longer hemlines too.
Pants also had the misfortune of being marketed at the wrong time, for once The Great Depression hit, fashion was a frivolity few could afford. It wasn’t the time for new trends.
But as we learned, for the flapper who could afford both her lifestyle and her fashions, showing off one’s legs was a serious priority… And pants were not seen as the way to a man’s umm…. heart.
You can argue that such pursuit to be chased is not feminism; but power is something you wield and that includes the power to attract a mate — should you want one for keeps or the moment. (And this debate regarding sex & power is one that Third Wave Feminists are still having.)
In any case, less purchases of pajamas and ensembles with pants during the 1920s and 1930s means less of these gorgeous & sophisticated vintage pajama styles are available for purchase today. Which means when you are lucky enough to find it, you’ll pay a pretty price for it. But you should happily do so, for you know-not when you’ll find it again…
Which brings us to the expression, “the cat’s pajamas” (or “the cat’s pygamas”).
Like “the bee’s knees,” the phrase means something or someone is the best, a charming desirable, splendid or stylish. Unlike the “bee’s knees,” the phrase has been traced to its origins. It was coined in the 20’s by Justin B. Smith, and made popular by cartoonist Tad Dorgan‘s use of the expression. While the word “cat” has a long history of association with women & their wiles, it not surprisingly resurfaced strongly in the roaring 20’s to refer to the unconventional flapper spirit. Combined with the word “pajamas”, for the new fashion trend, the expression captures both the inherent “female nature” as well as the new “masculine” path. Like feminine curves in the straight masculine lines of pajamas, a charming & stylish paradox is achieved. Voila!
The irony, of course, is that while flappers & their pajamas enjoyed a relatively short run at the time, the phrase continued…. From the unflappable flappers to the blushing pin ups to present day.
(Note: Thanks to A Slip of a Girl for showing me the pretty vintage illustrations by A. K. MacDonald!)