Friday, September 18, 2009

The Value in Tailored Vintage

Cashmere and mink coat from the 1950s

Without a doubt, I consider tailored vintage clothing to be your best value for the money. Before I go on let me define tailoring. According to my 1973 Vogue Sewing Book...

Tailoring is a "construction technique requiring special hand sewing and pressing to mold fabric into a finished garment"

These techniques are mostly used in coats, suits and jackets and they require great skill and patience. Fine tailoring not only makes a garment look beautiful it also helps it remain so for life. Lapels and collars maintain their shape, shoulders roll smoothly, linings don't shift, seams stay straight and true.... Beneath the surface of any well tailored garment is a complicated under structure of underlinings, interlinings, facings and TONS of handwork. The modern garment industry has had to eliminate or compromise many of these techniques to keep their prices competitive but in years gone bye even modestly priced, tailored clothing, boasted fine handwork. One of the most noticeable features that you never see anymore are cloth bound buttonholes. Buttonholes are almost all machine stitched today. Cloth bound buttonholes are tedious to make but they look beautiful and are very sturdy.

Beautifully tailored shoulder on a 1940s coat

Besides the beautiful construction that went into tailored vintage, the materials used were also extraordinary. What we consider couture level fabrics today were readily available to the mainstream years ago. Some were quite expensive but not unattainable. Mongolian cashmere, Scottish tweeds, lush boucl├ęs, novel plaids...all high quality and many hand loomed. Some design houses had custom created textiles like Lili Anne who imported their woolen goods from France. Older fabrics almost never pill and seem to wear forever. Fur trims were commonplace.. mink, fox, mouton lamb. Buttons were unique, some were even jeweled with rhinestones.

Wool pile, faux leopard fabric from the 1950s. Wool looks more natural and wears better than todays acrylic faux furs.

Today many designers borrow heavily from vintage styles. Often they do a marvelous job capturing the essence of an era and reinterpreting it for the contemporary market but unless they are very high end the demand for inexpensive clothing places strict limits on their manufacturing techniques. A modern coat that looks fabulous on the hanger often looses it's shape, sometimes before the season ends! Fancy fabrics pill, others look generic. Buttons fall off easily. To be fair, vintage coats can have this problem too, but that's because the button has put decades of pressure on the thread, not because they were not sewn on right. I suggest you check the buttons on any garment you buy and reinforce if needs be.

Hand bound buttonholes on a 1950s blazer.

You can still find affordable, nicely made dresses, blouses, skirts and pants on the modern market. I like pretty classics so every year I buy a couple of Anne Taylor blouses and Maggie London makes lovely summer dresses. Levis is still doing great jeans but when it comes to suits, jackets and outerwear I generally stick to vintage. You CAN buy a new tailored garment with the same quality of fabric and construction as vintage but the cost will be in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars. For this reason I consider tailored vintage to be your best vintage value!

Till next time, best to you!



  1. Melody,
    I agree with every word you have written. You've made me want to go shopping for a vintage Harris tweed coat! Lizzie

  2. Wonderful post saluting the beauty of vintage tailor made clothing.
    From another rather obsessed vintage gal,

  3. What a great post on the value of properly fitted clothing! I am always a bit on the conservative side when altering vintage clothing, I feel as if I am messing about with a piece of history. But if I actually love and want to wear the piece I have less reservation.
    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge

  4. Great share with the value in tailored vintage. It gives realization to other buyers how vintage clothing is worth buying for.

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