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!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

The seduction of black...

A vintage, black sequined, Lili Rubin gown

Fashion week is here again and it looks like color was off the pallet for a number of designers. Valentino was all about inky drama. Armani was doing white and black and Elie Saab did an all white collection. Black seemed to dominate though and I found that refreshing. Don't get me wrong, I love color but it was nice to see fashion design pared down to form and silhouette. It got me to thinking just how much I really do love basic black.

I'm not alone, black has always been a fashion favorite which is why an abundance of it to still be found in vintage. From Victorian mourning clothing to mid century "Audrey" dresses, it's easy to find AND easy to wear. One of my personal favorites are the classic 1940s rayon dresses with their sculpted shoulders, form fitting torsos and swingy skirts. These flattering frocks are the perfect foil for accessories and can be worn from day into evening. As for formal wear there is nothing more elegant than an all black gown. The timeless element of black is another plus. If you wear vintage you almost never have to worry about looking "costumey" in black.

Black pumps, the perfect black turtleneck, a classic black purse....these are just a few of the essentials a well rounded wardrobe requires. All are available on the vintage market in a variety of styles depending on their era. It's agreed that vintage is THE place to get creative but don't overlook the simple treasures, sometimes they are the best!

Bye for now! Melody