Thursday, June 27, 2013

Peeking behind the curtain...what goes into preparing for a vintage show.

I am in the middle of prepping for the Sturbridge Textile Show and it's utter usual. My work table is stacked high with mending and my ironing basket is overflowing. The jewelry corner in my studio is a jumble with display forms and vintage "jewels".  I have gone through my clothing racks countless times pulling pieces and putting them back while I try to decide what the customers will be looking for.

Should I load up on sun dresses, it is summer after all? But wait! The designers are going to be looking for fall, should I pack a few coats? Is it to early to think about Holiday? I think so...but maybe not! Definitely some nice transitional pieces...light sweaters, late season dresses and the like. I haven't even opened my bins of belts, scarves and hats and OMG! It's already Thursday! I only have 8 days left to do this.....

This is my life.... I am a vintage clothing dealer and the bulk of my business is done at vintage shows. Aside from the occasional stress induced, mini breakdown, I really do love my job. I love it when the van is all packed and we are on our way. When we arrive I take my time setting up the booth, I want it to look perfect when the customers come in. Looking around I see my neighboring dealers fussing over their displays and it feels nice, we all want the place to look beautiful. Then the doors open and the crowd rushes in. It's show time.

Pressing a vintage cotton blouse

Inspecting a 1920s beaded dress

Box of vintage and antique trims and sewing memorabilia. The lace is gossamer thin and had to be delicately pressed and folded.  

Should I bring Holiday to a July show? Decisions... Decisions

Replacing an elastic waist in a 1970s silk dress.

What a mess! Staging my jewelry display. When I am done I take pics for reference to help me set up at the show.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fabric styles and prints offer great clues for dating home sewn Vintage

Dating vintage is a process that employs a number of factors. Style, labels and methods of construction are probably the most heavily relied on but there are others. Sometimes fabric and print offer good clues. Textile innovation and esthetics evolved with the times and the materials used to make a garment can often help pin down it's approximate age, especially with home sewn pieces. We  need to keep in mind that women sometimes used older fabric to sew with, but in general, dressmakers and home sewers tried to stay on trend. A great way to glimpse what was being worn at a particular time in history is with the women's or fashion magazines of their day and a really great resource for fabric styles can be found in old mail order catalogues.

I keep a number of vintage Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogues on hand because they always have a sewing section. I love the yard goods pages that picture multiple fabric swatches. The button pages are also a favorite. Original catalogues are hard to find and can be pricey but to me they are well worth the investment. There are also reproductions available for less money.

Below are a few clips I chose from my collection, to illustrate a small sampling of the iconic fabrics from the 1930s - late 1960s.


The prints from the 1930s were often dainty

The 1940s saw great innovations in  outerwear

The textile world went crazy with novelty prints in the 1950s
Quilted cottons were great for lending structure to a full skirt.
Lots of stylized prints in the early Sixties and
quality cottons were abundant
Classic plaids and tweeds were a staple

The Mod era was in full swing in the late 60s



Friday, June 14, 2013

The morphing of the vintage business and my new studio!

Vintage is how I make my living and I've been in the business for over 15 years. Before that I was a custom dressmaker and milliner with a passion for the evolution of fashion. So you could say I've been immersed in this for most of my adult life. Over the years I have seen the business of vintage go through tremendous change. There was a time when brick and mortar shops were the backbone of retail vintage. Shops that established themselves in the 1970s stayed in business for decades, their merchandise was always eclectic...Victorian whites to psychedelic Mod. There was something for everyone and the vintage customer shopped with imagination.

Interest in styles from the past ebbed and flowed and each era enjoyed a heyday but there was always a demand for diversity. A good vintage shop made sure they delivered. In the later 1990s vintage hit the internet and caught the eye of mainstream fashion. By the early 2000s major fashion magazines were including it in their shopping spreads and announcing the various celebrities who were adding it to their wardrobes. The demand for vintage surged, which was exciting, but I remember feeling a twinge of uneasiness. Vintage, after all, was a place for inspiration. It covered over a century of eras and represented thousands of different looks. I worried what might happen to the business if it began to follow the dictates of trend.

Fast forward and retail vintage is no longer recognizable in comparison to it's earlier incarnations. Some of the changes have been wonderful and others I lament deeply. The internet has provided a platform to sell to an unlimited market. I send orders all over the world which is fantastic. However, the internet also dealt a lethal blow to many brick and mortar shops, especially the ones located in less populated areas. Some savvy shop owners turned to the web to supplement their businesses but that meant double the work and not necessarily double the income. For some it was a godsend for others the beginning of the end.

Then there is trend... vintage always had it's own form of trend...the 40s were the it era for 70s vintage, the 80s loved the 50s and so on. The big difference between now and then is the narrowing of trend and the pace at which it seems to change. Last summer my customers in the Boston area all seemed to want 80s Coach or Dooney and Bourke, my other vintage bags just sat. I had never seen anything quite like it. A micro focused trend eclipsed the unlimited choices that vintage had to offer. It was eerie.

Over the years I have watched the flow of customers at my shows and market venues and have witnessed an increasing homogenization of style. Up to just a few years ago I was blown away by the creative ways in which people were incorporating vintage into their wardrobes. This past year a number of my colleagues and I noticed how much less creativity we were seeing and how similar everyone dressed, even at our NYC shows (NY has always been a cauldron of fashion innovation). I can only hope this is as temporary as the other trends because vintage without creativity holds no interest for me.

My own business has seen tremendous change over the years. I went from solo Brick and Mortar...Web/Brick and Mortar...Web/B+M/Shows. Today I sell on the web along with a number of shows and markets. I closed my shop a little over three years ago. The most recent change has been relocating my merchandise from my old storefront to a large sunny studio. I plan to ramp up the internet side of the business and when the studio is finally organized to my liking I will make it available "by appointment". Change is exciting but also exhausting so here's hoping that the need to morph my business takes a break for a while!

Let me know what you think of my new studio!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reinventing the Cloche

The cloche is one of those icons of fashion that never seem to disappear for long. Milliners have been reviving and reinventing this little bell shaped hat since it’s inception sometime around 1908.  Caroline Reboux is credited with inventing and naming the cloche. It became popular around 1915 and is the signature chapeaux of the Roaring ‘20s often referred to, today, as “flapper hats”. The dominance of the cloche remained strong until around 1933 when it finally fell from favor. 

Every decade since then, however, the cloche has made a comeback, some decades it was embraced more than others but examples can be found throughout the 20th century and it’s influence on millinery fashion continues.  Long live the cloche!