Bon jour mes amies and Welcome to the fourth and final installment in Retro Dee’s series “Shopping For True Vintage 50’s Clothes.” If you have not read the first three installments, please do. Parts 2 and 3 are in consecutive order just before this post, while Part 1 has a few posts in-between. But that wasn’t my fault! There was a Flea Market, a dream about Marilyn Monroe, an Intro to Fifties Study Hall (which will open later this month), and then there was my favorite person’s Birthday on September 7th. So unfortunately, I had to break the series up. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after almost a year of blogging: you can’t always plan your posts! 🙂
So here, finally, is Part 4 of Shopping for True Vintage: Finding the Right Garment.
Finding the right true vintage garment for you is a lot harder than it sounds. It can be a real Tour de Force! Unless you have a lot of money to toss around, the key to shopping for vintage clothing is knowing what you want and sticking to it. I speak from the small amount of experience that I’ve had so far.
Of course, there is an advantage to randomly sifting through listings on eBay and Etsy. If you have the time, this is a good way to familiarize yourself with what it out there, as well as with the certain aspects of the clothing itself. Experimental buys, however, can lead to frustration and loss of cash. The first few vintage pieces I bought were complete fails. I didn’t consider many things before I made the purchases and I ended up with garments that not only didn’t fit my body, but my desired style as well. Now that I know a tad more about what I’m actually looking for, it’s a little bit easier.
Condition and Cost.
When I first started searching around for genuine clothing from the 50’s, I noticed how worn-out many of the offerings were. I wanted to ask: “Could I possibly see something that doesn’t look like it came off of a ZOMBIE?” Although the fact is that all of these garments are 60+ years old, so obviously, they’re going to show some wear. But that does not mean you should settle for a piece that’s in tatters. A moth bite here and there, a few loose stitches and even some yellowing is normal for clothing that old. But when sellers are asking $100+ for a dress that’s just not wearable, I highly suggest you pass. Antique or not, what are you going to do with a dress that looks like it’s been dug up in a cemetery? I feel like a lot of sellers of True Vintage clothing are taking advantage of the fact that these are technically “antiques”. Be sure to check the condition of the dress you have in question. How bad are the flaws? Can you fix it easily? How much will it cost to take to a tailor? All that must be factored in to determine how much your new vintage find will end up costing.
Tagged items seem to go for more than non-tagged ones, but I see some sellers asking top dollar for handmade or untagged vintage. I don’t agree with this, unless it’s some kind of spectacular piece. On the vintage market I often see plain, bland, ordinary dresses from the era with an asking price of $100+. These are the dresses that our grandmothers wore and most of us did not have super wealthy grandmothers. Therefore, they were common clothes. There are a lot of them still out there and many don’t have any special attributes to them. Try not to get swept away in the fact that something is “from the 50’s”– that fact in itself doesn’t necessarily make it rare or Haute Couture. It’s up to us: you and me, the buyers, to change these insanely high asking prices. Don’t settle for them. If an item isn’t worth the price, don’t buy it.
An exception to this is, of course, are certain brand names. In the 1950’s, they had high-end labels just as we do today. And if you find a high-end label dress in decent condition on the market today, it will be expensive. For example, a Suzy Perette dress will be far more expensive than an average label, and rightfully so. If it was pricey then, it will be pricey now!
Collectors love unique items, and they also love items that are prime examples of the era they are collecting. Therefore, you will find that sellers want top price for things like original poodle skirts, novelty prints (skirts and dresses with cute and eye-catching patterns on them) and prom or formal dresses with sweeping skirts made of tulle and taffeta. Skirt and suit sets of exceptional quality (as many were in those days) are also pricey but should only fetch high prices if they are in excellent, wearable condition. Then there are the classic, wooly, beaded sweaters that are a charming and iconic example of the 50’s. Some lovely examples may be worth paying a little more for. But overall, most garments unfortunately have significant condition issues. Whether it’s piling, holes, tears, stains, missing buttons, a broken zipper etc.. etc.. pay attention to what the condition issues are before you buy so you are not disappointed later. A good seller will disclose these issues. Some sellers may be able to negotiate on the price. If you have any questions ASK the seller before making a bid or purchase. A good seller will get back to you in a timely manner and not take umbrage if you ask detailed questions.
Style and Size.
The next thing you will want to ask yourself is, what style are you looking for? Do you want a fancy formal dress, a day dress, maybe a skirt? I think shopping works better if you have a certain type of garment in mind and you stick to looking for it. That way you won’t get distracted by other pieces that you didn’t intend on purchasing and end up with buyer’s remorse.
If you’re like me and you like to actually wear your vintage pieces, you will obviously want to get something that fits you. Of course you never know if something is going to fit properly if you are buying online. If you are buying in a store, make sure you are allowed to try the item on first. But if you are buying online (like I am, about 95% of the time), make sure you get the proper measurements for the bust, waist AND the hips. Many sellers will list the hips as “free” due to the full circle skirts. But if you’re looking for a pencil skirt, definitely make sure you get the hip measurements too.
Don’t go by what the size in the garment says because if you are buying a true vintage item from the 1950’s, their sizes were different from ours. (I covered this in Part 1) You might also encounter confusion if you try to go by what the seller says the size is. For example, if they say the dress is a size 14, do they mean a modern-day 14 or a 1950’s era 14 (which, to us is actually a size US 8!)
So, abiding by the actual measurements are the way to go. Remember that 1950’s clothes, for the most part, were made for curvy women. This is not to say you can’t wear them if you don’t have a curvy body. But do be prepared for a larger bust area, a tiny waist and roomier hips in a garment from that era.
When I first started looking, everything caught my eye. I liked anything that appeared to be from the 50’s whether it was a day dress, a formal prom dress, a skirt and suit set etc… I finally got to the point where I asked myself: “If I were to buy this item, what would I actually do with it?” That is a good question, especially if you don’t have a lot of money and space to spare. A young gal’s first formal dress from the 50’s might be charming and cute, but how will it look on an adult? Are you happy just collecting dresses and not wearing them? If so, you might want to buy vintage garments that you, yourself won’t be wearing. But if you are planning on wearing something, think about when and where you will use it. I came to the conclusion that I won’t be going anywhere that I can wear a taffeta ball gown to. Therefore, as gorgeous as they are, I decided not to pursue purchasing one.
When it comes to buying clothes, vintage or non, I keep recalling that episode of Family Guy when Stewie says, “It’s not a horrible sweater, I just can’t think of when I’d really wear it…” 🙂
Well mes amies, that’s about all for this series! I will have more posts on true vintage clothing in the future. It’s sort of a “learn by doing” method for me, as it will also be for you. I hope that you will find some of my tips useful as you search for treasures from this bygone and Best Era Ever.