Tag Archives: vintage clothing

Selective Memory

Picture a 1920s dress and hat, trying to imagine the style, fabric and color.

What comes to mind as you picture the dress? Does it have a drop-waist? A hemline that stops just below the knee? Is it sleeveless? Is the skirt fitted, gathered or pleated? Does it have a straight hemline or an uneven one?  Is the dress fabric you’re picturing rather light-colored (pastels?) and floaty, like silk chiffon? Or maybe black, adorned with beads or embroidery?

How about the hat? Did you picture a round cloche? Was it a summer hat made of straw or raffia? Or a winter hat made of wool?

Where did your image of the 1920s dress and hat come from? Did you draw from images from the film The Great Gatsby (and then, 1974 or the 2013 version?) or maybe the HBO series Boardwalk Empire?

Did the dress and hat you imagined look anything like this?

 

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1920s hat.JPG

I’d like to have something to wear to a 1920s-themed event, like the Jazz Age Lawn Party or to a speakeasy bar.

The pattern pictured above is a genuine 1921 pattern. The hat is a 1920s hat that I’ve had for years, displayed in my sewing room in a clear hat box. I’ve purchased linen fabric in the yellow-cream and light orange that matches the hat’s embroidery.

Yet I find myself hesitating to cut out the pattern pieces. I keep thinking, “Does the pattern really look 20s enough? I mean, aren’t those exaggerated wavy lines in the design more mod 1960s or 1970s than 1920s? And what about that skirt on the dress? Doesn’t it read more 1930s? And isn’t the skirt kind of frumpy? Does the hat look enough like a cloche?”

And here I am caught up in the irony of having genuine 1920s articles, and wondering if they look “authentically” 1920s.  I’ve been thinking of making the pattern with a different skirt style – maybe pleated or handerkerchief – in order to give it a more “20s look.”

I’ve been reading Heike Jenss’s book Fashioning Memory: Vintage Culture and Youth Style and it’s helped me understand why I’m questioning the “20s-ness” of my pattern. It turns out we have a selective cultural memory of what 1920s (or any past decade’s) style is. My 20s patterns doesn’t look 20s enough because I’m drawing off only the most iconic images of how that era has been reproduced in popular culture in films like Midnight in Paris or the television series Downtown Abbey.  Costume designers regularly allow present styles to influence how they reproduce the past. So, for example, the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby features much more fitted versions of flapper dresses than actually was the style. It’s no surprise – every vintage store owner I’ve ever talked to about wearing 20s  has told me that most women look terrible in the flat-chested, straight-sided, sack-like dresses of that era. But like most vintage enthusiasts, I’m highly influenced by the present in my imagining of what constitutes “the look” of the past. And so, just like a costume designer, I’m highly likely to alter the pattern’s style to give it a more shapely look that I can more easily wear in the present day. And then my altered “authentic” 20s dress will continue to shape how we today imagine the 1920s.

 

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Filed under Closet Encounters, Good Books, Sewing

“We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life”

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“Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met. We don’t cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.”

Thus Juliette@ElusiveJ on Twitter so eloquently put it. I’ve been thinking about this quote all weekend, as I binge-listen to Purple Rain and favorite songs like “7” and “Raspberry Beret” (the kind you find in a secondhand store). I listen and remember how Prince and the 1980s Minneapolis scene rocked me through my young adulthood.

I won the Purple Rain album at my high school senior prom. I remember dancing with abandon to “Let’s Go Crazy” in a peach-colored lace tea-length dress (a retro 1950s-style). When I saw the film Purple Rain (movies came later than soundtrack albums to rural North Dakota), I was fascinated with the urban scenes – First Avenue, Lake Minnetonka (actually, Cedar Lake playing the role of Lake Minnetonka), and the Crystal Court of IDS Center. When I arrived in Minneapolis in Fall 1985 for college, I was so excited to explore the city. I’d go dancing with friends at First Avenue. I’d scan the dark edges of the club, hoping to see Prince for the first 10 minutes I was there, and then I’d forget all about celebrity sighting. The multi-colored lights flashed, the beat pounded,  and I would dance with friends, feeling like we were somewhere.

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The 1980s Minneapolis of my memory has a lavender glow. The neighborhood around First Avenue had more character then with its dive bars like Moby Dicks, or nearby Shinders with its comic books and enormous magazine section. We would visit the Chain of Lakes in the wee hours of the morning (usually Lake Calhoun), whispering and giggling, feeling transgressive. I would also go on urban explorations alone, walking in the early morning from Augsburg College in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood to Nicollet Mall in downtown. I walked along the Mississippi almost daily, and to the old Dinkytown (before it became a sea of student housing) on a weekly basis. I’d check out nearly every free concert and local festival. I learned how to be an independent, curious, confident young woman then, and part of what inspired my urban and personal exploration was the fantasy Minneapolis depicted in Purple Rain.

The Minneapolis vintage scene has always been great, but in my memory it was a wonderland then. Just blocks from Augsburg was a funky store called Intermezzo with rubber duckies, vintage clothing, and odd apartment furnishings. Tatters opened a record shop and vintage store further down on Cedar. The Tatters location in Uptown was often graced by visits from his Purple Highness. The Ragstock Warehouse was a bit further away on Washington Avenue (when Washington was filled mostly with empty warehouses rather than today’s colossal condos). I’d rummage through barrels of clothes, pulling out satin pajamas, silk kimonos, 40s peplum jackets, old military uniforms, acrylic sweaters adorned with ribbons. Vintage was about trying on different characters for me then. I could be a 40s secretary, a 50s sock-hopper, a 60s go-go girl, a 70s bohemian. Did I want to be smart? Sweet? Assertive? Blase´? My wardrobe was eclectic to reflect my changing moods and identity experiments.

I’ve been realizing this weekend that I haven’t been anywhere near as adventurous in exploring the city I live in as I was back then. And that situation needs to be rectified because life is too short to not appreciate what’s around you. Prince’s death has reminded me that it’s important to stoke that sense of wonder and curiosity. I’m sad our favorite hometown boy is gone and that I’ll never experience a Prince sighting. But I’m thankful that he put Minneapolis on the international map as a place where cool could happen and that he’s inspired me reconnect with that place and with my younger sense of self.

 

 

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Spring Forward into the Past

Spring 16 Fashion

March is almost upon us, and the hefty spring fashion magazines are out.  As a vintage aficionado, I like to page through and see which vintage looks are making a comeback. While some looks are perpetually in style, such as 1960s shift dresses (see the latest from Kate Spade below), other revived looks don’t hang around for long.

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Vintage store owners also make a point of looking at the latest in the fashion mags and change their storefront looks accordingly. In Alligators, Old Mink and New Money, fashion-model-turned-vintage-store-owner Alison Houtte tells how she always made sure her Brooklyn store was stocked with the “latest” old versions of new looks. Why buy a fast-fashion reproduction if you can have the original look?

The last time I was paying attention to fashion magazines looking at the “new” styles, I noticed the return of some 1970s looks that are not frequently revived. Will I be wearing my 1970s knee-length tapestry vest (a look that was all over stores this summer) or is it back to storage for this groovy vest?

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Paging through the March issue of Elle and Vogue, it appears the 1970s are still in. I’m particularly fascinated with this Gucci model from the Spring 2016 ads who appears to be channeling a young Elton John, minus the visible chest hair. And is this ad marking the return of the pageboy haircut?

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This spring 2016 suede cut-out dress by Bally also has an early 1970s look.

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From wide-leg trousers to the persistence of the maxi dress, it appears that the 1970s are still in. It makes me want to sell my house and purchase this fabulous 1970s Chicago apartment! Yeah baby!

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Like vintage? Say why for a chance to win gift certificates!

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Hi there vintage fans!

I’ll continue with regular blog posts after Feb 15th. In the mean time, if you haven’t yet had a chance to complete my survey on why you wear vintage, then click on the link below and get started! If you complete a survey, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win 1 of 3 $30 etsy.com gift certificates, where you can find a huge selection of vintage clothing. You can find more info on the survey by clicking the link or by checking out my December 2015 blog post. Thanks and have a groovy day!

Click here to start vintage clothing survey

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Filed under Retro Style, Vintage Clothing

Why do you wear & buy vintage?

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Hey vintage clothing wearers: Here’s an opportunity to win one of three $30 etsy.com gift certificates by answering this survey I’ve been working on.

click here for survey on why you wear vintage

“Why a survey for those who wear vintage clothing?” you might ask. I have been researching vintage and secondhand clothing in some way for the last five years. I’ve interviewed vintage clothing store owners in the Twin Cities, and I’ve researched when wearing vintage first became a mainstream trend in the United States.  Augsburg Now, the Augsburg College alumni magazine, recently interviewed me about my ongoing vintage clothing research, in case you’re curious.

I’ve read a ton of the academic literature about vintage, retro and secondhand over the last five years. I’ve enjoyed reading the vintage guides and coffee table books as well. It turns out there are a lot of assumptions about vintage and retro clothing enthusiasts in that literature! I’m a sociologist, so my approach is “Why just assume? Why not ask people?” So based on all that I’ve read, the conversations I’ve had with folks, and my own experiences with vintage, I’m now asking, “Why do you wear and buy vintage clothing?”

I’ve put together a survey for people who wear and/or buy vintage clothing. I’m hoping you would like to help out with this project. As an incentive to take the time to complete the survey, after the survey closes (on February 16th, 2016), I will conduct a drawing to choose three winners of $30 Etsy.com gift certificates.  Just click on the link above to take the survey. And if you know other vintage clothing wearers – whether they wear it occasionally or all the time – please send them the link to this page. The more folks who share their thoughts, the better!

Thank you – I really appreciate your help and look forward to hearing more about why you wear vintage!

Update Dec. 18th: Thanks to those of you who let me know there was a glitch in the survey. I’ve fixed it. You can let me know at fischern@augsburg.edu if you encounter any other problems.

-Nancy L. Fischer

 

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Does this look too costume-y?

60s Nance 10 31 15 - 1

I’ve had my moments of vintage clothing buying when I want everything from the era for a certain look – the right 60s skirt, top, and then even hat, gloves and purse. But anyone who reads vintage styling tips knows, if you wear them all together, you run the risk of looking like you’re wearing a costume, rather than being stylish in the here and now. I can get away with a vintage skirt, and definitely a vintage purse, but a hat too? Definitely looking like I’m going to a theme party.

That’s why I love Halloween. Other than having a Mod 60s Party to attend, it’s the one night of the year I can put together the whole look – hat, gloves, top, bottom, and purse – and get away with it. And it’s great fun to be out in public, wearing a 60s pillbox! People who find the look odd think I’m in costume, and those who like vintage dig seeing the whole look together.

So vintage lovers, I hope you’ve taken advantage of Halloween as a chance to push the style boundaries a little and wear that entire Mad Men look tonight. Happy Halloween!

Is that a Halloween costume or how she normally dresses?

Is that a Halloween costume or how she normally dresses?

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Ethical Dilemmas in Refashioning Vintage Clothes

vogue jacket

My mother was an excellent seamstress when I was in high school. I didn’t have much incentive to learn to sew myself since I could never make anything that was as high quality as what my mother could produce. It was a love of vintage clothing that eventually brought me into the world of sewing decades later. I was walking by St. Paul’s awesome fabric store Treadle Yard Goods and noticed a 50s style dress that bowled me over. It turned out to be the diamond dress pattern from the retro pattern company Decades of Style. I went in and bought the pattern even though I didn’t even own a sewing machine. I’m now on my second sewing machine (a vintage Bernina) and I have accumulated a mini-library of vintage patterns (ironically, I still haven’t made that diamond dress!).

Learning to sew has expanded what vintage items I can buy and successfully wear. I regularly make routine alterations such as hemming, letting out or taking in seams. I think of these alterations as uncontroversial. I never even cut the hem when I take up a skirt so that if the next owner is taller, she’ll have something to work with. And I normally avoid trimming seam allowances I’ve taken in for the same reason.

Where things get a little more ethically uncomfortable for me is when I’m permanently altering the garment in ways that it can’t return to its original state. I’ve altered a maxi into a mini. And if I really love a long vintage skirt that has a tiny waist (I comfort myself with the thought that they wore girdles back in those days, right?), I’ve cut off the waistband and re-sewn it with a contour waistline (mark the new waist-line using a pattern if you’re trying this at home). The contour style waistband-less skirt is not authentic to the time period, but it fits me comfortably.

And re-shaping a waist is one thing, but what about a complete re-fashion? I adore Charity Shop Chic or Jillian Owens’ blog Refashionista where fantastic seamstresses take thrift store finds and makes them into cute clothes for a night out on the town. They, of course, work with cast-off clothing. What about cutting into a vintage garment and refashioning it into something more contemporary? I’m probably treading on vintage ethical thin ice, but I’ll admit I’ve done it. I love 1950s novelty print skirts like this brown one below, but they usually have the tiny waists I was referring to above.

Venice skirt 3

This leads me to the story of my first novelty skirt I found. It was a lavender novelty print skirt with a 23-inch waist. When I cut off the waistband in order to create a new one and shorten the skirt, I discovered over 2 yards of fabric tightly gathered in that tiny waistband!  I ultimately decided not to make it into another skirt – I had enough fabric for an entire dress and made the one you see below.

1950s skirt is now a dress

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And the jacket at the top of this blog post? The herringbone section made up a bulky skirt that I watched hang unloved in a local vintage shop for two years before I bought it and turned it into the 1960s Vogue jacket pattern.

But should I have made the cuts and re-worked the skirts?

I never really thought about the ethics of altering vintage until I had a conversation with a Ph.D. student from the University of Minnesota’s Design-Apparel Studies program. With her training in textile conservation, she brought up how altering vintage clothing posed a real dilemma – the conservationist in her wanted to leave the clothes un-molested, but the fashionista wanted to alter and wear. Re-fashioning old clothing to re-shape it into new styles is an old practice. Patricia Allerston in Reconstructing the Second-Hand Clothes Trade in Sixteenth- and Seventeen-Century Venice reasoned that there are few surviving examples of Italian Renaissance clothing because the fabric remained valuable after a particular style faded, and old garments were re-worked into new ones.

So does that mean (gulp) that when I remove a genuine 1950s tiny waistband that I’m contributing to a world where no one will know what these waistbands look like or how small 50s young women once were?

It’s possible. That’s why I’ve felt a little nervous about my past vintage refashions.  Yet, I will say that losing examples of 1950s skirts seems less probable than the loss of surviving 16th- and 17th-century Venetian dresses. The Venetian textiles remained valuable because they were rare, painstaking handcrafted by expert weavers, and so they were sewn into something else. The 1950s fabrics are high quality but mass-produced – not the same type of high quality as Venetian brocades. Finding examples today of 1950s textiles is thankfully not that difficult. Moreover, because we are more fascinated by our recent past than the Renaissance Venetians probably were, people keep their high quality old clothes. Museums and historical societies regularly collect antique garments – from haute couture to everyday wear – as part of their conservation efforts. And today’s grand dames of fashion are willing to ensure that the iconic clothing of past decades is conserved (for example, I recently watched the documentary Iris about Iris Apfel, who was donating her clothing to the Peabody Essex Museum).

I definitely haven’t taken the ethical high road of conservationism when it comes to making my vintage clothes work for today. I do keep alterations to a minimum rather than frequently engaging in a full-scale re-fashioning. And I should note that the designer garments I own are off-limits for anything but hemming – their value is retained through minimal to no change. But in the end I rationalize that re-fashioning old styles into new garments is also a part of our Western heritage and is a tradition that I’m carrying on, for better or for worse.

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Filed under Ethical Fashion, Secondhand Worlds, Sewing, Vintage Clothing