Tag Archive | vintage clothing

Why a Good Seamstress is your Wardrobe’s Secret Weapon



Ask any couturier about the importance of a proper fit and they will all agree that it is absolutely essential. No matter how expensive the fabric or beautiful the design, without proper fit neither the garment, nor your figure,  will ever be presented in their best light .

On the other hand it doesn’t take a couture garment to make a woman look her best. Even off the rack clothing can be transformed with a bit of strategic alteration. The importance of flattering fit is absolute for the red carpet crowd and high society, right down to their jeans. After all, the paparazzi is ever present and it only takes one unflattering photo to get tongues wagging!

There was a time when the benefit of proper fit was understood by all walks of society.  But in our era of stretch fabrics and cheap throw away clothing it has become less important for the average person. Vintage clothing, on the other hand, was usually made of woven fabric, made to last and designed to enhance the figure, something that many of today’s fabrics do NOT do for most of us. And women back in the day were very aware of how much more flattering an outfit could be if it was tailored properly.

As a former dressmaker and current vintage dealer it frustrates me when I see a woman pass on a vintage garment she loves over fitting issues that could be easily resolved with a bit of expert alteration. A sagging shoulder line or an unaligned bust point can make a dress look frumpy. Yet a skilled seamstress can adjust these seams to create a more alluring line. She will also have an eye for the best hem length to suit your proportions or your best sleeve length. The majority of figures have different “size zones”…  shoulder width, bust, waist, hip.

In  many cases there is no need to give up on a garment you love just because one area is not fitting when the rest does. A decent dressmaker will be able to tell you what can and cannot be done. Many vintage garments often have enough seam allowance to let out bust, waist or hips and nipping in is almost always possible. Sometimes the fix is so easy you won’t believe it. Magic can happen just by moving buttons or tucking a strap. A customer I once had was utterly smitten with a vintage gown but when she came out of the fitting room she was nearly in tears. The color looked gorgeous on her, the waist and hips fit perfectly, even the length was right,  but the bodice drooped awkwardly. Since the gown had spaghetti straps all I had to do was pull them up a couple of inches and the bodice moved right into place. The alteration was simple but it made all the difference.

Below is a before and after of a dress that was originally a couple of sizes too large for the customer, and was altered smaller to fit her. You can see how a garment can be totally transformed in the hands of a good alteration specialist.

dress altered

So,  if you love authentic vintage, or even retro fashions,  and you want to wear it well,  I highly recommend you take the time to find a good dressmaker or seamstress. Recommendation by word of mouth is usually best.  But you can also call the alterations department at a better department store or bridal salon and ask there.

Here are three helpful tips for when you are having alterations done

1. There should be no guesswork involved. Your seamstress should have you in front of a mirror with the dress on as she pins you on BOTH sides. A proper pinning will give you a good idea of the results. If the garment needs to be let out she should measure how much. If the alteration is complicated a good seamstress knows to baste first which will require more than one fitting.

2. Dress hems should always be measured and marked all around not just in one spot. This will assure an even hemline. If your seamstress does not do this I would go elsewhere.

3. If you are having a garment let out, ask your seamstress if the old seam lines will be inconspicuous. You can’t always prevent all traces but you can usually minimize them enough so they are not obvious. Different fabrics are more forgiving than others and there are tricks of the trade to help. She should have some idea what to expect.

Of course, alterations add to the cost of the garment. But if you find a talented seamstress she can transform your clothes so they look more expensive and enhance your figure in ways you never dreamed possible.  Excellent reasons that certainly make it a worthy investment!


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Is that really an Authentic “Vintage” dress you’re buying?


Lately I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend.  We have been getting more and more emails from gals who have been searching for  vintage dresses online and discovered an authentic vintage dress of ours that is no longer available ,  then emailing us to ask when we are going to restock it.  Of course this is impossible, since authentic vintage dresses are not replaceable.   This used to be an isolated incident.  Now it is a daily occurrence.  At first I couldn’t figure out why so many people would keep asking us this, even though our product descriptions clearly state whether it’s a  true vintage or vintage STYLE or Inspired piece.  Basically when we call something a  1950s dress it is an honest to goodness, vintage dress from back in that era!  And our new clothing is also clearly described as vintage inspired, retro,  vintage style50s style dress1920s reproduction dress, etc, etc……You get the picture!  We’ve been selling this product mix for years and have never had the amount of inquires like this until recently.

So I started doing some research to try and figure out why.  And it didn’t take very long!

Just do a search on Google, Bing, Yahoo or search any of the social/fashion bookmarking sites for any of the above phrases  and you’ll see gazillions of results, many of which will never take you to authentic vintage clothing of any kind . You know, the one of a  kind,  unique pieces that were actually made back in the day. This is causing a serious amount of confusion for consumers, as more and more women are making purchases and don’t even  know what they are buying!  And, believe me, it is happening a lot. We actually have had customers buy authentic vintage dresses from us who thought they were new!   Then they email us afterwards about how much they like the dress , but wish they could exchange it for another size because it didn’t fit!

Why is this a problem? Because real vintage clothing is a often a collectible commodity that is scarce and potentially increases or at least retains its value over time.  That is not necessarily the case with new vintage looking clothing.   Just like furniture, you can buy a real antique piece or a new reproduction that looks like the old style.   The original is  usually quite different from the modern  in terms of  rarity, construction techniques, textiles used and value.

So you can see what I mean, here are a couple of examples I found on a recent Google search for  50s dress and vintage dresses .  The  first one is described as a 50s dress, but in no way looks anything like one and it is new from a very well known department store.  The second is described as a “vintage dress. ”  Though very cute, it is  obvious from the very short skirt that it is not authentic.  Hmmmmm.  

50s dress?

50s dress?

faux 50s dress

Vintage dress?

And here is one of the main reasons why this is happening.  Because the “vintage look” has become more popular, many companies vying for top search engine results want to optimize their websites for popular search terms to drive customers to their sites.  I mean, heck,  that’s what everyone with an ecommerce site needs to do and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.  But if you’re driving traffic to your site based on misleading search terms that don’t accurately describe your products,  then that just makes the online shopping experience for the consumer more confusing!

And let’s face it, the bigger companies, with bigger  budgets, usually rise to the top of the search results.  Consumers, of course, trust the brand name companies and assume their products are being described accurately. But that’s not necessarily the case.  And the search engines, themselves, certainly can’t distinguish between which terms are being accurately used to describe products.  So this creates a problem when you’re trying to find the right product, in this case,  genuine vintage clothing.  I know I have ended up wading through pages and pages of results, that lead to nothing that was even remotely close to the authentic vintage item I was searching for.  It can get pretty frustrating.

So here are some helpful tips for those ladies who are searching for the real deal!

•If  it available in multiple sizes, then it is NOT an authentic vintage garment.

•If  the description states Made in China, it is NOT authentic vintage, though some would argue China made clothing from the 1990s is now vintage.  But that’s a whole other issue that I won’t get into right now.

•If  the garment has an invisible zipper, it most likely is NOT an authentic vintage piece, especially if you found it through a search for 50s dresses, or 40s dresses. They did not use invisible zippers back then.

•If the skirt is very short, it most likely isn’t a  true vintage dress, unless you’re looking for an authentic 60s minidress!

If searching for flapper dresses, be aware, authentic ones are extremely rare and not form fitting. So most of what you see online listed as a flapper dress or 20s dress is most likely a new “modernized” version of dresses from that era.

•And finally, if you’re looking for real, one of a kind,  vintage clothing, try searching using more specific terms  like authentic, true, one of a kind,  or genuine in front of the item you’re searching for.  You’ll probably have better luck that way, since online search for vintage clothing  these days has become a minefield of misinformation.  It is definitely buyer beware!

Has anyone else had a similar experience when trying to shop online recently for vintage clothes?  Do you even care how companies describe their clothing, as long as you like it?




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Vintage Couture at Upcoming Kerry Taylor Auction


OOOOO! It’s time for another fantastic Kerry Taylor Auction.  Always offering the cream of the crop in vintage couture, this December 4th there will be dresses  by Chanel, Dior, Vionnet,  Poiret, Balenciaga, Yves St Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood,  Ossie Clark, Jean Muir,  Zandra Rhondes,  and many other designers. Also antique textiles, jewelry and Hermes and Gucci handbags.  And if  you can’t get to  London for the sale, you can bid online via Invaluable.com. Of course, if you’re like me, and don’t have the budget to bid on any of these beautiful investment pieces, it’s still fun to have a look at these wonderful fashions from the past. You can view the whole impressive collection here.

Below are some of the items on my “most likely to bid on if I had the cash” wish list :)

1. Beaded 1920s Opera Coat  2.  Beaded French Flapper Dress circa 1928
3. Rare Chanel ribbon dress circa 1924 (bid estimates 10-15K  pounds!) 4. Alexander McQueen for Givenchy 1990s flapper style dress (bid estimates 8-12K pounds)

Kerry Taylor Auctions 1920s Style Dresses

1920s Style Clothing- Kerry Taylor Auction

1920s Navy Chiffon Hartnell Dress. Love the train in back and the matching jacket. So feminine and elegant.

1930s Norman Hartnell dress-Kerry Taylor Auction

1930s Norman Hartnell dress-Kerry Taylor Auction

1. Yves St Laurent for Dior 1959 black party dress 2. Pink floral silk Dior gown 1958
3.  Dior Red silk cocktail dress 1959 4. Dior 1955 floral print cotton moire summer dress

1950s Dior Dresses

1950s Dior Dresses

Look at the lovely silk  flowers decorating the bodice of this  Madame Gres 1953 ball gown.
Dress has  four layers of white and yellow chiffon, organza and taffeta with
a final top layer of glistening horsehair!

1953 Madame Gres ball gown

1953 Madame Gres ball gown

1. Yves St Laurent gold lame and black jersey evening gown circa 1980 2. Ossie Clark for Radley 40s inspired Celia Bertwell  print 70s dress

3. Ossie Clark/Celia Bertwell “floating daisies” moss crepe dress 1970  4. 1980s Thierry Mugler blue cotton and faux fur peplum  jacket

Ossie Clark, Thierry Mugler, YSL

Ossie Clark, Thierry Mugler, YSL

What vintage beauty would you bid on if you could?









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Gilbert Adrian-Hollywood Costumer Extraordinaire


A while back I did a post about desginer Gilbert Adrian, and his  fabulous fashions from the 1940s.  And it’s not surprising women were drawn to his creations.  Because  from 1928-1941 he  was the couturier for some of the most famous stars in Hollywood.   His unforgettable costumes epitomized the glamour of the Golden Era of films.  Known  just as “Adrian” this man certainly had the talent  for making a woman look sensational and beautiful!

He was solely responsible for the signature looks of Jean Harlow in her clinging bias cut gowns and  Joan Crawford. whose  narrow waisted, broad shouldered suits became a huge fashion trend in the 40s.  He also designed for Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn and Norma Shearer, just to name a few!

A slinky Adrian gown for Jean Harlow, who played Kitty Packard , Wallace Beery’s wisecracking wife,  in Dinner at Eight. Her evening dresses from this movie became the  fashion rage in the 30s.

adrian harlow dinner at eight 1933

Jean Harlow in Adrian gown-Dinner at Eight 1933

Adrian designed this glittery gown for Joan Crawford, who played Crystal Allen, the husband stealing hussy in “The Women”


Gilbert Adrian-Joan Crawford -The Women 1939

Joan Crawford in shimmery evening gown by Adrian-The Women-1939

A goddess like Adrian gown for Helga, a.k.a. Susand Lenox, played by Greta Garbo who co-starred with Clark Gable in this film.

Gilbert Adrian-Greta  Garbo in  Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise 1931

Great Garbo in Adrian gown- Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise 1931

This costume Adrian designed for Greta Garbo in Mata Hari cost $2000.00 to make and weighed 50 pounds!

Great Garbo-Mata Hari-Adrian costume 1931

Adrian costume for Greta Garbo in Mata Hari 1931

Adrian designed this dramatic  gray Persian lamb outfit for Norma Shearer in Idiot’s Delight, where she played a fake Russian countess.  I love the suede platform boots she’s wearing!

Norma Shearer-Gilbert Adrian-Idiot's Delight  1939

Gray Persian Lamb ensemble by Adrian for Norma Shearer in Idiot’s Delight 1939

In the 1930s the movie studios produced many musical extravaganzas.   So Adrian often designed costumes for  the whole cast,  including all the chorus girls. Below is one of his costumes from “The Great Ziegfeld”.


Adrian costumes- The Great Ziegfeld 1936

Adrian costume for The Great Ziegfeld 1936

Adrian also designed all the costumes for the “Wizard of Oz”, including the famous ruby red slippers worn by Dorothy/Judy Garland.  Several pair were made during the filming of the movie, and  each shoe supposedly was covered with 2300 sequins.  One pair is on permanent display at the Smithsonian in Wash, D.C.

When Hollywood decided Garbo needed a new, more modern, American look for her last film “Two Faced Woman” , that was pretty much the end of Adrian’s costuming career.  Garbo left Hollywood because she didn’t like the clothes the studio was trying to foist on her, and Adrian followed right after,  saying that “When Garbo walked out of the studio, so did glamour, and so did I.”

Do you have a favorite movie that features designs by Gilbert Adrian?

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Nautical Fashions 1957


Ladylike nautical inspired resort fashions from 1957. Taken at the St. Thomas Yacht Club. Richard Rutledge photographer.  Though the pix are in B&W, the clothing is navy and white, a classic color combination for summer, no matter what decade!

The white linen sheath dress  by Mr. Mort is topped by a navy blue  Heller worsted jersey sailor jacket. Hat by Madcaps. White opera pumps by Julianelli

Mr Mort Dress Vogue 1957

Mr Mort Dress Vogue 1957

Fashion Editor, Gail Dugas, said of Oleg Cassini’s 1957 resort collection
“He likes curvy, fitted clothes that play up  a woman’s waistline.
He’s partial to wide, fitted, midriffs and makes frequent use of belts, placing them where they should be, around the waist!
He also shows clothes with a rounded bosom line and a moulded hipline.
In short he thinks clothes should be feminine, beguiling and fun to wear.”

A smart white knitted wool  dress with navy blue satin trim by Oleg Cassini. Hat by Madcaps. Shoes by Julianelli. Bag by Ronay.

Oleg Cassini dress Vogue 1957

Oleg Cassini dress Vogue 1957

I love this outfit. The casual navy blue  jersey t shirt worn with a full white chiffon skirt. And that polka dot head scarf looks fab!

Junior Sophisticates, Bendel’s Youngtimers. Sandals I Miller.

Navy Blue jersey T and white chiffon skirt Vogue 1957

Navy Blue jersey T and white chiffon skirt Vogue 1957



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