Category Archives: Collecting Vintage Clothing

Dress Formlets!

Dress formlets! Yeah, tiny dress forms. Like, 6 month – 6 year olds. Huzzah for slightly more professional photography!

Next addition: a tripod.

Next addition: a tripod. That should have been obvious, but whatever.

I finally had an unplanned day off from works, and I decided to spend a little time on the collection. I went out and picked up three little dress forms (Craigslist FTW) which made me happy. I have a handful of infant and child’s clothing that really should be photographed on forms, and now that is very possible. Was, very possible. It was the first thing I did when I got home.

Seeing clothing on a human form is always enlightening. My favorite moment was when I was having trouble dating a tie. It was either a short 1970s tie, or a long 1940s tie, according to the dimensions. I was leaning toward the 1970s because I’m always hesitant to date something earlier – it usually isn’t. I was sitting at the table with the tie on a few pieces of archival paper when my dad, who was watching, said “well, let’s see.” He took the tie, put it around his neck, and he didn’t even get to knot it when I said “it’s from the 1940s!” There was no doubt. I just needed to see the thing in situ.


The very 1940s tie.

I’ve been having the same trouble with this one child’s blouse shirt thing. The bloused effect dates from between the 1800s to the 1840s. There’s no machine stitching to date it, without a doubt, after the 1850s. I spent a week scouring the Interwebs for any picture of a kid wearing something like this, but I only found a few portraits from the 1830s-40s.

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The garment in question.

I’m fairly confident that it’s from that era. The bloused effect, the short puffed sleeves, and the squared neck seemed to fit in there. The somewhat high waistline would suit the 1830s, when waistlines were slowly dropping from the super-high position of the 1820s. I was still a little skeptical, so I figured I’d be able to tell better when I got the thing on a form.

Well, I put it on a dress form for a 2-3 year old and it was way too big. I took it off and put it on a dress form for a 4-6 year old. Still too big, but now the waist wouldn’t close. The shoulders were way too wide for the form. I didn’t even take a picture; it kept falling off. It was almost as big as my 1888-92 bodice, which I had thought was for a 10-13 year old, and … I guess … isn’t …

I’m still fairly confident with the 1830-1840 date span. The biggest shock is that both that 1888-1892 bodice and that light blousy top were made for kids between 5-7 years old. Looking at them on a flat surface or stored in paper, I couldn’t have ascertained that. Heck yeah, dress forms.

Wash, freeze, or … microwave?

Levi’s has been in the news today, and for an interesting reason. A sigh of validated relief rises from every stressed-out college student as they hear the CEO of Levi’s say yeah, you can wear those jeans again. And again. And again.

I’ve heard the argument for not washing your jeans before, but I never heard of how else denim purists would clean their jeans, if not washing them. One option seems to be freezing them. Pretty cool. Pun intended. Obviously I’m interested, since I’ve already been throwing every piece of antique clothing I buy into a few Ziploc bags and in the freezer for a month.

OK so yeah, science says that generally, freezing isn’t going to help reduce bacteria. Maybe if you keep your jeans in the freezer for a month, as I’ve done with my antique clothing, freezing will be more effective. I don’t know; I use it to kill mold and it seems to work really well. The funnier side of this debate is this silly opinion article. The author is pretty anti-freezing, and suggests that microwaving is the most efficient way of sanitizing clothing. In my opinion, microwaving doesn’t sound like a solution. It might set all my ketchup stains, and that’s a bummer. Also, the metal rivets in jeans tend to be metal, and metal and microwaves kind of have this track record thing going on. Obviously I’m interested,  because now I want Mythbusters to do an episode to see if you can really light your pants on fire on the popcorn setting. I’d totally watch that.

There’s a whole other issue here, though, and everybody seems to be missing it. The really crucial debate is if you’ve got anything else in the freezer with your frozen clothing. Even when double-bagged, the clothes tend to pick up smells. Obviously I’m interested, since I now own half a 100-year-old layette that smells like onions and frozen French Toast.

Damn it.

Clothing Forensics!

I love it when people dissect clothing and are able to tell a story from what they find. So this is pretty cool … The National Gallery of Victoria is kinda sorta doing that with some of their collection. Check it out!


A 1880s-1890s Bodice

About a month ago I bought a great late 19th century bodice. I got it on a whim, thinking from the photos that it didn’t look like it was made out of silk. I’ve been trying to avoid silk because I can’t take care of it as well as bast fibers. Well, when I unpacked the bodice, I found that it was completely cotton! Tiny happy dance.

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The bodice is sized for a teenager. This means that the style it is made in is neither for a woman or a child – it’s like transitional fashion. I’m guessing it was worn with a long skirt, as women wore, but there’s a possibility that it was worn with a mid-calf skirt, the way tweens dressed. I’m not completely sure yet.


Fully lined in that ubiquitous glazed brown cotton. The bodices closes with a long row of hooks & eyes, and two rusty straight pins still in place. I’m not sure how the collar stayed put, though, there are no pins, hooks & eyes, or pinholes anywhere on it.

It’s completely handsewn, except for the topstitching on the flap at the front, the cuffs, and the little red sleeve caps. It was probably made from a pattern by a fairly experienced but non-professional seamstress – it’s a complex pattern, but I can see where the seams were once sewn in, ripped out and resewn. So … there’s no tag. Nothing that would make tracking it down easier. Boo.

It doesn’t have any boning or boning channels, which kind of strikes me as odd for a bodice from this period – but unboned bodices from the 1880s-1890s are out there.

So I know it’s from the 1880 or 1890s. I’m figuring between 1885-1895, because the sleeves are just a little gathered underneath the sleeve caps, hinting at those huge ridiculous poofy sleeves that came into fashion in the 1890s. It doesn’t have the long slender waists of the 1870s/early 1880s, either, which were called cuirass bodices.


Sleeve cap from the front


From the top, with the cap folded up showing gathered shoulder

Here are some similar bodices, all from the early 1890s.


This lavender silk bodice has similar sleeve caps, though larger, and a similar waistline. I can’t see how this one closes, possibly along one of the bands of beading in front.


Another bodice with the same sleeves, sleeve caps, and waistline. I can’t see how it closes but it must be down the side.


Found on Pinterest

Kinda Excited …

I’ve been working a lot on my clothing collection lately. Not the collection of stuff I’m making; my collection of vintage/antique clothes. I’ve been cataloging every piece on my other WordPress blog, which I’m kinda sorta proud of … it’s got over 80 posts now! With a few notable exceptions, most of the women’s clothing I have in that collection isn’t really reproduce-able, like jeans and constructed purses.

But that’s going to change in a week or so. Coming up, I have two women’s dresses and a girl’s dress, all dating from between about 1900-late twenties. Yeah, excitement. I’ll be adding them to my blog with tons of pictures, patterns, and construction tips. Eventually I want to reproduce the two women’s dresses, which will be a lot of fun.

That, and I’ve decided to finally get to work on my new 18th century dress. I’m going to make it from some linen I bought a while back that I had to re-dye over it’s original rabid watermelon color. I have a deadline; early April – my next event, but I also want to see how quickly I can sew a dress by hand. I want to break my old record of two days.

That, and I’m thinking really hard about picking up a dress form so I can actually see some of this clothing worn, and (gasp!) maybe be able to drape dresses, finally!

So I’m going to go get my costume movies in line (I’ve gotta watch something while I sew!) and get to work!

Where was I?

Work, volunteering, and sleep, basically – and an embarrassing number of hours went to playing Minecraft. Oh well, you’ve gotta have something to make those New Year’s resolutions about.

I’ve also been putting more time into my collection, though nothing really monumental has been happening. I added a handful of 18th-19th century sleeve buttons and an awesome almost-complete 2nd century Roman fibula. The textile items that are in the collection already have been taking turns chilling in the freezer. Last week I spent a few hours taking better pictures of some of the items.

In honor of Anchorman 2 - a 1970s burgundy woman's pantsuit, two pieces of double-knit polyester goodness. Shown with suede heeled loafers, 1970s.

In honor of Anchorman 2, a woman’s burgundy pantsuit from the 1970s. Two pieces of double-knit polyester goodness. Shown with suede heeled loafers, 1970s.

A Dan Lee Coture chiffon dress, 1970s, with the 1970s merrimac fur hat I wrote about in an earlier post.

A Dan Lee Couture chiffon dress, 1970s, with the 1970s  hat I wrote about in an earlier post.

I also began to do some research on some pieces. I was doing well until I got to this tie.

So how old is it?

So how old is it?

It’s wide – about 4″ – so I figured it was 1970s. I began to doubt that when I did research on the label, though. It was made and sold by the Coffman-Fisher Company Department Store, which operated from sometime in the 1920s until probably the 1960s or 70s; I can’t find more info. That made me wonder if the tie was older – say 1930s/40s, the other wide-tie era. The font used on the tie looks 1930s.

Well, how to tell? I didn’t have the tie with me, but I had some rough measurements and an internet connection. Turns out that 1930s-40s ties were as wide as 1970s ties (4″ wide or so), but they were about 10″ shorter. 1970s ties are about as long as modern ones: 58-60″ long. So my tie, measuring about 4″ wide by 54″ long, is closer to 1930s-40s dimensions than 1970s, if my research is accurate.

So is it from the 1930s or 1940s? I’m not completely convinced yet. I’ll see where more research leads, which with the way I’ve been able to stick to tasks, I’ll get around to sometime in 2016.  : P




The Fashion Institute of Technology Museum: A Queer History of Fashion & RetroSpective – a review

I just got back from a visit to Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, where I was able to walk through the galleries and see the two exhibits now on display, A Queer History of Fashion and RetroSpective. Both are free to the public and open until January 4, 2014 and November 16, 2013, respectively.

Photo on 2013-10-08 at 15.58 #3

Here’s the link to FIT’s museum website, below. Again, it’s ugly because I haven’t learned how to make it pretty yet.

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk

A look at clothing both created and worn by members of the LGBTQ communities over the past 300+ years, this is an interesting and discussion-sparking exhibit.

Focusing mostly on designer clothing from 1960 to the present, this exhibit offers a lot of information. It’s also well-planned and well-lit, so that almost every piece can be easily seen. Many outfits are semi-hidden behind others, but that speaks to the sheer volume of how many things there are to see. There are clothes from a scattering of the top names of the past century – fashion designers, movie stars, artists and more.

The one thing that disappointed me was the 18th century portion of the exhibit. It includes a 1790s suit, a banyan, and a truly horrible ‘Mollie’ outfit made from a reproduction chemise, a Renaissance Fair corset made from black sparkly brocade, and original shoes, quilted petticoat and red wool cloak.

From my research on gender-bending clothing of the 18th century, I’ve found that an outfit like this was simply not worn in public by anybody other than, possibly, a prostitute. In general, 18th c. LBGTQ people had to hide their true selves almost constantly, because simply being LBGTQ was a crime in a lot of places. Wearing something like this would be to wave a red flag in the face of a bull – not that it would make people immediately think “homosexual”, but the outfit would immediately bring to mind the 18th century debate on the desired tightness and completeness of women’s clothing and how it reflected their morals. Anybody, male or female, who wore an outfit like this would be immediately marked as “morally loose”,  and in 18th century thinking, that wasn’t a far cry from homosexual.

The label did not describe any of this, and didn’t offer information such as where such an outfit would be worn (England, America, France) which could have been crucial in interpreting it. And of course, there is the added problem of the cringe-worthy reproduction clothing.

Finally, the exhibit does not mention two of the most iconic gender-bending outfits there were in the 18th century: the riding habit and the redingote. These garments were a big part of gay and lesbian issues in the late 18th century. While I can understand that the museum possibly did not have originals to put on display, perhaps a picture or discussion could have been included.

I give this exhibit a 9/10. This exhibit presents an awesome topic and illustrates it with outstanding examples of clothing (expect for the 18th century portion). I highly recommend it.


This exhibit focuses on revivals of fashion elements such as the bustle, hoop skirts and ’empire’ style gowns.

This exhibit is stunningly comprehensive. There are so many garments, accessories and textiles on display that each topic is supported by multiple examples. The exhibit is well laid out and each topic (say, ‘bustles’ or ‘panniers’) is given its own little nook, which makes comprehension of the ideas presented easy. Movies on clothing from the times adds another dimension to the exhibit, and guided tours are available as well.

Most of the clothing is presented somewhat poorly. The exhibit is quite dark where the older clothing is; too dark to see basic details like buttons, embroidery or seams. In addition to the darkness, putting the clothing in ‘nooks’ means that they can only be viewed from one angle. When I tried to lean in a little to see the garments, I set off alarms and was told off by a security guard.


I didn’t think that this exhibit was very inspired. The topic of fashion revivals is old, and the exhibit brings nothing new to the discussion except a presentation of the usual topics. There is not a lot of information offered on the labels simply because the exhibit does not stir the waters of this topic: it only skims the surface. I would have loved the exhibit to go into the deeper questions of why fashion goes into revivals, and the way these revivals reflect what’s going on in the culture at the time.

I give it a 7/10. This exhibit is great for visitors with a casual interest in fashion, and since it’s free, it’s a great way to kill half an hour. If you go, don’t expect to learn a lot from it, and don’t expect to be able to see the older garments very clearly.

I’d love to hear others’ reactions to these exhibits. Have you seen them? What did you think?

Freezing a Hat


I can’t put it more bluntly than that!

I mentioned in a previous post that I had a velour hat from the 1970s that had become a snack for bugs. I’d heard that freezing garments will kill bugs in them, so I figured that this hat was a good candidate – better to practice on less expensive items before I try it on more collectible or older things.

And better to practice in any case, because freezing things just sounds weird.

Step One: Put the garment in two VERY tightly closed bags – they should be airtight. Squeeze out all the air you can before sealing. Label so family members know they can’t eat it for dinner.

Bagged and ready to go

Bagged and ready to go

Step Two: Wait two weeks. (cue Jeopardy music)

Step Three: Take the thing out of the freezer. Allow to return to ambient temperatures by letting it sit a day before opening.

Step Four: Panic because you see water droplets inside the bag, and get worried that it will become moldy in a 24 hour period. Open before it’s warmed up.

Ermigersh wherder ...

So the bags weren’t as airtight as I thought … or, more likely, the air was humid when I bagged the hat.

Step Five: Realize it got crushed and attempt to get the thing back into it’s original shape.

The white specks are dust and dead bugs.

The white specks are dust and dead bugs. Huzzah, it worked.

Step Six: Enjoy the freshly bug-free thing!


Yay! Also note the beautiful and professional hat stand … LOL.

Freezing this hat worked perfectly: I found dead bugs on it after I took it out of the bags. Now that I know this method works, I have more things to freeze, starting with some wool sweaters.

Two purses from the 1930s and 1940s

Well, I’ve been busy – I’ve recently relocated to New York City. Unfortunately, my clothing collection can’t come with me; it’s still in storage at my previous home. I’ve been bringing individual pieces up to NYC with me every week or so to work on, and this week I took a little blue clutch that needed some TLC. I picked it up recently at an antiques store. I got upset when I saw that the seller had taped two stickers onto it, and all the adhesive had come off onto the silk. Grr!

navy silk clutch

The silk clutch, probably from the late 1930s to 1940s.

It’s pretty faded; originally it was a very dark blue. The design on the front is made with blue cording and four whimsical little flowers with rhinestone centers. With those meandering lines, it kind of reminds me of something by Schiaparelli.

Or maybe it’s James Thurber that I’m thinking of.

Today I cleaned it a little. It was pretty dusty and will need a better cleaning than what I’ve just given it, but it’s a start. I was worried that the interior was full of mold, but it turns out it’s makeup powder, maybe blush.


The clutch was made by Maben Bags, with a little stork logo.

The clutch was made by Maben Bags, which had a little stork logo. I haven’t been able to find much information about this brand, expect that they seem to have begun business around 1935.

I can’t get the adhesive off. The fabric is so faded that I’m worried it’s been structurally compromised (yay big words) and since it’s silk I don’t want to wash or rub it. I’m not sure how to go about removing it.

Because my clothing collection is based on a very limited budget, I don’t have acid-free paper to wrap these pieces in. I came to something of a solution today: I took out the sewing machine and whipped up a few basic cotton bags. While they can’t protect the pieces from abrasion, they’ll be better than nothing. So the clutch got its own bag today, and it’ll be returned to my collection soon.

A tiny cotton sleeping bag.

Yes, I know it might be considered overkill to take so much care of a purse that’s so badly worn. But I like to.

I have one other purse in my collection from this general time frame. It’s a black silk clutch with a tiny version of itself inside as a coin purse.


My other 1940s purse, by M Faille.

Anybody else reminded of Alien? Or is it just me?

Anybody else reminded of Alien? Or is it just me?

Yeah, it’s just me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on an item from the 1970s: a beautiful red velour hat. I don’t have a ‘before’ picture, partially because I’m ashamed of the state it’s in. I was given this hat years ago, and it had been in perfect condition at the time. I didn’t recognize it as ‘old’, however, and since it didn’t fit me, I packed it away nicely and put it in storage – worst move ever. Bugs got to it, and by the time I found it, it had a few bug holes. I’m pretty upset at myself for that.

The silver lining is that now I have a perfect opportunity to try freezing an item to kill the bugs in it. The hat’s been in the freezer for a week now, double-wrapped in plastic and taped up so it won’t get wet. I’m going to take it out on Saturday or Sunday … we’ll see if freezing has helped!