Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Vintage Fashion: collecting and wearing designer classics [books]
I should really qualify those first two criticisms: for me, a collector is someone with a serious amount of nerdy knowledge about something, not just someone who buys lots of stuff. If it’s vintage costume jewellery, that’s knowing your Coro from your Juliana from your Miriam Haskell, and being able to look at a piece and make an informed guess what brand you’re looking at without needing to look for markings. Liz Tregenza collects Horrockses dresses; when I had a query about the heavily-altered one I own, she said the weave of the fabric was right. That’s what I call a serious collector. Anyway, there simply isn’t room in this book to cover such a sweep of time and range of clothes (designer and mass market) in that sort of detail.
The other place it falls down as far as collecting goes is it doesn’t really tell you anything about what damage to look out for (1920s silk beaded dresses, for example, can often shatter at the shoulders as silk goes fragile with age and beads are heavy), nor how to repair or store vintage clothing*. Collectable pieces are expensive, and it would be nice if there were more information on how to avoid pricy mistakes.
And looking after vintage clothing leads me to my second criticism, that the book doesn’t tell you how to wear it. There’s nothing about the right foundation garments for each era, nor appropriate ways to clean items.
What you do get is lots of superb photos, many of garments from a private collection - and so they’re of items different to ones I’ve got in other books, which is nice. It’s heavier on the eveningwear than daywear to start with, though daywear and off-the-peg clothing becomes more commonly featured in the later decades. There are some nice detail shots, giving you a close-up look at embroidery, prints and construction details, which a lot of books I’ve got on 20th century fashion simply don’t cover, confining themselves to long shots of whole garments. I found the beading and embroidery close-ups fascinating, and they’ve made me think about embellishing my modern repro dresses for a more luxe and unique look.
If you’ve already got an interest in vintage fashion, this book will teach you nothing new. You could devote a similar-sized book to each decade and still barely scratch the surface of the subject of the clothes. However, as a broad sweep across the history of Western fashion it’s very enjoyable, and newcomers to vintage fashion will get a lot out of it. Also, the photos are really inspirational.
*On which note: HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE YOU CHANGED YOUR ANTI-MOTH HANGERS? Do they need doing now? DO EEEET!