Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Vintage Fashion: collecting and wearing designer classics [books]

I'd wanted this book for a while, so was really chuffed to receive it as a birthday gift from my workmates. Vintage Fashion is subtitled 'collecting and wearing designer classics', which I feel is a bit misleading: it doesn’t really give you the sort of details you need to be a serious collector of vintage clothing, and it certainly doesn’t give you any advice on wearing it, but it is an attractive primer on Western women's clothing styles in the 20th century.



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!

8 comments :

  1. Oh, hey, I've got that (or the Amnesty Bookshop has if I threw it out, I can't remember) I agree with you that the photos are lovely. I was a bit annoyed by the lack of information about cleaning and storage too.

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    1. Yeah, if you're going to spend on designer vintage, it helps to know what specialist cleaners and repair companies are out there. I know a repair company, but haven't been able to track down a decent cleaner in the south-west.

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  2. I haven't got that one, but I have seen it and wondered what it would be like.
    Someone gave me another one which was so bad I gave it to the charity. Can't even remember the name of it, but it was supposed to be the definitive for vintage etc etc, but, honestly, it was ghastly. She obviously had a stack of money to indulge herself with because everything mentioned was high end designer only, and there was quite a bit of mocking of those who liked to look period correct as though it was some kind of weirdness. I felt like chucking it in the bin I was so disgusted by it!

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    1. Gah, I hate it when people mock. Whatever happened to 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all'?

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  3. I like the sound of the detailed photos, I always find it interesting to see all the work that has gone into an embellished dress. Good idea to try it out on some of your garments, will be interested to see the results.

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    1. Well, I've got a dress from Collectif that I'm really not happy with. It's cut in a 20s style, but from stretchy fabric, so it actually ends up clinging to my front - and I've got a whole lot of bust and belly to cling to :-( So that's getting a Great British Sewing Bee-style makeover at some point...

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  4. I don't have that book, but since I've read this I probably won't bother with it either. I'm more looking for detailed photos of beading and embroidery so I know what to look for. When I worked in a vintage clothing store, I always ended up turning away 1970s clothes since you could shake them and all that dusty yuck came off of the disintegrating fabric, hehe!

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    1. Probably the best bet would be to get books on individual houses noted for their detailing - though if anyone knows a good source of photos of beading and embroidery, Liz Tregenza is your lady!

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