Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Real" Vintage vs. Sewing Your Own


I have written a bit about this in the past, but I don't own very much vintage clothing. I don't have a single "real" 1950's dress, a "genuine" 40's winter coat, a #vintage cocktail dress. As I have previously discussed, vintage is hard to find, usually comes in smaller sizes, can be too worn out to wear, and even when the magic boxes of size/quality/accessibility are all ticked, things can be quite expensive. So what's a vintage loving girl to do?

In my case, sew everything myself. Some people go the repro route, as there are so many awesome companies out there now making great vintage style clothing. Good retro shaped basics and vintage inspired dresses can even be bought at most big clothing retailers and brands these days. One simply does not need to own any real vintage clothing to dress in a vintage style.

But I do think there is some snobbery attached to "real" vintage, as if people who dress in vintage style but don't wear actual vintage clothes are sometime not "real" vintage style lovers. The wholly authentic vintage life thing is cool, I get it, old stuff is awesome, I quite agree. It's the subtle shaming I have seen sometimes on the net which I don't like.

I definitely don't hold real vintage as somehow being above repro or home sewn vintage style clothes, and I can't really understand why it seems some people do. Are genuine vintage pieces awesome, yes, are you somehow better because your wardrobe is real vintage, no. It there something a bit inherently magical about finding a great vintage piece in your size for $5 dollars, yes. Are you allowed to share that excitement, sure. Does this often rare and magical moment make your wardrobe more "authentic" and #justplainbetter than anyone else's...again no.

I decided to google the phenomenon and discovered a few other bloggers have touched on this very topic:

"In general I've found the vintage community incredibly accepting, broad-minded and lovely, but I have encountered this vintage snobbery before (thankfully only in passing, not directed at me). The vintage snob turns up her nose at vintage repro brands, or declares offhand that anything after 1950s "isn't vintage". She considers that only designer name vintage is worth owning, and might label you a fraud if your look isn't completely period-accurate."

-Tuppence Ha'penny, 2012

"The Vintage Snob has come to believe their own hype, that the wearing of vintage clothing bestows an automatic veneer of creativity and difference. Yes, you are unlikely to bump into someone in the same frock if you buy vintage, however, the increasing availability of high quality vintage at (sometimes very) high quality prices means that a person with a good disposable income can buy themselves a little piece of that look without having to put in a great deal of effort. The dealer did it all for you. You didn’t dig that 50s day dress out of a pile of dirty sheets, lovingly restore it to it’s former glory and tailor it to fit you like a glove. You bought it off a mannequin, for £200, just like on the High Street."

-Retro Chick, 2010


Thankfully I don't come across vintage snobbery often, I think it's a pretty rare phenomenon (thank goodness, beacause it's silly). What I think is funniest about vintage snobbery is thinking that home-sewn vintage inspired clothes are less than, because they are simply 50 years younger than a "real" vintage item. Especially when so many people use actual vintage patterns from the decade they are reproducing clothing from!

Sewing used to be so much more common than it is now, and even most of the people who do still sew these days- don't sew clothing. The reason Joann's is the last big chain standing in the fabric market (in the US) is because it caters to quilters more than any other portion of the home sewing market. The ladies of the past made their feed-sack dresses at home, tailored their husband's old suits down to fit them when everything was rationed, and ordered fabrics, not just clothing from mail order catalogs .


And suddenly I sound like a vintage sewing snob...that was easy! Seriously though, sewing your own "vintage" means you can tailor it to fit your own measurements, choose whatever fabric you like, re-create your favorite styles and have them hanging in your closet without having to search the vintage racks for years to find them. Since whatever you sew is brand new, you never have to worry about busing an old seam, or moth holes, or missing buttons.

Then again not everyone can sew, wants to sew, or has the means to sew their way to a vintage style wardrobe. I totally get that too. That's why repro is awesome! I also think finding a pretty vintage appropriate blouse in the stuffed overflowing racks of Forever 21 is just as much of a scavenger hunt accomplishment as finding a vintage blouse in a pile of grandma's favorite Christmas sweaters at the local thrift store. No one way of achieving a vintage style look is inherently better than another.

I am certainly very biased, being a seamstress myself I naturally find it much easier to create my own vintage style clothing rather than go through the rigor of finding real vintage out in the wild. Now reaching the end of this post I'm not exactly sure what argument I am really trying to make. If I had to boil it down it would be this: Don't let anyone tell you your vintage style isn't good enough because not everything you wear is actually 40+ years old! This hobby, often passion, is for everyone, at every level of dedication and of the market. Have fun and don't worry about being totally "authentic". Being the most authentic version of yourself is so much more important, and feeling great will always be better than worrying about whether your dress has a union label sewn inside or not.


35 comments:

  1. Really, really excellent post. Thank you so much for speaking candidly and honestly about the silent "true vintage shaming" that can sometimes occur with a small number of folks in our circle. Since day one with my blog I've tried to preach the same message that you're covering here and will always think it's ridiculous that anyone's love of vintage should be measured (or at least measured solely) by weather or not they wear genuine vintage garments. No one on earth has the right to judge or bash someone else's passion based on that person's outward demonstration (or in this case, wearing) of it. As you and I and many other stylish, open minded folks prove time and time again, something doesn't have to be true vintage to look the vintage part in the slightest.

    Thank you for penning this. We need more frank discussions like this in our realm.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Thanks Jessica, you yourself do such a wonderful job making people feel welcome in the online vintage community, and have so many great posts about getting started with a vintage wardrobe for newbies!

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  2. Well said! I've had the occasional off-hand comment that could be considered slightly snobby. I tried not to let it bother me, but I just thought, at those time, "really?" For the most part everyone seems really cool. There's a HUGE group of gals out there who buy original and inspired-by-rockabilly-retro-in-the-style-of clothing and look fantastic, and are amazed (in a good way!) when I say I've sewn something myself. That makes me feel really good :-)

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    1. That's exactly the thought, "really?". People can be petty about anything it seems. I don't meet many other vintage style enthusiasts IRL in my neck-of-the-woods, or any others really, but I am glad the majority of your interactions have been positive! After all, you are basically the fairy godmother of antique/vintage shoes :)

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  3. Great post! I feel fortunate to have a small collection of vintage 50's dresses. Honestly though, I just wear what I like and what is flattering and don't really care if it's vintage or not. I happen to have a brother who's an antiques dealer and buys out estates. He finds good stuff and I end up the recipient of it. More than anything, I use the vintage clothes as a reference--style, fabric choice, construction etc., then I just make my own. I would rather see someone in a garment that fits them well, is well made and presents the historic or vintage "look" they are going for then worrying about whether or not it is "true" vintage! Who cares!

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    1. I totally agree! That's a good deal you have there with your brother, I have a younger brother who couldn't care less about antiques or vintage things! I too love using real vintage as reference and inspiration for my sewing projects, Pinterest and online museum collections have been an awesome resource to admire vintage clothing without even leaving my house!

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  4. I love my real vintage... I used to wear it daily but the problem is that when it's gone, it's GONE and that is sad. So I've put my real vintage into storage and wear copies now. That's just the way it goes.

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    1. It is sad! I do have a real reverence for real vintage, I have worked with museum collections who's focus is on preservation for just this reason! If we wear everything out, it will eventually all be gone, and all we will have left to work from will be photos instead of being able to look at the real thing. Balance is key!

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  5. I'm a very curvy gal so I'll never be able to find a 50s wiggle dress or 40s swing dress that will fit me so that's why I love sewing my own vintage. I do make a lot of my pieces from vintage patterns and sometimes use vintage notions so I can still get the look. I love not having to worry so much if I'm being too hard on my pieces. Plus I'm not a huge fan of doing alterations on vintage. A lot of my favorite vintage bloggers wear hand made or repro pieces and look amazing! Personally, I prefer a more authentic looking style but that doesn't mean that I'm "better" than someone who likes a more modern twist on their vintage wardrobe like brightly colored hair or qwirky modern prints.

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    1. I totally agree on all fronts! As someone who used to have dark purple hair, I actually did dye my hair back to brown for a more authentic look (and other reasons)! I agree there is certainly room for everyone on the scale from ultra authentic to modern ways of interpreting vintage style. It really is harder to find larger sized vintage clothes too, and with my 30" waist it is just easier to make stuff!

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  6. Hear, hear. Thanks, I will remember to walk proud in my own creations.

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    1. Definitely walk proud in your creations! :)

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  7. excellent post. when i was a teenager, 30 years ago (yikes) i wore vintage as it was so cheap and all i could afford - seriously! it was so easily got, and i also recognised it as being a lot more interesting. I used also sew a lot more then too. in the past number of years i have started sewing much more again. Contemporary patterns bore me, and although I can pattern draft - I started using vintage patterns . I would be more value on the original patterns as I like the feeling of history and hand-me-down, and I dont trust the updated fits of the repro (my measurements seem to fall vintage too!!). the cut is more interesting and the sew a little more challenging. (great image on top btw - I have a precurser of that sewing machine and I adore it)

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    1. Thanks Eimear! I definitely wore more vintage (though not necessarily great vintage) in high school as it was cheaper, I could come home with a pile of stuff from savers or one top from the mall! I certainly know what you mean about modern pattern sizing, I can never get it to work, always too much ease. I do find it can be harder to find even vintage patterns in my size though (40", 30", 40" essentially), which just means I need to improve my pattern grading skills so that doesn't limit me!

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  8. Very interesting post, and it's totally true. There is no one correct way to live the vintage style, anyone should do it at their own and don't care about what others do or say, just respect everybody's needs and feelings.
    And there is still another group, that I would maybe call "vintage inspired" and that is where I belong. I love vintage 50's clothes and sewn with vintage patterns, but I like to combine it with a more modern look. I love fabrics with funny prints like comic words bubbles or cute cats, and I can sew a 50s or 60s pattern with it and have no problem. I love to see the vintage hair style, but don't like it for me. I like to get inspiration in vintage looks, but just love to make it my own. And I don't think I am less than others for this, just make vintage my inspiration but go my way.

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    1. I defiantly fall into the vintage inspiration category sometimes, especially for work as turning up at my retail job in a hat and gloves would probably get me a sit down talk about "brand appropriate" attire! Some days I want to wear my hair straightened, or wear super modern shoes, and I too admire a fun modern novelty print in a 50's shape dress! I would love to make a super pin-up dress with Star Wars print fabric someday for example :)

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    2. I would totally love to see your Star Wars dress if you finally make it, as much as I enjoy your vintage style.

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    3. Thanks Mayumi, I will totally post it if I make one! I just have to find the right fabric :)

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  9. Same. I prefer to sew my own so it fits my body and it's durable. If I stain it or rip it, not a huge loss. I can make another. When I wear real vintage, I always feel uptight and anxious in it -- can't relax! I also own repro and it's fun to wear when I want to be OTT! I do a little bit of it all, but sewing my own is definitely my preference. I also sew, wear, and mix stuff from the 1910s to the 1970s, which is a whole 'nother post! Lol.

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    1. I totally agree Amy. I definitely mix era's too, that's the best part of wearing vintage now as opposed to in it's time is you get to pull elements you like/that work from each era to create your own look!

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  10. Preach, Bianca! It's hard to find vintage in certain sizes/proportions, and I've found it easier to sew from vintage patterns and recreate my own. Not to mention, it's way more affordable for me. I can get a repro 30s pattern, fabric, and notions for less than I could buy many authentic 30s gowns, and I can make it to fit me perfectly! Not everyone has the money to buy all vintage. And if you do wear all authentic vintage, you have to have a lot of it to prevent overwearing a certain garment to death, and that's just not possible for everyone!

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    1. It is definitely more affordable to go the sewing route, especially for early eras like the 20's and 30's! Plus clothes that old are just bound to be crazy fragile! It's too nerve wracking to wear something that old and precious, I would be so nervous of ruining it at every moment!

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  11. By sewing it yourself, most of the time you have the best and most flattering and the closest style fit for your taste as well. It is a fully custom garment! What a wonderful thing! Those who have spent the time learning to sew shouldn't feel ashamed. It's a wonderful skill and the clothing resulting from it are a luxury in some ways that many cannot afford. I love sewing my own stuff! I only wish I had even more time to devote to it. And as you said, many people in that period sewed their own garments as well. So in many ways it is a "vintage" hobby.

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    1. It does feel like a very vintage hobby to have, I only wish I had some of the more detailed sewing skills the ladies of the past seemed to have. That is more of an impatience thing on my side though, I want things finished fast so I can wear them!

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  12. I enjoyed reading this and I agree, people should wear whatever they like and go down whichever vintage style route they want. I love seeing what you and other vintage bloggers who sew have made and it inspires me to improve my own sewing skills to be able to do the same. Also, as you mentioned, many woman would have sewn most of their wardrobe and probably their families too.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the read! I wish I had your knitting skills, one day I'll try and learn to knit! I'd love to be able to make up a 1930's knitted suit someday! Or at least a cute 40's sweater :)

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    2. A 1930's knitted suit would be amazing and I have such a stash of lovely 1940's sweaters! May be we need a skill swap?!

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  13. Perhaps it's because I'm not part of the retro group that I've never heard this before. But I don't care whether something looks retro or not. What's important to me is whether I like the look in terms of style, colour and fabric, and whether it fits well and looks flattering (to my eyes). And for those reasons, if someone wants a particular look or style, nothing beats sewing it yourself! I really dislike sewing but the end product makes it worth doing.

    You should point out too that sewing your own means being able to choose fabrics that feel good against your skin (as opposed to some of the horrible feeling synthetic fabrics in the past) and being able to sew properly so the garment holds up well with properly finished seams and hems.

    It's ironic that I can sew well but dislike what I'm good at. So if I can find nice clothes in a second hand or thrift store, I'm thrilled to buy it and not sew. But it's a pity more people don't sew their own clothes now. Trust me, I don't think you sound like a vintage sewing snob at all - just practical and common sense!

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    1. I can relate to disliking the actual sewing part of the process sometimes. There are times when I wish I could just design something, pick the fabric, and then magically skip the effort of sewing everything together! I definitely had that thrifting thrill a few times this summer, I found a great light blue blouse and immediately though "Yes! Now I don't have to make one!"

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  14. Nice to read you feel this way too! :D
    Just that I've come across many who profess a passion for sewing and I thought you did too. Isn't it wonderful to find exactly what you've been wanting? And for a ridiculously low price too!

    Got a question for you, Bianca (and for anyone else reading this) -
    Have you ever used software that's made to print out pattern pieces for garments you design yourself? The printed papers tape together for large pieces before being cut. It comes with an array of basic styles - e.g. shirtwaist, princess line, empire waist, etc - different types of sleeves and lengths - different necklines - all with the chance to manipulate the lines to vary the different basic necklines, waistlines, etc that are given to completely change the look. Also does pants, skirts, blouses and more. The user enters in a long list of body measurements to get a very personalized fit. Supposedly, even if the user doesn't have a symmetrical body shape (one shoulder or hip raised, or a hunch like an older woman might have), it's said the garment will fit and hang on their body properly.

    Sorry this is so long but wanted to explain it right. It's sounds great but I'd rather hear from someone who's used it. I don't know the cost either but might be a lot. I don't even know what it's called as I read about a number of years ago.

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    1. Oh I definitely still have a passion for sewing, I am just very impatient and want things done quickly! I can get frustrated with sewing often, I would say the actual sewing is not my favorite part of the making process. I still have many days where sewing goes really well and I quite enjoy it though.

      I have used similar software for pattern making before while I was in college. The software I used was called Modaris and doesn't have built in styles, you still had to draft everything from scratch, only on the computer. We had special large printers for this purpose so the pieces printed out in one large sheet and didn't have to be taped together. I find pattern drafting by hand a whole lot easier and faster. Pattern drafting is actually quite simple once you get the hang of it and are used to fitting things to your body.

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  15. great blog post. Ive seen this in many forms.

    Oddly enough i have the opposite problem- i hate when i wear vintage (or antique) and someone asks me if i made it and i didn't. i dont have time to make my entire wardrobe or a seasons worth of every decades dresses. But goodness do i wish I could

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  16. So many good points in the post and comments! The only real vintage I own are my grandma's scarves and the only repro I own are my shoes. I have marginal sewing skills but I'm a chronic pain sufferer so I prefer to buy. If I could fit into actual vintage--even 60s-does-20s, 70s-does-30s, or 80s-does-40s pieces, which are vintage themselves--I would buy them. But though I don't consider myself obese nor actually curvy (well, only in the way an apple is curvy!), I do have a large frame. I have very little fat around my ribcage, but still it's 38". A lot of patterns and vintage pieces have a bust measurement that big! So I am left with shopping at Forever21 or wherever I can find classic-looking pieces. I do get lucky at Goodwill sometimes. I found a medium cool gray gabardine gored skirt that hits 2 inches below the knee and it was under $2! It looks like no one ever wore it. It's a bit too small in the waist, so I just wear it slightly unzipped with a top over. I need some 30s peplum blouses.

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  17. Oh, and I wanted to add that if you like 20s and 30s shoes there is a company called Amerimark from which you can order online. I have adorable t-straps, heeled oxfords, and cutwork pumps from them. The two brands are Angel Steps and Angel Flex. Actually, if you google those brands there are probably a couple of companies that sell them. I think the right hair style and shoes really make a vintage inspired outfit when you have modern clothing to work with.

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  18. I have also run into the Vintage Snob every so often. I just smile and remind myself that when her "real vintage" dress is starting to shatter at the seamlines because she's wearing it out, my sewn from a sized up vintage pattern dres will last me for years. I do try to have a bit of vintage trim or lace somehwere in whatever I sew because that's what my grandmother did, but I'm not obsessive about it. Thank you for such an excelent and sensible post.

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