Once upon a time, only a fringe element trolled thrift stores, looking for old clothes from the 1940’s and 50’s. I first became aware of it in the 1980’s, after seeing “Pretty in Pink”. I remember thinking how much I loved Molly Ringwald’s wardrobe and that of her friends (although she did a major disservice to that fabulous prom dress Annie Potts gave her). The bohemian types were the ones who were looking to the 50’s for their style back then. Over the last 15 years or so, vintage has gone more and more mainstream. Even top fashion designers look backward for inspiration.
All the time someone comes into the store having only recently discovered vintage, and are interested in incorporating it into their wardrobe. It’s also surprising to me how many people are still not really familiar with the concept of vintage clothing - I meet these folks too. OR someone has been invited to a 1970’s themed party and has heard we are the store to come to (because WE ARE!)
If you are new to the vintage game, there may be some things you will need to know, and will need to keep in mind.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND: If you come into a vintage store with the idea “I am looking for a red 1950’s cocktail dress with a full skirt, halter style with rhinestone trim”, you are NOT going to find it. Come in with no preconceived expectations, and you’ll do fine. If you saw something in an old movie that you must find, you won’t. Think of movies today - do we actually dress like that? It’s the same for the past. The best thing in that case is to learn how to sew and make it yourself. Vintage sewing patterns are very easy to find and are not (usually) expensive.
SIZING HAS CHANGED: Marilyn Monroe was a size 12. True. But what you may not know is that in the 1950’s a 12 was the equivalent of approximately a size 2 today. The woman was teeny. She had a 23 inch waist. If you wear a 12 today, do you have a 23” waist? Probably not. I think my thighs are 23”. When you see a size tag in a garment, you have to think about how old the dress is, and then try to figure out what size it actually is. You are better off really not even looking at the tag. You do need to be self-aware and have a realistic idea of if this garment will actually fit. I have seen plenty of people attempt to get into a dress that is very obviously not going to fit. Wishful thinking is one thing. Realism is another. And similarly…
PEOPLE WERE ALL AROUND SMALLER: The average height of a woman in the Victorian era was 4’9”. Now an average woman is 5’4”. Not only have we gotten taller as humans, we have gotten wider. That is not to say that we are ALL overweight. Yes there is an obesity problem in the U.S., but even people who are slim, might have a larger skeleton than that of their grandmother. Yes, there are some very teensy people still around, but they are not the norm. We see 12 year old girls in the store who are already wearing size 12 shoes. Hormones in our food, our diets, medical care we receive all contribute to humans evolving into larger creatures. Women in the 1950’s smoked, hardly ate, and wore girdles. Most vintage clothing is going to trend towards the smaller side. It’s not impossible to find larger sizes, but small is more common.
BELL BOTTOMS ARE NOT PLENTIFUL: Not just bell bottoms, but anything from the 1940’s and earlier can be rare. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the mass-consumerism that we know today began. Up until then, people didn’t have 4 closets full of clothes. Most women in the early part of the 20th century probably had one church dress and maybe only a handful of other garments to wear the rest of the time. When we are talking about WWII, clothing was rationed; you could only get one pair of shoes per year (I would DIE!!) Stinky hippies of the late 1960’s generally wore their clothes out, so you really don’t see that many pairs of bellbottoms around. And when you do, they are teeny tiny in the waist.
All of that being said don’t give up!! If you love vintage, you can make it work. I am hardly a small woman, but I have TONS of vintage clothing that I have accumulated over the years. You can’t just run out and create an entire new wardrobe of clothing from the 1940’s in one afternoon. It takes time, and more importantly PATIENCE. It has taken me years to build up the collection I have, and I am still working on it.