Friday, 15 May 2015




I follow about a dozen or so small vintage boutiques on Instagram. Most are deliciously mysterious about where they get their merchandise. They sometimes mention the estate sales that are popular places to scoop up a pile of dresses to resell on Etsy, and refer to private appointments between the boutique and unnamed collectors selling pristine 1930s wardrobes. They're also really into documenting the process of getting vintage clothes ready for sale: the cleaning, repairing, and sometimes dyeing of garments.
Screenshot of an Instagram photo, showing a pair of scissors on a white dress.
But what did she do with the old buttons?
Image credit: concettacloset on Instagram.
Obviously, clothes were meant to be worn. If you're buying a dress for a pile of cash you expect a certain level of cleanliness and repair. You're not buying a piece for display--most people are buying vintage stuff from these kinds of shops so that they can integrate it into their own wardrobes. Having a fabulous dress, but being unable to wear it due to a line of missing and cracked buttons and a weird stain across the shoulders is not in the spirit of this niche industry. The object is to bring all this great clothing out of attics and dressers and into the everyday again. The problem with everyday clothing is that it gets worn out and damaged much more quickly than something like a wedding dress--it is elevated after the party to the position of showpiece and protected heirloom.
Screenshot of an Instagram post, showing fabric soaking in laundry soap.
The boutiques and their followers have lots of recommendations for the right soap to use on vintage garments.
Image credit: croatiavintage on Instagram.
A lot of museum-worthy vintage is akin to a wedding dress in this respect; the clothing is special in some way. Either the design is representative of a particular event or period--as the wedding dress stands in visually and symbolically for the event of the wedding--or someone important designed it. It stops being a useful item and becomes something like an art piece. Repair and conservation work is meant to prolong the life of the garment without sacrificing the design aspects that make it historically or culturally significant.

The world of the small-scale internet boutique is a wild departure from this. I saw one photo of a bucket full of dresses soaking in scarlet dye. There are discussions on how easy certain dresses would be to take in or shorten. Boutique owners proudly show off the treasures they refuse to sell--impossibly delicate gowns that they admit they're almost afraid to move in for fear of tearing the fabric.

These garments aren't bargain-priced vintage from Goodwill or Value Village, either. Big labels are well represented, even if actual couture dresses--museum-worthy vintage--are few and far between.
Screenshot of an Instagram post, showing a vintage dress and a close-up of a label.
Adaptation garments were licensed to American boutiques so that they could recreate Parisian designs.
Image credit: deargolden on Instagram.

You might be getting reproduction "couture", but it's still vintage. If it's old and the stitches stay together someone will wear it.

Wearing a vintage dress until I wore it out made me feel incredibly guilty. The garment fulfilled its intended purpose, but I feel like I single-handedly destroyed a piece of history. So I made a reproduction that I hardly wear because it seems 'special', representing as it does the treasured and well-loved old garment. And sixty years from now when I pull it from a closet, pristine and hardly worn, and pawn it off to some retro boutique on the future internet, I have to admit I hope the new owners don't replace all my carefully-chosen buttons.

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