Posted by Nicole in General, Vintage 101, Vintage Fabric 4 Comments

More than seven years and 620 blog posts later, I think it could be time to write an informative blog post for those starting out in vintage – what to look for, and how to date fashion.

Here’s the disclaimer:
There is an unlimited amount of information you can know on this topic. It’s been my focus for almost 35 years and I still find items that give me pause for thought. That’s a big part of why I love it: you could never be bored with vintage fashion, there is so much to see and learn. What I hope to offer is a solid starting point for you to explore from.

Circa Vintage Webshop 194
Silk devore’ velvet 1920s opera jacket modelled by St Clare.

Identifying vintage is like looking at a jigsaw puzzle and putting the pieces together in the right way to come to the most likely conclusion about what it is. There are a few different elements to consider and weight needs to be given to each:

1 – Fabric
2 – Construction
3 – Style
4 – Detailing (if any)
5 – Labels (if any)
6 – Openings and Fastenings (if any)

Circa Vintage Webshop 10a 2014 197
Wool lace featured in an early 1960s afternoon coat, modelled by Becky Lou.

General notes on dating items:
– I always date items as the most recent they could be, because the likelihood is towards recent over older. Older garments have had more time to wear out or be thrown away and so rarity increases.

– Certainties are rare in fashion so they always outweigh other factors.

– Never rely on a seller’s opinion of a date, not even if she wore it “back in the day” or is an expert. There’s an enormous quantity of mis-dated or even fraudulent vintage available and it’s best to increase your knowledge so you can feel confident of your own opinion. This is particularly important for expensive items. If in doubt, ask questions or seek a second opinion.

Circa Vintage Webshop 12a details 2014 039
Cotton with machine applied soutache cording and pin-tucking, from a 1950s day dress.

1 – Fabric.
Vintage fabric is one of the best things about vintage fashion: often luxury materials are used that are sought after and expensive. Many fabrics aren’t even made any more. Your enjoyment wearing it will be dictated to a large degree by how nice the material is.

Here’s where technology is important – when a fabric was invented or introduced is a certainty. For example, if nylon wasn’t used until ’47, then that cute little nylon ’20s dress is not going to be a real ’20s dress (so it should be priced accordingly). Likewise a Victorian dress made of polyester must be a more modern revival style.

Pay particular attention to fabric when you acquire an item because if you want to wear it, or invest in it as a collectable it is imperative than the condition be good.

Sometimes in vintage you will find “deadstock” or “new old stock” – these are vintage pieces that have not been worn. They’re more sought after and collectable but their condition reflects their storage, not their wear, and it’s not uncommon for these items to show stains, rips and other deterioration.

Any deterioration can provide clues to age but more importantly, diminish the value and life of the garment. Think carefully before buying anything that either needs major work, or can not be repaired. If you don’t sew, you might like to consider every missing button or stitch as well, as it can get costly to replace and repair these items if you’re paying someone else.

Don’t take the sellers word for it when they say “an easy fix” because they often lack the skill and experience to know what’s involved and leave it up to you to take the risk.

Circa Vintage Webshop Sept 2014 172

Hand beaded and embroidered alaskine (silk and wool mix) evening dress from the 1960s.

On the other hand, if you’re okay with flaws (or handy with a needle and thread) you can pick up some serious bargains because a high proportion of vintage is damaged, and should be priced significantly cheaper for it.

Every fabric is comprised of the fibre (or textile) and the weave (what the fibre is made into). For example, silk satin – silk is the fibre and satin is the weave, so you can also get polyester satin and rayon satin.

An effective way to test for fabric composition is to (carefully) burn a snippet – Instructions and results can be found at the Vintage Fashion Guild.

Another way is to build up your knowledge through touching fabrics and looking at the labels, but as many fabrics are mixes of fibres, the burn test will provide more accurate results.

Here’s a quick low down on fibre types:

Natural fibres (cottons, wools, silks, rubber, linens, leathers, furs etc)
Available during any time period, although the weaves vary with fashion and can help with dating eg, silk shantung had a real moment in the early ’60s especially in teal and orange colours.

Silk organza was popular in the ’50s. Silk crepe was a staple of ’30s dinner dresses, and silk chiffon often found in ’20s beaded evening dresses.

Circa Vintage Webshop 111 2014 025
Silk organza and rayon lace from an early 1950s party dress

Circa Vintage Webshop 10 2014 027
Cotton lace from a late 1940s fitted dress.

Printed rubber embossed with a jacquard texture, from a 1950s raincoat

Note that natural fibres are the most comfortable to wear and easy to restore, but are more expensive to buy, especially new.

Circa Vintage Webshop 112 2014 085
Silk satin with hand beaded and sequinned design, from a 1960s cheong sam dress.

Man-made fibres (rayons and viscoses)
Invented in the late Victorian era as “artificial silk” or “art silk”, rayon (also called viscose, especially in the UK) developed into a wide range of natural fibre fabric imitators in the ’30s, when they were particularly popular during the Great Depression and later during WW2. Eg, faux linen, faux silk.

Circa Vintage Webshop 001
Rayon lace and tulle, from a 1930s lace blouse.

Pre ’50s rayons have a different composition than post ’50s rayons and require hand-washing (or in the case of crepe, dry cleaning). Rayons mirror the nice qualities of natural fibres and you can soak out stains – unless they’re crepe, which will shrink and rip – but lack their strenth so be gentle especially if they’re very old.

They’re beautiful fabrics though, and many of us seek them out.

Rayon crepe from a 1930s tea gown – modelled by Kelly Ann.

Underarm protectors (small crescent shaped shields that are affixed to the interior and washed between uses, available from haberdashers) are recommended to best preserve the underarms, which rip when they’ve absorbed perspiration. Swing dancers take note please!

Rayons are named for the slight sheen their fibres can produce, although it’s hard to see in some weaves.

Circa Vintage Webshop 112 2014 047
Rayon shantung and guipure lace from an early 1960s dress ensemble set.

Synthetic fibres (nylons, polyesters, polyamids, lycras etc)
Nylon first appeared as a silk substitute in the late ’30s for hosiery and was developed into fashion fabrics for clothes post WW2 (1947 was when the industry got back into the swing).

I’ll confess that I originally dated this dress as late ’30s but a burn test revealed its late ’40s origins.

Polyesters were introduced into ladieswear in the ’50s and quickly become popular in the U.S.A. but were rarely used in Australia until the next decade when they really took off.

Until the mid ’60s each factory used its own trademarked name for the fibre: Dacron (an early acrylic which imitates wool), Terylene, Crimplene….if you find a fabric name on a label you don’t recognise, it’s likely to be a type of polyester, the umbrella term that was introduced in the ’60s.

Circa Vintage Webshop 112 2014 122
Metallic and synthetic brocade evening gown with fins, early 1960s.

There is an issue with early synthetics in that they’re prone to breaking down, especially when in sponge forms, linings and paddings like bras and swimwear, hats and furs. I recommend my blog post on Devil Dust – the grainy red or brownish-orange coloured residue that can form is unpleasant and irreversible. If your garment shows any sign of this effect, tread with caution. Many sensational ’60s frocks have been lost to this issue, at all levels of quality. I can only hope that they’ve solved the problem or we’ll all be drowning in Devil Dust in a few decades.

In recent years we also see polyamids. Most modern garments are made of synthetics: they’re generally robust but prone to pilling and hard to remove oil-based stains. From an investment point of view, they don’t hold their value as well as natural fibres or early man-made fibres either. It’s no secret that I prefer natural fibres.

Synthetics feel warmer to the touch than natural or man-made materials, but can otherwise imitate other fibres. Modern synthetics can be quite luxurious too: they’ve come a long way from Crimplene.

More on the other topics – Construction, Style, Detailing, Labels and Openings and Fastenings – soon!

Here are some useful links:
– If you’d like to look at more specific fabric deterioration topics like shattering, dry rot and iron mordant please check out my series of Vintage 101 posts.

– If you’d like to know more about particular fabrics and how to identify them, please see the Vintage Fashion Guild’s excellent Fabric Resource.

Lucas Nyaloc

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, General 1 Comment

A wonderful new exhibition opened on the weekend at the Arts Centre: a sort of “Greatest Hits” of costumes from ballet, theatre and opera of the last, well, many decades.

From the site:
All that Glitters showcases costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection that were designed to create a spectacle on stage. The exhibition celebrates the vision behind these costumes, the creativity and skill of those who created them and the show-stopping performances that brought them to life.

What: All That Glitters – Costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection
When: 16 November – 23 February, 9am until late.
Where: the Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Cost: free.

As well as being very sumptuous and sparkly, I found the exhibition to be personally satisfying as it included a beautiful gown from the ’70s production of “The Merry Widow”. My mum brought the programme home after seeing it, and the costume sketches were my first inspiration to become a costume designer. This is the first time I’ve ever seen any of the actual costumes.

It also includes a pair of Baroque style shoes, worn for the ’70s production of “Don Quixote”, a ballet starring Rudolph Nureyev. Like many little girls, I studied classical ballet and seeing this production was a major treat. I was stunned to see a costume from this distant memory, on display.

More information at the Arts Centre site.

All that glitters 6

Gown worn by Jill Perryman as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!, Gordon Frost Organisation, 1995. Designed by Tim Goodchild. Gift of Gordon Frost Organisation, Cultural Gifts Program, 2001. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection. Photo Source.

Posted by Nicole in 1930s, General, New in store, Sale

Today I’m at the shop working on some of the goodies that are going into next Saturday’s garage sale and I have to tell you that there are some great pieces that will be priced to clear, many below cost. Many have never graced the shop before, from the Edwardian era (1900) up to the 1990s.

Here’s one of my favourites: silk georgette evening gown from the late 1930s. Just beautiful.

First in best dressed 475

You can see more sneak peeks of the treasures over at Facebook.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone – and if you’re an AFL fan, may your team win!

Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Architecture, Circa event, General 1 Comment

I have a complicated relationship with the past.

It’s always there for me: old houses, cars, furniture, music, books and of course – fashion. It’s my whole life and I’ve never known anything different – I appreciate that there are those who love to have new things but for me, old is where it’s at.

At various times I’ve dressed head to toe in a particular era – like the purists do – and I’ve also moved through many sub-cultures including mod, rockabilly and goth – but underneath it all, always were the vintage clothes. Sub-cultures tend to draw heavily on the past for their inspiration, an irony I appreciate as they’re generally the preoccupations of the young – but that’s a topic for another day.

I like to mix it up – and that’s the fortunate position that we are in, as modern women and men. Never have we had so much access to so many things and we can pick and choose what we want from the past and adapt it to our purposes.

I find those adaptations fascinating and love finding the layers in vintage clothing. There’s a temptation to think that a gown was worn once and then put away, for decades, until we discover it and make it our own but the reality is that most vintage clothes have been altered or updated to suit a new purpose or a new wearer – and the older the piece, the more likely it is to have been re-purposed.

So it is with vintage cars, furniture and architecture.

Yesterday I visited Labassa for a photo shoot – it’s always a pleasure to see the Grand Dame, and I was treated to a personal tour of some of the rooms that aren’t open to the public. I love historic mansions and perhaps my favourite in Melbourne is Labassa, built in the French Renaissance style in 1862. Yesterday was overcast and it suited the dark, faded grandeur nicely.

Most National Trust properties spend time in private hands, the homes of well off families and are handed down through inheritance before eventually finding their way to the NT. Labassa, on the other hand spent most of the 20th century neglected. Like many big old houses, it was broken up into flats in the ’20s.

Thankfully the original features and room sizes were retained but left to fall into disrepair. It provided cheap dwellings for those who appreciated its good location and opulent fittings. Many of the tenants were artists, writers and performers and it’s this period that I find the most interesting.

I like to imagine what it would have been like, living in one enormous room of this fabulous house, perhaps with a rough bathroom fashioned out of a maid’s closet or a lean-to attached to the side of the mansion. Perhaps coming out in that fabulous hallway in the middle of the night to bump into another resident. They must have shared a great sense of community, the people who lived in this rather unfashionable old house with its difficult to heat high ceilings and wide corridors.

Originally the mansion probably sat in the midst of large gardens, as Rippon Lea and Como still do – but they were sold off and developed, so the house is now crowded on a small block with houses around it. It could be worse though – the magnificent frontage used to be obscured from the street by a house. Thankfully there was a campaign to buy it and it was duly demolished.

Image Source.

There must have been a lot of cheering when that came down!

I find it remarkable that so much of the original house remains – I’ve lived in a lot of old houses and flats, and it’s common for features to have been removed. My own home (the Deco War Baby, circa 1942) is unrenovated but previous tenants had stripped everything they could, including light fittings and door knobs. Even some of the doors have been replaced. Thankfully it still has the original fireplace, architraves and picture rails (I’ll post pics one day).

Labassa still has the original wallpaper in many rooms – now faded to brown, it was originally bright gold and some portions have been restored revealing the brilliance. In the ’70s some rooms were covered up with contemporary wallpaper but it has been removed. If you look carefully, you can see the lines where the paper joined. The famous trompe l’oeil ceiling over the staircase was also covered with a false ceiling – that must have been wonderful to discover!

You can still see many signs of the previous residents though – one wall is painted silver (!) and another door has the faded remnants of an union jack paint job. Some bathrooms show fittings from the ’50s. An enormous butler’s pantry is half in one room, and half in another. As much as I love the original features, I also love these more modern adaptations, reminding us of the life that this wonderful house has lived – not just as a museum but as a living home.

When I first saw these tiles, the condition suggested they were ’70s additions installed during the nostalgic revival – but no, they’re the original 1860s tiles, presumably restored. I love the soft colours.

I was pleased to see that I have two small personal links to Labassa – both through poets. I met resident Adrian Rawlings through my husband, Tim Hamilton and my father was a friend of Kenneth Slessor’s, who immortalised Labassa resident Joe Lynch in “Five Bells”.

From “Five Bells”:
All without meaning now, except a sign
That someone had been living who now was dead:
“At Labassa. Room 6 x 8
On top of the tower; because of this, very dark
And cold in winter. Everything has been stowed
Into this room – 500 books all shapes
And colours, dealt across the floor
And over sills and on the laps of chairs;
Guns, photoes of many differant things
And differant curioes that I obtained…”

Labassa is currently gracing our TV screens as one of the settings in “Underbelly Squizzy”, and was also used in “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” and many other productions. A social history of Labassa is being compiled and you can see photos of past residents here – if you have any information please contact Vicki Shuttleworth.

I’ll be appraising your vintage fashion items for a small donation for the National Trust on August 18th, if you’d like to come along and support this very worthy cause and see some of the magnificence of Labassa. I hear that there will be a scrummy morning and afternoon tea too.

Here’s where you’ll find me:

Pic courtesy National Trust – all other images my own.

Posted by Nicole in General 3 Comments

If you’re serious about vintage fashion, or even just a little interested you’re probably already familiar with the Vintage Fashion Guild, an international group of professional traders, writers, historians and other experts in the field dedicated to the education and promotion of vintage fashions. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Currently celebrating it’s tenth year, I’ve been a member for over seven years, and it’s done wonders for increasing and testing my vintage knowledge, as well as a great place for like-minded people to talk about what we love the most – vintage fashion.

My collection has always focused on Australian fashion, because I buy locally – the VFG has taught me about the links between international fashion and what happens here and where they are different. I’ve learnt about styles we don’t get here – the contentious “patio dress”, CC41, fabric types (and what they’re called in different places), all sorts of things.

I’ve been invited to international events and made friends, many of whom I will probably never meet in person but feel like I know quite well.

Here are some of the ways that the VFG can help you on your vintage journey – and best of all, it’s all free for the public, provided by skilled and passionate volunteers who fund it through annual membership fees.

The VFG Forums.
The VFG Label Resource.
The VFG Fur Resource.
The VFG Blog.
The VFG on Facebook.
The VFG on Twitter.

I could spend a lot of time telling you how invaluable these resources are, but it’s best if you just go and explore them.

I’m often asked about what online sellers I recommend and the answer is easy: VFG members have to apply a code of best industry practice, which means that you can buy with confidence.

Today’s news is that I’m pleased to report that as of next year, I will be the new Vice-President of the VFG! I’m really excited about this opportunity to support the international community and a great group of people, who have been a wonderful support for me.

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, General

From the in-box:

“The Historical Radio Society of Australia is celebrating their 30th Anniversary in Melbourne on September 22-23, in the huge Springvale Town Hall. Members are coming from around Australia and the display is open to the public on the Sunday. The entire hall and adjoining rooms are booked out by the Society, to display hundreds, or up to one thousand vintage radios, from Marconi spark radios, to the plastic radios of the 60s.

Be sure to see the vintage working telephone exchange, tear-drop caravan surrounded by portable valve radios of the era, Radio Battery Shop, 19th century Benz car and a vintage TV camera filming and starring the visitors on a glorious Black and White screen.

If you like anything radio, the HRSA RadioFest is the place to be in September!”

What: The Historical Radio Society of Australia presents Australia’s largest Radio Display and Market.
When: 10.30am to 3.00pm, Sunday September 23rd.
Where: Springvale Town Hall, 397 Springvale Rd, Melbourne, VIC, 3131
Cost: free for members, $5 for non-members and $15 for non-member families.
More information: at the official website.

Photograph by Max Dupain, supplied by Kevin Poulter of the HRSA.

Posted by Nicole in General 3 Comments

It’s that time again: Lulu Vintage is tallying up the votes for the most popular and best Vintage clothing webshops around the world.

Last year, Circa’s first year, we came fourth in the people’s choice category! Thank you to everyone who supported us, and if you could kindly vote for us again this year, it would be greatly appreciated.

Click on the image to go through to the page: add your vote in a comment. You can support up to ten vintage clothing webshops, but only vote once per person or IP address please.

Please write “Circa Vintage Clothing (Australia)” to differentiate from the wonderful London shop “Circa Vintage” who are also nominated.

With so many fabulous vintage clothing webshops, it’s hard to choose but here’s my top ten – all are fellow members of the Vintage Fashion Guild of course. I’ve bought from most and can recommend them for good quality vintage and service.

– Dorothea’s Closet.
– Pinky A-Go-Go.
– Denise Brain.
– Poppy’s Vintage Clothing.
– Tangerine Boutique.
– Glamoursurf.
– Meloo Vintage.
– Past Perfect Vintage.
– Couture Allure.
– Circa Vintage Clothing (Australia).

Voting ends on Friday, July 27th. Lulu will tally up your votes and announce the 2012 People’s Choice Top 10, as well as her 2012 Lulu’s Top 10 on Tuesday, July 31st,2012.

Thank you for your support!

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, Circa event, General, Talk 2 Comments

I’m giving a talk next week for the University of the Third Age, about mens and ladies fashions from the 1920s to more modern times. As usual, I will be bringing along a selection of garments from different eras, and revealing their secrets: what they say about the people who wore them and the times they lived in.

What: Talk on 20th century mens and ladies fashoins.
When: Thursday 15th March, 1pm to 230pm.
Where: Melbourne Multicultural Hub, 506 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne (opposite the Queen Vic markets).
Cost: $2 gold coin donation includes afternoon tea.
Bookings essential: phone 9639 5209.

More information can be found at the website Hope to see you there!

Posted by Nicole in General 2 Comments

From the in-box….if you print off the flyer, you’ll get a free gift when you go in!

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, General 1 Comment

From the in-box: this Saturday…

What: Victorian Button Collectors Club presents Buttonfest 2011
When: Saturday October 15th (9am to 3.30pm)
Where: Burwood Heights Uniting Church, Cnr. Burwood Highway & Blackburn Road, Burwood East
Cost:$3 (under 12 free)

It’s time for Buttonfest, an annual exhibition and sales day presented by the Victorian Button Collectors Club. Buttonfest is a celebration of all things buttons, providing a unique opportunity to see, buy, collect and marvel at buttons and button paraphernalia from the 19th Century to the present day.

A highlight of Buttonfest will be the antique button displays, featuring a dazzling array of buttons and related items made from all manner of materials including precious metals, mother-of-pearl, enamel, tortoiseshell, bakelite, glass, organic materials and early plastics. Button collectors will be on hand to answer general queries and help further your knowledge.

For more information – Contact Trish Davis on Mobile: 0412 499 800 or trish302@msn.com

Unless stated otherwise, all content © Circa Vintage Clothing 2004-2014. ABN 37 840 548 574.