The Necessary Education

In a moment of weakness last week, I ignored my current austerity drive and purchased a vintage pattern off Gumtree, of all places. I think it was the surprise of finding one there. There was no picture with the listing, but the seller described it as a late 1940s dress, with pleating across the bodice. I should have known from that wording that something would go wrong, but I figured that the price was so low, what the hell. I stretched a little further and also agreed to purchase the two other patterns that she mentioned, all for one low bargain price probably similar to what I’d pay for one decent 40s pattern on Etsy.

I sat back and watched the mail, and my patterns finally arrived in a neat little package. I opened them up and discovered that the patterns were in almost mint condition, perfectly in line with the seller’s description, apart from one thing; while the blouse was an unusual waisted 40s find, the dresses weren’t from the 40s. In fact, I’d guess they’re not even 50s. The hair styles make me think early 60s, but it might go as far as the middle of the decade. I love the dresses, and at $3 each they’re hardly over priced, but that’s beside the point. The woman clearly didn’t know what she was talking about in terms of style.

I’ve noticed this problem when looking at Etsy vintage sellers as well. There are so many on there who have a tonne of stock, but no clue about dating any of it. The result is usually wildly over estimating the age of a garment, and jacking the price accordingly. Quick tip for beginners, based on the most common mistake I’ve noticed: if it’s a pencil skirt, a wiggle dress, a mini, or looks like it should be worn with either a bouffant hair-do or a crinoline petticoat, it’s unlikely to be from the 1930s. If it’s nylon, it’s not from the 1920s. Plastic zip? Probably not from the early part of the twentieth century. Overlocked seams? See above. I’m not going to name and shame any stores though, because I’m still holding out hope that one day I’ll spot something where the mistake goes the other way – a House of Worth dress identified as 1980s and being sold for $20, a Vionnet  labelled as 1960s and going for a song. My inner optimist tells me that it has to happen sometime, but meanwhile I’m stuck fuming about psychadelic mini dresses labelled as “flapper” – itself an annoying misinterpretation of what was going on in the 1920s world of fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many sellers who know their stuff and I have learned a lot from looking through their websites. But the sheer weight of numbers of people without a basic understanding of fashion history blows my mind. How do you end up selling this stuff – and enough of it to justify getting an Etsy store – without bothering to do the research into the subject so you can identify things properly? It gets me so annoyed that these people own and trade in these beautiful things, but clearly don’t appreciate them fully. Or that’s my take on it. Of course, I also think that anybody who can’t correctly date a garment plus or minus five years should not be allowed to own it, and it should be passed along to someone who can. Someone like me. Sadly, I don’t think they’d agree to such a plan. Or worse, they may not realise that they need the education required.



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