Vintage Clothes 11 Collecting 1950s Vintage Clothing What to Collect - Part 2
By Pauline Weston Thomas for Fashion-Era.com
1950s Vintage Clothes - What to Collect
In addition to the 1950s dresses and suits
discussed on the last page, Vintage pickers look out for specific 50's items
and these include Big E jeans, scarves, beaded knitwear, bags and costume
Big E pickers look out only for vintage denim jeans by companies like Levis
and Wrangler. Jeans were another fashion favoured by 50's teenagers and
there is some cache to wearing original 50's Levis. You can tell Levi jeans
were made before 1971 if the label is totally printed in capital letters as
LEVI. In other words look for a big 'E' if seeking vintage levis, whilst
later jeans by Levi after 1971, have a label bearing a lowercase 'e' in the
word Levi. Leather Jackets often worn with the big E jeans are
The cardigan was a great feature of fifties fashion. Many dresses were
sleeveless and the cardigan acted as a quick, often glamorous cover up. For
day, cardigans were often worn with a short sleeved matching sweaters and
were called twin sets. They could easily be dressed up with some pearls. Twin sets of the fifties were almost always quite short waisted. Twin sets
are wonderfully useful items so it is no wonder there was such a
revival of them in the 1990s.
Today 50's beaded knits are very desirable collectable items, so if
you have one to sell make sure you find out the going rate before parting
with it, especially if it is a great example.
1950's cardigans were always fully fashioned. This method involves hand
tooling, to shape and to move stitches by increasing and decreasing in a
specific way to create attractive fashion marks. Anyone who can machine or
hand knit knows that if you decrease or increase a knit stitch on the very
edge of a garment you get a ragged edge, but if you increase or decrease say
seven stitches in from the final stitch, you move the stitch into the body
of the fabric, but it creates shaping and neat contour lines about half an
inch from the fabric edge. This give a fashion mark of two stitches together
becoming one on the stitch above, which is also considered attractive. 1950's knits generally all have such fashion marks.
Worn with evening wear such as cocktail dresses or long silk skirts, cashmere or lambswool and angora wool cardigans were embellished with beads, self
embroidery, trapunto quilted areas, appliqués, sequins, rhinestones and
lace. Much of the best beadwork and embroidery, easily matching couture
cardigans, was done in Hong Kong workshops. Such cardigans are exceptionally
desirable today, especially as they are a current fashion item in many
stores. But by buying a vintage 50's Hong Kong made knit you have an
original and now rare quality item and are very unlikely to bump into a
neighbour wearing an identical copy bought at a local shop.
Right - Sought after vintage knits of the fifties by Helen Bond Carruthers.
Images courtesy of
Most of these cardigans were made from delicate fibres. So sometimes new
nylon finishes were applied and this is why knits occasionally state 1%nylon
or perhaps 5% nylon plus 95% cashmere on a label.
The addition of nylon either as a polymer coating or as a percentage
inserted into the carded yarn before twist is added, makes for a stronger
knit, particularly with soft weak yarns such as cashmere or angora. Usually
the nylon is added as a fine polymer coating to the fibres and at the same
time it fills in the spaces between the wool hair scales. It is these rough
overlapping tile effect spaces that catch on each other and tangle as the
scales lock into themselves. This is what causes shrinkage, so if the spaces
made by the scales are filled in with the polymer coating of nylon, less
tangling of fibres occurs and therefore less matting, felting and overall
shrinkage when washed.
Other yarns were used to make knits in the late 1950s and included Orlon a
brand name of acrylic fibre. Nylon was also made into cardigans, but the
best examples usually have a wool or cashmere base. Such items are sometimes
lined with fine light Jap silk.
One of the best things about these cardigans is that you really can get away
with wearing them today.
Accessories provide the perfect finishing touch for any 1950's ensemble. These are the items women used to self style themselves. They never used
stylists as they instinctively knew what was needed to complete an outfit
for the totally groomed put together look. This was achieved because they
observed how studio groomed starlets were dressed and copied them. Handbags
and gloves were as essential as well shod feet.
Vintage scarves have value. Check for designer signatures on the scarf. Look
carefully at the fabric, as silk was used for better scarves just like
A regenerated cellulosic fabric called Tricel Foulard (tri-cellulose
acetate) was also used to make scarves and to the inexperienced bargain
hunter it can be difficult to initially spot the difference between this and
silk foulard. Go by feel and touch. The pure silk feels wonderful to the
touch and airier, feeling neither warm nor cool. The Tricel has a heavier
denser, cooler feel. However a hand rolled hem on a scarf is a very good
sign of being a better quality item as is evidence of hand painting. Tie and
dyed scarves are post sixties.
Signatures to look for include Christian Dior and Chanel and other designers
here. Specialist scarf dealers like Liberty, Pucci and Hermès
also have good value. Make sure the accent is correct on Hermès and the
spelling perfect for any designer signature.
Americans may access a lot more Vera Neumann scarves than UK vintage
hunters. Vera's scarves started when she was allowed to use surplus
parachute silk in 1947 in America. She used a wide range of design sources
to make interesting lively patterned designs and Vera scarves are much
sought after today.
If you are buying or selling scarves consider doing it in lots of 10 or more
at an auction site like eBay. That way a beauty must emerge for some
purchaser seeking a certain style, print, name or colour of scarf. This
really is an area where there are finds in charity shops and in Grandma's
Many collectors love 50's bags. You don't have to worry about fit or
shrinkage and the variety of materials range from quality leathers, suedes,
straw raffia, embroidered, canvas tapestry, mother of pearl, sequins to
Bakelite and Perspex. Fun bags follow the same decorative effects as fun
skirts. Day bags were trimmed with pictorial motifs from poodles to French
street scenes and many of the themes mentioned above were regularly used.
Many of the bags had a slightly crazy quality and were truly eccentric in
design. At one point Bakelite and Lucite box bags were a rather expensive
craze in America, with box bags selling for about $55. I recently saw one of
these at an antique fair in UK and it was priced at about £220. Fashion stylists
and fashion fanatics love these quirky bags, so if you see one at a good
price be aware you have a bargain, but check out the plastic really is
Bakelite using the test I mention in this
names to look out for are those made by the Couture designers and also
specialist firms like Hermès, Whiting and Davis.
other important name with regard to innovative funky bag styles is that of Enid
Collins of Texas who opened her first shop in 1959. She sold fun bags
either made as a wooden box purse or as a canvas bucket style bag with
whimsical decorative ideas. The bags were always well made and trimmed
with leather, painted areas, mirrors, sequins and crystals in themes such as
birds facing each other. They have a great feel of the design motifs of the
era, but in her individual way.
of the designs remind me of embroidery motifs and symbols of the era found
in decorative needlework and embroidery design books of the 50s to 70s. Her bags from
the 50s and 60s are very sought after, but by the 1970s she had sold her
Handbags of note from the 50's include the Chanel quilted bag and the famous
Kelly bag made for Grace Kelly by Hermès.
Although the original design based on a saddlebag existed in the 30s, it was
Grace Kelly who made the bag famous in 1956 when she used it to cover
her pregnant tummy bulge. In the 50's, women were reserved about showing the
world their pregnancy. The Kelly bag is a beautiful hand stitched bag of the
best quality and is usually made of calfskin, but can be made of crocodile,
lizard or ostrich. Today new Kelly bags demand a six month wait from Hermès
or the purchase of a vintage bag at equally great cost.
The Chanel quilted bag is actually the '2.55' bag conceived on February 2
1955, and the style was quietly worn by fans of Chanel clothes. In the logo
obsessed 1980s, fake or real chain twisted Chanel diamond quilted shoulder
bags flooded the market. It became the bag to be seen wearing.
Fakes are everywhere.
If you have never worn the stocking of the 1950s you will experience a
sensuous moment when you slide them onto your legs. Stocking in the 1950s
felt different. They were fine and cool and silky to the touch. They felt
like the height of luxury as if you were about to give your legs a beauty
treatment just by wearing them.
Pictures of Vintage Fully Fashioned Stockings
- Fully fashioned boxed stockings from anothertimevintageapparel.com who sell a wide range of mixed
fifties vintage goods as well as goods from as far back as circa 1900.
Stockings on the right by Schiaparelli.
Unlike pantyhose tights which are sized small, medium, large, extra large
etc., 50's stockings came in foot sizes. To find your size to wear flat
fully fashioned seamed stockings measure the length of your foot. If
it measures 9 inches long, a size 9 would suit you, but if you have fatter
legs a larger size may be better.
I recall though that the largest stocking size you could buy was an 11. This
was all very well if you had slender legs, but for those poor souls with
larger legs the width of the stocking was taken up by the fatter leg and so
the stocking did not go so far up the leg as it might on a tall slim leggy
woman. This was never much trouble for most people, but lumps of fat could
hang over stocking tops and often did. It was not necessary to have a much
fatter leg to develop the thigh bulge. But the main problem for most people
occurred when skirts gradually shortened in the 1960s and stocking tops were
seen as ugly and giving an overall poorly groomed fashion look. That is when
tights really developed for the masses.
Stocking sizes ranged from size 8 to size 11 going up in half sizes. The fit
varied from brand to brand, but fully fashioned seamed stocking were well
shaped on the foot and heel although the yarn used was not stretchy and
sometimes a little bagging could happen so that fine wrinkles appeared. It
was essential to either check your seams were straight using a back mirror
or get a sister or friend to tell you nothing was crooked.
Better brands made longer stocking lengths and by the end of the decade more
people wore the newer seamless stockings first introduced in 1952, but slow
to capture the public's affection. Once yarns with better cling were
introduced they were seen more and more.
Costume jewellery from the 50s is very collectable.
Names to look out for are Trifari, Dior,
Schiaparelli, Chanel and Miriam
Haskell. Costume jewellery is sold in abundance on the web and I suggest you
key in keyword phrases such as vintage Trifari costume jewellery into Google
and see what sites come up. You will have the chance to browse through some
wonderful pictures of Parures, bracelets, novelty brooches, pins, earrings
in designs that will stun you.
To develop an eye for vintage costume jewellery you will need to study
typical pieces and read about it in the same way you need to read about
costume to have an understanding of seeking out vintage fashion. You
can see examples of
costume jewellery on the fashion-era site.
The 1950s is an era full of rich choices for the vintage collector and
unlike some later 20th century periods can be classed as true vintage
fashion. Collect what appeals to you most, only selecting the highest
quality items in favour of larger quantities of less desirable clothes and
accessories. Quality 50's items can only become more desirable and valuable
vintage items as time passes.
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