back in the atelier

Bolstered by the success of my last post, I’ve decided to wax still more lyrical on dating vintage. The consignment shop where Danica works also just started accepting vintage clothing, so I’ve been helping her sort & analyze. And I figure the internet at large could probably benefit from my (self-taught, cobbled-together) expertise.

Today I’m tackling the no-man’s-land of retro silhouettes. Is it vintage? Is it a scam designed to prey on one’s inner magpie? No, it’s something far more lethal: 80s-does-40s.

VIII

I’ve had this dress since my fifteenth birthday, when my mom thrifted it for the hefty sum of $1. (I’ve recently outgrown it, by the way, so I’m preparing to find it a bigger, better home. Comment for pricing and details.) For years, it was my go-to Formal Dress. I felt like the screen-sirenest screen siren who ever screen-sirened. It is not, however, authentically 40s. I’m about to explain why.

Analysis of 80s-does-40s and 80s-does-50s clothing is tricky: these pieces are, after all, technically vintage. But they’re not the kind of vintage that many clueless purveyors will claim. Even if two items are nigh indistinguishable, the older one will still fetch a higher price and more oohs and aahs. Let’s take a look at some of the trademark tells.

XI

Okay, let’s Google “bb collections”. The first results are all irrelevant. Narrowing it down to “bb collections 80s does 40s” turns up a brand called “barbara barbara”, which appears to have hit its heyday in the 70s and 80s. So right away we can rule out any possibility of this garment being authentically 40s. But suppose the brand label was missing. How else might we tell?

  • The tag, for one thing. Garment-care tags came into fashion in the 70s, but tags as we know them today – you know, the standardized rectangular variety – were mandated in 1983. A genuine 40s label might include the size and country of origin. That’s it.
  • The zipper. An authentic 40s zipper will, almost without exception, be metal. Plastic zippers came into vogue around 1968, so if your “40s dress” includes one, tread lightly.
  • The shoulder pads. Dear god, the shoulder pads. Though many 30s and 40s designs featured a slightly padded shoulder, the key word here is “slightly”. The purpose was to lightly round the shoulder and add a bit of structure. No authentic 40s piece would include anything this intense:

X

I don’t mean to discourage anyone from 80s-does-40s (or 90s-does-50s, or any of the zillion permutations thereof). I said in my last post that I don’t care whether enthusiasts investigate the history or just like the clothes. I mean that. I wear quite a bit of 80s-does-40s and -50s myself. But I’d always rather be more informed than less. If you want to wear reproduction, make the conscious choice to do so.

And by god, stop clogging up the “vintage” tag.

 

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