What is Vintage?

Here’s an interesting article about how Chanel is suing the New York vintage clothing store What Goes Around Comes Around for selling ‘vintage’ Chanel. The company is citing unfair competition, false advertising, and trademark infringement.

What Goes Around Comes Around has been in business for 25 years and has a very chic looking online website where all their merchandise, by various makers, is sold with clear catalogue-quality photos. Everything is in top condition and appears unworn. It doesn’t look like your typical vintage shop, but that’s because the owners spend a lot of time making it that way. They are trying to make used clothing a viable part of the contemporary fashion market, and so the goods have to be fresh and wearable.

The shop’s goods mostly date from the last 25 years, which Chanel says isn’t vintage, citing the Federal Trade Commission as defining vintage as being at least 50 years of age. I looked it up and the Federal Trade Commission does say “A vintage collectible is an item that is at least 50 years old.” However, the trade commission’s concern is not with the definition of vintage, but rather confusion in the marketplace over what is an antique, vintage collectible and reproduction. The general thought is that something becomes vintage after about 20 years. eBay, Etsy, and the Vintage Fashion Guild all follow that idea of about 20 years to call a garment or accessory vintage.

The term vintage is loose. It is used in the wine industry to describe a particularly good year (not relevant to any particular age – last year could be vintage.) It is used by car collectors to refer to something similar, but does also require at least 25 years of age. The term is also used by Oriental carpet dealers to refer to non-antique carpets (a nice way to say used but quality). The term vintage in the used clothing industry is in itself a vintage term, popping up in the mid 1960s when vintage clothing boutiques started opening up for their hippy clients. However, the term is not set in stone — Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous quips that her clothes are vintage as soon as they come back from the dry cleaner.

As for the rest of the claim by Chanel against the vintage clothing store. They cite finding one counterfeit Chanel bag amongst their stock, but that is why the shop has a guarantee of authenticity for their merchandise, so in case this happens, you can return the bag without problems. Mistakes can happen as there are some very good Chanel fakes out there, and the store obviously has a good reputation, otherwise it wouldn’t still be in business 25 years later. As Chanel is known to be uncooperative and will not authenticate any Chanel item unless there is also a proof of purchase receipt from a Chanel dealer, it seems Chanel itself isn’t exactly an expert at identifying their own goods.

This lawsuit is a case of David and Goliath. Chanel looks silly for making a big todo over one fake purse and the definition of vintage. Chanel says the store damages Chanel’s reputation, but I think silly lawsuits are doing that just fine.

Manic Panic “The first punk boutique in America”

imageIn 1973/74 Tish and Snooky Bellomo were aspiring singers from the Bronx hanging out in the glam rock/drag scene at places like Max’s Kansas City where David Bowie, Lou Reed and Debbie Harry of Blondie were regulars. Everybody loved the way the sisters dressed, which lead to them opening a vintage clothing store in the spring of 1977. Manic Panic was located at 33 St. Mark’s Place – a rough neighbourhood in the East Village filled with junkies, squaters, and cheap rents.  They painted the floor of their store black and drilled holes in the wall so that the stiletto heels of shoes could be stuck into them for display.

The sisters would stock their shop from the thrift stores, buying anything they felt was cool looking from the 1950s and 1960s. They also ‘trashed’ pieces for resale. During the famous New York city blackout in July, Tish and Snooky slept in the store to chase off looters. The store prospered and by the end of 1977 they were being called the first punk boutique in America. By the spring of the following year other ‘punk’ stores started popping up on St. Marks.

“It attracted a group of people that I think felt just different from everybody else. It was sort of like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where all the different people from all over the world are, like, playing with mashed potatoes and they end up at the giant mountain. It was sort of like that. Everybody who kind of felt like a misfit or like they didn’t belong anywhere, they would feel at home at CBGB at night and Manic Panic during the day.” Said Tish Bellomo

st_shoes_ties_manic_adjOn frequent trips to England the sisters would fill their suitcases with vintage stock that couldn’t be found easily over there, like vintage sunglasses and biker rings, and bring back beauty supplies and hair dyes, in a rainbow of colours, to sell in their store. The sisters became known for their lines of hair dye and make-up, necessary for creating the bordello-punk look of the era. On busy days a doorman was hired to limit the number of visitors into the store to keep shoplifting down.

New owners of the building didn’t renew their lease and so the sisters gave up their boutique to focus on wholesaling hair and beauty lines. In 1999 they moved to Long Island City, where the currently work out of a 14,000 sq. ft. warehouse.

Information for this article is courtesy of this article by Susan Laskow

The Vintage Clothing Market – T-shirts and Jeans

This article appeared in today’s CBC about the vintage clothing market and where the money is… in rock T-shirts. This has been true for quite some time, but there is always interesting takes on where the market is and where it is going.

To read the article online go here:

Kirby Young in his Vancouver store

Kirby Young in his ‘Dead Union’ showroom in Vancouver

Kirby Young is always on the lookout for his next fix — the kind of garment that will prompt what he calls a “scream-out-loud moment.”I’m just constantly running around like an ant looking for a crumb, trying to find the diamonds in the rough,” he says from his small showroom in East Vancouver. The front section of the wiry 32-year-old’s shop is crammed with old band T-shirts, jackets and jeans — the clothes he says he sells to “cool kids,” or who others might call hipsters.

The Dead Union showroom can be found in the Ellis Building, a former sheet metal factory on Vancouver’s Main Street. But it’s the small section at the back of his showroom that’s the real pride and joy of his business. That’s where he keeps the rare pair of Vivienne Westwood T-shirts that he bought for a song at $1,000 and says he could easily sell for twice that price. It’s where he keeps the tattered jeans a friend found under a tarp in a barn in Alberta, including a pair he recently sold for $1,000 on eBay.

Vintage stores abound in Vancouver, but Young says he’s one of a handful of people in the city who trade in rare vintage fashion. And its popularity is surging across North America. “Like anything in life, if it’s hard to find, it’s going to have a little bit of value,” Young says. His is a small, secretive industry built on knowledge of manufacturing standards of the past 150 years and subject to the whimsy of a shifting market based on an ever-changing definition of cool.

Vivienne Westwood T shirts

Vivienne Westwood T shirts


Young says he sells about half of his stock on eBay, to buyers all over the world but mostly in the U.S. “It’s like one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And I just really try to find the stuff that is of the rarest in every section of clothing,” he says.

A search for “Vintage T-shirt” on eBay — one of the ways people who deal in this industry evaluate their stock — reveals an Iron Maiden top sold for $2,600, a Harley Davidson T-shirt advertised as “paper thin” sold for $1,700, and a Prince T-shirt went for $1,100. The items all show signs of being well-loved and well-worn, and their history is a big part of their appeal. Young speaks of the patina of his stock like a wine connoisseur might discuss terroir. “I don’t really like things that have no soul to them. That’s kind of what this is to me — every single piece tells a story,” he says.

The vintage Young buys and sells is strongly based in a rock ‘n’ roll esthetic that’s rough around the edges. He says he has no trouble selling garments that somebody’s mother would throw in the trash. It’s also an esthetic that’s always shifting; quickly changing the value of his stock. After Justin Bieber was recently photographed in a Nirvana T-shirt for which he reportedly paid $1,500, the value of that particular design shot up overnight.

Drew and Jesse Heifetz, brothers and co-owners of Main Street boutique F as in Frank, specialize in ’90s vintage. “We sell what the kids want,” Jesse Heifetz says. And the kids apparently aren’t looking for replicas. They want originals. “It’s the difference between getting a classic car and one of the remake Ford Mustangs,” he says over the phone from California, where he regularly visits the legendary Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena.

Heifetz says the strongest trend in vintage clothing right now is “American heritage brands” like Ralph Lauren, Levi Strauss, and Nike. These clothes, originally manufactured in the U.S., are known for their durability as much as their classic style. His biggest deal to date was a 1914 mining shirt from work clothing manufacturer Filson, which he says he sold for $20,000.

Like Young, Heifetz sells his stock to buyers from around the world. But both Heifetz and Young agree the hungriest and most lucrative clients for rare vintage are from Japan. “Japan is probably the biggest market in the world for collectable American vintage clothing, much bigger than the United States,” Heifetz says. Young says he regularly gets visits from high-end Japanese clients on buying trips, as does Heifetz. “The Japanese really are at the forefront of vintage fashion,” Young says. “They kind of dictate what’s going to happen in the vintage world.” But both sellers agree other markets are emerging as well. Young says he has started shipping more and more vintage rock T-shirts to Malaysia and Thailand. Heifetz says he’s been doing increasing business with European clients.

Young was initially reluctant to speak publicly about the inner workings of his business. “There’s a side to it that no one knows about,” he says. “Honestly, it sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not … it’s turf wars.” The secrecy revolves around two main aspects of the business. One is knowledge of historical manufacturing standards and what is considered valuable. Small details can raise a garment’s value by several hundred dollars. Young says customers often buy from less experienced retailers and then turn around and sell items for a profit.

The other is the fact there is only so much rare vintage to be found in the world, and buyers protect their sources like gold diggers in the Klondike staking out their claims. Young says he spends most of his time hunting for stock, which he finds through sources as varied as Instagram, yard sales and other collectors. He also relies on people soliciting him with their dad’s old clothes.

But his biggest top-secret source is a warehouse that processes thousands of tonnes of used clothes per day. Young describes it as a place where “clothes go to die.” These are clothes thrifts shops don’t want because they’ve been on the showroom floor too long, or because they’re damaged. They get sorted into grades, with most of them then shipped to Africa, and others simply turned into rags. Young is protective of his spot in the warehouse. He pays a weekly minimum to access clothes by the pound, which he then diligently sifts through looking for rare garments that will fetch him a good price.

Although most of the garments Young deals in are T-shirts, the real money is in denim. Specifically, Levi’s. “Levi’s is the holy grail. It’s the Ferrari of denim,” Young says. Vintage denim regularly sells for several thousand dollars more than any T-shirt could bring in. And the iconic Levi Strauss brand is definitely the top seller.

That’s something the historian for Levi Strauss & Company, Tracey Panek, knows very well. “Levi’s jeans are the original, the authentic, the blueprint for all blue jeans today,” she says. “They are iconic and we’ve got fans everywhere from here in San Francisco to Mumbai, India, so you can imagine there are a lot of people who have a passion for it.
As part of her work, Panek manages the company’s archives and says the collection is valued at several million dollars, with the rarest pieces kept in a fireproof safe. She says despite the company’s resources, she does occasionally get out-bid for ultra-rare vintage denim.

Young still remembers the time he found a pair of rare jeans at his secret warehouse in 2013. “I pulled them out, I screamed, I literally screamed. I was shaking,” he says. He won’t go into specifics about how much he sold them for, but suffice to say it was enough for his band, War Baby, to record an album, print 600 vinyl records, and go on tour. It was such a rare find, he doesn’t expect it to happen again, but he won’t stop searching for another scream-out-loud moment.

Vintage Shopping Isn’t What It Used to Be…

Norman Norell Coat from Hautedoor on Etsy U.S. $3,900

Norman Norell Coat from Hautedoor on Etsy U.S. $3,900

A couple of months ago I received a phone call from Ada Calhoun, a New York writer who was doing a piece on vintage shopping. Her angle was about how shopping for vintage has changed in the last twenty years. We talked about the fad for vintage styling and how contemporary manufacturers were churning out reproductions of 1950s-60s-70s pieces. In a recent issue of Vogue, Valerie Steele was not enthusiastic about the trend for the reappropriation of vintage by manufacturers and lesser-talented stylist-designers: “…it’s discouraging because they’re not creating something new, they’re just copying the past, sometimes literally…” I couldn’t agree more.

We also talked about the eBay factor and how the online market has changed the field of buying and selling vintage. At first over-abundance caused prices to shift, mostly downward on everything but designer clothing. Now however, unlike Walmart and Target that race to the bottom of the price sticker for their market, vintage dealers are overpricing everything into the stratosphere that is older than 25 years or has a recognizable name on the label, even when that name isn’t a designer. Their reasoning is bolstered by sales results at some auctions frequented by the same couple dozen international museums and celebrity stylists with money to buy whatever they want at whatever price they have to pay.

1960s style cocktail dress by BCBG, c. 2010, from Vintageandpurple on Etsy US $47.00

1960s style dress by BCBG, c. 2010, from Vintageandpurple on Etsy US $47

In the last year, Etsy has been transformed from a marketplace into a museum of merchandise as dealers wait for those elusive clients who purchase polyester 70s frocks for hundreds of dollars and 1960s designer coats for thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, thrift stores are being picked clean by bargain hunters who buy ten year old BCBG and DKNY to fill their closets, vintage racks and online shops. It seems every thrift store shopper is now a hobbyist vintage clothing dealer with an online shopfront to sell their cast-offs. Frankly, its just not fun to shop anymore…

Here is Ada Calhoun’s take for New York Magazine and its an interesting read.

Fashion History with live models


Denise Lee, c. 1938

I am often asked what got me started in the field of fashion history. I blogged about this a few years ago but to be honest, I change my answer every time because there is no one reason. My interest in history is innate, I am fascinated by how people lived, what they wore, ate, read, and thought about…


Shirley Lee, c. 1966

When I was a child I loved watching historically set films but more for the costumes than the plot: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, and my favourite, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Anna Quayle singing ‘You’re my teddy bear’ while wearing a boned corset and teddy. I remember crying myself to sleep because I wasn’t allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch the Six Wives of Henry VIII.


Julia Pine c. 1944

When my family moved to Ontario from B.C. in 1972 I took every opportunity I could to visit the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto – the costume displays were my favourite. When we returned to Vancouver in 1975 I couldn’t find costume displays at any museum so I went back to watching television shows and films set in the past – The Duchess of Duke Street, Poldark, Barry Lyndon…


Liz Derbecker c. 1974

While we were still in Ontario we attended a Victorian-themed church picnic in Oakville (I was a choirboy at the local Anglican church…) and one parishioner wore her grandmother’s 1880s wedding dress of starched linen voile that rustled as she walked across the lawn. I was fascinated that such a thing had survived outside of a museum. My family weren’t keepers – I had grown up in a mid century modern house with Danish teak furniture. The only vintage clothing that had survived in our house was my mother’s wedding dress from 1952 and a beaded purse from the 1920s that had belonged to a great aunt. I had seen bits and pieces of antique and vintage clothing for sale in antique stores, but with an allowance of $5.00 per week buying anything was fiscally impossible and would have been difficult to explain to my parents.


Sheena Andrews, c. 1958

One day in 1976 my mother and I attended an historical fashion show held at a church in West Vancouver. Vancouver clothing collector Ivan Sayers, who had been acquiring vintage clothing since the mid 1960s, was presenting a fashion show of clothing dating from the 1860s to the 1960s. Every decade was represented by authentic dresses worn by models in period perfect underwear and accessories. The result was magical – history was alive and walking right in front of me.


Anne Keyes, c. 1959

In 1977 I began working part time at Heritage Village Museum in Burnaby – a recreated turn-of-the-century village. The costume supplied to me was simple and uninspired – a collarless shirt. I set about finding the missing parts to make it a real outfit – the collars and ties, caps and sweaters, knickers and suspenders although having size 11½ feet and a 7¾ head made finding real vintage a challenge. Every penny I made was plowed back into my costume, as well as some of those bits and pieces at antique stores and vintage clothing shops I had seen scattered about town. In late 1977 I bought my first garment for the collection – a black net dress from c. 1894 from Cabbages and Kinx, a vintage clothing store in Gastown.


Susie Jackson c. 1916

Over the next few years I frequented every charity shop and garage sale I could. A school friend of my mother gave me several pieces after her father died including his morning suit from 1921, three pairs of John Lobb button boots, and a 1930s lame evening gown worn by her mother on an Atlantic crossing of the Queen Mary. Other gifts came in and the collection grew quickly, filling the closet in the guest room, redubbed the ‘collection closet.’

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Kim Darby c. 1961

In spring 1980 I got my first behind-the-scenes job in a museum as a part time assistant curator at the North Shore Museum in North Vancouver, but before I left Heritage Village, I mounted my very first fashion show for the Easter weekend. That show started a twenty-seven year run of producing a hundred fashion shows (I counted – it was exactly 100) for a variety of clients including: University women’s clubs, colleges, museums, church and temple groups, and retirement homes. Most of the shows went well, only a couple bombed – the worst was a country club women’s group who were more in the mood for Chippendale dancers than a fashion show.


Erin Darby, c. 1934

A few museum professionals piously criticized how I was damaging original clothes in my presentation. I felt the educational value of seeing the clothes in movement outweighed the value of the clothes I had acquired for the shows, which were not considered museum quality garments (although since then, some have been upgraded to the museum collection.) I relied mostly upon durable cotton dresses, wool suits, as well as pieces that were altered/damaged but presentable from a distance, and worked well as examples of fashion when properly accessorized.


Julia Pine, c. 1901

In all the years of doing shows I had a surprisingly low amount of damage: 5 pairs of seamed stockings were ruined; a princess line slip from c. 1912 that saw use in nearly all 100 fashion shows had a lot of tears and repairs, one 1930s evening dress  got lipstick on it (it was already discoloured), and one pair of glass earrings got broken. I also had a model steal a pair of earrings…


Sarah Beam, c. 1942

We stopped promoting the shows in 1999 but took three more bookings before finally calling it quits in 2007. We needed to refocus our energy on the museum, and the clothes and accessories I was keeping for the fashion shows were taking up too much room. It was a lot of fun, but a LOT of work! Funnily enough, I got a call a few weeks ago from someone who had seen one of the shows in 1986 and wanted to book a show for her club’s anniversary in 2017! I will be going back but only to lecture. However, we have talked about creating a Youtube film of 20th century fashion on live models (not museum clothes obviously, but pieces acquired specifically for the project) so we may come out of retirement for one last project…

Frugal vintage – Little Edie style…

I recently came across these photos of Little Edie (of Grey Gardens fame), wearing the same two piece dress. In 1937 when the dress was new, she wears the blouse tucked into the skirt. In the second photo taken in the mid 1940s, Edie is wearing the skirt underneath the blouse, which has had the sleeves reworked. Finally, in what is probably the mid 1960s, the hem of the skirt is crooked because she has hiked the waistband up to underneath her bosom, probably because it won’t close over her thicker waist, and the top has now had the sleeves removed.

The Vintage Marketplace – Holiday Edition

This past saturday we partnered with Vintage Marketplace (a Hamilton based organizer of vintage shows) to hold a holiday edition of their annual spring vintage sale. As we just got our new location for the museum we thought it would be a great idea to inaugurate the space with a vintage clothing sale. That way our future visitors will begin to associate the old post office in Hespeler as the new home of the Fashion History Museum.

We had room for just 12 dealers including the food concession, so our advertising budget was limited and weather was iffy – coming out of a cold, snowy week with a threat of freezing rain in the morning. However, despite a lower than expected attendance, most dealers were happy with their sales results. The enthusiastic turn-out was made up of people who were ready to spend money on Christmas gifts and a special indulgence for themselves.

For us, the best part of the day was catching up with our seasoned supporters and meeting new fans and locals who turned out to welcome the Fashion History Museum to Hespeler. Here a few shots of the event during some of the less busy moments when we had a chance to take photos:

Join us November 22 at our new home for a special sale


(November 10/Cambridge, ON) – For the first time, the Fashion History Museum (FHM) and The Vintage Marketplace are partnering to provide a truly unique vintage holiday shopping event! Having found a new, permanent home at the Old Post Office in Hespeler, the Fashion History Museum is hosting a special edition of Hamilton’s popular vintage shopping consumer show.

On Saturday, November 22nd, holiday shoppers will be treated to the unique offering of vintage clothing, jewellery, accessories, books, décor and collectables, with 11 vendors from across Southern Ontario bringing their one-of-a-kind finds. There will be something for everyone on your holiday list!

Pop in early to have the first pick of must-haves, or make a day of it and listen to DJ Donna Lovejoy spin vinyl records of days past, while enjoying some great local flavours.

“We’re excited to have a new partner in the Fashion History Museum and bring a special holiday edition of our show to a new audience and city, “says Andreana Hudson, Producer of The Vintage Marketplace.

The show runs Saturday, November 22nd from 11AM TO 6PM, with an entrance fee of $5 at the door. The Old Post Office in Hespeler is located at 74 Queen Street East, Cambridge, ON.

Visit www.thevintagemarketplace.ca/holiday-edition or follow @TheVintageMP on Twitter.

For more information contact:

Andreana Hudson, The Vintage Marketplace (905) 975-8055 or andreana@thevintagemarketplace.ca

FHM Holiday Postcard_proofb

FHM Holiday Postcard_proof