Tales of Vintage Clothing Murder – To Cut or Not to Cut?

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I am a member of the Vintage Fashion Guild. The VFG is a professional organization for sellers, journalists and curators of vintage fashion. The wealth of knowledge amongst its members is truly astonishing. If you are a vintage afficianado, I highly suggest you spend some time on their message boards or reading one of their many resources. You do not have to be a member to join the conversation – you can participate as a “friend”.
A question was recently posed by a friend about cutting up vintage garments. I am going to stay very neutral, so bear with me. The VFG and its members, which includes me, does not promote the permanent alteration of vintage garments.
Some argue that some vintage is worth more than others and much of the most current vintage, meaning stuff from the 70s, is massed produced and would never really become all that collectible.
I know there are many vintage wearers who do permanently alter vintage dresses, especially the length, in an effort to make it more wearable in today’s times. The problem is that essentially, you are damaging a potential piece of fashion history. As a self-proclaimed vintage expert, I feel I have the knowledge of what is potentially collectible and what is not. But what about the poor girl who hacks off the bottom of a Biba maxi in order to make it modern? It makes me faint just thinking about it.
And then there are people that I just want to shake…
couturelab.jpg
and the original…
couturelab2.jpg
I know, I know — it’s not like it’s a New Look dress from the ’50s. But just because you wouldn’t wear a caftan, even a Dior one, doesn’t mean it should be hacked to death. What’s going to happen in 30 years, when ’70s clothing will become the equivalent of today’s ’20s flapper and ’30s chiffon dress — highly coveted but rare? Will we loathe the day we decided to take scissors to the hemline of a collectible piece, before we knew it was collectible?
With all due respect to E2, Michele Meunier and Olivier Chatenet, a Parisian design team, and CoutureLab.com, I get that they are trying to breathe new life into an old garment. Maybe I’m just looking at this too much as a historian and not through the eyes of a fashionista.
And go ahead and call me a label whore, but I can’t help but wonder if murdering or at least mutilating desirable vintage names like Dior is worth it. Is this a crime against fashion history?

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11 comments

1 Punk Glam Queen { 09.05.08 at 7:04 am }

IMO, yes it is a crime to murder designer vintage. Between the fabrications, and workmanship, even if it is a style that’s not so desirable I believe its worth preserving as is. I’ve seen some really hideous designer vintage but there is always something to appreciate.
As to “cheap” mass-produced vintage, well I have less of a problem with someone altering or even completely redoing something with it. I personally have altered a hemline slightly (not gone from maxi to knee or mini lenth though — I shudder at the thought) but still find so much charm in everyday vintage that I don’t like seeing it completely destroyed. There are enough pieces out there with stains, rips, etc. that can be re-purposed, I just despise seeing something usable as is being butchered.

2 Mer { 09.05.08 at 7:50 am }

I totally agree, and I liked your commentary, we should think in what will be vintage in 30 years!
cheers

3 Patti { 09.05.08 at 9:52 am }

Here, here! I agree completely. Way back – when I worked in a fantastic vintage boutique, I remember one particular woman who bought 2 gorgeous Lilli Ann gab 40’s suits. She then cut the skirts off to miniminiskirt length. We were all speechless!!

4 Bijou { 09.05.08 at 10:50 am }

I like the original piece much better than the “refashioned one”. Just because you own scissors…..

5 Jenn { 09.05.08 at 10:57 am }

I have my seamstress modify vintage, but ONLY to a style that would be era appropriate and ONLY if there is damage that is not otherwise fixable. I think under those two guidelines it’s fine to alter, but taking a perfectly good maxi, even a Leslie Fay or Montgomery Ward or some other low to mid range line, and chopping it to some crotch skimming mini, well, that’s just wrong.
Imagine if someone a long time ago had decided that Monet’s hundreds and hundreds of light studies of haystacks were useless drek, and altered/ruined/trashed/painted over the canvas. No, I’m not comparing a Monet to a Leslie Fay, but at some point, Monet was just that dude painting in a field.

6 Sandra { 09.06.08 at 9:12 pm }

I hear you guys. You just never know when something will be desirable vintage in the future, but when it comes down to big names, I just can’t see why someone would permanently alter them. It’s insane!

7 Tink { 10.09.08 at 5:57 pm }

Just found this article today 10/9/08
http://omg.yahoo.com/blogs/a-line/celebs-go-vintage/67

8 Elle { 12.01.08 at 2:08 am }

I don’t like wearing used clothing, so I make my own and repurpose it anyway I want (modern fabrics I don’t have to iron, anyone?)
But…I don’t agree. I can see those that preserve garments and we need it, but if the garment someone has that they luck out and pay $2 for at a yard sale and they fix it to wear because they’re stuck to doing it, or it’s perfect but for a hem, I see nothing wrong with extending the life of the garment. A label doesn’t do much good if no one will wear it/buy it ultimately. The caftan is fine long, but I wouldn’t wear it. I would with the hem line a little lower, and it boils down to: is it to wear or is it to show.
The pink Chanel in the example, I’d of probably looked at it in it’s original form and went “ugh”. It would come no where near my body, but I would wear the repurposed one, and it’s cute. (In all fairness, now, I’d make the shorter one, rather then buy it used, but I digress.) If I bought it, it would have to be to wear, because I can’t afford to just have clothing sitting around as an investment, my woeful lack of disposable income can’t exactly substantiate that kind of thing.
And sometimes, being poor, that means my scissors chop up a hemline or restructure a garment that I CAN wear today without looking neither dated, or as poor as I am, which was the reason so many started out being fixed in the first place, and why so much of the 70’s is dissapearing now: it’s one of the few things many poor gals can get ahold of.
My little black dress is one my Mom gave me years and years ago, from the 60’s when she bought it new (Bill Blass). It was ugly when I got it, and far too mod for my tastes. Since then, the hem’s been up and down, darts have been added to it (I can’t stand a-lines), a new zipper several times…and ultimately I turned a dress that screamed 1968 (when it was bought) into a timeless piece I’ve personally worn for the last 13 years. It ceased to be a piece of fashion history many years ago, because of necessity.

9 violetville { 02.13.09 at 7:19 am }

What a great thread! I think no matter what your opinion, you have to cringe a little to read the fine print in that photo where it says the dress is a CHANEL!
Perhaps part of the problem is that people altering garments don’t always have the best style (despite what they may think). The original in this case at least looks far better stylistically and proportionally to me. Who wants fat wings on the back of a mini?

10 tamara { 06.28.09 at 12:20 pm }

i don’t cut up the desginer vintage i only cut up no name vintage like the stuff that you buy at catos or some where like that the only thing that i do to desginer vintage is alterate it if it does not fit other wise i leave it alone

11 Elly { 10.24.11 at 6:35 pm }

Oh give me a break. I bought it and I’ll do what I like to it. I really don’t care about preserving something if it’s not going to be wearable. What’s the point unless you wear it?

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