What's Your Oldest Piece of Clothing? Here's Mine


I'm thinking about the oldest piece of clothing I own that I actually wear. As a dealer, I own many older pieces, but they don't count for today's discussion.

What's the oldest piece in your wardrobe?

My 1930s Dress

In my wardrobe there are two 1930s dresses. One, I haven't worn yet, but I intend to. The second has been worn several times but her days are numbered. Today's dress is a dress with a history - it's like Blanche Dubois (A Streetcar Named Desire), a faded beauty only just holding together. It's a collection of old mends but due to the very busy print these are not noticeable until you get really close. The last time I wore her, to the theatre in Melbourne, my elbows went through in both sleeves. She's hanging behind me as I write, awaiting yet another mend.

Art Deco

The thing I love most about this dress is the Art Deco print. It's so difficult to photograph and just tends to come out in a blurr, so I'm showing you the close up first. My Wardrobe Department would definitely not let me wear this on TV.

It always reminds me of a deck of cards. I love the way it gives the illusion of being pleated. Notice that princess seaming at the front. To emphasize the line, the dressmaker has inserted a contrast textured fabric along the seam. I love this kind of detailing on vintage dresses.

I added the red belt for this photo. I quite like it. Might wear it next time.

The skirt has box pleats and the fitted sleeves button at the wrist with lots of little loops. Unfortunately, I had to remove the original covered buttons as they were falling apart. I'm still looking for the perfect vintage bakelite buttons to replace them. In the meantime, I make do with boring buttons.

Cool bakelite buttons on the front

What is the story of this dress? Don't we always wish our vintage garments could talk to us and tell us their history. This girl is living her (at least) third and probably last life with me. Back in the 1930s, the original owner chose the fabric and pattern, had her fittings at the dressmaker, and wore her. Perhaps she was a talented sewer and made the dress herself - many women were competent sewers in those days and made the clothes for all the family.

Restoring a vintage dress

Sometime after the original owner discarded the dress it was bought by a costumer. The costumer's name was  written in red marker pen on the inside of the collar. Although it wouldn't have shown there, it annoyed me, so I took off the collar, turned it and reattached it. I wonder what stage shows and perhaps even movies this dress played in.

The collar, after turning. Note the large hole beneath the collar, cleverly patched.

The red marker pen is now beneath the collar at the back. Once again, note all the holes, patched by the other side of the collar.

As I was turning the collar, I noticed that the yoke of the dress was actually an enormous patch. All along the shoulders and the top of the sleeves were holes. The dress is rayon crepe and the fabric is quite fragile. Somebody, Ms Clever Sewer, has taken a large piece of matching fabric and sewn it over the original dress yoke and the top of the sleeves, covering all the holes, and in effect creating an enormous patch. I have since used this technique on my other 30s dress. If there is enough length in the hem, this is where the fabric comes from. This dress is short for a 30s dress, only just below knee length, with a teensy hem, so this is where the fabric was harvested. Vintage dresses usually have very generous hems and this often comes in useful for repairs.

 Notice how the dress yoke (across the shoulders), really a patch, extends right down over the top of the sleeve. It's covering a multitude of sins.

Aside from this major repair, I have literally stuck many of the worst tears back together with iron on patches on the inside. As vintage lovers are recoiling in horror at the idea of this, in my defense I say firstly, that the patches do not show at all from the outside, and secondly, that it was a last resort. I will need to apply the patches to the damaged elbows too. I bought a white iron on patch and rubbed it all over with a tea bag so that it matches the beige of the print.

Apart from this there are numerous other darns, mends and small holes, as well as a few age spots.

This lady would have been binned years ago but for the costumer who salvaged her, and who I suspect was responsible for the repairs. Thank you Rose Chong, and thank you to Nicole Jenkins at Circa Vintage Clothing who later acquired her and sold her to me. She probably languished in someone's attic for a long time in between.

Not bad for a lady in her 80s. The dress I mean, I'm not quite there yet.


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