Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review: The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping by Melody Fortier

I don’t need to tell you, dear readers, that vintage clothing is hot.

But wading into the ocean of vintage fashion shopping can be confusing.

What actually is vintage clothing? How can you learn to tell the difference between clothes that are authentic vintage and those that were made five years ago in a vintage style?

The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping, by Melody Fortier, is my go-to reference book for all these questions. I’ve looked at quite a few vintage clothing guides, and this is my favorite.

Here’s why: 

First, it has in-depth guidance for how to date vintage clothes—something I absolutely need as a seller of vintage clothing. Melody takes some of the standard “tips” that one finds online about how to date garments, and tells how to understand them in the overall context of the garment. 

For example, we’re often told that metal zippers mean a dress is vintage.  Melody explains why this is often true….but not always. 

November 10 2013 070
1960s silk sheath dress. Photo: Chronologie Vintage.
Another example: you will sometimes read that clothes with union labels are vintage. Again, this is often the case but not sometimes not—and Melody spells it all out clearly. In fact, it’s hard to prove with 100% certainty that a garment is vintage. But there are lots of clues we can use that add up to very educated guesses.

Melody guides us through the process she uses for dating clothes, beginning with looking at their overall silhouette—with a helpful, basic overview of vintage dress shapes—and going on to things like zippers, labels, buttons, fabric, and seams. 

All of this is well organized and easy to understand.

Second, one of my favorite features of The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping is the fiber content reference guide. As a vintage seller, I think it’s important to tell my customers what the garments I sell are made of and how to care for them.

Lots of older pieces don’t have fiber content tags.  Melody shows and tells how to do a simple burn test on a few threads of fabric to figure out what fiber content is in a garment if there’s no care tag.

1950s cotton novelty print. Photo: Chronologie Vintage.
If there was nothing else in this book that was valuable, this fiber content guide alone would be worth the price of the book.But, as I’ve said, there’s a lot more that’s valuable too. The book also includes a good overview of vintage jewelry, and tips for storing and cleaning vintage pieces.

Last but not least, there are lots of photos of beautiful vintage pieces. That’s a lot of good stuff in a small, purse-size book.

There’s not much I would improve about this book, but a review is supposed to include the good and bad.

Personally, I don’t find it all that helpful that there are good vintage stores listed in the back of the book. In a few years, who knows if these will still be going? I would rather have had a few  more pages devoted to fashion history.

But that’s just me…the fashion history geek. I’m sure a lot of readers will find the store list helpful.

On the whole, I LOVE this book. If you’re looking for a one-stop vintage buying guide that’s portable and easy to use, you can’t do better than The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Look Inside My Studio: Behind the Scenes at Chronologie Vintage

It’s always fun to see how other people work, especially when that work is creative or artistic.  Looking behind the scenes at someone else’s workspace offers ideas and inspiration to borrow. It also lets us be peeping Toms in a way that’s not creepy or weird.  And that’s always a good thing.

In that spirit, today I’m going to show you the studio where I do most of the work for my vintage clothes shop. This is where I mend and sometimes alter pieces before taking photos of them. 

I’m lucky enough to work in a fun, funky studio in an old downtown hotel.  Well, actually it used to be a brothel, so I am continuing the tradition of woman-owned businesses here. Or something like that. 

In any case, here’s what my studio looks like: 

studio 005studio 003

This is on a clean day—in fact, the day I moved in. It’s looking a little more like this most days, now. 

cute indie clothes december 2011 036

The east wall of my studio is a clean white backdrop for my photo shoots.  The artist who used the space before me left quite a few nail holes in this wall, but mostly they don’t show up. Someday when business slows down and I find myself twiddling my thumbs, I might paint it. But so far, that hasn’t happened. 

Photos are a huge part of making an online business work. I’m not a photographer, and my first photos were awful. One reason is that light in my studio is pretty scarce. The windows face north, and the light that does come in is kind of cold and blue—you can see this in all the photos above.

These days I use extra “daylight” lights and they help immensely. I keep working to improve my photography, and I think it’s a lot better than it was at first.

When I first started selling on Etsy, I went to our local mall and got a free display mannequin from the Eddie Bauer store. That’s it below. It was good for starting out in my business, especially since it was free.  

Studio shots November 2010 110may 5 053

The manni had some issues, though. It’s made of paper mache and looks like a reptile in close-ups (maybe that’s why it was free). 

Also, it’s super small and regular-size items look weird on it.  Third, it’s made for shirts—and I sell a lot of dresses.

I really struggled with how to show dresses on this manni. In the days before I got my studio, I tried to do dress photos as my house. What do you think—is hanging it from a plant hook in my living room (photo on the right) a good option? I don’t think so, either.

Finally, about a year after I opened my shop, my kind mother bought me two new mannequins. One is female and one is male.

Studio shots November 2010 105

Because my mom bought them for me, she got to name then—she chose Archie and Edith.  Archie and Edith are wonderful. They’re easier to use than the first one and I think they look more professional. Here are some examples of how they look in clothes.

Dancing Queen 70s Chiffon Party or Day Dress / Orange Peach / Secretary Fitted LMen's Western Shirt with Pearl Snaps / Rockabilly Striped Cowboy Shirt

Finally, I started taking pictures with models in addition to using my mannequins. These models are my daughter and her friends. I’ve learned two key tips for working with these teens:  have snacks and beverages around, and expect them to be silly. 


One of the things I love most about having my own small business is how much I learn every day. It’s so rewarding to face problems and figure out solutions that work.  

Thanks for joining me on this little journey into my work space and process.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter 2014 Fashion Trend: The Big Coat

the big coat

As a vintage clothes seller (and girl who loves to be cozy), I’m thrilled that one of this winter’s top runway trends is the big coat.

Seriously. As a I write from my kitchen table in western Montana, there’s a howling wind outside and the National Weather Service is warning us about something called a polar vortex that’s descending on about half the country. It’s approximately one degree Fahrenheit outside. So…umm, yeah, I’m into a big, warm coat right about now.

But beyond my personal chill factor, the big coat is a trend that’s totally  suited to vintage shopping.  For one thing, most of the current offerings are retro-inspired or even very close copies of vintage styles. So by shopping vintage, you’re pretty sure to find something that looks on-trend.

Second, you can get an actual vintage big coat for way less than you would be able to buy a new one. Most actual vintage big coats are wool or wool blends, and they tend to be extremely well made.  For a similar piece made brand new today, you’re looking a many hundreds of dollars, if not more.

To show you what I mean, I’ve rounded up some cute, cozy, and affordable vintage big coats. They’re all from vintage shops on Etsy, including my own.

Oversize Coat / 1960s Wool Plaid / Pink Orange / Medium Large INCLUDES SHIPPING

Wool Pastel Plaid Oversize Coat, Size M-L, $79.

Plaid Pendleton Wool Coat Jacket / 60s 70s / Big Collar Beautiful Colors M-L

Plaid Pendleton Wool Big Coat, Size M.  $79

Big Band Mustard Yellow Swing Coat // 1990s I. Magnin Swing Coat

Big Band Mustard Yellow Swing Coat, Size 8, $148.

VINTAGE Wool Swing Coat / L / Purple / Burgundy / Pink Lining / Big Glitter Buttons / Alex Catalano

Vintage Swing Coat, Size L, $132.

I love the colors of these big coats. Where I live, we pretty much have five gray months a year. These crayon-box colors would warm up the spirits as well as the body.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s not to love about these coats.  What about you….are you feeling warm yet?