Bit o’ Honey ~ the little things that please

The little things that please . . .

Happy Dress

leave a comment »

In the years before vintage clothes were fashionable they were called “second hand”, a reference with little of the cachet that “vintage” implies.  Less expensive and less trendy, second hand clothes were the perfect answer to the cookie-cutter outfits at the mall, cheap relics of a past era that made me feel a little less ordinary.  

My real passion for second hand clothes was born 200 miles away from my home town, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. My brothers and I would drive down for the day, stumbling on some of the finest shops along Decatur Street — Fred and Ethel’s, Gabriella’s, and the many random junk stores, where we found an odd assortment of old clothes interspersed with antiques. Fox wraps with shriveled heads, organdy house dresses, bowling shirts with names like Randy or Frank embroidered on the chest, leather gloves that reached the elbow and fit tight as a pair of hose, all of them smelling as if they’d just been pulled from a cedar chest. The fabrics were like none I’d encountered in any mall.  Linens were densely woven and weighted with texture.  The best cotton was worn from wear and soft as my father’s handkerchiefs.  I found velvets so sumptuous they stirred a pleasure in me nearly sexual when I touched them.  And the buttons!  Bone and ivory,  metal and bakelite,  big as quarters and tiny as peas.  I was in heaven.  Nearly thirty years later I’m still a sucker for old clothes.  I buy them not because I need them but because I feel like I’m saving them from a sad fate: to be dumped in a heap, their stories lost and forgotten.  Like puppies from the pound I want to give them the chance for a new life.

On a recent trip to New Orleans, I found this sweet dress in the back room of a collectables store on Royal Street.  There was no dressing room so I stripped to my undies and dressed in the cramped closet.  There was no mirror either.  I walked out with the dress unzipped and asked the owner if he might do the honors. With my back to him, he attempted to zip me up.  No luck.  The zipper was faulty and the fit was snug, but I purchased it anyway for $35 in hopes of finding a way to make it work.  I’m not certain, but I would guess this dress is from the late 50’s or early 60’s, close to fifty years old.  The cotton is a fine weave with a rich satiny finish.  Aside from a rusty zipper, it’s in impeccable condition.  Astounding, really, considering its age.

I think the neckline is most flattering.  

However, the bodice was too small, even for me!  After much deliberation I decided to have the zipper cut at the waistline, creating a “peek-a-boo” back.  Now the dilemma was finding an attractive way to close the dress.  I sewed two buttons and loops of elastic in couple of strategic places . . .

It worked!

The quality of fabric and craftsmanship in old clothes is so impressive.  Twenty-five or thirty years ago it wasn’t unusual to find this level of workmanship in clothes.  Now, unless you can afford to shop at Barney’s for high end designer clothes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find the kind of care put into the construction the way you do in garments made as long as fifty years ago.  Here’s what I mean:


  What care went into the making of this dress! 

On inspection, I found this generous 3″ hem reinforced by a ribbon.  You rarely see that kind of detail these days.  All in all, the dress is a classic design, not too “costumey” as some vintage clothes can be. The skirt has a delightful swing to it.  I call it my “Happy Dress”.              




Written by Janie

June 9, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: