Most people think of buying and wearing vintage clothing as a new fashion trend when in
fact it isn't! For centuries, right up to modern day, the used clothing industry was always a booming one.
Although it was a popular trade, most people did not like to wear secondhand clothing because of the stigma
attached of being considered "poor".
In the past 20 years, this stigma has been laid to rest as thanks to popular movies depicting pre 1960
events such as Swing Kids, Titanic and Moulin Rouge, vintage and antique clothing has now been accepted as
part of mainstream fashion (much to the horror of conservators of costume).
Although extreme tight lacing was not a common occurence, these stereoview photos from the turn of the 20th
century make fun (and give a slightly risque view) of what lengths a woman would go through to get that waist
People buy vintage clothing today in 2002, to look fashionable but up until the 1950's, most lower class
customers bought secondhand clothing to make into household items or remodel into up to date styles as best
they could. Fabric was expensive, so the secondhand market was particulary lucrative for buying fabric at a
good price and for the sellers who would often take advantage of people in desparate situations by offering
the minimal amount for a garment. In the September 29, 1906 issue of
I counted no less than 10 ads by
dealers in used clothing requesting to buy. Wouldn't you love to go back in time for a day and visit these
shops and buy up everything they had in their shops?! My grandmother would often recount, much to my horror,
of her going into ued clothing shops during the 1930's and buying Victorian dresses for the lovely fabric to
make into biased cut dancing dresses! It wasn't even unheard of in the 1920's and 1930's for 18th century
dresses to be bought and cut up into sofa pillows! It was even recommended during World War II that black
Victorian skirts made good blackout.
While most poorer people had to buy old clothing out of nessecity, those who lived in large houses often
saved generations of old clothing to be brought out from the attic for plays or fancy dress parties as the
following photos show...
This c. 1910- 1919 photo shows a family all dressed up for an outdoor tea, all wearing old dresses which
would have then been nearly 70 years old! All three seated ladies wear dresses from the early- mid 1850's
while the "maid" standing wears a puzzling outfit. It's hard to tell with the apron covering it,
but it looks like she could be wearing a c. 1900 nightgown or house dress of some sort.
From left to right: The lady seated on the left, although most of her dress is obscured by her shawl,
it seems to be an early 1850's dress also featuring elements of the late 1840's. The basic style of her
dress is similar to that which is shown in this c.1853-1855
with the bodice of the dress being
loosely pleated into a tight fitting V shaped waist band. Just peeking out beneath her shawl, one can see
that her bodice is decorated by having a scoop neck filled in by a chemisette of some sort, creating a
yoke-like effect. This type of neckline was fashionable to a certain extent in the very late 1840's and
carried over in to the early 1850's as shown by this very early example of a
carte de visite
from France. The skirt of
this 1910's lady playing dress up is also quite limp, lacking the stiff crinoline or linen corded petticoats
that would have been worn 60 years earlier. She wears a lovely trimmed Leghorn type bonnet from the
The lady seated in the middle wears a plaid taffeta dress that was probably very striking to see in person,
it too dates from the 1850's, about 1855. We can see that her bodice has pleats going down to a V shaped
waistband and capped pagoda sleeves, all things that were fashionable during the mid 1850's. Her skirt too,
lacks the proper foundations which would have been worn during the 1850's. When the dress she is wearing was
new, it probably would have been worn with multiple stiffened petticoats or with a new cage crinoline. All
the accessories the Edwardian lady is wearing, would have been fashionable during the 1850's, note her lace
mitts, embroidered and fringed decorative apron, the fischu pelerine around her neck and her matronly house
cap. Her dress strikingly near identical in style shown in this c.1859-1860
carte de visite
. The only difference in the
two dresses (besides the fabric pattern) is that the lady in the carte de visite, has updated her 1850's
dress by restyling her sleeves in Bishop sleeves which were popular at the beginning of the 1860's.
The teenage girl seated on the right is the most puzzling dressed of all! I can just make out her bodice
underneath her lace shawl she wears tied around the front. It has V shaped trim which was popular during
the last half of the 1850's, very early 1860's. A similar V shaped trimmed bodice can be seen in this
c. 1860- 1861 carte de visite
of a fashionable
elderly lady. The teenage girl wears long black lace mitts which were popular during this tme for evening
wear, you can just make out where they end and the short sleeve (barely visible through her lace shawl)
begins. This would suggest that she is more than likely wearing a low necked c.1859-1862 evening or ball
gown as shown by the fact she has filled in the front of the bodice with a white scarf and wears a shawl to
cover her arms. The skirt of the dress also appears to have a tulle overskirt, another typical detail of an
evening or ball gown. More anachronistically, she wears a Leghorn type bonnet from 5-10 years earlier than
the dress actually dates, her leaf pattern dress also lacks the appropriate crinoline foundations! Ladies,
what happened to all your crinolines??!!
This is another interesting photo in my collection, although not as proper as the one above! It dates
to c. 1915 and features one lady in the latest and fashionable 1910's underwear and the seated lady in
an out of fashion c. 1898- 1900 boned bodice dress (strangly enough, worn over an 1860's cage crinoline!).
I think the point of this photo was to poke fun at the fashions of the "old" century and show how
modern woman's fashions of the new 20th century.
The fact that the seated lady wears a large crinoline (by this time, it would have been about 60 years old)
under a prim and proper 1890's dress, provided a good contrast to the new less bulky envelope 1910's era
combinations her friend is wearing!
A man in a woman's corset? How can this be??!! Even more strange is this c. 1920's photo of a man wearing
a 1910's long corset and women's shoes! You can tell that he knows nothing about corsets as he's got it on
backwards and that the long line corsets of the 1910's didn't pinch in your waist as he's showing off
I've always wondered about this photo and can only come to the conclusion that they were clearing out
the attic of old clothes and decided to put on an impromptu drag show :)
On a more serious note but even more fascinating, is the way old clothing was used by
the Suffragettes during the early 1900's. This
show parading Suffragettes dressed in the same period as the famous women of the past lived. All
most all are wearing 1850's dresses, most of the supported by crinolines, although the lady in the striped
dress near the end of the parade wears a late 1830's- early 1840's down. Nearly all of the ladies carry mid
19th century small folding parasols.
Perhaps these photos will explain why today antique clothing is rarely found in good condition as shown by
all the fun our great grandmothers (and great grandfathers!) had in them!! :)
All photos are from the collection of L. Hidic