It’s All About the Labels

A Dandy Guide To Dating Vintage Menswear From WWI to 1960

Sue Nightingale’s process for dating vintage is simple: look at the label. Most of A Dandy Guide To Dating Vintage Menswear WWI to 1960 is devoted to how to properly read and identify them. Only a few pages in, I found myself interested in learning just how to date denim, despite the fact that I haven’t worn jeans in about 12 years.

The book is filled with black and white ads for Sears, J.C. Penny, and other major menswear labels from WWI to 1960. Throughout the book, we see the graphic design of labels become less ornate and more regulated as the decades pass, showing us how subtle visual clues can reveal the exact date of the piece. A Dandy Guide goes into great detail over legislation that affected the look of labels during the time—incredibly helpful and very thorough—making some key notes on this section will help this guide become more functional for the reader. A quick reading of this section will familiarize you with the decades you are dealing with, but the book is a guide and having it handy while actually dating clothing will be when it’s most useful.

The second half of the book is an explanation of the general styles and trends of the time as well as practical care instructions for vintage clothing. Nightingale outlines popular styles on the pages filled with old pictures and advertisements, then gives tips as to what to initially look for when dating vintage. An entire chapter devoted to robes and “smoking jackets” is something we rarely see in contemporary men’s fashion, and is an interesting reminder as to how much the lives of men have changed—and thus their clothing. The same can be said for men’s work clothing. Denim was functional long before it was trendy.

A Dandy Guide to Dating Vintage is a valuable resource to anyone interested in vintage clothing, men’s or women’s, as the tips and tricks are helpful for both. Above all, this book is a guide. It’s not an evening read for the bathtub, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s designed to be lugged to Value Village with you the next time you’re eyeing those velvety smoking robes in the men’s aisle.

photography // Brianne Burnell

Under Where?

The male gaze dilemma meets pretty panties

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” – Dorothy Parker

While borrowing lines from Hamlet to describe panties may seem like a stretch no elastic waistband should endure, Ms. Parker’s witty remark raises many questions concerning what we choose to put on underneath our clothes. It’s a simple decision that arises daily for both men and women, often thought to be mandatory and thoughtless, but is it? For myself (and I hope I am not alone in this one) countless daydreams are filled with visions of me slipping in and out of lingerie; of waking to the early sunlight in my darling (but too rarely worn) vintage babydoll slip. I wish for the moment when passion stops to observe the way silk skims a nipple. But more often than not, these moments are either lost or pass within a flick of the light switch. So why do we invest so much of our time and money on a moment so brief?

One understanding is that our obsession is centered around conforming our bodies to an attractive ideal. From the Victorian corset to spanx, many women have attempted to chisel their way to the ‘perfect’ feminine figure with elastic and whale bone. Jill Fields, author of An Intimate Affair, links the evolution of our unmentionables to the ever-changing gender distinctions and transformation of the twentieth century American woman. While this socio-historical approach helps us understand how we have evolved from bloomers to thongs, it hardly explains our fascination with undergarments within the context of the bedroom.

In her novella Simple Passion, Annie Ernaux describes the events of her intimacies with a married man. At the height of their affair, she pauses to illustrate the wreckage of their most recent encounter: “I would sit staring at the glasses, the plates and their leftovers, the over flowering ashtray, the clothes, the lingerie strewn all over the bedroom and the hallway.” The garments, meticulously prepared, lay discarded amongst the carnage of the evening. Ernaux’s illustration is a scene that I’m sure many women have woken up to, or even caught their feet in as they stumbled sleepy-eyed from the bedroom. The tableaux provokes a common interpretation of intimate apparel. We picture Ernaux, the blood and guts of her affair, and a pair of red lace panties. She dresses—and undresses—for him.

Feminist film criticism has brought to us the idea of the male gaze, and as Fields points out specifically in the case of lingerie, “Women construct themselves in dress and deportment as ‘to-be-looked-at,’ which requires them to look through the male gaze to see whether their bodies are attractive objects on display.” But this is where I seem to fail. I can say with confidence (based on many years of field research—please don’t tell my parents) that hours shopping and countless dollars and debt later, I have found that the only reason a guy ever remembers the colour of my bra is because it was resting on the nightstand beside his iPhone. So why persist?

As I sit on a rainy afternoon, making a chart of sexual encounters, what I wore, and the reaction, I come to a hypothesis. And while I have never been one to air my dirty laundry, here it goes. The results of my oh-so-scientific chart seem to point to one small black g-string as the undefeated champ—which I’ll have you know I have only worn a handful times out of necessity, under a super tight pencil skirt, or this one pair of jeans that fit like they came out of the last musical number in Grease. Revealing cellulite, stretch marks, and the obvious deviance from my squat routine, this particular delicate would not be my first choice. Instead, I tend to opt for things you would expect to see circa Valley of the Dolls. These items, a tiny bit more modest than your average g-string, are how I have chosen to represent my sexuality—despite the often lackluster response.

In the past half century, feminist art has been subverting women’s status as sexual objects by claiming this very status and exercising their ability to choose how it is represented; in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, “To make oneself an object, to make oneself passive, is a very different thing from being a passive object.” While I would never claim my high-waisted satin briefs to be a feminist statement, something does seem to bind these two ideas together. Is our time spent rifling through Victoria Secret catalogues a forfeit to the demands of the male gaze? Or could my obsession with the latest Agent Provocateur collection be a reclaiming of my body and sexuality? While I would prefer to place myself in the latter category, it could very well be that I am simply stuck in a male gaze of decades past, where the movements of Lana Turner across a screen would have forced me to tighten the elastic of my wrap-around girdle. Pushing up and into the unmentionable adventures of my future, however, I will strive with every eye-hook latched and every stocking unrolled to ensure that these private garments become my own quiet reclamation; that, like my outer layers, what I put on under my clothes will remain how I want to be represented, both as a woman and sexually.

photography // Laura Tuttle

Raising Vintage

Or: how I learned to stop resenting old clothes and respect the family business

For about 15 years, Re Threads was one of Toronto’s most poorly kept secrets. It was a consignment store in the Annex where you could find vintage kimonos alongside the latest little black dress from Club Monaco. The customers were a young, hip mix of fashionistas, Much Music VJs, and staples of the Toronto indie scene like Leslie Feist.

It was also where I grew up.

When I was about nine, my parents took me to an empty box of a building near Dupont and Spadina that would eventually become Re Threads. In her twenties, my mother owned a popular vintage store called Mumble Jumble in Ottawa. Being a small business owner was nothing new to her. But now she was older, working full time at the Toronto Reference Library, and she had a husband and two small children in tow.

It would fall to my father—a writer to whom clothes were simply utilitarian—to run the day-to-day operations. For me, that meant that I would spend my days after school at the store finishing my homework and helping my dad hang clothes.

I hated it. I wasn’t at all interested in clothes as a kid. Fashion for me was an oversized Marci Lipman sweater and stirrup leggings, a look I stuck with right to the end of Grade 6.

My appreciation for my mom’s store—and the development of my personal style—was triggered by two things: a pair of pants, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I discovered Buffy in Grade 7. She was, in all her confidence, the perfect role model for a gangly and awkward emerging teen like myself. I became obsessed with everything about her—especially her style. I even bought a cross necklace from the local Bi-Way, something that confused my strictly agnostic parents.

When a pair of red leather pants came into the store, I knew they were for me. Buffy always wore leather pants, and she kicked ass in them. I knew if I could get my hands on this pair—these glorious, bright red, hip-hugging leather pants—some of Buffy’s strength would run right to me.

Wisely, my mother wouldn’t let me have them. Somehow she knew that her 13-year-old showing up for junior high in red leather pants would not be the ticket to popularity I so desired.

But the pants were the first time I realized that I was lucky enough to have access to the kind of closet most people dream about. I started paying more attention to the clothes and the people who brought them in. There were the students, casually cool in the midriff baring tops and baggy jeans, and the Annex punk moms, that would come in tattooed and green haired, strollers in tow.

My favourite frequent customer was a woman who specialized in imports from India. When she had overstock she would bring us all the gorgeous textiles and clothes she couldn’t sell. There were the most beautiful bangles in jewel tones, soft little slippers with mirror inlays and gorgeous sari fabric. At the height of the Oprah-driven pashmina craze, she dropped us off a box full of the softest pashminas you’ve ever felt in a whole rainbow of colours. My mom snagged one for me; the first scarf in a collection that has since grown to comic proportions.

Towards the end of high school I was entrusted with running the store by myself. It was nice to be able to sit behind the desk for once, pricing clothes and bantering with the customers.

By that time, faced with rising rents, my parents had moved the store to Bloor and Ossington, an area my mother felt certain was going to be the next cool neighbourhood. She was right of course; but she was too early. The pedestrian traffic was too slow to encourage the word of mouth we needed. Plus, after more than ten years, my parents were simply tired of having to keep up with the changing face of the city. Low cost stores like H&M and Forever 21 took away much of the young clientele that provided Re Thread’s main source of income. They closed the store.

I hated the store when it opened, but when it closed I missed it terribly. Yet the memories continue to hang in my closet. There’s a gorgeous paisley multi-coloured Betsey Johnson shift dress that I’ve worn to more music festivals than I can count; a pair of Frye stacked-heel boots that my mother rescued for me; and a beat down purple purse that was my faithful bag for many years.

I got more than some great clothes from the store. Vintage clothes come with a sense of history; a story. If Re Threads gave me anything, it was the privilege of getting to know some of these stories a little more intimately as they were passed from one person to the next.

text // H.G. Watson
illustrations // Pamela Majocha

What’s in a Name?

Vintage labels by any other name would not nearly be as sweet

Anyone who has combed the racks of Salvation Army or dug through mounds of rayon at a by-the-pound knows the thrill of finding vintage labels amongst the overpopulated Old Navy, H&M, and Talbots tags that cycle through community thrift stores. As a vintage clothing picker, sifting through thousands of pounds of clothing a day, styles and labels can begin to meld together and repeat themselves until everything seems like a big clump of deodorant stained polyester. That is until, every once in a blue velvet moon, an unusual vintage label catches my eye. While some may fawn over finding a Dior or Lanvin, the labels that tickle my sartorial fancy are not the designer, but the obscure and borderline ridiculous.

Move Over Sean John

Nowadays every celebrity and their pet Chihuahua have a clothing line, but here are a few celebrity labels that were around way before we were elbowing our way through Target for that MK and Ashley headband.

Your body might be a wonderland, but it would look super stylish in this plaid button down. Who knows, Taylor Swift might even write you a song about how she is never, ever, ever giving back your shirt or sweater.

Wool and Paris are two things I would never associate with Zebra and Pickle loving Snooki, but I’m sure the Shore gets cold every once and a while, and what girl from Jersey (or anywhere, for that matter) doesn’t want to pull a Carrie Bradshaw and have Big chase them through the city of love.

Like Adidas going back to the flower, do you think they’ll drop the Draper Price to regain their old school cred comme Mad Men season six?

So Fash-pun

If you’ve noticed anything about WORN (besides our modest yet wildly attractive and intelligent staff—thank you, BTW) it’s that we love our fair share of puns. Coming from this background, it’s hard not to find myself chuckling when I come across ones as good as these.

While some might say putting a specific sport in the name of your sportswear company is limiting (think how many less Air Jordans Nike would have sold if they were Bik-e), I still think this marketing is pure genius.

I just really want to go back in time and sit at the round table with the marketers that made this one, and eat all the donuts while scrolling down a list of all the words with ‘knit’ in them.

Honourable (and in some cases dishonourable) Mentions

Though I don’t remember the particular garment this label was on, you just know the guy wearing this was totally jamming to Flock of Seagulls while cruising in his Delorean.

There’s so much going on on this label, it’s hard to know where to start. I mean, like they say in the copy, obviously the first thing I notice is Fun and Fashion. But let’s remember that all that great capital F stuff must first come with the courage it takes to assert yourself and say NO! I feel there’s a lot of life lessons packed into these denims, ladies.

And from saying ‘No!’ to saying, well…No, is ‘Mr. Thomson…please!’ The most disturbing in ’50s office fashions, and coming to an HR rep near you!