10 Vintage Fashion Tidbits you Didn't Know you Needed to Know

Posted by Miss Chloe on

It’s probably safe to say that we’re all here because we love genuine and/or reproduction vintage fashion, right? But have you ever wondered how the things we wear and the features of our outfits we rely on day-to-day came about? How did we end up with tiny, fiddly zips to seamlessly fasten our dresses, or laces for our shoes? What even is a dart, and why were (or are if you’re a vintage lover) people so obsessed with petticoats? These are just a few of the questions that researching items, writing product descriptions, and exploring the rails at our Gosport boutique has brought up for me. I hope you enjoy this weird and wonderful mashup of all the things you never knew you needed to know about the world of clothing, both vintage and repro.

  1. Zips: Though the idea for zips was patented in 1851, it was a clunky design that relied on a string to interlink the opposing sides of the zipper. By the 1920s the zipper had undergone a few transformations, and they managed to figure out how to stop it from just popping open at whim which was probably a good thing, but I can’t help wondering what a great ice-breaker the risk of zips just flying open at random would be… but maybe that’s just me! Zips started out as a feature of children’s and men’s clothing (apparently they’ve been lumped together since the dawn of time – I can’t think why) and then became popular in women’s clothing after Elsa Schiaparelli used them in her haute couture gowns in the 1930s. Nowadays zips are the norm, and button or hook and eye fastening is seen as something of a special feature in our clothes!

The plastic zip dress, one of Elsa Schiaparelli's famous Avant Garde pieces

  1. Pockets: we all do a little happy dance when we try on a piece of clothing and realise it’s got those all-important hidden pockets. Bonus points if they’re actually human-sized and can fit more than a breath mint in them. But did you know that before pockets, men and women alike used to carry things around in a little pouch fastened around their waist? Wait, does this mean our medieval ancestors were the originators of the bumbag!? That’s a rabbit hole for another time, I guess. Sometime around 500 years ago, pockets were added to waistcoats and trousers, but unfortunately our ancestors didn’t have the good mind to include them in skirts and dresses until much later, boo! These days, the pockets on clothes aimed at women tend to be tiny and more for show than anything else, though that’s slowly changing. We know how helpful it is to have somewhere to put the necessities like your phone, so we decided to offer a bespoke add-a-pocket service for those pieces that would be perfect but for their lack of places to put your hands and your gum

  2. Petticoats: this is a wardrobe staple for the vintage loving doll, and the petticoat dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. It’s seen many transformations, from frilly, lacy edges, to becoming structural pieces that rivalled the Eiffel tower, to scratchy horrible things that some people still remember and loathe! Did you know their original purpose wasn’t just to give a flattering shape to a dress, they were also used to keep warm! These days they’re a fluffy, delightful aesthetic addition to almost any outfit and they’re just perfect for swooshing around like the vintage daydream you are.

    Miss Petra picks out the red hues in her outfit with a fluffy supersoft petticoat

  3. Darts: These are a handy dandy wee piece of sewing magic that we simply couldn’t live without. Darts are where different pieces of fabric are folded or tucked and sewn to a point to give shape to a garment. They’re particularly handy for tailoring a garment to a person’s shape, and you’ll commonly see them used to accentuate the bust and waist area.
  1. Shoelaces: Ok, this is a bit of a random one, but I was trying on the Salzburg Suede Brogue Heels and it occurred to me that this gorgeous shoe just wouldn’t have the same charm if it didn’t lace up! Originating in ancient Mesopotamian times (or between 8000-2000 B.C. - a super, super long time ago), laces were leather strings attached to leather foot coverings and fastened over the foot and at the ankle. They’ve evolved considerably over the millennia, and despite the fact that we have zips and elastic and all manner of other (far easier) methods of ensuring our shoes don’t fall off, a vast majority of our shoes still feature them. Like with my favourite pair of brogues, there is an aesthetic element to shoelaces that has evolved with us – though they’re definitely a touch informal, I can’t see laced shoes ever being unfashionable. Trainers and brogues in particular have my heart, and they’re a wardrobe staple for sure.

Miss Chloe wears the Salzburg Suede Brogue Heels and the Rita Cacti Dress

  1. Stockings: In days gone by it was considered most uncouth to leave the house bare-legged, so much so that during the war women would use gravy browning and all sorts of weird and wonderful concoctions to give their legs a seam! They were originally made of natural materials like silk, which made them very delicate. Nowadays they’re usually made from a nylon blend, meaning they last longer, and also allowing for intricate and dainty patterns like the ones you see in our Ballerina Secret range (seriously, check them out - I wasn't big into hosiery before but these babies have converted me). Previously a modesty item, stockings, tights, and hold-ups have become a statement piece for many people, with the ability to take an outfit from a 7 to a 17 in as much time as it takes to get those pretty pantyhose over our legs!
  1. Manmade fabrics: Once upon a time clothes were made from what was immediately available, aka raw natural fibres. This looked like cotton, silk… you get the gist. Fast forward to the present day, and we’ve almost gone full circle! Synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon became popular in the 1940s and beyond due to their durability and washability, but today we’ve realised that they aren’t necessarily the best for the planet. That’s why many brands, like the dreamy folks at Palava have begun finding novel ways to create and use natural fibres – these are fabrics which have their origins in natural materials such as cellulose, or just good old plain cotton!

    Miss Sam shows off the Esme Zebrina Organic Dress, which is made from a blend of organic cotton and hemp for a planet-friendly look

  2. Belts: belts were used widely during the bronze age, but then fell out of popular use for a (really) long time. During the early 20th century, belts were a feature of solders’ uniforms and were thus associated with the military. Other than that they were simply a fashion statement. It wasn’t until around the 1920s that men began wearing belts to accommodate for the lowered waistline of their trousers. Since then belts have continued to be a staple of most peoples’ wardrobes and they function as both a practical piece for when those high street trousers fit everywhere but the waist, and a decorative item when we’re looking to add some 1950s flare to our circle skirt-blouse combo.

    Miss Petra wears the Corinne Wide Elastic Belt with her Cindy Circle Skirt and Kitty Keyhole Sweater

  3. Sequins and rhinestones: not just for toddler parents who have an obsession with tiaras and an unhealthy relationship with external validation, sequins were a key feature of the outfits of the nobility between the 17th and 19th Crafted from pieces of reflective metals, these sparkly pretties were painstakingly hand-sewn into the finest of frocks as a display of wealth. In other parts of the world with more nomadic traditions, coins were sewn onto the outfits of travellers for safekeeping and other spiritual reasons. Flash forward to the flapper era, and dresses were literally covered in sequins meaning they couldn’t be made of heavy metal. The delicate fabrics they were sewn onto would tear from the weight, and if they didn’t, wearing a full-metal-sequin dress would surely be akin to a workout! Luckily a clever person named X came up with a handy dandy way of making sequins from gelatine and led paint – I honestly can’t see why they ever stopped making them this way! Besides dissolving in the rain and the inevitable spilt drink, these sequins were also prone to melting away under the heat of, say, a lover’s hand placed on the small of your back. Just imagine the drama these little jelly spangles caused! Honestly, I really think we need a resurgence of the gelatine sequin, though sans led paint maybe. These days they’re made of petroleum plastic, which is not without its own set of issues related to pollution. So if you’re shopping for a sultry sequinned, be sure to look for pieces made using either glass or eco-friendly sequins (of which many have begun to appear!). Rhinestones have a history rooted in much more recent times. Originally made from quartz stones from the river rhine around the 1700s, they were used to make inexpensive copies of valuable jewellery in case of robbery. Daniel Swarovski’s electric cutting machine gave rise to the mass production of these pretty sparkles and they quickly became a popular addition to everything from household items to accessories and clothes.

    Vintage French gelatin sequins         Multicoloured Gelatine Sequins [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

  4. Skirts: full skirts, circle skirts, maxi skirts, short skirts… there’s way more variation to the world of skirts than I’ve just given them credit for! Given that they date back at least 20,000 years, you can definitely say your outfit is vintage inspired next time you wear one. Apparently, trousers came about when we began to domesticate horses, probably for modesty, utilitarian, and comfort reasons. Skirts became a ‘womens’ item gradually, with the 15th century seeing visible hose, and therefore a shorter tunic a popular choice for men, leaving the long tunic, and eventually, skirts, to women (although that's slowly changing, and more men are donning skirts as part of their everyday look). Since then, they’ve gone from long, to brocaded and scaffolded, to mini, to maxi, to a mishmash of all the above! During the 1940s fabric was rationed in many countries due to the war, and this gave rise to a straighter silhouette which in turn influenced the tighter bodycon styles we see today. The 50s saw a resurgence of the full circle skirt which is a firm favourite in our Gosport boutique due to its superb swishability (yes, that’s definitely a technical term).

Phew, that ended up being a long read, I hope you’re still with me! There are so many other vintage fashion wonders that I could’ve talked about here, but I would be here forever, and as much as I’d love that, I have other things to do like trying things on at the boutique. I hope this wee blog has piqued your interest in all things vintage fashion history and got you thinking about why we wear what we wear. I guess the only thing left is to wonder at what fashion inventions our descendants will still be talking about in years to come. If you haven’t already, do click through the links in the article to read more about what is a fascinating subject, and a bit of a treasure trove, really! Also be sure to follow our Instagram and Facebook pages for updates, info, and more blog posts!

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