“I feel I was born 20 or 30 years too late. So I have always loved vintage. I wanted to dress like the beauties I saw on the old TV and film shows they used to constantly re-run on British television. I would collect old fashion magazines and wish I could be like the models in their fashion features. London, Paris, New York, Beirut. I craved the glamour.
I used to sell all kinds of vintage in the early days, mostly directly via the UK vintage fair scene. It wasn’t unusual for me to have up to 300 vintage dresses, plus blouses, shoes, bags, etc. At that time the vintage scene was extremely vibrant. However, far too many people were jumping on the bandwagon and vintage was quickly getting oversaturated with new dealers and new venues. I knew the vintage scene in the UK was a craze, a fashion, and I could already see the writing on the wall that one day the vintage bubble would burst. I didn’t want to exit the vintage fashion scene altogether, so I decided to focus on lingerie: slips, knickers, stockings, bras, nightgowns. Looking back, it was a good thing - it is nice to build up a reputation within a niche sector.
One evening in 2016 I was in Berlin having dinner with a German associate who is heavily involved with contemporary lingerie fabrics. During the conversation, I was bemoaning the fact that I could not find a cost-effective and reliable supplier of true vintage fine lingerie (as opposed to just ‘old clothes’) no matter how hard I tried. Here’s where fate can throw those fabulous little chances your way – my dinner companion calmly raised his glass in my direction and asked me if I’d like to buy a whole load of mid-century full slips, mostly 40s to 60s, that he’d unwittingly inherited when he bought a small warehouse in Germany’s Saxony region. He estimated he had ‘about 5000 of them’ but couldn’t be exactly sure of the true quantity. Perhaps I’d had a little too much wine at that point, but I do remember saying ‘yes’ to the deal without any regard to how I was going to get them all over to the UK and the costs involved. Anyhow, eventually I became the proud owner of what turned out to be 7000 vintage slips, not 5000. In case you wondered, yes, they do take up a lot of room!
Put simply, vintage lingerie was never made to be thrown away. It was manufactured to a much higher standard, using ‘longhand’ techniques, than the majority of mass-produced items today.
Did you know that the average annual spend by 33% of British women on contemporary lingerie is around £5?
For that kind of money, all you can buy is throwaway supermarket undies. High-quality fine lingerie exists for those who desire it, but the cost is considerably higher of course. It was like that in the 40s and 50s too, but in those days nobody threw anything away unless they had to. Lingerie was, in general, made better then.
Let me give you just a single example of what I mean: pinked seams. A pinked seam on a bias cut vintage slip will mean that you won’t ever feel that seam against your skin as you bend or turn, unlike a modern overlocked seam. It’s a small thing, but it matters. These days, you only really ever see pinked seams on expensive couture lingerie – however, back when vintage slips were a part of every woman’s wardrobe, pinked seams were far more common. Back then, personal comfort wasn’t sacrificed on the altar of mass production. Any modern-day purchaser of fine vintage lingerie can tap into those ‘hidden’ features and see and feel their advantages. And getting those high-end quality features in vintage lingerie costs less.
Luckily for us, the vintage lingerie that survives to this day tends to be the better made stuff. Put on a bias cut tailored 6 or 8-gore silk vintage slip under your dress and you’ll experience something special that most modern women are completely unaware of – a dress that really fits, hangs, looks and feels like a dress ought to. My grandmother and her mother knew instinctively about this and took dressing properly for granted. My 60s era mother got lazy and fell for all that marketing hype, abandoning lingerie style and comfort for ‘convenience’. As a 70s girl, for me it was too late. Style-wise, I inherited next to nothing. That is why fine vintage lingerie is often better than contemporary, in my view. It gives you back those things you shouldn’t have lost in the first place. Oh, and vintage is completely sustainable too – and that is so important!
One golden piece of advice I can give to someone who would like to own and wear vintage lingerie is to ‘aim high’.
Far better to blow all your spending money on one high-quality jaw-droppingly fabulous item of soul-enhancing vintage lingerie than a whole handful of cheap, mediocre stuff.
Years ago, when I started out, everybody seemed to be wearing vintage. But fashion is both fickle and cyclical, as we know. Interest in vintage faded back for a while, predictably, although sales were still strong to that dedicated core of vintage aficionados out there. Then, a couple of years ago I noticed an upward trend in sales of vintage lingerie (mostly slips) to women, some of whom told me they had no previous experience of vintage. Happily, that trend hasn’t stopped ever since.
One factor that certainly created added interest in fine vintage lingerie was the long COVID lockdowns.
Naturally, people like nice things to happen to them and when we were all off work and confined to our homes it became important to award ourselves those little indulgences that helped make us feel good and stay sane. Vintage lingerie was perfect in that respect.
Factors such as sustainability are playing their part, plus also an increase in media interest. Fashion stylist and consultant Frank Akinsete has said that the popularity of vintage has come through education, and it’s a response to fast fashion, and he is absolutely right.
Millennials and Gen Z are leading the way in the rediscovery (reacceptance?) of vintage fashion and this is filtering through to some sectors of vintage lingerie, as I can see.”