Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to Read a Great Vintage Label

Secondhand shoppers are highly adept at flicking past a collar or waistband to check out a label; on a rail crowded with a motley range of vintage or other castoff goods, labels are beacons in the fog, waymarkers of era and worth.

With vintage labels in particular, it pays to be able to spot subtle markers of quality . . . especially if the brand is unfamiliar. That way, you can detect a lesser-known name that has produced a treasure, one that might be bypassed by less attuned browsers.

Case in point: this label from a wonderful black lace Hardy Amies cocktail dress.

American readers might not recognize this great name in British tailoring and dressmaking. The son of a vendeuse (couture saleswoman), fluent in French and German, during WWII he ran Belgian resistance agents as a Special Ops officer in the Intelligence division. (This was in addition to his committee duties overseeing and supporting the British fashion industry during the ration years). After the war he made the not entirely unnatural leap from spymaster to tastemaker, founding a couture, tailoring, and ready-to-wear house on Savile Row, and was appointed dressmaker to the Queen in 1950, best known for whipping up gowns for her Jubilee year.

While his name is important, what his label looks like would tell you something like that anyway. Have a look at:

1) The beautifully designed main label, in elegant black and white script on a silk backing.
2) The word "boutique", which, with vintage clothing especially, often indicates clothes of a higher quality level, as the designer could support his or her own shop.
3) The address of the shop is on the label, indicating that the brand is established enough to have a home in a posh area.
3) The fact that the label is hand-stitched to the garment.
4) The different types of hand-stitching visible in the supporting size label. Obviously this is a designer that values tailoring and handwork.

Most if not all of these quality indicators are typical of vintage clothing from well-respected design house. Train your eye to see them, and you may find the wonders that others pass up.

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