Category Archives: Object

New Old Stock: the right search term makes all the difference….

…when you are searching for pristine vintage clothes or household textiles.

If you are interested in building up a collection of vintage clothes, but you’ve outgrown wearing used clothes (Boy, have I been there: that 1960s lambswool Saks Fifth Avenue “Young Generation” sweater dress I found at goodwill for five dollars sure was cute to wear as a college kid, but once you are out of school and working full-time, you can only wear so many vintage rhinestone brooches at one time to cover a group of moth holes before your coworkers catch on! Trust me on this one!)

So if you absolutely love adding vintage pieces to your wardrobe, but “Shabby Chic” has lost its charming allure? You, my friend are ready to make the jump from USED to VINTAGE and there are some helpful time saving search terms that you should know:

New Old Stock (often abbreviated NOS)

Dead Stock

Old Store Inventory

Three different terms, but they all mean the same thing: Unsold store stock.

Add these terms to a google search or a vintage clothing search on  eBay and you will turn up amazing, and completely unworn clothing—from as early as the 1920s and very often with the original store tags! Ebay has a great info page about New Old Stock with some helpful pointers.

There are some important things to keep in mind:

pretty detail around the very tiny waist!
Remember my 1960s Ann Lowe Silk Shantung gown that was custom made to fit a very tiny bridesmaid? Keep that in mind when you think about size.

SIZE: When you have the chance to try things on in a vintage store, the size tag is a general guideline. I usually ignore size tags,  eyeball the garment for fit while I’m picking out things to try on and make my final decisions in the dressing room.  Online, you’ll want to go by the seller’s MEASUREMENTS of the garment, NOT the number size.  A size 8 in 2016 will not fit in a size 8 from the 1940s.

Midcentury modern and oh so bright—but NOT a Deadstock textile you want to bring into your home…read on…(picture from Ebay)

MATERIAL: My favorite example to illustrate this tip is a hip household textile that you can find online, very often still in the original packaging: Fiberglass curtains were an invention of the 1950s and early 1960s.  They were available in bright, space-aged patterns and were advertised as an easy care option for the modern home.  You can find dozens of them on Ebay and Etsy right now. They are mid-century modern to a T.  They are amazingly cute!! What could possibly go wrong here?

Fiberglass curtains disappeared from stores quickly, once people realized that shreds of Fiberglass in your hands, feet, lungs and underwear were not a good idea.

Well, when you handled these to hang them up and especially if you washed these in the household washing machine, the curtains actually SHED FIBERGLASS into your hands, face, lungs, washing machine, dryer– spreading it to everything else you washed and getting splinters (of FIBERGLASS) all over your house when you moved the curtain from the washer to the dryer. Fiberglass curtains were quickly taken off of the market when the severity of this problem was discovered. And that’s why so many pristine examples turn up on the vintage market.

This is one of the more extreme examples, and you won’t run into a similar problem with clothing. But there are a few other things to consider:

Allergies: you may run into sensitivities to dyes used in clothing or jewelry from the 1920s-1950s. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to wear an extra layer underneath. Mixed metals in early costume jewelry can also be a problem if you are allergic to Nickel.

A soak in a 80/20 Water/Vinegar mix can set a running dye.

Running Dyes: Some dyes may transfer their colors to other clothing: that bright red blouse from the 1930s might rub color all over the white pants you are wearing it with.

THERE’S A SOLUTION TO THIS: You can always take an extra step with your first wash and soak the garment in a water/vinegar mix to help set a running dye.

Fragile fabrics: Consider the material before you buy. A silk dress from the 1920s may LOOK beautiful, but older silk can be problematic and even unworn silk clothes can begin to “shatter” or fall apart.

Shattered silk: Silk from the 1920s and 1930s does this, and in many cases, it cannot be prevented. This is from a 1920s cocktail gown, but that pretty dead stock silk blouse from the early 1930s you just found on Ebay might not be so pretty after a few wearings—even with the most careful handwashing.

I hand wash and line dry all of my vintage clothes. Old elastic can stretch, bakelite buttons can chip or break if they are knocked around a lot in a spin cycle. Colors will also stay brighter longer with gentle washing.  If you have vintage suits, take them to a trusted dry cleaner (please oh please not a 1.99 a piece dry cleaning chain) Takes a few extra minutes, but you worked hard to find these gorgeous clothes, and they’ve waited for 50, 60 or maybe even 70 years to find their way to your closet! So shouldn’t you take a little extra time to keep them pretty?

Shopping for dead Stock clothes and accessories can be so much fun, and they can make your wardrobe unique and authentically classic. If you keep a few guidelines in mind, you’ll be happy with your purchases for years to come.


Another Antique Carpet Bag (the unexpected–and colorful!–sequel)

The front.
The back. Really great pile here. 98% of it is intact.

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on Ebay when you have the collector’s itch. I wasn’t REALLY looking for a second civil war era carpet document bag—but there it was. Starting bid? A penny! I looked at the pictures carefully, got a bit excited about the original clasp and the shreds of original lining (I’ve worked up close with four other bags in this style, so I’m getting to know the original details). I got very excited about the bright colors and from the picture, the bag looked clean—THAT’S ALSO VERY IMPORTANT if you are an at home, “collecting for the fun of it” collector.

Fragments of the original muslin lining. I didn’t luck out and get the segment with the stamped maker’s mark, however. Maybe next time!

Is the overall condition important to you? It’s important to me because I don’t have much of a desire (or really much of an ability) to deal with muddy, shredded, bug-eaten fragments of anything—this type of bag is common enough, there really isn’t a reason to spend money on a wrecked example. Even a penny.

IMG_4328 (1)
So colorful!! There’s something about 19th century red dyes that just makes me happy. (I know that’s silly.)
This brown medallion in the center of the bag looks like a design that didn’t exactly work. Maybe it was supposed to use a few yarn colors and a weaver’s error set the loom with just one? Since this was designed for use as an actual carpet, maybe you’d sneak a table leg over this part or something! Another thought is that it was a color that became “fugitive” (meaning that it may have been one color and then the color completely changed with age–purple to brown is a common example–but that’s unlikely when you notice that none of the other dyed shades ran into a similar problem) Or maybe this backs up the theory that the seconds were used as remnants for luggage.

I’m still learning with Ebay, which is a funny thing to say when I realize that I’ve made purchases since the first year it started. But I mean that I’m still learning my own best ways of bidding and buying at Ebay.  With this bag, I already had a fun example that makes me happy, so this wasn’t a must have. It was a would be nice to have. I thought about the amount of my top bid, and I bid that and stepped away. The end price was half of my top bid and actually less than 50 dollars, if you can believe that! And for that tiny price, I got a colorful example, full of my favorite 19th century Turkey Red worsted wool yarn and an interesting geometric pattern.

This was even more pretty in person than I was expecting, and the seller packed it perfectly–which can also be a challenge on Ebay. Only a handful of sellers mention their packing methods in their listings. A few months ago, an expensive and sort of rare 80 year old doll dress arrived packed in a Frosted Mini Wheats box…a FROSTED MINI WHEATS BOX! I saw it in the driveway (a windy day and I think it blew away from the porch) and I was about to put it in the recycling bin, when I noticed a shipping label on it. The Frosted Mini Wheats shipping cost 6 dollars—the perfect carpet bag shipping was free. So you never know what you might get on Ebay, and you do have to be careful shopping there–if I’d checked out the feedback of the Frosted Mini Wheats lady a bit closer, her clever box recycling efforts would not have been a surprise.

I couldn’t be happier with this bag. One question that comes up for me, after seeing so many of these bags in person: The dimensions, construction and hardware are identical. Are these from the same manufacturer? That’s the sort of quirky “I’m going to find that out someday” question that keeps historians going, I think.

And one more close up because the green color is sort of unexpected
And one more close up because the green color is sort of unexpected and this photo gives a wonderful view off the color mixing design of the alternating rows. The looms used to create these carpets could only handle 6 colors at a time, so the designers worked around that limitation in some very novel ways.

A Peek into a Costume Collection: Bonnie Cashin at the Museum at FIT$00402766/3/dynasty-desc?t:state:flow=cccb96b8-b458-4bc6-8c4a-96eddcc50f4c

I DREAM of finding Bonnie Cashin clothing at a used clothing store–priced by someone who does not know what they actually have.  This has not happened yet. So, the next best thing is to take a peek into some Bonnie Cashin pieces at a museum in New York: The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Bonnie Cashin was one of the early (mid-century modern) designers of true, practical active wear for women. These are casual clothes that are bright and comfortable—it is hard to believe that women were just a few years away from stuffing themselves into rubbery girdles to fit Dior’s New Look inspired waistlines!

Black wool jersey doubleknit and leather with skirt, wool tweed$00402766/6/dynasty-desc?t:state:flow=dd07d806-f1ed-487d-8ac4-b68f080ab8ed
Black wool jersey doubleknit and leather with skirt, wool tweed$00402766/6/dynasty-desc?t:state:flow=dd07d806-f1ed-487d-8ac4-b68f080ab8ed

This dress –well, a blouse (1966) + skirt (1961)–is something that you could completely see on a runway right now. I’m actually surprised that Anthropologie hasn’t copied this tweed skirt (1961) yet.


Leather, 1967
Slubbed linen and leather,1965 Fabric designed by Dorothy Liebes

And these bags look a little Kate Spade-ish (maybe you have to remove the fringe from that last one). Cashin designed these for her Coach line: Cashin Carry.

Leather, 1965$00402766/7/dynasty-desc?t:state:flow=687793db-3001-4e28-8960-4fdb23ec7d35
Leather, 1965$00402766/7/dynasty-desc?t:state:flow=687793db-3001-4e28-8960-4fdb23ec7d35



The collection at the Museum at FIT is well represented on their website and the site is very easy to navigate. You can click into it here. 


A Peek into a Costume Collection: Charles James at the Metropolitan Museum

I think you’ll find that I am a bit obsessed with ball gowns.

Source: Metropolitan Museum

Occupational hazard! This one is an iconic Charles James silk and rayon gown from 1953 called the “Clover Leaf” gown because of the flare of the skirt.  As a museum professional, one of the most interesting details about this specific gown is the fact that it was donated in 1953. How interesting that the collections staff at the Met understood that one of their tasks at the Costume Institute would be to collect the finest modern examples of couture fashion!

This other example, the “Four Leaf Clover” was also donated (to the Brooklyn Museum) in 1953 by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. The Metropolitan absorbed the Brooklyn Museum’s collection in 2009.

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Source: Metropolitan Museum

There’s something very special about this “Four Leaf Clover” because it is actually not the finished gown—it is a muslin, a practice version of the dress, basically.

James was known for the unique structures and sculptural details used in his gowns. Peeking behind the curtain a bit to see a work in progress gives a very unique view of the designer’s work.

The Met actually has a number of James’ muslins and patterns.  They appear to have HUNDREDS!

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Source: Metropolitan Museum

People with a flare for sewing would probably learn so much by studying these patterns and muslins! If only I had an artistic mind instead of one that is so historical!

But that’s one reason decorative arts historians do what they do. I grew up surrounded by fabric, and the crisp starchy smell of my mother’s sewing room has probably always been one of my favorite scents. I love any kind of fiber art and I’m a good knitter, but when it comes to sewing I can just barely sew a button back onto a shirt if I absolutely need to! That’s why I’m here to research clothes—- not to sew them!CI53.73_MM41137

A peek into a costume collection: The Victoria and Albert Museum

Catherine Walker designed this for Princess Diana, 1989 Source: The V&A Museum
Source: The V&A Museum

So many museums share details about their collections on their websites, and although this may not really count as “hidden fashion history”—taking a peek can be so much fun.

As a museum professional who spends my full time workdays collecting, writing and preparing the information that goes onto a large museum’s online collections database, I can tell you that we are thrilled when visitors actually look up our work online and share it with friends! We put a lot of work into creating these records!!

I’ll include the museum’s link to their database record each time. Head over to their website to see all of the details, a number of additional pictures and browse a bit to find some other interesting pieces! The V&A’s website is really fantastic.

This dress is from the collection of the V&A museum in London. It was designed in 1989 by Catherine Walker for Princess Diana and it was included in the clothing auction that Diana planned shortly before her death.  My favorite detail about this dress is that the buyer was actually The Franklin Mint(!) and they held onto it for a few years, before donating it to the V&A.

Visit the Gown That Introduced Me to Ann Lowe

Photo: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens


There’s a beautiful costume exhibit at Hillwood right now that will give you a heavy dose of 20th century couture and give you the chance to see an Ann Lowe dress up close.

Hillwood: ingenue to icon

Mrs  Post was an enthusiastic client of Ann Lowe’s salon, but this gown may be the only “Ann Lowe Original” in the museum’s collection.  The dress is also interesting because Mrs  Post wore it in her most famous portrait.

This silk dress is actually the garment that started my Ann Lowe project in 2011. I was lucky enough to be an intern at the museum and the curators wanted to learn more about this dress and its designer–that small side research project grew into my Masters thesis and then into this ongoing and marvelously special project. It’s so exciting to see this gown all ready for the public!

If you can’t get to the exhibit (it closes at the end of December) the curator of the exhibit, Howard Kurtz has a lovely exhibition catalog that is the next best thing.

Read more about Howard’s book here