You may think it foolish of moi to promote the competition, but Viviene of Born Too Late Vintage is a dear friend, and has so many marvelous things that I felt compelled, yes, compelled to interview her. I have spent time with her, and she is a smart businesswoman and utterly ruthless at estate sales. Until you have seen Viviene body-block a twenty-something in a black H&M Prada knockoff reaching for a vintage silk nightgown, you have not lived. Viviene is much like Bucky, small but surprisingly dangerous. I admire that in a woman.
Here is a bit of her stock. The link to the actual listing is directly below:
Vintage 1940s-1950s Tan Gingham Dress Plus Size 28 1/2 NOS
As it happens, sellers of plus size vintage are few and far between. I recently purchased a beautiful 50s dress from Viviene, and it arrived almost the next day! She sells all sizes and eras on her site, which is not on (ugh) Ebay, but rather on Specialist Auctions, a site based in the United Kingdom. Viviene, however, is based right here in the United States.
Which made it possible for us to sit down over cocktails and canapes, my assistant at the ready with pad and paper in hand, in my sumptuous Central Park West apartment. As the rain pattered against the windows, Bucky repeatedly tried to grab the canapes off of the coffee table, naughty beast. Viviene and I discussed plus size vintage (and also some tres’ salacious sexual gossip, which I have been forbidden to print!). Oh, well, it gave my assistant some titillation, at least.
Q: When did you first become interested in vintage clothing? Do you have any special memories you would like to share with my vast readership?
A: I’ve been interested in vintage since I was in high school. Our high school had “Wally Cleaver Week” and we’d dress up in 1950s clothing which was a lot easier to find back in the mid 1970s (Damn! I just gave away my age!).
My favorite memory is one I’ve shared on my blog, website and store at Specialist Auctions. My mom made a dress for the Butterfield Hospital Ball out of a fabric called American Beauty Rose fuchsia jacquard back in the mid 1960s. I’ve been searching for that fabric for around 8 years now and finally found it so my dress for my husband’s Christmas party will be custom made from a vintage pattern by Juanita of Reproduction Dress (http://www.reproductiondress.com/).
Q: Ahem. Thank you for sharing a well-used memory. It’s lovely all the same. Ah. Well. How long have you been a vintage clothing seller?
A: I’ve been selling vintage clothing now for almost 4 years. I sell vintage clothing because I enjoy the styles of yesteryear and really appreciate the fact that the items are made with a quality and construction sadly lacking in today’s clothing.
Q: Too true! What is the biggest problem (pardon the pun) facing the plus-size woman when seeking a vintage wardrobe?
A: The biggest problem that plus size women face in buying vintage clothing, in my opinion, is that there are not many vintage sellers that sell plus size vintage. You’ll remember, Fashionista, when we went to the Manhattan Vintage Show in April of this year that more than 50% of the vintage sellers there were plus size women, however, not one of them had any plus size vintage. We both asked them why they don’t carry it and they said it just doesn’t sell.
I have to admit that I have plus size vintage in my store and it’s not flying out of there. Still, being plus size myself I will stubbornly hang in there and continue to offer it. It may just be that not enough plus size women know where to find me or for that matter your own store (editorial aside: gasp!) that caters to plus sizes. Plus size women shouldn’t be stuck buying just vintage accessories. However, that said, they can always consider reproduction dresses made with vintage fabric and vintage patterns and then add vintage accessories to complete the look.
Many times plus size vintage dresses were worn until they were unwearable simply because people didn’t have a closet full of disposable clothing in those days. Some dresses were cut down for other family members as well. So it’s a real treat when you find a plus size item.
Q: What styles do you think are the most flattering for which figure types?
A: It’s really hard to say exactly what dress is going to look good on any particular body type. You also have to factor in the color or pattern of a dress, skirt or blouse. Comparing an item that you have that you love and that fits well can be a big help in choosing another item. You also need to factor in each person’s individual skin tone and likes or dislikes.
I think the two most important things that a plus size woman needs to do is be honest about her measurements and when taking those measurements to wear the kind of undergarments she intends to wear underneath her vintage wardrobe. Just doing that alone will help you make sure you are getting an item that is going to fit you right. You may not like what that tape measure says but better to be accurate than to have a closet full of things that don’t fit.
Q: Again, too true! My guide to buying plus size vintage makes exactly that point, but you cannot emphasize it enough. It’s the same as wearing brassieres that do not fit properly. The merchandise (be it you or the dress) is not properly showcased!
Viviene, are there any styles that you think plus-size women should avoid?
A: That’s again going to depend on the individual. How tight or loose you like to wear your clothing, what colors you like and just your own very personal preferences are what will guide any person whether plus size or not.
Q: Well, then, what is your own favorite era?
A: My favorite era is the 1960s because the fashions span the modest to the most wild things I’ve ever seen. There’s something for everyone in that era and fashion made huge leaps forward in that time span. For instance, a major leap forward is the leap from modest one piece swimwear with a modesty panel across the lower torso area in the early 1960s to the monokini designed in 1964 by designer Rudi Gernreich.
The other major leap I remember is the jump stockings held up with garter belts to pantyhose. That helped usher in hemlines going from below the knee to 6 to 7 inches above the knee!
Q: How is selling on Specialist Auctions different than selling on (ugh) Ebay?
A: Things have changed at Ebay over time and unfortunately those things are out of the control of the sellers at large. I grew tired of having my vintage clothing competing with reproductions that were listed in the vintage categories when there is a reproduction category provided.
I’m not against reproductions, but rather want them to be presented as such in their appropriate category. So I decided to give another venue a try. I did that for six months but wanted to take my business in a different direction than that venue offered. So when a friend, Margaret Bolger, who owns Artizania Vintage, asked me to come over to the Specialist Auctions as the co-moderator of the vintage and antique section and I accepted.
Selling at Specialist Auctions is different than Ebay in that we have moderators and co-moderators for our different sections. One of the responsibilities of the moderator is to police their section to make sure that what is offered is authentic.
If we see an item that is a reproduction for example, we will contact the seller and have them move their item where it belongs. If they don’t comply then we move it to the correct section.
Another thing that the moderators do in the vintage, antique and modern clothing sections do is promote the sellers of those categories by blogs on MySpace, http://www.myspace.com/specialistauctionsvintage
http://myspace.com/specialistauctions and also on my own blog, http://alwaysplayingdressup.blogspot.com/.
Q: What should the savvy shopper look out for? What are some useful tips for buying vintage online?
A: The savvy shopper should look at a seller’s presentation and feedback. Really look at the descriptions of the items you are interested in. Check the measurements and make sure you leave two inches leeway for comfort of fit. Remember that vintage clothing was worn over foundations that are nothing like what we wear today. Your foundation garment can make the difference between a vintage dress looking wonderful or downright lumpy and unattractive. If you have questions contact the seller. How a seller handles those questions is going to tell you whether you want to be involved in a transaction with that seller.
Q: Now for my Oprah question: who are your role models? As you know, mine is Anna Wintour, who taught me that conquest is all.
A: My role models are my Mom and Dad. The most important thing they taught me is that anything worth doing is worth doing right. That’s my goal every day in all parts of my life.
And Viviene does it absolutely right, at http://borntoolatevintage.com/. Please do swing by and took a look…there are hundreds of items, something for everyone!
Elisa & Bucky the Wonderdog