Book Review Week: Born-Again Vintage

Born Again Vintage

Born-Again Vintage is another book I'm not really the audience for. I figured this out along about page 10, where the author refers to a "frumpy fifties housedress." (I clutched my pearls and said "Well, I never!" Then I shook out my skirts.)

If I wanted to eviscerate some perfectly good (or not-so-good: think qiana shirts from the 70s) vintage and clap together the pieces into new, wearable garments, that would be one thing (and occasionally a fun thing, too) but here's a list of things I do not consider wearable:

  • jeans cut off at the knee with sweater sleeves sewn on them, "to create the look of a leg warmer while eliminating the struggle of "boot-horning" your cuffs"
  • (while we're on the subject of leg warmers) leg warmers made from sweater sleeves, in general
  • leg warmers AT ALL
  • a corset made from a sweater
  • short-shorts (made from anything)
  • arm warmers

If these sound like garments that have pride of place in your closet (and you have a lot of sweaters to cut up) then maybe this book is for you. I'm afraid that I spent my time flipping through this book wanting the "before" garments a LOT more than the "afters". And when the author wrote (on page 65) "Cutting any fabulous vintage dress is a risk, but the end result here shows that it is worth the gamble," I'm afraid I said "No it's not!" out loud. (Sorry about that, guy in the coffee shop next to me.)

If you DO want to cut up perfectly good vintage dresses and sew them to t-shirts, this book offers more than enough information to get you started. (And if that's what makes you happy, fine. Go, have fun!)

[P.S. the pocket haiku from yesterday are FANTASTIC! I'll post the winners (and some runners-up) next Monday.]

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0 thoughts on “Book Review Week: Born-Again Vintage

  1. The book sounded intriguing and I was thinking about buying it, but now I’m SOOO glad I held off. Those “fashions” sound like things you’d see on the Go Fug Yourself website. The legwarmers/jeans combination? Words fail me.

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  2. Great. Like we don’t already have a hard enough time finding wearable vintage these days. Now there’s a new group of people cutting the stuff up. *ugh*

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  3. Jeans with leg warmers are so, so wrong in the first place, let alone with sweater sleeves sewn on in the place of said leg warmers.

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  4. CUT UP a vintage dress! And make some of these horrors? Where are my smelling salts? I must lie down for spell…

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  5. No kidding. I cannot stand refashions that mutilate something pretty, it should enhance the original or be equally nice and serviceable. I just don’t get armwarmers and being a teen from the 80’s, legwarmers, unless you danced Flashdance-style. I had a pair and never wore them, could never get them to look right.

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  6. Leg warmers are useful, in their place. Which is mostly on dancers and cyclists training for racing. Same for arm warmers, tho they’re useful to a wider range of people, like anyone who types in a chilly house.It really does sound like you can sum up the book with corset… from a knit. Corsets should *fit* which means stretchy is bad.

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  7. Actually, I hate this sort of thing. I hate any book or article that encourages the destruction of vintage items as a cheap and ready source for material. Yes, there are cases of an item being so damaged that it is simply ready for the garbage and might as well become the subject of a cut-up / overhaul / whatever. But, what happens many times is very good stuff that managed to have integrity for 30-50 years winds up as a trendy discard.I had the same type of aloud reaction as you when, in the fall, a popular crafty magazine ran a project making pipe cleaner legged spiders from black spray painted jello molds circa 1930s. They had you poking holes in the mold to insert the pipe cleaners. Ugh! No, the molds aren’t terribly valuable. But, as a jello mold collector, I instantly imagined myself five years from now continually encountering the classic single serving jello molds with holes in them at yard sales.Thinking about this book gives me the same sinking feeling.

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  8. Just goes to show that you are a classic vintage lover, rather than a grunge vintage lover. I err on the side of classic as well.

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  9. You know, it’s quite sad to see DIY, clothing repurposing painted in such a frivolous and disrespectful light in this book, because I think (and a quick jaunt through Etsy backs me up) that there are some very reverent, talented artists and designers out there who do amazing things with recycled clothing–and without being complete jerks about the source material.

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  10. Oh my! The book seems almost sacrilegious! The whole time I was reading your review, my mouth was opened in shock and, at the same time, the corners downturned in horror.

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  11. If you do want to cut up perfectly good vintage dresses and sew them into t-shirts, don’t cross the street in front of me. I will run you over with my bike.

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  12. I used to think arm warmers were silly until I started to ride my bike to work! A pair of arm warmers keeps my poor wrists warm while I ride!

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  13. I have nothing against people re-purposing vintage that is damaged or just not wearable as-is, or is of a type that is readily plentiful and not historically important (ie not very old or not a major designer label, etc.). However, I have a major beef against people who take perfectly serviceable vintage that is already desirable for the condition/style its in and alter it in such a way that once the person doing the DIY work is through and no longer wants the garment, no one else wants or has a purpose for the garment either.Don’t ruin a great dress just on a whim, and don’t sew hacked off sweater sleeves on short-shorts.

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  14. I altered and hemmed a vintage skirt to fit me (which required, yes, some cutting). Um, I had no idea this made me a legitimate traffic accident victim. Can I keep wearing my skirt in safety? Do I have to promise never to commit such sacrilege again, to give the true lovers of vintage a chance?

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  15. This is obviously a generational thing, and I’m too old to sign up to this. Plus I’m super defensive about garments that have survived intact for decades. My instinct is to preserve them, not chop them up. julia m makes a great point – its important to remember that people have always altered/adapted secondhand garments to fit or suit. And we can’t be too judgmental about that. But the dress historian in me, contemplating mint surviving garments butchered, is screaming too!

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  16. julia m, I do not think this makes you a “traffic accident victim”. You modified a skirt to fit you so that you could get lots of wear out of it. You did not turn a perfectly good vintage skirt into a tote bag or a trendy garment that would be discarded when it is no longer fashionable (or so I assume).When you get tired of that skirt, you can sell or give it to someone else your size or smaller and they will be able to enjoy the skirt as well.

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  17. I was at the library this very day and picked up that book… the sweater-sleeves-sewn-to-jeans combo made me shudder with horror and drop it back on the shelf. Perhaps I should have re-shelved it with the spine facing in so that no one else will be fooled into thinking that pants/legwarmers are hip! (What’s next? Skants?!)Julia, I like to think that making your vintage skirt wearable is a fulfillment of its original destiny, which is to be worn and not stored in a box until it gets all moth-holey. Even if it requires some cutting. I think that vintage items are ‘happiest’ when they are being *used* (books are to be read, aprons are to be mussed, etc.) but I might actually be crazy.

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  18. People who make minis out of wonderful 50s dresses are clueless. esp. when they are doing it to things to sell. People who wear 50s dresses everyday, and who will pay good money for them, don’t want a mini-dress.

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  19. I did what Joni did but at a bookstore. I stood there in complete disbelief! I turned to the craft book shopping stranger beside me and we both agreed it was hideous.

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  20. Julia M–of course I won’t hit you with my bike because you altered your skirt to fit you. I was kidding. I’m a non-violent person.I’m not nuts. I wouldn’t dream of hitting someone on my bike. I lived during the 80s, too, when cutting off your 50s dress was the Pretty In Pink thing to do. Damn that movie and the travesties I committed because of it. Recently, I had a slim 50s pencil skirt altered. I asked the seamstress not to cut before hemming, just to press and hem. She also added two darts to the waist. It looks great and it could even be put back to its original form if need be. I want to add that it would be difficult for me to know what type of garment is legitimate for re-purposing and which isn’t. How old is ‘not that old’ and how do we know what’s not important enough? (I love slinky 70s disco shirts (even Quiana) even though I don’t wear them.) Since my own criteria is the only criteria I’d want EVERYONE to use, then I have to say that it’s not the sort of thing I’m willing to advocate since no one in their right mind would obey my rules. (I’ll bet we each have our own limits and criteria and I’m guessing they’re going to differ vastly.) Sorry, crafters, would-be fashion designers, and knitters. Without looking at the book, I cannot say this with certainty, but I am willing to guess that I wouldn’t wholly support these endeavors. I’m afraid I would find that the majority of this type of clothing qualifies as craftulence.

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  21. This review made me laugh. I had this book out from the library as soon as it was available and quickly discovered that it definitely wasn’t for me. I also would rather have some of the before clothes, especially the pretty dresses.

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  22. Basically I don’t have a problem with repurposing if it means reusing instead of the item going in a landfill. I do have a problem with repurposing if it means you are using sweater sleeves as leg warmers. Because, honestly, no one will be able to pull that off and have people believe it a)is cute or b)actually looks like leg warmers and not cut-off sleeves.JenL

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  23. The picture on the cover? What’s she mad about? I think someone cut the sleeves out of her sweater and sewed them on her jeans and now she’s got cold arms and ulgy legs.

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  24. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention.I found it last week at the local bookstore and was seriously horrified by much of what I saw.It’s one thing to ‘re-purpose’ or ‘rescue’ damaged goods, and quite another to mutilate a perfectly decent 30+ year old garment. Once it’s gone….it’s gone!

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  25. ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhfull on pet peeve of mine.actually, beyond peeve, into the realm of fury. I have a shop next to my vintage shop where they do this, though purportedly only to damaged pieced. I hope that is the case. However, one Saturday a girl came into my shop and held up a beautiful hand painted 40s sundress and exclaimed she would “love to see what the girls next door could do with this fabric!”.A) its not fabric, its a dress. created and designed, DESIGNED, by a designer 70 years ago. someone already designed AND hand painted it. the arrogance attached to looking at another designer’s work and deeming it less than par to the degree it deserves to be destroyed is staggering. B) I hear this from actual “designers” as well. If indeed you are a designer, how can you disrespect another designer to the degree that you decide its cool to destroy what they created for your own creation? By all means, let it be your inspiration, copy it, let it be the basis of your next big thing. But taking that very piece, lovingly saved for years by someone who loved THAT design is nothing short of disrespectful AND cheating. If you can’t sew a bodice with a side zip, don’t take a dress that has one and hand stitch a shoddy skirt of another era’s textile to it to make it your own. Its plagiarism, its lazy and its utterly insulting to your fellow designer. Clearly this is an issue close to my heart for a myriad of reasons….this trend is destroying beautiful designs never to be found again, and smacks of selfish disregard for the art of fashion. Ang

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  26. I sold a ton of leg warmers at Nordstrom, to women who I’m sure were very enthusiastic over this trend, and gleefully ripped the tags off the leg warmers, finished dressing…And realized how bad they looked.It’s a mistake to ‘cut up’ clothes, other than fitting them, or making them look better, but making foolish looking outfits to sound outr just makes the wearer (with a few rare exceptions) look equally foolish.There are a few incredibly rare creatures who can carry off outr looks, but they don’t need books to tell them how to do it, they’re already doing it.

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  27. While I agree that the whole sweater sleeve sewn into jeans suggestion is unconscionable, I would hope that one does not entirely toss leg warmers out with the baby bathwater. Certainly not in any fashion sense, but leg warmers and long-handled underwear have their place in garmentary. The rugged types frequently wear them in the damp and biting cold when thick tights and heavy fabrics just arent enough. As an office-worker in Alaska, I learned that they are easily adjusted removable- so as not to show but still to cover ones nether regions from all sorts of updrafts when wearing dresses.

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  28. Speaking of thick tights to wear in damp and biting weather, I want to recommend the wool-blend tights at http://www.warmlegwear.com. Erin posted some time ago about how she stays warm in the winter by wearing two pairs of tights under her dresses, and I wanted to suggest an option that might be less compressive. I just went to an interview in rainy 50-degree weather. I wore a knee-length skirt and wool-blend tights, and I was reasonably warm but still looked polished. Plus they’re machine-washable! I stretch them after washing and hang-dry so they don’t shrink.

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  29. Your post reminded me of the 80s movie Pretty in Pink where the main character cuts up her older friend’s gorgeous fifties style prom dress to make an abominable 80s straight up and down horror-frock. I still feel horrified when I remember that scene, and this brought the feeling right back!I have some great 60s dresses – as a teenager I used to buy them from op shops – sadly they don’t fit me but there’s no way I’d hack them up!

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  30. oh! I was totally judging the book by the cover and would have bought it! thanks for the heads up!Although I agree with most of your “wrong” list, I must confess, I do love leg warmers (although would never dream of making them out of sweaters – there’s frugal living and then there’s er….an interesting look!)http://mymaterialvoid.wordpress.com/

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  31. This sort of thing isn’t the least bit surprising. These are the same sort of people who see a pretty leather-bound book and without checking to see if it’s worth anything cut out all the illustrations and paint over all the pages and call it “art”. There seems to be an entire generation of folks out there who have no idea of the worth of things. They’d cut the legs down on a Chippendale table and paint if pink if it went with their scheme.

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  32. I 100% agree with your review. I was so hopeful when I opened this book but unfortunately found myself appalled and annoyed at every.single.project- what a let down. Thanks for posting your review of it!

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  33. I had to stop watching “This Old House” because I couldn’t stand to see them cut up and modernize old houses–this book would probably give me high blood pressure.I like limb-warmers because my offices is freakishly cold, but I draw the line at cutting up perfectly good vintage clothes. Recycle damaged items, sure, but “fabulous” vintage and scissors should never meet.How does exactly one make a corset from a sweater, anyway? I mean, the point of a sweater is that they stretch and can be worn over your clothes, and the point of a corset is that it doesn’t and should be worn under your clothes. They’re, like, the antithesis of one another.

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  34. I will probably still look at this book out of morbid curiosity…sort of like rubbernecking at an accident. Good vintage is hard to find…so the thought of cutting it up to make something trendy and potentially disposable saddens me. Yes, there are damaged pieces out there that are perfect for making accessories and bags…but for crying out loud…leave the wearable things alone!Side story, that I am sharing because some of you may understand my upset. A few years back I was in a show that took place in the ’30s. As I am a costumer/seamstress as well as an actor, and a collector of vintage clothing, and the show had a tiny budget, I offered to loan some things to the costumer. She went through with me and I told her which non-vintage things she could alter/decorate/keep for their collection and which things were vintage/important to me. Unfortunately, she had some assistants. One assumed she could have her way with everything. She took two pieces that belonged to my grandmother. One, she simply shortened, and whilst now too short for me to wear as a 1930s garment, is at least still wearable. The other, a negligee I wore as a dress, she hacked in half (literally…hacked) and turned the bottom half into a drawstring skirt. The costumer apologized up and down, and asked ifthere was anything she could do. I replied that what’s done is done, I appreciated the apology, but nothing could be done about it. I also vowed to myself never to loan clothing to anyone that I could not bear to have destroyed. Lesson learned. I kept the pieces, due to the way she “altered” them, they were unsalvageable, but they have sentimental value to me. I feel like this book is encouraging that kind of behavior. I am picturing some girl taking something from her mother’s or sister’s closet, cutting it up, and that mother or sister being heartbroken.Wow, this book review has made me way more emotional than I expected.

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  35. “leg warmers AT ALL” – does this veto include handknit legwarmers? I’m kind of hankering after some for the next cold snap.

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  36. Way back in the late 70s, I ran across a book called The Yestermorrow Clothes Book, or How to Remodel Secondhand Clothes. Now consider that in 1976, secondhand clothes meant what today would be some pretty nifty vintage. The book tells how to do everything from shrink a 1940s sweater to convert an antique kimono into bellbottoms. So this type of restyling has been going on a very long time, and I’ll admit to a few creative episodes with the scissors myself back in the day. But time passes, and one can no longer just waltz into the Salvation Army for a 50s housedress. But there is a steady supply of 80s and 90s garments.And from looking on ebay, etsy and other selling sites, people are referring to 90s stuff as vintage. Hopefully the majority of the frock chop is happening to this latter day vintage. It’s really all about the look; many younger vintage lovers don’t seem to care if the dress is 50s or 80s as long as it is what they think is cute. I don’t know, but I can’t get quite as upset over an 80s “All that Jazz” dress being shortened. I mean it looks like we will NEVER run short of them!Don’t get me wrong – I’m firmly in the camp of the Do Not Cut (as those of you how have read the rants on my blog well know!). But consider that any action taken with a piece of old clothing shortens its life, and that includes washing, wearing, and even displaying. This issue is not as black and white as we’d like to think.

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  37. I am intrigued by this book! These comments are all so interesting – but reading the original post I actually said yes! cool! to everything on the list. OK, I am a dance teacher, so legwarmers are totally allowed, right? Recently my Nana gave me a vintage 60s dress she’d made. It was ankle-length, jewel-necked and long-sleeved. I cut length off the hem and sleeves, and cut a V-neck. My auntie remains horrified, but after sitting in a drawer for forty-odd years, it’s now being WORN. There’s no way I would have worn it in it’s original state.

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  38. Me, I just LOVED your (I clutched my pearls and said “Well, I never!” Then I shook out my skirts.) comment. thank you.

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  39. kind of agree with Nadine. Not to the yes cool bit… I don’t like a lot of those particular refashioning ideas but my mother’s given me full permission to cut up an attic full of clothes and I’ve changed a lot of necklines and skirt lengths and a few design features to what suits me. There’s a skirt of my gran’s that I love wearing. It was a black skirt with white spots and a panel with red flowers and mustard coloured vines. I didn’t like the mustard vines so I removed that panel and resewed it and reinforced all the seams where it was starting to go and put in a new hook and eye closure where the old one had gone. Yes I could possibly have sold this to someone who would have liked it in it’s original state and who would’ve been happy to wear it purely in it’s original state but I didn’t want to. I LIKE the connection to the past. I like that what I’m wearing is my gran’s skirt. I like to imagine the fun she had while wearing it, the dances she might have gone to, how pretty she felt in it. I wouldn’t have worn it as was because to me that panel looked wrong but I don’t feel that as in love with vintage style as anyone else could be they’d have appreciated the particular connection with the past that sewing and wearing this skirt gave me.Working with the clothes my mam gave me makes me think more about her life before us and life in general before me and my brother and my dad. I think about her as a teenager growing up in my gran’s house and I think about all the travelling she did. I guess it’s a bit like the way fashion sparks off erin’s wonderful stories about the lives of dresses. I just don’t think vintage needs to be in it’s original state to give us that connection to the past and I don’t see how wanting to adapt an item of beauty to ones own particular tastes is a bad thing. If I have a beautiful vintage dress (infinitely moreso the ones with sentimental value) and I’ll want to wear it after a few adjustments, I fail to see why that means I should sell it purely because someone else might so happen to love the elements of the garment that don’t work for me.Clothes aren’t simply art. They’re wearable art. They’re a part of day to day life. Their adaptability is one of the wonderful things about them. Maybe it’s because my gran sewed herself and believed in altering clothes to suit and making something new and loved again through carefully thought out changes that I feel the way I do and maybe it’s because I was raised on hand me downs that I prefer to refashion what already exists to suit than be a larger part of the consumer chain. I don’t think I’d be into that particular book but I don’t think I’m any less within my rights to enjoy vintage in my own way as anyone else

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