Why I Broke the ‘Cardinal Rule’ of Vintage

23 Jan

{Why I Broke the ‘Cardinal Rule’ of Vintage} It just makes me happy — the tones, the textures, the print, the history and the combination of it all together, not to mention the slight juxtaposition of the ultra feminine dress with the cap’s boyish accent.

Photos by Christopher Doherty

Yes, this probably has to be one of my all-time favorites, but it didn’t come without a bit of heartache.

The 1940s day dress was a gem I found at a boutique I “heart” deeply, Malena’s in West Chester, Pa.

It was one of a couple items with which I had the chance to play dress-up, as shop owner Malena directed the fashion show. It slipped on with the slink of a dress that spells trouble — as in, I was going to be in love the moment my reflection stared back at me.

And, indeed the dress flowed like the grace and charm of Ginger on Fred’s arm. So, I swallowed hard and dug deeper than normal as a single mom on a budget … but, I knew that if I passed up this dress, it would always haunt me.

A week or so later, I was basking in the nostalgic crooning of an USO variety show at the mock Officer’s Club at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s annual WWII Commemorative Weekend, in Reading, Pa.

With a B-17 rumbling overhead and GI’s strolling by, I was in heaven until that bliss came tumbling down off a chair with the cry of a 3-year-old boy. I scooped from the floor my child, fidgeting with pain from a skinned knee. Calming and comforting him in a juggle of awkwardness, I went to sit back down into my arm chair and that’s when the catastrophic rip happened. I more plopped and sort of collapsed into the chair, rather than gracefully sitting and gathering my skirt — a rookie mistake of ladyship. Still, it was too late.

The dress had survived a world war and 70 years of subsequent world history in near mint condition, yet in the inaugural wearing, it could not escape my clumsy posture.

It hung in my closet, a sore reminder of a love lost by my very own undoing. Often I wished it would magically mend itself, and wishful even more so was the thought it could be delicately stitched back together. But the gashing tear spanned more than nine-jagged inches of fraying.

Finally, I realized the only hope was to break the cardinal rule: Never drastically alter antique vintage. The fate accepted, I visited a family friend who is an expert in antique seamstressing.

She took the mid-calf  hemlines up to an above-the-knee dress, the only way to address the gaping wound. Perhaps, it could be said it was a bit of an amputation to lose more than a foot of length off a dress, but then again, such a drastic surgery is a resulting measure meant to save a life.

Now, this 1940s dress is happily hanging in my closet, ready to face 2011 with its spry new length. I, however, am a bit more cautious as I am out and about in this piece — all too wary of jagged bus seats and snarling subway handrails. The perils are boundless, yet this dress inspires so many fanciful and beautiful thoughts that I can’t help but wear it.

How Much for “Why I Broke the ‘Cardinal
Rule’ of Vintage”?

$? Tweed Newsboy Cap (bought in my early teens @ Claire’s)
$0 Embroidered Corduroy Jacket (gifted)
$5 Gray 1950s 3-strand Necklace (Charity Shop, Pa.)
$12 Betsey Johnson Knit Cashmere Tights (Century 21, Paramus, NJ)
$15 Retro Camel Brown Heels (Easy Pickens Clearance, Union City, NJ)
$45 Printed 1940s Day Dress (Malene’s Boutique, West Chester, Pa.)

{So} What’s the Take-Away?

Mix & Match decades, prints & textures!

This outfit is a little atypical of the posts I’ve written previously, as it is not exactly the most thrifty or “thrifted.”  However, there are so many adorable qualities about this ensemble which I could not not share it with you.

Be Versatile with a Cornerstone Piece: The corduroy blazer with embroidory detail, by virtue of its deep rust hue and the fabric, starts off being able to give an outfit some real depth. But the detailing on the yoke of the back, cuffs and bodice area, truly make this blazer an item that is a versatile cornerstone.

Versatile meaning it can be worn with anything — any color, print or garment. And, it’s a cornerstone because it will make a casual jeans outfit look like you spent hours getting dressed, when in reality you just threw on your comfiest jeans and colored T-shirt, while the jacket came along for the ride as you were running out the door.

Step Out with Contrast: This day, I decided to take it over the top by really matching the tones in the detailing to the one-of-a kind 1940s dress. This is the second tidbit: don’t be afraid to really step out with a contrast of heavier, textured fabrics paired next to daintier, lighter hued materials. The mix can create a playful combination.

Accessories Matter: The gray necklace, cap and tights bring the outfit full circle nodding to the blue and silvery tones of the dress, while matching the solid boldness of the blazer.

Plus, the tights serve as practical fashion statement of keeping a gal warm in the wintry weather — knitted out of Cashmere these Betsey Johnson tights are a must-have for every skirt-wearing lady braving the elements.



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  • All images on Thrifty Vintage Chic are shot in the context of real life — ie before or after the work day. All images on Thrifty Vintage Chic are not altered with post-production “airbrushing” or touch-ups. All images and written copy on Thrifty Vintage Chic are copyright protected and may not be used without first gaining written permission.

3 Responses to “Why I Broke the ‘Cardinal Rule’ of Vintage”

  1. misc maranda January 24, 2011 at 9:51 AM #

    i don’t think this counts as breaking the rules since the dress had been damaged. now it gets to see the light of day 🙂


  2. Dawn January 26, 2011 at 9:09 AM #

    In breaking the cardinal rule of vintage, I think you actually enhanced the piece. Sometimes rules are made to broken, lol, and I think you prove this beautifully. PS: I ADORE that necklace! It hangs on you ~perfectly~!



  1. How to Make a 70-Year-Old Vintage Dress Modern & Hip « Thrifty Vintage Chic - August 22, 2011

    […] This printed silken chiffon dress is from the early 1940s/late 1930s. The fabric is so very thin and a delicate example of how to move with lady-like grace, which I failed to do the very first time I wore it, ruining this mint. (CLICK to read the story) […]


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