Tuesday, July 31, 2018

When was it made?


As an avid thrift store shopper, I am no stranger to old clothing. One of my favorite activities is trying to guess exactly when any secondhand garment of mine was made. Now, I'm not a fashion archivist by any means, so my guesses at the vintage of a garment are usually based on my vague memories, other people's online throwback posts, and comparison to stills from period movies. I've learned some techniques for dating old clothing using other clues as well. Today, I thought I'd do something a little different, and share some of the attributes I use to help me guess at a garment's age.

As an example, I'll use this vest that I purchased from Swap.com about a month ago.

I've seen more than my share of 90's vests at the thrift store — they are ubiquitous, usually made of thick tapestry or heavy knit, in hideous patterns, color combos, and bulky shapes that I would never wear today — but this vest fits in quite well with my modern aesthetic. In fact, when I first got it, I didn't even really pay attention to its dated appearance, but focused mainly on the pretty blue-green color and how much I liked the flowers. After I'd owned it for a while, I began to pay more attention to the signs of its age.

Here they are—signs that you can use to help you determine the age of any fashion item!
  1. The pattern - Different eras produce different trendy patterns (think the psychedelic designs of the 60's or the earth-toned rainbows of 70's). On this vest, the profusion of wavy-edged straight lines and imperfect zigzags is something I'd swear was everywhere in the early 90's, but I'm having trouble coming up with photographic evidence. In any case, it's clearly an evolution from the scribble-heavy designs that are definitive marks of the 80's. Meanwhile, the flowers hint at the sunflower obsession that defined the 90's.
  2. The fabric - As textile technologies grow and change, different kinds of fabric rise to ascendancy. This vest is made of rayon. Although rayon-like materials have been around since the 19th century, the rubbery, faux-silk feel of rayon is, to me, firmly entrenched in the 90's. This is definitely a more "vague memory"  than anything empirically backed, but I seem to recall encountering this type of fabric a lot when shopping during my youth.
  3. The embellishments - Much as trends in patterns rise and fall over time, so do those in the little add-ons and visible fastenings.

    Take a look at those buttons. The "knot" style of plastic or metal button is one I often see on vintage clothing and never on clothing of the present day. Although this does nothing to help me narrow down a specific year, I can say with a degree of confidence that these buttons wouldn't have been used past the mid-1990's.
  4. The fastening style - In very old vintage clothing, I've heard you can use the placement of the zipper (or whether there's a zipper at all) as a reliable indicator of the approximate era of construction. With modern clothes, this doesn't often apply, but there is one style of fastening that really had a heyday in the 90's, and that's the side- or back- cinch tie.

    Shirts and dresses that tie in the back to adjust the fit (like this one) were common in the 90's, but seemed to have lost their appeal by the turn of the millennium. I still see them in one-size-fits-all hippie clothes, but popular opinion labels them tacky.
  5. The cut - Obviously different silhouettes can provide a strong clue as to the age of garments--like when you see huge puffed sleeves, you can know without almost any doubt that they came from the 80's. I wasn't really aware that this top had an iconic cut, but then I googled "90's vest." Apparently it wasn't just tapestry/sweater vests that were popular in the 90's—this particular cut (with the longer length, deep V-neck, and pointed bottom hem) was popular in the era as well. Most of the pictures I found of the style were actually modern bloggers trying to do their own take on 90's trends, but I did find one 1992 sewing pattern that confirmed it.
  6. The size - Because of size inflation, clothes manufactured today fit larger than equivalent sizes from past eras. Now, I have to make some assumptions here, because some brands use very unusual sizing, but I'm going to assume this shirt was manufactured using a common size scale. My size in contemporary juniors' clothing (the odd-numbered sizes) is usually a 3 or 5, so the fact that I fit pretty well in this size 9 is a strong indicator that it's a couple decades old.
  7. The label - The materials and method used to make the label are often good ways of telling how old an item is as well. For example, clothing made in the 2010's often has a translucent plastic label, or the label printed right on the inside of the fabric.

    This heavy woven polyester label with the stiff scratchy care tag is definitely an older breed. The logo, surrounded by textural dots, also has that late-80's/early-90's feel.
It's not often that you find clothing a couple decades old with the original tags still attached, but this one was just that. Apparently it went through a battery of markdowns before someone bought it out of pity, and never wore it. Since the style number is printed on the tag, I could probably pinpoint the exact age of this vest by contacting the Joni Blair company (if it still exists), but that would be a little too much work for this armchair fashion detective! I'll settle my investigation here by concluding this vest was made around 1992.

So now we come to a question: with so many features clearly branding this top as out of date, am I still brave enough to wear it?

Thinking, thinking...

Of course! I'm the Unfashionista!

Instead of wearing my retro vest in a retro style, I wore it as a shirt without anything under it. I paired it with a pair of black capri pants (the cut of these also being almost 20 years out of fashion!) and some coordinating robin's egg blue pumps (fortunately, this conservative style of shoe will probably never look too passé!).

The most modern element of my outfit is the jewelry. I made the earrings myself out of a pair of studs that I ordered online recently. The style turned out to look silly on me, so I took them apart and impaled them on some kidney-shaped wire hooks that I cut the fastener end off of.

Now they're a never-before-seen threader-dangle-hybrid style! 1990's vest, welcome to the future!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Semi-sporty skort

Over the past few weeks, Friday Funday has gone from something I might occasionally try on a whim, to practically a requirement for a successful week. Whether I keep up the effort or drop it remains to be seen, but at least for July, I've been saving my most quirky, casual, and slightly more daring outfits for Fridays.

For this week's showing, I decided to do that thing I try once a year or so—where I wear something vaguely athletic for my OOTD. Today's has a little bit of the golfer aesthetic in the sleeveless button-down blouse, and the skirt is one of the two active skorts I got last summer. This skirt is a tad shorter than I like to wear at the office these days, but the built-in shorts drastically decrease the likelihood of a wardrobe malfunction, and it is, after all, Casual Friday.

For footwear, I went for a new-to-me pair of floral embellished flat slide sandals. These were only $3.75 at the thrift store and, while more on the shabby end of the chicness spectrum, they have the coolest floral embellishments I've ever seen on a pair of shoes!

Thursday, July 26, 2018


A couple months ago, in a kind of frantic bid to acquire something suitable to wear to the three weddings I was invited to this summer, I purchased a whopping 14 dresses on Swap.com (grand total: $66.90). A few of them were wedding contenders, but most ended up just being dresses I'd wear to work. One of them was this purple V-neck.

I was excited about this dress. It was the perfect streamlined shape for layering, so it would work just as well in the winter as the summer, and it was a solid color, meaning I could accessorize it with almost anything. The possibilities were well nigh endless!

As I laid it out on Wednesday night, though, I was having a sad case of creator's block. I couldn't really find any shoes, accessories, or jewelry that were fun enough for my taste. I considered taking the trusty monochrome route and pairing it with my newly dyed lavender sandals, but I'd just worn those last week. Suddenly, my eyes lit on one of my pairs of rainbow sandals, and I knew I had my answer. It doesn't get more fun than rainbow stripes and a 6-inch wedge!

For my jewelry choice, I wanted something equally colorful, which meant my best bet was probably my bright yellow rectangle earrings.

Then, all of a sudden, it hit me. I had worn almost the exact same outfit, with a different dress, years before!

The original dress was an old favorite. I still remember the day I found it on the clearance rack at Marshalls (or was it Ross?) and nearly jumped for joy. Over the years, though, I came to realize the dress had more drawbacks than benefits. Its shape should have lent itself well to layering, but that side tie made it impossible, adding bulk underneath top layers, and looking weird and ungainly when it was on top itself. A solid colored dress is basically a blank canvas for accessorizing, but the black trim really limited what I could wear it with. This spring, I dropped it in a "To-Sell" box and forgot about its existence. That is, until I was suddenly reminded of its past life by my unwitting purchase of its twin, and subsequent repetitious outfit choice.

In an effort to mix things up at least a little, I decided against the yellow jewelry and in favor of a black necklace and earrings. Right before I left the house, I also added a black belt. Even this choice reflected the past, as the only color I'd ever been able to wear the original dress with successfully was also black.

Here I thought I was exploring the limitless possibilities of an exciting new dress, when actually, I was the very picture of history repeating itself. I guess even the Unfashionista isn't as unpredictable as she'd like to think.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Mission accomplished: purple sandals

Last summer's end, I retired two pairs of purple sandals. Both were glitter-coated and in pretty sorry shape (one of them was 4 years old or more, and you know how glitter holds up over the years), so I wasn't too sad to see them go. The only problem was, they were my only purple sandals, and now I had none! By this point in my fashion-collecting career, I usually have at least one pair of each type (sandal, dress shoe, boot) in each color of the rainbow, for maximum accessorizing power. So having no purple sandals was a huge blow to my outfit-planning ability!

I wasn't too worried; I had all fall, winter, and spring to find a pair while the sandal-shopping is cheap. But I didn't. I kept my eyes peeled, but apparently purple sandals are a scarcer commodity than I imagined, because by the time of my summer wardrobe switch, I was still suffering a purple shortage.

I decided I would have to get crafty.

At the 50%-off Memorial Day thrift store sale, I bought a pair of white sandals for $2.75 (at that price, I could toss them straight into the garbage and not suffer much loss, so I didn't worry about ruining them in my attempt to change their color), figuring I would dye them purple. I specifically selected this pair for their textured straps, guessing that the striations would hide any inconsistencies in the dye application.

To protect the parts of the shoes I didn't want to dye, I masked the soles with some bits of plastic I had lying around.
The parts that touched the straps got covered with clear packaging tape.

I squeezed a dollop of semi-permanent hair dye into a cup. [Aside: why am I always using hair dye to color my shoes? It's mainly because I am always dyeing my hair, so I always have hair dye on hand. Why pay for a specialized shoe dye (is there even such a thing?) when you can use the stuff you already have?]

Then I used a paint brush to coat the straps with the dye. I tried to brush it on as thickly and smoothly as possible, and then I did a second coat, in order to decrease the likelihood of bare patches.

I then let the shoes sit overnight.

The next afternoon, I rinsed the shoes in the sink and removed my protective patches of tape.

I had been expecting the worst, but I actually got a pretty uniform color! It was a little paler than I'd hoped, but no worse than I'd expected, considering that I had started with a fairly non-porous glossy white surface.

Unfortunately, the hue ended up being a little too bluish to work with most of my purple clothes. I decided to dye them a second time, this time with a more magenta shade (and blue masking tape because I remembered I had some of that!)

After that second dye job, and numerous failed attempts at pairing the newly colored sandals with an outfit, I decided the color was still too bluish and too intense to go with most of my clothes. I gave them a third dye bath, in the "pretty flamingo" dye that I was using (heavily watered down) on my hair last fall. The hue runs strongly to the orange, which I hoped would cancel out the blue tones in the shoes, making them more pastel and less Day-Glo. I left the dye on for a couple hours, until it looked like it had mostly dried out.

I'm still not certain how much of an effect this last dye application had, since I dyed both sandals at the same time so couldn't do a side-by-side comparison. They still weren't quite the hue I'd been hoping for, but I decided they were as good as they were going to get. 
I found a skirt that looked decent with them, made an outfit, and wore them all together last Thursday! Even if I never wear these shoes again, they got one day of solid use—and for a $2.75 experiment that solves an almost-year-old problem, I'm willing to call that a success.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Salvaged Sandals

 One of the worst things about having dogs is having them eat your shoes. My boyfriend has lost countless pairs of sandals to the ravages of hungry/bored dogs, mainly because he has a bad habit of leaving them lying out in the living room. My own shoe collection has been less afflicted because I'm generally more organized...but I am not immune either. My first and much loved pair of leather Rainbow flip flops lost their straps to the late clothes-munching Bubalou, and just recently, one day I returned to my office to find our newish puppy Kodiak (who gets to stay at work with us until he's old enough to be left home alone) gnawing on one of my sandals, which I had left on the floor next to my bike after changing into my work shoes (now I put my shoes in a safer place on top of the bike!).

This circumstance was both fortunate and unfortunate. Unfortunate because it shouldn't have happened at all, but fortunate because it happened to this particular pair of sandals. Usually I bike to work in my rather expensive (replacement) pair of Rainbow flip flops, but this day, thanks to a foot injury, I had been wearing different shoes. These particular sandals were cheaper (just 10 dollars from Swap.com) and thus less of a loss should they prove irreparable, but, most fortunately, unlike the Rainbows, they were not irreparable!

The straps of these sandals were made from fabric with a faux-leather backing, and all the damaged parts were ones that could be replaced without having to disassemble the sole. So repairing the sandals was simply a matter of finding matching strips of black fabric and sewing them back together!

For the fabric, I chose a length of black grosgrain ribbon I had in my stash. It was a little narrower and thinner than the original straps, but from eye level, the differences weren't really noticeable.

I cut off all the damaged straps where they joined the plastic triangles, and used a seam ripper to separate them where they were sewn to the intact straps.
Then I fitted the ribbon into its appropriate places and held the ends with straight pins. I tried the sandal on this way (very carefully!) to ensure that the lengths were appropriate.
The trickiest part of this repair was the spot under the ankle, where three straps crossed each other. I pinned the straps in place and then took the whole precarious arrangement to my sewing machine.
Trying to sew through three thick layers of fabric, all while maneuvering around several plastic pieces and a rigid shoe sole isn't easy. I started by removing the supplies case from the front of the machine to get more space to work, and replacing my needle with the heaviest gauge I could find. I took the actual sewing slowly and carefully, hand-cranking the machine so I wouldn't break my needle or allow any slippage.

Once that part was done, I sewed the remaining straps to their respective pieces of hardware with double rows of straight stitches.

There was one triangle that I just couldn't wrangle under the sewing machine. I hand-sewed the strap to that one.

I had been dreading this repair, but suddenly I was done, and I had completed it all one evening (a rare occurrence for me and my sewing projects)! Sure, the sandals are a little mismatched now, but they were always my "sensible sandals," not my "sexy sandals," so I don't mind if they aren't a vision of perfection. As long as they still achieve their objective—covering my feet while I walk around!

Normally, I'd consider these shoes a bit too sporty for work, but I needed an excuse to take them out in public, so I decided they were good enough for a Casual Friday.

The black straps seemed to be calling out for more black stripes, so I obliged with the black and white tube dress, which I actually wore as a dress this time, in spite of my misgivings about the style.

To ensure it didn't fall down throughout the day, I held it to my bra with a pair of safety pins, and topped it with a long-line black vest, which served to cover my bra straps and diminish the apparent width of my hips. Black and white worn this way is almost punchy enough to be forgiven for having no color...but just almost! I had to add a little something in the form of my yellow butterfly jewelry set.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Tropical Trousers

Though perhaps not the most colorful of my novelty pants (which honor probably goes to one or the other pair of zigzag pants), these new ones with a paisley-and-floral motif might be the most cheery.

I think the design speaks for itself, so I don't have much to say about them except that they only cost me 3.20$ at Swap.com. I'm also wearing with them 2 other new items: a white sleeveless blouse (thrift store for $1.50 after discounts) and green sandals (thrift store, 3$ after discounts).

I was tempted to carry on the tropical theme with my plumeria earrings, but then I realized the pants were a pretty close coordinate for my green and orange necklace. I haven't had much opportunity to wear it since its initial outing two St. Patrick's Days ago, so I decided today was the day to bring it back! That's just as well, because while the plumeria earrings cost a pretty penny, the necklace was under my usual 2-dollar maximum, keeping the whole outfit under 10 dollars!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Hello, High-Low

Today was Friday Funday, and that means I was duty-bound to come up with a work outfit that's a little more casual and a lot more playful than what I wear the rest of the week. Of all Fridays, today it was especially important to not fail in this endeavor, because my boyfriend and I were going to happy hour directly after work, and I wanted to impress his friends with my totally laid-back-but-uniquely-chic fashion sense! No big deal, right?

I lie! It's a very big deal! So big that I took a few hours off this morning so I could come up with the perfect work-to-drinks outfit (well, also so I could catch up on sleep, buy myself a little me-time in the midst of a very hectic few days, and pick up some furniture I was unable to pick up last night because of the aforementioned hectic-ness). Those few hours of relative relaxation produced not only a splendid monochromatic ensemble, but also a fine trip down Memory Lane, and a couple of tips & tricks to boot!

Our first stop on Memory Lane takes us back to 2012, courtesy of the skirt, which is a classic specimen of the high-low trend that really hit full steam that year. You might recall, my initial opinion of this type of skirt was unfavorable, but a lot can change in 6 years! For one thing, I decided there was no point in calling them "hi-lo" skirts when there were two perfectly good English words to serve the same purpose. But, more importantly, once I got over my weird idea that high-low skirts make your knees look ugly, I grew to accept and embrace the trend pretty quickly. Good for me, because now that the fashion cycle has run its course, it is possible to buy high-low skirts for next to nothing (I got this one for 1.80$)! That's not to say that they are completely out-of-date yet; you can still find new ones in stores, but they much more often tend to be wrapped, ruffled, asymmetric, or generally more complex than this humble mullet skirt.

Let's now consider the color scheme of today's outfit, which takes us a little further down Memory Lane to February 2015, when I wore basically the same colors for "My Future Valentine," again with a burgundy skirt on the bottom and pastel pink on the top. What has changed? The season of course, but also the length of the skirt. That day in 2015 was, I think, the very last time I wore a skirt that skimpy to the office. I remember feeling very uncomfortable and deciding, once and for all, that I would set a minimum length for all my future skirts.

I feel like I should be able to bend over as far as I want without accidentally showing my undies, so that became my new, and still current, rule for skirt lengths. This is where high-low skirts come in very handy—they enable one to wear a (partial) short skirt (generally more flattering and less dowdy) while simultaneously being able to bend over to my heart's content without revealing anything! This burgundy one is the first high-low skirt I've acquired (though not the first high-low dress), but I foresee them playing a much bigger role in my life as they saturate the secondhand market!

So we've visited 2012, we've stopped off in 2015, what's next? How about 2016, where the legacy of my shoes began? You see, in 2016, I acquired a pair of pink glitter jelly sandals that simply set my heart on fire! I wore them once or twice that year, but the following summer, I took them out of storage to find they had developed a terrible stink. I washed them in every kind of chemical imaginable, but I couldn't get the odor out. Eventually, I washed them in ammonia, which not only failed to get out the odor, but also turned the plastic cloudy and ugly, so finally I gave up. I replaced them with these: slightly inferior, but still pink and glittery, flat jelly sandals.

Since we're traveling forward in time, I might mention that the first time I wore the shirt in this outfit was last summer, but it's not that important. What is important is how I styled the shirt. 
To get it to look good with the skirt, I had to give it the old quarter-tuck. 
"The old what?" you say. That's right, I've never mentioned it in my blog before, but it's an indispensable technique for making a single shirt do double-duty. As it has become one of my most tried-and-true styling techniques (and, as this has already become an irredeemably verbose blog post!) I might as well finally get around to explaining how to use it.

The half- and quarter-tuck

The half-tuck is a simple way to wear your shirt so it's tucked in in the front and loose in the back. There are so many reasons why you might want to try half-tucking your shirt!
  1. It raises your shirt's hemline, thus showing more of your pants, thus adding apparent length to your legs.
  2. It simultaneously allows you to keep a sleek waistline by avoiding the side-pooch that comes with tucking your shirt in at the sides.
  3. It helps prevent your pants from being seen through your shirt, as would be the case if you wear a too-thin shirt on the outside of your pants (that's why I tucked the shirt in this outfit)
  4. It can help define your waist, which might be hidden when leaving a baggy shirt completely untucked
  5. It keeps the bulk of your shirt outside of your pants, thus avoiding any interior bunching, lumps, and bumps, that would come from having a shirt completely tucked.
The half-tuck's edgier sibling is the quarter-tuck, which is basically tucking in only one side of the front of your shirt, usually resulting in an asymmetrical angle to the hemline. I find the quarter-tuck works well on shirts (such as this pink one) that already have some asymmetrical details.

Fashionistas have been wearing their shirts this way for ages—I first tried the half-tuck myself in 2015— but now, as I understand, it has been thrown into the mainstream by being dubbed the "French tuck" on a popular Netflix show. I just call it the half-tuck because I have never watched Queer Eye and don't intend to adopt a new terminology just because someone on that show allegedly uses it.

So now that I have reached the absolute present in my journey through fashion history (and I mean absolute—the word "French tuck" just exploded in the media within the past week!), it is time to bid you adieu. I hope that you have enjoyed this rambling discourse on what was, is, and will be, as well as my undoubtedly valuable instructions on how to wear your clothes...but in case you have not, I hope you at least enjoy this cute picture of a dog!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Once more, with felines

It's been almost a year since the first and last time I wore the black and white skirt-pants from Indonesia—high time to break them out for another outfit!

It couldn't be that hard, right? Black goes with everything. White goes with everything. Black-and-white goes with...well, usually only other black-and-white things, or else a solid color. Black with a solitary bold white diagonal stripe goes with...apparently nothing! I tried almost every top in my wardrobe but couldn't find anything that flattered when paired with the pants. I think their stumpy length might be partly to blame, but also the fact that the white stripe just stood out too much next to a top of any other color, including black.

However, as I learned last time, the pants do look good with another garment that's primarily black but also features white trim—so this time I wore them with my tiger top. The black background on the blouse, plus the bold white bottom hem, help tie it in with the colors on the pants.

The accent color for today (naturally, I wasn't going to settle for black or white accessories!) is fuchsia. I wore pink high-heeled pumps and a pair of pink dangle earrings.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Even freer shoulders

I was pretty pleased with myself when I restyled this shapeless bird dress to have a less confining and more trendy open-shoulder fit last spring, but the feeling was short-lived.

I tried to wear it a few times this winter, and I quickly discovered that the material is plagued by static cling. Even with a slip underneath, even sprayed liberally with water, rubbed with a light coating of hand lotion, and all the other tricks I usually use to mitigate static, it still managed to adhere to my thighs with every step. While I could have chosen to reserve it for the relatively humid days of late spring and early fall, I decided I'd be better served by re-refashioning it into a summer frock.

So, off went the sleeves! If my shoulders thought they were freed with the first iteration of this dress, they must be positively giddy with liberty now!

I finished the armholes with a single fold and a zigzag stitch (the lazy tailor's overlock!), and could have been done right there.

However, I now had all this fabric from the sleeves, and meanwhile the dress was still a pretty unflattering shape, so I decided to try to sew a sash from the sleeves.

In order to make the sash long enough to tie around my waist, I was going to need to salvage as much fabric as possible, so my first step was to un-hem the ends of the sleeves to gain about an inch each.

Even stuck end-to-end, though, the sleeves were still way short of belt size. I needed a minimum length equal to that of three sleeves, so with only two sleeves at my disposal, I was going to have to do some math. If I divided each sleeve into 3 sections lengthwise, I could double the sections up (to form a front side and a back side) and then sew them end to end, to get the length I needed.

So I folded each sleeve back in half lengthwise  and cut it into three strips. In the picture, the black line marks where I cut the folded sleeve.
Because the sleeve was wider at the shoulder than at the wrist, I left this part a little wider, to give the sash a little flare at the ends.
My next step was to join all the sections at their ends (I had left the bottom seam of one sleeve intact, so they two halves are already attached in the picture.

Then I put the front side and the back side together (inside out) and stitched around the outside edges, leaving just an inch un-sewn.

Through this opening, I turned the whole sash right side out, forming a tube, and finally hand-stitched it shut.

When ironed flat, this is how it looked.

And this is how it looks when worn!

The new tie belt is all well and good, but for incredible heat waves, like the one we're going through now (temperatures above 90 and heat index above 100), I have one more trick up my (non-)sleeve!

Before completely calling this project done, I sewed a slight curve into the waistline of the dress. Although mostly imperceptible, it turns the straight-up-and-down shift dress into something a little more slimming, so that it looks slightly better on me even without the belt. When the weather's as hot as this, I need as much breathability as I can get! So I'll wear my dress without the belt and enjoy the extra airflow that comes with a reasonably loose but subtly tailored frock.