I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: closet purges are overrated. My interest in vintage clothes led me to the anti-purge epiphany. If I am willing to pay a pretty penny to buy clothes that are 40 years old from a vintage dealer, why should I banish pieces that are a mere five, 10, or 15 years old from my closet? Of course, this policy only applies to high-quality clothes.
I was thinking about the accessibility of high-quality clothes after gorgeous blogger Maddy, commenting on my recent post on non-buyer’s remorse, said, “… I couldn’t imagine spending that much on clothes.” I had two reactions:
- Anyone who has bought inexpensive clothes from Forever 21 this year needs to holla at me in 2025 and tell me how those things are holding up. That kind of stuff is penny-wise but pound-foolish in my book.
- But … you don’t have to spend big bucks to get great clothes.
Twenty years ago, before H&M’s and Zara’s fast fashion hit the U.S., I had a minimal clothing budget. I used to haunt Ann Taylor, waiting for a work-appropriate suit to go on sale for under $150. Seriously, I’d visit the same store every day to monitor the situation. At the same time, I started dabbling in designer sample sales and vintage. I got rid of the inexpensive Ann Taylor suits long ago, but I still have the inexpensive sample-sale and vintage clothing. And it’s even easier to buy great pieces at great prices now. In the early ’90s, I had to dash to the garment-center sales after work, in a cold sweat because I was worried all the good Todd Oldham would be sold out. These days you can shop from the comfort of your home (or office … you know you do it) thanks to eBay, online vintage sellers and flash-sale sites such as Gilt Groupe. One of my all-time favorite purchases is the Donald Brooks Couture gown I call the Sex-ay Pilgrim Dress: $60 on eBay, bitches!
One of the first evening gowns I bought was an unlabeled, ostrich-trimmed dress from a costume/vintage warehouse sale. I think it was close to $100 and I was very nervous about spending that much. I wore it to the cocktail part of the evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala in 1994 and to sit in the cheap seats at the CFDA Fashion Awards in 1995.
In 1994 and 1995, the dress made me feel like Audrey Hepburn. No, it made me feel BETTER than Audrey Hepburn. But I didn’t wear it again. First I developed doubts about whether the loose-fitting, ankle-length gown was particularly flattering to me. Then I bought other dresses. Much later, I stopped wearing all-black dresses for evening events, having realized that they don’t stand out in a crowd, nor do they photograph well. Still, I couldn’t bear to get rid of the dress because of its great quality.
When I was considering what to wear to see my friend Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel honored by the Weeksville Heritage Center on Tuesday, I decided it was time to give the dress another chance. So here it is: the dress that was vintage when I bought it 16 years ago. It’s double-vintage now!
The heritage center preserves the history of the Weeksville neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. Weeksville was established by free blacks years before the Civil War. It was named after James Weeks, who bought a plot of land there in 1838. The center gave Barbaralee its Humanitarian Award, which was presented to her by Matilda Cuomo.
MrB missed Barbaralee’s moment because he was traveling. In his absence, I was forced to recruit another guest to take my outfit photo. She didn’t get my accessories, so I decided to take my own picture of them at home. While I was doing that, Gigi the dog photobombed the shot. She loves to hang out with purses.
As usual, Julie Matos from Riccardo Maggiore styled my hair and Tennille from Kimara Ahnert did my makeup.
The dress has two layers: a sheath underneath and the top part with the feather trim. I did a twirl so you could check that out.
What Wendy Wore
Dress: Unknown vintage (acquired in 1994)
Shoes: Prada (pre-2005)
Purse: Susan Farber (probably 2008)
Earrings: My own Hathor design
Lip color: Rebel by MAC
After all my doubts, I felt great in the dress. I promise I won’t wait another 15 years to wear it again.
La Belette Rouge says
I wish I could time travel to 2003 and buy that Pilgrim dress. I LOVE it. And I will love it in 2013 and 2023.
You echo my sentiments exactly. Of course, we all buy a few inepxensive throw-away pieces, but mostly, I buy the good stuff. I still have some incredible clothes in my closet that I bought 20 years ago, and will wear again.
Why throw away what I own now that I might buy in a vintage shop in 20 years??? I’m not big on closet purges either.
My Red Lace Norma Kamali dress was given to me by a friend in 1990. She bought it in the late 80’s. I’m praying that it still looks well on me as I’m hoping to wear it again this winter.
I agree with you an all accounts and those ostrich feather trim dress is for keeps, I LOVE it!!!
I dont find myself writing about the accessibility of “expensive” clothes. We grew up having our mom make a lot of our clothes like freakin little house on the prairie but Im really thankful for it now. I will stand by this, but the swapmeets (out of all the places in the world) in california are probably the best thing in the world. I’ve found vintage, new, brand new, brand names, etc you name it, at swapmeets. At the best prices possible. Maybe around 15 years ago we started noticing vendors selling department store deadstock or damaged items. We used to visit a man in the late 90’s who would sell us Nordstrom BP things for 2 or 3 bucks, all missing a button or such. That our mom could easily fix. We’ve encountered these kinds of vendors through out the years from all kinds of stores, most recently they are people selling Target stock. But my sister now found a man who sells things from Nordstrom, we’ve come full circle – she’s found missoni, Phillip Lim, Alexander wang for the cheapest prices ever. As in $20 or under. We’ve taken advantage of their lack of knowledge about what the clothes is really worth. But because of their ignorance, we’ve been able to dress like someone with more money! Granted now, we actually have more money to spend on better items. When I purge my closet, it’s for all that cheap stuff that I know wont last with me through time and time again. You are the proof Wendy! ps. Sorry for this essay I wrote.
I too am always happy to do a little repair work! I do hate dealing with moth holes though. They’re pesky. My occasional purges are also things like the t-shirts I wear every day that get disgusting after a few years…but never the good stuff.
Actually, I bought a pair of pinstripe (the stripes are stitched in contrasting white thread!) trousers from a Forever21 in 2003 that looked great then and continue to look great now! I do agree that it was a diamond in the rough though – I recently bought a pair of Prada short and they are SUCH good quality that I am officially a convert.
I just love you in that feather dress. I can see what you mean about the slightly odd shape of it maybe not being flattering but it looks great on you!
▲ WOLF WHISTLE ▲
I figure sometimes it’s better to feel good than to look good!
I love your posts on this topic! When I was still living in NYC, I used to hit H&M and Forever 21 for a pick-me-up when I was feeling down… and also because I thought they were the only places I could afford. When I moved to Taipei and had to clean out my closet, I was shocked by the amount of stuff from fast fashion stores that I couldn’t even donate because they were in such poor condition after just a couple years in my closet. It really hit me that for the money I’d spent on five crappy shirts or skirts, I could have purchased one really nice piece that I’d wear again and again for years (and that would hold up well enough for me to resell on eBay or feel good about donating if I finally got sick of it). There would have been less variety in my closet, but in my case, variety definitely equaled clutter. Every time I’m about to make an impulse buy, I just think of packing to move abroad — the horror is usually enough to make me run out of the store.
That's Not My Age says
Too right! Love the double vintage dress – and just wish I had more time to shop for fabulous bargains at designer sales
You don’t need time, you just need eBay. Set up some favorite searches, and eBay will email you whenever something becomes available!
The Owl's Closet says
I love that you have a vintage factory going on in ur closet, Wendy;) You always showcase the coolest pieces! Omgosh, love the detailing of that feather dress! Nice twirly pic!
fashion butter says
Ann Taylor – YES. I think most work suits were from there right out of college. (I made nothing at my job, but a strict business dress code was enforced. I needed to take a second job waitressing at night just to pay for my wardrobe for my first job). And now that you mention it, I did pitch everything from there eventually. Any suits I still have are really nice ones I found discount shopping.
BTW, did you know that Whitney Houston shopped at Ann Taylor? I was picking up something during my lunch break once when I worked in Washington, DC, and Whitney blows into the store, sweating, tells the sales girl and me that she is hot because it was cold when she left NYC so she put on a heavy sweater and needed help finding a new outfit to perform in in a few hours (I think it was at the Million Family March). She then asked me if I was hot (I told her yes even though it was like 60 degrees outside), finished up my purchase, wished her good luck finding something cute, tried to keep myself from giggling, and started to head for the door. Then Bobby walks in five people deep, wearing an electric blue suit, checks out my rack, and then continues towards Whitney. As I walk out the door of the store, I see about 5 million mall employees running towards me. Word got out that Whitney was in the building! The entire thing was hilarious.
HIGHlarious story. Literally.
Unfortunately, not all of us can even afford vintage or sample sales. When you REALLY have to tighten your belt and need to replace basics, you go the Forever 21 route because you cannot walk around looking bad in falling apart clothing. Wouldn’t be good for meeting potential clients or the job search wearing hole-y, shrunken, badly fitting, clothing.
I would love to be able to afford vintage and sample sales (btw, here in small city Washington state there is no such thing as sample sales but I can direct you to Macys, Nordstorm, and the many Walmarts we do have). I am having to make do and because my savings is getting rapidly depleted, no money is coming in to replace it at the moment, and my clothing is falling apart slowly, I am having to go the Forever 21 (and other stores of this nature) route until things improve.
When times are really tough (small town America is REALLY feeling this “recession”), you just have to make do and hope to be able to afford better the next time you need to replace that cardigan or skirt.
Give me a break, Brie. You have been reading me long enough to know damn well that I’m not suggesting that anyone who is truly broke do any kind of foolish shopping. Guess what? It’s not just small-town America. I know plenty of people who have been out of work a year or more in the big city, with big city rent to pay, some of whom have had less than $100 to their names at specific times. Do you think I talk to them about their shopping habits? It should be obvious that I’m referring to the kind of people who always say they can’t afford things, yet they’re buying fast-fashion crap every week. Those are the people whom I encourage to cut back on the rush of shopping constantly and put their money towards something better.
And equally obviously, if you’ve got no money and all you need is emergency BASICS, you buy them from any place you can. Who cares? A t-shirt isn’t going to last anyway. I’ve posted pictures on this blog of the Danskin leggings and Hanes men’s undershirts I wore when I was a college student. I didn’t get any t-shirt that didn’t come in a plastic pack of three.
That said, I’m surprised small city Washington State doesn’t have a Goodwill as an option for non t-shirt and jeans necessities, but you don’t need one anymore, anyway. eBay has a better range and takes less time to shop. If you needed a suit for a job, for instance, there are 590 women’s suits online right now, and I bet some of them will go for Forever 21 prices.
Small town Washington’s Goodwill is all Walmart stuff. The good stuff goes to the fancy vintage shop we have downtown who promptly marks it up to expensive in price. So you are left with pilled, misshapen, polyester, rayon, badly fitting, Walmart clothing people should have tossed out. So annoying for people trying to shift through all that crap looking for something wearable.
If people are into the whole vintage style or looking for things a little bit cheaper than on say, Bluefly…Ebay is the way to go as you said. I go there to try and find clothes I cannot find locally and have so-so success since my tastes can be, well, not what is the thing everyone is wanting.
Hopefully, when the money gets flowing again, I can replace some of the cheap basics with longer lasting ones. Except for socks…I refuse to pay over $15 for socks since socks never seen to last longer than a season or two no matter how expensive and well-made they are. 🙂
I have expensive taste that I barely ever get to indulge at the moment.
Couture Allure says
I love this dress on you, Wendy. I’ll keep an eye out for it in my vintage magazines. Maybe someday we’ll know who the designer was. Thanks for continuing to promote vintage! I am a firm believer that once you try a vintage dress, you’ll be amazed at the quality that far outshines anything you can buy today.
Yes, let me know!
Joy D. says
Wow, I am always impressed by your back catalog in your closet. It is like transporting in time.
Penny Dreadful Vintage says
So agree, although I do get rid of clothes if I realise they just don’t suit my shape and I shouldn’t have bought them in the first place. I make less of those mistakes the older I get. And owning fabulous vintage is like having your own art collection, you don’t need to wear it all the time to love it.
Speaking of… amaaaazing feather dress, wouldn’t I love to play in that one!
Yes, the only things I’ve gotten rid of have, for the most part, been things I decided were truly unflattering and probably shouldn’t have been purchased in the first place. Those things have to go. I was on the fence about this dress.
Ruth Johnston says
I love love love that Pilgrim dress, I cannot think of anything less like a pilgrim though 🙂 you look amazing xx
Couture Carrie says
Fantastic dress and post!
Love these pics!
I also love it when you post on this subject, Wendy. You put it better than I could, though I see buying clothing in very much the same way you do.
I absolutely love, though, that you kept this dress even though you hesitated to wear it at one point. I think that says so much about your dedication to things that you know have worked and will work again, and it says so much about your belief that certain things are worth saving. Like this dress. It’s gorgeous now, and will be gorgeous ten years from now.
Thanks for this post (and others you’ve written like it).
Can’t squeeze another reply in to Brie above, but since she mentioned how eBay is less expensive than Bluefly, I wanted to throw in that often department store website sales are less expensive than Bluefly too! If you’re buying current season, do your research. If you see something good on Bluefly, check Nordstrom/Saks/Bergdorf/Neimans for good sales prices. Shopstyle.com is also an option for sales alerts.
So fun to see how the nameless vintage dress has been worn and loved over the years!
sharon rose says
Hi my dear-just loved this post and all the various replies back too, as you know I mainly thrift items and since I’ve been blogging I’ve managed to buy good quality designer and vintage for such low amounts, it really is investment dressing for the future to look at goodwill, charity shops and boot sales for quality pieces-they are only the same amounts of money than what you would pay in shops like Forever 21 or our UK equivalent, Primark. I try not to cull much anymore, only things like tees and basics. I now have a wardrobe of quality vintage and designer, that like Penny Dreaded Vintage says is like having your own art collection that you can admire and wear for whenever. Your feathered dress is stunning and a definite keeper it looks so gorgeous on and is utterly timeless.
LOVE this post. People don’t understand that clothes are investment pieces and you can find deals on amazing items – that last FOREVER. (I also keep everything much to the chagrin of my boyfriend who shares a closet with me.) I try to hit up H&M and F21 (and occasionally find a piece or two – mainly accessories) but the quality and ubiquity kills me. I’d prefer to save up for a quality piece, stalk sales and have an incredible wardrobe for the next 25 years. Thanks for this post – love your blog!
devilishly pleasurable says
The feathers are downright amazing!
I have a habit of buying Forever21/H&M and then thinking, hey, for ten of those pieces, I could have gotten a gorgeous expensive, timeless piece. Fortunately for me, my habit is getting a lil less habitual these days. . Although, I must say that if one *hardly* wears these cheap mass-market pieces and handwashes them, they do last. .
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this – and seeing those pics! I rarely purge any of my better quality clothes, because I usually put a lot of thought into how often I’ll wear them before purchasing. And I quite like holding on to pieces for sentimental reasons, but I definitely don’t hang on to fast fashion buys like that. I agree that getting your hands on quality/expensive gear doesn’t have to come with a high price tag. I went to two designer sample sales this week and ironically the items I got were cheaper than the equivalent in Zara.
Adore both those dresses (the details are gorgeous!) and of course your earrings. Glad you got to wear the feathered dress again!
Hahaha!!! I love that you quoted me – the most unfashionable person ever – on this post! I am honored, Mrs. Wendy! And yes, I completely agree my H&M doesn’t hold up very well these days, but like you so eloquently stated, it’s about priorities. I don’t knock anyone that spends on clothes, it’s just not something I spend my $$ on these days since I have other “expensive” luxuries I indulge in 🙂 And you ALWAYS look fabulous and timeless in your beautiful couture! If I had a little more disposable income, I’d go shopping in your closet!
It is so nice to see how we change of style so fast, but you always look elegant and beautiful…you are the best Wendy!
What a gem Wendy! That dress is really amazing!
Totally agree that cheaper, fast fashion chains won’t last very long in my wardrobe before they fall to pieces. Paying that little bit more is definitely beneficial in the long term…as long as you can afford it! But for now, that means I don’t buy clothes from Primark!
Thank god that even with all of my purging tendencies, I’ve never gotten rid of anything good.
I stan for ebay. Got a Thakoon dress for $50. Might even wear it tonight. =D
I think the dress looks even better now than it did all those years ago – and it was great then! I agree with you about vintage clothing. It is SO much easier than ever before to be chic at many price points.
Might I just mention… you are hot!
I agree… lately I have been trying to buy pieces that I can imagine in my closet for the rest of my life (though I do dabble in at h&m). I can purge the denim and the cheap sweaters but I can’t let go of the vintage dresses. Someone was already stupid enough to let them go once (and then I would happily find them in the thrift store) so I don’t want to be doubly stupid and let them go again…
I don’t purge my high quality clothes as well. I have some pieces which can possibly become vintage soon and I still adore them. BTW, fab smile.
I swear… that last photo… you look like you’re about to step up and except your Oscar!
I love both dresses. The pilgrim is gorgeous and then the feathers on the other one, hard to choose my favourite. x
Christina Lindsay says
Dear Wendy, the pilgrim dress and the feather dress are both absolutely stunning. I loved this post xx
I love your vintage dresses, they are all so beautiful. I love the earrings with the dress too!
you know it really is all about the art of shopping. if you know how to shop, you can find amazing pieces for not a lot of money. most of my prized possessions are one of a kind treasures i found at the goodwill or designer items that had gone on sale that i had been eyeing, just like you used to do.
i must tell you—that is one hell of a sex-ay woman in the gorgeous pilgrim dress. wowza!
Stunning dress and you look even more beautiful wearing it today.
I agree with your sentiments for the most part, but I have noticed over the past few years that some designers have started outsourcing their lines … making the whole “higher-quality” argument futile. I know that “some” doesnt mean all, but it seems like that is the direction they’re headed?
Also, when you post about this, you often write about formal dresses — which makes me wonder — how do you dress “everyday”? While I know you could definitely rock that dress while grocery shopping, do you? What brands do you rely on for everyday work wear and casual dress?
When I worked in the corporate world, I wore suits every day. Now that I work for myself, I wear jeans and a t-shirt. You can see the everyday look in the following posts, among many others:
Oh, that Sex-ay Pilgrim dress is so beautiful! I like the feather dress too. It looks so perfect in that picture where\’s choir in back of you, and with your earrings and beautiful smile is a pure perfection.
Peace and love!
I like a mixture of both. Fast fashion can satisfy my need to have a vast variety of choices in my wardrobe, as well as to test out something especially trendy that I’m uncertain I’ll be able to wear more than one or two different ways. I also rely on stores like H&M and Forever 21 for basic layering pieces that I know won’t last anyway.
However, I really appreciate quality pieces, and I’m willing to invest in something special when I come across it. I would do a lot more shopping on eBay, but I have to admit to being a little clueless about vintage designers and not really knowing where to start looking, or how much something is worth. Would you care to share your eBay secrets with us, Wendy? You seem to find lots of gems on there and I’d love to have some of that magic rub off on me.
My #1 bit of eBay advice is here: http://wendybrandes.com/blog/2008/04/snipe-dammit/
As for what to buy, you need to do offline research in brick and mortar stores and figure out what designers you like, how they fit you, what your vintage size is, etc. I know my size in 1970s Ossies and 1990 Moschinos, for instance. I have no qualms about bidding on either of those.
If you’re buying current season, you should definitely know the retail price. If it’s that compelling and rare a piece that you want to bid more than retail for it, that’s fine, but you should know what you’re doing. For vintage, you should know what comparable prices are in vintage stores both offline and online.
I also try to avoid dealing with any sellers whose positive feedback is below 99.5%. Even if the negative comments are rare, it’s still worth looking at what those were about. Of course, if the complainer is clearly criminal (you’ll know from the horrendous feedback that he/she has) feel free to ignore those particular instances.
Remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If the price of a current-day handbag is bizarrely low, don’t trust it.
Prêt à Porter P says
Fabulous! That Donald Brooks dress is absolutely amazing! Sometimes you can really luck out on ebay when the seller doesn’t really know what they’re selling, it’s how I got such a good deal on my Tom Ford era YSL jacket. I don’t agree with the “fashion experts” (what does that mean anyway?) that say just because you haven’t worn it in 2 years it should be gotten rid of or the 1 in 1 out policy. Some items can be put in the archives and brought back out a year later and be amazing again.
Bad photographs by sellers also help! I remember the picture of the Donald Brooks gown wasn’t the best ever…
It’s nice to see those earrings on you.
I wish I had the eye for vintage that you do. You seem to make unfailing choices and to really know what works. This dress is such a unique style and shape, and it has really held up over the years.
I love your hair, too!
Love the twirl shot. More twirl shots!
melina bee says
I am biased, but I really like how you look with straight bangs. Reminds me of Betty Page, of course. I love seeing people hair “evolutions”
I looooove this dress! I would totally buy it if it was sold today. I never rule out baggy/loose/shapeless dresses, because they can be soo flattering. A lot of women think that dresses that don’t show off your figure are unflattering. But take the dress above, its not figure-hugging, but its still feminine and pretty!