The Secret Lives of Dresses

One of my absolute favorite things in the world is vintage fashion. The dresses, the hats, the jewelry, the handbags… all of it! Esthetically, I am especially drawn to the fashion of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. To me, there is something romantic about wearing a day dress to do ordinary things. The bold patterns and flattering silhouettes, accompanied by the breezy feel of a dress make them one of my closet staples.

My affinity for vintage clothing recently drew me to read the book, The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean. It is the story of a young college student named Dora who was raised by her grandmother, the owner of a vintage fashion shop. A family emergency calls Dora home, forcing her to take charge of the store. While she is apprehensive about being part of the business at first, she finds her groove and makes a surprising discovery… her grandmother has been writing stories to accompany every dress she sells. Each story, told from the perspective of the article of clothing, imagines the life of the woman who owned it before it came to the shop.

Though the modern part of the tale left me a bit disappointed, I LOVED the stories of the dresses. Honestly, I wish the author would have focused exclusively on the dress stories instead of a messy, silly modern love story. Seriously… how cool would it be to go shopping and be swept away with a story of the person who had once upon a time walked in your clothes?!

Vintage shopping is a really fun activity. Stepping into the shop is a magical experience… the smell of fabrics that have been tucked away for decades, squeaky wooden floors, cases of glittering brooches, stands of beautiful hats, Big Band music playing, and quirky shop owners behind the counter. It’s a happy place where I could get lost for hours. I love perusing the dresses and jackets, just imagining who the clothes may have belonged to… where did they go and what was their story?

To be honest though, true vintage shopping (or thrift shopping, in general) is really difficult as a plus sized person. People just weren’t as fat even a few decades ago. With that being the case, the selection of dresses for the modern sized 22 woman doesn’t go back very far in the time machine. Going into vintage shops tends to be a moot point to purchase anything but accessories… which I have learned to accept. I usually settle for recreations from shops like Unique Vintage and ModCloth. (Don’t get me wrong… they are awesome, but I am the first owner.)

Recently, I stumbled upon the fact that Lane Bryant has been around since the early 1900’s. The original focus of the company was to create maternity clothing for the middle class and clothes for “stout women.” (No, not a joke.) This got me thinking… maybe I could at least search for some vintage Lane Bryant clothing. So I Googled it, and lo and behold… eBay had a few gems for sale. While the vintage idea of “stout” is still small by today’s standards, I was able to find a couple of items from the 60’s and 70’s that I could make work!

The first item I picked up is a green and white polyester, zip front dress from the 1960’s. The dress is a simple mini-dress with a fun swirled pattern in the fabric. I love the wide collar and the sailor bow that top the dress off. In this dress, I imagine going on a beach vacation with a crew of kids in a station wagon.

The second is a fit and flare, zip front dress from the 1970’s. The colors of this one are begging to be paired with some orange tights and a cute sweater in the fall. The dress feels more silky than the first and features a wide, pointed collar with autumn colored flowers on a purple background. It came with a matching belt… but I am too chubby for it. This dress reminds me of something my great-grandma would have worn at the time. She was a sweet lady who loved her family and had tons of friends at her Methodist church. If this dress lived stories like hers, I would cherish it even more.

I hope to take both of these dresses on new adventures that would make the previous owners proud. Maybe someday, I will discover the secrets that the dresses hold. Till then… I will keep searching for more vintage “stout woman” clothing.

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