Tag Archives: vintage clothing

Were People Really So Much Smaller in the Victorian Era?

Wow. Once again, I must apologize for not posting. I have a good excuse this time. I spent some time in the hospital, lost a bit of weight, and now I have to rebuild my energy. To tie this into vintage clothing – I can wear my vintage dresses again! But I don’t recommend disease for weight loss. Although health, nutrition, and lifestyles are among the many reasons antique and vintage clothing is considered so tiny today.

“People were so much smaller back then!” One thing about working in a retail setting, I heard that statement AT LEAST once a day.

I used to display antique dresses for sale in my antiques shop. Waaay back when I first opened my shop, I thought that people really wanted to learn about these beauties so whenever someone would utter those words I tried to use the opportunity to talk about their history. Who can resist talking about them?

From the Way Back Machine:  Antique Dresses displayed in my shop back in 2004

From the Way Back Machine: Antique Dresses displayed in my shop back in 2004

Nine times out of ten the exchange would go like this:

Visitor: Oh my! Have you seen the size of that waist?
Me: Um … (thinking to myself – yes, I dressed the dress form … how do I answer this one?) Yes. It’s a lovely dress isn’t it?

Visitor: People were so much smaller back then. How horrible it would be to wear a corset!
Me: Actually, a properly fit corset is not uncomfortable at all and females wore corsets from such a young age that their bodies and minds were used to them.

Visitor: They were shorter back then, too.
Me: Not necessarily. I’m 5’ 1” and all these dresses are too long for me. The shoulders on the dress forms are all set higher than my shoulders are – in heels!

Visitor: (blank stare) (silence) Well, ALL these dresses are so tiny!
Me: There can be many reasons for that. Think of your own closet. Have you saved a dress or two from the past? What dresses were they?

Visitor: Only my wedding dress.
Me: That’s pretty typical. We tend to save a dress worn at a special occasion or time of our life. USUALLY that’s when we’re young and … well, at our smallest adult size.

In the 19th century it wasn’t uncommon for a young lady to be married in a new “best dress” instead of a special, white wedding dress. The newly married lady would then probably continue to wear this “best dress” for special occasions and to church on Sunday. It probably wasn’t long before the bride became pregnant with her first child and .. before long she couldn’t wear it and put it away to wear after the baby came. For many reasons, that dress might not come out of storage and these are the wonderful, near perfect dresses we love so much today.

As time passed, new dresses that were at least somewhat larger (you know, the “huge” ones with the 28” waist LOL) were made and remade into more current styles. Lots of bodices still exist without matching skirts because the skirts had larger spans of fabric that could be used to make other clothing – probably for children – when they became worn or stained. And sadly, a greater number of women died at a younger age then and it’s likely that their clothing was put away and left for sentimental reasons.

There are many other factors that contribute to our larger sizes such as better nutrition, portion sizes, and our sedentary lifestyles. Plus, the shape of a corseted body is much different than the natural shape our bodies take today.

Visitor: ZZZzzzzZZZZzzzzZZZZzzz……

After having this exchange with few variations over a period of years, the exchange has become much more concise.

Visitor: Oh my! Have you seen the size of that waist? People were so much smaller back then.
Me: (Smile) Well, they never met a Big Mac.
Visitor: (Smile) That’s true!

Visitor: I wouldn’t wear a corset. That would be so painful!
Me: (Smile)

I’ll share the death by corset article next time ….

News from Belle à Coeur Treasure Trove Vintage

Ta Da! I’m baaack! After a year-long hiatus … an agonizing year of having my website updated that turned into me going to school and learning HTML! (Turns out, it’s kind of fun … well, so far. LOL) I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the shop’s new look and let me know how you like it. It still has come bugs, but … these, too, shall pass.

Wedding Cupcakes

Wedding Cupcakes

So what’s happened over the past year? Not a whole lot. I kept holding off listing things, thinking the website would be ready. You know how it goes. Last year was a good year to step back a little, though, because both of my children got married! What a year! My youngest asked me to make their wedding cake to save money. This turned into wedding cupcakes. Months of testing recipes and decorations that fattened up the entire county! My oldest used a reception hall that didn’t allow outside bakery products, so I did their rehearsal dinner cupcakes. If you want to take a peek at them, I started a blog “Victim of Cupcakes” to keep track of what I was doing – and THAT turned out to be really fun, too! I’m a little behind on THAT one, too!

What does this have to do with vintage? Welllllll …… my personal vintage stash no longer fits!

Seriously, I HAVE to stay off Pinterest. I discovered Pinterest while researching cake recipes and decorations and it’s turned into yet another fun diversion. I’ve been pinning wonderful things from my shop, wonderful things from my vintie friends’ shops, recipes, jewelry, hints, recipes, shoes, recipes … See where this is going? My personal stash of vintage clothing no longer fits! Follow me on Pinterest so we can share all the wonderful vintage and recipes (I’m never going to fit into my clothing, am I?)

As to shop news, we just came back from the Chicagoland Vintage Clothing, Jewelry and Textile Show & Sale in Elgin, Illinois. Had a great time, visited with friends, made new friends, and sold a lot of goodies! It’s always interesting to see what’s “hot” from one show to the next. I sold a BUNCH of skirts and I don’t think I’ve ever sold a skirt at Elgin!

For the past several years, I have been asked to give a short demonstration/presentation on different vintage subjects. (Yep, that’s me in the video from last February with the Victorian corset, hoops, and underpinnings!) This time, my presentation was “How to Buy Vintage Clothing that Fits”. As promised, I will be breaking it down into a couple of blog posts so that those who attended can refer to it AND so can my readers! I’ll get started on that next week because this one is quickly getting away from me!

Dare to Compare Hair

That’s it.  I hate T.C.  Not only is she tall, slim, and shapely but now she has MY hair!

I was playing around with this really nice 1940s astrakhan bolero jacket – getting ready to list it – when I thought it would be fun to make up an all mix and match vintage outfit.   I picked out an 80s suede skirt, a 50s nylon blouse, the bolero, and a gold tone multi chain vintage necklace.  That’s when it happened.  She wasn’t really rockin the outfit with that hair.

Vintage 40s Astrakhan Bolero, 50s Nylon Blouse, 80s Suede Skirt

Vintage 40s Astrakhan Bolero, 50s Nylon Blouse, 80s Suede Skirt

This is T.C.'s usual 'do

This is T.C.’s usual ‘do

T.C.'s Borrowed 'Do

T.C.’s Borrowed ‘Do

So I grabbed Lana’s hair. (She didn’t say anything, but I know she was UNHAPPY.  After all, she’s the one with the GOOD hair and her attitude shows she knows it!)  Then I put it on T.C. and the brat looks pretty good!  (Shhhh … better than Lana.  She has a buffalo head.)



No female is ever happy with her hair.  If it’s straight, we want curls, if it’s curly we want waves.  If it’s brown we want blonde.  At some point in the last 10 years my own hair has become schizophrenic.  For most of my life it has been straight as a stick.  Of course, the 1980s brought us Big Hair.  I came by mine by getting perms every 6 months or so.

But I digress.  The point is  —  now that I see Lana’s hair on T.C. – I want my hair to do that!  I’m the same calico color but … Of course, I also want my body to do that tall, slim, and shapely thing, too!  Oh well, joke’s on her — I have both my thumbs!

Lana and Heady in their "everyday" 'dos

Lana and Heady in their “everyday” ‘dos


Resolving Not to Resolve This Year

Did you make resolutions this year?  I did and I didn’t.  Actually all I really did for a resolution was to not really make any!  Just a vague Get Organized resolution, and I don’t really consider that a New Year’s Resolution because I think I make that resolution every morning!

So now that I’ve organized my workspace into vague piles of Stuff To Do with various levels of priority, I can get right down to business!

You probably noticed that I changed the name of this blog last year, but did you notice that I changed the name of my shop, too?  Why, you ask?  (c’mon … ask!)  The old shop name (Bonnie & Clyde’s Treasure Trove) was actually bringing more people to my website that weren’t looking for vintage clothing.  Some were looking for history, some were looking for B&C costumes, and all sorts of other items I don’t sell or even know anything about!  Since I didn’t want to have to change my URL, I wanted to keep the initials fairly similar and came up with our new name:  Belle à Coeur Treasure Trove Vintage.  (Beautiful (at) Heart) I think it better reflects our shop and I hope you do too!

Now I have a teensy little request:  Please go to my new Facebook page and “like” us there.  You may already “like” my old Facebook page, but I need to close that down and delete it and I can’t do that until I get at least 107 fans.

It’s All Barbie’s Fault -Really!

I was thinking about my best friend coming to visit soon and looking forward, not only to just catching up and enjoying her company, but to having her help me get some newly arrived vintage clothing inventory photographed for the website.

Midge, Barbie, & Allen - the original fashion dolls

Midge, Barbie, & Allen – the original fashion dolls

It was then that I realized … I’m still playing with Barbies!  Except this “Barbie” is 6 ft. tall (taller than either of us) and weighs enough to, well, she’s no lightweight – she’s a vintage mannequin – you’ve probably seen her in some of my listings.  Her name is T.C. (a story for another time).

I just love dressing T.C. in fabulous vintage fashions.  It’s even more fun when I’m able to accessorize with hats and purses. Just like back in the old days … with Barbie.

My friend, Lynne, and I would spend hours … well, actually, days playing with our Barbies together.  We must have literally had hundreds of different outfits between us.  My dad always growled that he felt he should be allowed to claim Barbie as a dependent!  Between us, Lynne and I had a collection of dolls, accessories and of course, clothing from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s that, if they had been real adult clothing would have not only cost a fortune, but would give any vintage lover today heart palpitations!

Sadly, like many girls, we grew older and sold our Barbies and their wardrobes at a <GASP!> garage sale.  I’ve lamented the loss now that I’m older and comfort myself with the thought that when we sold them, they weren’t collectible.

So imagine my surprise when, just the other day my darling husband gave me duplicates of my old blonde bubble hair Barbie and friends.  Talk about fun!  All I’ve been able to think about is trying to find some of the old sets of clothing that I had.  Of course, the outfits I’m most attracted to are the older sets, those of the early and mid 1960s.  I didn’t have many of those but the few I had, I’d love to find again.  (I did find one – one of my favorites!)

And then it hit me … this is just like what I do every day!  I search out great vintage dresses for the shop and I dress T.C. in them.

So, it IS all Barbie’s fault!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Didja ever wonder how I ended up with such a … lousy … shop name?  (I do.)  No fair.  I *know* how I ended up with this name and now, I’m going to tell you!  Let’s go in the Way Back machine ………

Many moons ago (many!) back when my husband I had just started dating, we had a standing joke that we were having too much fun together and, therefore, we were doing something BAD.    (As you might have guessed, our ex-spouses had managed to make anything FUN out to be BAD.)  One thing led to another and to make this long story short, we ended up calling ourselves Bonnie & Clyde.  NO, it is NOT our real names!

Many more moons passed and we decided to follow a dream and open an antique store.  I chose the antiques because a location smack in the middle of north central Indiana is NOT really conducive to becoming vintage fashion central.  But I could still have an area for vintage clothing and jewelry in the shop.  We combed the area for antique and vintage items for the shop and were soon calling them “treasures”.  (See where this is going?)

When it came to putting a name on the sign in front of the shop, I was just at a loss.  Some people have a talent for coming up with cute and creative names.  I don’t.  (Obviously!)  We were coming down to the wire and needed a name for our sign painter and “Bonnie & Clyde’s Treasure Trove” came out as the best of all the terrible ideas we were having at the time.  Exhaustion will do that.

Since that time, I’ve been called “Bonnie” or asked if our names really are Bonnie and Clyde.  (NO, they’re NOT!).  Repeatedly.  I have had people ask me if I want to buy the shoes the real Bonnie was wearing when she was killed.  (SERIOUSLY??? NOOOO!)  Some have asked if they can buy Bonnie’s clothes.  (Um, no .. at least not here.)  People have asked if we are related to Bonnie & Clyde.  (No!)  It really didn’t take long to see that we’d picked a terrible name for the shop, but it was too late and we learned to live with it.

Then came the internet.  I did a little bit on ebay, but honestly, never really got on well with it. Back then, it was a struggle to just get a website up and running but we got a little website going.   After a few years, the website actually became a viable stand alone shop and my vintage clothing and jewelry were overwhelming people looking at antiques, so we broke the antiques off to another website (craigantiques.com) and left the clothing and jewelry on the original website because we discovered our page rank was doing well and we had repeat internet customers.  Now we were REALLY stuck with the name!

I still try to think of a better name for my vintage clothing and jewelry shop … when (if) I think of something … YOU will be the first to know!

Back on Track with a Great Find –1965 Sears Catalogs

We’ve all had writer’s block.  OBVIOUSLY, I’m having one and have had one for … OMG … 6 months.

In my defense, I have been over my head in STUFF.  Closing the shop last fall required more time and effort than I ever imagined.  Every time I thought I could get back to working on what I love – vintage fashion – MORE stuff showed up that needed my immediate attention.

So, it’s been a very frustrating 6 months for me, but this time I THINK I’m really back!  Just wanted to make contact and see if I still even know how to use wordpress.  I promise, the next post will be creative, informative, and exciting (probably!)

Vegetable Garden

Vegetable Garden

Plus, I admit I’ve been happily sidetracked by my garden produce.  I’ve been blessed with a bumper crop of green beans and have been busily picking and freezing.  Got a great deal on blueberries in bulk and made jam (haven’t done that in YEARS!) and am in the process of freezing the rest.  I just made a blueberry crisp from a new recipe with a strange ingredient that I, personally, hate.  But it turned out really good!  Now, I’m seeing some of my Roma tomatoes beginning to turn red so tomato sauce is on the near horizon.  And, my “critically acclaimed” salsa.   I made gallons last year and all that’s left are two jars.

Back on the tracks … all this madness has been due to the sale of my building and closing my brick and mortar antiques shop where I also had my vintage clothing.  This building is 100+ years old and had a minimum of 60 years of leftover JUNK in there that had to be removed.  While I had never used the “attic” (simply a crawl space above the 14 ft. ceiling for electrical and roof access), we went up there to be sure there was nothing that needed to be removed.  It was empty, as expected, EXCEPT for a small crate of old Sears catalogs from the mid-1960s.  Most are still in the mailing wrapper!  I’ve only had time to briefly look at a couple from 1965 and all I want to do is place my order!  Would love to see the “Cape Jacket Suit” on the left appear on my front porch! Anyway, I’m going to be studying these treasures and hope to show you a few fun “new” vintage in the coming months.

Martha Sleeper – Silent Film Actress to Fashion Designer

Maybe I said this before when I was researching a Nelly Don dress, one of the most enjoyable parts of selling vintage clothing – for me – is research and learning.  It seems selfish not to pass along information when I find it. Including a lot of historical detail  in a description can be overwhelming for some, so I’m passing some knowledge along here!

I purchased several pieces of clothing from the estate of a woman whose family owned a high end clothing boutique from about the 1940s through the 1960s or 70s.  Almost every item was either tailor made, designer (remember the Mingolini Guggenheim?), or at least had an interesting clothing label.

Now that we’re well into summer, I’m desperately trying to pull a few more summer dresses out to get into my shop.  This dress caught my eye because the turquoise and white cotton print looks so cooling.  One look at the label, “Martha Sleeper Creates For You  100% Cotton San Juan, Puerto Rico” and I knew I had some research to do!

Martha Sleeper Label

Martha Sleeper Label

It turns out that Martha Sleeper started her career in silent films and then moved on to Broadway in the 1940s.  Then, in 1949 she took a vacation to the Virgin Islands and ended up in Puerto Rico where she loved it so much, she stayed.  While looking for a way to support herself in her new life, she began designing jewelry – a hobby she enjoyed prior to WWII.  Finding that “too tedious”, she started designing clothing and in 1950, opened a shop. She designed the silk screen prints for her fabric and 80% of this printed fabric was processed in Puerto Rico.  By 1955, her island inspired clothing was being exported to other islands and to the US.

Martha Sleeper Vintage Summer Dress

Martha Sleeper Vintage Summer Dress

In 1964, Ms. Sleeper opened a shop in Palm Beach, Florida at the urging of her friends and divided her time between Palm Beach and Puerto Rico.

Martha Sleeper died on March 25, 1983 of a heart attack at age 72 in Beaufort, South Carolina where she lived with her third husband.

So now that I’ve found out just who Martha Sleeper was … can I really sell the dress?  Well it depends.  Does it fit me?!

The Vintage Message Center

Do you sometimes leave notes for family members that never get seen?

A couple summers ago when my youngest son was home from college,  occasionally I needed to leave him a note.  But how to make certain he would see it?  Figuring that one of the first places a sleepy teenager would visit upon awakening in the early afternoon hours, I decided to try the bathroom counter.  When that didn’t quite work, I turned to the toilet – lid closed, of course.  Somehow, even that didn’t always work.

A face only a mother could love

A face only a mother could love

Then one day while sorting through a vintage haul, two beady little eyes peered up at me.

Fearlessly (ok, I knew it was in there – but it sounds good) I pulled the little guy out and noted how unusual he is.  You know those old mink collar/stoles where several pelts are sewn together and a head clips onto a tail?  Usually, there are multiple heads, feet, and tails.  This one has just one head and one tail.

I’m a sucker for these things – Grandma had one and I think they’re kinda cute.  Please understand that these things come from a time and place when our sensibilities were quite different than today.  Vintage furs come from animals that gave up the ghost long, long ago.  That critter is already dead, and throwing it out now seems somewhat disrespectful and mean, so don’t come after me with hate mail.  I love animals and I wish these things didn’t happen, but they did.  Sad, but what’s done is done.

Imagine walking into a room, half asleep, to find this dear little critter ... just holding a message for you

Imagine walking into a room, half asleep, to find this dear little critter … just holding a message for you

Anyway, here’s this little mink face staring up at me.  Ever notice how squeezing the clip makes the critter “talk”?  Well, we were talking and he gave me the idea to clip one of those bathroom notes in its mouth and leave it on the floor of the bathroom.  I’m betting there’s a pretty good chance this note won’t get missed.  Frankly, I’m really sorry I wasn’t there to see the reaction.  You’d have to know my kid ….

Somehow, this note didn't get missed

Somehow, this note didn’t get missed




So now the Message Mink hangs on a hanger on a hook on the back of the bathroom door.  That’s where he lives now.

Fast forward to last week.  The Message Mink is now hanging in our bedroom.  Noting this, I asked how it got there.  It seems that I hung a bunch of shirts on the hook where the Minky lives.  DH picked up his shirts and took them upstairs and put them in his closet.  A few days later, he reached in to pull out a shirt and out came those beady little eyes.

WHERE am I when all the good stuff happens?

Minky's Hang Out

Minky’s Hang Out

What’s in a name: Housecoat, House Dress, Dressing Robe, or Bathrobe?

One of the many things I find so enjoyable about vintage fashion is coming across something I’ve never seen before and then learning about it.  Of course, part of that comes from needing to know as much as possible about an item in order to properly describe and sell it.  But really, I enjoy placing vintage clothing in its context.  It’s really amazing how understanding the clothing people wore at different periods in time tells one so much about HOW life was lived.  It’s history, yes, but with everyday people in their everyday lives.  I could yap on this subject forever but I’d never get to the point I was originally trying to make.

1930s/ 1940s Hostess Dress

1930s/ 1940s Hostess Dress

My latest “whatzit” is a delightful late 1930s / early 1940s house dress.  To be honest, when I first laid eyes on it I thought it was just Depression era cotton fabric yardage.  That is, until I discovered the metal zipper down the front that led from the bodice with the poufy sleeves and scoop neckline to the billowing bias cut full-length skirt.

To say I was stymied, is an understatement.  To my modern eyes and modern mindset, this looks to me to be almost an evening gown.  But in cotton calico?  With a metal zipper at center front?  And it’s so simply constructed that it could easily have been homemade except for the size tag and the manufacturer’s label – Modely.

Putting on my Sherlock Holmes detective hat and secret decoder ring, I made a list of things I knew about the dress:  1)  Cotton fabric in Depression era colors and pattern.  2)  Large metal zipper on cotton twill.  3)  Bias cut fabric in the voluminous skirt.  4)  Label.

Numbers 1,2, and 3 all scream 1930s to me.  An internet search brought absolutely nothing on the manufacturer.  I tried searching on 1930s dress, 1930s fashion, 1930s gown … some similarities but the cotton fabric kept tripping me up.

After exhausting my own resources, a quick turn of my decoder ring (aka a yelp for help from my buddies at the Vintage Fashion Guild)  brought me loads of information once I knew what this item is actually called!  It’s a house dress from 1939 – 1941, sometimes called a housecoat.  Proper terminology really helps, especially with internet searches.

Now after doing more research, it occurs to me that the words “house dress” bring the image to mind of an old, cotton, rumbled, frumpy dress that some old auntie wore around the house while cleaning and doing laundry.  Something I would not be caught dead wearing.  And the word “housecoat” makes me think of a shapeless, quilted nylon knee-length piece of “lingerie” (bathrobe) that covers up jammies and goes nicely with  those vile, bristle hair rollers with the pink plastic picks sticking out everywhere.You know, the hair rollers from h*ll.(Have you ever tried to SLEEP in those things??!!) Ok, so maybe I come from a family of hillbillies but also, I’m thinking of things I saw back in the 60s and 70s.

Obviously, the meaning of the words “house dress” and “housecoat” in the early 1940s has changed.  A page from a Sears Catalog from 1934 is titled “House Wear and Uniforms” and includes a “house frock” (a cute gingham dress) and aprons as well as nurse and waitress uniforms.  The house dress, at that time, was still nice enough that one could have a friend over for a cup of coffee, clean house, and run to the grocery without having to change to a day dress in order to be seen in public.  (This reminds me of a Letter to the Editor of our local newspaper that made a comment about how it’s nice that people wear their pajama pants anywhere now, especially when they get “dressed up to go to Walmart”.  Oooookay.  But I digress.)

After some thinking, I’ve been wishing for something to wear around the house in the evening that isn’t as frumpy as my nightshirt and bunny slippers.  I think I just might sew one of these pretty little frocks for myself – this one isn’t quite my size, or a color that could ever conceivably look attractive anywhere near my body.  It’s time to feel just a bit more feminine and fancy at home, in my house dress.  I might even ditch the bunny slippers.

Nooo … let’s get real!

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