THE DISCIPLES OF SHIRLEY RUSSELL: THE 2013 ULTIMATE BUYER'S GUIDE TO VINTAGE REPRODUCTION AND PINUP CLOTHING (from Petite to Plus Size all you need to know)
In honour of Shirley Russell, the High Priestess of Vintage Reproduction and the British Edith Head who's unparalleled 1950s reproduction costumes for the film "Tommy" I covered in detail earlier this year, here is a list of thee best places to buy Vintage Repro (VR) on the planet. Back when Ken and Shirley were working on his early short films, they'd comb Portabello road and Camden town collecting Victorian and 20's treasures and throughout Ken's entire film career he used vintage clothing to wonderful effect.
I've been wearing and collecting vintage since I was about 11 years old and with the help of my loving, patient hubby, I have spent the two past years building my Pin Up wardrobe to fuller proportions in preparation for the launch of superamanda.com and superamanda.co.uk. and because it makes a big difference in comfort and style to wear mid-century era clothing for my body type. I sincerely believe that any body type can wear vintage reproduction clothing and feel fantastic. You can create curves where none seemingly were before and sculpt a fuller plus size figure that seems lost and amorphous in lowrise clothing.
Unlike many msm reviewers and fashion writers (few magazines ever properly cover vintage repro), I either own or have tried almost on every single line listed below. This list would not have been possible without the master list created by professional fashion writer and blogger Gemma Cartwright who runs Big Girls Browse, a real size fashion blog. Though I knew the majority of the names on her master list very well , Gemma's expertise turned me onto Get Cutie, Lady Vintage and Big Beautiful Barbara Brown; three must know names for VR addicts.
The first list below is actual designer lines of VR I primarily wear and therefore have the most experience with. Betty LeBonbon, Whirling Turban and Tara Starlet are on top but after that, there is no order of how they rank as all are fantastic. The second, is a list of Vintage Reproduction boutiques and stores that I have yet to experience or who feature smaller house lines whilst the third list entails stores that sell all of the above.
Lines and stores were only included if...
-they offer great customer service (how I was treated online and in person with no one knowing I was buying, much less reviewing)
- fair and easy return policy on non -vintage and non-bespoke (custom made) items.
- did not have outlandish "restocking fees" which are unjust. Just say "no returns".
-high quality product, not simply "cute" or "trendy"
-Nothing sourced from Asia especially China and Vietnam who are criminally liquidating the few Rhinos and Tigers still left on the planet. Thus no Hell Bunny, Dead Souls Army or Trashy Diva and definitely no foul, evil Queen of Holloway who are ripping off Bernie Dexter and so many others.
- the seller offers a website that shows their product very clearly
And ideally they did not:
-Sell me an item at full price with inflated shipping and then post the same item on Ebay four days later at a rock bottom price.
-charge my card and then not have the item in stock multiple times
-refuse to return emails
- inflate prices
- use Confederate flags and other unwholesome sleazy or racially arcane motifs
-offer poor quality for the money
- have a bad fit
- have rude, "can't be arsed" service
- distort the colours of the fabric of their items with photoshop
*What is true to size? (see asterix below this post) UK sizing, even in Vintage Repro runs smaller than US overall-sometimes as much as three sizes. Obviously few of us are going to fall within these exact numbers but this is a clear indication of how to shop via this list. Ideally you get a specific size chart for that clothing line but not always. My measurements are a very hourglassy 44(32GG)-28-40 and I'm almost 5'10 so I'm wearing a 12 to even 18 in some lines with tailoring. I'm not truly plus size, closer to what I call 'real size' but my frame and bust line means I often by XL and over. I have friends who are in the 4 to 6 range as well as the plus size. In my late teens and early 20's I wore a US junior's 9/10 and was 37 (32EE)-25-38 inch waist, then for a good solid five years in the Noughties I taught Pilates, exercised full time and was an athlete at about 39 (34F) -27- 38, and I was a true full figured plus size for a time after pregnancy and due to breastfeeding 48(34H)-36-47. Apart from never having been very thin or very overweight, I doubt there is any body type that would be news for me and there are many of photos of me one My Space to back this up. Thus unlike many Pin up clothing reviewers I've dramatically run the gamut on fit and really know my stuff.
Special Sizing: Currently there is no single VR line solely doing Plus Size or Petite vintage. You do have lines like Pin Up Girl Clothing and Bettie Page which go up to 2x and 4X and use fabrics like bengaline and viscose that work with many plus size figures though. You also can find many bespoke Pin up dresses thanks to ETSY. Smaller built and petite gals can rejoice in lines like Jones and Jones and Trollied Dolly which only go up to a UK12/US 9-10. As frustrating as this can be this offers smaller busted and slightly built gals a chance to rock Vintage Repro without needing to fill the "buxom bombshell" slot. Vintage Reproduction is for ALL body types after all. As of this writing Bernie dexter is phasing out all 1X and 2X sizing so act quick.
Note: This list does not include bespoke etsy sellers/designers or vendors who solely sell vintage.
THE TOP VINTAGE REPRODUCTION LINES
Tara Starlet (Made in The UK).
Tara Starlet's craftsmanship and styling is of the highest quality. The ENTIRE line is vintage reproduction with virtually no modern fabrics like bengaline and no nods to any modern cuts. TS uses end of roll fabrics which not only means they are helping the environment but you end up with a garment almost no one else will have. They also offer Hawaiian clothing made of real Hawaiian fabric from the island itself! TS has perfected a look that is sexy, Victory girl and British belle all at once. Tara Starlet fits best on petite sizes up going to a trim UK 14 which is a US Juniors 13/14 with fit all over the map at times so call customer service if you have any questions. In a few (emphasise on few) dresses which have open necklines or stretch satin you may get away with a much larger fit in the bust with free hips. Tara Starlet cuts many busts on their standard collar bust bustier/smaller ribcage shape which is used for a large portion of their halter tops, evening, day and wiggle dresses. I'm at the very top of their sizing and can attest that large busted women (FF cup and over) will need tailoring or to simply opt out as a few necklines will not work at all on big breasts (even if the rest of you fits) If you have a classic thin Audrey Hepburn or trim modestly busted figure that you don't think will look good wearing vintage then think again, because you can rock this line. Ideally it is made for trimmer and A to 32DDUK cup busted gals.
Signature item: Sailor Pants and Sailor shorts. The best anywhere.
Sizing: Varies, call if you have any questions
Fits: Not recommended for the full figured, very buxom or even remotely plus size. Most styles only fit up to a US size 13/14 tops.Collar bust cut only works on smaller bust lines.
Avoid: Nothing if it fits
Do note: Few TS items ever go one sale so grab what you want when you see it and check back often. Their founder is active in the Shoreditch community and her work is indicative true of a British Heritage label.
Whirling Turban (Made in Bali with ethically locally sourced Green fabrics by a small family of staff)
My first Whirling Turban playsuit arrived a few months back and it is the one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I've ever owned. Until you actually hold the clothing in your hands you can't imagine how wonderful Katharine's work is. Questioning Katherine's unrivalled knowledge is not advised though! I actually thought I moulded modern bra would work with vintage repros and she strongly suggested sticking with the era's conical shape. Thus when I wore a conical shape bra with a waist cincher and the fit was astonishing. My twin torpedos defied physics, nearly creating a riot on the District Line and would have made NASA proud. Her wing bust dresses and play suits are fully boned which means you really are turned up and put out to your best vintage repro couture look possible.
Signature item: Shaheen Wing Bust reproduction
Sizing: Bespoke and Vintage
Fit: Hollywood aka "like a glove".
Avoid: Buying any WT items "second hand". It's like wearing someone else's wedding ring.
Do note: This is Vintage Reproduction bespoke taken to the highest level. Shirley Russell would be proud.
4. Fables By Barrie (Made in the US)
Tucked in to a delightful San Diego store front, fables By Barrie recalls the great masters like DeGraff and Cole of California who made woman's casual wear and swimsuits to be both functional and feminine. Everything that Barrie makes is 100% easy to with many items sewn on site. She's now branched out from swimwear into dresses and jazzy capris. Customer service is top knotch and they make you feel like family.
Signature: Tuxedo swimsuit and high rise Peggy capris
Sizing: True to size
Fits: Up to an XL/14-18 in some styles with bespoke service available during less peak times. Call to check.
Avoid: Not having the proper bra, you may need one for some of the one piece swimsuits if you are very buxom.The owner kindly offered to sew mine into the swimsuit for a small fee but I found that wearing a one size too small white push-up extreme balconette did the trick.
Do note: Bikini top separates are US sizing. Ask if you have fit concerns, they are happy to help.
5. Pin Up Girl Clothing (Made in the USA)
Let's give credit where credit is due: Pin Up Girl Clothing did not create the So Cal Pin Up scene-they ARE the scene. Back in the early internet days PUG was doing it all; trying out styles, fabrics, cuts and melding it with the glorious and burgeoning rockabilly, swing, psychobilly, biker, stripper, fetish, burlesque, kustom kulture lifestyle of the West Coast. This vibe has made them the most popular Vintage Reproduction line in the world. They offer, alongside very wearable, modern takes on Pin Up styles and even clubwear with a VR twist. Many of their models and muses are swiftly becoming household names in their own right. Their creator, Laura Bynes also allows free speech on the PUG Facebook page and room for debate alongside the hundreds of thousands of loyal customers talking up the wonderful products they create. PUG is a movement unto itself!
Signature Dress(es): Blue Malibu Tiki Wrap (size large just went for over 200 used on Ebay this summer and has now been reissued in honour of Amy Winehouse who wore the dress often with a matching bolero),
The Micheline Dress and the Evelyn Dress
Fit: Check the charts and ask questions because sizing varies though once you nail the proper sizing then PUG is easy to buy and wear.
Sizing: From petite to plus size
Avoid: Nothing just check the size charts and reviews.
Do note: Returning customers get 10% of all purchases and they often have secret sales for email subscribers.
6. Dolly Dagger (Made in England)
The Dolly Dagger boutique is a vintage repro fanatics dream come true; the layout, the location, the service. You simply can't replicate the vintage reproduction shopping experience to a higher level of charm. Tucked into a charming white gingerbread store in the historic Laines section of Brighton with cute accessories and home wares artfully placed here and there, Dolly Dagger is it! They have recently expanded their small house clothing line adding over half a dozen new styles which some of the most stunning vintage style dresses anywhere in the world. The dresses with names like Brighton Belle, Paloma/Lulu, Gypsy, Scarlet etc are on the pricer side but well made locally in Brighton. The bust on the Brighton Belle looks great on smaller sizes while anyone over an E cup will need a vintage fit bra to get the proper shape. The full coverage Paloma and the Lulu is a one of a kind vintage repro I've seen nowhere else with the waist wrapping around and buttoning superbly under the bust. There is no elastic ruching on any of the dresses so fit runs old school. Dolly Dagger is expanding their line every season so check back often.
Signature Dress: The Dolly Dagger Scarlet Dress
Sizing: Running smaller. Check measurements as they use their own size chart which varies slightly for each dress. If you are ordering online, have them do a precise measuring of the actual garment you will be getting.
Fits: Most sizes up to 2X running slightly small. Enquire about bespoke services.
Do note: A delightful place to visit in the historic Brighton Laines area -do not miss out if you are in town.
Lady Vintage (Made in Romania and the UK)
A hidden gem which I'm only sharing out of the goodness of my heart! You can't get a higher quality vintage repros for the price and, joy of joys, they only make a certain number of a design-often as little as 30 pieces! Plus size, petite and all sizes in between, this is "put it on and be comfortable and classy" vintage repro.
Signature Dress: Viscose cap sleeve swing dress
Sizing: Check measurements as they use their own size chart
Fit: Runs large, even in non-plus size and through the rib cage and bust. Does not detract at all from the product which is superior.
Do note: Items sell out very quickly
Other lines I highly recommend, own one or two pieces from or whom I've yet to try and plan to VERY soon:
20th Century Foxy (Made in the UK): Sells a variety of lines and has a rapidly expanding house line including a plus size line called "So Foxy". 20th Century Foxy has a lovely 40's/50's signature look all of their own and looks to be a major player on the UK vintage fashion scene. Fantastic shipping and customer service.
Vintage Suits By Mary (Made in the USA): Reputedly the highest quality vintage repro play suit/swimwear available what I see just looks astonishing. You can't tell the difference and I cannot WAIT to order!The owner is very kind and bespoke service is available.
Bettie Page Clothing (Made in the USA): Quality made in the USA range up to a 3x (sometimes 4X) with some items working as night club wear. Betty Page playsuits are not only running roomy and comfortable but are affordable. Tatyana , Beach Bash and Elvgren are the equally vintage inspired sister lines
Bernie Dexter Rockabilly Clothing (Formerly Bernie Dexter Rebel Girl) Made in the USA from high quality and hard to find Michael Miller and Robert Kaufman commercial fabrics, most of the designs work best on smaller busted slim figures with a limited amount of 2012 issues and plus sizes working on most body types and bustlines UKG and under to a US size 18/20.
Big Beautiful Barbara Brown (Made in the UK): My new Vintage Repro crush! Looking forward to ordering and she also sells vintage.
Blue Velvet Vintage: Great website layout, a small house line of Vintage Repro called "Classic Dame", well sourced authentic vintage and great customer service. BVV carries 20's to 60's designs by other lines as well.
Fever (Various countries, check labels) UK Line which features vintage inspired clothing all of which is very well made and very cute. So many standouts they can't be named. Check them out!
Get Cutie (Made in the UK) Brighton based Vintage Repro dresses in ANY fabric you want. They aim to create anything the customer desires.
Heartbreaker (Made in the USA): Large selection of very sweet and simply VR styles in US sourced fabrics with The Sweetie dress being the standout.
Jones and Jones (Made in the UK): Offers beautiful Vintage styling (50's to 70's) and Liberty print fabrics alongside modern/70's St.Tropez cuts for the super small and petite.
Lolita Girl (Made in the USA) 1950s swimsuits and dresses plus much more made by a small team based in Southern California.
Lowie (Made in the UK) Spectacular French and Italian inspired semi-posh vintage Repro line with some British Heritage influences thrown in. Bardot would have worn them. Runs small.
New Look: (Various countries, check labels) British High street label with roomy playsuits and great florals. Last month they became the first major retailer to release an entire Vintage Repro inspired line for the High Street with the Kelly Brook Collection.Do check out this indepth review!
Oasis: (Made in Romania and various countries, check labels) UK High Street that produces a vintage Repro line each Spring called Floral Frocks. 2011 was a standout with silk dresses which came with matching bags and scarves. 2012 had very nice cotton VR dresses running slightly small. Once they sell out they are almost impossible to find.
Puttin on the Ritz: Shirely Russell would be so proud of putting on the Ritz. This is an all bespoke 30's and 40's 100% wearable and as well made as it gets.
Queen of Heartz: Created by a vintage and fashion history expert, they offer a surprisingly large selection of roomy vintage repro dresses, rompers, and separates in high quality fabrics. QOH is the "wear to the office as well as the ball" side of vintage repro and that is a high compliment as nothing looks like a costume.
Shabby Apple (Made in the USA) East Coast vibe with a vast selection of mostly vintage themed clothing designed to segue to day's workplace and evening out. Unless they shoot at EPCOT centre, Shabby Apple hey appaer to have a staggering budget for very well thought out and lovely international photos shoots to showcase their clothing
Stop Staring (Made in the USA): Considered THEE vintage reproduction line by many, SS is ideal for top heavy figures. The Starlight Swing dress is one of the most beautiful dresses I own, but sadly I found the Cover Girl style did not work for me. There seems to be something for everyone in their line though.
Trollied Dolly (Made in the UK): Vintage style fabrics with a wearable high street twist runs very small but Mod Cloth carries an XL (UK 12). They carry some wonderful floral prints.
Vivien of Hollway (made in the UK) Popular London based label features all sizes to a UK 22/24
What Katie Did (Made in the UK and India): The best ready to wear and made to order corsets and waist cinchers anywhere in the world alongside their legendary vintage reproduction lingerie. Do note that new school UK sizing is not available on the bras meaning that there are no 30G, 34FF and 32GG sizing and fit is closer to old school aka bigger band size and bigger cup size which for larger busted gals can mean that the straps take the weight of the breasts. Ideally you are under a 34E to wear their bras. Katie is also one of the only manufacturers left in the world making seamed stockings on vintage machines.
ONLINE BOUTIQUES SELLING VINTAGE REPRODUCTIONS:
Red7Movies: Ebay seller with a huge selection plus some of the best service anywhere! Red7Movies will try to get you ANY dress, just ask.
BabyGirl Boutique: Great service, huge selection including vintage and 10% return customer discount
JBR Clothing: Some of the best service anywhere!
Unique Vintage: Huge selection plus dozens of vintage finds which they usual have modelled on a non vintage figures. Customer service is very helpful via the phone but their tax, shipping and lack of any really great sales can grate. They have a massive inventory and usually offer major vintage repro lines at slightly reduced prices. Do note that UV have to navigate the emotionally delicate world of high volume prom dress selling so cut them a bit of slack if they goof up or don't back to you instantaneously. The staff is very kind and willing to help. Sadly the house line is made in China which they really need to do something about.
Mod Cloth: I'm neutral on Mod Cloth. I love the vibe, the voluminous selection (dresses number into the thousands), the exclusives and all the reviews but feel a bit annoyed that they carry many UK high street and US/UK Pin Up brands and then simply rename the dresses for their own website with no brand often listed. This detracts from the original seller, the UK vibe and seems sneaky but their selection can't be denied and as I said they have many exclusives.
*What is true to size?
In this case here is a Vintage Reproduction guide that I created combining over a dozen vintage repro size charts. Sizing is in women's not junior's fit. Do note that UK sizing as a whole usually runs smaller than US.