History is a great inspiration for me. I love long Victorian skirts, Edwardian lace, 1950s swishy skirts and 1940s shirtdresses, to name but a few. I also love wearing my makes, whether or not it makes me stand out. Last year, Mordan Donner came up with the term “history bounding“. The idea is to incorporate historical elements into your everyday wardrobe while adapting the outfit enough for it to suit your lifestyle. This pretty much describes what I do! However, as much as I sew, not everything I wear is me-made. I do try to avoid buying fast fashion but I allow myself treasure hunting at thrift stores.
So, let’s look at some everyday outfits, that I have been wearing. A warning, I haven’t taken these photos for the blog, so the quality varies, especially as they have been snapped with my phone often in poor light conditions!
Not surprisingly I have been wearing my turn-of-the 20th century walking skirts and waistcoats a lot lately. They are warm and comfortable to wear both in and outdoors. I have described it as being wrapped in a warm wool blanket whole day! The first outfit has been accessorised with an old black silk scarf. Underneath, I wear a pair of lace-up boots that I thrifted. The blouse underneath the gray vest has also been trifted and so is the red Cambridge satchel that I wear as a purse.
I have so many great coats but haven’t had much opportunity to wear them this winter that has been record warm here in Finland. This black vintage coat that I thrifted last year has been my go-to coat after I repaired and fitted it for me. On warmer days I have just worn a thrifted wool blazer on the right.
These are older pictures of me channelling 1950s look. During the summer 1950s is easy to pull off. I have got a lot of compliments on my dresses and skirts. The only thing old is the 1950s hat which I found at a vintage shop in Helsinki.
Cardigans always add interest to an outfit and keep you warm on cooler days. I have quite a collection and I wear them often. I haven’t managed to find good vintage ones but I will wear my cardigans out. My favourite cardigans have been repaired and patched and repaired again and they will still last years!
Thrifting tips for a history bounder
Thrifting is treasure hunting and you never know what you’re about to find. Sometimes I find nothing, sometimes I spot one treasure after another. The best thrift stores are close to well-to-do neighbourhoods where people are less likely to spend their time and effort to sell their more expensive pieces online and just donate them. Regular fleamarkets are much better than so called “vintage” boutiques if you want to make finds and don’t want to spend a lot of money.
At first glance, shopping at a thrift store may look frightening if you have got used to seeing several pieces of the same garment hanging neatly in all sizes imaginable. What I have noticed is that it is better if you know the materials and colours you really like. I only stop to check the size if the material and the colour tempts me.
For those fleamarkets that rent booths for people to sell their old stuff, I first check the overall look of the booth. I then usually check only one garment for size and move on if it is not my size. If the booth is owned by a person that is size XS or L, she most probably doesn’t have any garments of my size. Rather than spend hours browsing, I thus up the probability of finding a garment that fits me.
All these shoes have been thrifted by yours truly. For the most part, they cost around 12 euros or even less and all of them were hardly used. The only pair that is more expensive is at the lower right corner because I found them at a vintage boutique. My favourite pairs are the four pairs of laced boots.
I look for boots and shoes that are made out of leather and that have minimal signs of wear. Mostly these are pairs that people threw away. Perhaps they had bought a pair too small by accident, or perhaps that pair gave them blisters. Usually, I only need to polish them and in a few cases, change the laces. I have also noticed that I can hide many scuffs on plastic heels with a permanent marker in the right colour.
Jackets, coats and blazers
You can find blazers that are in mint condition pretty easily. Look especially quality blazers made out of wool. If I remember correctly, this Ralph Lauren blazer cost 12 €. What I love most about it is that it has real victorian cut with one vertical dart in the front and two side panels. It looks great paired with my walking skirts.
For the coats, I look for old ones made by a real tailor. I also love old Finnish-made coats that have extra wadding to suit Finnish weather. If the outer fabric is in good condition, I can accept holes in a lining as I can always replace it. The most important thing is to check that the shoulders fit. I can easily tailor the rest of the coat to fit me.
I often find petticoats and slips, too, as so many people don’t wear them anymore. If I remember correctly, I think I paid 4 € out of the white cotton petticoat. However, I splurged a whole 45 € when I found the black silk taffeta petticoat on the right. I don’t know how old it is exactly. All the seams were hand-finished but it had an old-fashioned metal zipper.
Still, 45 € was a cheap price for the black petticoat as that money couldn’t have bought me enough silk taffeta to make a whole petticoat. I did have to make it bigger though as the previous owner had taken it in by removing one silk panel completely. Luckily the panel had been saved with the petticoat and I only had to sew it back on! As a side note, I also thrifted the black corset that my dressform has on the picture on the right-hand side.
Scarves and other accessories are usually pretty easy to find. Most of my silk scarves have been thrifted, although the black narrow one in the picture above used to belong to my mother-in-law. Just be sure to check the scarves for snags and leave those scarves that are polyester or acrylic as they feel sweaty and pill.
Bags, too, are items that people often donate in a very good condition. I picked this white clutch to wear with a 1950s style dress for a wedding. My favourite red satchel I wear as my everyday purse only cost me 10 € and it looked brand new.
Around here, the bigger thrift stores have a special corner for makers. There you can find things like thread, pins, lace, zippers and ribbon. I have even managed to find a pair of shoe lasts! For knitters, there is yarn and for those that like crafting their own jewellery, beads and jewellery parts. I also collect old sewing books and sewing patterns. I found the family of dressforms online and now they are in my use.
Besides treasure hunting, I like thrift stores for observation. As I browse through the shelves and racks I often think what people buy and what they end up not wanting. There are, of course, many good reasons to donate things. People donate children’s clothes that no longer fit or furniture that belonged to a deceased family member. But then I see row after row of identical, cheap Ikea vases and I stop to think how we people are so easily lured to buy products that we don’t need or even like. I am not better at it than anyone else. Luckily I now know to head to the thrift stores to satisfy my need to consume. If I start to regret my purchase, I can take it as a learning experience and take the item back from where it came from!
However, I don’t want to pass judgement on anyone that goes and buys fast fashion. Not everyone has access to good thrift stores and finding things requires time. If your kid needs a pair of ice skates for the next week or you a pair of dressy trousers for a work interview, the chances are that you aren’t going to find a pair that fits in that time. Furthermore, I don’t buy my kids’ shoes second hand. Kids generally wear their shoes out and the ones available secondhand are often in poor condition. However, I want to tempt you to visit a thrift store for fun and inspiration and you may find that helping the planet may have other benefits, too!