Photos by Kathleen Whittemore Photography & | Photos By Diana Van Horn Photography
Hello, all! First, we must introduce ourselves: we are Jeannine Errico and Erin Buterick, the savvy, intelligent, supermodel-looking owners of School of Vintage. What is a ‘School of Vintage’? It’s a handmade and vintage boutique that specializes in bridal gowns and accessories. As you may have guessed, we are not your traditional wedding vendor.
For those of you who already follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media outlet that we may have signed up for and forgotten to use, you know that we have a recurring post, which has turned into its own blog titled “S*** People Say.” We decided to keep our bay magazine column as interactive as our social media, and bring to you S*** People Ask. However, since this is a legitimate and beautiful magazine run by two wonderful people who have somehow trusted us to write this column, we will be titling this piece with more professionalism:
“School of Vintage’s Frequently Asked Questions”
We put a call out on Facebook to prompt our loyal followers to ask us their burning questions. It turns out these are questions we often get asked in and outside of our store. Ladies and gentlemen, may we present to you our inaugural bay magazine wedding column post, where we respond to your Frequently Asked Questions.
Question: I would want to know more about the altering and customizing you do for each vintage dress and bride, because that’s what really sets you seamstress dames apart from the rest.
Erin: There are times when we will alter a dress before it even hits the rack, because it may be a little “too vintage.” What that typically means is that it’s dated, less classic, and more costume-y (to use the technical term). Sometimes this entails removing sleeves, hemming it shorter, lowering the neckline, etc. We are very careful not to do too much to the dress and to maintain as many original details as possible. Usually there’s a reason a bride is looking for vintage, and that’s because she likes those aspects that are oftentimes not found on modern gowns. It’s what sets these gowns apart. As far as altering for a bride, the ideas usually come from her. The idea of taking a skirt from her mother’s gown and placing it on the bodice of her grandmother’s is creative and exciting work to do. I love when brides have an outside-the-box vision; it makes their gowns really personal.
Question: What are the steps from trunk/box/suitcase to store rack?
Erin: You’d be surprised at the condition we find some dresses in. We’ve found 70-year-old dresses crumpled up in garbage bags in an attic, at garage sales next to an old ashtray, and shoved in the back corner of a closet. With a little (or sometimes a lot of) TLC, they shine like the top of the Chrysler building! The journey from garbage bag to our rack usually requires: multiple soaks in my bathtub, “sunbathing” the dress for a little UV therapy, replacing buttons, replacing rotted lace, fixing old beading, and any alterations that are needed.
Question: I love vintage gowns, but don’t want to wear a whale-bone corset to fit into one. What are my options?
Erin: I love this question. Who doesn’t want to wear a whale-bone corset? I think what this person is referring to is the tiny waists we often see in vintage gowns—specifically from the 1950s when corsets were common. Usually there is enough seam allowance if you’re within an inch or two of the gown’s measurements, so alterations can fix that issue. One of the downsides to shopping vintage is that there is only one in existence! This means, if it doesn’t fit, and nothing can be done alterations-wise, it’s just not meant to be. It can be quite a magical thing when a girl comes in, loves a gown, and it fits her perfectly. Surprisingly, that happens more often than not!
Question: Is it bad juju if the person whose now-vintage gown I want to wear didn’t have a happy marriage?
Jeannine: We don’t know the history of all the gowns we carry in our store. However, we’ve been briefed on quite of few of them and 99.999999% of those dresses have come from a happy, long-lasting marriage. The owners typically want another happy bride to experience the joy of their wedding gown. The only dress we have that we know ended in divorce was worn by Don McLean’s first wife. You know Don McLean, right? The singer of American Pie? If you don’t know the name or title, I urge you to look it up. If you’re still unfamiliar, then you might want to reconsider something as important as marriage. (I kid, I kid…kind of:) My point to all of this is that you’re not always going to know the back-story of every dress. In fact, you could buy a brand-new dress from a chain store and it could have been returned by a bride who was left at the altar. Hopefully that’s not the case, but you really have no idea. The important thing is the joy, happiness, and positive energy that you bring to the dress that you fall in love with. Every material item in this world takes on the energy of the people around it. So, before you buy anything from us, all you need to know is that if something has found a temporary home in our store, Erin and I love it very much. We’ve hand-selected it, cleaned it, mended it, altered it and made room for it amongst our other beloved items. So, that possible bad juju you speak of simply cannot exist in our store. Nor can it exist if you love it and make it your own.
Question: What is your favorite decade in terms of wedding styles and why?
Jeannine: I love the 1920s through the 1950s most when it comes to wedding gowns. The, 20s gave us the iconic flapper look with boxy silhouettes, drop waists, decorative lace, and heavy beading. They could also be very simple and accessorized with just long necklaces and high gloves. Great Gatsby-style weddings were hugely popular last year because of the movie. The, 20s make for a beautiful look and we won’t see that theme going away anytime soon. I also love the sleek and sexy bias-cut dresses that became popular in the, 30s and were worn into the, 40s. They give a very Old Hollywood kind of look that is just so undeniably beautiful. And, of course, the New Look of the, 50s. This really took on a life of its own in the wedding department with the tight bodices and full skirts – the term “princess” comes to mind here. This type of dress yields the most flattering look on most body types. There are, of course, endless variations of each look from each decade and some of those styles have fallen flat while others have such classic elegance and staying power that their silhouettes have been replicated time and time again.
Question: How do you determine if a vintage piece is worth selling or salvaging? What inspiration do you use to update some pieces?
Erin: Rule One: not all vintage is good vintage! We have a few questions we answer that serve as our criteria: A) Is there a market for it? Meaning, even if it’s not our particular style, can we see someone liking it? B) Is there any damage? If so, is it fixable or at least wearable? C) Is it costume-y or classic? D) Can we sell it for enough to make the work going into salvaging it worth it?
Jeannine and I have this version of ESP we’ve named “Vintuition.” This basically means, without speaking to each other, knowing whether the other person wants to salvage a piece or not. It’s accurate 93% of the time. We also apply that term to knowing where to order lunch from or whether or not to get manicures after rummaging through someone’s basement.
Question: Whaaaaaat is up with vintage sizing? I’m all over the place in my previously loved pieces. Or is it more likely they’ve been altered?
Jeannine: To sum it up with an example, there’s about a four-size difference between what once was a size 12 fifty years ago and what a modern size 12 is today. That can be really confusing (and discouraging!) in and of itself. And to add to that, you’re right, there’s a good chance the pieces have been altered. Vintage clothing was not mass-produced like it is now. People bought clothing to last and they had pieces for everyday wear and for special occasions. More often than not, these items were in it for the long haul, so their wearers would have them altered to their specific dimensions. What you’re experiencing is most likely a combination of the sizing difference and the alterations, which really makes the size label almost useless to the consumer. Our customers often ask for specific sizes when they come in. We usually end up explaining all of this to them with the main point to just forget the size label. Pretend they’re not even there. Try it on (using your better judgment so as to not rip it or break a zipper, which has happened more than once). In some cases it’ll be perfect. Sometimes it will need to be altered. And sometimes it’s just not meant to be. But the bottom line is to forget sizing and go with your eye.
We’ll be back in the September issue of bay magazine to answer more burning Frequently Asked Questions – don’t miss our next column! We’ll be addressing some of the following customer inquiries and more:
• How would you help a plus-size gal with vintage style?
• If my mother’s/grandmother’s vintage gown is ugly/outdated (or made post, 70s) is there any way I can incorporate parts of it into a new one?
• What is the absolute favorite wedding dress you had the pleasure of working on?
• What do you suggest for the rest of the wedding party, so you have a cohesive vintage look?
And if you have questions to ask in the meantime or are planning your big day, feel free to contact us, follow us on social media or in our blog, or stop into our Surf City location for a face-to-face chat. See you soon!