Vintage Shopping Tips from Robert Black

On my quest to learn more about what vintage truly is I have discovered that in fact I am Vintage… Like a fine wine I feel my vintage, 1959 was a good year that produced a stellar crop. The 1959 Vintage folk grew up with a taste of the girly 50’s, the sexy 60’s the polyester 70’s, the opulent 80’s, the supermodel 90’s and now the confused millennium. Generally speaking it is important to understand that all vintage will eventually become antique so I will jump that hurdle when the time comes! For now, when we use the generic term Vintage to describe clothing we are referring to items that are 20 -100 years old. Vintage items include, handmade, used, manufactured and sometimes new or what we refer to as dead stock. One last term to be aware of as you start your quest is “vintage style” which refers to items currently produced to imitate the style of a previous era, in other words… not the real deal!

Vintage shopping should always be a fun and exciting adventure. Know that dressing in vintage apparel may mean you will step out of your comfort zone but it also means you will be one-of-a-kind! For many of us the hunt is the thrill. Finding that perfect piece to add to your collection or out do your coworkers at the office mad man party. Whatever the motivation you will find yourself in stores like mine where we have curated for you or if you are a die-hard you will be searching racks at thrift stores. Soon the obsession will consume your travels and irritate your family members but I am sure they have their vices also. It is important that on your quest you ALWAYS try on a vintage garment and pay no attention to the size on the label if there is one .Don’t panic if you do look and it says a 14 and you know you are a 4! Many times bust, waist and hip measurements are provided so you can “guestimate” if the garment will fit you on your way to the changing room. There is no standardization in sizes from decade to decade. Make sure if feels good and looks good on your body type! Most stores that sell Vintage apparel have a strict no return policy.

It is also important to know a few etiquette rules of the trade when trying on a vintage item.  Remove all jewelry that may snag, or tear the fabric. Cover your face as you slip the item on and off so that you do not leave a lipstick stain on the garment. Do not put on your shoes until after the garment is on your body as not to damage the item and if you are trying on a dress always bring a pair of  heals so that you can see the drape and line of the dress as it will look when you are wearing it.. They just don’t look the same with tennis shoes!

It is important to check carefully for stains, holes, tears and fading.  Look at the garment inside out, literally... particularly anything knit as you can see light through a pin hole! Don’t assume a stain will come out as it may have set in for a very long time. Fading may show up more often on shoulders and sleeves. It is your risk if you purchase an item with any of these issues. Be sure to check the underarm area for perspiration stains. Find a good quality dry cleaner that will do some work by hand and understands the delicate nature of your vintage pieces. Buttons can melt, beading can denigrate as can lining so ask them if they do vintage before leaving your item with any dry cleaner!  If you find an item that is a must have and there are issues you must ask yourself can I live with the small hole in the fold of the skirt that you can’t see or will I obsess about it being there. If you take it home think about how the garment can also be simply altered to disguise the problem or eliminate it all together. Sometimes a long dress becomes cocktail length or a panel can be added to replace a worn or torn area. When trying on a garment always check the inside for the seam allowance. Most vintage garments were hand made and the quality is excellent. With that came extra seam allowance so often times it is an easy fix to do a little nip and tuck. Do calculate this into the cost however as the seamstress will also be doing this by hand and it will increase the cost of your purchase. You also should have access to a seamstress that understands construction and is willing to do many things by hand.

-Robert Black


Kachinas, Cactus & Roadrunners…Oh My

Photo:  Kelly Capelli  Models:  FORD/RBA

Photo: Kelly Capelli Models: FORD/RBA

So right before we opened we were doing interior sprucing up on our soon-to-be vintage store, Fashion By Robert Black and found all kinds of interesting items from the former owners who ran our building, then known as The White Hogan. This got us very interested in finding out what was happening in the fashion world circa, 1950 in Downtown Scottsdale.  I set off to learn more by visiting the Scottsdale Public Library, the Scottsdale Historic Society and even the library at my old school ASU. As I poured through file after file I discovered nothing relating to what Scottsdale looked like as a fashion mecca but discovered all kinds of articles on the big opening of the big giant mall, Fashion Square. (Side note: one of the greatest stores Scottsdale ever had was Michelle's that opened in 1961 in Fashion Square Mall... so back then the big box was not all that bad!) Now I was even more curious, so I started chatting up the folks at the Phoenix Art Museum, The Heard Museum and local shop owners that were still around. Over the last five years I have started to piece together some very interesting things about our little Fashion hub. 

In the 1950’s Harper’s Bazaar magazine once staged a fashion show called “Sunset Pink” on Main Street in Scottsdale. The models took a train from New York to Scottsdale to walk a huge runway down the middle of Main Street dressed in all pink fashions. (Grab the book Historic Scottsdale by Joan Fudala to learn more) Shops like Lloyd Kiva, Leonna Caldwell, Novis Denne, The Monogram Shop, Maharanis, and even Goldwater’s offered the latest and greatest in fashion for the locals as well as the tourists that flocked here. The valley of the sun also had Hanny’s that carried designers like Adrian and Irene, Korricks, Switzers, Diamonds, Miriam’s, Fantasia and Phyllis De Trano! We were not lacking for fashion sources in our past... 

In my quest for information I decided we needed to archive the clothing from these stores, so one of our collections was born. We are always buying items for the store and our collection, so if there is a Kachina, Cactus or Roadrunner on the item we want it!!!

-Robert Black

Thank You!

Photo: So Scottsdale Magazine

In 2008 Doreen and I had the dreamy idea to dive into the world of retail. Our passion was history, preservation and shopping so in 2009 our store, Fashion By Robert Black was born! Our only experience in retail had been in shopping so we knew we had our work cut out for us!! It is now 2014 and we are 5 1/2 years into our big adventure. The experience has been a full time blast and the stories, well, I’ll save them for later….Right now I just want to thank the endless customers who have become the proud new owners of literally hundreds of vintage dresses, vintage jewelry, hats, purses and oh yes, Vintage cufflinks!!! I also want to thank the dozens of publications who have featured our Vintage boutique locally, nationally and even internationally! I can’t forget my friends at Channel 3 Your Life A-Z for regularly allowing us to share with the masses why we love Vintage clothing so much and why you should also!! 

Now, a few things about us…we love what we do, we respect the clothing and we love creating the best experience possible when you walk in our door. Our hopes and dreams are that we can also create that same Vintage experience through our new website, blog and online shopping store. I will personally share our stories, our knowledge, our discoveries, our photos and my own personal views, as I always have an opinion to express.  

Stay tuned for lots of information, gorgeous pictures and beautiful goodies to thrill and delight you!!