On vintage, quality and the perfect ‘Otta Fir’ coat

To think that this coat has seen fifty-plus years of wear and is still going strong makes one appreciate just how well clothes were made in the mid 20th century…

By Tara Moss

May 14, 2013

It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new.
– Tony Visconti, record producer, musician and singer.

It’s been three months since I found I needed to restock my wardrobe with clothing that actually fits. (What a concept!) Winter looms, and as the mountain air grows cooler, my more curve-friendly 40s/50s inspired wardrobe seems increasingly in need of a good, warm coat. Preferably one that is older than I am.

On the weekend I found just the thing in a charming vintage shop in the mountain village of Hazelbrook, NSW. This beautiful 1950s faux fur swing coat, bought for $145 at Pink Flamingo, is in excellent vintage condition, though I’ll have to resew the label (it’s nice to keep those details if you can) so I don’t lose it. To think that this coat has seen fifty-plus years of wear and is still going strong makes one appreciate just how well clothes were made in the mid 20th century and how much waste (and suffering) is produced by the modern phenomenon known as ‘throwaway fashion culture’. What will vintage shops of 2060 be stocked with, I wonder? How many of the clothes produced now will last the distance? Even the year? When even the Salvation Army laments the drop in the quality of clothing donations, you know there is a problem. Brisbane area manager Ian Harrison told The Australian back in 2008 that, “If it’s not good enough to be worn, we sell it as a seconds product to clothing traders around the world to be utilised as rag or (land)fill.”

As a woman who enjoys style and design, what can I do to avoid adding to the ‘throwaway fashion’ problem?

a) I can buy less, but buy quality where possible, giving preference to local stores and designers over large multi-national chains who specialise in cheap trendy clothes. (You know the ones.) b) I can mend my existing clothes. (I’m terrible at this, but learning.) And c) I can give new life to something that was once brand new by buying vintage.

Faux fur was first introduced in 1929 and became commercially available in the 1950s. This particular ‘Otta Fir’ faux fur coat has many good years left in her. I look forward to giving her a second (3rd? 4th?) life.

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  1. Jessie Reid (@thriftymamatas)

    I have some indestructible sixties pieces and even a cotton dress from the fifties which has lasted much better than a modern repro in the same style. I have a crimpolene dress I will wear until I die and then my daughter can have it. It shows no signs of wear. I don’t know what will be around when I am vintage myself but it saddens me to see such nasty cheap clothing poorly made and undoubtedly from sweatshops around the shops at the moment.

  2. Angela (Ms LiteraryMinded)

    It looks gorgeous, Tara. I was so lucky last year to ‘inherit’ a ’60s Mohair coat (from my mum’s boss’s aunt). I’m still figuring out the best way to clean some of my vintage clothes. This coat got a bit dirty when I slipped down a stoop in New York (it had iced over while I was inside!). But I just adore it, and it’s going to be perfect for the Melbourne winter.

  3. Mary

    What a beautiful coat! I love the idea of wearing clothes older than I am, I always wonder who wore them before and what adventures they’ve seen! Thanks for linking to my blog too, appreciate it 🙂

  4. Anna Edwards

    Beautiful picture! Those vintage finds in the Blue Mountains are wondeful – my favourite place for great vintage clothes is hidden away upstairs in the Katoomba Vintage Emporium at 59 Katoomba street. I believe the woman who has the stall there used to sell from the Pink Flamingo – where I bought the most amazing turquoise wool vintage coat from last year. Another find – if you love the sassy style of vintage jewellery – a cute store in Leura called “bespoke and found” upstairs in the mall near the cake shop – antique jewellery heaven.
    These things have style and staying power too!

  5. Alex

    One of the best and most well researched books I have read on this topic is Lucy Siegle’s “To die for: is fashion wearing out the world?”. It covers in depth the human, animal and environmental toll of contemporary clothing manufacture.
    One thing I would be wary of when buying new high quality clothing is that while it has some benefits (as you point out, they last longer) but often the chain of production is just as damaging as that of cheap clothing.
    I’ve got my wardrobe to the point of where about 85% is recycled clothing and the rest I try (emphasis on try!) to buy ethically. I love op shops and over the years have been lucky enough to find beautiful vintage garments and newer items that have been worn for a short time and then discarded.
    Always really enjoy the topics you cover in your blog 🙂

  6. Leonie

    I love to shop in recycled clothes shops as well as charity shops. I had a wedding recently and found a lovely designer dress in my local Red Cross shop for $15. Looked fabulous on the day and I felt great that I was wearing something beautifully made that had not gone to waste. I would love to know the story behind the goodies that I find.
    I have recently upcycled my mum’s 1969 crocheted maxi skirt into a shorter skirt and two handbags – one of which I gave to her for Mothers’ day recently, and one I will use. She was thrilled and I love to wear the skirt that she made all those years ago.
    Good point that you made about what will be in recycled clothes shop of 2060 – nothing much is my guess – maybe my upcycled skirt will survive for a new generation to appreciated and wear!

  7. Janine

    I’m fortunate to have an ‘adopted’ grandmother who has some amazing vintage attire that fits my curvaceous self. and the shoes! There is an amazing opera cape that I have no legitimate need for but I LOVE LOVE LOVE

  8. melanie

    Beautiful, I just found a similar coat. Brand is “coronation otta”. Similar fabric and style. Love it. I scored it for a mere $2 on sale in a thrift store. Love your coat!


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