Just Say No To “Fast Fashion”

Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, “Overdressed,” is a fascinating look at the impact that “fast fashion” has on the economy, the environment and on us. The way clothing is manufactured, marketed and disposed of has completely changed in the past 20 years, and so has our attitude: with so many discount stores around, we have come to expect clothing to be cheap. And fast fashion is changing the way we purchase clothing: we buy impulsively, we buy with the idea of quickly disposing of it, we buy more and we actually spend more money (“fast fashion” stores replenish their wares often to encourage us to shop frequently.)

But what price are we paying when we score that $4 t-shirt from Target?

The last Levi factory closed in San Antonio, TX in 2003. The iconic, quintessentially American jean manufacturer now produces all their jeans in China.

The ILGWU label used to be a source of pride, assuring consumers that their garment was union, and therefore ethically, made. I rely on it to help me date vintage clothing.

97% of our clothing is now manufactured out of the U.S. That has translated to 80% of U.S. garment workers losing their jobs since 1996. Because more clothing than ever is being produced (H&M produces 500 million pieces of clothing per year; Zara, 1 million per day) and because it doesn’t endure, much of that clothing is ending up in landfills. Clothing production also causes a severe strain on the environment: the air quality in Bangladesh and China in particular is greatly compromised, and their rivers are irreversibly polluted. Half our wardrobes are made of non-bio-degradable plastic (polyester.) Only 1/4 of donated clothing is actually sold: thrift shops are inundated with cheap fashion that no one wants. And shockingly, the average American disposes of 68 pounds of textiles per year.

These facts really opened my eyes. Although most of the clothing I buy is vintage or purchased in thrift shops, I regularly supplement my wardrobe with trendy, cheap clothing from H&M, Topshop and Forever 21. I’ve always been an advocate for inexpensive clothing because I felt that women of all income levels deserved to be fashionable. But after reading Cline’s book in June, I haven’t stepped foot in any of those stores; it seems to have turned me off to cheap clothing forever.

It’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with clothing. We should all examine the necessity of what we buy, the reasons we buy, and do all we can to change our spending habits, which have a huge impact on the economy and the environment. Here are my suggestions for going on a “clothing diet:”

America’s biggest export is now used clothing, which is mostly sent to Africa.

-Shop in your own closet. This may sound silly, but we often forget what’s in there. Be creative with what you have.
-Buy less. Don’t buy things you already have, and don’t buy things in multiples just because they’re cheap; it’s better to buy one quality item at a time.
-Don’t buy clothing made from man-made fibers; buy organic, natural fibers whenever possible.
-Check labels. If something is made in Bangladesh, for example, google “Bangladesh minimum wage” and see what they pay their workers. Be informed: do not support companies who abuse their workers or the environment.
-Support local designers and environmentally friendly designers, even if their clothing is more expensive.
-Buy used clothing. Many thrift shops have excellent quality designer clothing for a fraction of the original retail price. It’s a win-win-win: you pay less, you support sustainability, and often (like at Goodwill) you help a charity.
-Learn how to sew, and repair your own clothing. You can even redesign items that you’ve tired of. Or ask a tailor to do it.
-Luxury handbags are one of the biggest scams in retail, marked up 10-12 times the cost of production. Don’t fall for the hype.

…and wear vintage, Vintage Is Green™.

Posted in "fast fashion", "Made In China", elisa casas, Elizabeth Cline, Forever 21, H&M, ILGWU, Levi, Over-Dressed, Polyester, Target, Thrift Shops, vintage clothing, wear vintage, Zara | 3 Comments

Shame on Ralph Lauren, the US Congress and Us, Too

The US Olympics opening ceremony uniforms, by Ralph Lauren.

Ralph Lauren, who was awarded the contract to design and manufacture the opening ceremony uniforms for the US Olympic team, admitted last week that the uniforms were made entirely in China.

The announcement was a surprise to oblivious, seemingly naive lawmakers in Washington, who you’d think would be acutely aware that 98% percent of the clothing purchased in the United States is imported from abroad (most of it from China.) Many of them are now insisting that the uniforms be burned and re-made domestically before the July 27 ceremonies. Can anyone say “band-aid?”

Ralph Lauren, admitting no accountability…on the contrary, borderline bragging…released this statement:

“For more than 45 years Ralph Lauren (NYSE: RL) has built a brand that embodies the best of American quality and design rooted in the rich heritage of our country. We are honored to continue our longstanding relationship with the United States Olympic Committee in the 2014 Olympic Games by serving as an Official Outfitter of the US Olympic and Paralympic teams.”

Ralph Lauren has built a billion-dollar brand by convincing consumers that his clothing is “all-American.” Well, if you read the tags inside your $145 Polo American Flag sweater or $355 RL jeans, it would say, “Made In China!”

The official U.S. Olympic Team will change its policy for the 2014 Olympics and require that the uniforms be manufactured in the US, but no changes will be made to this years uniforms.

Patriotism is still alive in the US, as evidenced by the outrage over Lauren’s profiteering and poor judgement. But the truth is, Americans are more concerned with the price they’re paying for a t-shirt than where and under what conditions that t-shirt is made. Ralph Lauren and many other brands would be forced to make changes if consumers voiced their concerns and didn’t buy their clothing. Hopefully this news story will make Americans re-think their wardrobes and the terrible price our country pays when we purchase that cheap t-shirt.

Posted in "Made In China", 2012 olympics, congress, olympics, ralph lauren, ralph lifshitz, RL, Uncategorized, vintage clothing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Indian Wrap Skirts


A selection of Indian wrap skirts at Stella Dallas, NYC.

I’ve always loved Indian wrap skirts from the 70s. They’re made of that thin, soft cotton that feels like it’s been washed forever (but is actually just finely loomed) and they look great with a tank and flat sandals or over a bathing suit…or as I like to wear them, dressed up a bit. Don’t be lazy and buy them at Free People for $128 when vintage ones are widely available for around $25. And don’t forget to appreciate the variety of prints, which to me are works of art.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cowboy Boots: A Social Experiment

Cowgirls at the Triangle Ranch Rodeo in Cedar City, Utah, circa 1924.

There’s no footwear that epitomizes America like the classic boot originally worn by cattle drivers in the 1860’s in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Influenced by the “vaquero” tradition imported from Spain, boot makers like Justin and Hyer (who still make boots today) took advantage of the influx of cowboys and made simple, utilitarian boots that later, due to Hollywood’s glamorization of cowboys, became more ornate, surprisingly colorful and wildly customized.

Modern cowgirls.

Vintage cowboy boot display at my (now closed) vintage clothing store, Laurel Canyon.

This was the only mention I could find on the internet about turned-down cowboy boots. So historically, it was done.

Like other equestrian footwear, there was a reason for cowboy boots’ style. The sleek, treadless leather sole and pointy toe allowed the foot to be easily inserted into the stirrup. The tall heel made it unlikely that the boot would fall out of the stirrup (which could pose a danger to the rider.) And the tall leather shaft of the boot helped to hold the boot in place without laces; when dismounted, it protected the leg from snakes, brush, rocks, thorns and mud.

I’ve always loved cowboy boots, and  I can vouch for their versatility, as I wear mine with floral dresses, shorts and jeans. Our most American (and democratic) shoe is worn by men and women of all ages, economic means and lifestyles. They’re worn by trendy celebrities in Hollywood, conservative Texans, country singers, and yes, us city dwellers. And although there are still quite a few cowboys out west, today they are more often worn for fashion, not function.

I thought I knew a lot about cowboy boots until I saw a guy in New York City wearing his with the shaft turned down. I had never seen that before and decided to keep an eye out for this possible fad. Two weeks later, in New Orleans, I saw a woman wearing her boots the same way. I was convinced this was a trend and did some serious googling…fashion blogs, cowboy boot sites, photos of celebrities…and found nothing. So, because I like the way it looks, I decided to turn down the shaft of my Justins and see if it’s possible to start the trend myself. If anyone has seen this done before, or wears their boots this way, please inbox me!

My turned-down vintage Justins, purchased in wild, wild…Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Vintage customized cowboy boots on eBay that I’m currently obsessed with.

Posted in "vintage is green", cowboy boots, cowgirls, elisa casas, folded down, history of cowboy boots, rodeo, turned down, Uncategorized, vintage boots, wear vintage, wild west | 1 Comment

May Day March

“Occupy Wall Street” Marcher, 7pm, Canal Street and Broadway.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Honor of Earth Day, 12 Easy Tips to Help the Environment

Today, Earth Day, is a great day to make a commitment to do as many things as you can to help our environment! And nearly all of these suggestions will save you money as well. Start by doing one or more of the things below:

Cut down on the amount of waste that you create. Don’t buy items with lots of plastic packaging. Buy in bulk…there’s less packaging to discard. Reuse whatever you can.

Do without things that are unnecessary. Only buy things you truly need! And try to buy used or recycled items…including clothing!

Stop buying and drinking bottled water. Drink filtered water from a reusable bottle. Plastic bottles are evil!

Reduce the amount of water you use. There are so many simple ways of doing so like not letting the water run while brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers, using water sprinklers instead of a hose or washing the car less often.

Think carefully before using paper. Do you really need to print that email? Do you need that credit card bill sent to you or can you view it online? Do you need to write your shopping list on paper or can you put it on your phone? Also, to stop junk mail, write to: Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, 11 West 42nd St., PO Box 3861, New York, NY 10163-3861.

Stop using plastic bags. There is no reason for them if you carry a reusable cloth bag. Plastic bags are severely harming the environment, especially our oceans. Take a cloth bag along every time you go shopping…or keep a few in your car.

Use reusable containers for food storage instead of wrapping food in foil or plastic wrap.

Give your car a break. There’s no need for you to take your car everywhere. You can use public transportation or walk or ride a bike when traveling a short distance.

Recycle. You can recycle glass, paper, cans, cardboard, cloth and most everything else. Even toner cartridges can be recycled. Do it! And buy products that have already been recycled.

Switch off appliances when they are not in use, AND unplug them. Even when your electrical appliances are on standby, they consume some energy.

Turn your water heater down to 130 degrees. Your hot water heather accounts for about 20% of all the energy used in your home. 130 degrees will provide sufficient heat and is hot enough to kill bacteria.

Use fluorescent light bulbs. They last longer and consume 1/4 the amount of energy as conventional bulbs.

And don’t forget to wear vintage! Vintage is green.All photos ©Elisa Casas

Posted in "vintage is green", earth day, environment, how to, plastic bags, save the environment, save the planet, stop dirinking bottled water, tips, vintage clothing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vintage Trawlin’ in N’awlins

Antique store in the French Quarter.

The filthy "Garage," in the French Quarter. Is it the emperor's new clothes, or am I just a snob?

RetroActive's window display made for a lovely photo.

Ruby and I visited New Orleans this past weekend to check out Tulane, her first choice school, and of course no visit to any city is complete without scoping out the vintage clothing stores and thrift shops. Here’s my review:

Royal Street, in the French Quarter, is lined with antique shops that look like they have been there for 100 years. By all means check them out for their excellent merchandise and charm, but keep in mind that these are upscale stores and their prices are quite high. Some have gorgeous estate jewelry, but none feature vintage clothing, just furniture, decorative items, lighting and lots of guns and other weapons (don’t forget, this IS the south.) Also in the French Quarter is the popular Garage, which (I guess on purpose) feels like you walked into someone’s dirty, disorganized garage. I recommend that you don’t touch anything in there (let alone purchase it.)

Magazine Street is totally hipster, and vintage row. There are 5-6 vintage stores and a few resale shops. And they all suck. Lili, which got great reviews on Yelp, was very ladylike, with a highly curated (translation: small) selection of clothing: Edwardian whites (pricey), a few 40s and 50s dresses (unimpressive) and costume jewelry (decent quality and prices, but again, a very small selection.) Funky Monkey called themselves “vintage” but actually was about 85% contemporary resale (this happens frequently) but it’s a very lively, enjoyable store.

I just love their sense of humor in New Orleans!

Jasmine, my favorite, was blooming everywhere!

It's always Mardi Gras in NOLA!

I find Buffalo Exchange to be the most overrated store in the country and even though I’ve visited outlets in many cities, I’ve never found a single thing. Trashy Diva calls itself “vintage inspired” and seems to be something of a phenomenon in New Orleans, but unless you want repros, don’t go there. Same with Branch Out, which lures you in with its “vintage and sustainable” clothing…which turns out to be all brand new (and therefore not so eco-friendly.) The No Fleas Market is also quite popular, but wow, that place has an incredibly anemic selection of stuff nobody wants. RetroActive is by far the best of the vintage stores, but that’s not saying much. Although their purse and costume jewelry selection is decent, they mostly stock below-average vintage items like 50s tweed suits, 70s kaftans and beaded sweaters. And with their high prices, I just don’t get how they’ve been in business “since 1982.”

NOLA is a very special town (I’m from NY! Everything is a town!) and Ruby and I had a great time and ate some incredible food. So go there for the gumbo, oysters, crawfish and shrimp…the incredible jazz…the tropical weather…and the fun vibe…but not the vintage stores. Next time I go down there, I plan to drive from Nashville, and I have to believe I’ll find some great stuff along the way. Stay tuned!

Posted in "vintage is green", branch out vintage, buffalo exchange, elisa casas, french quarter antiques, funky monkey, Goodwill, lili new orleans, New Orleans, new orleans best vintage, no fleas market, retroactive new orleans, Sustainable clothing, the garage french quarter, thrift, Thrift Shops, trashy diva, Uncategorized, vintage clothing, wear vintage | 1 Comment

“Where Do You Get Your Stuff?”

The most common question customers ask me is, “Where do you get your stuff?” The brazen nature of the question (do customers really expect me to give away my sources?) always irritates me, so depending on my state of mind I answer with a vague, “Oh, I find things all over the place” (when I’m in a good mood) or “Dead people” (when I’m not.) Honestly, I just don’t want to get involved in a long discussion about my many, many sources: I scour flea markets, church rummage sales, antique shows, garage sales, thrift shops and other vintage stores. I buy on eBay and Etsy. I have dealers and pickers who sell to me regularly. But nothing compares with estate sales:  buying from the original owner, to me, is psychologically fascinating: material things may not be “important,” but it’s amazing the insight you can gain by studying the items a person accumulated throughout their lifetime.

At the flea market.

This is the rare business that never makes you jaded…there’s always something new to discover. Memorable finds include a trunk full of 1920s dresses in a roadside barn ($20 each), a crocodile Gucci bag at a flea market ($1) a rare Hermes scarf at my local army/navy store ($3), a 1920s pink brocade cloak marked “1960s” at a vintage store ($50) and a solid gold charm bracelet at the bottom of a hatbox full of costume jewelry (free.)

Over the years I have been fortunate to purchase some lovely items, and meet some lovely people, mostly through social networking and kismet.  Parents at my daughter’s school knew what I did for a living and would often ask for my help in assessing relative’s estates. Most of the time it was stuff that had no value, but once in a while it was a goldmine. A closet full of 1960s Courreges coats, all in pastel shades, Missoni knits, Gucci and Hermes bags and other top-of-the-line designer items welcomed me at one Park Avenue apartment belonging to an acquaintance’s mother-in-law.

1960s Courreges coat.

Another time I got  a call from a famous writer who was dealing with her mother’s estate. Every day for about two weeks, after I dropped my daughter off at school, I’d help her sort through closet after closet of fabulous clothing. I loved hearing the stories about her mother’s exciting life, and we became quite friendly. A crucial part of buying an estate is gaining the family’s trust: it’s an emotional chore, and often they have no idea what the items are worth, so it’s important that they feel comfortable and don’t think that you will take advantage of their lack of knowledge. After the writer and I parted ways, I read her best-selling memoir, which described her fraught relationship with her mother. And I was mentioned in a memoir she wrote last year, when she discussed the process of cleaning out her mother’s apartment. It was a rewarding experience that I have never forgotten, and we still keep in touch via Facebook.

Lee Herling is a lady of a certain age, a “snowbird” and a dealer who scours thrift shops in Boca Raton during the winter months and sells her finds to me when she flies back north. She found me through my store, and after my friend David met her, he became obsessed with her. She even appeared in our sizzle reel for our reality show: she was of course our first choice when the director asked us who we should film with.

We love you, Lee!

The lady who worked (and bought) at Chanel for 2 years in the 80s, then left New York to live  a crunchy life in Colorado and sold us all the Chanel items she had accumulated; the woman who was one of the Rolling Stones’ mistresses in the 90s and had a warehouse full of rare designer clothing that she no longer had the lifestyle for; the neighborhood guy who wanted to get rid of his mother’s gold jewelry: you can now see how when people ask me that question, it’s just not a simple answer.

Posted in "vintage is green", best dressed, chelsea girl, elisa casas, estate sale, Livia Firth, Sustainable clothing, vintage clothing, wear vintage | Tagged | 2 Comments

Why I Like Old Things

My mom and I at Madrid's flea market, El Rastro, circa 1969.

As a vintage clothing dealer, there are three basic questions that I get asked: How did I become interested in vintage clothing, where do I get my stuff, and (not this directly) how the hell do I know what I’m doing? This blog aims to answer the first question (future blogs will answer the others.) I usually say that I started collecting when I was a college student, in Manhattan, for financial reasons. But the truth is that I have always been fascinated with old things, which have history, impeccable workmanship, and soul.

My mom and I at an antique store in Northport, Long Island, circa 1972. My mom's unisex brown suede jacket was the twin to my dad's; they bought them really inexpensively in Spain. My mom never wore hers again after it got "egged" on Halloween circa 1975.

My Spanish grandmother (Yaya) collected antiques beginning in the 1920s and had a fifteen room apartment (with maid’s quarters) in Madrid that was full of beautiful 17th and 18th century furniture, chandeliers and art. She had a great eye and used her talents to purchase undervalued items every Sunday at El Rastro, Madrid’s sprawling flea market (let me just state that European flea markets are nothing like the ones we attend in this country. I’m not an expert, but I have been to Portobello Road in London, Les Puces in Paris and my favorite, Porta Portese in Rome, and nothing in this country compares to the wide selection of truly antique items in Europe. I’ll go to my grave regretting those 18th century earrings I didn’t purchase in Rome.)

Shopping for vintage at the 6th Avenue flea market, NYC, circa 1990.

When Yaya passed away in 1997, I wished nothing more than to ship every item she owned and squeeze it all into my loft. But since I’m not a hoarder, I resigned myself to about 8 pieces that were important to me, including a 19th century Swiss music box, a 17th century Italian gilt mirror, her 1920s diamond engagement bracelet and a huge oil portrait of her from 1948 (my parents kept a lot, which made me feel better about auctioning off so much of her stuff.)

David and I at the 6th Avenue flea market. The lot was built over and made into a luxury rental building.

Like Yaya, I’ve also spent most of my Sundays at a flea market, on 6th Avenue and 26th Street. I learned so much by seeing, touching, talking about and later researching items I bought there. I’m always amused when customers ask how I KNOW a dress, for example, is actually from the 30s. When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, it becomes second nature. Yes, I could check the seams, the zipper, the workmanship and determine if the fabric is pre-war, but I don’t have to: I can date and value an item from a quick glance at a photo. I have a dealer friend who can “smell” sterling silver…that’s the sort of thing that happens to you after few years of obsessively collecting.

David and I at The Garage flea market, 25th Street, 2011, when we were shooting our second sizzle reel.

That said, I’ve never been a real “collector.” I don’t like a lot of useless stuff around: shelves full of tchotchkes repel me. But I do love beautiful things, and useful things, like clothing, jewelry, lighting, books, furniture and art. And because there’s always…ALWAYS…something new to see, and history to learn, while shopping for vintage clothing and antiques, it’s a pastime I will never tire of.

Shopping at the Fairfax Market in Hollywood, 2010.

Shopping at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, 2009.

Shopping in San Diego, 2011. I rarely travel without first researching the best places to buy vintage!

(if you’re interested in reading more about my fascinating grandmother’s life, see my past blog: Clara Orozco Barquin de Casas.)

Posted in "vintage is green" | Leave a comment

Sustainable Gowns (and Tuxes) at the Oscars

Natalie Portman, who presented the Best Actor award, in Dior.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards were last night, and I’m surprised to report that Natalie Portman was the only actress who wore vintage: she looked stunning in a 1954 red Dior gown. But even though I was disappointed that there weren’t more vintage looks on the red carpet, I was pleasantly surprised to see that sustainable clothing  seems to be getting more attention.

Meryl Streep wore a gold Lanvin gown made from eco-certified fabric, Colin Firth (deliberately) “recycled” his tux from last year, and Kenneth Branagh, John Krasinski, Djimon Hounsou, and Demián Bichir all wore Zegna, who design patterns that reduce fabric waste and recycle scrap material into new textiles. And Missi Pyle from The Artist wore an eco-conscious gown by Valentina Delfino, winner of the “Red Carpet Green Dress” design contest, an initiative by Suzy Amis Cameron (James Cameron’s wife) to promote sustainable clothing on the red carpet.

Meryl looked radiant in her eco-friendly Lanvin gown.

(I have many questions about the money spent, the energy used and the pollution caused by the manufacture of “eco-friendly” gowns that apparently take “weeks” to make, but I’ll reserve judgment until I can do more research. Of course, I applaud the use of organic and recycled fabrics, and support companies that use “green” methods in manufacturing, but vintage is really the best way to go if you care about the environment.)

Renee, Julia, Reese and Penelope (photo below) all won Oscars in vintage: Renee in Jean Desses, Julia in Valentino, and Reese in Dior.

Although encouraged by the attention that sustainable clothing has been getting on the red carpet, I miss seeing top stars like Reese Witherspoon, Marisa Tomei, Julia Roberts, Demi Moore, Penelope Cruz and Renee Zellweger proudly wearing vintage to important events. As a matter of fact, I have a theory…which I hope to back up statistically at some point…that wearing vintage seems to bring good luck: nominees who wear vintage consistently win. Congrats to Meryl for wearing a sustainable gown and for winning her third Oscar!

Penelope Cruz, the year she won her Oscar, in vintage Balmain.

Marisa Tomei in Charles James, 2011 Oscars.

Posted in "vintage is green", academy awards, best dressed, best dresses, chelsea girl, elisa casas, jean desses, julia roberts, lanvin, Livia Firth, Marisa Tomei, meryl streep, natalie portman, oscars, penelope cruz, red carpet, reese witherspoon, renee zellweger, Sustainable clothing, vintage clothing, vintage dior, vintage oscars, vintage valentino | Leave a comment