I got interested in vintage lingerie by reading the eBay Vintage Clothing & Accessories Discussion Board. In the early 90s, an innovative seller was buying vintage slips, tie dyeing them, and selling them as dresses for about $25-$30 each. She had quite a following at the time because of her creativity. Thinking about her, I found some colored, vintage slips at an estate sale and purchased 8 of them for $2.00 each. I still have those slips, as I just can't seem to part with them. They are very tiny in size, with intricate detailing, and they are my eye candy and inspiration. That was the beginning of my love for vintage lingerie. Slowly I started buying it and quickly learned that lingerie sells well because it is glamorous.
What You Should Buy
Almost any piece of vintage lingerie in good condition. Nightgowns with or without a matching robe, a sheer peignoir or negligee, slips, half-slips and camisoles with appliqués and lace, girdles and garter belts, vintage bras, teddies and my favorite, panties. I can hear you now going, “Ooh, panties, no way!” Yes, I am one of the few who sort through boxes at a rummage sale or thrift store on the hunt for panties. Colored granny panties that are totally sheer with lace, ribbons, and appliqués are the best. And lucky for me, there is not a lot of competition for them. In fact, I get a lot of funny looks from the little old ladies at check-out. But, as I am a little old lady, too, it doesn't bother me, and I laugh to myself, thinking about the money those panties are going to bring. A $.50 purchase can turn into $30-$90. I usually wait until I have several to list at one time because it encourages a bidding war.
Vintage pink lace Vanity Fair panties that sold for $53. I paid $.50 for them at a church rummage sale
How to Tell if it is Vintage
The two best ways to determine if a garment is vintage are to feel it and to read the labels. The nylon and sheer nylon chiffon used to make vintage lingerie feels softer and stronger than today's nylon. It doesn't take long to learn to “feel the difference.” Tags will say “100% Nylon” and even better if it says “nylon tricot,” which are great title keywords. The designer Olga used spandex in her vintage creations, and that stretchy fabric is one of the reasons Olga nightgowns are so collectable. Between 1930 and 1940, silk, rayon, and acetate were used to make nightgowns and slips. I often find it hard to tell the difference between silk and a good rayon in an early nightgown. Usually the nightgowns fit close to the body and were cut on the bias, as well as being in smaller sizes. “Harlow” is a good keyword if you find one of these nightgowns, as 1930s movie star Jean Harlow was known for wearing sexy, slinky, close-fitting long gowns.
Look for labels on the back of the neck, in the side seams above the waist, and in the hem. Some of the better designers put their tags at the bottom in the hem. My guess would be they did this for comfort, so the tag didn't rub against the skin.
By reading the labels, you can determine the designer's name, fabric content, size, and an approximate age of the garment. Many older pieces say specifically to use Woolite for washing. Labels are usually made of fabric and can have embroidered lettering on them. Even if there is no label or it is so frayed that it can't be read, I will often buy the garment if the design is good. Most of the time nightgowns and peignoirs can look barely worn, yet the writing on the tag has faded or frayed away.
Vintage Lingerie Designers
There are a lot of vintage lingerie brands, and the more desired garments are getting scarce and hard to find. Of course, that makes “The Hunt” that much more exciting. Many people collect certain designers, and that name in the auction title draws watchers. There are many great vintage lingerie labels, and I haven't listed all of them. Listed below are the ones that I have sold:
Claire Sandra for Lucie Ann of Beverly Hills
Frederick's of Hollywood
Intime of California
Lily of France
Rosa Puleo-Szule for Lily of France
Today, even vintage garments with labels marked Sears, Montgomery Wards, and J.C. Penny can be collectible, depending upon how glamorous they are.
For me, the top 3 brands of glamorous nightgowns and peignoirs bringing the most money on eBay are Olga, Intime of California, and Claire Sandra for Lucie Ann of Beverly Hills. Olgas can be easy to find. Thrift stores don't place too much value on them, and you can still pick up an Olga nightgown for less than $5.00. Typically, Intime and Claire Sandra will have higher prices. It is easy for a thrift store to see the quality in those garments, and they may sell a set for $14 or more, which I will gladly pay. I don't usually find lingerie at yard sales, probably because sellers don't believe anyone would buy it. Church-run rummage sales and thrift shops are the best places to look.
Try searching for vintage Olga, Intime, and Claire Sandra Lucie Ann nightgowns on eBay's completed auctions. You will be pleased at some of the prices. $100 plus for a nightgown in excellent condition is not unusual. Some sellers are asking $1000 plus on nightgown and peignoir sets by these designers.
When vintage lingerie is found, it is almost always in good to excellent condition. As stated above, most of the wear is on the label, with the fabric having no problems. Check for picks in the nylon and thread runs. Even with these flaws disclosed, often garments sell well. I avoid any fabric that has lost its stretch or is very thin from wear. Worn-out elastic can be replaced, but if you don't want to replace the elastic yourself, your sell price will be lower.
What You Should Not Buy
I don't buy a lot of vintage camisoles, slips, or half-slips, as they just don't sell well for me. However, if there is something unique, such as lace or pleats, I will buy it. The last half-slip that I bought was pink by Christian Dior, and it still isn't listed. In my titles for camisoles, I use “cami” and “top” as keywords. A keyword for a half-slip is “skirt,” and a keyword for a slip is “dress.” I list all vintage lingerie under vintage clothing.
I avoid ripped, torn, odorous, or stained lingerie. If I buy flaws in my excitement to find a treasure, then I have to decide whether it is worth selling by disclosing the flaws versus the time that it will take to photograph and list. If I find stains, I try to get them out in the wash. Because the clothing can be stained, I keep a bottle of waterless germicide in my car to clean my hands after touching or buying vintage clothing, followed by a good soap and water hand wash as soon as I can.
Who Buys Vintage Panties?
Ladies who love vintage and men who cross-dress. In fact, men may become your best customers. I find that men are willing to spend more money than women. Generally, men love to buy sheer garments, and the sheerer the better. “Sheer” is a good keyword, and often sellers will photograph a pair of panties on a skirt hanger in front of a window, showing their hand clearly visible behind them to demonstrate the “sheerness.”
If you are going to buy panties, notice the elastic at the waist and leg openings to make sure it is in good condition with lots of stretch to it. A tiny little square of satin may cover the area where the elastic comes together inside the waist of a panty, half-slip, or girdle. If the square is present, it is called a ”pillow tab” and should be listed in the description. Check the panty crotch and photograph it. A large, mushroom-shaped crotch is very desirable because men need a little more room then women. Nylon crotches (single or double fabric) without a cotton lining sell better than those with cotton liners. If there is cotton in the crotch, the panty really needs to be close to new condition, very sheer, or have lots of lace on it to sell well. I try to make panty listings private listings to protect the buyer's identity.
I have a repeat male customer who buys my vintage nightgowns, the unique 1930-1940 silk or rayon ones, sends them to a seamstress for any minor repair, and preserves the nightgown in his collection. His hobby is preserving vintage lingerie.
My Favorite Designers
Olga nightgowns and robes, trimmed with matching lace, are highly collectable. The bodices of the nightgowns are made of nylon and spandex. That bodice molds, shapes, and flatters the figure. Because of the stretch to the fabric, Olga sizes of S, M, L, etc, can fit a variety of figures. Some size large women prefer to wear a size small Olga because of the fit. Should you find a plus size Olga nightgown, XL or greater, you have found gold. As plus size Olgas are rare and desirable, sellers tend to charge more money for them.
If an Olga is not in good condition, you can quickly tell by feeling the back of the nightgown. It will feel thin, stretched out, and be full of picks in the spandex bodice and/or nylon skirt. Should you buy an Olga in poor condition? You may still make $10 or $15 on something that you paid $1 for if you describe and photo the flaws, and it will draw people to your listings.
Some Olga nightgowns have ¾ sleeves. Those gowns are sometimes called “peasant nightgowns” and sell very well, as there are not as many of them as the sleeveless gowns. All robes should have a matching fabric sash. Look for it in the pockets of the robe if it is not in the belt loops. The robe will sell without the sash, but disclose that it is missing. Some sellers will add a matching fabric ribbon sash as a replacement. Usually descriptions state something to the effect, “As a gift for you, we added a ribbon sash.”
3/4 Sleeve Olga nightgown, sometimes called a “Peasant” nightgown
Olga tags are usually in a seam at the hem of the skirt, but can be at the waist. The most vintage ones say “Bodysilk” or show a picture of Olga and the words: “Behind every Olga, there really is an Olga.” Put “Bodysilk” in your title and the “Behind every Olga, there really is an Olga” in the description. Note the style number on the tags, usually on the back of the tag on older tags, and list that number in your description or title. Some collectors are looking for certain garments and go by the style number, which is somewhere on the label.
Things to look for in an Olga nightgown
Tag is on the garment. I never sell an Olga without an Olga tag, as there are too many copies of the nightgown design. Lorraine used the same designs, and those nightgowns have to be sold as Lorraine nightgowns
No stains or holes
Back of nightgown is in good condition and isn't stretched out, filled with picks, pilling, or thread runs
Lace trim is intact with no holes. If there are a couple of holes, photograph and disclose them.
I don't sell Olga nightgowns and robes as sets that do not have the same style number. I often find Olga pieces that are almost the exact same color, but have different lace on them. Upon checking the tag for the style number, they will be different. However, medium-sized nightgowns can be sold with large-sized robes with the same style number because Olga nightgown sizing is forgiving. If the garments have two different style numbers and are close in color, I may photograph them together but not sell them together. I will include the picture of both pieces in their descriptions and cross-reference them with the words, “Also available for purchase in our eBay store is...” Always disclose the size of the robe and the size of the nightgown. Olga collectors know what they are looking for and don't want to buy what they don't need.
Olga vintage girdles and panties sell well. If you are lucky, you can find them new, with tags, in a thrift store, and describe them as new old stock (NOS). The bigger the size, the better, and colored ones do very well. Girdles are listed either as panty girdles or the more desirable open, or open-bottom, girdles. It is best if they still have their garters attached to the girdle, and older girdles have metal garters as opposed to plastic ones. Condition is most important—there should be excellent stretch to the fabric and no stains. If the label says there is rubber in the girdle, use “rubber” as a keyword. That word appeals to a certain type of collector.
The second and third best brands are a toss-up for my sales. Intime of California made gorgeous sheer nightgowns and peignoirs with matching lace or marabou feathers. The nylon is generally described as nylon chiffon or sheer chiffon. Note the thickness of the chiffon. It will be either a single layer or there will be two layers, known as double chiffon. Lace can be encased between two layers of nylon. If there is more than one row of lace, count the rows and measure their combined height. As an example: “14 inches of seven rows of matching lace trim the entire hem.” Often the sleeves are sheer and trimmed with the matching lace or ribbon. Note the shape of the sleeves—they could be bell shaped, angel wings, or puffed.
Intime of California vintage set with a double chiffon peignoir and rows and rows of lace and ribbon
My last best-selling lingerie brand is Lucie Ann. Some of you may remember the 1960s television show “Green Acres” with Eva Gabor. She wore the most amazing lingerie on that show. Her nightgowns and peignoirs were designed by Clare Sandra for Lucie Ann of Beverly Hills. Elizabeth Taylor also wore Claire Sandra lingerie. Those sets can go in the $1000 plus range if you are willing to wait for the right buyer to come along. I have never found a Claire Sandra vintage set, only the separate pieces, but a girl can dream.
Claire Sandra's are usually a chiffon nightgown with an amazing matching nylon chiffon peignoir. There is a classic Claire Sandra set that has marabou feather pom poms as ties for the peignoir. Labels may be stitched in gold, and will say “Clare Sandra for Lucie Ann of Beverly Hills.”
Sizing and Measurements
- Bust: Measured from underarm to underarm and doubled
- Waist: Measured across the natural waistline and doubled
- Hip: Measured 9 inches below the waist and doubled. If the skirt is full, I don't measure it yet, I just say “full.” (See Measure the Sweep, below.)
- Length: Measured top to bottom
- Empire waist design: Measured under the bust
- Elastic in the waist: Measured unstretched and stretched out to a reasonable width. Example: “24 inches unstretched and 30 inches stretched.”
- Strap measurements: If a garment has adjustable ribbon straps with sliders, I measure the length from the underarm to the hem as if it was a strapless dress. If the straps are spaghetti straps, I measure from the top of the strap to the hem.
Measure the Sweep
My Home Runs
- The pair of pink lace Vanity Fair panties in the first photo, listed as “Vintage Vanity Fair Girlie Pink Lace Full Panty Panties 6 Knickers,” last February sold for $53. I paid $.50 for them at a church rummage sale.
- A bigger home run was a Deena nightgown that sold last December for $110.00, listed as “Vintage Deena California Bubblegum Pink Sheer Nightgown Maxi Grand Sweep OSFM.” I paid about $3 at a thrift shop. This was just for the nightgown alone.