In an effort to curb my propensity to hoard, and to focus my collecting practice towards potentially cohesive groups of dress and textile artifacts, I collect mainly thematically. In the internet age, collecting according to specific themes is pretty easy – and generally no less exciting than finding that perfect thing in a shop or sale in the real world.
For roughly the past five years, it is has been a weekly ritual for me to log on to Ebay, Etsy or other auction sites and search for “vintage Ancient Egyptian…” or “vintage Venice…” My two main vintage textile collecting groups are not terribly obscure or rare – although vintage Egyptian textiles and jewellery from the 1920s can be very expensive.
My Ancient Egyptian collection consists mainly of mid-20th century printed textiles bearing Egyptian graphic motifs fashioned into dresses and skirts. I have around fifty garments in my ‘Egyptomania’ collection, but considerably fewer accessories.
Recently however, I purchased a small 1950s handbag online made up in a sort of bark cloth fabric bearing Egyptian-esque scenes and figures. Very often, Egyptian motifs are adapted or combined with other ‘ancient’ graphics to form a very modern amalgam of signs and symbols. This bag definitely had a playful hieroglyphic slant, and I snapped it up because I thought it might be the identical fabric to another bag in my collection.
As it turned out, the bag was a similar but different version of the print on the same textile base. I would surmise they were drawn at the same time by the same illustrator, although the two bags were made by different manufacturers. Even more remarkable was that I had seen the exact fabric twice before having purchased either bag.
The first time I saw the print was on a pair of shoes that came into Beyond Retro, a vintage store where I worked in London in 2007. My second encounter with the print was on a handbag that I didn’t win on eBay back in 2008.
Although the shoes came to my attention in London, Beyond Retro sources vintage clothing and accessories from around the globe. The shoes, which were visibly unworn, had come to us from a shipment originating in Canada. A colleague of mine bought the shoes before I had the chance – and before I was avidly collecting Egyptian themed pieces. However, she let me photograph the shoes and agreed to loan them to me, should I ever exhibit or publish on the topic of Egyptian motifs in fashion. (I will hold her to this!)
The shoes could have been manufactured anywhere in North America, and have a stamped insole that says Grayce Fashions. I couldn’t find anything about this company online unfortunately, as brand labels are an inroad to more information about when and where fashion artifacts come from.
Shortly after losing out on the eBay bag (at $95.00 it was just too expensive for my casual collecting!) and the shoes, I found a bag with the same print design at an affordable price from an Etsy seller in the United States. Fortunately, this bag was manufactured by Stylemark by Mutterperl.
Mutterperl was an American handbag company, established in 1901, who were known for making inexpensive fashionable lines most prolifically from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Thanks to the wonderful website Bag Lady University I was able to read the history of Mutterperl, and see not only some more of their products, but also their advertisements from magazines and trade journals. Mutterperl were terribly proud of their $1 bag ranges, which raised in price to $1.69 and $1.95 as the years rolled forward! I reckon I have come across many Stylemark bags in and out of vintage stores, and fortunately, they are not so expensive or hard to come by and were likely produced in high volume.
Bag Lady University lists company info and archives photos of dozens of other handbag manufacturers. Checking the labels of bags in your collection against the info on the site is sure to delight and inform vintage fashion aficionados and also spearhead deeper research into trends in both style and industry from the past century.
For me it is a thrill to find multiple related items with similar motifs or makers. While Ancient Egypt is the thematic thread of my collection, the seemingly narrow focus still leads me on winding paths towards other realms fashion information. By collecting online, I am able to search for very specific items broadly, and to possibly reunite items separated by time and distance. Finding multiple items in the same print gives some evidence of the degree of mass production of trend items. Their very survival may evidence the care which was taken in the past to preserve them by previous owners. Thanks to internet technologies, a great well of possibility exists to facilitate both collecting and research of vintage fashion items. However, mysteries about their origins will inevitably still remain – and in many cases these mysteries become the impetus for further collecting!
Do you have a thematic vintage fashion or textile collection? Do you collect Ancient Egyptian themed items? Do you have a Stylemark by Mutterperl bag? If so I look forward to you telling Worn Through about your fashion artifacts in the comments section.