Here's a great conversation with a collector known to me only as Slip of a Girl. She collects vintage lingerie, and we had a delightful time discussion of her wildly entertaining collection.
ephemera: When did you become a collector of the vintage lingerie ephemera?
Slipofagirl: The short and pithy answer is, 'Once I realized it is often much cheaper than the vintage lingerie itself!'
But the truth is it's a bit more complicated than that.
Lingerie is a personal item, that's true; but it's also a very publicly loaded issue. Not just the legislation of lingerie--workplace dress codes, laws against the visible 'whale tails' of thongs etc., but as a hotly contested feminist issue.
Many feminists will argue that lingerie shapes and molds women's bodies -- if not to a 'male ideal' rendering us 'sex objects', then to an (often unrealistic) standard of conformity. They claim such shapes and the lingerie which creates them limits the female population's ability to participate as equals and even harms us physically. These feminists will often point to the corset, for example; yet the younger third-wave feminists claim the right to the corset as a symbol of empowerment. But the truth lies buried in the history, not the rhetoric.
By collecting and reading, including between the lines, as can be done with supplemented materials, looking at the context, I am able to find there is more to the story of lingerie -- and it's complicated. Using the corset as an example, again, one finds that a century ago, the claims of corsets being damaging to women were wildly exaggerated and, in fact, used to the detriment of women.
Using both my social science & marketing backgrounds--degrees and work experience--advertising and other ephemera provides a wealth of information in tracking down the context and facts, if not the actual 'truth' or bottom line of lingerie.
Advertising may at first glance be about what the manufacturer wants, but it is only effective if it does motivate and sell; so the ad campaign is only as successful as the number of units pushed and the popularity of the brand. Ditto magazine articles. Other items, such as tags, receipts, the materials from salesmen's kits, packaging, patterns, etc. tell their own stories -- including those which the former owner has written upon.
Lingerie is definitely the connection between public and private; not just for our bodies, but our culture too. It's a fascinating area of study.
Or maybe I'm just rationalizing my over-indulgence -- album covers, books, men's mags, photos, postcards -- of anything lingerie related. *wink*
ephemera: I wish I spent more time studying lingerie *wink*. But let's focus a moment on the obstacles you encountered in compiling your collection. How do you overcome these challenges?
Slipofagirl: My largest challenges are typical of most collectors: A) not enough money to purchase all that I want; and, B) not enough time to find all that I want. I think everyone understands the former, and the latter is due to the fact that I'm not always aware of what I should be searching for vintage lingerie is too much information, too many products; but tighter searches and I'll miss a brand, a time period, a trade card...even a diary or some other gem.
I don't know that I 'overcome' the obstacles as much as I accept them as part of the hunt and make peace with that.
ephemera: What are your favorite items in the collection?
Slipofagirl: They are all my babies, but one of the rarest pieces I have is this antique trade card for Jackson Corset Co. I wrote about it here -- and this "victim of the black hand" postcard I traded for.
Also, I have a sample of 'ladies' wallpaper by Lorna Burt -- it's not old, but I bet it will be rare one day *wink* (Posted here.)
And like most collectors, I'm always thinking more about what I'm missing than what I have... Like right now, I'm looking for a paper copy of this Maidenform 'cut-out' ad from the, 'I dreamed I was...' ad campaign. (Hint, hint to your readers lol) It was a huge ad campaign and every time I think I have them all, I discover a new one.
ephemera: I hope someone takes you up on your hint. Very clever ploy. No one else I've interviewed has thought to do that. Hat's off to you. So, what advice to do you have for other collectors?
Slipofagirl: Stay away from what I want, or I'll have to knock you on your butt!
No, seriously, I really have no advice other than the generic platitudes of 'collect what you like' and keep looking... You never know when a gem is right there in that beat-up box lot that no one is interested in.
ephemera: What resources and tools do you recommend?
Slipofthegirl: Costuming books are helpful, especially at college & university libraries with large theater departments, for dating and collecting the lingerie itself; but for lingerie ephemera there is little in the way of resources. That I know of, anyway. I do read quite a number of general collecting and vintage books, magazines and websites just because I'm such a history nut in general, but nothing specific to lingerie related ephemera.
Tools? I hate to admit this, but I'm probably one of the least organized collectors on the planet. I tell myself it's because I'm constantly flipping through, researching, but that's rationalizing. I do keep single sheets, tradecards etc. in plastic sleeves, but... As I am loathe to cut magazines, they remain in boxes and plastic tubs until I figure out a way -- an inexpensive way -- to better store and organize them. I'm wincing as I fear a rolled-up newspaper heading my way!
ephemera: I'm sure this will be a very popular interview. Thank you for taking time to discuss your wonderful collection. It was a pleasure having you as a guest.