Retail Therapy: Lynn Downey

September 29, 2009 by Lila Delilah

Levi Strauss, the company that invented the blue jean in 1873, is celebrating its 75th year of women’s jeans. Resident denim expert and historian, Lynn Downey, celebrates women and their 505s and gives us a peak inside her denim closet while dishing a few hints about shopping for vintage.

Your most prized “deal?”

A pair of c1937 Lady Levi’s I purchased from a vintage clothing dealer for the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives in 2002. The jeans were part of a small collection of items that was left behind at the defunct Soda Springs Dude Ranch in Arizona. Sewn inside the waistband was a label with the name of the original owner: Harriet Atwood. Not only that, the original store label was still there – Harriet bought her jeans at Best & Co. in New York City. The collection was a very reasonable price, but these historical details were worth their weight in platinum.
[Editorial Note: Best & Co. filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy in July]

Biggest regret that you didn’t purchase?

So far, I don’t have any “non-buyer’s” remorse. We have been making clothes since 1873 so I’ve got plenty of vintage to track down!

This season you’re looking for a great deal on what item?

Right now I’m on a mad hunt for the lightweight denim sportswear we made for women in 1938 called “Tropical Togs.” This line had everything from halter tops and sailor pants to bib overalls for genteel gardening. Very 1930s Hollywood in styling.

What’s your number one shopping tip?

Vintage shoppers should always make sure they buy the best: even if you love that 1950s circle skirt, don’t buy it if it has a very obvious stain. Hold out to buy the most perfect pieces you can, they will be worth the money.

What’s your biggest weakness?

Any women’s Levi’s jeans or shirts that were worn on dude ranches in the 1930s. They always remind me of the 1939 movie, “The Women,” when all of the characters are at a Reno dude ranch waiting for their divorces to come through. Such an amazing slice of women’s history!

Is there an item for which you never mind paying full price?

A rumpled, patched and dirty pair of Levi’s jeans that came out of an old Western mine. If those jeans could talk…
[Editorial Note: They might say wash me!]


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