The Tantalizing Tales Behind Used Clothes

Emily Spivack, who runs the Smithsonian blog Threaded, browses eBay for vintage clothing. She found herself especially drawn to clothing items that had stories behind them. Intrigued, she began buying those items with the best stories. It became a hobby.

“I was intrigued by the idea that this marketplace—which was supposed to serve one function, to be transactional—could also have a storytelling emphasis,” Spivack explains. “Interestingly, the time I spent on eBay became much more about looking for stories than things that I actually wanted to purchase.”

Of course, those stories feed right into her blog about historical clothing. Now, Spivak has an exhibition of some of those clothing items (and their stories) called “Sentimental Value” at the  Philadelphia Art Alliance.

Spivack’s favorite stories typically blur the line between historical, personal, and hearsay, like the description of the green silk gown belonging to a seller’s aunt in the 1920s. “Supposedly, her aunt wore the dress to a club one evening,” says Spivack. “She was a blonde, and moved fast, and her boyfriend was involved in the mob. And when they went out that night, someone next to her was shot and killed, and blood splattered on her dress. So they were selling this dress with blood splattered on it. I bid on it, and it’s in the show. To me, that story is absolutely incredible.”

Read about how the clothing items of eBay reached out and grabbed the historian at Collectors Weekly. Link


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