Thursday, February 9, 2012

Plus Size Vintage Q&A


I get a lot of questions about my size, my wardrobe and how to find plus sized vintage clothes. I generally answer the questions as they come but Beth from Beth's Happy Day inspired me to write this post with her comment yesterday. Thank you, Beth!  This is a really long post but I wanted to be sure to answer all of your questions as best as I can. My carnival/car show photos were done by Leah Fauller in September.

Q:What size are you? 

 Honestly, I have no idea what dress size I wear. I sew most of my own pants and vintage dresses don't always have size tags. When I do find dresses with tags, I wear anything from a 16 to a 22. When I sew, I use pattern sizes 18-22, depending on the pattern maker.
My honest-to-goodness measurements are 43-36-47, I'm 207 pounds today, 5 feet 7 inches and wear a size 9-10 shoe. That's usually a wide shoe thanks to 2 pregnancies! Lately, I've been trying to get healthy so I have more energy to sew, knit, and of course, play with my kids.According to all reports, Dita Von Teese does Pilates, green smoothie for breakfast, salad lunch and responsible choices for dinner. I've been doing her method for 2 weeks and lost 5 pounds already! Hopefully I can keep up so I can fit back into some of my smaller dresses and girdles.

Q: What undergarments do you wear?

  For everyday, I wear high-waist panties with a little tummy control for that momma pooch of mine. And also a vintage/vintage style bra. My pointy vintage-y bras don't have any under wire in them but they really help support heavy breasts. I do feel like they have a minimizing effect too. A supportive bra helps to lift the breast and show off the waist, which gives an elongated look to the torso. I'm kind of odd because I wear vintage (used) bras. I find them at thrift stores, estate sales, vintage shops and online. If you aren't comfortable with wearing a used bra, you can still find brand new bras online. I  love the Exquisite Form Full-y bra style 532, designed for a larger cup size.I also have several of these lace cup crossover bras and find that they are comfortable enough to wear all day and give great support and both of these bra styles give a good vintage silhouette. When bra shopping, I look for anything with a 3 section cup, which gives a slightly pointy (but not too crazy) effect.
 I wear girdles but only for special occasions or with dresses that really need them. I have a few garter belts that I wear when I want stockings without the restriction of a girdle. All of my girdles are vintage. I found two at a local estate sale, a few from Donnaland, 3 from thrift stores and the garter belts from etsy. If you prefer brand new shape wear, check my vintage shopping page for online stores that carry lovely vintage inspired undies. 

Q: I'm completely confused on plus size sizing on the vintage girdles. Have no idea where to start...thus the fact that all girdles I own are very much modern day ones. Educate me please! 

 I'm not an expert on vintage girdles but I'll do my best! When you buy girdles online, they usually give you the measurements, so that's a good way to know if it fits. If it's a full girdle, sellers often go by the bust size. If it's a half girdle, they usually go by the waist or hip size. Some sellers simply label "large" "xl", etc.  If you're unsure, you can always ask for extra measurements before you buy. Not all vintage girdles have tags and ones that do have different sizing. Some of my girdles simply say "extra large" and others have bra size tags.
There are a lot of fitting issues that can be especially difficult for a plus sized woman. If the girdle has shorts-like legs, they might be constricting on the thighs. I have huge thighs so I either try it on before I buy or stick with open-bottom or panty girdles without long legs. I feel like open bottom girdles are usually the most comfortable and easy to fit. Another concern is that you want a girdle to be supportive but not too tight and if you have some extra junk in the trunk, you'll want to make sure it's long enough to cover the rear. Luckily, girdles have a little stretch to them. You can usually go an inch or two (sometimes 3 or 4) smaller without being miserable but you don't want to get a girdle that's too big unless you can make alterations.
If buying online, a seller often indicates how much stretch the girdle has. When buying online, be sure to check to see if the garter straps and stretch panels are dry-rotted. Over time that powernet can break down and become brittle, the garter elastic can dry rot and the garters themselves may need replacement. I've bought several really awesome girdles for a song and made repairs to them but not everyone wants the hassle of dealing with that.
this dress was found in an old attic in St Louis

Where do you find vintage clothes in bigger sizes?

All over the place! I find that a lot of plus sized 40's-50's clothes were probably older ladies garments but some of them are still very cute. Also, not all of my clothes are vintage. Some are modern with vintage inspired styling.
Thrift stores: Most of my clothes are from thrift stores. I'm on a very tight budget so I never spend a lot of money on expensive ebay purchases. I spend many hours scouring thrift stores for vintage but it's worth it! A lot of my skirts and blouses are modern (60's-now) with vintage inspired styling. Some of my dresses are more modern also. I have a few 60's-80's dresses that I really love. Some of them look totally 40's and they fit well so I go for it.  I used to buy shoes at thrift stores but most of them time, they don't fit quite right so I resist the urge and buy my shoes new.
Vintage Shops/Antique Malls: They aren't as affordable as the thrift stores but I do find cute things at vintage shops and antique malls. Sometimes, you can find great sales, especially off season at vintage shops. Since I'm on a budget, I shop vintage shops for special occasions like my birthday or after Christmas. If you find a booth at an antique mall that carries clothes, check back at least once per month for new additions. If something is damaged, some antique malls give a 10% off discount if you ask.
Craigslist/Estate Sales/Private Collectors: Check craigslist, estatesales.net and want ads. There are some people that collect vintage to wear or just for fun and often need to sell things to make extra cash or room for more. Some people have warehouses, attics, basements full of "junk" and if you're willing to dig, you can find amazing things. Buying in bulk is a great way to get bulk discounts too. Private collectors are likely to have larger sizes too. Some collectors are older ladies or cross dressers to tend to be larger sizes. On occasion, estate sale companies allow pre-sales by appointment or on weekday afternoons. If you can go before the madness begins, you might find plus sized treasures. See my post about shopping Estate Sales. When shopping private collections or random craigslist ads, always bring a friend and a cell phone. Meet in public if you can but never go alone. I've seen a few tempting craigslist guys who have a "huge collection of vintage in a storage shed". Don't take risks for the sake of clothes!
Online: There are so many sites to find plus sized vintage. Etsy and Ebay are my favorites, especially etsy. I do seaches for "vintage plus size" "plus size dress" 40's xl" "xl, l" or actually type the word "extra large" or "large" into your searches. Also, just check the "vintage" category. Don't limit yourself by era because some sellers don't know how to date clothes. You might find a gorgeous 40's dress that isn't tagged by era or you might find an 80's does 50's dress that you adore. By searching under "plus size" or one of the variations above, I avoid the disappointment of those totally adorable tiny dresses. I also search by lowest price first so I can find the best deals and won't be let down by things way out of my price range.
Sewing: When I first got into vintage, I sewed a lot of my own things. I started sewing when I was 12 and really loved making clothes. Making my own clothes ensures that things will fit perfectly. If you sew, you can enlarge really cute vintage patterns and make some amazing things in any size you like. I learned to sew from my grandma and great grandma. If you have a friend or relative that can teach you to sew, that's usually best but there are sewing classes at fabric stores, community colleges, community centers and private teachers. I cannot stress how valuable it is to sew, especially if you wear vintage. Some vintage dresses are 70 years old. If they get a rip, lose a button, need a hem or split at the seam, it's so important to know how to fix those things.

Q: I can never find cute vintage style shoes in my size. Where do you find yours? 

 A: Some of my shoes are thrifted, but like I said, I'm trying to avoid used shoes and buy new ones to last and to fit well. Believe it or not, you can often find great vintage-y shoes at Target, Kohls, Payless, and other shoe stores. Right now, I'm madly in love with shoes from Amerimark. I have a pair of t-strap pumps that I wear almost daily. They're affordable, very comfy and come in lots of sizes and widths. I always caution that they will call you after your order to try to sell some silly health insurance plan but after one "no thank you" they never bother again. They have some great bras, granny panties and shape wear also.

Q: What is the best vintage era for us heavy in the middle folks?
1930's plus size image via Bettes Bargains
A: I think the answer will be different for each person. If you're an apple or rectangle shape, you can either try to define a waistline or embrace your natural shape and have fun with garments that don't show off the waist. If you're wider in the middle with a slight waist and want to show off what you have, you can still play with nipped in styles of the 40's and 50's. A 50's dress with a full skirt can add volume to your lower half and give the illusion of a much smaller waist. If you prefer to not draw attention to your middle and/or don't mind that there's not a defined waist, you can have fun playing with styles of the 20's, 30's and 60's styles which are often very straight, tubular garments with fantastic details to draw the eye away from the middle. Apples or Rectangles usually have great arms and legs so those eras can really accentuate your best assets.

Q: Not all vintage clothes have size tags. How do you know what will fit when you find it?
A: The first thing I do is take accurate measurements of myself. I measure myself at least once per month, especially during periods of weight loss or eating too much over Christmas :) Burda Style gives great instructions of how to properly measure yourself. I generally measure only bust, waist, hip and bicep. Write those numbers down and keep it in your wallet. When you go shopping, make note of your measurements and measure garments with a measuring tape. I hate those disheartening dressing room struggles so measuring the garment prevents that and helps you to get a better idea of what size you really are.  Over time, you'll be able to tell if something will fit just by a glace. If in doubt, I go ahead and try it on. If it's a little too big, I buy it anyway and make alterations later. 



Junk in the Trunk! -Photo by Leah Fauller

Q:I'm having a hard time coping with my body size and I can't find any vintage in my size anymore. I used to wear a much smaller dress size. How do you get over those issues?

A: I always tell ladies to ignore the size tag because one brand's size 8 is another brand's size 12. What matters is how you feel. I would rather go up 3 dress sizes and be comfortable than try to sausage my butt into something just because the number on the tag.  I have saggy boobs from breastfeeding two kids, stretch marks from weight changes, scars from surgery, cellulite from too many french fries. I have "fat days" when I feel like a whale and I can't find anything to wear. I think that happens to most women, though.  I could throw on a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt 3 sizes too big and hide under it or I could work with what genetics and my love of food gave me and do what I can to feel pretty. Life is too short to be insecure and unhappy about something as silly as dress sizes. I'm working on getting fit so I can have more fashion options but in the mean time, I try to have fun with what I have and show people that you don't have to be a certain size or shape feel pretty and be noticed. I went to the casino for my husband's birthday a few weeks ago. It was Saturday night. The skirts were tiny, the heels were tall and the tiny waists were abundant. I wore a pretty 40's dress, cute wedges and fixed my hair. I felt like the most elegant girl in the whole place. I got non-stop compliments all night from the gorgeous, skinny cocktail waitresses and smokin' hot girls prancing around in their little dresses. When you're comfortable in your skin and you feel pretty, that's all people see. They don't see a "fat chick" they see an elegant, beautiful woman that loves herself.


enjoying some of life's sweetness

I'm an odd shape and everything is too big or too small. What can I do to find clothes that actually fit?

Most women are not a "perfect" size. Many of us fall between a few size numbers. Most of my clothes need some sort of alteration to fit just how I like it. My bust and hips are bigger than my waist so I like to nip things in at the waist to show off my curves. I'm tall so I usually let a hem down and have to re-hem it so it not too short. In general, if a dress (or blouse or whatever) fits well at the largest part of your body, you can have alterations done to fit the rest of you. If pants are long but make your butt look great, you can hem them. If a cardigan doesn't gap at the bust but is too long, you can alter it to sit at your desired length. No matter what you wear, the most important thing is to have it fit properly to show off your best features. It's not always your body that's the problem, it's usually the clothes! 





Q: Do people say things to you when you go out in vintage?
A: Sometimes yes, sometimes they just gawk. I've never had a negative response though. People are just curious. My most frequently asked questions by strangers in public are "Why are you so dressed up?" and "How did you do your hair?" I've prepared myself for comments about my body size but so far, they have always been positive. Usually older gentlemen say nice things about "girls with meat on their bones" or that I look like their mother. A lot of ladies express interest in the style. It can be scary to expose yourself to the world when you're used to hiding your body but at the end of the day, it feels good to be noticed for being an elegant girl instead of blending in with the sea of t-shirts.


It takes a lot of time rooting through racks of clothes to find something that fits but believe me, there's loads of plus sized vintage out there, waiting for someone to find it and bring it home!

If anyone has any other questions about me or about plus sized clothes, you can email me at va_voomvintage@yahoo.com or leave your comment below. Thank you for your questions!!

39 comments:

  1. Great post! This is so helpful to me! I must start checking out more estate sales! Thank you so much for posting this!!

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  2. Awesome amazing post! So much great information. I don't dress vintage(yet-maybe?) but I think I'll be printing this post to keep for reference if I do decide to start looking for vintage clothing.

    Thanks for posting this!

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  3. What a nice post! An elegant large size ladie is really more beautiful than a trashy skinny girl!!!
    Vintage fashion is better to fit curvy gals instead of modern fashion, it's what I think!

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  4. This post is amazing! Thanks for sharing all your great tips.

    When I don't feel like trying on dresses, I'll hold the garment up against me. If it accommodates to a little more than halfway around my torso and hips without stretching, I know it's a good fit :)

    I get asked why I'm so dressed up literally every time I leave the house! It's hilarious.

    Congrats on your weight loss! I'm on a similar regimen. Best of luck! Thanks again for the great tips!

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  5. Thank you so much. I think we're about the same size and it's so lovely to see someone else who's happy with their style and finding and making fantastic clothes.

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  6. Great post, I'm a big fan of Dita too, I actually met her once. To give you some more breakfast options she also eat oatmeal or egg whites.

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  7. Great post!I agree size doesn't matter,its knowing your measurements that will suit you best when it comes to vintage

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  8. What a great post, really useful information. And may I say, you have fantastic legs! Jealous :)

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  9. What an absolutely beautiful post! I just found your blog and am very glad I did!!! Looking forward to more! Thank you!

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  10. So, I just wanted to let you know, that for the past few weeks I have been struggling with crippling dissatisfaction on how I look. This post just did A LOT to help me out of that. I really appreciate that you took the time to write it, and that you keep on truckin' even on your unhappy days.
    Cheers!
    (P.S. you're gorgeous, as always!)

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  11. Thank you for posting this! So much great information!

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  12. Thank you for all of your feedback, everyone! I'm so happy that this post helped. As always, feel free to drop me an email or comment anytime that you have questions or whatever. It's not easy being a girl in the world, weather you're a size 0 or size 22. We all gotta stick together :)

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  13. Just popping in to say that I think you are beautiful and I would love to have a dose of your confidence. Thanks for a fantastic post.

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  14. Fantastic Post!! I wish I owned your wardrobe we have the exact measurements, show size and I'm an inch taller!! If only the thrift shops were filled with goodies like they are in the midwest!But the thing about making your clothes is true, I design and sew my own stuff often. It's great to see a post cater to the more voluptuous vintage gals! Soo informative!! Thanks for posting Brittany! You remain a constant inspiration! ;)

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  15. "They don't see a "fat chick" they see an elegant, beautiful woman that loves herself."

    that line right there speaks volumes, I wish more of our big beautiful sisters understood that our size is not a prison sentence, and that we have a choice whether to view and present ourselves as fat girls or big beautiful divas.

    One of the things I adore about your blog is that you show that anyone that wants to look beautiful can. You show that size is not an obstacle. A tight budget can be worked around. And even with 2 small children, you find those extra few seconds to doll up. (it doesn't hurt that your gorgeous either).

    Thanks for being an inspiration

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  16. You deserve a medal! :)

    Thank you for a wonderful post, and thank you for being such a positive person.

    Wishing you all four a lovely weekend.

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  17. Che Meraviglia il Cappellino Rosso !
    What a Gorgeous Pin-Up...Your Style in wearing is Amazing...Cheers!
    Ciao dall'Italia
    Greetings from ITaly
    by the way: Happy Valentine's Day

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  18. Seriously? One of the BEST posts I have ever read on plus sizes & vintage. I am going to make you a badge of BRILLIANCE!!

    *heads off to twitter to tell the WORLD!*

    And your red and blue outfit is luvvvverly! :)

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  19. Just ran across your blog and I've enjoyed reading it so much. I love the vintage look. It brings back memories of my shirt waist dresses that I always wore as a young girl.
    Im a new blogger......only 2 weeks in. COME VISIT ME!!!

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  20. Hey congrats on the 5lb loss!! I too can be plus size (depending on style and brand) and I sometimes just don't care. I just buy what I like. On a limited budget, thrift stores and wal-mart are my go to places. An outfit may not necessarily be "vintage" but accessories can help that! :)

    Great post!

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  21. I just discovered your blog, thanks to link posted over on The Girl with the Star-Spangled Heart. This post is wonderful, thank you so much for it. And bravo to you for your style and flair! I am following your lovely blog now.

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  22. This is such a great post! You look beautiful in all the pictures too.

    We're the exact same size (except I'm four inches shorter!) and I too have never had a negative remark about my size when dressed in vintage... it's all the same sort of stuff, just compliments, questions, and people thinking it must take a lot of time and energy to dress in such a way.

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  23. An excellent and informative post! Thank you!

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  24. I'm a size two, so the size-related contents of this post don't apply to me so very much, but I just love it all the same. It's so warm and sensible, and there is no negative comment on women who are too thin to be considered "real" women... Encounter those sometimes and they always make me feel guilty. You, your clothes, and your spirit are just lovely.

    The tips for buying vintage undies were very interesting. I'm also large busted, and have always been too chicken to go with a vintage bra sans undersides. Those wires have been my safety blanket for twenty years!

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  25. Oops! Meant to say *I encounter those sometimes.... :)

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  26. Oh, I don't like those negative remarks about slender women either! :( Unless you're Janice Dickinson, all women are real in my book. Skinny girls encounter just as many wardrobe issues as plus sized girls. Ladies of all shapes and sizes need to band together because it's not easy being a gal sometimes! :)

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  27. Thanks so much for doing this! You talked about yourself with pride and humility at the same time - I have much respect for you!

    Thanks for mentioning my tiny, new blog, too! It's just a start and I really need to spend more time on it. I have another blog (religious theme) that's quite popular with thousands of hits a month, but I've tired of that and want to branch out. You were one of the first vintage theme blogs I found and I'm so glad I did. The folks here in the vintage world are MUCH nicer!

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  28. I detest that "real woman" thing! I can't understand why celebrating one thing almost always mean pulling something else down.

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  29. Aww! Thanks for featuring my photography Brittany! I'd love to get together again soon!

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  30. Nice post. Thanks for sharing your ideas and answers to those question. You look so gorgeous Brittany!

    plus size

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  31. Wow, you have a great way of making a big girl like me feel like I could actually find something that looks good on me. Thank you for your time on your blog, it's actually my favorite of all the ones I have bookmarked. I'm slowly getting into vintage, I just wish my budget would allow it to grow faster. I also have the issue that around here, there's not much to offer. Thanks again and keep up the great work!

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  32. I love your post its very inspiring. I really appreciate your honesty and straight forward approach. I am very curvy myself and everytime I dress up in retro comments have always been very positive. Usually old men appreciate it most and tell me how much they miss seeing women in dresses. Its hard not to have a bounce in your step when you're dressed in a fun retro outfit whether its actual vintage or recreated retro outfit.

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  33. I sell vintage plus size clothing at very reasonable prices...check out http://giddyupgirlz.etsy.com/ hope you don't mind me saying here. loving your vintage vibe!

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  34. I'm so happy I found this blog! I love all things vintage but I'm too self-conscious about my body (my weight issues and my rosacea are keeping me back from so much fun...) but you did wrote some things that are true, and you are so beautiful, too!, so I think it's time for me to come out of my shell. A big thank you and hug from this side of the world (:

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  35. So glad i found you, i am just starting a blog an was so pleased with this post that i have put a link to it on my blog. By the time anyone reads this post of yours, i don't think they would have any issues what-so-ever. You are an inspiration to all of us who lack that bit of confidence, me, at 56 and a body thats crook, well, give me a maxi any day. I can shine with them on.
    hugs peta x
    http://www.sew-and-go.blogspot.com

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  36. So, I just found your blog(after looking for vintage boots) and I have to say it's lovely. I'm a girl who's to big to be "normal" but to small to be" plus sized" (I am between 14 and 18) so when I go to buy things by the time I find them, I usually can't find them in my size for under 150ish dollars(even hats are hard to fit me, go figure). I turned to men's clothes and baggy things and even *shirks* a lot of spandex bottoms and large tops to hide the majority of my figure. I am finally pulling myself together, and just purchased a bunch of stuff from betty page(hooray for black friday) and I just want to say that this a wonderful blog, and very inspirational to the new style I'm trying to create for myself. you are very beautiful, and I hope someday I can be as confident as you!

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! Yes, I used to hide in baggy clothes or wear stretch pants all the time and its just awful! After wearing pretty things that I love and dressing to flatter my body, I feel better about myself and am certainly more comfortable! There's lots of pretty things out there, both vintage and modern, Good luck in your new journey!! x

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  37. You're very lucky that you haven't had bad comments - I frequently get comments from people, almost always women, about how "terrible it is religion makes women dress like that", or "she shouldn't feel she has to cover up", or, the best one of "It's terrible that her husband makes her wear that!" XD They always make me laugh - I'm really pale, so I wear cardigans all the time, with at least my shoulders covered, and I always wear stockings/tights (it really helps prevent my thighs rubbing), and my partner (we aren't married) wouldn't care if I went out in a rubbish bag so long as I was happy!

    Old gents always give the best compliments though. I had one who thoroughly informed me that it was so lovely to see a woman wearing something she obviously enjoyed wearing hehe.

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I read every single comment(even on old posts) and they make my day! If you have a question, please email me at va_voomvintage@yahoo.com. Thank you for reading me!! x

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