Smart Vintage Product Design

12th July 2011

Every time I go antiquing, I come across clever product design and wonder why certain conveniences never went mainstream. Why don’t all our pans have printed cup measure indicators inside?

This is especially true of women’s clothing. Vintage dresses have little snaps in the shoulders to hold bra straps in place, and the backless shoe pictured above has a strap of elastic in the instep to help keep the shoe closer to your heel. So much more comfortable to walk in.

I started a Flickr group for Cool Vintage Product Design. It’s filled with a bunch of little conveniences I’ve noticed over the years, so add your own if you have them.

Can you think of anything that falls into this category? What makes you think, “they don’t make them like that anymore?”

21 thoughts on “Smart Vintage Product Design

  1. ElJay

    PSsst. The link is private.

    Also, I do have a modern bowl with measurements printed inside. I love it! It also has a little spout on the lip to make pouring things out of it easier. It’s not a measuring cup, it’s definitely a bowl, but those two things really improve the utility.

    Thank you, fixed it. -M

  2. Helen

    Link is also not working for me (says it’s private) boo!

    Random vintage-is-better fact: Pyrex doesn’t make cookware out of pyrex anymore! I spent decades watching my grandmother make gravy in her glass 13×9 pan on the stove after she roasted something in it. I tried to do the same this with my newer pan. Yeah. Unless you want glass shards for dinner, it’s a bad idea. Now I scour resale shops for old pyrex wear!

  3. Martha

    Link doesn’t work for me either.
    I love old Magnalite pots. My grandmother always cooked in them, but not they’re made in China and don’t hold up as well at all. I’m going antiquing this weekend just to look for some.
    I agree that old clothing was made with better, utilitarian details.

  4. Sarah

    All those nice details cost money. I can’t find slacks under $200 that have a lining anymore.

    Exactly. Thank you, garage sales. -M

  5. Lacey

    I wish I could find two things my grandmother had, both in the cookware realm: First, a 9″ x 13″ tin with a perfectly-fitted tin lid, ideal for transporting brownies to the church potluck; and second, a large saucepan with a strainer section on the lid, so you could just pour the water off the pasta or potatoes without needing a colander.

  6. Ami

    Lands End dresses sometimes have the little snap and string to hold bra straps in place! I just got one this spring that has that very feature. They don’t have it on their website anymore (except in the plus size) or I’d link to it. (V-neck cotton flare dress). Also, a dress I ordered from Coldwater Creek also has that feature. Interestingly, neither Lands End nor Coldwater Creek advertised this little feature — so I was extra pleased to find it.

  7. caitlin

    oh man, i would buy anything that has built in snaps for bra straps, or elastic in a shoe for comfort. fantastic finds!

  8. Sarah

    Underwear proportioned to a woman’s hips a la size-6-post-baby-does-NOT-equal-size-6-pre-baby. I declare wedgie-free underpants a glory of days long gone.

    Not that I’m comfortable antiquing for underwear.

  9. MikeT

    On the site for a business that refurbs old gas stoves, they showed one that had a window on the backsplash that used a series of mirrors to show you a view of the top of whatever you were baking in the oven. It was like a periscope for your casserole!

  10. Liz

    A lot of Anne Klein and Jones New York dresses have those little string-and-snap bits in the straps for your bra strap, and they are AH-MAZ-ING! Such a brilliant little touch just really makes a piece that much better. :D

  11. Kate S.

    Chalk it up to the consumer quest for cheap and fast products. You can still find clever design and ingenuity in expensive, hand-crafted, and really reputable brands today, but most products we buy are manufactured as quickly as possible, using the cheapest materials possible and designed to last only as long as the warranty will hold out. Sad, but true.

    I know exactly how you feel, though. I have a few really well-made dresses and blouses that have hooks for bra straps (and every time I wear them, I wonder why I haven’t taken the time to add them to ALL my clothing) and an electric skillet with it’s own set of ceramic pans that was my grandparents’ in the 60s–it’s the most convenient thing I’ve EVER cooked in and still works, even after all these years.

  12. emily

    we used to have an old fridge that had a metal warmer plate in the butter compartment in the side door, keeping the butter at perfect spreading consistency.

    also, i own jjill tank tops with the snap & string feature. bought 2, went back for 4 more.

  13. Rebecca

    Quote: “Not that I’m comfortable antiquing for underwear.”

    Awesome. Still chuckling about that thought!

    I miss solid wood furniture that didn’t have a price measured with a comma. God bless Craigslist and eBay. Down with veneer! OK, I like that they don’t cut down trees as much for furniture, but I really love my old family pieces because they are gorgeous and solid and just better.

    Also, some J Crew dressy sleeveless tops have the string/snap. Handy, because when you are wearing a strapless top in a more formal setting (say, work), that’s exactly when you want those straps to stay put.

  14. Amy (Minimally Invasive)

    You’re so right. I bought a set of discontinued Martha Stewart pots that have measurements on the inside and I love them so much. I know how sad that sounds, but really — it’s the little things. And I cook a lot.

  15. michele

    It is hard to find pots with measurements on the inside. It would be great if more were made that way. Is is that expensive to add that on the pot? I wonder..

  16. Beth

    My grandparents still use the toaster they received as a wedding present in the 1950. It’s heavy, chrome, makes amazing toast.

  17. Kara

    Not that everyone wants to buy really cheap stuff at Ikea, but my set of pots and pans came from there a year or so ago, and they have the measurements on the inside, in cups, ounces, and litres. So handy! They’re definitely not fancy, but they’re nice, heavy stainless steel, which means that I can throw them in the dishwasher because there’s no coating to worry about. Works for me!

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