Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On discovering (and appreciating) vintage

A younger, more romantic* iteration of myself used to claim that I liked vintage clothes because I liked imagining the people they had belonged to. Looking at a pair of sheer cotton Georgian bloomers, for example, would put me in mind of the slip of a girl who used to tie them over her tight-laced corset, her layers of cotton, then lace, petticoats, before drawing a drop-waisted cotton-linen and lace number over the top. All this for a summer picnic or some such fancy, where she and her chums would gad about by the riverside.

Sure, okay (I roll my eyes at myself.) That's what I thought about as I breathed shallow and fast over the tiny hand-stitched hems and the loom-woven fabric? Yeah, no. I was thinking about whether they'd fit, how fast I could find out, and in what parallel realm I could pull them off.

I'm sure some people actually do look at vintage clothing and imagine the past lives of the clothes. There's definitely a romance to clothing of a bygone era: it is difficult to come face to face with beautifully wrought garments without feeling wistful that we no longer have reason to dress in hooped skirts, outrageous bustles or floor-length silk cheongsams. But let me tell you a little secret. Lean in, because I'm revealing my hand here: I loved vintage because of what they offered me and my hot little grasp in that very moment.

The workmanship was such a contrast to the slipped overlocking and the cheap cottons of the chain stores that my casual wage could afford. I loved the whiff of romance around the garments. I loved the unusual shapes and individuality of them- what are the odds that anyone else will own a padded emerald green polyester jacket covered in white and gold daisies? But most of all, most of all- I loved (and still love) vintage garments because they were made in a time when garments were generally made to last, and with a quality of fabric and craftsmanship which I could only find in one other place: the boutiques that sold devastatingly lovely clothing that I imagined I might be able to afford some time in my mid-forties. If I bought a precious vintage bomber jacket or a silk teagown, I was embracing an aesthetic of fashion which breathed beauty over my skin. The exclusivity, the strikingness, the quality of high fashion labels which was (and still is) so, so very far from the high street.

I suppose, in a way, I did escape into another world after all, so my grasping towards an explanation for why I gravitated towards vintage was on the right track... but instead of inhaling a world of the past, I was in a world of the present. My present, to be precise, as I was enveloped in clothes of a calibre I had believed would elude me for many more years.

*More romantic? you skepticise. Yeah, yeah, move along, joker.


  1. I like vintage because its so well made and unique. Like you, I like the IDEA that theres a nice little story behind it but I'm pretty much happy knowing that the story is there (rather than imaging it in depth, LOL)

  2. True, true. But given the choice between McQueen and vintage McQueen, which would you choose?

  3. You caught me in a loophole there. Vintage, of course, and we both know it's because McQueen himself would have been the designer and what that means etc. So I guess there's a story there- but a story of its creation rather than of the lady who wore it before I (in a dream reality) bought it. Same same but different. Same for any vintage Worth, Poiret, Schiaparelli, Dior or YSL pieces. Mm-hmm.