This post was written by Lindy Shopper.
I’m certain there are many arguments against wearing vintage clothing and I’ve probably heard most of them:
“I can’t afford it.”
“It’s too fragile.”
“Vintage clothing doesn’t fit my shape.”
“Wearing other people’s old clothing is gross!”
In spite of the naysayers, I’d like to share my love and philosophy about vintage clothing and perhaps refute some misconceptions or perceptions about vintage clothing in the process. I’ve come up with a list of reasons why I think vintage clothing is worth adding to my wardrobe and why I enjoy vintage clothing so much.
If you are looking for sheer quantity of clothing, then vintage clothing probably isn’t right for you, unless you make a lot more money than I do in a year. What I am looking for is quality clothing, something that fits well, is made with nice materials, and will withstand the test of time. I’ve watched a lot of What Not To Wear in my life and Clinton and Stacy always talk about spending a little bit more on clothes to get items that will look more luxurious and quality to improve your overall appearance, clothing that you can wear for years, not just this season.
Not all vintage clothing is deteriorating and some of it is in quite durable condition, especially if you find a dead stock item or a person who had items that were well-cared for and rarely worn. The fabrics used in the first half of the 20th century seem more luxurious, the prints and colors more desirable, and the cuts of clothing more flattering. It’s the details that really get me, details that are overlooked by modern clothing designers (or at least the modern clothing I can afford) – bias cuts, goring in skirts, the impeccable cut of a man’s jacket, the use of buttons, beautiful belt buckles, pintucks and pleats, the use of contrast fabrics, the matching of prints, the use of ribbons and other embellishments, beaded details, a snap closure to hold that tab or collar down, structure in a collar or sleeve to make it retain its shape, and on and on. I love getting a new vintage garment and turning it inside out to see how it is made. There are elements in some of these clothes that you can only find in modern designer and couture clothing, which leads me to my next point…
More quality for less money
I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I don’t spend any more on a vintage dress than I would in a modern retail store. That said, I generally pay less for a vintage garment that has more tailoring and details than I would for a comparable new dress. The same holds true for all used clothing – with new clothes you are paying for the new-ness of the garment, the salaries of the people who made it, and the company who is marketing the clothing. If I can get the same or better details for less money and the only difference is that the garment is old or used, I’m going to go with the more cost-effective option.
I’ve talked in the past about how vintage clothing was made for people of all sizes, not just tiny people, but I also find that vintage clothing just fits me better than modern clothing and is often easier to tailor than modern clothing. Modern clothing is made for the most common size, whatever that happens to be, and doesn’t take into account that everyone has a different bust/waist/hip ratio. If you are a little bigger on the top, bottom, or middle, that ratio isn’t going to work for you, especially if something is supposed to look “fitted.” Checking size charts can be deflating, especially if your bust, waist, and hip measurements land you in 3 different sizes. With vintage clothing, I find that the ratio can be more forgiving – generally fuller skirts, belted waists that can be cinched, and more ample areas in the bust because of how the garment was supposed to be worn. With eBay and online vintage stores, I am able to search for garments that fit my exact measurements, making fit even less of an issue.
Apparently this is what the masses/Google think of sleeves - leg 'o mutton is all we're going to get, after tattoo sleeves and laptop sleeves. I couldn't even find a photo of a regular dress sleeve. Boooooooo...
I don’t like strapless or spaghetti strap dresses because I want the comfort of supportive undergarments; however, I am hard pressed to find dresses with sleeves, even in the winter, in modern retail stores. They want you to buy a jacket to go over it, or you have to find a cardigan. What if I want sleeves and a cardigan because I’m cold? I just find the whole thing impractical. I generally find it easier to find a vintage dress with sleeves in my size than I do finding a dress with sleeves at the mall – I think that’s saying a lot.
If you buy an article of vintage clothing, the odds of someone else having this exact article of clothing is slim to none. Much of the clothing of the swing era was hand made, not mass-produced, but even the mass produced items are rare and far flung. I’ve only come across a couple of items in multiples, one being a dressing gown I found at both Design Archives in Greensboro, NC and on eBay and the other being a 1940’s dress I wore at Lindy Focus last year that several people insisted was exactly the same as a dress owned by Naomi Uyama. Aside from those rare exceptions, my vintage wardrobe remains one-of-a-kind and I think there’s value in finding your own style via these unique garments.
Personal style can be maintained via vintage clothing without having to change your entire wardrobe to the stereotypical “vintage” look. I have friends who can pick out both modern and vintage garments and say “This looks like you!” Clearly, there would be major differences in the garments, but there are certain elements that make up personal style that can translate across the decades – cut, shape, color, and decorative notions are a few that come to mind. Sometimes people have trouble discerning whether or not a garment I wear is vintage, but I think the general consensus is that, whatever I am wearing, it is very “me.”
Letter sweater, 1940
It’s been done
Designers are inspired by the designs of the past. It’s that simple. You can look at just about any garment and relate its shape and design to some article of clothing created in a past decade. In my opinion, most of the time, the past did it better.
Ralph Lauren's version for fall 2011
Feeling good about yourself
I’ll admit it, I feel really special when I wear vintage clothing. Clothes from the past tended to be more dressy than today’s jeans and tee shirt uniform (which I do still wear), so when I wear something vintage it’s because I’m going somewhere special, so I want to look special. Maybe I want to be going somewhere special every day, so I try to wear vintage dresses as much as possible so I feel better about myself, even when I’m not going somewhere special. Vintage clothing can definitely elevate your look, your mood, and your surroundings, and I find that people smile more at me when I wear vintage.
I feel like there’s been a lot of talk about sustainability and being conscious about the environmental impact of our clothing purchases and, while I didn’t initially purchase vintage clothing for this purpose, it’s certainly an incentive to continue to do so. I like to think that I am rescuing this clothing from the garbage heap, keeping its wonderfulness alive while eliminating its clutter and deterioration in a landfill.
As for vintage clothing being gross, well…I guess I’ll just have to be gross. There’s nothing like a trip to the dry cleaners to make an old garment feel new and get out that musty attic smell. 😉
I’ll agree that this is a labor of love. I think some people get frustrated because they treat a vintage clothing store like they would treat a store at the mall. When you are shopping for vintage clothing you have to shift your approach, know that not everything comes in your size, and be patient. Just like any good wardrobe, building it takes time. I’ve been collecting vintage clothing for over a decade now and I’m just now getting to the point where I feel like I have a vintage outfit for almost every occasion. The result – a wardrobe that I love and adore – has been worth the wait.