Monday, November 7, 2011

Vintage is Unoriginal and Derivative: Discuss

I'm very happy to say I've only ever had positive reactions to the way I dress. Unfortunately not everyone enjoys seeing vintage as much as the good people of Chichester do, and there's some dreadful fashion snobbery out there. This was highlighted recently in a certain twitter incident (discussed by Margaret on Penny Dreadful) in which one user (who happens to be a journalist for a respected newspaper) dismissed all vintage fashion as a "boring pastiche" and "silly".

The thoroughly unpleasant tone this journalist took in the exchange was highly objectionable and a topic in itself (mostly covered in the aforementioned Penny Dreadful piece), but aside from the breathtaking arrogance, her comments also got me to pondering this bizarre snobbery in which conforming to the trends prescribed by the modern fashion industry makes one somehow more original or creative than recreating the styles and trends of an earlier era. It's that same attitude that labels vintage "costumey".

But how can wearing modern clothing be considered any more original or creative than wearing vintage? No-one accuses the average fashion-conscious Jane on the street of looking "boring and unoriginal", but all she's done to create her fashionable look is to walk into H&M or Topshop and buy something straight off the rack. I just don't see the logic that wearing leggings or jeans with a top purchased days ago from any high street fashion store makes one person any cleverer than someone else who chooses a style which recollects the fashions of 40, or 50, or 60 years ago. It all comes down to subscribing to a particular aesthetic.

Even those modern fashion icons who combine vintage and modern clothing do so in a way which makes the vintage articles fit within the parameters of modern fashion: so the jeans she's wearing are 'vintage' (circa 1998), or that waistcoat is 1940s; if she's wearing it in a way that's acceptable to the modern fashion mainstream that somehow makes her 'original'? More so than someone who wears a swing dress and hat with novelty socks, or someone who takes modern high street garments and styles them in line with the fashion standards of 1952? Practically everyone is trying to 'recreate' (either directly or with a twist) some look or another; whether it's the 1941 McCall catalogue or last week's catwalk, everyone draws inspiration from somewhere.

Yes, there are those who seek to recreate wholesale the looks of the past, but on the whole that sort of vintage purist (and if that's the way they choose to dress, go them) are a minority, just as there are very few people who try to precisely replicate the latest Prada runway show. But neither will blend in with the crowd and so are still originals in their way.

Of course, I'm delighted for you to wear your 1990s jeans and 1940s waistcoat in a modern context - and I'm certain you'll look totally fabulous - but unlike that haughty journalist on Twitter, you won't consider your choices superior to either High-fashion Henrietta or Vintage Valerie (Tracksuit Tracey, well, that's another topic for another day). Whatever you feel about someone's look, whether it's to your taste or not, when you can see that she's put an effort into it you respect that. And that acceptance of personal style is part of what I love about (most of) the "vintage" scene.

Outfit details: Skirt (1990s), charity shop; Blouse (modern), charity shop; Cardigan (modern), Primark; Shoes (vintage late 40s), ebay; Wool cape (vintage, c1950s-70s), charity shop; Handbag (vintage c1940s), charity shop; Hat (vintage 1940s-50s), ebay; Belt (modern), Marks & Spencer.

So, am I a pastiche? Possibly. Original? Maybe not. Or just someone who dresses reasonably stylishly (I hope!) in the clothes that make her happy?


  1. Stylish? Yes, very much so. Very elegant, I would say.

    A pastishe- yes, perhaps. But is that really a bad thing?

    Original! Yes, I think so. I don't see many people who look like you. However, I do see a lot of people wearing the latest fashion and I just can't see what can be so original about that. I only yesterday shared a train journey with a group of girls who were very trendy. And they all looked like clones of each other. Colours differed, but they basically wore the same jacket, the same jeans and the same shoes. Even their hair conformed to the same lines. I can't see any originality in that. I'm sure they were very happy with their looks and good for them, but they didn't look particulary creative to me.

    I can understand why someone doesn't want to dress a certain way, or even don't appreciate the look of ot, I know there are styles I don't fancy at all. But why this need to be mean about it- I just don't understand that.

  2. She is a perfectly ghastly woman, who writes for a perfectly ghastly paper, I wouldn't expect any better from her! Claws out here, but she and her paper really annoy me.

    I wear what I feel comfortable and happy in. I like certain styles and looks from the past, and if they suit me I will wear them, as they were, because I like the look, that's why I want to wear them as they were worn. I love history, I like the thought of the people who have worn a particular garment before me, wondering about them etc.
    Every one should just mind their own business and stop being idiots about what other people wear.

    I think you look great, and I agree with the whole clones look of so many young girls. I would rather they went for some look of their own than slavishly following fashion, too scared to be anything other than what they think their friends or the fashion magazines demand. I have always preferred it when I see people who waltz to their own tune.

  3. Ah- left a long comment then clicked on the article you mentioned and it went away. Nevermind...

    I just don't like the tone of this journalist. She sounds so condescending and bitchy, really snobbish.

    "Whatever you feel about someone's look, whether it's to your taste or not, when you can see that she's put an effort into it you respect that": I can't agree more with you.

  4. Your style is not original, it's very derivative, and given today's idea of fashion it's a little costumey and something of a pastiche. So what? This might be a problem if you were making a living replicating high street fashion. You look very well put together, your clothes are perfect for your body shape and colouring, and you display a lot of character and personality - go you!

  5. Vintage is certainly not original (is that not one of the ideas of dressing to look vintage? That it's all been done before?) but is anything anymore? Like you said, everyone takes inspiration from somewhere - even the likes of Lady Gaga is just Grace Jones for the noughties.

    And as for that journalist: Is she telling us she's never worn a shift dress? A pencil skirt? Highwaisted trousers? Pssscht. Original vintage or not, it defintely is vintage inspired.

  6. Counting the stares I get when I´m wearing all vintage/retro I MUST be original in some way or else people wouldn´t be irritated by me. Seriously, I don´t care about what some person who accidentally happens to be a journalist thinks about people wearing their clothes in a way she cannot appreciate. And if she has to cry because of it, she´s a silly little girl. It´s like saying "People who eat only potatoes are totally unoriginal because I find ´em boring and they are so 20th century, like in a museum, and all my friends eat rice and all the famous cooks tell me to eat only rice with maybe one little potatoe this year to be original. Booh, purist potatoe eaters, you make me cry!" I for my part love the museum look. Also, and that´s just a thought, isn´t most of todays fashion just heavily inspired by yesterdays? There´s so much 60s, 70s and 80s retro going on on high street at the moment that a "new" piece of clothing mixed with a vintage piece doesn´t make you look like you invented anything at all.

    I hope all this made some kind of sense o.O

  7. Whats quite ironic is that she's wrote an article on how to behave appropriately on social networking sites... i think she needs to revisit this and perhaps listen to her own advice.
    Great post! (:

  8. At the other end of the vintage versus modern spectrum, there are those who get snobbish and deride modern fashion as full of people who slavishly follow trends, yet they happily conform to fashion trends from the 1950s and judge those who mix eras! Both ends are pretty bad - why can't they just live and let live?

    I think it's probably also unfair to say that people who dress modern are just copying whatever is in fashion - unless you make your own clothes or buy vintage, the clothing available to you is basically dictated by the fashion industry (and even then you need to be able to draft your own patterns for something 100% unique!). I admire people who can mix elements of different trends in a way that looks refreshing and novel because it shows creativity. Honestly, wear stuff because you LIKE it, not because it is either in fashion or 'so *insert era here*'.

  9. I knew from the title what you were referring to having followed the original discussion at Penny Dreadful. I think it's so distasteful what she did. What gives her the right to be such a snob? Isn't so much of the fashion industry drawing inspiration from the past, anyway? I wonder what she thinks of all the Mad Men inspired clothing that's around right now. Pastiche? At the end of the day, we're all pulling inspiration from somewhere. If it makes you happy and you like it, rock it. But don't knock what others choose.

    And by the way, I absolutely LOVE your outfit. :)

  10. I really don't understand how this woman could think that going into a few shops on the high street and putting together a modern look is more creative than putting together a vintage look. Putting together a vintage look with some modern pieces requires an equal amount of creativity (if not more) to putting together a modern look using some vintage pieces. It seems to me that people who do vintage looks generally use more creativity, because they often make their own garments. Even without that, there is usually more effort and creativity associated with vintage accessories and hair. Pastiche? I find it sad that some people are so narrow-thinking that they feel it's not acceptable for people to dress however is flattering, and that only current, mainstream trends are socially acceptable. That seems to really limit creative possibilities.

  11. I couldn't agree more- as I commented on PD's post, all my friends dress totally differently and that's great, all part of the spice of life. We all copy some ideas and combine them with our own. I can't stand it when purists have a dig at modern dressers or modern dressers at vintage folk.

    I'm a charity shop diva so would be at the bottom of either list anyway! ;)

    I would go so far as to say that even tracksuits can have an 'image' (I'm thinking Gwen Stefani and Missy Elliot, not Vicky Pollard, of course)! I love my 70s Adidas jacket- worn with the latest shell-toes and flares. Am I inspired by 70s cop shows and Fame? Yup. Am I a brainless pastiche? No more or less than anyone else...but my fashion does sometimes stand out of the crowd, I'm happy with that!

  12. I just made this point this weekend! I was standing in line at a discount fashion warehouse sale and the girls in front of me were looking at me completely bemused, as I was wearing a vintage Girl Scout uniform. I wanted to say to them, you are as costumey as I! All you need with your jackets and skinny jeans tucked into boots is a cap with a feather as you all look like Puss In Boots!
    I say let your fashion freak flag fly, whether it's Girl Scout or Puss In Boots or anything in between.

  13. Confused - she went to some event that maybe has a vintage theme? Would one go to a science fiction convention and then complain that the place was full of nerds dressed as Dr Spock?

  14. Isn't all fashion inspired by something that's already been done anyway? 2011 does 70's, which was all about the 30's which took inspiration from ancient Egypt. I was wearing "50's" pencil skirts for school at age 14. The high street shops have pretty much the same things in nowadays so it's my choice (as a grown up) not to wear the same clothes as the 16 year old girls on the bus. I don't buy glossy mags or follow the celebrity culture because I'm quite happy to be myself. X

  15. Far too many Guardian writers are bilious, self-important twits. Personally, I find that ignoring them and doing what pleases works just fine...

  16. I'm really glad you wrote on this topic since I have so much negative experience with people's comments. In Croatia (where I used to live) people would comment my usual 30s or 50s outfits as "costumes". Probably because I was literally the only one who dressed vintage there. But what do you expect from a place where two gay men cannot walk around holding hands? It's all the same discrimination towards the unknown. Then I moved to Munich expecting a better situation just to hear a dude in the street labeling me as Lady Gaga. I was dressed 50s pinup btw. I really don't know what to say to these poor limited people who ,instead of aplauding us for the courage, will and love towards the past times, label us as freaks. I know I will never stop dressing vintage. It gives me elegance and it makes me pround for having the guts to step out and be different.
    Go vintage!!

  17. I don't think there's much that can be original in general so I don't know why someone can say that about vintage! Everything is derivative in one form or another be it modern or vintage! The point is there is no point in disparaguing anyone's sense of style or clothing in these terms as it's just subjective. I adore vintage clothes, I like lots of modern clothes and I'm sure I'll like things in the future- er so I try to choose not to comment on what people wear apart from admiring! I've seen too many bitchy girls making life misery for someone who doesn't wear exactly the same as them!
    Good post!!! Silly reporter!

  18. I think you look lovely- and I seriously just don't care about modern fashion trends :) I wear what I like and what I feel comfortable in- it is all good :)
    So I say, wear what you like!
    (edited to replace horrific spelling mistake LOL)

  19. I'm sure that the many talented designers who have been heavily inspired by vintage styles would disagree with this writer, and so do I! I am constantly reminded that the clothing designs from years ago are often far superior to what is knocked out today. Designs made for ease of mass production instead of quality and style are everywhere, and when you make your own clothes you can see that this second rate rubbish is everywhere. You look great!

  20. Wow. That was so juvenile I don't even know where to begin. And how many times can one use the word "pastiche"? Do you think it was on her word of the day calendar? She was just in terribly poor taste.

  21. It is a shame that she seemed to be on the attack and more than petty and childish in her replies.

    I dress the way I do because it makes me HAPPY. I like looking what I think of as nice, it suits my shape and makes me confident. Balls to anyone who disagrees.

  22. I love your outfit and if I met you on the street I would think you totally original (in that you are not wearing what everyone else is). It takes real courage to do that and I do think that our Journalist friend is afraid of that

  23. I've heard comments like this from both sides... both the vintage enthusiasts hating modern fashion or fashion subgroups, and modern fashion hating vintage fashion. It really is a shame. If you're fashion or creative-minded, it doesn't take much effort to see the good in what an individual person has done with their style, whether or not it's something we ourselves would wear. It's a shame that folks have to be nasty :(

    I love your style! I think it's very fun and unique.

  24. I think your response is perfect. So well put. One big BOO to any type of fashion snob, be it modern, highstreet, vintage, subculture - whatever. It's silly.
    - Emily

  25. I think it terrible that it's taken for granted that the 'right' way to dress is only what is generally accepted at the time. I think that is the true definition of boring. One of the reasons I like to dress vintage, or at least classic in skirts and blouses rather than jeans and t's, is because it sets me apart. I enjoy dressing in a way that represents my style, taste, and personality, and modern clothes just don't do that. As long as it's tasteful, I don't think anyone should down clothing just because it's not on their favorites list.
    You dress wonderful! I've been scrolling through your outfits and your sense of style is so inspiring! Thanks for the awesome blog.


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