Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why I Wear Vintage

Inspired by a recent post on Already Pretty in which three guest contributors answered a few questions about their chosen wardrobe aesthetic, I decided to pose myself the same questions. I get asked a lot why I wear vintage, and what I love about the 40s/50s, and honestly I find them the hardest questions to answer. I mean, it's like asking why you like pink, or what you love about pizza: you just do. However, I will do my best to explain what it is about dressing vintage that appeals to me.

My favourite 1940s novelty lovebird print tea dress

As I've recounted on various occasions previously, I've always been drawn to classic styles and have eschewed trousers (with the exception of jeans, though even they have long been banished from my wardrobe) since I decided in my mid teens that they did nothing for my figure. However, much as I would like to present that I've been effortlessly stylish and vintage inspired my whole life, I have to confess that's sadly not the case. For a long time I languished in a style wilderness, often wishing I could go back 50 years to a time when clothes were designed to flatter my body type. Then one day I came across a vintage style blog while researching something on the interweb, and discovered that not only were there other people who enjoyed vintage style, they wore it on a regular basis. Which made me realise that I could too, and I stopped wishing and started wearing the clothes I'd always admired.

So that's why I started dressing vintage "full time", as it were. I've been full-on vintage wearing for about three years now, though as I mentioned I've always really dressed in classic styles - I still have pieces in my wardrobe from my "pre-vintage" days that I wear on a regular basis.

At 18, dressed for the sixth form ball in a Karen Millen devore gown with Edwardian/1910s
lace overblouse and antique jewellery (sorry about the slightly dazed look)

But as to why I wear vintage on a daily basis, to the exclusion of modern fashion, well that's slightly harder to answer. I do sometimes wonder whether I'm limiting myself by eliminating modern looks from my wardrobe, but the clothes in vintage magazines and catalogues excite me in a way modern clothing just doesn't. Part of it is in the detailing - you simply don't find anything like the same level of detail in high street clothes.

Sears, 1940

I also like old things, and I get a kick out of the fact that some of my clothes have survived - against all the odds - for 50, 60, 70, even 100 years. But age isn't the only aspect, and I'm happy to combine modern and me-made repro with original vintage to get the look I want - in fact I even get a certain pleasure in sourcing modern clothing, either thrifted or high street, which looks vintage-y.

Really, the reason it's so difficult to say why I love wearing vintage is that there is no one reason; there's just so much to love. I love looking glamorous and getting complimented on my outfits. I love the thrill of finding a 1950s party frock for £2 at a car boot sale or winning a 1940s novelty print tea dress on ebay for $25. I love recreating a look from history, in the same way as modern fashionistas revel in recreating a designer look on a budget. I love knowing that I'm wearing something unique (that's part of the reason that I don't - yet - own any repro other than me-made, though certain items from Heyday are on my wishlist). I also love being able to indulge my creative side and combine vintage eras with modern for a look that's distinctly "me".

What it comes down to is that I dress this way because it makes me happy - on so many levels. I don't know why I squeal with delight over 1940s peeptoe platform heels while modern strappy sandals leave me cold, and I can't articulate exactly what draws me to certain eras (generally I favour 40s/50s, though lately I've found myself thinking about looks from the 1970s and even the 90s!) any more than I can explain what I like about chocolate hobnobs; I just know I love them.

How about you? Do you find this question the hardest to answer or do you have specific, definable reasons for loving vintage?


  1. It is a very hard question to answer - and you have done a great job. I came to this look from a history aspect - the more I read about the women of WW2, the more i wanted to emulate them :)

  2. I do not find it hard to answer, I normally say that I simply just can't not wear vintage. I was a bit of a hippie chick in my teens (flirting with goth for a year or so too) but when I started studying I went all - uh I'm affraid of not fitting in with the others so I started wearing modern mainstream clothing and I felt awful! About three years ago I bought a 1950s dress, light peach with white embroided stripes and a big collar, and that was that. I was completely in love! I hadn't clue that my body could look and feel like that - you do wiggle so much more in vintage don't you?! So I just cannot not wear vintage because it makes me feel like nothing else can. Oh and all the sweet comments you get from complete strangers doesn't hurt either;)

  3. Have you got any tips for an older lady who would like to wear vintage. I love your style and enthusiasm, but my body shape is completely different to yours and I end up permanently in sweatshirt and jeans these days. I'd love to try vintage but I'm also worried about either looking dowdy, or dressing inappropriately for my age which can just look embarrassing can't it!

    1. Just go for it, pick what you like and what makes you feel happy and attractive and wear it. Go shopping and try a few outfits/styles that you wouldn't normally wear to see how you like the look and take it from there. I know what you mean about age, I'm not a spring chicken anymore but you don't have to look like mutton. Watch the colours, the amount of ruffles and that kind of thing if you think it would make you feel uncomfortable. There are things that I'm drawn to because I would have loved them when younger but would make me feel ridiculous if I wore them now, I just admire them, sigh a bit, and pass on to what I know would suit me better. Classy suits, fitted garments etc are a always a good bet for the older lady, I think.

  4. What a great article! It a very hard question to answer, and I agree with you, it's not just because of one thing it's because of the love :) I also love wearing vintage and thrifted pieces because the modern throw-away fashion culture really distresses me. It does so much damage to the environment! So when you find a stunning 50/60/70 year old dress that has not only lasted but is still very much a wearable and beautiful piece I feel that that proves their is a way of wearing clothes that is still stylish but so much better for the planet. Plus the detail and quality of vintage items is incomparable, you can tell that they were made/worn/cared for with love :)

  5. In a nutshell I love clothes, always have always will. I wear modern, repro, vintage whatever takes my fancy really. I have been a huge fan of the 1930's and 40's since I was a teenager, mostly because I was (and still am)obsessed with the films of that era. As I have said elsewhere there are eras I would love to wear the styles of but I am completely the wrong size and shape. I want to wear things that look good and make me feel good. No point having a stunning vintage frock if you look like a hippo wearing it!! I tend to wear 50's styles because they suit me, but I'm not precious about eras if I love it and it looks good I'll wear.

  6. Really great piece Charlotte. I thoroughly enjoyed this. I have been toying about writing something similar for a while! Also I have to say you look amazing aged 18 for your Sixth form ball. It is very much making me think about Kate Winslet in Titanic : )

  7. Your so well told story is exactly mine!
    Do you believe in rebirth? I believe that is your one and only answer!
    It explains so much for so many other vintage lovers :)
    Keep it up so you will live this live as happy as can be!
    Love from Holland, GonnieMarie

  8. I love that you wrote this! While my response in the Already Pretty guest post pretty much sums up my feelings on why I am drawn towards vintage, I wonder too if many of the modern day vintage fashionistas love the distinctly feminine look earlier styles tend to have? While I am not trying to say, for instance, 1940s femininity is "better" than 2010s (although I am not a hardcore feminist, I do appreciate the liberties we women have now), it is different from the femininity of today. It's a bit more unabashedly girlish with all the more traditional trimmings of female dress (large bows, softly gathered skirts, puffed sleeves, etc.). Does that appeal to us modern gals a bit, I wonder, since feminine fashion nowadays is a bit more subdued and minimal? Again, I'm not trying to say one is better than the other, but that perhaps this vintage style might appeal to the more girly of us who still like to add a bit of "dress up" and "make believe" to our daily lives. :)

  9. Lovely read!! I always enjoy hearing about how other vintage types discovered it!

    Ugh, the "why do you like vintage" question always stumps me! On the one hand, I could write a novel about all the things I admire about early to mid 20th century aesthetics (all the details, lux textiles, cute prints, flattering cuts, the history of it all), but it's so very difficult to sum up. Like you, I just love it; it's what's most beautiful to look at and fun to wear :)

  10. Yep, I know what you mean about 'just liking it'. I've worn retro (ie 60s-70s vintage) and indie fashion since I was a teen, not to make a statement, I just enjoy it. Funnily enough I went through a phase similar to the 'dressing mainstream' phase some vintage people have with dressing in 'proper' vintage (i.e. 50s dresses, no post 1965, victory rolls). It was about 2 years ago when there was a lot about vintage being preferable, more feminine etc' (and no trousers haha) - so I tried it. It wasn't me, really. I went back to my maxis and flares. :)

  11. I have been in a bit of a "second puberty" kind of phase for a few years, being in my forties and not wanting to dress in little girl-dresses with leggings, which seem to be what is offered to women my age. It´s been a revelation to find the vintage-community and I have discovered a great second-hand store operated by the Red Cross, just next to my grocery store, where one can, if lucky, find the most amazing items for next to nothing. I have realized that the only way to keep my sanity is to refuse fashion, and I feel relieved! I like a waistband to be on my waist, period, and I still think nude pantyhose are the best invention ever. And I prefer a good slip to see-through skirts. And I don´t care what anyone think. Oddly, my younger friends now think I´m less "old"-looking than before, when I was more eager to be fashionable... I really understand nothing, but that´s ok.

  12. I'm with Miss Magpie in that I love clothes, but I'm not into fashion, if you see what I mean. I know everything was fashionable once but I wear what I like when I like and I don't and never have felt the need to be "in." I tend to skip about depending on my mood, sometimes if I can be bothered I will try to recreate a definite period look, other times I sort of mix and match and my modern clothes tend to have a quirky look to them and I'm a real hat addict. I, too, despair at the lack of decent lengths and waists to choose from among clothing for the last while. It's very frustrating and really rather tedious.
    I do have a really extreme fondness for the styles of the late Victorian into Edwardian and WW1 era. I don't know why, it's just something that has always been with me, ever since I was a child. I feel drawn to it. I also think I must have been a William Morris groupie in a past life, ha ha!
    I spent a good while in my early twenties looking like a demented dowager who had escaped from The House of Usher or some such like place! Oh, dear.
    Love the photos.

  13. Great post! I think I'm still in the boat of not knowing why exactly I like vintage. I've always enjoyed it to some extent or another since around age 15. I'm sure some of it had to do with having an eclectic mother whose wardrobe I like to pilfer. She had a lot of vintage clothes that she used to wear stored away. Even for years at a time when I went through periods of not wearing any vintage fashions, I always enjoyed them. Then about 10 years ago I started getting into rockabilly music through my now-spouse, and my love of vintage was rekindled. And only in the last couple of years or so have I really worn vintage or vintage-inspired fashions on a daily basis.

    I think along with what a few others have said, it's also interesting how it does give some kind of freedom from the modern fashion world, something I've really never cared about, even when I wasn't wearing vintage.

    Love this discussion. :)

  14. I loved the article, I think it's a beautiful way to explain the reason why you wear vintage. Needless to say you look amazing and you successfully achieve your will to look glamorous and unique! I've posted about a very similar subject in answer to the Bright Young Twins which was "what has made vintage so popular" so if you want to have a look, here it is: http://fairyfaylondon.blogspot.com.br/2012/04/what-has-made-vintage-so-popular.html

  15. I feel the same way-its bc it makes me happy too!! Great post!! xox

  16. I'm am thoroughly like you with regards to this question. However, I do own a handful of store bought/on-line bought repro pieces. I purchased them during my high school and college days before I went super hardcore vintage and have kept them in the closet for events such as dancing, or parties in which I know there is the chance of a party foul. The is nothing worse than someone spilling a beverage on your 1950s Nicholas Ungar! The idea that someone can come in to a shop or go to a website and purchasing the same exact item right after me is upsetting. I really like being unique and having items that are (somewhat) one of a kind (let's face it, there is a more than slight chance that your vintage dress exists somewhere else in the world). Additionally, my choice to buy vintage is also an economic and humanitarian one. Reading "Made in China" on a tag upsets me so much words can't begin to describe. I do not enjoy supporting the labor industry over there or in any of the other countries that have such wretched labor standards. And stores like Wal-Mart make me sick. If I buy new, I buy only from places made in the US, UK and Australia.

  17. You look so pretty in both photos!

  18. You cite excellent reasons! I love them! And I guess, why is it that you get excited over the peep toe vintage ones and left cold by the modern ones? Maybe because it's like a treasure hunt. Seeking something special, something different, something unique, loving something perhaps long lost, and long undervalued but now to be prized by you! Searching to be unique and loving things that are old, not conforming to the world-view that says, age shouldn't be valued and it's only the brand new things of the moment are the only ones that should count, but knowing that things that have gone before are wonderful, are well-made, are treasured, are valued. Respecting the old-fashioned values of make-do-and-mend? I don't know if that's you or not, but that's what I like about vintage!?

  19. Just one PS. I actually like (good) modern fashion. And I feel it does vintage a disservice to stereotype it as all rubbish- are we saying something we love is 'just the best of a bad lot' or that we prefer it because it's lovely and speaks to us? It's all to easy to say modern = throwaway and vintage = lovely. The fact is only the good stuff has survived (the rest ended up in the rag bag- MDAMed into dusters).

    Also, for those of us who favour 20s and 60s-70s, the waist doesn't sit on the waist, shock horror! One of the great things about vintage people have cited here is it ISN'T prescriptive- however often the 'hourglass good, drop waist bad' rule seems to be taken for granted, which is a shame. By all means an hourglass is flattering and comfortable to many women, however it is not the only body shape that is desirable (why not celebrate busts in empire line or hips in 70s hipsters?) and not the only shape vintage comes in.

  20. I love vintage clothing as well, but have not had enough courage to step out and start wearing it full time! I admire you! Love your blog! May I put a link to your blog on my blog?


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