Friday, June 22, 2012

Vintage is More Than Midcentury

Or, vintage is more than midcentury, pin-ups, cupcakes, bunting, Cath Kidston crockery, seamed stockings and victory rolls. Granted, I indulge in all of the above (and I'm not going to pretend I don't enjoy cherry prints!), but I'm sick of seeing them presented as the "definition" of vintage.



Every time a new "vintage" themed publication/event/fair launches itself, it perpetuates the stereotype of vintage as exclusively rooted in 40s-50s fashion and design, pin-up and burlesque, and buttercream-frosted cupcakes (I'm at a loss as to how cupcakes came to be considered "vintage" since such a thing was virtually unheard of during the 40s-50s, particularly during rationing).

But while these are all lovely things, vintage isn't just midcentury and rockabilly, and to limit the scope of vintage to such a narrow area does the concept a huge disservice - there's so much more to vintage than that.

Vintage is 1920s dropwaist frocks (note I don't say beaded flapper dresses!), 1930s wax flower bridal crowns and Art Deco detailing. Vintage is the quest for the perfect playsuit, and the joy of a cute handbag. It's adorable novelty prints, delicate rayons and comfortable cottons; conical coolie hats, tilt toppers and rainhoods. It's flowing curls and pixie cuts. Yes, it's making do and mending, wasp-waisted tailoring and fabulously full frou-frou petticoats, but it's also crimplene minis, flowing chiffon maxis and neovictorian prairie dresses. It's disco chic and it's argyle tank tops. And it's more likely to bake fruit loaf than cupcakes.

You may call me a hypocrite saying all this since I do tend to stick to a midcentury aesthetic myself, but just because I do doesn't stop me from appreciating and admiring the styles and design of other eras; it makes me sad that so much of what purports to be "vintage" fails to acknowledge (beyond the occasional surface-scratching glimpse of space-age helmets or the aforementioned beaded flapper dresses) the wealth of incredible style and design from outside those two magical decades. In fact midcentury has become so mainstream within the vintage scene that I'm looking more and more towards 60s and 70s (even - shock horror - 80s/90s!) looks lately just because the (vintage) world sometimes seems so saturated with tea dresses and circle skirts. I will always love the 40s and 50s, but well, when one strives for individuality...

What about you? Would you like to see themed magazines and events which call themselves "vintage" (not "midcentury") present a more rounded view than cupcakes and pin-up? Or perhaps you consider that the term "vintage" does mean the period from WWII to Mad Men, with newer being "retro" and older "antique"?

And while we're on the topic, why is the union flag associated with "vintage"? Since when is patriotism outdated?

Edited to add: Don't get me wrong, I don't think we shouldn't enjoy and embrace all that stereotypical stuff; neither do I think vintage magazines shouldn't focus on the midcentury era - there's no denying it's the most popular. My point was only that there's more to Vintage than just that, and it would be nice to see self-appointed vintage "authororities" recognise that.

Also, I should make it clear that I don't believe in wanting to dress differently for the sake of being different - just that I'm finding myself drawn to other eras to mix it up a bit and keep it fresh.

29 comments:

  1. For myself at this time, I have considered vintage to be the 30s through the 70s. I have difficulty including the 20s these days. I believe that "vintage" fashions should have the ability to be worn on an daily basis. Since 20s fashions are becoming increasingly difficult to come by, let alone wear due to their fragility, they cannot be worn everyday. However, one does have the ability to wear 20s-inspired fashions or create garments from original 20s era patterns and wear each day. When an era becomes to rare or too fragile, it moves into the "antique" realm. Which is why I think that "vintage" is a sliding scale. I believe that in my lifetime, the 40s will become extremely "old fashioned" akin to how we look at 1900s and 1910s frocks.

    With regards to patriotism, while I am not of the UK, I think that the Union Jack has a special place with those who love the 40s because of the war, and how the flag represented hope and unity at such a moment of crisis. In America, the flag has many connotations, especially with regards to our political parties. However, my opinions towards that could be a blog post within themselves.

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  2. I couldn't agree more with you. I'm away from England at the time and I decided to look for vintage shops where I am now as I needed some clothes. People told me about a sort of shopping centre which was supposed to have the "best vitage shops around". I couldn't be more disappointed. When I got there it was all about pin ups and cupcakes. Personally I'm more interested on the 60s and late Victorian Era but I do appreciate a bit of each era on my own way. I just don't get why vintage became a definition for pin ups and cupcakes. Don't forget the cherries!
    I took a look at an online magazine this morning that was supposed to be a vintage magazine. I saw nothing but retro, no original photos and pin ups on every page. Same about recent events. I think people who do this kind of thing don't really know what's vintage and what's retro. But looking at the bright side we can still find some people that know what they're talking about and do it properly, like yourself! xx

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  3. Hmm, can I whine for a moment that this is a good problem to have, at least speaking of local events? lol

    I have no vintage community per se in the large US city I live in, I so wish I had one! Whether I was wearing 40s, 20s or 70s, I'd pretty much be one of the only folks doing so, even out shopping at vintage shows (to clarify: not show like a themed event with music and food and such, but vendors selling vintage wares at booths). So though I wear mostly 40s and 50s styled fashions, I see practically no one else doing that where I live. Even at such vintage shows, I'm often odd man out. I do see more 60s and 70s fashions incorporated into people's styles at those shows, however. I only wish we had vintage-themed events..

    But I do agree that using the term 'vintage' applied to a show or event shouldn't narrow down it down to a decade or two. There's much more in the broader vintage world to love!

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  4. I agree that there is much more to vintage than pin ups and the 40's through the 50's, however I don't think it's a bad thing that those things are more "mainstream". If that's what someone likes about an era then I think it's fine. I do enjoy other periods and have always been a huge old movie fan and just loved things that are vintage. I would rather just strive for what I love then to be completely different from everyone else I think.

    Also, I agree with the above comment, I think people associate the 40's with WWII and therefore the American flag. It was a very patriotic time for us, and not that you can't be at any other time, but it was a time when America really stood for something in some peoples eyes.

    Great post.

    xo,
    Em

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  5. I absolutely agree with you and I'm a 40's gal myself.

    I think it's partly because those have become "markers" for vintage- an easy way for media to show what vintage is and therefore what most people think it is about. Vintage isn't the only group that fare that way. Media say mohawk and safety pins, people see punk. Media says chains and black pvc, people think BDSM and so on. I think it's fairly safe to think that people in other groups not deemed the norm, feel that those media markers gives a slanted and very narrow picture.

    I also think things are more or less fashionable and that is something that change over time. A few years back the focus was much more on the 50's, then the 40's have become more and more visible. The last year I have seen a lot more 30's coming along and perhaps the 20's will be a hit after The Great Gatsby have premiered.

    Then people have to start somewhere and if you are interested in vintage and start to check out blogs you most likely happen to the big vintage blogs first and most of those do focus on the 40's and 50's. After being exposed to cupcakes and pinup girls before, then perhaps you never look any further. You can have an interest in a look without being interested in the history behind (even if I find that very hard to understand). If so you probably never even consider cupcakes as something out of the ordinary on a vintage tea table. When an insterest deepen, then people start to branch out. Most people I know who are into 20's and 30's fashion have come there gradually, working back in time from where their journey into vintgae started.

    I'm sorry if this went too rambling. I think it's a very interesting subject and something I have been thinking a lot about myself.

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    1. It's not just the mainstream media that I'm talking about (they can be forgiven for not 'getting it' and only addressing it at surface level), but media that styles itself as being for and about the vintage scene - they purport to encompass "vintage" yet only present the midcentury-pinup-cupcake fraction of it.

      Trends within vintage is another blog post topic that I've had in draft for months!

      xx Charlotte

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    2. Yes, I have to agree. I've favoured 60s-to-early-80s since the mid 90s. It's only recently that I've found within the vintage/retro 'scene' that I can be patronised or even looked oddly at (the worst is the assumption that I'm just 'working back' chronologically and one day I'll grow into 50s). It's an odd change, but I think it comes from just as the media stereotypes vintage, very dedicated vintage 'scene' stuff tries to 'up its game' to compete. Muggins here is caught in the middle!

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    3. yeah, one day when you mature you'll be wearing midcentury (JOKE!). Funnily enough I 'worked forward' from an obsession with dressing as a Victorian or Edwardian in my youth :)

      xx Charlotte

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    4. That's true, even vintage magazines focus on that. I still wonder if that isn't media feeding media. Even a niched magazine needs to reach as many as possible and if they percieve that narrow window as reaching the maximum, they will. I think and hope, that they are wrong, but magazines lives dangerous lifes nowadays and I think they are scared of going outsides the frames.

      Oh, I look forward reading your posts on trends! I've been trying to write one myself but haven't managed to approach it in a way I like. You writ eit and I can point everyone toward it instead. ;)

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  6. Oh man, I couldn't agree more. Something so petty that annoys the hell out of me, and I'm so glad someone feels the same way! This is why I strayed from Tumblr. I'm so tired of seeing rockabilly shit when I follow someone who seems to reblog quality old timey pictures, but then they litter my dashboard with cheap crap like circle dresses with the ever-so cliche cherry print. And I'm just... over people who treat themselves like special little snowflakes when they like that stuff too, or even quality "vintage". Or when someone claims they ~loo0o0o0ve WWII/40's but completely ignore the late 30's. Um, hello, that's like a good chunk of their fashion/hairstyles come from. I would love to see a magazine that focuses on individual eras, and provide ACCURATE information and pictures.

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  7. OMGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG Finally someone says it!!! Its been on my mind for months and you wrote it perfectly!!!! My heart belongs with the 1940s BUT I love all the styles from the 1970's and up (I cannot love the 80s/90s that way bc I lived them and went through those styles already LOL). I, too have been looking at the 1960s and 70s for inspiration. People like the knock the 70s but they had some great music and some great clothes and movies LOL But really, thank you for writing this! I will now share it on my fb page!! Hugs! Bunny xox

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  8. As far as terminology goes: I think of "vintage" as pretty much 1920-1965. "Retro" meaning stuff afterwards (late 60s & 70s) as well as a particular aesthetic (the space-age look prevalent in the late 50s, the "mod" look and the whole retro-futurism bit). "Antique" is any date before 1920. Personally I don't consider 80s and 90s to be vintage; they're just too recent for me. "Golden Era" means 30s/40s and "Art Deco" 20s/30s to me.

    Vintage stereotypes are annoying but I think it comes with the territory and I don't think people should be ragged on for liking the stereotypical/rockabilly/pinup stuff. It's not my cup of tea by any means but hey, if I can dress the way I want then so can other people. Not my business. ;)

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    1. I absolutely don't think people shouldn't enjoy the stereotypical stuff - retro pin-up, cherry print, polka dot, Cath Kidston and victory rolls are wonderful things and all feature (heavily!) in my life - my point was only that there's more to vintage than *just* that, and it would be nice to see self-appointed vintage "authorities" recognise the fact.

      xx Charlotte

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    2. Ah! Well I see your point then and I do quite agree with it. It would be nice if they delved a little deeper, wouldn't it? And I would love it if they focused more on the thing I want most to see--a celebration of the *individuality* of vintage, and the fact that everyone does it a little differently. Sort of highlighting the fact that the majority of people (in my experience) come to vintage from a deep-seated love of individuality. That would be cool. :)

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  9. I think 20s and 30s are almost 'antique' decades now. As we get older the perception of what is 'vintage' shifts with us. Now it is very hard to find wearable items from the 30s and 20s, which I think makes those items antiques that ought to be preserved. As time goes on 40s and 50s fashions will eventually become antiques in the same way!

    Here in Australia we aren't lucky enough to see any vintage themed publications. Heck, I'd be happy with one that stuck with such a stereotypical view as it is better than nothing! Cynically, I think we can all see that 40s/50s is where the money is, and that is why they aim their publications there. I mean there aren't many repro 20s companies, so where would the advertising revenue come from?

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    1. Don't get me wrong, I don't think magazines *shouldn't* focus on the midcentury era - there's no denying it's the most popular - just that it would be nice to see them run occasional features acknowledging a different aesthetic.

      PS you're not missing out much by not having any vintage publications - you can get just as much quality and informative material from online magazines like Queens of Vintage!

      xx Charlotte

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  10. I feel as though the cupcakes and bunting territory comes from the idea that Vintage, as a whole, is a dainty subculture [I'm using subculture because as it is now, it's what it is.], and the little Cath Kidson florals and cupcakes and bunting and the idea of tea parties - it fits right in with a delicate innocence that this idea of Vintage is.

    I'm glad we're all on an agreement of what exactly vintage means, in terms of decades. I've always thought of pre-1920/30 as historic or antique, 1920/30-mid 60's as vintage, and mid 60's-80's as retro. I feel the 90's has little to do with vintage, and it drives me mad when I'm looking through a "vintage" shop for ideas and it's just full of the stuff my siblings wore as I grew up - I'm only 21, the clothing of the decade of my birth shouldn't be classed as vintage!!

    Although, back to the cupcakes and bunting - I'm not a vintage wearer. I fit in more with the pin-up/rockabilly kind of midcentury fashions, because I'm more attracted to vintage styles in modern patterns - and because really, I've been dressing like I do for just over a year, and I'm still developing my style. And you won't see me give up my polkadots any time soon!!

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    1. Vintage has been a subculture since at least the decade of your birth, the 90s- and the idea it's 'dainty' is more recent. Before that it was either high-class-fashionista or indie/kitsch/camp. About 3 or 4 years ago, everything suddenly went pastel!

      Oh, and some of us wear vintage (as in 30 years+) and were born in the decade we wear haha! I use the 30 year + rule, generally, which means the definition 'rolls' over the years.

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  11. Oh, nice post. And really interesting to see that this feeling is gaining strength with so many of us! I think most vintage fans/wearers would agree with "each to their own", as you say in one of your later comments, cherry prints and pin ups are absolutely valid. But no-one should define us all in the same way, celebrate the individual!

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  12. Excellently, intelligently said piece, which I wholeheartedly agree with. There is very little in the way of a well establish vintage loving culture here in Canada (especially in small towns), and so I've not really had many opportunities to mingle with other vintage lovers in person and attend vintage centered events, but I still feel that "outsiders" or those who run on or offline vintage magazines do often focus too heavily on the very objects and styles you mentioned.

    Like yourself, I most adore (and pretty much exclusively wear, when it comes to vintage) looks from the 40s and 50s, but I madly love history as a whole and am drawn to elements of the past ranging from the the 1980s to, quite honestly, the dawn of time. When it comes to the term vintage to describe a time period, I'm of the mind that it should encapsulate everything and anything between 1910 and 1960 ('65 at the latest). To me anything newer is "retro" (though I know many people use the two words interchangeably), anything further back is antique or called by its respective time period (Victorian, Regency, etc).

    Again, this was a terrific post, and I very much appreciate that you voiced a thought I know a great many of us have had for years.

    ♥ Jessica

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  13. I absolutely agree with you. I've said this before but I tend to go with what I feel like on any given day, I adore history and even as a child the past was never very far away from me, I was rather an odd child....many would say I am rather an odd adult!....my doctor always says she looks forward to seeing what I'm wearing, that it's fun to guess what I might be working that day when she knows I'm due in. Last week it was a sort of Edwardian governess meets Beatrix Potter vibe. This morning I'm wearing a modern frock with a strong forties feel, bare feet and shaking my behind to my favourite swamp rock as the post man vainly beat down the door to try and get my attention!
    I also like some of the things you mention as the stereotype vintage look but there is so much more which I love, too. I can't imagine limiting myself to one look, but I do have a favouite era which seems to be my go to place most often and to read about. Can't really explain that one.
    I have absolutely nobody in this place who likes this kind of thing, in fact I'm beginning to think there is some sort of local by law which states that all women must only wear jeans and trousers! Honestly, apart from me and some quite elderly ladies I never see them in a skirt or dress, even in the heat. Fortunately I'm quite used to stares!
    As a lifetime antiques lover and having known many proper dealers, I'm always going to stick to the "rule" for dating things.

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  14. I have to agree with Tasha's comment: I wish there was more a vintage community here in the US! Like her, I always stick out like a sore thumb with my 40s/50s style because it is so unusual here in the US still. (Or more likely, it's just that I live in a smaller city that doesn't have a very large arty/eccentric population!)

    I do agree that vintage should not be restricted to just the midcentury period or pinup looks. I love when I see other vintage gals embrace another era that suits their personalities to a T! As you know, I tend towards the midcentury aesthetic myself; partly because I've been fascinated with WWII history since I was little, and because I find it fits my figure best. (Although I love the hippie chic of the 70s, it just doesn't fit me as well!) I can't help but think that part of the mainstream appeal of the midcentury era was the glamour that was popular in the media at the time. We all know Jane Doe didn't dress like Marilyn on a daily basis, but boy does it appeal to our imaginations! ;) It's a highly stylized feminine look that seems to have been dubbed "vintage" by the mainstream, which is not surprising considering stylized looks (I always think of Lady Gaga) are popular right now.

    On that tact... I'm not quite sure even as vintage has become popular, that I feel this overwhelming need to distance myself and be an "individual". I think because on one hand I realize that one can only be so "individual", because there is a subculture for every look out there, so there are always others who have adopted a similar look. (Remember how popular the goth look was in the 90s? I can only think that goths were despairing of the popularity of their subculture look too!) I also find that because vintage style is something I adopted before it started to take in pop culture, and will continue long after it's "cool", I'm not too fussed about it's popularity. If nothing else, this is a boon since vintage repro footwear and undergarments are easier to find! (I'm stocking up!)

    I had to chuckle at the cupcakes thing! I still can't figure out the vintage + cupcakes connection myself. Sure, they're cute, but honestly regular cakes and cookies were far more popular! (I myself will take a slice of cake any day... more icing to be had if it's layered. haha!) Funny how mainstream media takes something and labels it vintage--it's a marketing ploy I'm convinced. ;)

    Anyway, enough rambling... It's been a long day here and my brain is a bit fried. So hopefully this makes a teeny bit of sense! ;) lol.

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  15. I *really* love fashions made from old patterns/designs, but I'm not so much into the "pinups and cupcakes" style vintage... There's something about it that doesn't interest me, perhaps it's precisely what you're talking about... The history gets lost in the frou frou.... AND I find that when I meet new people/teach a class and I'm dressed in my 40's-50's clothes and vintage style makeup, I get tagged as "Rockabilly." Which is not really what I do. At all. It's cool if that's what other people do, but it doesn't really "match" me. If that makes sense.

    So I guess I've turned into a sort of "vintage/retro/old-fashioned" style magpie. Lately I find myself much more drawn to 30's sportswear than anything else. It translates so well into modern life. And that's what I strive for... I don't want to look like a cartoon. I particularly enjoy using old-fashioned cuts with modern fabrics and techniques to produce something else entirely. It's fun, and I find I get pigeonholed less often....

    Great post!

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  16. The whole "Pin up & cupcake" crap used to really bug me. Friend of mine used to assume I would love anything remotely burlesque because I occasionally wear rolls in my hair. The blinkered-ness (*not a word ha ha) used to drive me mental.

    I don't really know what I class to to be "vintage". Which is why I prefer to express myself as a "retro" dresser. I do not stick to a strictly 40's wardrobe. Sometimes I look a bit more 50's. But that's because I am not trying to look stick to an era. I just like to look like i am dressed for the past.

    But then - my style and its development comes from my love of history and reading and learning about the era's i emulate.

    Meh - it's all very confusing.

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  17. "trying to look stick"? What does that even mean? ha ha ha!

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  18. I was in M & S the other day and came across a product described as a Vintage Lace Bra. It really annoyed me (in a strange way) to see it being described as vintage. It's brand new lace? The bra is brand new? How can it be described as vintage, purely based a one design element. It seems that whenever someone wants to sell something, or something for a higher price, they'll stick the "vintage" label on it without considering what it actually means.

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  19. I actually run into the opposite problem! Here (Portland specifically) vintage is used to describe so much, often too much. Even something 10 years old people sometimes call vintage. I've narrowed my style down bit by bit over the years, with an obviously 40s/50s look, and I still get people at antique shows and stores saying "Oh you like vintage? You'll love this.." only to show me an 80s or 90s dress in hopes I'll fall head over heels with it.

    Most people who can be described as vintage lovers here are more into the later eras, with a select few who emulate anything pre mid-century in the ways I do. That's why we create our own little events, to narrow down the dress code a bit! It's nice to go to a 50s cocktail party or 30s picnic, rather than a general vintage themed event.

    xoxo
    Solanah

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  20. I'm way late to this conversation but vintage is honestly what you make of it and what catches your fancy. There is definitely this rockabiliy loving group of people that seem to run the vintage scene but there are others out there that want less of a pinup look and would rather be every day vintage.

    Personally, on a daily basis, I'm wearing fewer and fewer of my originals from the 50's for day to day wear so I look like I"m wearing a lot of 1960's things and repros, which are most easily found for the 50's rockabilly look. I dare not wear (on a regular basis) my 1940's frocks, the turn of the century clothing I've collected, and the dresses from the 1910's because it's so fragile and I want it to keep and be a piece to study when my kids are thinking what I wore as a twenty-something are vintage!

    I'm thinking about diving into my vintage sewing pattern collection but even that is still mostly 1950's and 60's because it's what is out there and is inexpensive...I get the impression that those two eras are really the most accessible for people of our generation now and that's why we see so much of it, particularly for non-sewers.

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  21. Late to the conversation, but I wanted to say thanks for such an interesting blog post topic. All of the comments have given me a lot of food for thought too. I tend to think vintage could encompass anything 1930's-1970's and anything older than that is probably not really going to be meant for everyday wear (though I probably wouldn't bat an eye at things inspired or reproductions of those earlier eras being called "vintage-inspired"). But I live in such an isolated area where there's so little of any sort of a subculture that I don't know.

    It is interesting that Casey pointed out she likes how mid-century flatters her figure. I wonder if that plays a part of it- that and that idea that you wanted some curves/weight to you that might play a part in that era's popularity (of course, I like that era because I like skirts that twirl :) )

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