Why do you dress like that?
Vintage Aficionado and Yak writer Andry Marwick discusses the creative joys of and reasons why he wears vintage clothes and why you could as well.
It seems in today’s day and age that wearing second-hand or vintage clothing is becoming more and more popular amongst the youth and old alike. Perpetuated by the rise of trending period drama films and television shows such as Netflix’s Bridgerton, Stranger Things, Hollywood and Babylon Berlin, and thus a new love for such clothing and historical fashion trends has arisen.
It’s strange to think, that only a few years ago buying second-hand clothing was more or less stigmatised as not having enough money to buy the newest and latest fashion trends. Now it seems this idea and mentality is disappearing fast. It now seems everything old is new again.
Most people know me as that one friend who always wears “old clothes” and for me, vintage clothes make up almost my entire everyday wardrobe. I’m not talking vintage in the sense of y2k, 1980’s or 90’s but original and reproduction pieces dating from 1930-1958. For me, vintage clothing is more than just a fashion choice, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not only the clothes but also the old Hollywood films, the cars, the architecture, the music and everything else other than the social values.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt from this lifestyle is to give the haters and the world zero care. In simple terms, it’s the art of not giving a f*ck. I’ve had plenty of people staring in the streets, but why should I care? While some people view my clothing as something comparable to a costume these are real clothes, clothes no different from the ones you and I are wearing today.
Believe it or not, if you were to ask me five years ago to wear anything even remotely comparable to what I wear now I would say with enthusiasm ‘NO WAY!’. Growing up I never wanted to stand out, even if it meant wearing socks a different colour from everyone else. I used to hate dressing up, but recently I think I’ve learnt not to care and to do what makes me truly happy – even if it means looking different from everyone else.
While people stare, look and pass judgement, the compliments always overwrite the negative feelings. It’s so incredibly nice to hear the older generation who grew up wearing the style say ‘I love your clothes” or “I like what you’re wearing”. It’s also interesting to hear people my age compliment me on it as well.
“Born in the wrong era”
The statement “you were born in the wrong era” is something I hear often, which I would highly disagree with. Wearing clothes from different periods does not entirely mean that I would want to live in that particular period. I think when people say this they disregard the reality of what life was like back then. Nowadays, we get to cherrypick the good times and leave out the bad, which in a way is what wearing vintage clothing is. It’s taking a small aspect of a period and living that in the present. If I were to go back in time and live in that period, then the harsh reality is that you’d get the good, the bad and the ugly such as the racism, sexism and values that don’t align with the changing and progressive world we live in today.
“Vintage style not vintage values”
Within the vintage community ‘vintage style not vintage values’ is a phrase or motto often used to define oneself as being attracted to the vintage style purely for the aesthetics of a bygone era but whose political and social perspectives do not align with that time. It’s about enjoying the aesthetics of the past but with a present-day mindset.
Vintage fashion isn’t always formal
Through today’s contemporary periscope I would understand why many have this preconception that vintage clothing that predates the 1950s was always a rather formal affair. The moment you tuck your shirt in your trousers or slip on a collared shirt and tie it’s suddenly “oh so formal”.
This perception of wearing tailored three-piece suits and ties or long flowing satin gowns, while in a way accurate, does not encompass what the everyday person wore. Believe it or not, ‘casual’ clothing has existed since the early 20th century and what everyday people wore from then until today hasn’t always been a suit and tie. In a way, this is what has drawn me to the postwar styles of the 1950s. It was a time of change, a new, fresh start where people could be more laid back with what they wore and no longer had to go out with a tie.
Shirts, jackets and trousers at this time became colourful and far more casualised as time went on, shirts began to be worn unbuttoned and it became more acceptable to go without a hat. But, yet again it’s hard to dispute the formality of such a ‘casual’ outfit from the past, as today the word casual rather means a sweatshirt and track pants. Far different from what casual meant back then.
Yet again, vintage style can be formal if you make it so. Just put on a 1930s tuxedo or 1980s power suit and the look is complete. There is always an occasion for vintage, casual or formal, whether it be a day out to the beach or a black-tie dinner.
Everyday vintage fashion throughout the decades wasn’t defined by stereotypes
What’s interesting to note when it comes to vintage fashion is that it’s not always about stereotypes. Particularly when it comes to decades and eras often portrayed in films and television shows, it’s easy to have this misconception that what they wear on screen is what people wore during that time. In films such as Grease for example the greasers portrayed were more or less a subculture of the 1950s and not entirely a clear representation of the fashions worn by people of the time. In the 1960s the ‘hippie’ culture and aesthetic, often portrayed in popular culture, has seemed to dominate the perception of clothing worn at the time. It wasn’t all flappers in the 1920s, greasers in the 1950s, hippies in the 60s, and colourful rainbow bomber jackets in the 80s. One thing that I think doesn’t get much recognition is that when it comes to the everyday outfits of the decade, clothing from previous decades would have often been mixed and matched with those of the current decade.
Not just a style, it’s a lifestyle
While many choose to wear vintage as a style choice, some like myself would consider it to be more of a lifestyle. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in the past, wearing vintage clothing is just one aspect of bringing that lifestyle into the present. For me, sitting at a typewriter, reading old 50s magazines,
and taking pictures with a camera from 1953, all of this while listening to a 1950s playlist on Spotify really transports you into the atmosphere of living in the 50s without all the bad bits.
They simply do not make clothes like they used to
While it may sound cliche, modern clothes are simply not made the same as vintage pieces were. It’s not just the fabric, but the way it was constructed, the intricate details and the fact that it has lasted this long is a testament to its craftsmanship.
Of course, one can easily reproduce a garment to the same specifications as a vintage one, but the feel of true vintage fabric, the cut and the way it flows and moves with the movement of the body is something you can’t really get from anything modern.
Every garment has a story to tell
It’s always a perfect find if you manage to get your hands on something that has either somebody’s name in it or a date written inside. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities of where this garment went, what it saw throughout its life and who was the person who wore it once upon a time.
It’s always interesting to ponder who at a specific point in time once owned and wore this very garment, and what secrets it’s seen throughout its lifetime. The most sentimental piece in my collection is an 82-year-old American-made blazer. Inside the pocket is a faded nametag with someone’s name and date handwritten inside. As much as it is interesting, this simple handwritten tag has been haunting me these past few weeks. Next to the handwritten name which is more or less illegible due to age is a date that reads “Jan 1940”. It’s interesting to wonder then, who was this person who once owned this and what happened to him, what did he do throughout his life. Moreover, the idea of the Second World War is always in the back of my mind when I think of this jacket. America got involved in WWII in late 1941, a little under two years after that note inside was written. It really makes you wonder – did whoever owned this end up going to war as well? Did he ever come back?
Another piece I own is a jacket with a name inside, dated ‘April 1958’, it’s an example of what’s known as the ‘Ivy style’, a style popularised by students at the prestigious Ivy League Colleges in New England like Yale, Princeton and Harvard. Starting in the 1920s, this style dominated the Ivy League campuses in the 1950s and 1960s, and it’s where the old money aesthetic is more or less derived from. This jacket, as generic as it looks, is a piece of fashion history. It tells the story of a Univerity student in 1958 wearing this jacket on an Ivy League college campus.
You can mix and match decades
Unless you’re going for true ‘period accuracy’, the whole idea of dressing for yourself is all about wearing the clothes that make you happy and confident. Vintage, just like any other style, has no rules to tell you what you can and can’t put together. It doesn’t matter if that jacket is from the 1960s and that shirt is from the 1920s, if it’s what you like and the outfit looks good in your eyes just wear it. Any style for that matter, vintage or not, is creativity. Fashion is all about mixing and matching stuff until you find what works well for you, it’s a whole journey of experimentation and learning to be confident in the way that makes you happy. As mentioned previously, when it’s vintage anything can be mixed and matched, people would have done this anyway due to the high cost of clothes and the hand-me-down culture at the time.
Wearing pre-loved or vintage clothes is an easy and fashionable way to help be sustainable to the planet. Today’s environmentally conscious society has definitely helped in the popularity of wearing used clothes, not only does give life back to old pieces that sat in a wardrobe for 10 or 50 years, but it’s a step towards being sustainable with what we wear. The fashion industry today churns out hundreds and thousands of new pieces every day, many of which are manufactured by fast fashion brands. This explosion in recent years of fast fashion clothing has made a considerable negative impact on the planet. Buying vintage, thrifting, or even using the clothes you haven’t worn in a while can be a healthy and sustainable solution to climate change and the negative implications of today’s fashion industry.
Macklemore said in his song Thrift Shop “I wear your granddad’s clothes, I look incredible”, and he’s right. Go out and wear your granddad’s clothes, because trust me you will look and feel incredible. Next time you’re thinking about what to wear, go put on that shirt that’s been sitting there unworn for years, ask your parents for their old clothes, you might find something unique or even go out on a treasure hunt at your local thrift or vintage store. Whatever it may be, choose to wear what you want to wear, what makes you feel happy and confident even if it is what some call *cough *cough ‘dead peoples’ clothes.
Feature Image: William Mattey via Pexels.com
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