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Vintage Fashion – Then & Now

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    Age is no longer the only criteria that defines vintage fashion. “Vintage implies that it has archival value,” said Cameron Silver, owner of Decades, the extremely popular Los Angeles vintage store. Strictly speaking, vintage fashion would ideally be clothing that is atleast 25 to 30 years old, but this is highly debatable now. Some say that vintage fashion spanned from the 20s to 50s, and all that came in after that is “retro clothing”, whereas others argue that the 80s is as much vintage as the 20s are, and it is more about the value of the vintage piece in question.

    The demand for vintage has increased, and this has brought about a whole new brigade of small businesses that cater to the needs of the vintage lover. Many people enjoy the feeling of discovery that goes hand-in-hand with buying vintage, and this sets a task for vintage boutique owners to keep the inventory interesting to their loyal clientele. While vintage has been on the fashion front for a while now, it is being worn differently than it was a few years back.

    Genuine vintage wearers, the ones who wear vintage clothing from a certain era are not where the attention lies. The ones who blend contemporary clothing with a one off vintage treasure piece are the show stealers. People do not like the idea of being identical to everyone else, which is why they turn to fashion. Fashion is a living form of art, which enables the dresser to express their personality and make a social statement through the clothing they wear.

    Vintage wearers feel that clothing from the past enables them to get a very individualistic look and sets them apart from the crowd as it is not a part of the mass produced “cookie cutter” clothing that is produced these days. Having bought something from a store everyone frequents, it is very likely for someone else to turn up at an event wearing the exact same outfit as yours. Fashion faux pas, you think? But then how do you maintain a distinct look when all that is out there is available to everyone else too.

    To look different, your possessions must be different. The objects we chose to include in our wardrobe influence our identities and also help us in expressing ourselves to others. We find inspiration in clothing, bags, shoes and jewellery. From our hair to the footwear we chose to wear, all are representative of our taste and ultimately our social identities. Vintage wearers desire to have a unique individual look, and for this, some wear vintage top to toe, whereas others mix a little vintage with their contemporary outfits, to bring an ‘old era lass’ to their look. Vintage pieces that are one of a kind are popular as the idea of having “the only one” is very appealing to everyone. People feel that they shouldn’t restrict themselves to the ready-to-wear mass-produced clothing available in the markets when a whole lot of fashion from the past is there to experiment with. The key pieces are capes, trench coats, fur coats, bold chunky statement jewellery and one of a kind hand bags that very clearly belong to a time when a revolution in fashion was taking place.

    Some people argue the idea of wearing vintage as it is second hand clothing, and there was a time it was frowned up. “It used to be a terrifying reminder of poverty, and having limited means” says Leena, lover of all things vintage for the past 30 years. She has a collection of over 200 vintage handbags ranging from hand sewn bucket bags to the likes of museum pieces. “When I was in my teens, I used to frequent thrift stores and ‘vintage’ shops and a lot of my inspiration for fashion was driven from history.

    Not a lot of people were like-minded, and I remember some relatives questioning my parents on how they would allow me to wear second hand clothing. So for me to see the change in acceptability and how people have embraced vintage as a part of fashion was entertaining. ” It was surprising to see the gradual drift of interests over the years, and understand how vintage has now been approved socially. A few years ago, a lot of celebrities started being spotted embracing certain rare vintage finds and that is how the idea got a formal “cool” stamp from the public.

    According to Pat Frost, director of fashion at Christies, one of the leading art and design auction house, “Vintage is anything up to the ‘90s – but it means different things to different people. Some of the pieces that seem current are certainly collectible. For me, pieces by Tom Ford for Gucci, Christophe Decarnin at Balmain and Phoebe Philo for Celine are treasurable. ” “Images of stars in vintage clothing made it socially acceptable to wear vintage”, said Cameron Silver, owner of Decades, the landmark Los Angeles vintage store. Ten years ago, people were not wearing vintage Chanel to an Oscar presentation unless they had a pre-existing relationship with the house. Then we saw Julia Roberts in black and white vintage Valentino at the 2001 Academy Awards, Renee Zellweger the same year in a 1959 strapless yellow chiffon down by Jean Desses and Reese Witherspoon in a 1955 champagne-coloured Dior gown, accepting her Oscar in 2006. These served as celebrity endorsements on the red carpet, and suddenly, editorials included vintage clothing and “vintage” became a part of the fashion vocabulary,” said Silver.

    Another thing that played a role in bringing back ‘memories from the past’ was current designs that had a striking similarity to vintage designs. Fashion designers have always found inspiration from studies of the past, and inculcated that in their work by fostering dialogues between the past and present. Creating a design for the current season, which is actually a modified version of their point of inspiration. Historic garments and images, which record what people have worn in that past, provide invaluable research for many fashion designers.

    Isabel Marant’s Blackson embroidered boots are the rage of this season, but they seem to have a striking resemblance to the riding boots worn by cowboys back in the days. Even the Chloe susanna boots were compared to designs from the 80s by Gianni Versace. Pamela Sullivan, a freelance stylist living in L. A. , thinks, “Vintage is more than accepted in today’s time, and more so expected if you are an industry insider. There was a time that you would see rebels in fashion working a few vintage pieces and making a statement, but now it is mainstream.

    Fashion is a cycle, and what was, comes back. They are refined versions of a lot of old designs being brought back by selected fashion designers, and this has made the originals way more valuable. ” She adds, “Certain fashion houses that have a heritage and are much more established now, their initial designs are in demand and very popular amongst collectors and fashionistas. These days anyone who considers themselves a part of the fashion fellowship wants to own an original that captures the essence of the brand. The current focus of vintage fashion is primarily on rare one off pieces and branded archival designs. Things that catch the eye – iconic runway pieces from the 80s and 90s to the ‘classics’ from certain brand houses are the popular choices. Original cowboy boots to the Gucci bamboo bag, both are popular amongst vintage wearers. The staple pieces that people invest in are mostly vintage coats, rare handbags and statement jewellery. Vintage style and fit vary a lot, so to be dressed vintage top to toe is not so easy as is teaming the accessories and jewellery with current clothing.

    Personal taste is extremely important in vintage fashion. Everyone wishes to stay individual amongst a group and not lose their personal identity, and vintage fashion is seen as a popular choice for people who wish to make a statement. The concept of rummaging through charity shops, inheriting items from family members and creating a unique style has been there for long, but it was only given the official stamp of acceptability when celebrities started wearing vintage couture pieces to the red carpet, and the trend caught on.

    Now the popularity of the return of vintage is such, that you get “new vintage” clothes at private boutiques to chain stores like Primark, TopShop and H&M. Vintage isn’t just belonging from yesteryears, now vintage is a trend. There are a large number of vintage-wearers today, which proves that fashion isn’t like technology, transportation and science. New isn’t necessarily more desirable.

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