Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Vintage Theory

I have a theory and it is mine, but you can have it - indeed, you can comment on it and all those lovely things we can do in blog-land. So go to it!

Today, I wore a soft jersey shirt with a raw-edged asymmetrical cut. It's a flattering top, very very soft, and several years old. The jersey has held up very well, and the raw edge is still perfect, no strings coming loose nor runs trying to open up in the weave. It's wonderfully comfortable, washable, and has a unique style. It is also the first top I bought in what has become a trend: the long-line asymmetrical sleeveless knit top with curious draping/ruching/mixed textiles, and at the time I bought it, it was daring and forward thinking. It's still an excellent design, still not widely imitated to effect as good as its own.

But it is several years old. And it is made of a very light, delicate jersey knit.

This got me thinking.

With the various vogues for vintage style - and this dates well back before Mad Men, Downton Abbey, or even the fashion, beginning in my own much-molded youth, for rockabilly styles - it's always been a mix of re-created ... and ORIGINAL ... vintage clothes. Inspiration for big-shouldered 80s styles lay in an interest in 40s fashion silhouettes, and we resurrect and imitate Victorian, New Look, Flapper, even 18th-century clothes.

Okay, we're not wearing 18th-century, but I've seen people who wear original 19th-century coats in my day. And certainly much of the 20th century is represented in vintage shops and so on.

Here is the thing I realized:

When the first whiffs of 80s retro came  along, I waited for the vintage to come out. And it never did.

Beginning almost alarmingly soon after the decade died, by 1990, Madonna was playing around in giant bellbottoms, and cork plats came into style all too quickly, ushering in the still-extant-to-some-extent 70s fashion rehash. The 60s have been in style since the 80s; plastic-fantastic colors and shapes and Carnaby cute replaying almost without let all along - winklepickers, granny purses, big hair and long hair and staid, nubby boucle knits and Flower Power.

We have pieces of these original decades. I have a 1940s grosgrain purse of my great-grandmothers, which is in spectacular, strong condition, and which I can carry on special occasions. I have a hat nearly as old, a straw hat of my grandmother's. I've seen American Duchess's Lauren modeling dresses she plans to WEAR, not just collect. I myself own a magenta moire' New Look dress made in the UK and very definitely original (that rare original large enough to fit a modern woman's body).

The reason these things can be recycled/reused is this: they were made well enough to survive.

The 80s retro never took off in the way previous decades did because there really isn't as much in the way of surviving originals. They are definitely still *around* - but the quality of clothes made in the 1980s does not stand up to the standards of previous manufacture or hand-making. Even the 70s still used more natural (resilient) fiber and tailoring made to be altered and some expectation that garments should be built to last.

In the 80s, earlier synthetics were perfected ("") and proliferated. In the 80s, seam allowances disappeared, never to be seen since. In the 80s, commerce overcame design, and fashion overcame style to a great extent. In the 80s, the concept of perennial pieces began to be depressed, if not actually opressed or repressed, and short attention spans for fads were built into an industry whose market influence discouraged classic must-have pieces and began heavily to emphasize label uber-alles.

There hasn't even been much whiff of 90s retro, and 15 years on I hear people occasionally actually talking about what they miss in 90s fashion. But the skater-skirts-with-tights and chunky Mary Janes are going to have to be rebuilt this time, because the ones we had bit the rayon-shrinkage or Payless-poorly-constructed dust, or at least are thinner on the ground (and, yeah, in textile) than better made clothes have been for those interested in older decades used to be.

All of it's getting thinner on the ground, of course. With profligates like me WEARING sixty-year-old dresses, they're not going to last the way furniture or architecture might. With others DIY'ing pieces already perhaps compromised - or NOT - even what survives intact is deliberately deconstructed (if not actually destroyed, at least by some lights).

With actual construction being the crap that it mostly is, there won't be many Members Only (or L'Autre Mode ... heh) jackets to go with prefabricated fake DIY Chucks or stirrup pants or Benetton slouches in United candy colors.

No wonder 80s retro didn't take off the way 70s and 60s and so on did before. It'd have to be remade altogether.

And who wants to do that ... ???


Anonymous said...

This is how I dressed in the 1980s:

DLM said...

All of us did! My hair was just a bit smaller than the guys' ...