17 March 2011
The Vintage Modern Remix
I gave up watching "What Not to Wear" about the same time I graduated college. The first time. The show was too expected and I was tired of watching Stacy and Clinton coax women into high heels, Carmindy-ize their makeup, and streamline their look into rather carbon copy examples of what is mainstream and acceptable.
That's why I surprised myself by settling into an episode the other day, but what's a vintage lover and seller to do when they promise to update someone's vintage look? They hijacked Renee and her wardrobe, taking her from New Orleans to New York City to reimagine her wardrobe. As surprised as I was to be watching the show, I also surprised myself by agreeing with some of their suggestions, and since this is "What Not to Wear" I also disagreed loudly with some of their methods. Despite these moments, my overall impression was favorable. They encouraged Renee to take her love of vintage and mix it with modern pieces, something that I hope this blog (and by extension my shop) strives to express.
The great thing about this episode is it does serve as an appropriate vehicle for me to talk about mixing vintage with modern and offer my opinion.
Stacy and Clinton were wrong about:
1. Their decision to throw away polyester dresses. As the garbage can filled up (ack!) with clothes they took away from Renee, it was clear that a good portion of them were polyester dresses that hailed from the 1960s and 1970s. Our modern concept of polyester is tainted by what we see churned out by sweatshops for big box stores. The polyester feels cheap in quality and construction. But back when polyester first appeared it was the new wave of fabric and it was integrated into some pretty fabulous designs. Charlotte of Tuppence Ha'Penny has a great history of polyester fabrics on her blog.
2. The fact that vintage clothes must be in impeccable condition or else they look cheap. Stacy and Clinton can some of Renee's clothes because they have some level of damage. There are, of course, some level of damage that buyers should be cautious about especially when shopping online. This includes heavy underarm stains (a lot of the time this is not a stain but deeper damage to the fabric and dye) and weaknesses to the fabric like shattering. But I cannot tell you how many times I've seen fashion bloggers work around flaws, disguise them, or use them to their advantage....oh damaged Edwardian blouses how I adore you!
3. That mixing of vintage eras should not happen. Renee mixed eras, placing 1980s necklaces with 1940s dresses. This was nixed quickly by S and C as being rather too much to carry off in one outfit. I mix eras all the time and believe this is actually a fun way to create a wardrobe. What Renee's problem was is actually an issue of balance. To choose what to put in the same outfit, think about what piece you want someone to notice. A bold 1980s chunky necklace paired with a bright floral print can cause both to be confusing. Essentially each can be at odds with one another for visual dominance.
4. That a full vintage look is too much of a costume. When I think about wearing vintage I think about the range it offers and the ways in which clothing can be interpreted by different wearers. I lean toward the mix and match side, utilizing a few vintage pieces and mixing it with my modern finds. There are women who rock the full vintage look and do it in a way I can't. I think of Solanah of Vixen Vintage or Jill of Tea with the Vintage Baroness whose styles are perfection and suited to each of them.
Stacy and Clinton were right about:
1. Wearing clothing that represents you rather than trying to create an identity through clothes. Renee stated that she was trying to seem more quirky and intelligent by dressing the way she did, but she didn't necessarily feel that way. Indeed, Renee was soft-spoken and rather shy in the episode, a personality that seemed at odds with her look. Dressing to suit your personality will make you feel more comfortable and confident. This is why Solanah and Jill pull off their wardrobe with aplomb, but I wouldn't be able to make it work for me. You style should represent you, not overwhelm you.
2. Fitting your vintage clothing to your body. I know a lot of vintage purists will disagree, but I wholeheartedly recommend going to a seamstress to have your vintage garment fit to your body. As this Couture Allure post illuminates the difficulty of buying 1950s dresses, you can easily see why this is a sound option. During the fifties, for example, the industry standard was a 10" difference between bust and waist, which without a lot of foundation garments and/or the removal of some ribs our bodies simply don't fit into well. I usually recommend getting dresses taken in rather than let out because there can be some faint fading along the seams or even full garment that's not visible until you move the seam. I've had dresses taken in for a little as a few dollars, so have a seamstress in mind when shopping.
3. Vintage having a place in a contemporary wardrobe. I actually loved the mixing and matching they did to Renee's wardrobe. Vintage cardigans can easily be worn mixed with your favorite jeans. Full skirts placed with ballet flats and tank tops. Treat vintage pieces as wardrobe staples that you can return to over and over.