Vintage Clothing: Nostalgia, Mystique, and Charm in Your Closet



BY DEBBIE BARR

If you love to sew, you might understand why I get excited about meandering through a fabric store, perusing bolt after bolt of fabulous cloth. For me, this is a big treat; it’s my version of “me time”! My love for crafting fabrics into clothing started in middle school. Sewing my own clothes not only expanded my wardrobe; it also spared me the indignity of wearing hand-me-downs from one cousin in particular. This long-standing dread of hand-me-downs is probably why I was so surprised to discover that vintage clothing is extremely popular right now.

I discovered just how popular when I went online to dig a little deeper into the trend. My research consisted of a Wikipedia article, two Google searches (“vintage clothing Winston Salem” and “vintage clothing Greensboro”), and an online window shopping spree. I learned a lot and enjoyed the journey very much.

As I set out to explore the vintage clothing craze, my first question was, what is considered “vintage”? I learned that while vintage is a generic term for all styles of clothing worn in previous eras, the clothing industry defines vintage as garments between 20 and 100 years old. Anything older than 100 years is classified as antique.

I also learned that there is a difference between vintage clothing and clothing that is vintage style. Vintage-style garments are actually new clothes that merely mimic the styles worn in bygone years. Vintage-style (or “retro”) clothing has emerged not only because of the popularity of the vintage look, but also for the very practical reason of sizing. Clothing worn by past generations is usually smaller than clothing worn today. Larger sized vintage garments are rare because, prior to the 1980s, people were generally thinner than we are today. When shopping for vintage clothing or ordering it online, it is important to remember that yesterday’s size Medium is likely equal to today’s size Extra Small. Manufacturers of vintage-style clothes have solved this problem for modern consumers by producing clothing with the vintage look but in today’s sizes.

Maybe the best way to learn about vintage clothing is to go window shopping online. I did this on e-Bay. There, you can search by era, from pre-1890s to the 1970s, or by the decade (1920s, 1930s, etc.), by price, color, condition, and by size: petite, plus, junior, and even a “not sure” category.

I was amazed at the variety of items available: a 1920s handmade Amish Mennonite dress, a ‘60s “Twiggy” shift dress, a 1920s women’s “horse riding suit with 3-button jacket,” and an incredible 192 pages of stunning vintage and vintage-look ball gowns and wedding gowns. It was a cornucopia of “vintage glam”—seed pearls, Chantilly lace, Victorian-era lace, tiered lace, satin, and tulle. Every imaginable style was represented: mermaid, off-shoulder, 1950s rockabilly, long sleeved, strapless, tea length…an endless assortment. These vintage dresses, even on a modern web page, seem imbued with charm and a bit of mystique. If these vintage gowns could speak, what tales might they tell of debutant balls and splendid weddings? It is easy to imagine that the women who wore these elegant dresses became glamorous princesses, if only in their own eyes, and if only for an evening.

Exploring further, I realized that the vintage craze goes well beyond fabulous dresses. I was utterly charmed by items such as a 1922 cloth coin purse, with an original handwritten note that says, “This was given to me on my thirteenth birthday (1922) from papa.” There are one-piece bathing suits by fashion designer Norma Kamali, lingerie, aprons, and costumes. Accessories abound, too: vintage hair barrettes, stunning evening bags, and even watches and jewelry.

Finally, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of vintage Barbie that would delight any woman who grew up in the 1960s. Barbie and her entire entourage are on e-bay! Offerings include Barbie in her classic black and white striped swimsuit ($639.99 or best offer), blond ponytail Barbie ($917.66), Barbie’s best friend, Midge, and her little sister, Skipper, and a “brand new” yet vintage Ken for the bargain price of $2,202.39 or best offer. There are Barbie clothes galore, Barbie board games, and, of course, Barbie’s dream house, complete with furniture, only $299.99 or best offer.

Exploring all things vintage has made me a fan—bring on the hand-me-downs!


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