My antique crinolines are way more unique than your generic flapper dress, dear.
February 11, 2010 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Was vintage clothing always cool? Like did teens in the 1910s rock their parents' 1850s duds with pride?

Just wondering if 'vintage' always had a cache amongst certain types of individuals, even in yesteryear!

I know that fake vintage-looking clothing is relatively new as a concept, but am curious about whether or not previous generations were into the whole taking pride in past fashions enough to wear them in public as a fashion statement or trendsetting attempt.

Nowadays people cite the uniqueness and quality of material/craftsmanship, as well as the fun of rummaging, for reasons to love vintage, but was it always so?
posted by citystalk to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
My first instinct is to say that the particular cultural cachet afforded to vintage fashion today is a part of the larger trends of post-modernism, i.e. the appropriation of old things and re-packaging of them as new things with a veneer of irony or self-awareness. Here is an article I found which seems to agree with that line of thinking, and also talks about the history of vintage fashions.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:22 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I suspect that this would have been less common in the days when people had fewer clothes--they would wear one garment until it wore out, though oft-repaired "hand me downs" of particularly high quality clothing might have been more common. It was probably more of a practicality than a fashion trend--and of course, wealthy individuals would have wanted to prove their wealth with new clothing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:30 AM on February 11, 2010

I'd add that the idea of "teenagers"is a fairly modern construct. In the 1910s you were probably working and dressed like a small version of your parents.
posted by Fiery Jack at 8:35 AM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

yeah, i know that there were fewer pieces and more interest in showing off wealth - i do wonder, however, if there was this small counterculture of people who did it for the novelty (and not families/groups who wore old styles because they were afraid to change into the modern styles).
posted by citystalk at 8:35 AM on February 11, 2010

I would think it was inaugurated with the '60s mod-fashion adoration of Late Victorian/"Turn of the Century" kitsch, incorporating granny glasses, top-hats and canes, albeit with a very modern interpretation. Then came the '70s and its infatuation with the '50s, but again, in a new reproduction/interpretation sort of mode, with maybe some love for vintage bomber jackets. Then the 80's decided they were into the '60s, and that stuff was still in the thrift shops waist-deep, as it was the coming-of-age clothing of the Boomers.

Now pretty much everything from the '30s on is fair game for fashionistas in search of one look or other, tho the two-decades-plus retrospective means that vintage 80's parachute pants are probably more hot than zoot suits, but you bet there's someone out there who could totally rock a wide-shouldered double-breasted pinstripe suitcoat.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:40 AM on February 11, 2010

The pace of fashion was also much slower at the turn of the prior century. Yes, there were differences decade to decade, but these would have been most noticeable among upper classes in urban areas. Mass-produced clothing and the department store were only introduced in the early 1900s, and most people were still making the dress their mom taught them how to make, or going to a seamstress if they had more money, and even then, the town seamstress was not likely to be copying the latest from Paris. There was no novelty to be had in the last decade's fashion, because it was substantially the same.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:05 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, certainly in some cultures there's the tradition of wearing the same wedding dress for each new generation. That would be taking pride in vintage clothes and cherishing their authenticity, and I have no idea how old the tradition is but there are at least a few Grimm's fairy tales that mention it, as well as things like wearing a mother's only ballgown, or saving a fancy accessory for a future granddaughter's special occasion.

Other than that, I think appreciation of vintage clothing as trendy fashion came into existence along with the idea of the teenager. Really, before teenagers, you were either married off, working in a mill, and/or were so terribly rich that it was an insult to the host if you wore the same dress to two different parties.

However, there have certainly always been trend-setters and fashion-minded people, and there have always been performers, artists and generally bohemian cool cats for as long as civilization has been chugging along. I have no doubt that there's been a string of individuals who would rock a 15th century frock with a 16th century bonnet like it was 1888, but they were likely seen as eccentrics if they were lucky and crazy if they were not.
posted by Mizu at 9:11 AM on February 11, 2010

After the Terror, dressing in aristocratic high fashion became hip again

posted by The Whelk at 9:13 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

The pace of fashion was also much slower at the turn of the prior century. Yes, there were differences decade to decade, but these would have been most noticeable among upper classes in urban areas.

I came here to say this. There were certainly fashions and fads (ugh, panniers!) that were rabidly followed by the wealthy, but overall, clothes just didn't change nearly as much. Plus, modesty standards meant that there was less leeway for radical changes. Necklines went up and down, certainly, but hemlines were VERY slow to rise.

i do wonder, however, if there was this small counterculture of people who did it for the novelty

Eccentricity was not as tolerated, except among the rich -- social mores required a good deal more conformity than we expect today. Wearing outdated clothing would be a counterproductive way to make as statement, as it would just indicate that you're poor to get new clothes. Orientalism was a more typical means of demonstrating eccentricity through clothing. On preview, ohh, I forgot about the incroyables! But they were affecting a sort of avant-garde theatrical adaptation -- more runway than vintage.
posted by desuetude at 9:22 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was very little vintage fashion during the 18th and 19th centuries because people would take dresses apart when they went out of style and reuse the fabric.
posted by swooz at 9:28 AM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

The Empire silhouette in specific, and more generally the whole Neoclassical stuff (1795-1820) would almost count. Obviously they weren't wearing actual two thousand year old vintage clothing, but it's certainly very extreme when compared to the styles before and after...
posted by anaelith at 9:43 AM on February 11, 2010

Clothing that was no longer in fashion was often picked apart and made into the newer style (or the fabric used for something else) there likely wouldn't have been much 'vintage' lying around in its original, unaltered state.
posted by noxetlux at 11:26 AM on February 11, 2010

I would think it was inaugurated with the '60s mod-fashion…

I wonder if the appeal of vintage clothing is also partly a reaction to the aggressively casual fashion of the '60s (Lasnerian). It lets you dress up without appearing to be trying to buy into the establishment mode of appearance. You need to use a style that's old enough that you're clearly not trying for current fashion, but new enough that people recognize the look; this might have been harder in eras when fashion changed more slowly and people might be wearing multi-generation hand-me-downs without any retro intent.
posted by hattifattener at 11:43 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I believe it was not until the sixties that vintage wear became something you'd deliberately wear in ordinary life. As my mother tells me, fashion used to be much more rigid and uniform. There was one silhouette, one hemline, specific kinds of sleeves or necklines, that were in style, and if you didn't wear that, you were outré. Middle class women used to make their dresses over to suit the new year's fashions. Wealthy women just ordered a new wardrobe; poor women who were lacking in time and/or funds to pay for the notions such as thread and trims to freshen to garment and hide the places where the dress had been let out or down just had to wear their dresses the way they were — and many women could identify the exact year a garment had been made. Now fashion is so much more relaxed and plural that anything can be made to look sharp, though if you look carefully at the next person you see who makes vintage look good, you'll see they probably have mixed it with newer pieces and/or accessories so as not to look like they're caught in a time warp.

That's not to say people didn't wear old-fashioned things for things like fancy dress balls or plays or other such amusements, but they didn't wear them in daily life.
posted by orange swan at 12:10 PM on February 11, 2010

I was a teenager in the mid-60's to late 70's, and the main reason I shopped second-hand/thrift shops was because I could get really well-made clothes for pennies on the dollar.
Also, there was a lot of vintage-mixing, because so much was available from earlier decades. I remember finding a delicate, lace-trimmed blouse from the teens, mixing that with a jacket from the 40's, and a pair of shoes from the 30's. It was all about colors, texture, cut and quality - oh, and some quirkiness too. My favorite vintage was 30's/40's because the construction and fabric were so solid - these were clothes that were made to last; in direct contrast to the clothes today that are similarly old (from the 60's/70's) - which in most cases are just crap.
posted by dbmcd at 12:39 PM on February 11, 2010

The Teddy Boys (50's pre-cursors to the Mods) took their name from the Edwardian era. Wikipedia. Certainly in Britain, they were really the first teen-agers.
posted by featherboa at 3:31 PM on February 11, 2010

All fascinating. Love it. Thanks!
posted by citystalk at 9:06 AM on February 12, 2010

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