Sunday Shopping Post: No, Really

Lilli Ann of San Francisco. If I could clone one dead person to bring back to life it would be Adolph Schuman because our country needs him now.

I was reading this and this and thinking about clothing. As I usually do when it starts to get warm out and I start despairing of summer clothes. I’m not some tiny thing, I’m broad-shouldered and I’ve got hips, and itty-bitty tank tops and ruffly capris do not a happy A make.

I originally got into vintage clothing because in college I was simultaneously a) broke and b) in a job where I had to meet with important people on a regular basis. I needed formal dresses and suits, and I needed them for about $20 a crack. Enter the Salvation Army, Juju& Moxie (the late great vintage store in Madison, Wis.) and the bargain tables at antique shops everywhere. I still have some of the clothes I bought then, a burgundy velvet blazer I wear as a spring jacket, a black suit that’s 12 years old and looks as good today as it did the day I picked it up off the rack (even if the waistband’s been let out a bit). I met the mayor in a $3 dress that she complimented and before Ebay prices went nuts I got dresses I wore to weddings and balls off there for pennies. It was out of necessity, but I quickly came to realize there was a difference between the way people dressed during World War II and the way they dressed now, and it wasn’t about the length of skirts or some antiquated notion of propriety.

I came of age in the late 1980s, when everything was big-shouldered and stiff and worked best if you were flat as a board with no waist at all. I still hate shopping at the mall because every time I go into someplace (and this may be to do with being 31 and there are only stores for teenagers and grandmothers these days) I feel self-concious and horrified by the twittering kids all around me, and nothing looks right. When I found vintage it was like, “Oh, THIS is what I should have been wearing,” and I always tell people if I’d known tapered pleated pants were the devil I’d have had a whole different life.

They just knew how to dress women in the 1940s, women, not 12-year-old girls. Women with curves, as Hemingway wrote, like the hull of a racing yacht, and they understood that showing less is even sexier than showing more, if it’s covered up in scarlet gabardine with a garter belt and stockings with the seams down the back. A little black silk cocktail dress and sandals, strong fabric, decent tailoring (princess seams forgive many an enchilada sin), and suddenly you’re not every third girl at the party stuffed into what JC Penney says is the sausage casing of the moment. And it’s to do with showing off what you’ve got instead of trying for something you aren’t, which is how this all ties into the stories linked above about the sexualizing of girls.

I hate What Not To Wear in a lot of ways, because it’s easy to look fabulous with $5,000, like, show me how to do it with $50 and we can talk, but the one thing that show is good at is reinforcing the idea that you shouldn’t wear things that don’t fit you. That don’t make you feel good, that don’t suit you, because if you’re miserable and uncomfortable it doesn’t matter how much something cost, you’ll look like ass in it. “Everybody else is doing it” is a powerful force, and I’ve got the ballet flats to prove it, but once you get out of the girl hell that is high school you’ve got to find your own thing, and that’s the one thing we don’t do well, men women moms dads everybody, teach people how to find their own style. You stumble into it by necessity, sometimes, like I did, or you get lucky with a relative who finds you something awesome and takes you shopping, but really we aren’t instilling the idea of any kind of sexiness that isn’t about skin and skintight.

And I’m not opposed to that because dear God, we must control the womenfolk flaunting their titties (don’t think this isn’t a lot of the commentary), I’m opposed to it because if you’re not one of the roughly 1/3 of girls who can make that work into early adulthood, there’s nothing for you. No different flavor of sexuality, no different concept of beauty. No sense that you deserve to feel good even if you’re not a 15-year-old Eastern European supermodel. I don’t necessarily think that we need to swing the pendulum all the way back over into thinking there’s something wrong with wanting to be hot, to feel slinky and gorgeous. I just think we need to think about other ways to define “hot.”

Like, say, a sculptural faille peplum suit with a pair of freaking kitten heels. Vintage fur is not murder. It has not been killed specifically for you. Not enough things today are made out of gabardine, Lord, if I could marry a fabric because that stuff covers up EVERYTHING. I don’t usually buy pants vintage because it’s hard to translate sizes, but peter-pan collared blouses and sweaters? Oh yeah. A string of pearls and you’re done. I don’t actually own a Lilli Ann suit because I’m not independently wealthy, but I drool over them regularly online and occasionally in shops.

Let somebody else have the sparkly pants with “porn star” on the ass. You want to talk slutty to me, do it about bright red angora and black silk.

A.

9 thoughts on “Sunday Shopping Post: No, Really

  1. Hope says:

    Yeah! Until I retired, all my suits were vintage – I still hate that I gave up a luscious Oscar De la Renta fuschia and pink wool/velvet number. On the other hand, I don’t hate that I don’t have to wear suits anymore!

  2. Respectful Dissent says:

    Fantastic post! It seems like there’s a niche market that’s actually a great ginormous gap in the clothing world more than it is a “niche”.
    A post on the difference in men’s fashions from the 40’s would be interesting. I have to say that as a guy, I’m more than pleased that we don’t tailor as closely to the body as they used to … mainly because men are much bigger and broader and yes, fatter than they used to be. Being wrapped in the more formal clothes and suits would be awful … except in the formal situations where it’s good to look good, I guess.
    But hip-hip-hooray for pointing out that fashion once responded to real people, not an abstract concept that the only people entitled to look good are at the intersection of crazy-wealthy and insanely-thin.

  3. Reba says:

    I don’t know about the 80s clothes being all that narrow in scope. For a brief flash, they actually brought back 40s style – straight skirts with peblum jackets – to which I will grant they added unnecessary shoulder pads. At my smallest then, I wasn’t without significant curves and while the painted on jeans didn’t always work for me, I was rather fond of tapered leg pants and oversized sweaters. The 80s also brought back the circle and half-circle skirt, which could either look very classy or totally bo-ho, depending on what you wore with it.
    I spent most of the later 90s making my own clothes because I so was not reliving the 1970s as the clothing manufacturers suggested and my fav vintage places had moved on to the 50s and 60s. Okay, so it also had to do with wanting pockets in my clothes, the lack of which is an annoyance perpetrated by clothing manufacturers that continues to this day. Hence, I will be making several more 6-gored skirts that fall to the proper place on the calf, flow beautifully, are machine washable and have a comfortable waistband and internal pockets. Is something like this so very difficult for clothing manufacturers to mass produce? Takes me about 3 hours from cut to finish, so I know it’s possible to do it faster.

  4. Interrobang says:

    Some years ago, shopping on Sundays was illegal in this jurisdiction. πŸ™‚
    I have a vaguely unusual problem, in that I have a bust of substantial proportions, hips, and lots of rump, but my ribs sit on my hips and that’s also where I carry my few extra pounds, so I have no waist indention whatsoever. It’s hard to get clothes to fit. I really enjoyed the middle ’90s because everyone walked around in cargo pants, baggy jeans, t-shirts, and flannel shirts, and everyone looks pretty much the same in that.
    These days, for clothing that requires me to look presentable and as polished as is possible, I like Bianca Nygaard and the related lines. If you’re lucky, you can find that kind of thing in second-hand stores around here. Otherwise, it’s not necessarily break-the-bank expensive, either.
    I just wish more manufacturers made genuinely comfortable, work-pant style women’s dress-casual pants. I have a pair from Old Navy (that I got at Value Village) and I love them, but as far as I know, they don’t make them anymore. There is no effin’way I’m going out in public in a skirt, so help me out here…

  5. Elspeth says:

    Athenae,
    If you are making more dosh nowadays, check out the fab New Orleans boutique “Trashy Diva” – they have new clothes with a distinct vintage feel. The prices aren’t anywhere near Value Village, but they aren’t exactly Neimans, either. My next visit to Nola I will check them out as to if my curvyish self will work in one of their ‘licious frocks. They have a website to check out.
    Please forgive me if you have already seen them, I wanted to share. πŸ™‚ Plus, supporting them supports New Orleans! πŸ™‚
    Blessings,
    Elspeth

  6. pansypoo says:

    pansypoo doesn’t dress up. also try not to put on shoes, so the only use for ‘what not to wear’ is do not keep the same boring hair style you had in high school. of course i also do not get my hair cut more than once a year, but i am going to a twice a year schedule.
    IF i had to dress up, i have a vintage white ‘brocade’ with black collar tuxedo jacket-resale shop. they were cool in the 80’s. not so dressy? i have a WW2 army jacket(boy, this sure fits me perfect. what kinda body did the soldier have???). but i have assesories! i have an amazing collection of vintage costume jewelry. sadly just sitting in a sewing chest.
    but i don’t give a shit about ‘fitted’, looking at the portly teens wearing skin tight lycra showing off their rolls and stuff i would rather not see.
    eveybody asks if i lost weight in warm weather. no, just layers. too fucking cold to care about ‘sexy’.

  7. chuckago says:

    Here’s a piece of a local Chicago documentary that touches on just that subject.

  8. virgotex says:

    if you’re not one of the roughly 1/3 of girls who can make that work into early adulthood, there’s nothing for you. No different flavor of sexuality, no different concept of beauty. No sense that you deserve to feel good even if you’re not a 15-year-old Eastern European supermodel. I don’t necessarily think that we need to swing the pendulum all the way back over into thinking there’s something wrong with wanting to be hot, to feel slinky and gorgeous. I just think we need to think about other ways to define “hot.”
    Agreed to the gazillionth power. That said, I think that getting out of Iraq and restoring the polar icecaps could be accomplished easier than changing the problem you’re talking about. I’ve got a genius fashion designer niece and we’ve talked and talked this one up, down, all around. Let’s just say we’ve raised each other’s consciousness and leave it at that.
    Example 1:Remember the Project Runway when they had to dress their female family members and a lot of them just kind of went into a cognitive coma? (I realize there were other factors and individual personalities at play in this example but the basic gist is valid. )These people all had good skills and intuition-fashion was their language and they didn’t know how to speak it with those bodies. Further they couldn’t conceive that people could be alive, happy,and vital, let alone sexual and powerful, in those bodies. there were some successes because either the designers weren’t prejudiced (the insane dude – the middleaged man) or they were able to see, really see, the women they were dressing-how they moved,how they were alive. That said,(if I remember correctly)the design that won was the one for a young,’normal’- sized woman, someone’s 20 something sister.
    Example 2: one of my favorite moments ever on Six Feet Under was when Bettina takes Ruth out shoplifting. They get away with it,as Bettina explains, because they are invisible, middle-aged women that no one pays attention to. Anyone who doesn’t think that is true has just not experienced it yet. (I don’t mean the shoplifting part.) You mentioned the mall- well, the mall is a representation of the world, at least the country, and it’s not just middle aged women who are invisible to so many, it’s anyone who doesn’t fit that narrow ideal. I’m a middle-aged, overweight dyke and I know when I’m being ‘seen’ and when I’m not and more often than not, I’m not. And I’m just talking about walking around in the world, not to mention having the audacity to want moderately-priced,fashionable clothing and accessories that weren’t designed for asexual, color-blind grandmothers!
    Example 3: I won’t hijack with a blogwhore, but there was a great story last week about Beth Ditto of The Gossip turning down an invitation for the band to play instores at a British boutique chain. Ditto:“I mean I don’t really know why they want The Gossip to do things for them, I don’t understand because if they saw me in the street they’d never give me the time of day. I like me, I think that other girls like me, they need people like me, people who feel really strongly and will say no.”
    And that brings me to the final point: women aren’t saying No. Because it’s not just the design industry and the media and advertising and the patriarchal sexual mores– it’s the women who buy into and don’t see thei own authentic selves,whatever their age, and don’t choose to love their own authentic bodies, however they might be shaped.
    (sorry to go on so long, but it’s a hot topic for me. And don’t even get me started about the sexualizing of young girls by the powers that be listed above)

  9. spocko says:

    When I make my first Million I’ll send buy you your Lilli Ann. Kenosha Kid will have to by you THREE in order to win your affection back, because I did it first. (Pssst. Don’t tell Mr. A I’m buying you vintage clothing, tell him I just replicated it in the replicator.)

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