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.