When I walk into a charity shop because of the beat-up penny loafers in the display windows or the kitschy mohair sweaters being perused by ladies that remind me of my aunties, I can never contain myself. The question of why I buy vintage, and especially vintage I know I'll never wear, has a bit of an indecipherable history to it. One day I was purchasing what most college kids buy — cardigans and jeans and Converse to beat up by summer — and the next I was trying on '50s prom dresses and watching His Girl Friday, itching to figure out how, exactly, I could perfect dressing like a reporter from the '30s. And I guess the main reason I'm drawn to vintage is that the clothes aren't just stuff you can wear on your back. They also hold a narrative.
It's not like I was raised around red lipstick or skeleton keys or Mad Men-inspired whiskey sets. Yet the whimsy of it all has caught my attention. I went through phases during which I wanted my dresses to look like picnic blankets and my shoes like ones Southern matriarchs might sport to church. And then I crossed over to a more menswear-inspired, Katharine Hepburn-esque look that had a lot to do with wearing Oxford shirts without bras and my dad's watch on my wrist. Things ebbed and flowed, but one thing I knew was that I was attracted to the world of vintage because of my love for stories.
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Vintage items have a tale to tell. The flapper dress that hung between the ghastly '80s New Year's number and the regular denim pinafore somehow made its way to my suburb, but from whose attic? I can almost imagine the woman who must have folded it carefully into her past before finally donating it. I can picture her as a teenager with a quick laugh and a stubborn streak — one that would worry her mother, but keep her dad wrapped around her finger. Maybe she would swing to jazz and touch up her lipstick in smoky bathrooms, talking quickly like a 1920s movie star about the boy she liked.
Maybe she did and maybe she didn't. But it's fun to try to find that person in chiffon and bead work, allowing me to connect with a woman I'll never meet but can remember nonetheless. I have a deep appreciation for these stories, even if they're only in my head. Vintage clothing is full of mystery and history, and wondering about it all is half the charm.
So when it comes to vintage, I buy a lot of things I'll likely never wear, but that I just need to own when my paycheck allows for it. My closet is like walking into a curiosity shop. On one side, you have my sensible clothes, with sweaters stacked neatly according to color, collared shirts ironed and hanging primly, and the less OTT vintage suitable for the day to day. And on the other, you have a collection of sartorial chapter books — a history of women I admire and think about often, wondering what sorts of things they did with their lives while wearing those clothes. And while that might sound like a hodge podge of a wardrobe, I think you can be drawn to a style completely different from your own (brocade opera jackets even if you're a tomboy, or baggy overalls even if you're sophisticated) and not have to feel guilty about getting less use out of it.
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