The misconception that vintage clothing is relegated to history and costume is ruining wardrobes. Granted, this opinion is changing. Thrift shopping and vintage shopping are crossing over—I see 60s through 90s wear popping up all over Etsy shops and Instagram boutiques alike (arguably riding atop a wave of vintage Levi’s 501s) but there’s an ideological gap that seems to yawn between the 60s on and anything from the 50s or before. When I’m looking for new gem spots to shop from (read: slowly descending into a euphoric K-hole of web searching) this latter group is advertised in a way that shows the difference in the way the general public perceives these groups, and by extension, the kind of people who usually buy them: clothing from the 50s and before is almost always targeted toward a customer who is interested in history; the clothing is often styled as an entirely historically accurate look, any accompanying writing sometimes even goes the extra mile to use slang from the era. The 60s-on camp, in contrast, is pictured with loose, playful references to the era at best—a roller skate here, a scrunchie there, the occasional model throwing up double peace signs— but is otherwise shown as modern, a little wink-nudge attitude toward the era-of-origin at best. Neither of these camps are wrong, because they make their money and they know their client. But in the interest of truly magnificent style, our motivation to buy something is interesting to think about.
What narrative is being sold in this differentiation? Focusing on womenswear, maybe it’s the idea that socio-political issues that took shape in the 60s mirror many of the ones we have today—bra burning and free the nipple, civil rights and Black Lives Matter, calls to sisterhood, LGBT rights, and politically charged clothing designs—these are all causes with contemporary twins.
But if the pull of these eras is feeling a modern kinship, I encourage people to be curious about the whole of history—and to remember that some of the biggest names in fashion are constantly sourcing from bygone eras in a way that looks so new, you might not even notice. For example, the cloche hat alone (a style that came to fashion in the 1920s) was a featured look in the 2012 spring collections of both Gucci and Ralph Lauren, as well as in the fall 2017 RTW collection of the uber-chic Jacquemus. Gucci’s current creative director Alessandro Michele, who I can only assume is constantly dealing with people throwing themselves at his feet in admiration if the praise for his work is anything to go buy, is constantly inspired by designs of antiquity—“patterns from imperial China, folk needlepoint from 19th-century America, and the style of the ancien régime of France,” just to name a few.
I can admit to being someone who has had some hesitation in the past about clothes from the “less modern” eras, but as I’ve become more interested in fashion, and seen style as more of an art than a hobby or instinct, I’ve come to hate any limits I put on my wardrobe. If you’re interested in expanding your horizons, my first piece of advice is to go shopping in person instead of online—you’ll be experimenting with some new cuts and waistlines, so it’ll be a lot more fun if you try things on before you buy them. My second piece of advice is to find a store that is really good, and for me, that store is Bygones. Their curation is amazing and the people who work there are incredibly nice and knowledgeable, so if you’re in the neighborhood, just go. To give you an idea, here are some looks I styled using only pieces from the store (excluding the espadrilles, which are mine). All photos by the lovely Linda Moses.