When I was in college, I got into dressing up in vintage and retro clothing. I tried to “live the lifestyle” that was Rockabilly – polka dot dresses, high heeled shoes, red lipstick, stockings with garters…all the time. I would walk to class and spend the day feeling quite pretty and often a little in pain. I’d field questions about why I was dressed up, why I wore “old lady clothes,” what the occasion was, and so on. Usually my answers were along the lines of “because I wanted to,” “because they’re pretty,” and “just because.”
My mother found this amusing. She told me she thought I was crazy, and that she had found wearing dresses every day quite tedious, and that she never could abide such an uncomfortable underpinning as a garter belt. Girdles, BLAH; high heeled shoes, ALL the TIME? blah! However, there was a distinct difference: as a girl growing up in the 1950s and attending college in the 1960s, she HAD to wear those things. They were expected, required even. Myself? Naw, it was by choice.
In the last thirty years, the restrictions and constrictions of ladies’ clothing have disappeared. We can wear pretty much ANYTHING and get away with it, including men’s clothes, ballet flats all the time, hats (or no hats!), you name it. Fashion has exploded like an alluvial fan, sending its silts in every direction and providing us with an incredible number of styles to choose from. Compare this to the fashions of the past, where everyone was trying to achieve the same shape, and clothing, though creative within the bounds, stuck to pretty much the same style. Styles would change about every decade, with subtle transitioning periods (with the exception of the 1790s into the 1800s), whereas these days, styles change every year, and drastically every second or third year.
So what is it about our fashion culture that makes us desire that of the past? I believe it has much to do with the FEELING of wearing these clothes, the way in which they make us move, stand, and hold ourselves. The clothing dictates our poise, our carriage, and often times our attitudes. When you dress up, you feel better. There is something magical about sporting a sharp skirt, clicking around in heels, or wearing a finely tailored jacket. When you add the element of *vintage* to it, it becomes something even more special. It’s completely unique, for one, and the knowledge that you are wearing something exceptional is broadcast to everyone else, just in how you carry yourself in those clothes.
Yet we don’t HAVE to. That is exactly why we DO. Some readers commented that they wouldn’t mind if fashion swung back towards those of the past, but I have to disagree. If we were required to corset every day, don incredibly restricting dresses (admit it, at the end of the day, you’re happy to peel that long-line bodice off yourself), and try to function as modern women – doing sports, going to the grocery store, raising our own children, picking up dog droppings, working 8 hour office jobs, even just driving our own cars – I think there would be a violent, bloody revolution and quite possibly the apocalypse! To return completely to the styles of the past would mean a return to the LIFEstyles of the past, and that’s something I doubt many modern women would truly want.
So we pretend. And pretending is fabulous. Wearing our “new old clothes,” getting a glimpse into how women (and men) felt in their own bodies, in the past, looking beautiful and carrying ourselves accordingly, is all a part of an experience that takes us as close to yesteryear as we dare get. But ripping those clothes off and putting on a nice comfy pair of pajama pants and eating cake for the rest of the night?………mmmm, it’s good to be Thoroughly Modern, to indeed have our cake, and eat it too.