Lauren here —
As historic costumers, we all obviously love clothing, but many of us feel the divide between “costume” and “clothing.” Most historic costumers do not wear historic pieces every day, although these modes of dress are our passions.
So what *do* we wear every day? What are our “normal” clothes?
Several weeks ago, we attended Rufflecon in Stamford, Connecticut. This event is an “alternative fashion conference” but focuses primarily on Lolita fashion and its offshoots. For those unfamiliar with Lolita, here are some examples:
In talking with many of these women, I found that a lot of them dress this way every day, despite the flack they get from muggles. This is their identity. This is what they are comfortable in and how they express themselves through dress. Their outfits (“coords”) are not costumes, but clothing.
This got me thinking about other modes of dress considered alternative. The one I connect with the most is vintage and retro fashion. I know plenty of men and women who dress in vintage or retro styles every day (Dandy Wellington, Terra, Rachel, Missi to name just a few), and I can finally include myself in this group, but only after….well, an effort.
An effort? Yes. I didn’t just suddenly start dressing this way one day and never looked back. It took a conscious effort because I consistently felt “in costume” when I wore these clothes, not like I was wearing my normal, everyday attire. Not comfortable. Not relaxed. This is not to say that I do not feel comfortable in full 18th century regalia. What I mean is that we often feel we are”on” when in costume, whereas when we are just dressed, we wish to feel ourselves rather than a character we are portraying. One state is not superior to the other; they are just different.
|My almost-everyday look – Freddies jeans, a t-shirt, round sunglasses, and a B&T headscarf.|
So how does one go about transitioning to a mode of vintage or retro fashion every day? Here are some tips, based on the experiences I had (and still have) in back-dating my wardrobe and changing my psychology:
1. Recognize that it is OK to be different and that you want to be different. This is not about fitting into a certain group or dressing how you think someone else will like you – this is about you, being comfortable in your own skin, and expressing your true self to the world.
2. Get rid of everything in your closet that doesn’t make you feel good. Try everything on, and donate or sell anything that doesn’t fit. Donate or sell anything that you don’t feel yourself in. Be brutal – don’t allow yourself to say “oh, but if I just lose 10 lbs I’ll fit into that.” No. Dress for who you are now. It’s amazing how good you feel, no matter your size or shape, when you wear clothes that fit you.
3. Now that you have a clean slate, purchase or make a few items you love. Really love. And that fit you well and make you feel great. Go for the types of clothing you like and wear the most – for example, I wear pants every day. I love dresses and skirts, but if I’m being really honest with myself, I only wear them when I’m “dressing up,” not for my day-to-day clothing.
|Simple looks are the easiest to start with – trousers made by me, blouse is from a thrift shop, wool beret is from Amazon. The most “vintagey” single part of my outfit is my shoes, oxfords from Restricted, but the whole effect is bohemian without being accurate 1930s head-to-toe.|
4. Mix it up. With these first few items, mix them in to your existing wardrobe. This is the transition – ease into it. The idea is to train your brain to feel that these new clothes are everyday, normal clothes, not a costume. Get used to and comfortable with how you look to yourself, the attention you may get from other people, how you feel in your clothes, etc.
5. Support your key pieces. Something I found when I started wearing high-waisted trousers was that most of the rest of my clothing just didn’t work with them. My sweaters were all too long, my t-shirts were all too tight, even my underwear wasn’t the right shape anymore. This called for action – I shortened all of my sweaters, culled my shirts, and bought new undies. The result? Now ALL of my clothing works together, and it’s easier than ever to choose a vintage look in the morning.
6. Realize that you may never go back and that’s OK. Once you change your mode of dress completely, and you get used to it, you may find that putting on your old, modern clothes becomes detestable. Even if I wanted to wear modern low-rise skinny jeans, the feel of them squeezing my lower half to death is too much for me to bear. I’ll never go back. And that’s OK.
|It gets easier, then it becomes the norm. The real you comes out and you feel at your best. The day I wore this outfit, a gentleman said he liked my costume. I said, “this isn’t a costume! These are my clothes!”|
At this point the journey is complete. The new “norm” is the vintage/retro and modern outfits no longer appeal. I now feel like a “poser” when I try to wear modern, “cool,” expected clothing. And even though my everyday style gets attention, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a costume. Instead I just feel myself. Mission accomplished.
The moral of the story is that you can and should dress any way you like, but it takes some getting used to. You don’t have to “dress up,” every day. You don’t have to wear what you think is expected. You don’t have to do a full, head-to-toe look every single day. Start small (a headscarf, for instance), ease into it, and find what’s right for you.
Favorite Shops for Vintage/Retro Clothing:
Emmy Design Sweden
Freddies of Pinewood
Vivien of Holloway
Fab Gabs on Etsy