What’s Old Is New

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-By Kristy Attard

Technology has revolutionised the world in which we live. The drama of everyday life is posted on Facebook, tweeted and blogged about relentlessly. It seems like just about everything has an iPhone app that can be downloaded with a smart phone. Consumers are hungry for gadgets. Modern society has become televised 24/7, for better or for worse. The world is moving faster than ever but fashion is taking a trip down memory lane. Vintage fashion has shaken off the dust and taken the world by storm. The sorts of clothes your parents and grandparents would have worn back in the day are parading down catwalks and filtering into chain stores. What is vintage fashion, this relic of bygone eras, doing in our high-tech world?

Revamped and Revived

Vintage fashion refers to clothing and accessories from the roaring twenties to the swinging sixties. This definition, however, has blurred in recent years to the point where anything second hand is often deemed vintage. Vintage fashion sounds special and out of the ordinary, the kind of gear that consumers can’t find just anywhere… or at least that used to be the case before it became mainstream. Vintage fashion was once a quiet niche market, the exclusive domain of eccentrics and collectors. Now it’s sold here, there and everywhere, from the glamorous high-end boutiques to the cheap and cheerful chain stores.

Vintage fashion first hit the consumer masses when the paparazzi snapped celebrities like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Mischa Barton and Sienna Miller wearing it. Music sensation Jennifer Lopez wore a mint green vintage style Valentino dress that was a replica of one made for the late Jackie Onassis. Hollywood suddenly made it cool to wear what would have once been scorned as ‘old-fashioned granny’ clothes.

With vintage fashion suddenly becoming trendy with celebrities, it was not long before the fashion world started following their lead. Trends from past eras such as crochet and lace, cleverly reinvented by designers, became popular. Chintzy romantic florals and retro polka dot prints came back into fashion. When creating collections, designers began looking to the celebrities of yesteryear like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth for inspiration. Vintage style pieces started strutting down the international catwalks. Chain stores began stocking vintage style clothes at bargain prices, including such items as high waisted pants, waistcoats and bowler hats. Magazines aimed at the teen market encouraged them to raid their parents’ wardrobes to find something vintage. Whereas before, most teenagers would look at their parents’ wardrobes and cringe, now they started borrowing from them! The fashion world had a complete change in perspective – yesterday’s cast-offs were suddenly today’s must haves.

The vintage trend is still going strong today. Vintage fashion is no longer a daggy fashion niche, it is a key trend and with droves of followers, a lucrative business. Vintage fashion shops now populate trendy suburbs like Sydney’s Newtown. People who would have not been caught dead in an op shop previously now purposely seek them out looking for one off vintage finds. The vintage look is back with a vengeance.

Popular culture and fashion have always gone hand in hand. Lady Gaga, who is as famous worldwide for her quirky outfits as her chart topping music is often snapped in vintage designer outfits. She was performing in daring vintage Versace in the video clip to her song ‘The Edge of Glory’, released in 2011. Besides high profile celebrities, movies have been another force driving the popularity of vintage fashion. Recent films such as ‘The Stepford Wives’, ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘The Help’ have put the fashions of the past in the spotlight.

The fifties look is a particularly popular style that seems to never go out of fashion. That whole ‘Happy Days’ look complete with full skirts, knitted sweaters and a pearl necklace harkens back to a time when the world seemed a more innocent place. Last year the hugely popular ‘Mad Men’ television series had fashion magazines pushing the ‘Mad Men’ look set in the early sixties. Think coiffed hair, pencil skirts and pussy-bow blouses for women and tailored suits, skinny ties and waistcoats for men. Some of the more outrageous boho and mod fashions of the sixties have also made a bold return to the fashion scene. The twenties flapper look is set to take off this year in anticipation of the film release of ‘The Great Gatsby’. The focus will be on the drop waist, fringing and long necklaces. Expect to see a boyish silhouette for women become fashionable.

Something for Everyone

Most shoppers like the idea that vintage clothing is unique; they can wear a piece of history no one else will have. Ironically, other adopters are just following the crowd. Clothing brands have seized the vintage trend with both hands and interpreted and pushed it in different ways for consumers. Some labels boast they source authentic vintage fabrics to create items; shoppers can now buy high priced designer jeans, for example, made from vintage denim.

Many independent designers choose a particular era and focus on reinventing those looks to suit today’s consumers. They will typically display their creations in a stylish boutique. Larger clothing names get their foot in the trend by mass-producing vintage style items. Think of the typical vintage style clothes customers can pick up for under $20 at retail chains located in any shopping centre. The stock is definitely not genuine vintage, it was most likely sewn up in a factory last week, but it looks vintage. Regardless of whether the stock is from a limited run or mass produced, the action plan is simple – pick key trends from a past era, reinvent them to suit modern consumer tastes, then manufacture and market the stock. Vintage style fashion has several advantages for the consumer when compared to authentic vintage gear; the clothes are usually in good condition, easy to care for, affordable and easy to fit and buy.

One of the drawbacks with genuine vintage fashion is that, depending on the age of the piece, it may be in a state of disrepair. Clothes do not necessarily age well – they are susceptible to mildew, mould and attack from pests like moths. Items that have been hanging in wardrobes and folded in drawers for decades may have a musty odour, and cleaning authentic vintage pieces is not as easy as just chucking them in the wash. The garment may be delicate and require gentle hand washing or it will deteriorate. Doing repairs is sometimes not as easy as sending it to the local tailor. Many of the techniques used to make clothes in the past simply do not exist anymore or are rare – no one has the time or the patience.

Vintage fashion no longer equates to cheap fashion. Prices for genuine vintage items have risen considerably. Besides pricing, sizing is another issue. Finding the right size can be confusing as clothing sizes of the past were different than what they are now. Still there are die-hard vintage fans who, despite the drawbacks, will actively seek out authentic vintage items. That’s when the internet comes in handy. There has been a boom in the number of vintage businesses available online to feed the growing demand for vintage clothing. People can now view and order vintage items from around the world online, making the past a click away.

Years ago, we may have guessed that by 2012 we would be walking around in space age fabrics, not vintage wear. Society is becoming increasingly reliant on the latest technology but there is a definite hint of nostalgia in the air. Vintage fashion is back from the dead, and it’s one trend consumers are going to continue to see evolve as businesses find new ways to capitalise on its time in the limelight. Vintage is the new black in the fickle fashion world. It’s a rose coloured look at the past expressed in fabric, a flashback to when life was simpler and the world was hopeful.

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December 19, 2018, 5:15 AM AEDT