Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guest Post: Thoughts on How to Be Vintage

Today we have a special treat: please give a warm welcome to my dear friend Jessica who is guest posting for us today from her wonderful Chronically Vintage blog. 
In this post Jessica talks about her personal style and her thoughts about how to really "be vintage". 
Of all the questions I'm asked pertaining to my love – and daily celebration - of the past, one of the most common is definitely, "How can I be vintage?".

This query, often posed with great earnest, as though I can see the asker whipping out a notepad and pen inside their head, is always one that takes a moment to answer. Not because I think it's a tricky question per se, but because I think it warrants a solid answer that comes from many years of blending the worlds of yesteryear and today throughout many facets of my life.

My Malcolm Gladwell approved response, the one that has flashed to my mind first on nearly every occasion I've been presented with this particular inquiry, is that a person either is or is not inherently a vintage lover.

That answer, however, may strike some as anything from trite to cute, glib to right on the money, and what I mean by it is that I've never looked at "being vintage", as something I have to work at. It is not an act, a game, or a passing flirtation.

From the earliest days for which I have concrete memories, I can recall being fascinated, enamoured, enchanted, and influenced by the years that occurred before my own lifetime. To me history only truly becomes a part of the ancient past when we stop integrating it into our lives. Being vintage isn't something I decide to be or not to be. I simply am vintage.

{Photographs, such as this immensely glamorous one from 1952 featuring a beautiful model in an equally stunning Dior dress, are amongst my very favourite ways to learn about the decades I hold nearest and dearest to my heart, and which I've longed turned to in my quest to know the past on a very personal level. Image via herecomestheskyon Flickr.} 

But what does that mean exactly? Well, each person who views themselves as a vintage lover surely must define this point on their own terms, but to me it means one who integrates the past (in my own personal case the years spanning the 1930s - 1950s) into their own life in a myriad of ways.

I do not despise or even dislike the present - or the years I've known thorough the last three decades, not at all. Though, I am the first to say that I'm fonder of many elements (not all, but quite a few) from the years that called the mid-twentieth century home.

Like many lovers of bygone days, I'm drawn to - and primarily wear - vintage fashions. Nestled in my modest sized closet one will find skirts and slips, dresses, cardigans, blouses, accessories, hats, shoes, and sundry other wardrobe items that were made during the 1940s or 50s (as well as a carefully curated selection of modern pieces that look very much as though could have been plucked from a department store during those two decades).

My hair and make-up both also adhere to the styles of these fascinating years, and throughout my house one will a selection of items - spanning the spectrum from vintage cookbooks to quaint little woven box housing a selection of authentic vintage sewing patterns that could easily have come from three generations ago.

{Retro Butterick B4918, reissued from the 1950s, is beautifully similar to the Dior gown above}.

Yet being vintage is more than just surrounding myself with - and wearing - the past, though these are certainly important components. For me it is acquiring a solid knowledge of the history, fades, trends, arts, foods, people, and nuisances of the decades I adore most. It’s understanding and appreciating the lives of those who so often exist now only in memories and photographs. There is no one book - or even ten books - that can teach you everything about a whole decade (let alone multiple decades), nor, really, should there be.

The past is meant to be learned as one goes through life, absorbing knowledge from books, certainly, but also from firsthand accounts, stories passed down through the generations. From trips to fact filled museums, second hand stores, plaques on historical building, old movies, art, black and white TV shows, photography, faded magazine pages, the lines of a classic car, internet sleuthing, song lyrics that one topped the charts, venerable homes with charming front porches, handwritten letters discovered in musty attics, in priceless heirlooms and ephemera that was never designed with the purpose of seeing the light of 2011.

It is this knowledge - which one gathers and expands thorough their entire life - that gives a person, I feel, the backbone upon which to build a vintage loving life. With it you are better equipped to seek and find the clothing, home decor, art, and other fascinating items of your favourite decades that you want to bring into your day-to-day world.

Not to contradict what I said earlier on, for I really do think that loving vintage is something that is at least partially ingrained, but one can become a vintage lover at any age. Though I started very young, you can pick up the past any time you like. It's always there, just waiting to be studied and appreciated, absorbed and treasured.

Having a deeply rooted adoration of vintage is a blessing, in my eyes, one that does not fall on everybody's shoulders by any means. It allows you to live beyond the confines of today, this year, even this decade. In choosing - or having the universe choose you - to be a vintage lover, you are making a pact with the past that you're going to celebrate it in the ways that bring you the most happiness every day.

So to those who are curious about “how to be vintage”, I say, quite matter-of-factly, " just be". Seek the past and ye shall find. There is no shortage of history to be researched and loved, worn, embraced and uplifted. Find the years or decades that speak to you the most, learn about and from them, while also filling your world, however much your heart desires, with elements from that era.

If you do, there's a very good chance that before you know it, someone, perhaps while admiring your gorgeous 1940s ensemble, might just stop and ask you how they too can be vintage.



  1. Hi Collette, I've really enjoyed my visit today. I came referred by Jessica. It's no wonder that you two have found each other, it seems that you would have so much in common. Thanks Jessica for another beautifully written post.


  2. Jessica, I like your explanation. When I am asked what I find so fascinating about using vintage patterns, baking from scratch from vintage cookbooks, sewing on either my 100 year old or 50+ year old sewing machine and wearing vintage clothing, I've been known to quip "If it was good enough for my [Grand]Mama then it's good enough for me."

    It is a state of mind and being.

  3. Thank you very much for your nice words, I'm trying to find an email address for you to send to you my shrug pattern, but the links you have do not work, please send your email to me so I can share the pattern crochet.

  4. Hmm a very thoughtful post. I suppose I'm a vintage vintage lover. I've been wearing vintage style clothes since the 70s, I'm nearly 59!!! (OMG :o )I started wearing 30s style clothes in the 70s. My wardrobe is based on designs from @1915-45. Why? Well originals could be found really cheaply in the 70s, and as I've never had much of a waist, dropped waists suited me.(20s style) Also designs of the 30s and 40s kept on reappearing through the 70s and 80s, and was easy to keep going, (when I wasn't emulating Grace or Cleopatra Jones.) Now I make a lot of what I wear, in fabrics that are easy to manage, and adjust vintage patterns to suit me (you'll never see me in puff sleeves.) It means my clothes have a longer life than fashion trends. It's simple, they suit me, and most people don't realise the vintage influence. It just comes across as my style.

    Now I understand the satisfaction of making your own, and cooking from scratch. But, and there is a big but. I am old enough to remember being in the last generation of children who were not bought up to be adults. We were bought up to be husbands or wives and indoctrinated with all the limitations and prejudices that involved. So here I am, practically a pensioner, a rotund roly, poly woman who is a mixture of English and African descent who wears vintage. Yep, probably eccentric. I can't help but notice the fans of vintage seem almost exclusively to be young and very slim women of European descent. But I hope you don't emulate how restrictive, limiting and *rap our lives were. I have always been so thankful for the Women's Movement in the 60s. The irony is without it, you wouldn't have the freedom to freely choose a vintage lifestyle for yourselves today, without ridicule. I hope you are as careful in what you avoid as in what you choose to create your vintage lives. Today being 'Vintage' is as valid a choice as being into rap or jazz, no problem. Back in the day, all you could choose to be was the same as everyone else, or fight to pretend you were. That's not a recipe for a happy life.

  5. Rob -- so glad you enjoyed the post! Jessica and I do have a lot in common.

    Becky -- love the "good enough for my grandma" quip. I may have to use that when someone asks me why I use vintage things instead of new, like my vintage cast iron skillet.

    Rosy -- thanks, looking forward to the pattern.

    Bijoux -- I completely agree with dressing to suit yourself (no pun intended) and that classic fashions never go out of style. Designs come around again and again, that's for sure I think that's why people may not notice that you are sewing from vintage. And hey, you're not necessarily eccentric -- you are just YOU!


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