• Tue, May 11 2010

5 Statements In Defense of Vintage Dresses (and the Women Who Wear Them)

Yesterday, my colleague Jennifer Wright wrote a post entitled “5 Lies Women Who Wear Vintage Dresses Tell.” I get where she was coming from – I may love vintage clothing, but I’ve definitely encountered a few too many of the holier-than-thou types she’s talking about. However, not all of our commenters agreed, and I wanted to say a few words in defense of my vintage dresses.

Buying used is better for the environment.

Buying clothes that already exist is more “green” than buying new ones. That said, there are some great ways to recycle old textiles (some of which were touched on in this article from yesterday). Also, I tend to have an easier time finding quirky dresses and accessories in vintage shops, while I’m shit out of luck when it comes to, say, black T-shirts. About half of my clothes are vintage or from consignment shops, but I still rely on “new” basics. I mean, it’s not like I am buying underwear from a thrift shop or anything.

It’s less of a financial investment.

Because most thrift shops (okay, not in New York, but in other places) are less expensive, you can try out a new look or wear something risky without putting in as huge of an investment. Sure, you can also just wear stuff once and try to return it to the store, but that doesn’t always work out. Vintage shopping has emboldened me to try stuff I might have been afraid of otherwise. Sure, some of those ideas – like the dress with the bow on the butt – didn’t work out, but some of them – the jeans with the zippers up the side, the dirndl-style dress, and the fedora – did. Some of the things I now consider wardrobe staples were things I bought on a whim from a thrift shop and ended up loving. Some of them I bought more expensive, durable versions of once I figured out the style or silhouette that I liked.

In places with fewer options, it keeps you from looking like everyone else.

I grew up in North Carolina, which is not really known as a fashion capital (despite the fact that it’s one of the strongholds of the textile production industry). Before the internet and the Delia’s catalogue, there was one mall in my town, and it meant that most of the kids at my school wore variations of the same outfit. I’m not saying everybody was unoriginal – I’m saying that in places where there are only three or four department stores to choose from, there are a limited number of things available for everyone to wear. When I was a teenager, I started driving down to NC State, which had some thrift shops nearby. Sure, I got some weird looks from some of my classmates when I showed up in ’60s-style caftans for the first time, but I also got a beautiful, unique prom dress – which I still have – and a love of fashion outside the world of the sale rack at Dillard’s. TheGloss contributors the eBabes, both of whom grew up in the Midwest, also developed their love of vintage fashion this way.

It taught me to appreciate tailoring.

Sometimes you see the item of your dreams at a thrift shop – only to realize it’s three sizes too big for you. Thrifting was what taught me the value of having clothes tailored to fit you. Although it still doesn’t make much sense to tailor something down from a size 12 to a size 2, finding something that fits you OK and turning it into something that fits you perfectly is a great idea. Finding vintage pieces I loved and was willing to buy even if they weren’t exact fits made me understand and appreciate the value of a garment made just for your dimensions. Now, I’m willing to invest in getting things tailored because I know I’ll wear them more and that I’ll be happy with how they look on me.

When you find something perfect for you, there’s no better feeling in the world.

Part of what I love about vintage shopping is the sheer treasure-seeking aspect of it. If you dig through an entire store’s worth of junk and find the one, perfect, made-for-you item, a whole day’s shopping is worth it. One of my favorite pieces of clothing ever is a YSL indigo pencil skirt that I found in the a-bag-of-clothes-for-two-dollars thrift shop The Garment District. As part of one bag, the skirt ended up costing me about fifty cents. I’ve worn it on dates, job interviews, and formal dinners. And I still love it as much now as I did when I bought it.

That said, the same thing that makes vintage shopping fun can also make it frustrating as hell. As Lindsay Kaplan noted in her post about why she hates thrift shops, it is super annoying to see something you love and not be able to get it in your size, or buy six of it in different colors. Again, that’s why I balance my vintage and non-vintage shopping.

Some people love buying vintage, some people don’t. I’m not trying to push anyone in one direction or the other. Rather, you should find clothes you love and wear them as often as possible. Really, it’s that simple. They can be from the Gap, from Goodwill, or from Gucci, as long as you’re not driving yourself into poverty or hurting anybody, then I say rock out with your bad self.

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  • naomi grace

    This is more like it – a post with soime thought put into it, not just venom.

  • canonizer

    The number one reason shouldn’t be green washing!

  • Jamie Peck

    I love vintage clothing. It’s better for the environment, there are some badass styles to be found, and a lot of the stuff is cut better for curvy ladies like me. I also try not to support awful labor practices with my purchases, so most of my clothes come from re-sale shops or places I’ve checked up on beforehand. Personally, I’d feel like a hypocrite being a vegan while continuing to support human suffering.

  • The eBabes

    Another thing to consider is dead stock–vintage items that have never been sold/worn. All the style/context without the weird thought of wearing a stranger’s dress.