Defining What Vintage was ‘Back-in-the-Day’

21 Jan

{Defining What Vintage was ‘Back-in-the-Day’} A heart-warming chat with my grandmother reveals the origins of vintage.

Vintage is all the rage. From the First Lady to yours truly, wearing fashion from decades ago can suit the most stylish expressions of us all. Yet, this growing desire for vintage and thrifted fashion has recently given me pause:

Did folks “back then” wear vintage? Perhaps it wasn’t termed as such, but did they have a penchant for the past’s styles, or also finding ways to dress for less?

So, during a recent visit to the mountains of Pennsylvania, I asked one of my favorite women in the whole world — my grandmother, some of these questions.

Born in 1937, she has poignant early childhood memories — such as her father shipping off with the Navy, bound for seeing action in the Pacific during WWII — and, her perspective on life and style is boundlessly spot-on, not to mention refreshing!

Also, for my entire life, she has been an avid collector of all things vintage and antique. It’s only natural then, as apples and trees go, that she passed down the “flea-marketing” gene to me! (and I am so thankful she did, now if I could only have her knack for knowing the history of potters, sourcing exact decor trends and dating furniture!)

So in the kitchen we sat kibitzing — she reminiscing as my prodding curiosity went into overdrive hanging onto every word. Here is a general overview of our conversation:

{Grandmom} Vintage started coming about in the 1970s, and mostly it was through second-hand shops. I remember in the early ’80s, I was at work and these two very Hippie spirits were chattering back and forth about all the great things they had gotten at thrift stores. They were as excited as anything, because that’s who they were, and what they were into — the 1960s.

{GM} There wasn’t thrift or charity shops then like there are now, and maybe that’s because there was such a stigma about wearing someone else’s clothes. But I often think how lucky people are today when they can go out and get a new coat for $10 and a new dress for $5. People just don’t realize how they’ve really got it made now.

{GM} I mean, people really used to have to make things work for as long as they could until they had the money to buy something new. There were times, as a little girl that I and others would wear our shoes with strings tied around just to hold the soles on. And that is something that even the poorest of poor wouldn’t accept today. But then, we we just didn’t think about it — and you didn’t have to be poor, either, to make do like that. People just did because that’s how people were.

{So if there wasn’t “thrift stores”, how did people find fashion for less than what mainstream stores were selling it for?} Wish I knew! However, my Aunt Bert was a whiz at sewing a lacy collar onto an older blouse, replacing a narrow belt with a wider one (of another contrasting color) on an older dress, cutting off that long, heavy wool coat to a more comfortable dress-length, and accessorizing!

{Did people wear things from past eras, such as I do, but just because they liked it?} Thinking about how it was through 1940 and the ’50s, styles were modified, but the classic and expensive brands just lasted, and you knew those well-heeled people.

{If you could have worn vintage back then, what era would have you been thrift-shopping for?} Back then, the 1920s were all the rage.  However, the short hair cuts (men and women), clinging flat dresses, funky-heeled and pointy shoes, men’s small-lapeled suit coats and high-water
pants did not appeal to me.  Some of the 1960 styles reminded me of the “flappers”.

Four generations of stylish Wallaces: left to right, my Dad, my Grandmother, myself, and my Son.

{Today, what is your favorite by-gone era?}
The 1940s may be it.  The styles were a little stronger — big button-front fitted suit jackets, skirt lengths slightly below the knee, a Robin Hood-style hat with feather, pumps, etc.

The 1980s were great too:  big hair, shoulder pads, beautiful colors and some neat Gothic put-togethers — a little more freedom.  I purchased a new blazer in 1984 (has a nice-sized lapel, just below the hips length, good twill fabric, light-banana-colored).  The style seems timeless — a bold patterned scarf or large lapel brooch, and I can match it up to many slacks and skirts.

{What do you think of modern kids like myself wearing the types of things you wore or saw being worn throughout the various decades of your life?} Great to see — if neat, classic and a little showy.  No
floppy/sloppy garments regardless of pattern/color or texture.  I like to see “dress for the occasion” — there are so many fashions from the past 100 years that would look perfect for today.  The special art is modification.


One Response to “Defining What Vintage was ‘Back-in-the-Day’”

  1. marie January 17, 2012 at 12:41 AM #

    That was interesting to read, I should ask my grandmother the same questions…She was born in 1917!


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