In the eighties and nineties I organized a few vintage fashion shows and did some basic research in order to do the narration for each show. What I learned then, is that fashion has traditionally had a thirty-five year cycle, where the styles of one era would be revived and re-created again, with some innovative variations. Because of this, there were distinctive things that “dated” clothing. For example, in the seventies, we wore bell-bottoms that were so wide and long that the bottoms became frayed and you tripped over them while crossing the street. Or, when those high-rise jeans that fit snugly around your waist went to the other extreme, followed by several years with clothing racks full of jeans and slacks that were so low in the rise that they had a one-inch long zipper. If you wore the style from a previous decade – it was ridiculed. But, let’s face it – some styles are ridiculous. Absurd actually. But, it’s not necessarily their age that makes them absurd.
Sometime into the eighties the fashion cycle began to shrink. During that time the frequency of the changes in fashion began to increase. The thirty-five year cycle went to twenty years, then ten, and early in the millennium, I recall reading that it had shrunk to seven years. This rapid cycling has become known as fast fashion. The mass produced disposable end of the clothing market has been churning out vintage inspired trends faster than we can follow. The underlying reason for this is that constantly changing trends and low prices will drive volume sales and increase the fashion industries profits. But ironically, what it has also done, is to increase individual freedom and create a much broader horizon for individual style and choice. Sort of an “anything goes” scenario that is a fairly new concept in the scope of fashion history. Therefore, this rapid spin of fast fashion might be losing its point, or its sustainability, as others predicted would happen years ago. On the up side, it has resulted in a significant blurring of the line between what’s in and what’s not in style. Since things so often swing to extremes, and fast fashion is filling up the landfills – maybe now we can swing back to the foundational quality and garment care that our wiser forefathers embraced.
To be rational about all the vintage buzz, a high percentage of vintage clothing is not worth keeping or copying. Just because it is vintage doesn’t mean it has style. And just because it is second hand doesn’t mean it is vintage. When clothing is advertised as vintage inspired or vintage styled – it is simply a capitalization of a now popular buzz-word, in order to increase the sales of their mass produced clothing. The other thing to be aware of – is that a percentage of authentic vintage clothing is made with exceptional style, quality of workmanship and material – yet it may not have a designer label. I know this statement seemingly contradicts a previous post I wrote about licensing brands, fakes and knock-offs, but in that case, the reference is to designer and contemporary clothing. Vintage has a different knowledge base regarding fabrics and sewing techniques, with some unusual quirks in the placement and types of labels used. Some of the beautiful and professionally made dresses from the thirties, forties and fifties don’t have designer labels.
There will always be trends. I believe the trend that is developing now is one of a much more sophisticated consumer. One who is inclined to research, to be more environmentally aware – and will wear what suits her personality and body type without being swayed so much by the spin surrounding fashion trends. Perhaps another off the grid trend is a reduced willingness to sacrifice comfort or mobility for style. After all, it’s pretty difficult to look effortlessly chic with a grimace on your face, or by tripping over twenty-four inch wide bell-bottoms. The truly fashion savvy women will seek both form and function – without sacrificing too much of either.
Copyright Valerie J. Hayes and Quiet West Vintage (2014). Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie J. Hayes and Quiet West Vintage with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.