Vintage or Just Old?

This is the first post in a series of rants commentaries on my adventures in dressing people in vintage clothing. Bear with me. Hopefully this will be somewhat humorous and maybe a bit informative. Come into the shop and if it’s not busy, we can amuse ourselves retelling all sorts of fashion adventures. [the first picture is from My Modern Met. The link is at the bottom of this post. The last photo is really old and we’re not sure where it came from. All other photos belong to us.]

A few years ago a couple of teens came in asking about “that really, really, really old clothing.”

We sell really, really, really old fashions (and reproductions of really, really, really old fashions) so someone had sent them to me to ask about the how and where to procure some extremely awesome vintage clothing. Except they couldn’t explain the style to anyone. They were frustrated but cheerful. We love cheerful and we understand fashion frustration. Some people who come into Main Street Mercantile seeking a certain vintage look don’t have specifics they can explain. They just know they want something cool and old looking to fit their vibe. We’re known for helping them define that look so we we’re used to helping people figure out their “look”.

Thus we began the Q&A session. “Do you have a particular ‘look’ you’re going for?” No. They didn’t. But they knew they wanted that really, really, really cool OLD look.

“Do you mean before the turn of the century?” Yes!

“How close to the start or the end of the century?” The end, sort of. Maybe the middle.

“So, maybe 60s and not 30s?” Right! 60s!!! Maybe. Maybe 70s. Really, really, really old.

“You mean, like bustles and hats and super fancy button-up shoes, right?” Right!

Now mind you, we do a lot of steampunk and Victorian outfits. We’ve done well in costume competitions at horse shows, comic-cons, anime-cons, fairs and various other places where people love to dress in a specific and really, really, really old styles. We’re used to people having an idea of what they want but not having enough historical knowledge to pull it off. I suspect, if they did, they’d be sourcing the outfit themselves instead of coming in for help.

Tennessee Walking Horse Side Saddle Competition – Reno

“Do you have an event to attend? Is there a party you’ve been invited to and you need to dress up? Is it something for school?” No. No party. No event. Not school. Just that they’d seen someone wearing that really, really, really old style and they liked it. It wasn’t too popular. But it was cool. They swore they’d been in all the other shops and hadn’t seen it in any other store on the street. I was nonplussed as we have over 15 vintage and retro clothing sellers and sewing shops in the Arts District. You can source just about any style you heart desires in the Arts District. It was certainly perplexing that they didn’t see SOMETHING that piqued their interest yet. They must be after a truly historical look. Well, that’s my job. Since Williams Costume closed, I’ve seen a lot more of the “we want a costume but not a costume” crowd coming in, I don’t have the 3 acres of store that Nancy had so I do wind up out-sourcing the big orders. But small stuff? Usually there’s something in my shop or if not then somewhere on the street. I asked them if they’d been down to Sarah’s Main Street Peddlers? She bought a lot of Nancy Williams stock and has a ton of costumes from all sorts of eras. Yes, they’d been there. But they didn’t want costumes. They wanted clothes they could actually wear and not look like a costume.

Aha! We are finally getting somewhere! They wanted the Vintage Aesthetic in modern clothes! They agreed. Now we were on a roll. Steampunk works this idea very well. Eclectic coats, interesting hats, beautiful vests, spats that look like button up boots and vintage accessories. No, not steampunk. Cool but not the look they were going for.

2015 Steamathon Main Street Station

“So, is there movie that has the ‘look’?” This almost always gets people going but usually down a rabbit hole and I lose them on that nostalgic road so I don’t pull this card until we’re desperate. YES! There are a couple of movies! But they didn’t know the titles. Or the actors. Or the songs. Heavy Sigh.

“Titanic? Great Gatsby? Gone With the Wind?” YES. That last one! “Gone With the Wind?” YES! (FINALLY). So, I show them the bustle dresses, the Victorian outfits, the American Civil War fashion plates. No. Not any of those. Cool but not quite that old.

Now I know what’s going on. They’ve confused 1900s with 1860s. A common mistake. They’d previously agreed that it’s bustles, hats and button-up shoes… but those really went out with the turn of the century. So, I show them the Downton Abby, WWI, Armistice, Suffrage clothes. No. Newer than that.

Can they really be that off in their history? “Do you mean Roaring Twenties? Mobsters? WWII?” I show them those eras. No. Newer than that.

This went on for another round of eras, through mid-century, rockabilly, Mad Men, the mod 60s. “Are you sure these styles are still too old? You said really, really, really old and we’re getting into stuff I wore in high school.” Well, their grandparents had worn it in high school so it was really, really, really old. I did a little mental math. “Do you mean Breakfast Club? Top Gun? Back to the Future? Flashdance? THOSE 80s!?!?” The light bulb of understanding burns bright over my head. They have absolutely no clue what any fashion era, fashion style or fashion trend is.

I showed them a picture of a color blocked 1980s ski powder jacket. BINGO! That really, really, really old stuff! “I own one. I love that jacket. I still wear it. It’s not old!” I sent them over the Vintage Vegas. They admitted they hadn’t searched through those racks yet. I knew May had at least one in the back.

Wow. THAT was surely an adventure! It’s a matter of perspective I suppose. One thing I learned that day was the current rule for vintage is 20 years or older and we have turned the corner on the year 2000 so 1980s are vintage.

My dear daughter commented the other day, “You know mom, the 2000s will be vintage in January. Doesn’t that make you feel REALLY OLD?”

Yes, that makes me feel really, really, really old. Mostly because I contend that after the 1980s there was NO new fashion worth talking about, just a market driven push to sell more cheaply made clothes. But that’s a beef for another post.

What’s really, really, really old to you?


Thank you to My Modern Met – a Fabulous Website

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