In my experience, most people who dress in vintage every day (whether head-to-toe, or just with a distinct retro flavour), have come to it through many years of experimenting with alternative fashion. If you click around on this blog, you might stumble across some photos of me as a teenager and in my early twenties – I ran the gamut of hairstyles and clothing, from ripped, grungey combats and dip-dyed dreadlocks, to fashion mohawks, baggy skater jeans, Adidas shell-toes, then two-tone psychobilly hair, brothel-creepers and polka dots. And the vast majority of my friends are the same. Former indie-kids, ex-goths, grown-up punks and reformed metallers – the signs can all be seen in decades-old tribal tattoos (me), healed over facial piercings (er…me), sad, puckered, formerly stretched ears (still me), and stories, photos, memories and even clothing that we can’t (and don’t want to) forget.
I’ve been asked dozens of times over the last few years about how I got into vintage, and my answer is always the same. As someone who strove to be ‘different’, as much as one can be when hanging around with like-minded friends who all have the same tastes (because when you belong to a style ‘tribe’ you can never be wholly different), vintage is the perfect retirement plan. And even while I was dressing like a devil-may-care nu-metal fan, I was secretly listening to Broadway musical soundtracks and poring over pictures of my granny in the 1940s. I think if I’d discovered there were people out there wearing 40s clothes with hair to match – for I honestly had no idea before I turned to the internet – I’d have started dressing like this much earlier. But vintage is perfect for me, because while the pool of reproduction clothing is quite small, buying one-off pieces means you’ll never turn up wearing the same thing as someone else.
Though as you may have seen, my friends and I actually choose to wear matching outfits sometimes, but it’s just for shits and giggles, really.
And even we have started to rail against how trendy vintage looks are – when ‘vintage gyms’ and eateries selling ‘vintage style hotdogs’ have started to spring up, it makes me want to be different again. Er… I haven’t actually done anything about this, apart from putting my nose-stud back in. My 1940s look is what suits me best (not to mention my wardrobe is both expensive and extensive), so I can assure you I’ll be sticking with it until vintage is deeply unfashionable again… then I can relax. 😉 But in our desire to spend our time doing things with people who love vintage for its history and individuality, the girls and I have actually decided to put on a club night for like-minded vintage types who don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s called The Vintage Mafia Presents… The Ric Rac Club, and it’s taking place on the 10th September. Here’s a link to the Facebook event. A flyer will be designed and posted up this week, but do save the date! Just to tempt you, there will be a humorous raffle with ridiculous prizes… and a load of free booze as well.
The Chap scene can be slightly different still, with traditionalists attracted to what they perceive as a return to old English values of tailoring and behaviour. They are somewhat missing the point, though, since the Chap has always declared its ethos to be one of ‘anarcho-dandyism’ – wearing the clothes and displaying the manners of an old-fashioned gent precisely because it’s not the norm any more – to stick a middle finger up at modern society. The founders of the Chap include ex-punks, hence the penchant for anarchy. This is why the team used to carry out stunts such as scaling an exhibit at the Tate Modern, armed with vintage hiking gear and Kendal Mint Cake. Humorous and subversive at the same time, I feel.
But one of the other things I hear most often (and something I mentioned on here recently) is the notion of not being brave enough to go out wearing vintage. A young girl at last weekend’s Vintage festival told one of our crew that she wished she could dress like us, but was too scared to wear it out and about in Romford. However, she had pink hair, piercings and was generally quite alternative – what the difference in bravery was, I’m not too sure. Perhaps it’s that she felt safer in a look that’s actually quite conventional for teenagers. I’m sure the alternative youth of today still gets stick from their peers, but it can’t be a patch on that which my friends and I received back when it wasn’t so widespread. But I expect in a few years, that girl will be in vintage, even if the current trend has passed over, as it no doubt will, leaving those of us who were wearing it before to continue to do so after!
I can’t really explain the draw I had towards alternative fashion at 15/16 years old. I’ve always been a little bit of an individual where style was concerned – sewing triangles of coloured fabric into my jeans to make flares when I was 13 (something which was often done at the time, but not at my school, where if you didn’t have a bomber jacket, you were hideously uncool), affecting a sculpted 60s type bob with flicked out ends when I was 14. It necessitated a good half-hour with a curling tongs before school, and boys used to try and place biros into it during assembly. It was not dissimilar to this, albeit with less height. I’m sure everyone definitely thought I was weird. Especially because I still acted shy – I might have been brave enough to do it, but I wouldn’t meet anyone’s eyes for fear of criticism.
I don’t know why I always found it easy to go against the flow when I was really quite shy as a younger child. I didn’t make friends easily, and would never have dreamed of going up on stage in a main role in school plays. What’s even stranger is that now, after I did that short film (which I apologise for, since it auto-plays every time this blog is loaded – sorry about that everyone), I enjoyed it SO much, I immediately signed up for a short acting course and absolutely, totally and utterly loved every second of it. I felt completely bereft on my way home from the last day, and I now desperately want to go to drama school to do an MA in Acting. I’m seriously considering applying and auditioning this autumn, and whether I’ll get in (or how I’ll afford it if I do), I have no idea, but I’d like to give it my best shot. I have been thinking a lot lately about how much better it would have been if I’d had this acting epiphany a decade, or five, or two years ago, but the truth is that I wouldn’t have been ready or able to do such a thing until now. Years of dressing in alternative and vintage clothing have gradually given me the confidence that I lacked as a child.
So how can vintage newbies tap into this accumulated confidence? Well, all it takes is that one step against the flow of the mainstream, and you can go on from there. For me, it was the home-made flares, but for 2011’s timid vintage admirer it might be that first repro dress, that inugural tube of red lipstick, or that first hot roller set. Take that step, and the rest will fall into place as your shyness falls away.
So, my advice to those who feel scared of standing out, but who still want to do so is simple: be brave and start small.
- If you’re dying to go red but the idea fills you with dread, buy a shade of lipstick somewhere between your normal shade and pillarbox red, work it up gradually.
- Try out a vintagey hairstyle using a set of hot rollers, but keep your makeup and clothes modern for now.
- Introduce bright colours into your modern wardrobe before you take the plunge with crazy novelty prints.
- Buy vintage brooches, vibrant bangles (you know I love my bangles), or eye-catching vintage handbags and shoes – something that will probably draw admiring (or disapproving) stares but which live at the extremities of your person, rather than around your face.
But above all this just remember that it matters not a jot what anyone else thinks of you. While I’m not a confrontational person, the thing that runs through my head when I get one of my once-in-a-blue-moon criticisms from, say, teenage boys (and it truly is once in a blue moon), is why the bloody hell would I give a stuff about a 16 year old boy’s opinion anyway? Wearing bold clothes can never make you less of a person, but rather the opposite; as I have proved to myself over the last fifteen years, they can imbue you with a sense of confidence and derring do (or, as the cool kids say, ‘swagger’) that may be a long time coming…but it will come in the end. I guarantee it!
PS. Forgive the long and very autobiographical post. I find it most odd that my last post has attracted the least number of comments I’ve had in years – perhaps because I once again went against the flow by enjoying myself at the Vintage Festival. It’s certainly a refreshing change from the hundreds of comments and tirade of abuse I got last year. Marvellous.
PPS. I think 16-year old me would be horrified at some of the clothes I rock these days. Sensible jumper and shoes anyone?