I often like to harp on about the fact that I’m not really a living historian, and mainly just like the clothes of the eras I adore. And the furniture. And the cars. And some of the music… But as my bio over there states, you’re really more likely to find me dressed up to the nines doing my shopping, or dancing at an indie night. But though I don’t re-enact, I do love thinking about the life of the vintage clothes I wear, and the antiques I own. At heart I’m a bit of a history nerd, really, and investigating the background of places and things can be really interesting. This is why I jumped at the chance of doing a bit of research into the life of King Edward VII for the King’s Ginger… and why I have a serious addiction to buying vintage.
Some things just fill me with nerdish glee, though – finding an exact twin of a dress I own is one. Discovering the sewing pattern used to make a hand-sewn vintage frock is a big one, finding a drawing of an exact outfit in a catalogue another. The rarest of these rare gems is to find a note or photo of the original item being worn or used. The latter has never actually happened to me, though I’ve seen others post about such finds on their blogs.
Vintage clothing only goes back so far, and I greatly enjoy exploring the background of much more enduring things, things that have been with us for centuries. Museums are the obvious place to start, but sometimes doing your own digging can be so rewarding. Researching just a tiny proportion of the vast backstory of Kew Gardens, Chiswick House and Brooklands recently was fascinating (and there is so much more to come). If only stone, or statues, or trees could talk! But while we can research the known facts of bricks and mortar, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the actual history of the clothes we buy. This is where imagination comes in!
Just think… what fancy soireés has your sequinned cocktail dress attended? What decadent balls would your gown have been whisked to… and with whom? Your circle skirt might have jived with the cutest boy in town, or been shown off in an all-night cafe with the latest rocking hits on the jukebox. Was the girl who wore your frock the life and soul of the party, a wallflower, a career girl or a homebody? Might your Forties suit have been worn by a war bride on the happiest day of her life? What chores could your housedress have endured? The funny thing is, if you have a relatively intact one, it probably hasn’t seen all that much housework action, for if it had, it would be in nearly such good nick! Since we’ll usually never know exactly who wore our vintage, then just imagine the most fabulous person you can, and channel her (or him) every time you wear it. I do just that – from wearing little or no makeup with a 1930s housedress, to putting on a brave burst of colourful and patterned fabric (as well as red lipstick and hair adornments) when I need a confidence-booster. And when you’re passing your precious things on in time to come, consider including a photograph of yourself wearing them, dancing or having fun… I guarantee it will fascinate future generations of vintage wearers!
Sadly, many of the things I wear on a day-to-day basis won’t last more than a few years, let alone a few decades. But my well-made repro frocks, my sturdy jumpers and my lightly-worn party frocks and gowns will. I know through all the adventures, parties, dreams, tears and laughter I’ve given all these garments some great stories… if only they could tell them!