The more vintage clothes I see, the more curious I get about the labeling practices of our grandmothers' generation. Nowadays, a ready-to-wear garment usually has two labels: a brand tag that says who was responsible for its production (GAP, Lord & Taylor, or the like), and a care tag that says what it's made of and how to launder it. Sometimes they're clustered together; other times the care tag is in the side seam.
Vintage clothes, however, often have more tags, and in different places. I'll show you two examples from my own wardrobe.
One day I told my mom, in passing, that I was a feminist. "You are?!" she asked in bewilderment, and I wondered what feminism meant to her. As I see it, I am a feminist because of the things my mother taught me: I believe in educating myself, paying my own way, embracing my inherent strengths, appreciating how I'm different from men, being strong and gentle, standing up to people who would use or devalue me, voting, et cetera. Why would the word "feminist" put her off when she knows and approves all those things about me?
But when I read something like this, I understand where the confusion comes from:
I should be able to dress how I want and act how I want. That's what feminism is about, not about making others feel comfortable.
Two friends of mine have been talking about clothes lately. Here are their situations in brief:
Friend A is a professional woman, a freelancer, whose life and work intertwine a lot. She works with clients in her studio in her apartment, for example. She is interested in curating her wardrobe so it works for easy daily wear, but also gives the impression of competence, professionalism, and style. She wants to be able to grab any item from her closet in the morning, and look like a put-together professional. She sees it in terms of costuming: dressing for the role she has to play.
Friend B is a professional woman as well. Her job requires a college degree, but is also physical and doesn't require dressing up. A very active person, she likes to wear comfortable clothes, like sweat pants and gym-wear, on her days off. However, when people routinely tell her she looks like a teenager or young college student, she finds this annoying. She worries that people are telling her she's immature, or are judging her as less serious because of her clothes. So now she's wondering: should she make an effort to dress more "adult" in order to forestall those comments? And if she does, does that mean she's less of herself?
The other day while reading Barchester Towers, I came across this characterization of Mrs. Stanhope, the indolent wife of an absentee clergyman:
The structure of her attire was always elaborate and yet never over-laboured. She was rich in apparel but not bedizened with finery; her ornaments were costly, rare, and such as could not fail to attract notice, but they did not look as though worn with that purpose. She well knew the great architectural secret of decorating her constructions, and never descended to construct a decoration. But when we have said that Mrs. Stanhope knew how to dress and used her knowledge daily, we have said all. Other purpose in life she had none.
Ouch! A fit match for a husband who takes his job so seriously that he delegates it to a lesser-ranking clergyman and spends his life abroad, collecting butterflies and a salary for the work he's not doing! But the part of the quote that intrigued me was the bit about the "great architectural secret", which sounded like a quote.
Being no movie buff, I don't ever watch the Academy Awards, but afterward, I love to look at the "best and worst dressed" lists. I roll my eyes at the more tedious trends and ooh and ah over the beautiful gowns. Every now and then there's even an interesting suit among the men. Last year's highlight was Brie Larson in a black velvet gown by Oscar de la Renta that was a clear homage to Madame X's gown in John Singer Sargent's scandalous 1884 portrait! Beautiful!
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