BE STILL, MY VINTAGE HEART

New is nice, yet there is a creatively fashionable edge to repurposing a vintage garment. It can reflect your own sense of style or individuality to stand out in a crowd. Texan Mallory Culbert weighs in with her own affinity of vintage fashion.

As a professional writer and actress, I take language and the meanings behind words quite seriously. I also consider what I wear to be a visual extension of who I am on the inside (or am at least striving to be). These are ways that cannot be seen in passing. Ergo, Merriam-Webster’s definition of “vintage” as “of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality; classic*” sounds like a description of not only what I would like to have on my body, but also what I would like to embody, in my heart.

Of course, on a literal level, a second-hand heart is not preferable. Figuratively, though, a vintage heart sounds like it might be quite a safe bet and yet an interesting one as well, tested by time and enriched by experience. Always one to wear my heart on my sleeve, I have found vintage clothing to be my personal style’s most vital organ. Some people collect old bottles of nice wine, others classic cars; I collect vintage clothes, but dare I say my closet has a higher calling than any wine cellar or climate-controlled garage because what fills it are not just frocks, they are feelings.

Unlike popping a glass of rare Rothschild at a dinner party or driving a Rolls in the Fourth of July parade, clothes have a function that can suit you every day. A good dress is never over. Well, after centuries it may begin to disintegrate, but I have a jacket from the Marche aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt (known as the big flea market in Paris, of course) that is over two hundred years old and for all its frilly lace and tiny buttons, it keeps me warm. Underneath the decorative touches, there is a utilitarian layer of cotton and velvet caressing the skin. Everyone has—or at least most choose—to get dressed in the morning. A beautiful “have your cake and eat it to” moment can exist in the wearing of vintage pieces in that you can walk around all day, any day, living your life, in something that came before you, can and will most likely remain after you. Yet, while you’re in it, be an expression of your taste while fulfilling a need.

Whenever I have worn my 19th-century French jacket from the Paris stage (that is the historic truth), someone inevitably notes it as “Chanel-inspired.” The irony. For while it did it come lifetimes before Lagerfeld or even Coco, Chanel was at its onset a truly innovative house of design. It’s just that after one hundred years of Vogue, it seems there is nothing new under the sun, and not only has my fitted bodice, puffy-shouldered jacket been done a hundred times (including by Chanel, and it is the exact design she set out to “liberate” women from, so there’s one full-circle) but so has Chanel’s “ground-breaking” drop-waist dress. So while an “aha” moment is very difficult to achieve in fashion nowadays, there is a “touché” moment that can come about quite easily with vintage pieces.

Another example: I have a gray suede 1960s tunic with white leather detail, and as soon as I saw it, even I, a vintage vivant if you will (though that may translate as a near-oxymoron), thought, “That looks like Tory Burch.” As many designers do, Burch humbly admits to her vintage inspiration, and no issue need be taken with her success; I just think there is a joy in “the genuine article” that makes a tunic found by itself more satisfying than a tunic found on a rack with ten identical others and more in the back. Isn’t satisfaction what we’re all after?

For those lucky and perhaps more evolved folks who are already satisfied, there is still the value of recycling and the virtue of independence. Designers from Forever 21 to Fendi take the artistry of my jacket and the tailoring of my tunic, and they send the “collection” in mass around the world because we live in a world that promotes “new and shiny,” even at the expense of quality (ie: Forever 21) or a price (ie: Fendi) that we really can’t afford. Along with the fact that it has led to the enabling and encouragement of two major crimes, sweat shops (again, for instance, Forever 21) and fakes (again, for instance, Fendi), they are selling you trends, and trends fade, usually much more quickly than our conscious mind thinks they will.

If something you buy is already thirty, twenty, even ten years old and you still like it, will it fade or, in a deeper sense, become irrelevant to you? Doubtful. And if you go through your closet for “spring cleaning” and take a bag of clothes you have tired of to Goodwill, what will fill it? Forever 21 most likely and Fendi won’t fill it and not because you wear it all the time. Fendi won’t fill it because you remember the price you paid to have something sit in your closet that has neither stood the test of time nor provided memories (other than that possibly painful or guilt-inducing sliding of a credit card). And why? Because you “don’t want to get a stain on it.” Because it’s “too nice to wear.” Because you’re “saving it for a special occasion.” But with vintage, odds are it already has a stain on it, it’s already been worn, and every day is a special occasion. That provenance adds to its specialness.

Time is on your side with vintage, and in our harried world, who doesn’t want more of that?