“Fashion has fallen in love with its own past. It’s a case of looking back to move forward,” Naomi Smart recently wrote in the October issue of British Vogue. It’s true; the catwalks this season have been full of nods to retro style, whether that’s the sixties, seventies, or eighties.
Increasingly, high-end brands are embracing classic silhouettes and designs so timeless that it would be hard to pick out a vintage piece from a brand-new one in a line up. It’s a change that has been developing for a while now; as we celebrated this summer, one-piece swimsuits have been growing in popularity, as have longer hemlines and sleeves (we have the Duchess of Cambridge and Adele, amongst others, to thank for helping this trend to stick). Personally, I couldn’t be more grateful for the renaissance of classic style over aggressively trendy looks; if this is what it means to dress like an adult woman, it feels good.
Just as the fashion world seems to be rediscovering the joys of its past, I’ve been going through something similar in my own life. After having a kid, I got stuck in a serious style rut that consisted mainly of jeans and t-shirts and sweaters, unflatteringly stretched from when I wore them too far into my pregnancy. With little time to groom, less interaction with the outside world than before, and a baby who would spit up or wipe her nose on me at regular intervals, feeling good about what I wore seemed like a battle I was doomed to lose. But rediscovering the joy I used to find in dressing helped me to rediscover a true sense of self, and self-worth—because, at the end of the day, taking pleasure in style isn’t a materialistic endeavour.
When I was a journalism student living in London seven years ago, I developed a very different approach to fashion—mostly from pure necessity. With a budding interest in ethical fashion, I started to feel torn between my love of shopping and style and the terrible knowledge that over 15 million tons of textiles waste ends up in landfill every year in the USA, and many overseas garment workers are paid the equivalent of around $2 a day. I either couldn’t afford many of the ethical brands I admired, or didn’t like what they had to offer (design quality and choice was a lot lower back then than it is these days). So, I turned to London’s many vintage and thrift stores, instead. I loved to spend a Saturday morning browsing Portobello or Camden Market with friends, hunting for gems amongst the musty-smelling chaos of hangers.
It may not be the easiest way to shop given that it takes a significant amount of time and patience, but the rewards are worth it. Precisely because it takes time and patience, I do it less frequently. That means that I find myself thinking more carefully about my wardrobe, what exactly it’s missing and, therefore, which items I need to be on the lookout for. I enjoy the process of shopping so much more when I take my time with it; each bargain and beautiful item that I find feels so much more thrilling, precisely because it took effort to find and is totally unique.
Vintage clothes in good condition have survived for good reason: they tend to be better made than many modern clothes, and if they’ve lasted so long already, you can be pretty sure that with proper care and attention they’ll continue to last. Then there’s the fact that if you fall in love with a design you know to be truly unique, you’ll be more likely to treat it carefully to help it to last, and get it altered professionally to make it fit just right, if it doesn’t already. These are the items in your wardrobe that you reach for again and again, conversation starters with real stories behind them.
I still remember all of my greatest triumphs and bargains: a beautiful Audrey Hepburn-style cream lace shift dress that, paired with a wide black satin belt with a big bow became a firm cocktail party and wedding favorite; a cozy woolen knit sweater that cheered up many a winter day; a beautiful A-line linen skirt with a floral print; the perfectly fitting navy and white striped Ralph Lauren cotton t-shirt. I also remember some of the pieces I didn’t buy but wish I had: the elegant black and white dress with a flattering boat-neck and pencil skirt that, with a blazer thrown over the top, would have been perfect for the office, the most beautiful floaty golden skirt with a gauzy upper layer of embroidery that made my heart sing.
I now find myself with a similar set of style problems as I had back in my days as a student: tight budget and ethical concerns, plus the added new issue of not having much time or opportunity anymore to go out browsing vintage and thrift stores on the weekends. But, with the encouragement of Verily’s own style editor, Lilly Bozzone, I turned to online vintage stores instead. I followed shops like Dear Golden, Adored Vintage, and Golden Crane Vintage (Lilly regularly suggests others to keep an eye on right here in Verily’s style section) on Instagram so that I’d see whenever they posted a new item.
Vintage shopping, online or in store, is a game of patience paired with the ability to move fast when you do see something that’s just right for you. Knowing your size, and knowing what you want and then being willing to wait for it is key. For me, the thrill of the chase, the joy of excellent craftsmanship, and the knowledge that I’m avoiding the temptation of fast-fashion makes it all more than worth it.