I often ponder on sustainability, the environment and fashion. Here’s a first world dilemma to grapple with–I want to buy a new designer jacket, so do I buy new, consignment, vintage or Etsy handmade?
I rant and rave against fast fashion and landfills, but when I’m hankering for some retail therapy, I need to rein myself in. The “rush” post-purchase of another expensive garment is fabulous, but do I really need it? YES, I DO need it and I DO want it. I get a pass since I consciously consider where I make my purchases and the environmental impact of my choices. Good reasoning, right?
April 22nd is Earth Day, a great day to raise questions about the origins and manufacture of our clothing. We need to raise awareness about where our clothing is made. It is also the time of year when I pull out my wheelchair Barbies to help spread the message of contemplating our resources.
One of the most sustainable ways to expand your wardrobe is to buy vintage clothing. I have been wearing vintage since I was a teenager. As I get older, I collect high quality vintage pieces to preserve fashion history.
I try to attend a couple of vintage shows a year. This past Saturday, a friend and I went to visit 15 vintage vendors in Danbury, CT hosted by Cord Vintage Shows. They have been organizing shows for 40 years, with this year being their last. In general, these shows don’t generate a windfall and the show organizers do this as a labor of vintage-love.
The minute my friend and I entered, I screamed! A fire engine red 1950s hat caught my eye and beckoned me over. This hat was pristine and my name was all over it. The best part was the $50 price tag. What a find!
Jean Maimone’s booth “Vintage Gems” had the best costume jewelry and accessories that I’ve seen in years. Also, the breathtaking pieces are reasonably priced and in excellent condition.
One of the highlights of attending these shows, is the people you meet. The vendors and customers are vintage fashion enthusiasts and historians. We met one fashion insider who commiserated that “fashion is dead.” Fast fashion is here to stay, creativity is lacking and the price tag for quality fashion is astronomical. Fashion colleges are not as prestigious as they once were. They are less selective, accept a high rate of foreign students who upon graduation return overseas with American know-how. There are fewer fashion jobs to absorb the glut of fashion graduates. It seems as though fashion degrees have become vanity status symbols since there are not enough American jobs in the fashion industry. While there are more designers that show at New York Fashion Week each season, how many of those brands remain solvent after a few seasons or become gobbled up by multi-international conglomerates?
Nonetheless, the serious discussion about the current world of fashion did not dampen our spirits. We savored our new vintage finds and delighted in discovering treasures. Yes, so much vintage is available online, but there is nothing like seeing, touching and trying on to truly appreciate the workmanship. Sadly, there are fewer vintage shows since reproductions are mass produced overseas and vendors can sell their items online without overhead. Millennials are not interested in buying used, old clothing. Why buy a dress from the 50’s when you can buy an adequate reproduction from Modcloth.com with a press of a button?
Vintage fashion is more than the quality of the items. It reflects a time when great pride was taken in the manufacture of products. This part of history should be preserved for future generations to understand and appreciate. Today, designers study archives, vintage fashion books and garments as part of their creative process in developing new collections. Museums, too, have recognized the public’s appetite for fashion and include detailed explanations of the craft as part of the exhibits. We dub it, “Fashion on a Pedestal” since fashion’s future is in a museum, not as everyday clothing.
Vintage fashion isn’t just costume wear. It signifies a bygone era when dressing was an art. In this harried, fast-paced world, we get dressed fast in the most comfortable clothing. Individuality is rarely expressed. When I wore my newest vintage hat, a woman commented how much she loves hats, but resists wearing them since she’d rather blend in. I felt like offering my services as a stylist and giving her a boost of confidence to pull it off.
After the woman left, a friend who witnessed the conversation remarked, “Don’t be depressed by what she said. Have you looked around you lately? You are lucky if people change out of their pajamas to leave the house. I call it ‘Feral Fashion’. Americans have gone feral. Just drive through parts of upstate NY to see what I mean.” How true. I don’t plan on ever going feral. My love of fashion and fine pieces will keep my acquisitions from disposal into a landfill. That’s my Earth Day contribution.