So I was immersed in my latest period television show this past week--this week it's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel--and it occured to me. Why is it that we love "costume shows"?? I just love all of 'em; PBS is my favorite station. I love "Father Brown", set in the 1950's. I bought DVD's of "Foyle's War", I loved that one so much. I of course LOVE "Downton Abbey". I even loved "Inspector Gently", set in 1960's Britain. "Homefront" was fabulous, set in the countryside of Britain during WWII. So was "The Bletchley Circle". I have DVD's of "That Girl". I even loved the "Mary Tyler Moore " show for Mary's outfits. And don't even get me started on the movies!
I've always loved vintage clothing. For many years, I thought it was because I weighed 98 pounds until I was 20 years old, and regular store-bought clothing didn't fit me. It was recommended that I try a few vintage stores for things that might fit. (this was waaaaayyy before they became "hip") And yes, these things did fit! Low and behold.
And guess what? I LOVED THEM. Why? Really, why?? These were used clothes. Not new, not shiny, and not from a fancy store. They weren't what all the cool girls were wearing. At that time, they weren't even expensive. No, none of those things were going on.
Something else was involved. Three things actually.
First, when I put the clothes on, I was transported. I went somewhere else. Not that I wanted to be transported. Not that I wanted to go somewhere else. But all of a sudden, I was privy to the entire secret of vintage clothing: They have stories.
Vintage clothing items have stories. They've belonged to other women, from a whole different time. They're not modern styles that have been cast-off to land at the Good Will or the Salvation Army. They've lived in the closets of women 30,40,50 years or more in the past. (If you're lucky enough to find them, they may be older!) That dress went to a party in 1955, (and maybe met a new boyfriend?) the suit went to work on a lady who was joining the workforce for the first time in 1967, (letting her husband and kids cook dinner!), the evening gown went to the theatre in 1971, (Beverly Sills at the Music Center in L.A.?) and that glorious hot pink and green jumpsuit held a summer barbecue in 1973, where everyone talked about Bob and Carol, and Ted and Alice.
These ladies had bouffants, and bee hives, and page boys, and pixies, and flips. They wore bright blue eye shadow, kohl eyeliner, lots of hair spray and rollers, cold cream, girdles, stockings, and carried wonderful handbags. (Don't even get me started on those...) They were young ladies, then married women, then moms, then grandmothers, and then maybe great-grandmothers.
Maybe those wonderful women are still here, much older, living with their kids or in assisted living. More often than not, they've passed on and left their memories and stories behind, in their clothes. And somewhere, in the threads and yarns, in the little snags or rips ("darn typewriter ribbon stained my skirt!"), in the scratches on the buttons, the safety pin on a loose lining, are the stories. Can you hear them? Some of us can--we're the lucky ones.
The second reason of our love of vintage is that it gives a woman instant style, and individuality. There's only ONE of that dress, or skirt, or jacket. You're the only one who has it! It's the only one left. No matter how you wear it, it's just yours. You can wear that classic 50's dress with heels, and an up-d0, or put sandals or even keds with it, and wear a denim or leather jacket. (The leather jacket over the vintage prom dress is ever-popular.) You're not going to see anyone else in it. And you're almost guaranteed to get asked where you got it! Who doesn't like to be a bit of a stand-out??
Third and lastly, I think all ladies have a desire to be glamorous now and again. Womens clothing in past decades was mainly dresses or skirt outfits, requiring the donning of some sort of foundation that gave one a great shape. Even those foundations were pretty, made of lace, and satin, and silk. Ladies went to the beauty parlour to get those hair-do's; it didn't come down until the next visit, they wore nets at night. They got dressed up for dates, and wore gloves to the supermarket. They never went out without their makeup. Their shoes and handbags matched.
Fast forward, when these ladies first went to work and ushered in womens' liberation, they set the ball rolling for all of us to follow, to strive for the stars, to have the opportunity to be whatever we wanted to be! We are now CEO's and Directors, Doctors and Lawyers, Astronauts, Presidents and Company Owners. We wear pants, and suits, and jeans, and ripped up jackets and things that purposely don't match. We run around town in yoga pants and crop tops and flip flops, we don't dress up for much of anything.
And so we arrive at the end of my list of three reasons women love vintage clothing, and period television and movies. Because I think we all have a deep seated desire to be glamorous, to be ladies, to be admired as pretty, and graceful, and elegant. To be part of a less rushed sort of life. To leave the rat race, and for just a time-- to be simply a girl.