November 3, 2011

Thoughts on how to be vintage

Day 307 of Vintage 365

Good morning, sweet dears, in addition to appearing on Chronically Vintage today, I was recently asked by my good friend Collette, from the stellar blog, Serendipity Handmade, to write a guest piece for her site while she's away from the blogging front this week. If you're not acquainted with Collette's delightful site, I encourage you to hop over there right away and check it out - there's something for all manner of vintage and craft fans alike.

Of all the questions I'm asked pertaining to my love – and daily celebration - of the past, one of the most common is definitely, "How can I be vintage?".

This query, often posed with great earnest, as though I can see the asker whipping out a notepad and pen inside their head, is always one that takes a moment to answer. Not because I think it's a tricky question per se, but because I think it warrants a solid answer that comes from many years of blending the worlds of yesteryear and today throughout many facets of my life.

My Malcolm Gladwell approved response, the one that has flashed to my mind first on nearly every occasion I've been presented with this particular inquiry, is that a person either is or is not inherently a vintage lover.

That answer, however, may strike some as anything from trite to cute, glib to right on the money, and what I mean by it is that I've never looked at "being vintage", as something I have to work at. It is not an act, a game, or a passing flirtation.

From the earliest days for which I have concrete memories, I can recall being fascinated, enamoured, enchanted, and influenced by the years that occurred before my own lifetime. To me history only truly becomes a part of the ancient past when we stop integrating it into our lives. Being vintage isn't something I decide to be or not to be. I simply am vintage.

But what does that mean exactly? Well, each person who views themselves as a vintage lover surely must define this point on their own terms, but to me it means one who integrates the past (in my own personal case the years spanning the 1930s - 1950s) into their own life in a myriad of ways.

I do not despise or even dislike the present - or the years I've known thorough the last three decades, not at all. Though, I am the first to say that I'm fonder of many elements (not all, but quite a few) from the years that called the mid-twentieth century home.

Like many lovers of bygone days, I'm drawn to - and primarily wear - vintage fashions. Nestled in my modest sized closet one will find skirts and slips, dresses, cardigans, blouses, accessories, hats, shoes, and sundry other wardrobe items that were made during the 1940s or 50s (as well as a carefully curated selection of modern pieces that look very much as though could have been plucked from a department store during those two decades).

My hair and make-up both also adhere to the styles of these fascinating years, and throughout my house one will a selection of items - spanning the spectrum from vintage cookbooks to quaint little woven box housing a selection of authentic vintage sewing patterns that could easily have come from a three generations ago.

Yet being vintage is more than just surrounding myself with - and wearing - the past, though these are certainly important components. For me it is acquiring a solid knowledge of the history, fades, trends, arts, foods, people, and nuisances of the decades I adore most. It’s understanding and appreciating the lives of those who so often exist now only in memories and photographs. There is no one book - or even ten books - that can teach you everything about a whole decade (let alone multiple decades), nor, really, should there be.

{Photographs, such as this immensely glamorous one from 1952 featuring a beautiful model in an equally stunning Dior dress, are amongst my very favourite ways to learn about the decades I hold nearest and dearest to my heart, and which I've longed turned to in my quest to know the past on a very personal level. Image via herecomesthesky on Flickr.}

The past is meant to be learned as one goes through life, absorbing knowledge from books, certainly, but also from firsthand accounts, stories passed down through the generations. From trips to fact filled museums, second hand stores, plaques on historical building, old movies, art, black and white TV shows, photography, faded magazine pages, the lines of a classic car, internet sleuthing, song lyrics that one topped the charts, venerable homes with charming front porches, handwritten letters discovered in musty attics, in priceless heirlooms and ephemera that was never designed with the purpose of seeing the light of 2011.

It is this knowledge - which one gathers and expands thorough their entire life - that gives a person, I feel, the backbone upon which to build a vintage loving life. With it you are better equipped to seek and find the clothing, home decor, art, and other fascinating items of your favourite decades that you want to bring into your day-to-day world.

Not to contradict what I said earlier on, for I really do think that loving vintage is something that is at least partially ingrained, but one can become a vintage lover at any age. Though I started very young, you can pick up the past any time you like. It's always there, just waiting to be studied and appreciated, absorbed and treasured.

Having a deeply rooted adoration of vintage is a blessing, in my eyes, one that does not fall on everybody's shoulders by any means. It allows you to live beyond the confines of today, this year, even this decade. In choosing - or having the universe choose you - to be a vintage lover, you are making a pact with the past that you're going to celebrate it in the ways that bring you the most happiness every day.

So to those who are curious about “how to be vintage”, I say, quite matter-of-factly, " just be". Seek the past and ye shall find. There is no shortage of history to be researched and loved, worn, embraced and uplifted. Find the years or decades that speak to you the most, learn about and from them, while also filling your world, however much your heart desires, with elements from that era.

If you do, there's a very good chance that before you know it, someone, perhaps while admiring your gorgeous 1940s ensemble, might just stop and ask you how they too can be vintage.


  1. Lovely post Jessica. Its odd but the actual term ' vintage' means ' age of wine' and I'd love to know when it was first employed to describe fashion eras.

  2. When I think bact to my 1960's childhood, one thing that stands out is that I LOVED dressing up in my mom's hats and heels. I also loved wearing an old-fashioned apron when I washed the dishes. (Through the 80's and 90's, I don't think I ever saw anyone wear an apron, so I look at them as "vintage" apparel.) Those "old and pretty" items just captivated me.

    All my life, I've been obsessed with history. I may have hated geometry and biology, but talk to me about dead people and I was in Heaven. My areas of interest have changed through the years. For at least a decade, it was the American Civil War era that captured my fancy, and I devoured anything related to that. (I even wrote a novel set in that time period.)

    For the past six years or so, it's been the years 1930-1955, with heavy emphasis on the 40's. I want to learn everything I can about those years. And if I had a time machine, I would live in that decade in a heartbeat!!

    Add to that, I'm heavy into genealogy. I just think the past (and its people) are worth not only remembering, but celebrating. I am very definitely a vintage-hearted gal, even if I do live in a 90's house!

    Great always.


  3. Well said! In addition to everything you stated here, I also find myself feeling the need to embrace vintage values and mindsets as well....the good ones, not the bad ones! Homemade, frugalness, simplicity, family, manners...a lot of those things seem to have passed by the wayside in these modern times.

  4. Hi dear Jessica,
    As always, another lovely post and I agree that it is something that is very easy and comfortable with some people, like yourself. I am finding that as I get older, I get even more eager to collect and collect/retain the stories and also beautiful vintage items that my grandmothers used everyday. I feel as though I am the bridge that can connect my grandmothers generation with my grandchildren's and I know that I can help to make the past familiar and real for them.



  5. Good post! I agree. The most common question I get is: What made you get into vintage? I share your sentiments about being a lover of vintage for as long as you can remember. There was never a particular time where I woke up and said "I love vintage!" Even as a child I was drawn to old things; long before I understood what vintage was. :) I'm sure others who are as obsessed as we are can also echo your statements.

  6. I love all things vintage, however, I like being vintage in this day in time much better. We have mostly overcome most of the ugly things from those times such as segregation and sexism. I love to cook and clean my home and take care of my kids, but I don't think of it as "my place". Being vintage this day in age is like the best of both worlds.