Fashion Bytes — The Original Upcycling


At the end of May, the Guardian’s Fashion blog ran a piece discussing the allure of vintage. The author, posting as “The Invisible Woman” said she collected the clothing for the most part because she couldn’t bare to see a beautiful piece of workmanship be thrown away. She also described the wearing of vintage and hand-me-downs as “upcycling before there was upcycling”.

The wearing of vintage is nothing new to people who study fashion. We’ve either worn it ourselves or know others who do. But the general view can sometimes be conflicted: people online will both praise Livia Giuggioli Firth for her “upcycled” Oscar gown, or condemn her for creating more waste to make it; some will praise those who wear vintage, others will condemn them as being unimaginative. I can even observe these opposing attitudes in my own personal life: I have a very good friend who has the classic hourglass figure, and she finds vintage pieces fit her better than modern ready-to-wear, while I have family members who — having grown up poor — see second-hand and vintage clothing as a sign of poverty. Tove has discussed second-hand clothing as protest, but this post on the Guardian found me wondering if second-hand clothing could be more than a simple love of a previous era’s aesthetics.

With the rise of fast fashion, is vintage a way to be a conscientious dresser since the clothing is not new, not made in sweat shops, and better made so it will last longer? Or is it overestimated? Is vintage a way to preserve workmanship, as “The Invisible Woman” called it? Do you think vintage inspires people, or do you think it goes unnoticed? Are more people wearing vintage, or is it simply getting more press? If more people are wearing vintage, what do you think are the reasons behind it? What are the benefits of wearing vintage? Do second-hand clothes still have a “stigma” of poverty or protest? Do any of you use vintage pieces to teach your students about fashion history, or are their certain construction techniques that are better illustrated by vintage clothing? Is the wearing of vintage actually a bad thing, because the wear of everyday use prevents preservation? Should vintage be given more credit for its preservation, and the good it does for the environment?

Please share your thoughts.

Image by Richard Avedon

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1 Comment

  • Christina Catherine June 26, 2012 01.21 pm

    I think more people are wearing vintage because re-sellers (both online and in boutiques) are making it more alluring to those who wouldn’t normally buy used clothing. Decades in LA posits itself as a purveyor of fashion history. Online shops like Spanish Moss are highly branded and styled—they even shoot “lookbooks” of their latest vintage pieces, many of which are quite pricey.

    I think the stigma of poverty is largely absent from vintage clothing, if only because real vintage clothing is so hard to find in actual thrift and charity shops these days. Many people who wear vintage have never set foot in a thrift store, preferring instead to pay marked-up prices for styled / pre-cleaned vintage sourced by someone else. There is now a huge difference between shopping secondhand and buying vintage; it’s the difference between settling for mass-market castoffs from several seasons ago, and trolling eBay for a three-figure dress from a particular era.


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