I spent Sunday afternoon acquainting my friend Olivia with all the vintage pieces that I stockpiled this holiday. Olivia is not that big on vintage, but she is definitely coming round to the idea of it, wearing more and more of her mom’s amazing collection and eyeing a few of my purchases with envy.
I unpacked the bag of beauties for her, talking her through each piece, holding them up in front of the mirror and twirling when necessary. One dress in particular, a spectacular 70’s lurex evening number, is actually too small for me. I was convinced that it was made for me, because the label inside reads ‘Vamp, size 36’, but clearly a 36 in the 70’s was closer to a modern day 38, because I can’t get the zip more than halfway up my back. Nevertheless, it had to be mine, for the simple reason that it cannot, then, be anyone else’s. It was then that Olivia asked the question that strikes fear into the heart of any true vintage magpie:
‘But what happens when there is nothing left?’
As in: when all the true vintage left on this strange planet of ours has been plundered, reappropriated (hopefully to good homes) and all that remains is the modern day detritus: cold-hearted stretch lycras, easy-come-easy-go clothing, unprecious, unmoving, temporal.
I have mulled this one over many times, and it gives me the chills. No more gems to be discovered; no more small-town trips to uncover velvets and silks in musty rooms amidst broken cameras, ancient brassware and bric-a-brac. I tell myself that things keep moving; that in time, this, too, will become vintage. But it’s not the same as a 50’s or even (Lord help me) a 20’s era find. It will always be of my own era – of the time when I was young, and so, therefore, not true vintage.
This saddens me immensely. No more unexplained scribbles in good cursive on bits of scrap found in handbags; no more cryptic lucky charms in the pockets of velvet blazers. That very thing once happened to me: I bought a navy velvet blazer, well-worn at the elbows, and in the left pocket I found an irregular peppermint-crisp-green crystal, both glossy and rough. Things like this just make my life – the idea of another person’s story, the reason why that crystal ended up in that pocket in that store.
If we don’t catalogue these things, love them, preserve them, where will we be? Without history. And I’m not just talking about fashion. All the stories that went with these clothes, all the family gatherings and special events and first kisses, will evaporate if we don’t keep remembering.
I’m not really one for taking practical lessons from meanders as romantic as this one, but there is one thing that we can all do, and that is to keep things. The clothes we buy now may not ever carry the nostalgic value of vintage for us, but they will for someone else. My mom kept so few of her old things, and now regrets it so much. For this reason, I still have things that I’ve had since I was 14. I learnt early on, even though my father took to calling me ‘The Clothes Horse’ (very nice), that looking after my things and hanging on to them was wise. And, as dorky as it sounds, this is a way to actively contribute to the world’s vintage.
Rent some space, put your bed on bricks, have it vacuum packed. Do whatever you gotta do. Just make sure you don’t look back and think ‘Damn, I wish I had kept that!’