Is “debunked” the right word? I don’t know. I used to think that I looooved vintage fashion. The idea of a string of pearls sitting around in a jewelry box that’s been passed down since the Titanic? Maybe it belonged to Rose De… Dewitt? Google says “Dewitt-Bukater”, but I’m just going to call her Rose Dawson because we all know she should have scooted over and let Jack climb up on top of that door with her. He didn’t have to freeze to death. It’s not always all about you, Rose, people are dying.
But the pearls. Let’s get back to the pearls. Did she have pearls? Oh, wait – no, she had that gaudy necklace that she chucked it into the ocean at the end of the movie. Way to be a hero, Rose. People were looking for that.
But when you say something is “vintage” – that’s what people imagine. That’s why they say “ooh… ahh…”, because they’re envisioning something that somebody wore back in the day. It’s a romantic idea that something has been around longer than, you know, a Forever 21 t-shirt that you ripped and threw away after one wash. It tells a story. It’s been around the block. It’s seen some stuff.
When I was in high school, one of the girls came to school one day wearing dangly paperclip earrings. Like, dangly earrings, made of paperclips. Tiny paperclips clasped together dangling from her ears. And when everyone said, “Oh! Those are… different!” – she told us that she found them in her grandmother’s jewelry box and that they were “vintage“.
Vintage paper clip earrings. From Grandma’s jewelry box. Like Grandma was a true fashion pioneer back in the 40s who just strung a bunch of paper clips together and then said, “Yea, I’m gonna keep these. Let me just put these in the jewelry box next to my pearls.”
Did they even have paper clips back in the 40s? When did they start making paper clips? Were people even writing on paper back then, or was it all parchment and quill pens?
Okay, I guess it’s the 1940s, not the 1800s. You shouldn’t come here expecting a history lesson. We’re here to talk about clothes and stuff.
(Sidenote: I just Googled “vintage paper clip earrings” – because I wondered if it was a real thing. It might be. There are pictures. But I’m still skeptical and choose to believe that 90% of these came from Hot Topic.)
But all she had to say was “they’re vintage” and everyone said “ooh”, “ahh” – because we all imagined Fashion Pioneer Grandma sitting in her 1950s style bedroom as a teenager stringing these paper clips together while wearing a poodle skirt, waiting for her handsome boyfriend Johnny to come pick her up so that they could split a milkshake together at the Sock Hop.
And one day her bratty granddaughter would steal them out of her jewelry box years later and wear them to school and probably give herself an ear infection if they’re legitimately rotten old paper clips from the 1950s.
Not as much fun as the Sock Hop. That’s all I’m saying.
But the idea of “vintage fashion” used to be my “thing”. Because I imagined pearls and corsets and “I Love Lucy” style hats. I thought this made me “different” and proved that I was “really into fashion”.
I was not “really into fashion” – I was into shopping, and clothes, and enjoyed the occasional re-run of “I Love Lucy” (still do. Don’t knock it. Lucille Ball is an icon.) It wasn’t until I went shopping with that same girl who wore the paper clip earrings and she dragged me into a consignment shop when I learned the difference. She said we were going “vintage shopping” and I was like, “I loooove vintage shopping!! This is going to be great!”
Because I thought we were going to like, Forever 21, and just buying a bunch of gaudy jewelry and lacy things. You know, things that are “vintage style” (whatever that means).
“This place is great,” she said as we pulled up to a place called ‘Second Chance Thrift Shop’. “You’re going to love it!”
I’d never shopped in a consignment store before. But I knew that I was going to LOVE it. This was the place where people find the vintage things. And I had decided to dedicate myself to VINTAGE. All things vintage. That was going to be my style. I was going to be a fashion icon with one-of-a-kind finds. And I’d say things like “Oh, this? This is from the 1960s. It belonged to the friend of a friend of Jacqueline Kennedy.”
Riiiiight. Because I clearly know so much about history.
Also, I’m sure THAT’S the stuff you’ll find in a consignment shop in Small Town, Ohio. Because that’s where allllll of the friends of the friends of the Kennedys hung out back in the day.
But I was sure that I was going to find some sort of gem. Something that I could say, “It’s vintage”, and “Oh, this? This is from the 1920s. I’m pretty sure it belonged to a Flapper.” Like I was going to walk in there and find an original feathered headpiece? And then wear it to school the next day? Sure. Let me just throw on my sparkly, flapper Halloween costume to complete the look. #ootd
“What about this?” My friend, Kara (the paper clip earring girl who knew more about thrift store shopping than I did) pulled out a pair of White Stretch Patent Knee High Go-Go boots. Like, Go Go Boots. Those boots that the girls wore on The Mary Tyler Moore show? Those are the boots. “These are great!” Kara said.
I know this is going to sound stupid – but in my head, I remember thinking, ‘They look… worn’.
Yea. Duh. They’re used. You’re in a consignment shop, Bright Eyes.
Instead – because I didn’t want her to think that I wasn’t enthusiastic about this whole thing, and I still hadn’t given up on the vintage thing yet – I said, “Ooh, they look a little small. I don’t think they’re my size! I’m going to keep looking.”
She shrugged it off, put them back, and we kept searching. Like we were looking for buried treasure.
“Ooh!” I heard her say after a few minutes. “You’re going to love this one!”
Thank God, I remember thinking. I’m tired of sifting through people’s old used clothes. #vintage
She pulled out a black and white polka dot mid-length wrap dress. “What do you think?!” She asked. “Do you love it?!”
I would, I thought, if it was new and hadn’t come out of some old lady’s closet. It looks faded, like it’s been washed.
Yea. Because it has been. Because it’s USED.
That’s the thing people forget about vintage clothing – vintage is really just a pretty, shiny, sparkly code word for “used”. And the older it is, the more it’s probably been used. And washed. And worn. By someone else.
This doesn’t skeeve a lot of people out. But for some reason, it hit me hard when I realized that wearing vintage clothing meant wearing someone else’s old clothes. Because apparently I thought “vintage” just meant “replicas of old stuff sold at Forever 21”.
I know, right? I’m rolling my eyes with you.
How do you guys feel about vintage shopping? Do you have any pieces of jewelry or clothing with a story behind it?! Share your thoughts in the comments!