I’ve been into “vintage style” for quite some time now.
From back in the days when I liked a prom dress and a pair of lady like shoes and to dream that I could *really* dress like I was in an old movie. To the days when I discovered that there WERE people who always dressed like they were in an old movie. To learning to pin curl my hair and wearing it like that ALL THE TIME, to the days when I discovered you couldn’t wear a helmet for Roller Derby 3 days a week and keep up pretty pin curls. Behind all that has been a love of history, a fascination with the way Women lived their lives and how they chose to dress.
Today “vintage” has evolved in the popular imagination into some kind of bizarre mix of 40s victory rolls, floral 50s prom dresses, contrast seamed stockings, red lipstick, cupcakes and bunting. If I had any skills in that direction at all I would sketch a cool yet amusing picture of your stereotypical vintage gal. Unfortunately I don’t have any skills in that direction, but hey, why let that stop me?
I think that’s actually quite a cute outfit, in fact it looks a little like the outfit I wore out to lunch on Friday, minus the victory rolls. Whilst as a look that has it’s place, it seems to play right into the hands of the Daily Mail “I decorated my house all vintage so I could have my husbands slippers ready when he got home from work” vintage stereotype and sometimes it’s nice to remember that “vintage” can be a little more transgressive, a little less stereotypically feminine and a whole lot more fun.
So today I’ve decided to debunk a few myths about dressing vintage, the “vintage era” lets call it 20s-50s, and the vintage lifestyle.
Vintage Myth 1
Women were real ladies.
Oh the number of times I’ve had this said to me when I’m having a “gloves and a hat” sort of a day. Normally by older gentlemen who probably still aren’t actually old enough to remember the era properly.
Nonsense. Women have always been Women. Strong, weak, happy, sad and angry and there is many a sad story of strong women in history whose “transgressions” led them into mental institutions and misery, there are also many who broke the mould and achieved great things. Whether it’s Luisa Casati being buried in her false eyelashes, or Amelia Earhart who inspired a generation of female aviators, and kept her own name when she married, a quick flick through the history books proves that not all women were sitting at home darning their husbands socks.
From the book Snapshots of Dangerous Women
Vintage Myth 2
People were always immaculately turned out
To modern eyes those photos of street urchins in tweed trousers and collared shirts look adorably smart. To most people at the time they would have looked a mess. They’re not wearing tracksuit bottoms because the fabrics and production techniques required to make them didn’t exist yet.
Those floral house coats you see 1940s women wearing in pictures, everyone knew those were their “house clothes” so it was no different to going to the shops in your pyjamas (ok, maybe it was a bit different)
The aesthetic appeals to me more than tracksuit bottoms, but in reality they’re not much different. During WWII there was a certain pride that people had in remaining well dressed despite the privations the war imposed, but that by no means suggests EVERYONE dressed immaculately.
Vintage Myth 3
Women had curves
If I see one more meme with pictures of voluptuous 50s women cavorting in bikinis contrasted with the skinniest of modern celebrities I will throw down my cupcakes and petticoats and have a fit.
Women came in all shapes and sizes, just like they do now. Those tiny vintage dresses that you love? They’re probably still immaculate because they were rarely worn. Women were overweight, underweight, curvy and straight up and down. Fashionable body shapes change over the years, and with photography not being as widespread as it is now you’ll probably see more celebrities and models of a certain body shape, but that doesn’t mean that’s how everyone looked. There were elaborate diet preparations to help women slim down, and bulking products to help them gain weight, same as you’ll find in any health food shop now and highlighting an advert for one over the other is like picking passages out of the Bible to validate your own intolerances.
Vintage Myth 4
You could leave your door unlocked
I can leave my door unlocked now, if I want to. It’s likely nothing will go missing. In fact once I went on holiday for a whole week and left my back door unlocked because I’m an idiot and nothing went missing.
During WWII burglars didn’t need to hang around waiting for you to leave your door unlocked. The crime rate apparently increased by 57% from 1939 to 1945 in the UK and looting and robbery were rife after air raids. Sure, times have changed. These days we fill our houses with expensive and easy to steal items like laptops, lightweight flat screen TVs and mobile phones, it’s probably far more lucrative to break into the average family home these days that it was in the 1950s when you’d need about 4 of you to completely fail to unobtrusively remove that expensive and very heavy washing machine from the premises. So, you know, is locking your doors really that much of a chore?
Vintage Myth 5
Red Lipstick, Victory Rolls, Pale Skin
Yeah, that. So you can’t get the hang of victory rolls, or they make you look like Mickey Mouse, don’t wear them! Red Lipstick? I love it, but I also love pink, and in the 20s-50s Women were wearing peaches, corals and pretty much any other shade you can think of. Pale skin? Actually tans were very popular, in the 1920s Coco Chanel popularised sun tans. Think creating the effect that you were hanging around on yachts a lot.
These have all become elements of what we think of as a “vintage style” but they are by no means historically accurate, and the assumption that all women in the 1940s were dressing and doing their make up and hair in identical ways is as silly as assuming that all women today are dressing exactly the same.
When I started Retro Chick as a blog (7 years ago tomorrow fact fans!) I didn’t set out to be a “Vintage Blogger” because I didn’t know what that was, and I’m not even sure they existed then. Over the years, despite my confessions that I’m not really very vintage at all, I’ve repeatedly been included in lists as a “Vintage Blogger” and I’ve frequently felt a bit weird about the stereotypes and preconceptions that come with that label.
Sometimes it’s fun to fling on a floral frock and red lipstick and go eat afternoon tea under some bunting, but other times it’s fun to wear the slinkiest frock I can find and drink cocktails, or slob out in tracksuit bottoms and drink beer, or maybe sometimes it’s fun to fling on a floral frock and drink beer.
Variety is the spice of life folks, and just remember, next time you think “That’s not very vintage” that “Vintage” covers a very long time period, a range of modern fashion styles and a whole host of misconceptions.
What vintage myths would you like to see debunked?