These are some of my thoughts on the subject:
I started wearing vintage clothing in about 1973 because it was something I could afford with the pocket change of a teenager, and the soul of a person who never felt like she quite fit in. I picked up my love of vintage early and have stuck with it. I haven’t stayed with a single period of clothing, and tend to mix and match eras with nothing like accuracy. Vintage expresses who I believe I am, a collage.
I don’t feel connected to modern “vintage culture,” although I see it exists. Rather, I will always believe vintage is a great way to be unique. When I started selling vintage clothing I knew right away that I wanted to share what I feel: Not cool, not part of a group, not special or beautiful beyond other people, I believe that vintage is a way to save money, wear quality garments, recycle, express oneself and enjoy a distinctive sensibility. I want others to share the joy of wearing what they want. I believe in the potential of vintage.
I am acutely aware that the 1940s and 50s—which I love so much for the clothing—were decades of racism, sexism and oppression of all kinds, along with WWII and the Cold War among other political and social events. I do not want to go back, I just want to borrow the clothes. Maybe some feel that wearing 1920s or 1960s clothing displays her freedom, or 1950s displays her desire for more stereotypical gender roles. For me it is never as simple as that.
As a seller I don’t use terms like ‘whistle bait’ or even ‘wiggle dress.’ I never show pin-up pictures of women. My intention has always been to respect history—and then gain some distance from it.
I believe anyone has the right to wear anything that expresses her personality, free from fashion dictates, gender stereotypes and assumptions.
I am not naive. I know that in 2014 there are countries where women’s dress is subjected to oppressive rules. I lived through the 1960s-70s feminist revolution in the U.S. and I think the plight of women and girls worldwide is still a huge unfinished business. I have a master’s degree while some girls are not allowed education; I can choose to wear 1950s dresses and some women can’t show their faces. Women don’t receive equal pay for equal work even in the rich and powerful U.S.
However, I believe that my vintage choice of clothing is not a damper on, but an expression of my rights and freedom.
If someone walks up to me while I’m wearing vintage and says “I wish women still dressed like that” I would consider the intentions. I have had many an older woman and man simply admire something that brings back some happy times in their own lives. There are also the not so welcome intentions, the comments that seem to imply “women ought to go back to being subjugated as you seem to be conveying with your dress,” or at least “I wish the world was more like it was in the 1950s.”
I have been around awhile and have heard and seen many things of all sorts that hurt me personally. I have occupied my time and career with some things that only men were once “supposed” to do. At times I’ve wondered whether admiration came from what I was capable of doing or what I was capable of looking like.
The one thing I have learned, and try to share with others, is that no one can make you anything other than who you are in your heart and soul. No matter how insulting, inappropriate or unwarranted a comment might be, it can not change your own truth.
In the history of human rights, this same self-truth has come up again and again. In most cases, words were not the only things that hurt the oppressed.
No one, no million ones, can tell you that you are anything you are not. You can dress in 1944 or 2014, no matter.
You won’t be able to quickly change a bigoted mind, but you can work for change. Be the most educated, respect-worthy, capable, informed, thoughtful, open-minded, and compassionate person you can be. Kick butt at whatever you do so no one can tell you that you can’t. Don’t oppress others.
And wear what you want. I believe that if you are the person you want and need to be, your clothing is just another expression of you. It magnifies the You of you.