One of the great fallacies of life is that conditions have to be perfect in order achieve an exceptional result. Growing up in ’80’s Washington DC, I felt that way about the gym and my clothes. I thought I had to go to the best gym with the newest equipment and the cutest boys. When it came to clothes, I always wanted to wear Calvin Klein jeans, Lacoste shirts with the collar up, Ray Bans and a little LeSportsac clutch. If I went to the best gym, I knew I would be in the best shape ever and if I just had the right clothes, I could present the best Ivey I could be.
The “ought to be’s” and the “really ares” in life are two very different things. The only gym I had access to growing up was the gym at the old Bethesda Naval Hospital. The equipment was from the 1950s — the jiggling exercise belt machines, climbing peg boards, chin up bars and free weights. I was fairly certain even then, that prisons had better equipment.
The best Ivey I could be was also cobbled together with no help from I. Magnin, Woodward & Lothrop or Garfinkles — all department stores that have long since passed from the memory of those of us who grew up in the Washington D.C. area. My parents could have easily afforded to buy my dream wardrobe for me, but their parenting style — based on the “work it out” principle — wouldn’t allow it. Sure, they bought me a car. It always broke down and when I called from many a roadside, I was told to, “work it out.” This was the same answer I got when I asked for new clothes or money to purchase them.
Babysitting and birthday money were my primary sources of income as a teenager, both of which do not finance a dream wardrobe, especially when one drove a car that desperately needed to be recalled. That’s when I swan dived into the world of vintage clothing.
I started to cultivate a 1940s style with a 1980s twist (shoulder pads were a big commonality.) I bought beautiful dresses in state-of-the art synthetic fabrics and suits where I would raise the hem to dangerous heights. I loved to blend vintage men’s wear with very feminine accents — cotton and silk blend French cuffed shirts with jeans, oversized men’s tweed coats as outerwear and form fitting black jersey sheath dresses with men’s silk brocade dressing gowns. I was miffed yet fascinated when Princess Diana co-opted that look and claimed it as her own when I had “originated” it years earlier!
Hand in hand with vintage clothes went vintage jewelry and hand bags. I wore the triple and quadruple strands of white and black pearls spaced with Czech crystals and the matching earrings that I would convert to pierced earrings or wear as clip-ons if they were too heavy. I would carry lucite handled clutches, alligator bags and intricately beaded evening purses. My favorite sources to find these treasures were anywhere from vintage clothing stores to estate sales to my Aunt Frances’s closet. Aunt Frances was actually my grandfather’s first cousin, who could have been a dead ringer for Lauren Bacall. She had never married, had lived in New York and like Carrie Bradshaw after her, put her retirement funds into her dream wardrobe that subsequently clothed two generations.
In buying vintage, there was always the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of scoring an amazing deal, but I always thought this was going to be temporary until I could buy clothes like other people. At the time, I wasn’t particularly a fan of my folks’ “work it out” principle but what I saw as a Draconian parenting technique actually forced me to find creative and unique solutions to life’s challenges. I still view throwing money at a problem as the course of last resort and I think back now how much more creative I was then when I was functioning on someone else’s shoestring, quite literally!
As I have gotten older I have weeded out much of the vintage from my wardrobe lest people think I really could have worn a piece of clothing the first time around. However, there is one evening coat that I have kept and wear from time to time. Recently I was at a restaurant and a woman came up to me and complimented the coat, asking where I bought it. Back in the day, I would have made up some story primarily to amuse myself, but I am older now and I decided to come clean.
“Thank you, I actually bought it at an estate sale in Washington, DC.”
The woman angrily drew back and spat, “If you didn’t want to tell me where you bought it, you should have just said so instead of making up a story!”
THAT you can’t make up.
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title to learn more.
Vintage Clothing 1880 – 1980
by Maryanne Dolan
Virtual Vintage: The Insider’s Guide to Buying and
Selling Fashion Online
by Linda Lindroth and Deborah Newell Tornello
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