This may sound ridiculous, but some time ago while watching a behind the scenes feature on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” movie (one of my favorites), the costumer, Joanna Johnston discusses the wardrobe of one of the lead characters, Napoleon Solo. She describes his wardrobe as “very considered” and a lightbulb went off.
I started wearing vintage early in my teens, my aunt and sister-in-law wore vintage in the 80’s and 90’s and would give me hand me downs. 1940’s dressing gowns and 50’s circle skirts were part of my dress up closet, and as I reached my teenage years, I would pull from that closet for everyday wear. I came of age in an era where jeans were low, hips were slim, and bras were padded. Hair was straightened and pale girls tanned. I had a Bettie Page figure at 13, big frizzy hair at 11, and the sun gave me headaches (before I had braces I had little vampire teeth which I miss dearly). Vintage just fit me, specifically 1940’s and 1950’s styles. It was easy to wear, I liked the look, and you could still find things in thrift stores. After high school I was offered a job at a local vintage shop, basically because I was there all the time anyway. That’s when I really got into it, coming home with something new every week, and thinking back on it I wish I could’ve bought more (There’s a late 30’s princess coat that’s particularly haunting). Working at a vintage shop allowed me to experiment with style in a way a lot of people have to refrain from. I could basically dress however I wanted, looking like a dust bowl circus performer one day, and a post war housewife the next. I had the freedom, encouragement, and resource to experiment, and it was FUN.
I think there’s a thing that happens now where we don’t have any one single point or event where we enter into adulthood. Adolescence is muddled and extended, we no longer marry and 20 (lol except I did), have children at 22, and/or have a secure and established career at 30. Years ago I was sent a copy of Wife Dressing and every time I bring it up people roll their eyes. Despite my insistence it has valid advice, people can’t get past that dated title. Of course there’s some old-fashioned attitudes and advice, but there’s great guidance as well. One thing I do want acknowledge is the dated aspect. This book was largely intended for adult women, those who were wives, or wanted to look as put together as a wife. Marriage was the point where women crossed the threshold into adulthood, and that’s when you shed your literal adolescent layers and worked to look like a functioning member of adult society. We’re in a new era where not only do we have no turning point into adulthood, but we’re not expected to. Which of course gives the freedom to dress as you please without limit, but I know many who struggle in their late 20’s/early 30’s trying to figure out their style which no longer coincides with what they felt was right in their teens and twenties.
Which brings me back to Napoleon Solo. Looking at his clothing and style, I think Joanna Johnston succeeded in her intent. His wardrobe is considered. I took that one sentence and applied it to my own wardrobe. I felt I didn’t need to experiment so widely, I wanted to continue wearing vintage but in a way that was more refined and fit my real life needs. I really considered what I needed, for my lifestyle (not the lifestyle of “one day”), for the climate I live in, and for the amount of time and effort I’m willing to put into the care of my wardrobe. I’m fortunate to have the time, patience, and know how to care properly for a “small” vintage closet, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Quality and comfort are my top priorities, and after years of trying out just about everything in my path I know what garments are worth restoring and what feels right and comfortable on my figure. I am very selective of colors, if you look at my wardrobe as a whole, it looks cohesive, which is intentional. I no longer shop outfit by outfit, but buy things that round out my wardrobe. I am highly selective of color, and now prefer texture and detail over print. Glamour isn’t important to me but drama is. I think extensively of what my wardrobe needs, I consider every aspect of an item when I find it, and take care in dressing each day. Once I’m dressed, the whole thing is out of my mind, I don’t want my outfit to be a distraction, but an enhancement to my day. I don’t fidget with ill fitting clothes, I don’t worry where I step because of inappropriate shoes, and I don’t feel uncomfortable halfway through the day because I picked something restricting.
I know a lot of people just really love a lot of styles, but are feeling lost as to what is truly your style. This takes honesty with yourself which I think is a roadblock for many, and it takes time! Refining your style isn’t something that happens overnight, it’s a process. It certainly has been a process for me, nearly two decades of experimenting with fashion (please encourage the youth around you to have freedom in self expression in their clothing), brought me to the place I am now. I know what I like. Decidedly. I’m selective to the point people think it’s a bit much (“so what if it’s burgundy and not red?”) but at the end of the day knowing what you want and not settling for anything less is powerful. As far as wearing a wide range of eras including modern, for a time I greatly wanted to be dedicated to one era as some people are, and I tried, but it just doesn’t work for me. Some days I wear jeans and a t-shirt, which meet my same standards as vintage. I don’t have much modern, but what I do have is worthwhile, and thinking about it as just another era in my wardrobe is helpful. I like what I like, no matter when it’s from.