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After Work: Vintage Fashion Brings Back Memories

…Over there was a jump suit. Oh, I had one of those. O.K. I have to fess up; I had two of them, one more unflattering than the next. Actually one looked like I was ready to crawl under a car and check out the oil pan…

Fashion-lover Dona Gibbs pops into a Palm Beach re-sale shop and sees clothes which remind her of heydays.

I barely had enough strength to hoist and read the newest issue of “W”. “W”, in case you’re wondering, is a monthly U.S. fashion magazine owned by Conde Nast.

The recent issue of W weighed in at 3.2 pounds. And had far less than 18 percent body fat—if you’d judge by the latest models, most of which were tragic, pushing-fourteen- year-old wraiths.

I love fashion. I think of it as another art form.

I don’t intend to be fashionable. I don’t plan to buy much of the stuff, but I have an unrequited love with fashion.

My love was forced on me. My mother, gifted with an eye and a sewing machine, turned out a first grade wardrobe which none could match, certainly not in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. She hand-sewed five days’ worth of dresses, each more winsome than the next. There were flounces, ruffles, smocking and hand embroidery. And what was my favorite? Why it was wren brown with just a modicum of smocking, of course.

For most of the rest of my childhood years I wore jeans –even before they were fashionable. My favorite accessory: a skate key for roller skates.

And that was my fashion pattern until I arrived in New York City with five good suits, five good blouses, two good pairs of pumps, one handbag, several jaunty berets (before Monica Lewinsky), two hats and many pairs of gloves. That’s right, gloves. Some were even white kid that I washed with Ivory soap, slipping them on my hands and rubbing them under a faucet in the dour Women’s Christian Temperance Union residence in NYC.

I started to look around me on the uptown bus I rode to work. Here were women like me, wearing suits like me, hats like me, gloves like me but with certain flair. The accessories, the haircuts, the attitude were somewhat edgy, although no one used that word at the time.

I soaked it up.

Although I didn’t seek it out, I was assigned to write about fashion. For me, it was learning another language. I had been trained as a news writer. “Perky” and “pouty” didn’t come naturally to me. Nor did “noir” and “insouciant”. “Gamine” I might have mustered since I had been told my haircut was that.

And here I am-- many years later -- in love with fashion.

And just when so much of what I admire is so inappropriate for me.


Back then, I could have a worn a bikini.

I could have worn a low neckline.

I could have worn a lot of things back when I still had the uppers arms, thighs, back, décolletage, bottom – body parts that now look better under wraps.

Then I was shy. Now I’m too wise.

Recently I popped into a re-sale shop in Palm Beach. Now here in this privileged spot in the sun in Florida a re-sale shop isn’t a moldy little store to be shunned by the “ones who usually buy new, pay retail and talk about it over lunch.” The re-sale shops here tend to be bright, cheery places with only a faint trace of mothballs.

I didn’t exactly “pop” into the store. That was a word I might have used to my former copywriting life. Actually, I planned a trip there after hearing it was a fun place.

Anyway I found myself there, looking for who knows what – maybe a story, maybe an article of clothing.

The owner did “pop up”. He was delighted to see a potential customer.

“We’re vintage,” he explained.

Well, at sixty-five I sure am. But I wasn’t sure about him.

He danced around his finds.

He whirled around a Lavin dress and explained polyester was first considered a miracle fabric before it was shunned as “tacky . Back in the day, it allowed for an intensity of colors that had never been possible.

Since I’d touted polyester as a vibrant, no- iron, no-wrinkle fabric back in the 60s, I felt vindicated for my advertising copy excesses –a little.

He showed me original Puccis and extolled the bravery of the prints and how they’d evolved from art deco to geometrics.

Never, at any time did he urge me to try on anything. A lot of what I saw there, I recognized and it brought back memories of other times.

Here was a hostess skirt. I remember I wore mine to a summer dance held on the patio of a local country club.

Over there was a jump suit. Oh, I had one of those. O.K. I have to fess up; I had two of them, one more unflattering than the next. Actually one looked like I was ready to crawl under a car and check out the oil pan.

Another woman entered the store. She was looking for something she could wear while stepping out of a 1965 red Mustang convertible.

I was one step ahead of her I had seen a red dotted palazzo pants with a halter-top. It was of the era, it was perfect.

She looked at it. She tried it on. She said she’d think about it.

Do it! I wanted to urge her.

Meanwhile, if anyone invites me to a party circa 1968, I know where to go for the perfect outfit: a Janis Joplin, bias cut ankle length skirt -- and get this –a top the size and shape of a large handkerchief. A lot of long necklaces and bare feet and I’ll be ready to belt out “Take another little piece of my heart.”

And with this visit to vintage, finally I’m not several steps behind the times. At least according to W’s fashion writers. They list several “vintage” sources in the latest issue. For me, the vintage look is very familiar. It’s what I wore the first time around –way in the olden days of the sixties and seventies.

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