Thursday, February 6, 2014

Preserving the Past by Living in Vintage

Hannah of Just Peachy, Darling is presenting at The Saving Places Conference this week and she's asked several bloggers to write about preserving the past. This is my contribution!

Vintage shoes and vintage stockings... an irresponsible choice for a preservationist?

 When Hannah asked me if I'd be willing to contribute a post about preservation, the first thing I thought was that those of us who wear vintage daily destroy the things we wish to preserve.  I'm sure lots of us drive die-hard preservationists insane by wearing the shoes, stockings, foundation garments, dresses, et cetera that have survived for so many yearsOf course, most of us also mend our dresses, darn our stockings, and take our shoes to the cobbler, but I'm sure there isn't a vintage-wearing gal out there who hasn't destroyed at least one item or garment through regular wear or improper washing.  Sara, from Lilies and Remains, often talks about items meeting their "True Death", the point from which no amount of mending and repair could rescue them.  And yet, we're also incredibly passionate about preserving the past.  How does that work?
I think that one of the ways that I (and many other vintage bloggers) preserve the past is through photography and writing.  Perhaps we wear out some things, but before they die those items are scrupulously documented, photographed from a dozen angles, and thoroughly written about.  And, to be honest, in today's Fast Fashion world, what else is to become of them if they aren't worn?

This house dress has been mended in at least four colors of thread, taken up, let down, and had all the rhinestones replaced in the buttons.
 Museums don't display slightly stained house dresses that have been mended repeatedly.  Without people willing to mend them and dunk them in a tub of Oxiclean or Biz, many of those garments would meet their end in a landfill or as cleaning rags. So while some garments (stockings, in particular, and silk dresses) eventually fall apart in the hands of a vintage wearer, other garments (wedding dresses, furs, anything made of sturdy cotton, hats, and even some shoes) are repaired, improved and preserved for longer than they might have lasted in the wild.
All this is to say that I see my role in preserving the past differently than the roles of museums and archives.  While they preserve the best and the most impressive, I preserve the day-to-day fashions of the past.  And while my wardrobe is not entirely a time capsule, the combination of vintage, modern, and handmade pieces combine to create a general era aesthetic, and the knowledge I've accumulated by wearing the clothes is enough to forge connections with anyone curious enough to ask me about them.  The pieces I photograph on my blog are by no means the evening gowns and couture pieces favored by museums, but they are examples of the day-to-day wear of a more average person.  Or maybe several more average people, with the differences in modern and vintage wardrobes, but that's a topic for another day!

5 comments:

  1. Lovely post! I love the angle you took with this! It's one I thought of too! Everyone's take on this opportunity is wonderful and refreshing!

    xoxo
    -Janey

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  2. Flat out terrific post! This was such an unexpected, yet entirely relevant angle from which to approach this subject. It's something that most of us who wear and live with vintage clothing and accessories contend with and no doubt have various thoughts and feeling about, yet it's (the risk of destroying the very thing we're trying to preserve) not a topic that's raised often enough. Kudos to you for doing so, dear Frances.

    ♥ Jessica

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  3. I have to admit that I have had conflicting feelings about wearing actual vintage items, but have often came to same conclusion. I love the ordinary cotton housedresses and I know most people would throw them away. I do sew a lot from vintage patterns and feel like that's a way I can wear vintage and not wear out some of my favorite vintage items.
    I found your blog through Just Peachy Darling, and am so glad I did.

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    1. Hi, Sarah, and welcome! Glad to have you reading. I do a lot of sewing, too, so I feel like that really helps... although I'm sure it will create lots of confusion down the line for people trying to date garments!

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  4. I enjoyed this. Sometimes I feel like I am going to ruin something, but if I am NOT wearing it, isn't that kind of a travesty too? I know all too well the ever present pile of "needs mending" but I do it for love! For the love of vintage!

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