Claire Mahoney discusses vintage fashion. Can reproduction clothing based on an original 1960s look ever match up to the real deal?
The original modernists of the early 60s were preoccupied with the now. They were forward facing in every way. Their clothes, their music and their attitude was totally confident in the idea that what was new was not only cool, but essential. There was no looking back.
This places those of us who refer to ourselves as mods or modernists in a bit of a quandary. We are after all, by definition talking about a movement that was excited about the future. Yet since the 80s many of us have been in love with the past. Modernism’s slightly ambivalent attitude towards any other decade that isn’t the 60s is one that has fuelled many a debate among the cappuccino classes. But there is one word that that is so much a part of the language of fashion today that it flies in the face of everything that modernism once stood for – and that word is ‘vintage’.
When it comes to female fashion, today’s love affair with ‘vintage’ means that original 60s clothes now carry a premium price tag and decent pieces are rarely found in your average charity shop as much off it has already been snapped up by online sellers. In the late 70s and 80s people still scoured the jumble sales and odd charity shop for 60s clothing and had a much better chance of finding it.
What is true however, from talking to women who are part of the mod scene today, is that there is a definite preference for vintage over reproduction clothing – despite a profusion of great makers and designers who are faithful to original 60s patterns. So what is it about ‘old clothes’ that make mods still go weak at the knees.
Mod Sarah Perry says: ‘I love vintage as it’s so unique. I hate going out and seeing three people with same outfit. I do get frustrated when I can’t get matching items like bags and shoes to match my outfit, so do have to go for the ‘retro’ look to facilitate. I never go clothes shopping without my 73 year old mum, an original mod and guru. She says ‘retro’ look stuff is as good as back in her day as then they made all their clothes.’
Gina Guanieri, who lives is Sussex is another vintage devotee. She says: ‘I like the uniqueness of true vintage. If you buy reproduction there’s always a chance that someone else will be wearing the same. That said, I do have some reproduction/high street pieces that I adapt by adding/changing buttons and altering slightly. But the attention to detailing is so much more creative on true vintage than reproduction. I like to think that I can spot ‘original’ versus ‘not a mile away’.’
Of course in the 60s the high street wasn’t what it was today. The mass market was still only finding its feet. There simply wasn’t the profusion of cheap and cheerful clothing that can be worn one season and thrown away the next. And mods don’t really like to do mass market.
However its great to hear about women talking about their tailor in the same way we would expect the men to do. This nip and tuck mentality when it comes to clothes has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the pursuit of a bit of bespoke that is very much a part of the mod ethos.
Belfast mod Sally Black says she wouldn’t be without a her tailor. ‘Most of my clothes will be made by my tailor or altered by her. I know what styles suit me and I’m comfortable in. For example, I was on the Marc Griffith web site and noticed a green/gold tonic suit. I fell in love with the fabric and emailed him. He only had a little of the fabric left so he sent me what he had (very kindly for free). I had a skirt made which I loved, so I matched up the fabric and found a supplier and had a jacket, trousers and waistcoat made too.’
‘I love being on a hunt for vintage clothes and shoes. I spend hours trawling though Etsy etc. I love finding something unusual and original. The chances of someone having the same item is minimal, especially if you import from America or elsewhere. Retro styles can be great, but they are available to everyone, which defeats the individuality I love in bespoke. I do have a few retro items but it’s someone else’s idea, style, finishes and that has little appeal to me. A bit like buying a turnkey house… it might be lovely but it’s not individual.. it’s not yours.’
Not so different then in the 60s. Original mod Maria Veall who explains that she also had to get creative back in the day, mainly because the clothes she wanted to wear in the 60s were beyond her budget. ‘As an original mod I wore all the latest fashions. But as money was tight my mum had to make my dresses from the Twiggy and Mary Quant styles in Petticoat magazine and the like.’
Ironically she says at the time she ‘wouldn’t be seen dead’ in the clothes her mum wore but now she has been given these outfits and styles a new lease of life. ‘Now I love wearing dresses and costumes like she wore and I love Crimplene.’
The one-off nature of vintage means that shopping for it can be an expensively addictive process. Vintage lover, Jo Knight who mixes her look between the 60s, 50s and 40s says she has spent loads over the years mainly through getting sucked into furious bidding frenzies online. Often these dresses or items would only be worn once.
‘I went through 18 months bidding and winning mainly on the Velvet Cave dresses between 2011 and 2013. I dread to think what it would come to if I added it all up,’ she says. She adds: ‘I would only wear the dress once because they were so unique … I therefore would put them away and and buy more. It got to a point where I thought enough is enough. I sold a few, but still have more and have vintage and reproduction separates to mix and match so that they never quite look the same twice – plus I save money.’
Clever thinking! I might take a leaf out of her book.