Monday, May 17, 2010

The Emperor's New Clothes

Often times a vintage collector will be called out for wearing "costumes". And to the average eye vintage clothing may look like costumes. The styling is different from what most people are use to but vintage is far from costume.

Speaking for myself, I don't consider vintage to be a costume. I live in 2010, own a computer (obviously), drive a vehicle less than ten years old and don't speak like an iGent. I'm modern throughout except for my taste in clothing because, quite frankly, modern clothing is terrible. I prefer the quality, styles and cut that vintage has to offer.

A few vintage collectors may fancy themselves as living in the 1930s and therefore wear a costume, but most do not.

So what exactly is a costume?

In part, it has to do with mindset. Like those few 'vintagers' who believe they are truly living in the Golden Era, costumes (the people wearing them) believe or at the very least act like they are something they are not. In order for there to be a costume there first must be something that is make believe. And mindset is the gateway through which something becomes an act.

On the other side of the viewing glass, the viewer's mindset is just as important as the wearer's. Movies and false notions of the Golden Era have shaped the viewer's mind into thinking that anything vintage looking or inspired by vintage is a costume: a fedora (any fedora) gets the ubiquitous Indiana Jones remark; a pinstripe double breasted suit becomes a gangster suit; full cut trousers transform into a zoot suit, etc. Rather than trying to learn about and understand clothing from the Golden Era and the folks to collect it, most Joes use their ignorance of the period as a crutch.

Physically, a costume is false. On the outside it looks pretty good, like the real deal. But inside, down to the details it is ugly. Costumes are thrown together with budget and ease of production in mind. Halloween costumes are flimsy. Most stage costumes are pieced together from what can be found.
And most importantly, costumes don't fit right. They're made to create a certain appearance and nothing more.

Here's where I might ruffle some feathers.
Rather than 'vintagers' being the ones wearing costumes, I argue that iGents and other folks who wear ill-fitting modern pieces are really the ones who wear costumes.
These are the trademarks of modern costumes: low armholes, paper-thin fabrics, horrible fits and cuts made by machines (off-the-rack) and even by a surprising number of modern tailors (made-to-measure and bespoke), and a super high price tag. All one must do to find such costumes is search the numberous online clothing fora.

So rather than seeing a different clothing style as a costume, first look and see if it meets the above trademarks of a costume. And if it does, rest assured that it's the emperor's new clothes.


phyrpowr62 said...

I use the phrase "imitation dress up" for the Brown look

Jake said...

I absolutely agree. Wearing vintage clothing doesn't have to be 'costume' so long as you are sensible. I think it's all in the details - wear a vintage suit because it's beautiful and you like the heavy fabric, and few will bat an eyelid. On the other hand, start wearing spats, or a monocle, or a top hat, or any one of a number of outdated accessories, and you will simply look as if you are 'dressing up'.

In some ways, that may be sad. I love wearing my trilby, but I've already realised that I cannot wear it with a trenchcoat without looking like a film noir detective. Clearly, I also cannot wear it with a pinstripe double breasted suit for fear of looking like a gangster. Instead, I mostly end up wearing it with relatively casual outfits as it is in this context that it's real attractiveness is more evident, and not drowned by the stereotypes and preconceptions that people have.

Circa62 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
angyl_roper said...

I think this post is most in evidence with your choice of outfits. When you dress, you choose seemingly in accordance with what matches aesthetically rather than what matches by date. I like this approach, you're accepting the necessity of historical knowledge but aren't shy to wear what looks good rather than what looks period correct. It's a joy to read your entries, and lends some credence to my own approach to clothing.

Circa62 said...

Hear hear, well said. Excellent post.

Steven Kippel said...

I contend that every day we all put on a costume. The costume tells the world what we want them to perceive us as.

Do we want to be found trendy? Browne it up.

Want to look like you're artistic? Painted chinos will do the trick.

What to look like a total douchebag? Ed Hardy for the lose.

Do you want to be taken seriously as a mature adult? But then you're accused of wearing a costume.

I had someone mock me by calling me Clark Kent because of my side part. I'm OK with being confused for Superman.

thornproof said...

I agree. I feel that more people look like they are wearing a costume when they are slavishly following a trend. For instance, all of the "classic Americana" that you see in Japan and NYC. To me, it is a costume because those hipsters want to portray a certain image. If you are wearing vintage CORRECTLY, then no one will necessarily realize it. Instead, they will be impressed by one's style (and not the fashion draped across one's frame).


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