Cherishing the significance of clothing and accessories sewn and worn in another time is a very personal way of preserving our global history.
Personally, I find fashion to be one of the most detail-oriented and honest accounts of the doings of mankind. Out of every other species on the planet, we are the only animals that choose daily to clothe our bodies. Some might say we do so out of shame, others from pride, but it would seem we have always inclined to do so. Unfortunately, natural fibers rot away over time, but by studying written, sketched, painted, even filmed primary sources, and surviving garments themselves, we can see real material cultures developing over time. Our strange, long trip from togas to skinny jeans in the West, for instance. History books can be written in a way that sways us towards certain popular, incomplete understandings of what truly took place, but fashion embodies sincerity. The clothing we purchase and often carefully select each morning says something of our sense of self and expectations for any given day, and so it was for the dresses, pantaloons and feathered hats worn by our ancestors. Taking a good look into any of the above can reveal hierarchies and norms built into the society an item was worn in, and can unravel intimate personal anecdotes and characteristics if matched to a particular owner.
An elegant pair of Victorian silk gloves brings to life stories of both happiness and despair, of parties and passing on. Every soft and worn thread, still holding the moth-nibbled fingertips together, bears emotions still felt through the touch, the lingering soul, of another person long gone. Let this feeling live on.
Stiff and sturdy denim dungarees from the 1940’s and 50’s have plenty to tell us, too, showcasing the beginnings of the second wave of feminism. Images of women standing tall, expressing their individuality and strength by sporting pairs of pants and less frail-looking silhouettes are absolutely iconic. Just like the men who fought valiantly for many countries during World War II, women sprung into action, too. While some ladies were actively deployed as combat nurses, others stayed on the home fronts and found employment at factories, mills and shipyards. Together, men and women jumped in to protect their borders and ideals, and there’s something so accessible about the way blue jean coveralls repeat this tale of equality to us. The hopeful young woman working in these same dungarees, braving grease stains and international crises, fought in her own crucial way for the rights and safety of future generations. Let her legacy live on.
Some decades later, the unusual and adventurous era of 1970’s menswear brought a rainbow of options to his otherwise traditionally dark and conservative wardrobe. Finally, men were able to dress in a way that exhibited individuality in striking Technicolor. Vivid paisley and floral prints, beaded necklaces, shaggier hairstyles, flared bellbottoms, far out sunglasses and slick velvet suits, lace-up leather pants, low-cut peasant blouses, disco ensembles, pointed crocodile skin boots, turquoise rings, fringed jackets, avocado green everything—this freer sense of dress showcased men in a whole new visible spectrum of light. If you’re fortunate enough to come across a piece from this radical time in history, treasure it. Care for its otherworldly hue and ostentatious print in the same way he once did. Let his memory and funky flair live on, man.
With the 21st Century came a wave of repetition. We browse hungrily through vintage shops, in-person and online, scavenging to find a nicely-tailored part of the past to call our own. And so much is readily available to us; closets full of quirky ties and chunky grandpa sweaters at hushed estate sales, high-end boutiques stuffed with aging Valentino ball gowns fit for Grace Kelly. Wearable history for all tastes and budgets. As we continue on never ending quest for pieces of clothing to satisfy our nostalgia, we must never forget to keep these beautiful items as embellished and figure flattering as they were when first stitched. By shying away from stains, tears, pilling, wrinkles, freak bleach accidents and major shrinkage, you’re effectively holding a little piece of the human legacy together at the seams, and are cutting the environment some slack, too. Work oldies but goodies into your current wardrobe, and dress to impress yourself. Perhaps most importantly, put the past on your back and help sartorial treasures from once upon a time continue to appear eye-catching to future generations of well-clad, vintage loving cool kids and style hounds.
KelliAnne E. McSorley