25 August 2011

Now and Then

Good Old Days
DV Man (Fall 2009)
Photographer: Carl Bengtsson
Models: Charlie Westerberg, Kristian Akergren, Theo Storesund, Viggo Jonasson

Fall/Winter 2009

The term 'vintage' seems to be bandied around far too often these days, usually as a sanitizing term for second hand.  It is a term used to give legitimacy.  A second hand garment is something someone apparently did not want, but a vintage garment is some gem of the past rediscovered.  A magazine may talk of vintage, but talking of second hand becomes dirty and cheap.  I am quite happy to say that pieces in my wardrobe are second hand - I could not have paid full retail for certain designers, and some pieces are from past collections that mean they necessarily must be second hand (I had not heard about Comme des Garçons or Helmut Lang in the '90s, nor would I really have been interested).  This post is not to make an attack on the concept of vintage, far from it.  Rather, I am interested in the relationship between time (or more accurately, the past) to fashion and contemporary dress.

There are two opposing extremes one can take as examples - Karl Lagerfeld scorns the past, Yohji Yamamoto is forever looking back.  With regards to myself, I am by nature one that romanticizes the past for the present, but I am always wary of particularly anachronistic displays.  Whilst fashion always looks back (and here I like most the concept of Tigersprung), and is influenced and inspired by the past, it is never quite as simple as that.  Fashion must by definition be new and be of the moment, and thus it must necessarily disconnect from its immediate past.  Last season's trend is outdated; last decade's trend is open to reinterpretation.  It is as such a highly measured relationship with the past, if not only by virtue of the distance between the present and what point in the past is chosen, then by virtue of what aspect is chosen as an influence.

I can mention 1950s fashion, or 1920s fashion, and generally speaking we all arrive at the same mental place.  Time is catergorized, as is fashion, into neatly packaged and highly iconographic pieces.  Referencing in fashion tends to be piecemeal and more about capturing the mood and set iconography of a past time rather than recreating it with any real exactitude (of course there are always exceptions).  Fashion has been used to create a visual shorthand that allows the viewer to easily situate what it is they are viewing.  One only needs to look at period pieces in film, or a certain television series about advertising, to see the power of costume in referencing an idealized and romanticized version of the past.  It is however always a version of costume aligned with contemporary fashion and dress conventions, take for example the hair and make-up used with those outfits.

Removing dress exactly from the past and applying it to the present is a difficult task that all too often becomes visually jarring.  Vintage recreations can sometimes make one look too affected and it is for that reason I approach that side of dressing with such caution.  Context and appropriateness is everything - when one does not consider these aspects when dressing the end result will most often be a disaster.  We are all aware of that dreaded feeling of turning up to an event wearing the wrong thing.  We not only stand out, but we feel uncomfortable.  I often find that dressing in literal transpositions of the past make an outfit visually uncomfortable in most situations.  That is not to say that one can not dress whilst looking back, but rather it needs to be not merely (if you will forgive the term) cut and pasted, but rather translated, otherwise an outfit can fall into the dreaded realm of costume.

I chose to post the accompanying editorial as a rather nice illustration of the point I am trying to make.  They work as whole images, but even so I find it slightly too much, too forced, and thus verging on the side of uncomfortable.  They are not necessarily literal transpositions from the past, indeed they are anything but, however in their attempt to appear veritably vintage I think they miss the mark.  The only image I really enjoy from this editorial is that of the gentleman dressed in the Yohji Yamamoto suit (see here for my previous post on that collection).  It is not placed so tellingly into an overstylized vision of the past, but rather comes close to what I always feel is the most fascinating aspect of fashion that looks to the past - it has an almost timeless quality.  It would be perfectly at home a hundred years ago, as it is perfectly at home today.  It is subtle but clearly routed in the past, and that is what I find so magical about it. 



  1. I've always found the "difference" between vintage and second-hand to be quite amusing as well. There's well known thrift store chain here called Value Village, but the hipsters call it VVBoutique. Silly, silly.


  2. This re-invention of vintage..really gives it more of YOU'LL PAY MORE..it seems these..especially at the mall.

  3. such an interesting revelation.