repeat after me: modcloth is not vintage

EDIT: I’ve gotten a few comments to the tune of “ModCloth does sell vintage clothing!” This is true; the site has a small section devoted to vintage items. However, the company is best known for its reproduction styles – Esther Williams, Bea & Dot, etc. – which, though decidedly not vintage, are often considered such.

~

Talky post ahead!

Over the past few days, I’ve been hitting Etsy hard and fast, trying to find a vintage swimsuit before warm weather ratchets up the prices. The more ink I get, the less I want covering it. Ideally, I’d love something like this or this – but under $50, plz? (Self Service Announcement: If you spot any in sizes 10-14, send the links my way!) Sadly, however, this is not a post about coquettish vintage swimwear or setting surfers’ hearts aflutter. I’d like to speak to the pervasive misunderstandings I’ve been witnessing re: what vintage actually is. I see many, MANY items on Etsy (and Swapdom, and eBay) labeled “vintage” when a cursory analysis would roundly declare otherwise. And I’m frustrated, both as someone who collects actual vintage and as a more general know-it-all. Misinformation gives me cancer, so I thought I would put together a little guide, both to set y’all straight and to make myself feel better.

Here is what vintage is:

  • Any garment or accessory that is 20 years old or older. This surprises many people. “Vintage” carries such a connotation of exotic climes and times; it can be disappointing to learn that the label covers many things made during your own lifetime. (Not to mention that while 1994 is the current vintage cutoff year, most of us still think the 90s were ten years ago.)

Here is what vintage is NOT: 

  • Anything not 20 years old or older (including, until May, yours truly)
  • ModCloth
  • Reproduction garments, like ’80s-does-’40s or ’90s-does-’50s
  • Anything “retro” or “vintage-inspired” (these are often dogwhistles for scams, which I’ll get to in a bit)
  • Hell Bunny
  • Sold in multiple colors and sizes (unless it’s new old stock, but that is fairly rare). Vintage pieces are usually hit or miss.
  • ModCloth
  • OH DID I MENTION MODCLOTH

“Retro” (def. “imitative of a style, fashion, or design from the recent past”) is often used interchangeably with “vintage”. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this in daily life. Colloquialisms gonna colloquial – though I’ll probably side-eye you a little if you’re a fellow fashion blogger. What’s inexcusable, though, is vendors confusing the two. Let’s ask Google about vintage swimsuits and see what we come up with.

vtg

Do you see why I’m annoyed here? Not one of the top five results for “vintage swimsuit” turns up any actual vintage. Retro, yes. To (filthy, filthy) casuals, the distinction may be unnecessarily pedantic. “Yeah, but the styles are the same. Who cares if it’s actually from the ’50s?” In many cases, they’re right. Some people like the look of old-timey clothes but don’t necessarily care if they’re authentic. That’s fine – whatever floats ya. But many people, myself included, appreciate vintage not just for the aesthetics but for the history inherent in each piece. When I shop for vintage, I’m shopping for collectors’ items as much as for pretty dresses. And I know how cheated I would feel to be sold some flimsy fast fashion reproduction piece under the guise of an actual historical garment.

Over my collector years, I’ve learned enough about fashion to successfully date clothes, which has spared me more than a few scams. Not everyone has my knowledge, though. I’ve seen many a blogger fooled by a well-designed reproduction piece. Again, I have no problem with choosing reproduction garments over period ones. But I want everyone’s choices to be well-informed. So bookmark, Facebook, and spam this far and wide, ’cause here is My Kingdom for a Hat’s official guide to sorting the champs from the casuals. The sirens from the wenches. The…okay, you get it.

It might not be vintage if…

  • It was made in China. The cutoff year for vintage is currently 1994. Americans were importing from China before then, but not by much. There’s a chance your “Made in China” garment is vintage, but only if the rest of your evidence comes out strongly in favor.
  • It has a plastic zipper. Plastic zippers came into widespread use in 1968, so plenty of vintage items will have them. However, if the garment in question appears pre-1968 but has a plastic zipper, there’s an excellent chance you’re looking at a reproduction. I’ve been warned away from more than one ’40s-style dress by examining the zipper.
  • It comes in multiple colors and sizes. I’m sure some smart-ass commenter will show off their Etsy full of new old stock and make me eat my words. It’s possible to find a whole rack of a particular item at a thrift store or boutique. Overstock happens. That said, if you run into something like this online, hiss and run away. No way will an actual vintage dealer be able to find the exact size and color for every customer. I refuse to shop at Unique Vintage on principle.
  • It’s a size 12 and fits like a modern 12. Body-image enthusiasts like to harp about how Marilyn Monroe was a size 12. Well, she was … but a size 12 in 1950 fit more or less like a 2 today. I’m all for body image, but come on – get your facts in order. A size 4 today was approximately 14 then; a 6 was a 16; etc. The rules aren’t nailed down (sizes have always been pretty subjective), but the general gist is that you’ll probably have to size up significantly in genuine vintage. If you’re a size 12 in 2014 and that size-12 New Look dress fits like a glove, you’ve probably fallen victim to a repro – and a vanity-sized one at that. This particular era is tricky, though, because the ’80s saw a resurgence of ’50s-inspired styles. An ’80s-does-’50s dress is technically vintage, but it’s not the kind of vintage many vendors will claim.
  • It’s polyester. Polyester’s been around since the ’40s, so it can definitely be present in vintage garments. Be wary of garments advertised as pre-4os, though. If your genuine (or so you thought) flapper dress is suspiciously shiny and unwrinkled, you should do some sleuthing.
  • Its label is very detailed. Garment care labels weren’t mandatory until 1971.
  • It’s ModCloth. Okay, I like ModCloth. But for the love of blasphemy, you are not fooling anyone. Stop posting Bea & Dot dresses on Etsy like no one will notice. I ought to report your ass.

Finally, and most fundamentally, it’s not vintage just because it looks vintage. We tend to associate certain styles with certain eras, forgetting that fashion subcultures existed then just as now. Not all poufy New Look dresses come from the ’50s. In fact, if a piece goes way over the top in employing staples of a certain style, that can itself be a hint that it’s fake. For instance, here are three outfits that might be easily labeled “vintage”, even though they’re emphatically not:

not vintage

And here are three outfits that are, despite not necessarily looking it: vintage

I’d like to keep updating this list as I think of more criteria. Comment with anything you’d like me to add!

 

pastiche of primness

suit X

The power to carve your own niche might not feel like much, but it’s so damn integral. To muddy the lines and mingle with every station feels as basic as survival. This is why I’m a fashion blogger. This is why I couldn’t live in this skin without flooding my tiny world with color and texture. I can dress my way into anything. I can play up or down any quirk that I choose. Lena Dunham said in this month’s Glamour that using her body as a prop in her art gives it worth. As vacuous as I usually find Lena Dunham, I thought that particular line said everything I’ve wanted to say about fashion and modeling and then some. Use what you’re given to become anything you want. Be an androgynous glam rocker or a sideshow queen. Be.

suit VIII

 

suit VII

And in this suit, I’m my Advanced Style self 20 years too soon. I’m my old crackhead-society-dame standby. I’m a collegiate Miss Frizzle. I like making people dizzy, (usually) metaphorically speaking. This suit is as prim as it gets, but those tights are pure unadulterated middle-school chintz. I wore this outfit to the library, where I browsed the horror section and selected two books about sociopathy. Is it too self-indulgent that I really like not being pinned down? I am a pagan horror enthusiast in a vintage suit, no more or less one than the others. And I want to be all of me.

suit II

 

suit IX

 

suit V

Suit & Brooch: Battery Street Jeans Blouse: Dirt Chic Socks, Shoes, & Hat: Gifted Tights: Clothing swap

suit XII

suit XI

 

suit XIII

girl on the burning tightrope

According to one Nelson Parker, I have now become the first model in the Burlington area to sit for a wet-plate shoot. “No one but me does this kind of work,” he informed me proudly. His studio in the Chace Mill happens to be walking distance from my apartment, so Josh and I hiked down with some sparkly bras and a bag full of masks. Nelson uses a process straight out of 1860, recording the image on a glass plate and developing the image with collodion and liquid silver. I realize this is fairly difficult to describe, so check out this video for a better summary.

Antiquated techniques like these will always remind me of spooky old carnival stills – barkers, bearded ladies, and sadly aging showgirls. Think Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I set up temporary camp with my assorted props and became my own little freak show. 

Top Hat WPC

 

Necklace 2

 

Back WPC

vernal victory

spring I

 

So here’s a secret: this is my favorite dress. It’s one of those garments that has become mythologized and a little sacred, so much so that I’m slightly scared of wearing it. Most of the time, it hangs proudly on my wall, but sometimes it just looks so sad and empty. Everyone knows that garish ’80s polyester is prone to low self-esteem and feelings of rejection. It’s high time I dusted it off in celebration of stamping out seasonal affective disorder – or, as the plebes call it, the first day of spring.

spring II

spring VI

spring X

 

spring III

 

spring V

 

spring VIII

 

Dress, Necklace, & Bow: Old Gold Cardigan: Battery Street Jeans Belt: Goodwill Tights & Socks: Gifted

spring IV

 

spring VII

princess marla

marla III

This dress was a recent gift from my friend Danica, who spotted it at Goodwill and decided I had to have it. It reminds me simultaneously of Marla Singer and a thoroughly disaffected princess – which, I guess, are basically the same thing. Does anyone else imagine Marla as the archetypal slum tourist? I bet she has a rich family somewhere in the ‘burbs just biting their nails for her to grow out of it and come home. When you’ve gone to college in Burlington, Vermont, you get used to the Mac-using, kombucha-swilling players at poverty. You start to see them everywhere – even in a character you quite like, whom you’ve now thoroughly ruined for yourself.

marla V

marla II

The back of my Fight Club DVD case describes Marla as “sensual”. I get that Fincher and Palahniuk probably know their creation a little better than I, but sensual? Really? She’s about as sensual as Sunny von Bulow. She’s completely out of touch with her own body and the world it inhabits. Her personal tragedy is that she doesn’t die at any given moment!

marla VI

marla IV

I like Marla Singer. She’s actually quite a clever parody of the “femme fatale” archetype. But many interpretations of her ignore the “parody” aspect completely. I see cosplays advertising the black-hat-and-cigarette Marla that’s become ironically iconic. To me, the best summation of her character is in the grimy sex-crime-victim of a bridesmaid’s dress. Glitz and glamour turned completely on their filthy head.

Spoiler alert: I’m actually working on a legit (not just conceptual) Marla cosplay for an event later this month. I found a spot-on pink dress, though it cost more than a dollar. This post is just a warm-up, wherein I practice my ideology of her character.

marla VIII

marla VI

marla XIII

Dress, Boots, Tights, & Hat: Gifted Belt: Classy Closet Brooch: Battery Street Jeans Sunglasses: Old Gold Attitude: Palahniuk

marla X

marla XI

rockabilly religion major

tat XI

I swear to all the gods on this dress, not taking rockabilly pictures the day after getting inked must violate some kind of fashion-blogger dictum. Far be it from me to cross the men (and women) upstairs (and down). And the light in my apartment was celestially perfect today. How could I be anything but a big ol’ inked-up ham?

tat VII

tat VIII

As of yesterday, my passion for performance is forever inscribed on my body. It’s my third tattoo, and my most elaborate to date. Body art feels so, so right. Few things make me feel more empowered than customizing my skin and hair and face, bringing the surface in line with the soul. One day I will be a flabby old woman with her life story writ round her hips and up her spine, and I couldn’t be happier at the thought.

tat IX

tat V

tat I

And this dress. My word, this dress. It’s been months since I’ve purchased something decidedly not vintage, but Hell Bunny is persuasion enough. (True to my slow-fashion leanings, however, I did purchase it from a locally owned store.) I was swept away by this piece’s tackiness. What self-respecting religion major wouldn’t want the Blessed Virgin and Baron Samedi palling around on her breasts? I realize I run the risk of blasphemy here, and I truly hope my gesture isn’t interpreted as disrespect. In my opinion, it’s a testament to the timelessness of these symbols that we in the 21st century can choose how to honor them. No need to confine our reverence to frescoes and chapel walls. I can incorporate the divine into something I love – dresses! – and I don’t think there’s a damn thing wrong with that. If you’re going to be spiritual, why not ingrain it into your life?

tat IV

tat X

Dress & Necklace: Old Gold Blazer, Belt, & Tights: Goodwill Hat & Shoes: Gifted

tat III

ode to buying stuff

In the name of my new tattoo (less than a week away!), I spent last night browsing Etsy for scandalous backless swimsuits. Never too early to start planning beach bonfires and other assorted illegalities. And I happened to find some old modeling shots of me from my days with Owlhurst Loft Vintage. The shop is on something of a hiatus while Erin, its curatrix, prepares to expunge her first kid. Crotchlings are expensive, though, so she could probably use a few extra sales. So, in addition to the smexy shots of swimsuit-clad me, check out some of Owlhurst’s other treasures. Click on each photo for its link.

owlhurst I

owlhurst II

 

owlhurst III

 

owlhurst IV

 

owlhurst V

owlhurst VI

owlhurst VII

 

owlhurst VIII

 

owlhurst IX

 

owlhurst X

 

owlhurst XI

 

owlhurst XII

2spooky

boo III

boo XIV

My friend Ruthless and I got our nails professionally done for her 21st birthday. The stylists refrained from rolling their eyes at our unseasonable choices. But it’s always Halloween for us, at least a little bit. We both serve on the production team of our haunted house, and we talked shop the whole way through our pampering. The haunt had its first meeting last night, wherein the director revealed the theme and we debated which animatronic monster to invest in. (I’m angling for something vaguely humanoid, for the record. Far more reusable.)

My new acrylics made me nostalgic for my favorite time of year. So in today’s OotD, I went full haunter. It’s high time I showed off this sweater. I got it in October and wore it faithfully through the end of the season, but it’s never showed up here. Granted, I didn’t have time for too many OotDs during haunt season, but a piece like this deserves all the love it can get. It takes pride of place in my ugly sweater collection. I want one for every holiday – yes, including the summer ones, dammit.

boo IX

Can we talk about how I’m so not used to having nails longer than my fingertips? I’ve bitten them to nubs since I could chew. I have literally never experienced overhang of any kind. How do people live like this? After thirty seconds of fumbling, I had to ask the cashier to pull my debit card out of my wallet for me. I’m dreading the first time I have to pee – or, god forbid, change a tampon.

boo IV

boo X

boo XI

boo xv

In other news from the “Skye’s passions” arena, I’m following Marlen’s lead and announcing that I’m working on a book! Two, actually. One is an anthology of short fiction based on fairy tales; the other is a memoir. I realize there’s something uniquely pretentious about writing a memoir after barely two decades of life, but believe me, I’ve got some stories to tell. My life tends toward the bizarre.

Storytelling is my first and foremost love. I’m one of those people who’s always writing a novel. I actually completed two in middle and high school – not that I’d ever let them see the light of day in 2014. As I’ve gotten more established in my journalism career and started getting my essays picked up, I’ve left a lot of my own projects in the dust. And I want to remember how to write for the sheer mad joy of it, not just because I’m on a deadline.

boo XIII

Blouse & Sweater: Classy Closet Crinolines & Bow: Spirit Halloween Belt: Goodwill Scarf & Tights: Gifted Shoes: Dirt Chic (tutorial here!)

boo XII

And because I’m a tease, enjoy an excerpt from one Once upon a Dream, of the short stories in my anthology.

“Aurora,” Adia asked one morning, “what’s become of your body while you’ve been here?”

“The usual, I’m sure. I never lived in it much anyway. Why should it matter that I’ve vacated for good? I’d wager no one can tell the difference.”

“You are alive here,” Adia agreed. “You’re potent just this way, slithering through my blood every night. A whole body would only dilute you. You’re better as a spark, a seed, a notion.”

Adia was beginning to picture Aurora’s face. The noble girl’s features ran through her blood. She was fair and sharp and cunning, with smooth eyes that couldn’t hide her cleverness. She was the lace to Adia’s linen, the bloom to her fade, the daughter who had somehow survived. She was perfect.

Aurora set up camp in Adia’s head that night, and gave her dizzying dreams she didn’t remember.

playing haute to get

black III

This is far more austere a style than I’ve been in the mood for lately (fuck elegance; I want quirk), but I wanted to break out of my fashion-editorial box. For this shoot, I took direct inspiration from the glossies. I’m the red-headed stepchild of Anna Wintour, Miranda Priestly, and Coco Rocha. How do I look as a steely, high-drama career woman?

black I

black V

black X

black VI

black VII

black VIII

black IX

All I need’s a cigarette.

Blouse: Plato’s Closet Skirt: Classy Closet Pearls: Battery Street Jeans Blazer: Goodwill Hat, Tights, & Belt: Gifted