The Joy of Vintage

{By Cailtin Muir}

“This piece was imported from Germany.”

The sparkling pink moonstone twinkled from the black velvet cloth it lay on. Ensconced in gold and rhinestones, the piece wasn’t like anything I had ever been drawn to before. And yet I felt the allure pulling me in.

“How much is it?” I ask the saleswoman.

She names a price and I wince. It’s more than I usually pay for jewelry. The piece reminds me of my great-grandmother, the packrat, who had rooms of clothes that she never wore. Big polyester dresses from almost every era in the last fifty years. They probably line the racks of a vintage store in Oregon.

It was her jewelry that always fascinated me. Sparkling pins that were worn on sweaters, charming necklaces in unusual shapes, and cocktail rings that I wish I could get my hands on nowadays.

As I look at my reflection in the mirror, seeing the unusual necklace lay against my skin, I am brought back to my childhood. Back when I played dress-up and dreamed about wearing bright baubles.  Of being delighted in by suitors and friends alike.

I buy the piece, not knowing what I’ll wear it with but knowing that I have secured my very own vintage treasure.

Score one for Caitlin.

The problem is, I have no idea what I’ll wear it with. My jewelry choices are on the simple and bold side. Think pearls and stone necklaces that are classic or modern. Not gold and jewels that are oh so girly.

My necklace sits safely in my jewelry box for weeks. There are not many occasions to wear it while I’m recovering at home from a broken leg. Wearing it while my roommates bring me breakfast in bed seems ostentatious at best.

The Lost Ladies

When I lived in Portland, I never understood the vintage thing. I just knew that it was something the uber-cool kids collected. While hipster friends scoured the racks at the second-hand stores, I stuck with the artfully layered androgynous look that was so popular – skinny jeans, v-necks from Target, scarves, super flat leather flats, and knit beanies.

Welcome to Portlandia.

While my friends and I were reveling in our androgyny and wailing the fact that we weren’t getting dates, the rest of the word was slowly discovering something else.

They were rediscovering the charm of retro-vintage.

Zooey Deschannel hit the scene with her thick bangs, wised blue doe-eyes, and love for clothes that were made before she was born. Her picture was splashed across the pages of magazines in frocks from the 50s-70s. And the world fell in love.

Anna Friel’s character in the too-short lived Pushing Daisies is another example of the charm of retro/vintage style.  In every episode, Anna’s character wears super tailored clothes that speak of a refreshing charm instead of screaming an in-your-face sexiness.

Drew Barrymore is also famous for wearing vintage. Instead of sticking to the hour-glass inspired shapes, Drew likes to explore all the different lines that the local store can offer. While shopping in Austin, Texas she picked up a vintage dress for $25…and wore it on the red carpet a few days later.

Oh, the stories!

Every charming piece that the women wore had a story. Somewhere, a long time ago, another woman, probably not one half a bit as famous as they, wore the dress. Possibly loved it and mourned when she lost it. Perhaps it was treasured and it hung in the back of the closet for years and years after her body no longer fit into the favorite sheath. 

That’s what I love about vintage clothes: the stories behind them.

As I slip on a beaded evening gown, I can only imagine a beautiful woman being wined and dined as she heads out to the opera with her lover. I will wear it to a party and the lines that accentuated her body will now gently hug my own.

Later, I slip on a pale pink tutu, thinking about an upcoming costume party. Tossed away by a ballerina, it sits at the local vintage shop, waiting to be loved once again. I wonder how many times the outfit was worn and how many little girls would squeal at the chance to wear a similar costume.

My friend Matt once told me that he only shopped at thrift stores. He called his clothes, “Dead men’s clothes.” Now that he’s married, I don’t know what his wife thinks about this quirk, but I like how Matt appreciated the stories and history of each piece of clothing.  Every time he wore a piece of vintage clothing, he was paying homage to the original owner.

 Making the Story Your Own

I wear the necklace out for the first time to a bridal shower, unsure if it is too gaudy for the event. It’s paired with a simple navy dress that is a throwback to the mod styles of England in the 60s.  Somehow, it seems appropriate if my moonstone is from Europe. I finger the giant stone, wondering who wore it before me.  From the saleswoman’s description, I imagine a blonde Berliner wearing the piece at a party, violins playing in the background.

“Caitlin,” a friend gushes when she sees me. “I love your necklace!”

“I got it at First Thursday, from one of the vintage shops.”

“I thought you were going to say that it was your great-grandmother’s jewelry.”

The piece is now fully mine. Score.

If you are looking for vintage clothes, try the following:

  • Estate sales
  • Thrift stores
  • Vintage shops
  • Ebay
  • Goodwill Online
  • Etsy

If you want some gorgeous clothes that mimic the vintage look, I highly recommend:

  • Shabby Apple
  • ModCloth