Vintage: A Great Way to Go!

Erin Easterbrook

When Courtney Leclair puts on her green, floor-length house-robe complete with shoulder pads, she’s engulfed in glamour.

The robe is embroidered with a gold dragon on the back. The intricate detailing and luxurious materials suggest it was expensive, but Leclair bought the robe for a modest $8.

Vintage clothing, like the dresses displayed in this shop window, are a hit in many ways

It’s vintage.

“Vintage” is a flexible term most commonly referred to as quality items from before 1980, and many Ottawa vintage vendors say they’re finding young people in the Ottawa area are getting more into it.

“Young people are definitely into vintage. You see it coming back,” says Dawn Quinn, owner of Dawn’s Closet in Smiths Falls.

Ottawa vintage vendor MaryAnn Harris says most of her customers are between their late teens and early 30s.

“It’s timeless in its own way, but what era is popular goes in and out,” Harris says adding that the ‘50s and ‘60s styles seem to be very popular right now.

More than ever, young people want to personalize their own look, says Dee Staigh of Satin Doll just outside Ottawa.

This may be why Ottawa’s vintage sale experienced a surge in popularity for its 25th annual edition in November 2009.

Jill Guertin of Breakaway Antiques in Brighton, Ont., a six-time participant, says the business is crazy and it’s not easy to pin-point why its popularity fluctuates.

But some Ottawa vintage wearers say that the main reason they buy vintage is for the style.

Leclair, a 20-year-old Fine Arts major at Algonquin College, says she looks for vintage clothes with structure, texture, and a bold pattern or colour that will easily fit with something she already owns.

“I love texture and the way silk, wool, cotton, or jersey can evoke a feeling, not just an image,” she says.

The kind of vintage materials Leclair mentioned are quality because they’re adaptable to modern times, says Maggie Huang, the owner of Japanese vintage store East Wind.

Leclair owns a large, black, poodle-style skirt, like the ones in Grease. She says that sometimes she’ll add a crinoline — a stiff fabric originating in 1830 — underneath to add volume.

“Often the crinoline gets itchy and uncomfortable,” she says. “But I think most women make some sacrifices for fashion.”

Leclair said she makes these sacrifices to stand out in a good way.

“I don’t always wish to be the centre of attention,” she says. “But when a person wears vintage, they must be prepared for quizzical looks or questions.”

Leclair says many of her friends have dabbled in the vintage scene as well, experimenting with not only clothes, but with vintage-inspired hair and makeup, too.

She compares the experimentation with vintage to Christian Dior shocking the fashion world by introducing the pencil skirt in the 1940s.

“It’s very much the same for people who are looking for a refreshing change and to feel empowered by their clothes,” she says.

Her wardrobe is not just vintage; it’s an eclectic mix of vintage and modern.

She adds that it doesn’t matter if an item is old or new. It’s how it’s worn, that counts.

“You need a strong personality to wear such strong statement-making clothes.”

It is creative people who wear vintage, says Yasaman Sheri.  Sheri was born in Tehran and moved with her family to Edmonton when she was 11.  They shopped for second-hand clothes at Value Village because they didn’t have a lot of money, she says.  However, when her family stopped shopping there, Sheri found she had fallen in love with second-hand clothing. By 15, she says she was all about vintage clothing — and so were her friends.

“I like the style of the past more,” she says. “It’s almost like nostalgia, but it’s not at all because I didn’t live at that time.”

Sheri holds up a faded brown, tethered leather purse that looks as if it has survived a few decades.

“Every time I wear it, my friends comment, ‘Oh that looks like my mom’s bag.’ It has this feeling that it has lived so long.”

The 22-year-old says that, although she likes vintage style, the clothes often aren’t in perfect condition.

The third-year Carleton Industrial Design student says that even her 14-year-old sister is getting more into vintage, something she wouldn’t have expected.

She describes vintage clothing as “older clothing that you can re-use and re-touch, and make new to yourself.”

“The thing about vintage clothing is that, when people wear them, they don’t wear them exactly how people wore them in the ‘70s.”

Shopping for vintage clothing is similar to Industrial Design, Sheri says. You can take an old product, add a different touch, and make it new again.

That’s why she says vintage is a way “for people to realize potential in it.”

But, often, vintage clothing is not so easy to find.

“It’s got to be the right size for that item,” Harris says. “They have to like the colour. They have to like that era, that style. There are so many factors that have to come together all at once.”

As much as Sheri agrees that many young people in the capital are interested in vintage, she says she thinks Ottawa doesn’t have much of a “vintage scene” compared to Montreal.

Katherine Torrez, 19, a Carleton Human Rights major, agrees that vintage is hard to find in Ottawa, but when she does find it, she says “it’s like finding a treasure.”

The natural fabrics that were used years ago are more durable than synthetics, Torrez says. But her main reason for shopping vintage is to find the styles she likes such as ‘50s floral prints and cardigans.

“I think we strive for individuality a lot,” she says. “And I think that’s definitely something that stuff like vintage clothes provides.”

But, you have to snatch vintage items while you can, she adds.

“If you go to a show or a sale, you don’t really have a chance to say, ‘Oh you know, I’m going to look around for the other stuff and then come back to it,’ because usually it’s gone.”

Harris says young people have the confidence to wear unique things, and it’s about wearing the styles that they like.

“They’re more fearless in their fashion.”

Leclair says her glamorous vintage robe reminds her of a period when things were simpler, when women were encouraged to be womanly.

“Today women are told to sacrifice time spent on themselves. Magazine articles scream, ‘Do your makeup in five minutes in five easy steps.’ ”

Leclair believes that it’s more empowering for women to reserve time for themselves – something vintage has to offer.

“Wearing vintage is not just a trend. It’s a movement, it’s a statement and it’s going to be around as long as fashion means something to people.”

Image from iStockphoto