Sunday, July 25, 2010

Vintage Leslie

Wearing vintage in 1988. This dress was awesome (a beautiful coral color), but the Madonna bow has got to go. 

A couple years ago, I started getting into vintage and recycled clothes again, and I’m having so much fun with it. Eco-friendly fashion! What’s not to love?

When I was in college, I was obsessed with vintage clothes, and I had a pretty great collection back then, in the '80s, even though I was just a poor and irresponsible student. I had tulle prom dresses and crinolines and beaded evening purses. I had a turquoise satin turban that my sister Kris loved to make fun of. There was something about old clothing that really fueled my imagination (each dress had a story, a history!), and I’d get butterflies in my stomach whenever I walked into Moxie’s, my favorite vintage store in Tallahassee. Oh, how I loved parading around in all my inexpensive finery, going to class in huge, flashy rhinestone earrings and black tights even in summer. Dressing up made every day just a little bit more fun and exciting. It was a kind of celebration—wearing fake fur to the library.

But then when I turned 23 and started grad school, I thought I had to get “serious” and I gave all my vintage clothes to Goodwill. For the next 19 years I wore boring, ugly things, and I was a little sadder person in general. And then one day when I was 42, it hit me just how short life is and I remembered how much fun it had been to walk to class through fields of dog fennel while dressed in an antique beaded cardigan. And I decided right then and there that I was going to wear whatever I wanted from that day forth. So I started buying rhinestones again . . . and gloves and little '60s velvet dresses. It’s so much fun. I get lightheaded browsing through piles of pillbox hats and lucite purses.

My love of vintage started when I was a little girl. From a very young age I was fascinated by the idea of dark attics and old trunks full of treasures and secrets. Whenever we went to visit anyone who lived in an older house, I would whisper to my mother, “Mommy, will you ask if I can go up in the attic?” Isn’t that funny and weird? Sometimes people would actually let me do it—and I’d sit up there in the dust and shadows, rummaging and snooping and having a great old time. Gramma Allen’s attic in Wisconsin had old cut-glass perfume bottles, and trunks overflowing with fringed flapper dresses!

I always loved playing dress-up as a little kid, wearing tiaras and fanning myself with Granny Kimel’s fancy mint-green feather fans. And it was so exciting later when I got to college and saw that girls were still doing it, still playing dress-up. I didn’t have to stop! I was so jazzed to find out that I could go to some dim, fun, creepy shop, pick out some old rhinestone cat-eye sunglasses, put them on, and pretend I was a movie star even though I was just heading to my biology lab. Life didn’t have to be dull and dreary, I learned. Even eating at Saga, the campus cafeteria, could be a glamorous, hilarious event. It was all in your attitude.

I suppose getting back into vintage is a way of reliving my youth—and that probably explains in some part the mysterious thrill I still get when I smell that old, familiar scent of must and mothballs and button myself into a fragile, too-tight '50s dress. But even if it is a mid-life crisis thing, I’m so glad I reignited this long-lost love. I want to live life in a fabulous, festive, creative way, and I can’t tell you the fun I have gadding about in old elbow-length gloves on summer days when the heat index reaches 107. . . .

Vintage beaded tank top. It weighs about 10 pounds.

Would I wear these gloves in public? I think not.

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