Building a Vintage Closet: a few quick notes
In rereading some of the posts and feedback I’ve gotten on the first three parts of this series, I’ve noticed that I might need to clarify or supplement a few ideas. Here we go!
It struck me while I was cleaning out my closet that I never really addressed the reasons why someone would want to undertake this project, partially because they’re sort of obvious to me. Yes, I discussed why buy vintage, but why would you go through all the trouble and expense of reworking your wardrobe? It takes time and money and effort, all things which might be in short supply. Isn’t it a little selfish? The answer is (at least) twofold for me. First, taking care of yourself makes you feel good, gives you confidence, and allows you to help others and do your job in the best way possible. You might (hopefully) end up saving yourself time (getting dressed before you leave the house) and money (focusing your purchases and buying smart) in the long run. Dressing well might even open up new opportunities for you and allow others to see you in a new light, which brings me to the second reason, and that is that no matter whether you like it or not, you are judged by your appearance, at least at first. It’s often said that if you wear something wrinkled, ill-fitting or otherwise sloppy, people will remember the clothes. If you wear something clean, well-fitted and showing your personality, they will remember you. It’s not about being constantly glamorous or at the height of fashion, it’s about allowing others to see who you are, which brings us to our next point.
2. Dress for who you are and who you want to be.
Clothing has an amazing transformative capacity. You know the saying, dress for the job you want, not the one you have? That goes for personal relationships as well. Allow others, professionally and personally, to see in you what you see in yourself. Defining your style is as much about who you are striving to be as who you are. If you love frilly pink things and low cut necklines, consider whether that fits in with who you want to be, and whether there’s a better way to incorporate those things with the style elements you’ve chosen. I’ll write about breaking your own rules soon, and how to do it in a way that doesn’t undermine the choices you’ve already made (in fact, I break my own rules all the time). For now, understand that this process isn’t about covering up who you are or denying yourself things you love, it’s about evolving and aligning your clothing with your personality in a way that feels authentic but also appropriate for your personal and professional life.
3. I’m no expert.
I’m just a woman whose at-the-time boyfriend said to her, “You dress poor.” I took a look in the mirror and realized that he was right, and it was costing me professionally. I realized that the way I was dressing didn’t at all reflect who I was or who I wanted to be, and I did the work to change it. I’m sure the process will evolve over time, and you can certainly put your own spin on it to meet your needs.
I think that’s it for now. Take some time this week to think about what your goals are in life – do you want a better job? a relationship? to end a relationship? take a business risk? How do those goals fit in with the style elements you chose in step 2? Make sure they’re aligned, and dive in to Step 3 with renewed energy.
I’m super curious to know what your general style was when the then-boyfriend said “You dress poor.” The obvious comes to mind – ill-fitting fast-fashion, but I’m wondering if there was more to it than that, if you don’t mind sharing.
You’re right, it was ill-fitting fast fashion. Essentially I shopped the sale racks of Banana Republic and J.Crew and bought the cheapest things I could find, and they rarely went together. I was trying to dress a short, curvy and plump body with clothing that had been designed for tall and thin women and scaled up, and this often meant low-rise jeans (shudder) and boxy, flowy tops to hide my midriff. I even remember what I was wearing when he said it: cuffed denim shorts with navy tights, some kind of loose tee with an old black cotton cardigan of my dad’s (large) and gray slouchy boots. I was 30 years old and I felt sloppy and embarrassed. Watching Mad Men again and seeing how Joan glided around the office in total confidence changed my perspective – and my life – completely.
It’s funny, I went from all-vintage from my teens through my twenties, then suddenly as I approached 30 I decided it was time to grow up and “dress normal.” Which in the early 1990s meant Banana Republic – and it worked and was okay for a while. But a few years later, quality just plummeted and I felt like there was no difference between Banana/J Crew and, say, Target. All of it was ill-fitting on my short-waisted, straight-ish torso and it was impossible to find natural fibers anywhere. I went back to vintage, and never looked back! Well, except for jeans. I’m still trying to figure that one out, but for now my solution is to just not wear them.
That’s my solution as well, I just don’t wear them. Unless I’m painting or doing something messy, but I gave up wearing jeans as an everyday choice. Instead I gravitate toward 40s style wide leg trousers, 50s slim pants, or 50s jeans with a high waist and wide leg. It just wasn’t worth the struggle to find modern denim that I liked as much as these other options. I have one pair from my pre-vintage days that still gets a workout every now and then.
Very interesting to hear the background! I found your series just at the perfect time while I was overhauling my wardrobe and never even thought about your reasons, which were great to hear. Personally, I wanted to stop wearing fast-fashion and buying sweatshop clothing. I wanted quality items that were more ethical. That often carries a hefty price tag nowadays. So I started to look at vintage where those things were more affordable.
I liked 50s/early 60s silhouettes best on my body shape but was a little lost about how to incorporate them and add them thoughtfully to my wardrobe since I’m on a small budget. That’s when I found your series which has helped me create guidelines and make good choices, especially with so many no return policies for small vintage shops. So far, I’ve learned so much and loved everything I’ve picked up!
Yes! When I decided to change the way I dressed, I immediately noticed that anything I considered ethical (I had already changed the way I ate, so clothing was the next logical step) was basically out of my price range. It’s not that I felt it wasn’t worth it, because I appreciate design and quality construction and I totally support modern ethical clothing. But just because something is worth it doesn’t mean I can afford it, so I too started to look at vintage, and it just clicked.
It is difficult to make good choices on a budget when you often can’t try on or return things, so I’m glad this series has been useful! These issues are part of what I’ll be tackling next, so stay tuned 🙂
Fantastic series and so helpful!
I’ve always made ethical diet and lifestyle choices but never considered buying vintage until recently! I’m only sorry I hadn’t made the change sooner! I’m totally smitten with the fabulous array of beautiful quality garments available…and the funny thing is when I look at my previous wardrobe anything that I still wear and value has a vintage look and feel to it! I’ve since realized I’ve obviously always been secretly pinning and looking for vintage style but just in the wrong places…(modern shops)
Thank you for all the wonderful advice…your style is Amazing!❤