Vintage fashion – a new discovery for me as well as a sustainability win. I’ve been living under a rock, right?! Recently I spoke at the Style Yourself Sustainable event organised by lovely Rachel – a fashion designer with 20 years experience who decided enough was enough. She decided to make her own sustainable fashion event and for one day in central London she brought together a collection of vintage and eco fashion brand pop ups, a swap shop, mending and upcycling workshops and a series of talks.
It was so cool to be involved and I even bought my first vintage dress! It was a bit of a shocker to myself to realise I have never actually bought any second hand clothes. Especially seeing as my house is full of vintage 1950s Danish furniture and secondhand kids stuff. After a little soul searching I have come up with some reasons for why this is the case. If you are not already secondhand convert, perhaps some will resonate with you?
Firstly, whilst I grew up in a culture where waste was bad, the contradiction was that when it came to clothes, new was good and old was bad.
but old clothes are beastly, we always throw away old clothes
– Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World”
(you can read about what happens to old clothes in a previous blog post here). But it really isn’t just the dystopian Brave New World that has this attitude to fashion – this is practically the definition of fast fashion culture. My second reason for not buying secondhand clothing is laziness. I simply can’t be bothered looking through racks of old stuff in charity shops, which are just not attractive when compared to the styled window displays of new RTW shops. Finally….
Sewing with fresh fabric is easier than refashioning
Especially when you first start sewing and there is so much new and shiny stuff out there for you to buy. Unless you really are into sustainability to begin with, or you love old clothes anyway, refashioning and buying old clothes is unlikely to be your thing from the outset. Someone said to me on Instagram that they found refashioning restrictive, and I completely get that. As well as having to work hard to source something with a fabric you like, the limited size of the pieces you can get from a ready made garment is an additional challenge.
A curated selection of secondhand clothing
I am happy to report that discovering boutiques like Retold Vintage and LadyHunterXO at the Style Yourself Sustainable event has completely changed my mind on second hand clothes. Shops like these instantly solve both the time and random stuff problem that I have found so off putting.
These shops also appeal to my desire for something unique. After all this is one reason to sew – to be able to make clothes the way you want them! I am disinterested in standard high street fashion, but I love to browse unaffordable luxury fashion for sewing inspiration and for the unusual fabrics. So when I saw this silk dress I broke my shopping fast. What attracted me was the fabric – the chances of finding this kind of silk in a fabric shop is basically zero!
Altering my vintage dress
At the Style Yourself Sustainable event I spoke a lot about the benefits of sewing skills, especially the ability to mend, to alter, to reshape. In the interest of practicing what I preach, I wanted to use those skills and make some small alterations for fit. The above picture is the dress pre-modifications. You can see that the shoulders are uneven, one side is wider than the other. Having googled the dress, the lack of an extra pleat on the wider shoulder seems to a design feature but one I don’t really like. So I have decided to make the pleats symmetrical.
The other thing you will notice is that the V neck is extremely deep. The original dress (which I forgot to photo before I unpicked it) had one side folded over the other to make a smaller V which was then stitched down. Given the size of the V neck I think the fold over was always intended. Now I have always found wrap tops and dresses challenging to fit at the bust. So in this case I have unpicked and reformed the pleat that makes the V an appropriate size to me. I hand sewed everything as I didn’t want to risk unpicking the delicate fabric if I messed up by machine.
Here is the wrap and shoulder after I modified it. No worrying about gaping! I wear this with tights for work, and as is for the weekend. Double win if you ask me!
A new love for old clothes and fabrics?
Yes! I am so chuffed with this dress! The silk is unusual and delicate and no one I know is wearing anything like it at the moment. To be honest, my quest for sustainable sewing, thinking about a cohesive wardrobe and having a personal style crisis has created the perfect storm. The only thing I am sure of right now is that I want to throw all fashion rules and trends out the window, and I don’t want to look like anyone else. Sure it sounds obvious but whilst I really enjoy seeing other people’s makes for the styling inspiration, I no longer want to use the latest or most popular patterns and fabrics.
Last year I made a dress in a cotton lawn and a few months later I saw Colette patterns had picked it up for their sampling in one of their new pattern releases (and the dress was a very similar style to mine!). Of course after that it started appearing all over the internet sphere. Might be silly, but I felt pretty deflated and would rather that not happen again soon. Needless to say I’m thinking of refashioning the dress…
I have also been obsessing over the idea of old fabric as I want to minimise buying brand new yardage. Outside of the 1960s-1980s polyester prints which seem to be widespread on the online stores / eBay, it seems linen and cotton are the fibres which are most readily available. Once I come off my fabric shopping ban I think I will be looking at buying solids or those with subtle prints or embossing. There is still plenty of stuff in my stash though so I can afford to take the time to treasure hunt and not feel like I have nothing to sew with!
What about you? How do you feel about old clothes? Are you a chronic thrifter and upcycler or do you prefer new lengths of fabric? Do you have favourite online second hand stores that you can share with me?
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I always love your posts Kate – creative and personal 🙂
And thank you Kathleen for always taking the time to read and comment! Definitely appreciated and hope you are keeping well x
You made a really wearable dress from the original version.
I started with love affair with fabric with vintage clothes in my lates teens. I used to buy seriously crazy patterned 1960’s/1970’s style granny dresses from local jumble sales and second-hand shops. I would then put them on inside out and pin and chop and re-style them into something usually a lot shorter and tighter than before. It was the 1990’s and wearing these mad creations with bright coloured tights and big doc martins made me think I was super-cool! Luckily there were no camera-phones in those days so not many incriminating photos!
Thanks Caroline, I am loving this dress – the material is just so different from anything else I could ever buy new in a shop. That is hilarious about your granny dress phase!!! I can totally see you in the bright tights and doc martens – well its all about feeling cool and confident isn’t it! I’ve seen you turn tablecloths and what have you into cool garments but I can’t recall if you still do any of the refashioning type stuff from old clothes?
Very nice dress! I’ve been shopping second hand (rather than vintage) for as long as I have been shopping, initially in Paris where the quality in cheap stores is pretty low but my true love is the consignment shops in New York. I have found many treasured pieces there.
I did try a few times to refashion what I had found but I quickly realized that I didn’t particularly enjoyed the process so now if it doesn’t work as is (or with some simple alterations), I just don’t buy it. And my closets have been better for it!
Thanks Delphine! I am so slow to the second hand or vintage party. I think refashioning is difficult unless you have something very specific in mind and also you need to have a garment with a lot of fabric to have something to play with. I have also this weird mindset problem where I don’t want to cut up something already made unless I have made it, which is totally ridiculous. But yes – agree for the most part, only simple alterations otherwise it can be frustrating!
I’ve never shopped second hand clothes…but have donated plenty! I love your dress and your thoughtful consideration and skilful alterations. It gave it new life! I dream someone would have that level of love for the pieces I donated (although obviously the stuff I gave away weren’t all delicate silk and decadent fabrics).
I am a strong believer in vintage fashion and up-cycling old items which many would have disregarded. A great post and very inspiring.
Thank you Gemma! I was super happy to discover vintage and I haven’t bought any new ready to wear since about May – the few things I have bought has all been second hand which I’m very happy about.