Repro vs. vintage vs. home made

Gertie’s Blog For Better Sewing wrote about a recent article in the New York Times on reproduction vintage clothing. In it, she asked her readers if they were repro enthusiasts or vintage purists and how they felt about the current trend of reproduction vintage clothing. I agree with Ms. Gertie that the NYT article is all over the place and barely scratches the surface on this subject. Which is frustrating and disappointing, and yet it is somehow still nice to see vintage clothing in the news.

And I think that’s a perfect parallel of how I feel about most repro vintage. I’m glad it exists, but I find most of the current offerings are not very well made or are too cartoonish and over the top for every day wear. I also feel like so much of it is all just variations on the same three dresses.

I tend to be a vintage purist for that reason, except for the clothes I have made myself. Which is more and more often these days. The ugly truth is vintage clothes won’t last forever and some day they will all be in tatters and we will have to make news ones. Since these clothes are a part of my daily wear, they get worn-out over time like any other item of clothing. I’ve seen way too many beautiful vintage dresses of mine fall apart and shred over the years, forever lost to the world, which pains me to have a hand in. I destroyed a piece of history. That’s an artifact from the past and I’m sitting on the dirty subway in it!

So about two years ago I began replacing all my daily wear with hand-sewn items from vintage patterns. Hence, this here blog – hello! Like most home sewists, I have a gigantic stockpile of fabric I’ve collected over the years. Some vintage and lots of reproduction prints. My husband used to ask me why I’d buy so much fabric that I didn’t use right away and I’d tell him “I’m preparing for the Vintage Clothing Apocalypse.” Because some day a dress from the 40s is gonna be 100 years old and only a real asshole would wear that to work or cleaning the house, sweating into it and risking damage. Not to mention plain old disintegration. Natural fibers break down. Someday all these clothes in our closets will literally be dust. That honestly freaks me out sometimes when I think about that. What will I wear when I’m 50? I’ve been wearing vintage clothes in some manner or another since I was 12 and it haunts me to think of the number of lovely old handbags and shoes I destroyed from daily use. I love vintage clothing too much to keep actively destroying it with daily wear. So it’s my mission to keep making new ones. Authentic, accurate clothes that a normal person would have worn.

I still collect and wear vintage clothing, but I generally relegate wearing most of it for special occasions now. To me, if I can make something from a vintage pattern (which brings up a whole other issue of tissue paper preservation, but that’s another post) from vintage or reproduction fabric, then that’s what I’ll wear every day in the grimy, muddy, exposed nail, x-acto knife and adhesive-filled, coffee-spilling world I live in. Life is messy. Well, my life is, at least. I, too, spill bean dip on myself.

Now a touchy subject

One thing that Gertie mentioned was that she felt vintage purists often looked down upon repro. In my experience, I find this to be mostly true, but I disagree with her that it’s out of pretentiousness. For years, most of it just hasn’t been very good. I’ve seen enough cherries, 8-balls and flames to last me a lifetime. Sometimes the line between Halloween costume and repro is very thin. Even some of the better stuff still feels like an exaggerated version of an era. It’s not just a blue dress, its a bright blue dress with white lapels and buttons and a mermaid skirt! Sometimes it feels like the clothes are shouting at me.

I think another reason that repro has been derided by the vintage purists over the years is that it tended to be the province of the Weekend Warrior at rockabilly and vintage lifestyle events. Worn by the people who were just trying this vintage thing out for weekend, treating that lifestyle like a costume, which I think offends many people who dedicate every day of their lives to preserving the clothes, history and culture of those eras. It may come off as vintage purist pretension, but I think it’s genuine frustration at feeling trivialized. So while the repro clothes themselves might not have been that great to begin with, seeing it on every drunk mother of four from Terre Haute who hollers “this 50s thing is a real hoot! Woooo! Vegas!” leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths about it.

However, with all apologies to that drunk mother of four from Terre Haute, we all start somewhere. I’m sure many of those weekend warriors have gone on to appreciate it for more than just a weekend of make believe. And even if they didn’t, far be it from me to take the piss out of anyone’s fun. Live and let live. Life goes on.

Regardless, I think that is a big part of where repro-derision comes from among the vintage purists. Poor quality, cartoonish styles and a million dingbats wearing it. Searching out that amazing, pristine pake muu that actually fits you, obsessively checking your bid on ebay to make sure you get it, and the labor of love of caring for a piece of history like that — well, it makes you feel a bit resentful of those that just buy something generic off the rack like it’s WalMart.

Most mass-produced repro doesn’t really do it for me. Of course, most of these repro companies are small business owners and they have to make things affordable and practical to produce, so I don’t expect custom couture for $40. But I also don’t want to pay $180 for something made out of crappy fabric, that I’ll see on 100 other ladies.

Though, maybe I’d feel differently about it if I couldn’t sew?

Ultimately, I think repro vintage is a cause for hope. In the last 10 years I’ve seen a huge improvement in repro. For every dismal Daddy-O’s, there’s a Whirling Turban and Freddie’s of Pinewood. So all in all, I’m glad it’s out there, fighting the good fight against velour sweatsuits and Ugg boots.

‘Cause let’s be honest, they’re the real enemy.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: