Over the years I’ve been wearing and selling vintage clothing and accessories I do believe I started out as a mangler. My definition of a mangler is someone who will take a perfectly good piece of vintage clothing that is perfectly wearable as is and either take it apart to re-use the fabric or shorten it here or take it in there to restyle it into something completely differently. I remember taking a perfectly good orange paisley print peasant top and making what I thought was a wonderful halter top. I cringe now and wish I had that peasant top in my collection now.
It’s amazing to me how just getting older has totally changed my mindset on how vintage clothing should be used. It pains me to see something that was perfectly beautiful in its own right cut up or chopped off and not hemmed just to make a fast buck. Of course I realize that the owner of the piece can do whatever they want with it, but I still cringe when I see beautiful border print maxis that have been chopped short and then left unhemmed. For I know the fate of that dress is to be discarded the next season without a thought of the history behind it.
I am now in the stage of vintage recycler. My definition of a recycler would be someone who will take a vintage clothing item and make it completely wearable again or re-purposing the fabric if the item is not salvageable. This could be anything from dyeing a faded dress another color to make it wearable to taking the salvageable fabric from a stained item and making throw pillows out of the fabric. Though the vintage item has been changed, without making that change it would have found its way into a landfill instead of being used in a thoughtful way. I’ve taken a beautiful 1950s cocktail dress with very obvious fading and colored it a darker vibrant color which keeps the piece as the designer made it and makes it available for someone to enjoy it to the fullest. I’ve also replaced my fair share of cloth covered buttons (there always seem to be one missing out of 12 buttons!), shaved a sweater or two and of course had taps replaced on those fabulous stilettos I found in my travels. I’ve also taken a shattered silk dress and taken it apart carefully to make a pattern from it.
My definition of a purist is someone who keeps an item true to its original form at any cost. I would says purists are those who curate at the many museums all over the world. I wish I had their knowledge when it comes to cleaning vintage items to remove 50 year old mystery stains. Over the years I’ve added many things to my arsenal of cleaners, always working with the mildest cleaner first and progressing as need be. I’ve had the experience of things just disintegrating in a lukewarm tub of water only, to cleaning an item many times with many cleaners with each cleaner lifting a portion of what needed to be removed to make the item wearable again. Over time I’ve found that using the cleaners that were used back in the days of those particular items seems to work best. But of course I have my big guns to use when nothing else will work.
Vintage clothing has been a part of my life now for nigh on 35 years. It started in high school at Washington High School in Phoenix, Arizona, searching the thrift stores for outfits to wear during “Wally Cleaver Week” and for the sock hop at the end of the week. It continued when we moved to Poway, California my senior year of high school when I tried so hard to fit in but still stay true to my own sense of style. I’ve mixed and matched vintage accessories in with my everyday wardrobe so long that going shopping means hitting any number of sources for something old rather than something new.
So tell me, are you a vintage mangler, recycler or purist?