Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing?

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When it comes to vintage’s authenticity, I’m a massive snob. High street bought tea dress? Hmm. Repro circle skirt? No thanks. Items from some eras, (I’m looking at you 1920s & 30s) are impossible to find at a reasonable price and so fragile they can’t be worn comfortably. But modern copies of clothing from more recent periods don’t quite capture the charm of originals and importantly, aren’t as environmentally sustainable.

Now I’m no stranger to reproduction vintage. I own some lovely basics from retailers like House of Foxy and Tara Starlet – staples that are difficult to find at the right size compared to genuine vintage and can be thrown in the washing machine at the end of the day. However, the dilemma I want to address today is that of bonafide vintage clothing in the style of an earlier era. Yes, I’m talking about ’80s does 50s/any other decade’.

Yesterday I popped into one of my favourite local vintage shops, Painted Black, and came out with an 80s dress in the style of the 1920s. It’s a typical drop waist dress, with long sleeves and an eye-catching print. The skirt section is also pleated, something I’ve noticed more on 60s & 70s clothing, but best of all it was £20.

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The 1980s are often vilified for being the decade that taste forgot. Chunky shoulder pads and ostentatious earrings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. By virtue of being the 1980s’ own version of repro, my new dress bypasses all of those dodgy characteristics but retains the benefit of being easy to care for (thanks to that 91% polyester composition). Should we turn our noses up at these anachronistic items, vintage that doesn’t quite fit in with the decade in which it was made?

The real thing: 1920s dress for £265 (from here)

It’s important to note that fashion is cyclical. The 1970s, for example, saw a revival of 20s style, including a film remake of The Great Gatsby, while Halston designed glamorous evening gowns with jersey and beading. The trend was summed up by a 1971 Life magazine cover announcing that “Everyone’s just wild about nostalgia”. Likewise, the 1980s celebrated structured masculine cuts, evoking 1940s clothing. My dress is a bit of an anomaly.

If you’re willing to rethink notions of authenticity, there are many examples of 80s manufactured items that offer good alternatives to expensive period pieces. This a deadringer for a 50s cotton dress, and here’s a 1980s take on a 40s shirtwaist dress for £20.

Next time I browse online or root through the rails of a physical shop, I won’t overlook pieces that aren’t the Real McCoy. The dressmaking skill and romance of those earlier eras can’t be replicated, but wearability trumps authenticity any day.

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