The Vintage Trend: A Return to Conservative Fashion

by Danelle on September 15, 2011 · 5 comments

Have you noticed the latest fashion trend? It is what is known as “vintage,” which are clothes from or made to look from the early 20th century, 50s, or 70s.

Actresses like Kiera Knightly and Jessica Chastain wear high-collared beaded gowns that are a modern take on fashion from the early 1900s, Kelly Brooks wears high-waisted capris tucked-in flowy top – an outfit almost identical to something my mother wore in the 70s.

I have always been interested in fashion and what it says about society. For example, in the 90s, fashion was extremely avant-garde and grunge. It was essentially all about rejecting the past’s fashion. Runway models sported baggy, crazy colors, and overalls. My clothing was along those lines, too (I have a pair of bright orange pants as my proof!).

However, now fashion has taken history’s fashion and embraced it. Suddenly it is cool to dress like a 50s housewife in poofy dresses (I own a few myself) or shop for long-chain chunky jewelry that I am positive my mom has packed away somewhere.

The question is not how many antique- looking owl necklaces one can find at a store, rather it is why is fashion embracing past decades like the Edwardian era, the 50s, and the  70s, and what does it say about society today?

First, I think it is clear fashion is back-lashing and so are people. Dressing like you are from the Edwardian era – modestly – is a cry for more modesty in society. The high collars, the long sleeve tunics, and the same goes for the 50s. Wearing poofy dresses and buying “vintage” aprons represents a desire to go back to a time that we today see as full of family values.  This wish to have a “Pleasantville life,” even if it is not attainable, is understandable given the divorce rate climbing in America.

Dressing in high-waist shorts from the 70s is an illustration of wanting to dress like our mothers did when they were young. It is a connection we can make to their youth and the “simpler, carefree” times they describe to us while we face crisis in our time.

Fashion, in sum, has taken a conservative turn amidst the economic and social crisis in America, and that style would not prevail unless society let it prevail. Perhaps fashion then is a crystal ball for the hearts and minds of people.

I suppose we will have to wait and see on that idea. For now, I am off to surf the internet for a fashionable plaid skirt (actually, maybe I will check my mom’s closet first).

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily September 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Or perhaps it’s due to the popularity of this little show called Mad Men? Just a guess.

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Danelle September 16, 2011 at 5:33 pm

That seems like a possibility, although Mad Men premiered in 2007 and I remember the 50s vintage fashion reaching my small town around my junior year of high school, which was 2006-2007. Also, the Vintage Fashion Guild, the site “Unique Vintage,” and the popular guide to wearing vintage – “Viva La Vintage” – were created around 2002-3. So it’s actually flipped: the trend made the show appealing to produce.

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Emily September 18, 2011 at 7:06 am

The show may not have premiered until 2007, but Matthew Weiner wrote the first pilot in 2000. And Banana Republic actually puts out a Mad Men line every summer (http://www.bananarepublic.com/products/mad-men-collection-women-C69572.jsp) Ultimately, my point is that you may be reading way too much into fashion trends. And while high-waist shorts may be returning, they’re still as short as they were last year. Further, the 50s and 60s were not times full of family values. It was a time full of horrific racism, corporate greed (read The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit) and really oppressive gender roles for men AND women. That’s partially why Mad Men is so popular, it exposes the seedy underbelly that actually existed in this era we view as “perfect.” If you want further proof, read Stephanize Coontz’s The Way We Never Were.

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Danelle September 18, 2011 at 8:57 pm

The pilot never aired until 2007 even though it was written in 2000. So in 2000, it wasn’t public so it couldn’t have caused the trend. “Trend” is mainstream after all. Obviously I am not saying people didn’t dress vintage or think about vintage before 2002, I am saying the trend – something mainstream – caught the public eye around that time which was before the show aired.
The high-waist shorts are from the 70s, also known as hot pants, which were super super short. Those high-waisted shorts are 70s vintage, which I talk about in my article separately from 50s vintage. In today’s fashion, we actually make the hotpants slightly longer! Very interesting in my opinion. Also, yes the 50s and 60s were historically not all family values – I agree, I’m a history major. However when people think of the 50s, they think of Leave it to Beaver-type families. I say in my article people desire a Pleasantville life even if it’s not attainable. You say yourself Mad Men is a show to get rid of the view that the era was perfect, which means you agree the view does exist. Perception is much more important in fashion than historical accuracy.

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Kara September 19, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Whether or not the fashion trends of today reflect the return of social conservatism. I have to say that I love it! Nothing makes me more happy than the long necklaces, and lacy accessories. Long live vintage!

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