Lovely Vintage Things
May 21, 2020 § 12 Comments
Note from Eve: This week features a post written by my daughter Greta. If you read Year of No Sugar you met her at age 11; now at age 20 she is an aspiring young actress studying at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City. Since school closed for the pandemic in March she and her boyfriend Steven, also an actor, have been staying with us here at our home in Vermont, but even before that she had been living Year of No Garbage along with us, navigating the project in an urban setting.
Greta has been fascinated with the 1940s since early high school. Online, she has discovered an entire vintage community who shares her passion for the styles and culture of this period (but, Greta is quick to point out, not the prejudices or politics). For her 17th birthday we celebrated with a “VE- Day” Party that featured Big Band music, a Victory Garden and signs pointing to the nearest Anderson air raid shelter. The other day Greta was waxing poetic about how neatly her interest in this time period fits with Year of No Garbage and I said Why don’t you write about it? So here she is.
Wilkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome! Okay, to be fair, as a musical theater actress that was a really exciting way for me to open this piece.
But now you are wondering why I am here on my very, very exquisitely talented mum’s platform and I must reveal all: I love vintage! (And by vintage, I mean old stuff from a particular time period.) I particularly love 1940s vintage but I do dabble in 1930s as well. And for the Year of No Garbage this has turned into a strange asset.
Today when I go to the store to buy items for my apartment, everything seems meant to last about five minutes before you go buy yourself a new one. In ye-old days of the 1930-40s, as you probably know, plastic was yet to be widely used, excepting of course such early forms as Bakelite and Lucite. (And from those have come some truly lovely purses and bracelets that are getting very pricey to acquire. But I digress.)
You know what I like? Pyrex. Take a moment and think about Pyrex: it’s one of the most time-tested kitchen items we have today, but it hasn’t changed much since it was introduced in the early 1900s: you can buy it old, you can buy it new. It’s still the same Pyrex. (No, Pyrex is not sponsoring me, however if anyone out there has any they don’t want? Please call me.) Made of borosilicate glass, it is so sturdy it is often used in the sciences because heat won’t warp it or cause a “laundry effect” (shrinking or expanding). Once upon a time if you forgot a bowl at a potluck— without the masking tape with your surname firmly stuck to the bottom— it was possibly a life-altering event. I mean, Mrs. Maisel went back for her Pyrex, and look what happened to her! (Spoiler alert: it changed her life.) Today, however, we’re conditioned not to expect things to last.
But Pyrex lasts.
Because of this, to vintage-fans in the know, kitchen items made 80 years ago are still being used and coveted. Not only vintage casserole dishes and mixing bowls, but other things too: cast iron pans, food mills, potato mashers, and baking molds are among the practical vintage items still in use in kitchens today. Could you say that most of the things we produce today will still be around in 80 years? In good working order?
And this brings me to clothing. I do so love being a girl! So many dresses, so little time. I love them, I care for them, I worry about them, and no matter how many I have, I always need more. If you’re gentle you could say I’m a collector, but if not you might say I’m obsessed.
If you ever have the breathtakingly lovely experience of wearing vintage clothing you will immediately notice the different fit and shape it gives you. But what I find equally fascinating are the hems and seams and buttons- the way they’ve held up for all this time. They, too, were “made to last.” I’m not referring only to select designer brands, mind you- the presence of ready-to-wear clothes in all the vintage stores I visit attests to the attention and care that was paid to the making of these everyday garments. So again we must ask ourselves: if you were to go to a store today that sells ready-to-wear clothes, do you think those clothes would withstand 80 years of good care and regular use?
Buying vintage is the most rewarding kind of recycling. Rather than buying something new, you’re taking something that has already had a life, and giving it another one.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I like to get all dolled up like it’s the 1940s in the name of sustainability; in my case the chicken came before the egg. I am drawn to the clothes and the style, but what I find compelling is the promise to stand the test of time, something I think we lack quite often in our fascination with “fast fashion.”
I’m also not saying anyone but me should conflate environmental responsibility with wearing their hair in a snood, nor must everyone enjoy the thrill of realizing your new dress still has its Bakelite buttons or the original matching belt. But I think it’s important to see what value an older piece can have. I often see matching vintage nesting bowls sell online for over $250. Even I think that’s pricey, but the fact that patrons are willing to purchase such things shows how much many of us crave things that are made well and last a lifetime.
There’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there, in the antique and vintage shops, at the rummage sale and the local charity shop, on eBay and Etsy, stuff that has a life and a history and it isn’t done yet. Why settle for the second best, throwaway production we are given by so many contemporary manufacturers and by doing so accept the responsibility of hurting our planet? Making our objects well and treating them as resilient rather than expendable gives us hope as consumers as well as residents of the planet.
Now if you’re still here after all that? Brava! Brava! Bravissima! (See what I did there? Phantom of the Opera? Anyone?) Just to wrap this up: I’m not saying everything must be perfect and that I have no garbage vices of my own. I like to wear disposable, false lashes when I dress up. I like to order vintage dresses and hats online which, of course, has a carbon footprint. But what is important is that we don’t settle to pay for something that won’t last.
Why should we when there are such lovely things already out there?