You could never really call me a fashion follower, but sometimes I did make an effort. And what an effort. To me, keeping up with fashion was like rolling a particularly ugly rock up a hill. A year ago something happened and I realized I didn’t have to keep pushing. I could just leave the rock altogether. The realization descended upon me, with garland-carrying doves and trumpet-playing cherubs, while I shopped with a friend. It might have been TopShop or New Look, I can’t recall which. I was desperately browsing a rack of dresses and I said to my friend, “I don’t like anything”.
And that was it. I don’t like anything that’s popular right now. The knots at the top of the head, the chunky platform heels, the vest shirts and the scarves – I’m not a fan of any of those and I’d rather not have to buy them. And I should never have felt like I had to, because after all, I was no longer a 15-year-old trying to fit in with the popular girls at school by conforming to fashion. Shopping was a grueling experience of trying to find the best approximations to the simple, classic dresses I wanted, and finding they always fell short in the design, were overpriced, and were made from some thin cheap material.
“But what is so wrong with current fashions?“, you ask. Since the mid-00s, the waistline of shirts and dresses has risen up to the ribs, while trousers with waists any higher than the hips is an extinct species – if you can find trousers at all. There’s nothing classy-looking that can be dressed-down for casual settings; only casual designs that can be “tramped up” with platform heels and glittery studwork. And call me prude, but I’d really like to find a high-street shop that sells a skirt or dress that reaches anywhere below the mid-thighs. Anything considered classier will be in the formal section, and therefore out of reach of any reasonable person’s budget. “Simple and sophisticated” is dead and buried.
It took a kind of leap of faith into the unknown to find out that yes, there are alternatives. I began by looking at other decades’ fashions. Vintage, in other words, but not vintage for the sake of vintage, or for a romanticizing nostalgia for a decade I wasn’t even born in. No, my quest was simply for sensible clothes that respected the human shape. The 50s and 70s favored natural silhouettes, with waistlines that went at navel level. So then it was a matter of checking the goodwill stores every now and then to snag some deceased old lady’s garments. This is very affordable, but I was still stuck with clothes that were old and second-hand, and there was very little choice. So what was next?
I found out there are communities of people here in Britain who are really into the 1950s – the dieselpunks and atompunks. Gents wear biker jackets and oiled pompadours. Ladies do their hair like Marilyn Monroe and wear peep-toe heels. And they are plentifully catered for, with companies like Lindy Bop and Tigermilly, whom I swear by. As of 2016, I’ve been buying all of my clothes from these stores. They are not as cheap as going to goodwill, of course, but they’re certainly more affordable than high-street shopping.
The whole package can look very dramatic, with the red lipstick and styled hair. But the dresses, just by themselves, can very easily be updressed and downdressed for each occasion, without even looking “vintage”.
A plain black 1950s dress can be made appropriate for a supermarket run with a denim jacket and a pair of ballet flats, and it can look stunning at a fancy dinner party with a pearl necklace and kitten heels.
I also invested in all of the Krisp jersey dresses:
They are cheaper and lower quality, but super easy to dress up.
And that is how I took charge of my own style and stopped settling for fashion trends.
I leave you with a quote that I wish I had come across earlier in life, by the wonderful Audrey Hepburn: