Why would you buy vintage? Niche it is not according to research from the University of Huddersfield, that says, “Vintage has now shifted from subculture to mass culture.”
So now research validates that there’s been a cultural shift in case you haven’t noticed. Society’s want for fashion and need for greater sustainability means shoppers have a clearer conscience when purchasing vintage.
They also benefit from the upside of gaining unique individualised ‘looks’ that can’t be found with fast fashion that is aggregating in landfills.
Stephane King, a sustainable fashion stylist and owner of Auckland vintage store, Painted Bird, is a huge proponent of a sustainable wardrobe. She’s totally inspired by the fashion of yesterday and a true fan of how the cuts stylistically flatter the female form.
“I like the way they used to make things. They’re all cut for women so they look like women. There’s form and fit—they’ve got darts, they are not rectangle garments with armholes and a neck hole cut out. You don’t have any of that with vintage. You put your dress on with a bit of perfume and you’re good to go,” she says.
As the oldest daughter of a Colombian former model and granddaughter of an American seamstress the fashion eye is in her blood.
Form, function and the fun of finding your individuality are some of the biggest reasons backing vintage according to King, who discovered her passion for it back in the day as a qualified hairdresser before studying fashion styling.
“When I first started out professionally styling I concentrated on what I called ‘women returning to their bodies’ after childbirth—that was my original client base—women who had children who are in a different body, needing to refind and redefine themselves from a fashion perspective.”
She took her clients shopping sourcing from secondhand and recycling shops as many didn’t have a lot of money. The value and transformative impact of vintage King sees as being the clincher that hooks many of her clients.
“I love mixing patterns and textures; seeing the way they used to put all the fabrics together. There isn’t a rule. I challenge myself—I’m non-conformist and don’t like to be told these colours go together, these styles go together—all these things go together. If I’m in the mood for wearing this, I’ll find a way to wear this.”
Other academic research on the vintage trend phenomenon out of the United Kingdom confirms that amongst other factors, the current economic climate appears to have contributed to the trend of acquiring and reusing vintage clothing. So has the impact of a change in attitudes and values, the rise in eco-sustainability consciousness and push back reaction against mass-produced fashion.
King’s the first to admit that it has no hangar appeal—but huge body appeal so the adventure is trying it on.
“There are people that come in the store and say, ‘I’m not vintage’, then they become total converts once they hit the change cubicle,” she says. “I have half-naked people in the store all the time, standing there in their bra chatting: ‘Ooh, that’s cool, I didn’t see that!’ It’s like a safe female zone with friends that have no vested interest, no jealousy, no competition, only a shared love of what they see. Many customers only know each other from being in the shop,” she says.
With a colour-coded wardrobe “so I can get in there”, King is the first to confess she’s “regimented” in how she stores garments at home but not what she exudes stylistically.
“I would say that’s my personality—I’m regimented straight up and down and I don’t like stress and I plan it all out so I can take anything. Maybe that translates to clothing, if you have the form, the structure in place, then you can play with it and make it yours and pull out the colours,” she says.
“Just because yellow and black might look like a bee, that shouldn’t stop you from wearing them together—make it so it doesn’t look like a bee—that’s the challenge, fashion should be fun every time you want to wear it.”
A visit to Painted Bird should be treated like a quest then, she says. “I believe that I have something in there for everybody, it’s just a case of finding it. There is a little bit of a process and that is part of the unique nature of the shop.”
While a shared joy for vintage fashion connects her to many who come into the store, she has been witness to many self-limiting beliefs linked to clothing.
“I have people coming in saying, ‘I can’t wear that colour, I don’t look nice in this, or that.’ Fashion is a major contributor to that. I try to find a starting point if I can before they leave.
“Just choose one thing today you don’t like so I can help you to change that because I have experience to fix it so it’s no so prominent. It may be out of your comfort zone but let’s just try it.”
Having an on-the-spot stylist with the stock at her fingertips in one room has many benefits.
“The legacy is everything does not have to be shiny and new—you can be shiny and new in what you put on and if you don’t know how to put it together I’m standing there all the time,” says King.