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The "Return" of Vintage

Posted by Erin
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Right now vintage is having a moment. If you open any magazine you will be inundated with tiny, nipped waists that sit atop full skirts. Or you’ll see curve-accentuating pencil skirts demurely paired with prim cardigans. Or maybe you’ll get a glimpse of an over-sized coat caught in mid-swing.

Right now is the moment for an injection of femininity. For the past few years there has been a lean towards all that is cool and edgy: leather leggings, wedge sneakers, motorcycle boots, layers and layers of black and more studs and grommets that an 80’s punk could handle. Names like Alexander Wang, Isabel Marant, Emmanuelle Alt and the revamped Balmain have dominated over more polished houses like Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior and Rochas.

Grunge officially made its return when Hedi Slimane replaced Stefano Pilati at Saint Laurent. Even Givenchy, whose clothes were originally the very definition of sophistication, is now the leader of “flippant cool.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love a hard look. It makes me feel sexy and powerful. But I always – always – feel best in a ladylike silhouette. Who doesn’t feel good when their waist is optically reduced by a full-skirt? And a full skirt works for a multitude of body shapes: it camouflages hips and bottoms that are both too big and too small.

Christian Dior’s 1950’s “New Look” will never go out of style, which is why it keeps coming back. In fact, the “new look” was a misnomer, it was new at that moment, but tiny waists have always been in mode. Think of Victorian bodices and bustled rears and the corsets and buttressed hips of Marie Antoinette’s day. If your waist looks small, your bust and hips are emphasized. Historically (and naturally) women feel more like women when their womanly parts are celebrated... for good and for bad.

For me, I’m at a point when I want to feel more like a woman instead of a trendy, cool young thing, so I was very, very excited when I first saw Prada’s AW2013 collection of slightly disheveled, sexy librarians, the huge, cabbage print Rochas skirts and coats, sensually swathed arms and exposed shoulders at Céline and the strict, belted waists at Gucci. Fashion was growing up yet again… I wouldn’t look like a walking buzz kill if I stepped out in a polite, respectable look that my grandmother would swoon over.

Yes, we all still occasionally pine for our early twenties. Just last week I zipped myself into a pair of thigh-high boots and a little Alaia dress that was just long enough to hide the tops of my boots (I wanted to hang onto my youth, not transform myself into a hooker).

The truth is there comes a point when we all should accept the fact that we are upright, reasonable adults and that we need to put down the Hervé Leger bandage dress and step away from low-waist, skinny jeans. It’s time to button up and embrace what God gave us in a more mature way. Pairing a full skirt with a simple white button down or a V-neck cardigan neatly tucked in is a good way to do it. You’ll trick yourself into thinking you’re a modern Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn, looking stylish yet decorous. This kind of clothing constructs a façade of togetherness and innate chicness that few of us adults actually have while we are juggling careers, family and a plethora of responsibilities and newfangled issues we’d rather not admit to having.

At night, if you are able to retain this 1950s aesthetic, you are free to channel your inner vamp while still looking like a lady and less like a Real Housewife. You can pull on a pencil skirt that scoops your bottom and tapers down to the tops of the knees, accentuating your hips. Go ahead and open one more button of your cardigan or button-down than you think you should and flirtatiously, intermittently expose a flash of your Kiki de Montparnasse bustier à la Elizabeth Taylor. If you don’t feel sexy, there is something wrong with you.

These days it is actually quite easy to recreate the “New Look.” Either you can buy from the current collection of the designers I mentioned or wait until the 50s are yet again reinvented by the designers of one of the older houses (Balenciaga, Givenchy, Céline, Valentino, Chanel, Balmain, Nina Ricci, Rochas) or you can search for the lesser known American designers from this period who made the “New Look” both mainstream and affordable to the non-couture frequenting middle class: Ceil Chapman, Bonnie Cashin and Anne Fogarty. Just search your local vintage shop or scour Shrimpton for these designers and other “New Look” knock-offs, find a skirt or dress that strikes your fancy, wet your hair and you’ll look like you walked off the set of the latest Prada campaign (video below).

I will leave you with The Birds editorial that Cherie posted last month from Russian Elle. I promise that everything I just wrote will make perfect sense after you’ve seen this editorial.

(Click image to see full editorial)

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