Friday, 5 September 2014

Is repro bad for vintage?

Does it have to be original?
I like reproduction clothing. It has lots of advantages: it's easy to find in larger sizes, or to get custom-made if you have special clothing needs (say, arthritis means you can't fiddle with poppers and buttons, or you need to accommodate calipers or supports). Usually it's made of fabrics that are easy to care for, and because you can get another one easily you're not going to bawl if you rip the armpits out of a garment, unlike a unique piece of vintage that took you ages to find and months to save up for.



That said, I'm not sure that repro isn't undermining vintage style. I worry that it makes things too easy. Instead of regularly trawling charity shops and getting to know which specialist dealers have stock that suits one's individual style, it's faster (and sometimes cheaper) to hop over to a repro company's website and buy something with a few clicks. Something that looks exactly like the thing lots of other people are wearing. Something that may not actually bear much resemblance to actual vintage, but is seen as 'vintage'. (Honestly, some of the repro out there is about as accurate as stuff from mainstream clothing ranges like Boden and Fever, who acknowledge their inspiration but make no claims to be repro.) And sooner or later enough people will be wearing that sort of thing that genuine vintage will be thought of as looking 'wrong'.

There is some extremely good authentic repro around. It's ironic that it seems less popular than the mass-market stuff! I once found a company reproducing fabrics designed by a midcentury textile designer, and gleefully showed a crafting colleague. It was bold, energetic, like nothing currently on the mass market. "I don't like that sort of vintage,"she said, and carried on looking at the modern, 'vintage' twee floral prints. The weaker end of repro does seem to appeal to the twee dabbler, and there are an awful lot of them and, I suppose I'm a horrible snob, but I resent them rewriting what vintage is simply because there are more of them than there are people wearing much actual vintage.

Of course, I'm as guilty of this as anyone. My fair isle cardigan that I'm knitting is in completely inauthentic colours. I'm sitting here typing this in a smashing dress from Collectif that I adore and that I've had loads of wear out of – and that the cardigan will go perfectly with. Both 40s-feeling, but both inauthentic in terms of colour. My accessories are the real deal, though, and perhaps that's the way to go with repro: treat it as an element, but don't let it form the entire basis of one's look. Use it to fill in the gaps, not to be the whole picture.

And the other thing that the less authentic repro could well be doing is catering to people who would otherwise be cutting up original garments. (This Old Thing makes me swear - if you don't like, say, the length of 1950s dresses, don't buy 1950s dresses, ffs, buy something shorter! Don't cut up perfectly good, ever-scarcer originals! I could have cried when a lady's treasured 1980s Laura Ashley dress - known to the family as 'Mum's Special Dress' - got hacked about and ruined.) In the long run, it could be helping preserve original vintage for people who really love it.

What do you think? Do you find yourself buying more repro than genuine vintage nowadays? Could repro be the secret saviour of authentic vintage, or is it undermining it?

25 comments :

  1. Great post, and this is something I've been thinking about a lot lately as I'm delving back into the world of vintage clothes since I'm almost finished my dissertation. The woman who is illustrating our wedding reception invitations actually works in a vintage clothing shop, and I used to work in one, so we've had a number of interesting conversations about the suppliers and the repro shops that create items that are either pretty authentic-looking but in more manageable fabrics (a nice poly/cotton blend as opposed to linen so you aren't left starching/ironing all the time). My biggest beef with a lot of repro shops is that the items are SO.EXPENSIVE. I know not all of them are like this, but I think for the average person who isn't too up on their knowledge about vintage clothes and how to search for them, certain shops seriously need to lower their prices. Charging £150 for a dress that cost MAYBE £15 to make including the labour is unreasonable, especially when the items come in the mail and are badly-stitched together, with no lining, and end up falling apart within 6 months. By that point, you're better off just going out and finding something that's ACTUALLY vintage and spending a little extra on it.

    I solved that problem by learning how to sew. I'm not so much having the problem of deciding what dresses to buy, but which patterns to buy since I'm finding them all over eBay and the internet. It's like I've unlocked a treasure trove of knowledge. There's even guides specifically suited for re-sizing patterns for more modern measurements - as in, not a 23" waist.

    Regarding the frankensteining bit, I'm actually not too cheesed off about that, especially if the item is going to go to good use. I could see myself turning a 70s long-sleeve maxi dress into a mini-dress and using the rest of the fabric to make a cushion or something useful in the house, I think that's alright. If you're turning a chiffon gown from 1954 into a blouse or something, though, for some reason THAT I have a problem with. Perhaps I just have an emotional attachment to particular eras, or anything past the 60s I'm more OK with - I have no idea why!

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    1. Yeah, there's a really wide variation in repro brands in terms of fabric quality. I don't mind spending more for repro stuff made in Europe/ the US / Oz and NZ as I feel then it's far less likely to come from a sweatshop. One of the things that puts me off the high street is knowing the awful conditions workers in the third world often have to live in. I think Heyday are my favourite repro shop; while they're not cheap their stuff isn't in the 'outrageous' bracket (eg Stop Staring...) and the quality of their stuff is really good. They're also very much focussed on authenticity. I've had my 'Fleur' dress from them for a few years, and it's a heavyweight pure cotton that washes and wears really well, so I'll definitely get my money's worth out of it.

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  2. Whatever branch of vintage your into, the danger starts when you become totally anal about detail . I've had to walk away from a conversation where someone said that a dress was just destroyed because the zip had been replaced with a modern non nylon toothed variety that actually would last for years instead of splitting and popping teeth

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    1. I suppose I'd try to replace with a metal one if I could, but a dress that's wearable is always going to win out for me over an unwearable, unrepaired one.

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  3. Generally speaking, I don't view them as two opposing camps, but rather branches of the same larger sartorial tree. As genuine vintage becomes harder and harder to find (in many places at least - here in Canada for example, most thrift stores have had little to no pre-1960s, and often now even pre-1990s, vintage for over a decade at this point), and what is available is often very pricey, repro helps ensure that vintage-like styles are available to a broad range of folks, including those who may have access to genuine vintage still, but not necessarily in their size and/or price range.

    I agree that the general term "repro" has been stretched quite a bit (just as "vintage" itself has; items from the 1990s or 2000s are unequivocally not vintage yet in my books, they're secondhand, if they've been owned before, but they need to live many more years before earning the title of "vintage") and that not all styles that take on this title are actually copies or close versions of true yesteryear garments, but thankfully some - especially from some of the brands out of the UK - are and think that as time goes on and the worldwide vintage well dries up further, these brands will be the saving grace, so to speak, for many (especially those who don't sew themselves) with a penchant for yesteryear styles the world over.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. That's an interesting take on this. I do tend to order most of my original vintage in from the US as they seem to have a lot more, it's very hard to get hold of in larger sizes here in the UK. I'd imagined Canada would be more like the US.

      I do find it odd when stuff from the 1990s is described as 'vintage'; I still own stuff from then that I bought new!

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  4. "Something that looks exactly like the thing lots of other people are wearing. Something that may not actually bear much resemblance to actual vintage, but is seen as 'vintage'.... And sooner or later enough people will be wearing that sort of thing that genuine vintage will be thought of as looking 'wrong'."

    THIS!!!!!!! You have hit a nail on the head for me. I have never, personally, been one to be bang on detail wise - i make my own style from what I find with a nod to the 40's - but I am not a mega fan of most repro myself. Mainly because, as beautiful as some pieces are - you always run that risk of wearing the same thing as someone else to an event. And - to be honest - I like making up my own look.

    Great piece Mim :)

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    1. I love the way you look! You do always look very much yourself, both vintage and not like anyone else.

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  5. Ooh, don't talk to me about that ghastly programme, my friend and I spent the entire episode sending sweary, sniffy texts to one another!
    What I don't like is when people destroy old things. Fine if it's so badly damaged to start with that there's no hope. Books included.
    I even saw 50s/60s handbags, very collectable, which had been cut about to make frames...what?!! Give over, you eejits.
    This stuff is part of history, at this rate there will be nothing left of it for future collectors/historians. It just seems to be part of the me, me, me mentality that abounds now, do what I want regardless.
    I think what would bother me is if folk start thinking new is "right" as in historically, when it isn't. When it comes to me history, I'm a purist.
    I can't afford to buy the repro stuff, even when I've seen something I like, it's too expensive for me. I don't mind where my clothes come from or what the size label says, as long as it suits me and fits.
    What I mean is, I'm not label snobby. But the charity shops in my nearest town..nearest being relative here...are mostly pretty awful now, and have been for some time. I tend to trawl ebay.
    But on saying that I have often eyed up the 50s suits on Top Runway.
    Have you ever used them? I'm wary in case it's rubbish...or I get the sizing wrong ; ).

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    1. I haven't ordered from Top Runway, but I've got an order for 1920s beach pyjamas in with Time Machine Vintage on Etsy. I'll let you know how it goes.

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  6. And I'd never heard of Collectif, thanks for that. I see they do good sale reductions. And there's some things I'd wear. I'm nearly 48 and quite a lot of it is too young and girly for me now. I keep seeing things I'd have loved in my teens and twenties, but would be ridiculous on me now.
    So I shall bookmark them.

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    1. I hear you on the 'too girly' front. I would be careful with Collectif. I own two dresses from them. 'Wilhelmina' is a teal 1940s crepe dress and it's gorgeous. Doesn't wrinkle, washes beautifully, hangs nicely when on. I love it. 'Frances' is a 1920s-style one and it's awful. I don't know if they were worried about making something authentically boxy, but the stretch (!WHY?!) fabric and the way the skirt is cut makes it bellytastic. That's saved for loafing round the house at weekends... I'm only buying stuff from them now when I've heard other people are happy with that particular garment.

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    2. Ta for that. I looked up the teal dress...just to be nosey!...and it certainly is smashing, very elegant. Had a look at their sizing on a jacket, and it does seem to be odd compared to other places, this ran quite big.

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  7. I aim to buy non child labour items. Otherwise I do not care if others also have the same as me, I just like clothes that fit and make me feel happy, yet a often surprise how rare it is for someone to be waring the same thing I am. Being such a klutzes I fear for the life span of original vintage wear, maybe that why I do mostly hats and bags now, that and vintage shopping was so much easier when I was a tiny size more choice. It see strange that then I would try things on now I look and unless really clearly label my size I do not risk doing so.

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    1. Heh, it's so much more expensive than is used to be, that's half the problem! Be dreadful to rip the pits out of a frock and have to buy it when it'd be too small to be wearable anyhow.

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  8. You are right there are some very cheap and nasty reproductions out there but on the other hand at least I know with repro it's going to wash and wear and actually FIT! At 5ft 11" with a long torso I am not vintage shaped and it's near impossible to find vintage that fits me. Personally I don't worry about other people having the same frock I think it's how you wear it and dress it up that counts.

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    1. Yah, being a fat lass I'm always pathetically grateful for stuff that fits!

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  9. I have mixed feelings about repro. The pieces I've picked up secondhand have seemed very cheaply made. When I took a look online to see what they retailed for, I was astounded. For that sort of money, I would expect good fabric, and finished seams.

    On the other hand, people buying reproductions leaves more original vintage for collectors. So many times I've scored beautiful items at thrift stores that I'm certain people didn't buy because it didn't, "Look vintage." If you wear enough original vintage it is obvious at twenty paces on a rail with modern junk. Just today, I bought a 1940's Mexican tourist jacket at a thrift store where I'm sure it was seen, and ignored by many, many people.

    I've had luck with modern pieces that aren't sold as reproduction vintage but can work with an overall outfit (drop waist sailor styles, etc.).

    I'm not a purist by any stretch (I happily mix 30's dresses with 70's polyester jackets) but I am tight with a dollar. I enjoy vintage clothing, but I also enjoy the pursuit of it. Going online and splashing out on a reproduction dress wouldn't be satisfying to me.

    Good post, it really raises some questions that don't have simple answers.

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    1. I do love your style! It's always fun looking at your blog to see what you've been wearing.

      I agree that if you wear enough, it becomes obvious on the rail. One thing about awful modern prints - they do make it easy to pick out genuine vintage. Often you don't need to touch the garment to know they won't be right!

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  10. I really enjoyed reading this and everyone's interesting comments. I think, as with most things, that there is great repro and meh repro - I'm thinking kitsch pin up here but then if that is your look I guess it is useful. For me, nothing beats the feeling of the hunt and then finding a true vintage piece which you love and which fits. Saying that, I am not small enough to fit many vintage clothes and so repro helps me out there. It is also nice to have some stuff that is easy to care for. I hated that programme too, watched one and that was enough. I also wish people wouldn't chop up original items. Leave them whole for someone who wants them. I don't mind if they are damaged beyond their original use but if not, leave it be!

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    1. I like kitsch pin-up, I just don't like it being confused with vintage. Which, I suppose, leads on to the horrible question 'WHAT IS VINTAGE?' which always leads to arguments about whether it's the age of actual things, or a subculture, or now a meaningless word...

      I'm large too, and decent repro is a godsend.

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  11. I think that repro - when its done properly - has its place, especially if people can't find vintage clothes that they like or in their size. I like it when I see repro clothes that have attention to detail in the style and also the textiles used, but it turns me off when I see repro clothes that are made in order to jump on the 'vintage' bandwagon; not bothering to get the details right.

    I don't have any problems adjusting vintage clothes to make sure that they fit me properly, such as adjusting darts, waistbands etc. as this means that I'll wear them more instead of them being resigned to the back of the cupboard.

    Although I did cut up my beloved 1970s halter dress as there was no way that my boobage would fit back into it after I had Monkeychild. But the waist still fitted, so I turned it into a maxi skirt instead!

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    1. Ah, but it's your halter dress, and I bet you plan on being its last-ever owner. I wouldn't have any qualms about adapting something if I planned to wear it to bits afterwards. Though I don't have the skill to alter clothes, you are clever!

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  12. There's repro and then there's "repro." Like you said, there are some fabulous reproductions out there, but for the most part, for my budget and in my experience, they don't quite measure up. The fabric is always wrong, the bust is never the right shape, and things always seem to be cheaply made despite their price tag.
    My biggest issue, which you touched on, is that folks have come to label anything vintage that looks even slightly old fashioned. Call it what it is, if it was made recently, it's not even remotely vintage. I hate thinking that people are associating cheap stretchy fabrics with what they truly believe to be old!

    I really do like the thrill of the hunt for the authentic article. If I want something that doesn't require constant mending or special care, I'll find something with a classic look or with a vintage feel at the thrift shop (often from the 80s) and style it to look authentic.
    All in all, I'd rather save my money for genuine vintage or great reproductions in the case that the genuine article has yet to be found.

    Great post!!

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    1. Yes, there's nothing like the thrill of a successful hunt, is there? I'm absolutely buzzing for weeks after a good charity shop find. I am moving more towards buying really good repro or authentic vintage nowadays; shopping on the high street feels extremely strange nowadays.

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