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Friday, 20 July 2012

(Nearly) the oldest profession ...

The first second hand clothing I can remember buying was at jumble sales back in the 60s.  My Nan was a member of various local women's groups (WI, Wife & Home, etc) and I would join her at village rummage sales to look for dressing up clothes and (sadly) garments I could cut up for craft projects and to make clothes for my dolls.  I still have fragments of a 1920s lace patchwork top which was ruined to make clothing for dolls and to use making peg dolls.  Oh well.  In my teens - those heady hippy days of the 70s - I would wear vintage clothing along with my tiered gypsy skirts.  I particularly rememember stitching a dress with ever increasing circles of ruffles out of a huge quanity of Laura Ashley fabric - I would imagine the bottom tier could have circumnavigated the Royal Albert Hall with little problem.

However it wasn't until c2003 that I first turned to vintage clothing as a means of earning some money.  It all started by accident.  We were moving house and leaving London, and I simply had to get rid of some textiles before packing began so I turned to ebay.  The resulting sales were a pleasant surprise and I soon decided to try to deal in second hand & vintage clothing & textiles.  It hasn't always been easy; there have been spells of office temping & summer school & evening class teaching to help me through; but this time round, here in deepest greenest rural Lincolnshire, I have been trading full time for nearly two years.

I always find the social & historical aspects of fashion fascinating.  Yesterday I was reading one of my favourite more scholarly books about vintage fashion - Old Clothes, New Looks - and I realised I am part of a long tradition of women who earned their living trading in clothing and textiles.  From the rigattiere of 15th century Florence; through the brogers or pledge women from the country towns of 16th and 17th century England who bought and sold clothing and textiles from house to house in Chester, Oxford, Leicester, Shrewsbury, etc; and not forgetting the fripieres from France, we have all appreciated clothing and textiles not only for their intrinsic beauty or interest but for the economic advantage they have afforded us.

Before the widespread manufacturing of textile products in the industrial revolution, textile goods were scarce and produced by skilled needlewomen - heaven help the man without a wife to stitch and manage his household linens! - and as such were valued and used to their utmost capacity.

Here in the West, for the wealthy, choosing vintage textiles and clothing is not a necessity.  There has always been a tradition of wealthy and educated Europeans wearing exotic and vintage clothing as a sign of sophistication and eclectisism.  Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris of the 30s created an explosion in the vogue for exotic Eastern costumes. 

The hippy trends of the late 60s and 70s saw individuals sourcing clothing from outside of the mainstream fashion industry.  Which neatly takes me full circle to my own teens in those fairisle cardis and checked Viyella blouses I bought from jumble sales.  Then of course in the 80s, Adam Ant wore costumes inspired by vintage military wear. Don't even get me started on the rest of the New Romantics ...  Plus ca change....