Vintage Fashion, Self-love and the Pleasure of Pretty Things
"This week we wanted to revisit this guest post by freelance writer Christina Myers. I would be lying if I said it didn't make a couple of us, here at the office, choke up a little. Christina is also a Cherry Velvet customer who decided to share with us her relationship with fashion and dresses. Thank you, Christina!"
Vintage fashion, self-love and the pleasure of pretty things...
I’ve always taken great pleasure in fashion – but for many years, that pleasure was reserved for browsing, only. I’d buy Vogue and Vanity Fair and spend hours relishing the designs and fabrics and accessories as they changed from year to year. Vintage anything, in particular, would catch my eye: cocktail dresses from the ‘50s, old-school silk and lace slips, war-era Victory roll hairdos. Don’t get me wrong: I loved modern things too (Tom Ford late ‘90s? Chanel all the way through the 1980s? Alexander McQueen basically any year ever? Yes, please!) But the things that always jumped out at me were the vintage touches: beaded clutches and Jackie O. pearls, glittery brooches and Mary Jane pumps, snug knee-length skirts and Cuban heeled stockings. If you think modern fashion in even its most simplistic, streamlined forms is a new-born beast each season, look again: vintage is everywhere, almost every year, though sometimes in just the tiniest details.
But, I struggled with the frivolity of fashion. I thought of myself as level-headed, smart – and strongly committed to feminist ideals, to boot. I worked in a field that required others to take me seriously. Was it fluffy-headed to like pretty things? Was I being silly and indulgent to care about this stuff?
Worse, I knew perfectly well that fashion could be a tool of oppression, a simple and effective extension of the intense scrutiny over female bodies – and a costly one at that, for an extra layer of gendered burden.
How was it possible that something that felt profoundly individualistic and pleasurable and even empowering – the fun I had in choosing a lipstick colour or a pair of shoes, the confidence I felt when indulging in certain outfits – was so laden with negative overtones? Could one be independent and intelligent and be taken seriously – and still enjoy a crinoline from time to time?
These were not idle thoughts but genuine debates I had with myself as I considered my responsibility not just to myself, but as a member of a larger “womanhood.”
On top of that, like many women, I struggled with my body – the food I ate, the shape of it, the way it changed through puberty and adulthood and motherhood. From my early teens forward, the message I heard was clear: unless you’re perfect, you need to cover up.
The result of all this body image/self-perception/internal philosophy was a wardrobe of black, with high necklines and long sleeves – and a lot of not-quite-being-myself-in-my-own-body. I’d treat myself to a pair of pretty tights or a satin purse or dramatic earrings – then tuck them away for “someday.”
It’s impossible to do that forever, without being unhappy. For me, a series of seismic life shifts, starting in my mid-20s, slowly – glacially slow at times – allowed me to come into myself in ways that were colourful, individual and most importantly, unapologetic.
It turns out that the unexpected result of indulging in the fashion that I loved – regardless of current trends or the disapproval of others or even my precise body shape at any given time – had the precise opposite effect I had feared when I was younger.
I don’t feel silly or self-indulgent, childish or fluffy – I feel like a woman in charge of herself.
It is a work in progress, and like most women, I’d be lying if I said I walk out of the house feeling divine every single day. I often pile on dramatic accessories, then take them back off. I try to tame my hair and lament when it’s bigger than it should be. I second-guess a polka-dot dress or a particularly bright pair of knee socks and wonder if I should go back upstairs and change. And it ain’t all silks and satins: many days, what makes me happiest is a pair of black leggings, an oversized sweatshirt, a ponytail and a pair of flip flops.
The point, though, is this: I dress for myself and I take intense pleasure in doing so – whether it’s dressing up or dressing way down – and if onlookers enjoy it, or don’t, is entirely secondary.
Discovering Cherry Velvet several years ago now, at the tail end of a lot of personal change, was (at the risk of sounding overly dramatic) a revelation.
The dresses were gorgeous, for sure: vintage shapes, big skirts, figure-hugging in the best ways even for curvy bodies.
But it was the spirit of the dresses that I fell in love with.
They’re meant to stand out. They are totally unapologetic. The fabrics are quirky at times, irreverent and fun. Squirrels and birds. Bicycles. Flamingos. Sushi rolls, anyone? Some are elegant, in classic colours and muted tones or bright primaries. They’re fun, and intentionally so. They’re pretty, elegant or cute, depending on the fabric and design. And let’s not mince words: they are ALL sexy as hell. (And, the cherry on top: the company is owned by a woman, the dresses are designed by that same woman, and the manufacturing happens locally – not to mention ethically, which can’t be said for most overseas clothing production.)
(Christina with her sister, both loving the same dress :)
But here’s the most important thing, in my opinion: these dresses are made to be worn. They’re comfortable and sturdy (yes, sturdy, and how often can you say that about a dress), practical (I’m talking pockets) and a breeze to take care of. They’re easy to get in and out of, with long zippers, or shapes that you can simply pull over the head.
In other words, they are made FIRST AND FOREMOST for the person wearing them. Think about that for a moment. They’re made with the woman who will wear them as the primary focus. Shouldn’t be so revolutionary, but it is.
A majority of fashion is made to look good to an observer but doesn’t feel so good to the person wearing it. Outfits are designed and made like props, objects one is required to “put up with” for the benefit of the world. The phrase “suffering for fashion” comes to mind.
But if I am truly dressing for myself, it can’t be just about the way a thing looks, it’s also fundamentally about how I feel while wearing it. And Cherry Velvet nails it.
I recently went out for a long-awaited celebration dinner with a group of women friends. All of us are CV fans and we each wore one of our CV dresses.
Not one of us wears the same size or even has the same shape. Between us we have given birth to nine children. We all have body image “junk,” parts of our bodies we like more or less. And we all enjoy very different things when it comes to colour and design.
The result? We were proud as peacocks in our dresses; from my solid cherry-red to my friend’s bluebird print, we were wearing every colour of the rainbow. We added cute-as-pie shoes, cardigans for our shoulders (hey, it’s still dang cold out), sparkly bead necklaces or pearls or no accessories at all, and off we went.
And every single one of us felt incredible. How often does that happen with a group of women? We were comfortable. Sexy. Smart. Fun.
We had a waitress take our photo and I sent it to Cherry Velvet that same night with a note about which designs we were each wearing. We are grinning like mad fools.
And though it was left unsaid, that photo for me was really a thank you – a way to say “look at us, all so different and so imperfect and so very, very beautiful being ourselves.”
Because what I’ve figured out, at long last, is that being different and imperfect – in body, in thought, in fashion - is not an impediment to being me.
Being different and imperfect – and feeling good about this – is, in fact, the very basis of being exactly who I am, as it is for all of us.
Christina Myers for Cherry Velvet
Christina Myers is a former journalist turned freelancer and creative writer. Her work appears in local magazines and she has been published in a number of anthologies. She is a fan of dresses with pockets, long socks and nerdy things. Find her online at christinaplus.wordpress.com, or on Twitter @ChristinaMyersA.Previous: A Pin-Up Perfect 14