Looking back decades for fashion inspiration.
Why some fashionistas continue to reach into the past for inspiration
Walk down Edmonton’s sidewalks and you’ll see little nods to past fashion trends: cropped pants and high waists à la the 1950s. Tassels and jumpsuits from the ’70s. Belly-baring shirts, Doc Martens, even acid-wash jeans from the ’90s.
There are some women who don’t just dip their toes into the past, but fully embrace styles from previous decades. They typically combine vintage clothing found in second-hand or online stores with new items locally made or vintage-inspired.
Their fashion choices raise curiosity, wonder, compliments and consternation.
“Are you going to a costume party?” many people ask. The answer: “It’s the costume party of our lives.” Here in the first of a two-part series, we explore why they love the styles of the past and whether or not they were born in the wrong decade. Part 2 is next Friday.
Jill MacLachlan, 40, freelance writer, English-as-a-secondlanguage teacher, owner of Etsy-based Adeline’s Attic vintage clothing business
Style era of choice: 1920s and 1930s The look: Art deco drowsy-frowzy flapper dresses with beads and dropped waistlines, as seen in the movie The Great Gatsby. The high-deco period in the 1930s was more glamorous with satin gowns cut on the bias, often associated with Hollywood starlets such as Jean Harlow.
MacLachlan’s spin: “I’ve always been more drawn to the daytime stuff that lower class, or people of more meagre means, would have worn or made for themselves.” After all, delicate silk from almost a century ago (often made in petite styles) isn’t exactly practical for the modern-day woman. MacLachlan hunts for bohemian, folkloric blouses with intricate embroidery. She pairs them with handmade crocheted or knitted bags.
“I love the sense of geometry, colour, but also movement that reflected what was going on in culture at time,” MacLachlan says. Cars were fast for the day and so was a culture pushing for women’s rights and freedoms.
That push appeared in the designs of Coco Chanel, who used jersey fabrics, made comfortable suits and pants for women, and introduced the corsetless silhouette. Inspiration: MacLachlan’s grandmother, who raised her farming family on the Alberta Prairies during the hungry ’30s and taught herself to be a dressmaker. Where’d you get that? MacLachlan won’t share all her sources, but she buys vintage-inspired shoes from companies that reproduce the Golden Era looks, such as Miss L Fire or Re-mix. She also buys local labels such as Sabrina Butterfly.
“I think a lot of modern designers are drawing from vintage garments,” MacLachlan says. “In a way, looking backward is actually being fashion forward.” Born too soon? “I’m not one of those Golden Age thinkers — I guess that is what Woody Allen called it in Midnight in Paris — like everything would have been better if only I had been born in the Time of Cholera. I’m very much aware of the socio-political, historical, medical implications of being born in a different time period. But when it comes to certain elements of dress, what was seen as ideal femininity in the ’20s, I definitely relate to it more. It had a different feel of strength and independence woven into the designs of ’20s stuff, as well as not hyper-sexualized femininity.”
Laurie Callsen, 24, works in government communications, author of Retro-Reporter, an Edmonton vintage lifestyle blog. Style era of choice: 1940s The look: More structured clothing with lots of darts and pleats, replacing the blousy looseness of the ’20s and ’30s. Waist bands are on a woman’s natural waist rather than dropped to the hips. Callsen’s spin: “I feel like it looks really good on me,” says Callsen. “I feel very comfortable and myself. I also identify a lot with the era: I feel like the 1940s in terms of clothing and makeup and the fashion had a lot of feminism elements that I don’t think a lot of people realize.” Landmine or Factory girls wore jumpsuits and trousers. Women, limited by wartime rationing, tailored husbands’ suits and repurposed them for themselves to wear to the office as secretaries.
“Men were off to war and women were told to boost their own morale by wearing lipstick,” Callsen says. “It wasn’t just for the men anymore.”
“I do wear modern clothing, but I put a 1940s spin on it,” she says. “It’s not like one day I woke up and everything modern is horrible and terrible and I don’t like it. It’s just what looks good on me. I like the way my butt looks in skirts better than how they look in pants. I don’t like low-- waisted pants.” Inspiration: 1940s history, black-and-white catalogues from the time period, film noirs with moody, dark atmospheres. Where’d you get that? Callsen sews her own clothing using vintage dress patterns; she purchases from B.A.I.T. Footwear and Heyday Vintage Style. Born too soon? “I know some other people interested in vintage or history will say that they were born in the wrong decade, but I love living in 2015. I love having cellphones. I wouldn’t have the job that I do now if it was 1940, that’s for sure. I like the freedom to be able to dress like this. I don’t think if you lived in the 1940s and decided to dress like it was the late 1800s that it would be as accepted. …
“People (say) they wish more people dressed like this nowadays — which I don’t necessarily agree with,” Callsen says. “I hope that me dressing the way I want to encourages people to embrace whatever their personal style is.”
Kayla Hotte, 23, hospital porter, lead singer and musician in Kayla Hotte and Her Rodeo Pals Style era of choice: 1940s country western fashion The look: Cowboy hat and boots, vintage guitar, dresses with fitted waists and wide, long skirts, button-up shirts decorated with chain stitch embroidery. “I prefer dresses over pants and I always have, even when I was a kid,” Hotte said. She also likes modest cuts with high necklines and long skirts. Hotte’s spin: Hotte loves the Alberta Prairies and wears a golden pin of wheat sheaves on her coat. When she tried to convince her hospital bosses that she’d like to wear skirts to work rather than navy blue pants and a white shirt, they shook their heads. Inspiration: American Hey Good Lookin’ singer Hank Williams, growing up on an acreage, playing bluegrass music when she first started. She now plays obscure western swing music. Where’d you get that? EBay, thrift stores, Swish. There weren’t too many fashion choices for women in the country-western world in the 1940s. Famous rodeo tailors, such as Nudie Cohn, began sewing rhinestones onto elaborate western suits (Nudie suits), and created western getups for Roy Rogers, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, even Robert Redford. Some female singers at the time, Hotte says, would take shirts designed for men and tailor them to fit women. Born too soon? “I wouldn’t have wanted to live back then,” Hotte says. “What I do, me leading my own band, that wouldn’t have been done.”
Freelance writer Jill MacLachlan finds fashion fulfilment in the styles, fabrics and cuts of the period between the World Wars. She even wears her hair in an era-inspired bob.
Musician Kayla Hotte wears western gear from the 1940s. “I prefer dresses over pants and I always have, even when I was a kid,” she says.
Laurie Callsen wears an emerald green blouse she sewed with puffed, three-quarter length sleeves. The black skirt is an a-line 1940s skirt from a friend. The shoes are vintageinspired from B.A.I.T. Footwear.