How I Became a Lady at the Vintage Fashion Expo
Vintage Wish List
Before the Beginning
Long before I started attending the Federation of Vintage Fashion's Fashion Expo I had my vintage clothing dreams that included a growing wish list. Gradually accumulated through exposure to high-end labels at my job as a co-manager at Aaardvark's Odd Ark in Venice, California and trips to various costume libraries in Los Angeles, it reflected my own personal style.
The most coveted-Chanel-is a look I've continued to copy throughout my life, resulting in a wide collection of boxy blazers, structured cardigan sweaters, striped breton shirts, decorative scarves and piles of costume jewelry. A reliable standby, I have been able to supplement my three vintage Chanel purses with a plethora of attractive knock-offs from Goodwill Thrift Store, ThredUp.com, Council Thrift Shop and Vintage Expo.
Combined wiith jeans and khakis they add an immediate sense of glamour and elegance to an otherwise casual ensemble. In addition to Chanel, my list also includes Lilli Ann suits, Emilio Pucci, Hermes scarves, Victorian shoes and Gunne Sax dresses.
Travelling Back In Time
Remembering the Past Fondly
Alice went down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass to find her new world and Dorothy traveled to Oz. Little Edie and Big Edie created an alternative universe at Grey Gardens and I'm constantly redecorating my room every semester to court inspiration for my classes at Academy Of Art University every semester thereby erasing the line between reality and fantasy even more.
Suddenly the past becomes distorted when I'm in this mode, the present tenuous and the future a continued blur. To get through this period of uncertainty I recall the good times I've enjoyed and reevaluate the bad experiences I've learned from and don't want to repeat. One of the most precious memories is as a model for the Vintage Fashion Expo.
Becoming a Vintage Show Model
In 1979, following graduation from Westchester High School, I realized one of my goals to enroll in John Robert Powers Modeling School and learn how to become more poised and well dressed. Finally, after three months of their self-improvement course I became a fashionista who not only wore clothes but also worked them. Between then and when I became a model for FVF's fashion shows I'd longed for an opportunity to showcase "the bandbox look" in front of an audience.
One day, while sitting in the audience at the Vintage Expo, I saw a tall Caucasian model with long dark hair, walk down the aisle with a large black and white cat draped across her shoulders. She'd hold him out so that his body was one elongated shape, then settle him back down behind her neck like a 1940's fox stone martin. When I saw that performance, I knew one day I'd have the courage to ask If I could model too. Finally, I decided to contact John Maxwell, one of FVF's producers and my old editor for their Vintage! newsletter. He told me to call Deborah Rush, the show coordinator, and ask if she needed any more models.
"I can always use another model," she said.
And the rest is Vintage Fashion Expo history.
Behind the Curtain
Modeling: Behind the Scenes at the Shows:
She then sent me a list of things I needed to bring: one pair of nude pantyhose, one pair of black pantyhose, one pair of black heels and one pair of white or off-white heels. My makeup and hair were to be simple so that I could be versatile enough for the various eras I was scheduled to model. My first day of actual modeling I was escorted to the dressing room to receive my list, see my garments, and wait for the other models to rehearse on the main stage. I'll never forget the first outfit I ever modeled- a dark wool bathing costume with a white hat trimmed with blue ribbons. I remember it itched like crazy but was so adorable I didn't care. Another memorable piece, from that show, was a light pink satin strapless gown I wore that had previously been photographed for a 1953 "Vogue" magazine cover.
Whenever Rush selected outfits for us she always gave us clothes she felt personified the eras we represented. That meant regulars, Keri Bible usually got Victorian and 1920s because of her peaches and cream complexion, and Anna Marie Von Furley (owner of ReVamp Clothing Company) got 1920s and 1930s because of her signature yellow pageboy hairdo and black Mary Janes while I got mostly Edwardian and 1940s. For some reason, Rush saw me as a strong, independent woman embodying the same rebellious grit as a suffragette or "Rosie the Riveter" type. Now that I'm battling the "big C" I can see what she saw- a fighter, trooper, and tough cookie who isn't afraid to throw down with style.
Organized thematically the main thing I learned from participating in the shows, was how women felt who wore those clothes originally. Their posture was ramrod straight, their gestures and strides small and their expressions demure and pleasing. Buttoned, zippered and hooked into long wool suits, short dark 1940s separates and side-detailed cocktail dresses I left my modern body behind and went back in time. In my light blue embroidered suit and black straw hat I was an Edwardian housewife leaving church and in my yellow and gold 1920s dress I was a kooky flapper ready to "go wild" and do the Charleston.
Tragically FVF decided to eliminate the fashion shows, due to costs, so I don't do them anymore and I haven't visited the Santa Monica Vintage Clothing Expo since the last time I modeled. I've missed it, and after going to the "Helm's Design District Vintage Boutique" I know I might not be modeling but at least I have my memories and the experience to join the new world of conllecting and continue looking and adding to my collection.
While collecting vintage has largely disappeared from the easily accessible venues they used to inhabit the field is still open online and at thrift stores if you do your homework. The "Gem-Search Vintage App" is a good place to look if you're open-minded and creative.
If all you have is $25 to spend on a vintage piece, you can find things like an Emilio Pucci Visor Vintage Hat for $25 (agelessalchemy.etsy.com), and a pair of Formfit Rogers Girdle Shorts for $24 (backinstyle.com) and on etsy.com a Vintage Lilly Dress (KarizmaDecor, Palm Springs, California) and a Vintage Saks Fifth Avenue Liaqat Cap Hat (PickaDeal, San Francisco, California) for under $30.
If you know the characteristics of a vintage garment that usually makes it identifiable. Vintage expert, Lisa, from Seattle, Washington offers this tip: "Look to the zipper first!...If it's on the left side, for example, it's very likely that the garment was produced during World War II."
Goodwill (shopgoodwill.com) is another good resource, and one I use before I shop there in person, to hone my eye. They have auctions with timeless finds that can either be considered vintage or be worn more expensive vintage items. When I examined the site I saw a gray Evan-Picone suit (starting at $6.99), a khaki Calvin Klein jacket and a pair of Vince Camuto loafers both starting under $20.00.
To see what's going to be collectible tomorrow it's best to look at the runways on vogue.com and study fashion magazines and newspaper inserts such as the IMAGE section of the L.A. Times. After examining both I think fanny packs, backpacks, delicate gold necklaces, carry-all designer totes, '90s gear, maxi dresses and tuxedos will be among the hottest must-haves in the future.
Ultimately, since vintage changes as much as contemporary, the ability to create one's own collection out of whatever catches your eye and imagination, makes it fun to participate in and watch from the sidelines.
Vintage Clothes Will Always Be Beautiful
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Vintage Fashion Shows Are Special Events
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