Saturday, November 6, 2010

Authenticity, Nostalgia and the Uniform of Labour!

Vintage is my life.  I love vintage leather, and certainly shirts, boots, tees and the myriad of other garments that I own.  I live and breath vintage clothing day in and day out.  I define my day by periods.  I pick vintage eras, and rarely do I ever mix garments up that might not have coexisted with each other in a natural time frame.  You might say that when I dress up, and out I always try and create visual authenticity.  I would say that my favourite era would be the 1970s, that being said the majority of my customers pick truer looks from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.   Classics like the rockabilly style with a McGregor shirt, or Pendleton, and a rolled up pair of selvage jeans, or a 1930s chore jacket, with painter paints and logger boots.  I often ask myself what is driving this desire to dress in the past?


 All these nouveau working class hipsters seem to share some common interests.  Obsessions with the uniforms of the past seem primary.  Whether it is the authentic brand or manufacturer of a tree climbing rated logging boot, or the raw denim or canvass cut of a working miners buckle-back pant with twill drill cloth pockets, the quest for lost authenticity in both manufacturing technique, cut and materials seems to drive the market.  Different brands will achieve different levels of this authenticity.  And generally, the more authentic the materials and production techniques, the purer the aesthetic of the garment the higher the retail price, and often the higher the cost to produce the garment.   As an example from my own experience, when you use cotton thread to sew a leather jacket as they did pre 1950...the thread will often snap as it pulls through the hide.  This makes for a much more difficult and costly task to sew a jacket.  Now why use cotton?  It certainly is not stronger the polyester, it will rot, it snaps and breaks?  But ...to be authentic cotton is the thread that was used.  Not just that, but Coban (poly thread) will saw through the leather over time, and ultimately in the 1940s preserving the leather for long use was far less costly then paying someone to do a quick restitch and voila...authenticity when labour was cheap and available



 So what is this really all about.  I think there is a meta narrative driving this quest for the past and all this authenticity.  I believe that people long for the simple times when the labour market, food, the environment were well defined entities.  There is a sense of complete detachedness and schizophrenia lingering in the air today.  At the pace of knowledge and technology and the progression through which we exist and co mingle, a persons life and job can become obsolete within a few years of learning a new skill.  Software and technology upgrades, cheaper labour markets, and outdated modalities make more and more of us irrelevant, downsized, and obsolete. 

 A horsehide jacket, a pair of raw denim jeans made by a guy on a sewing machine in his own studio, or shoes hand cut and hand sew with waxed linen thread seem to act like anchors to the past...when you knew the historical zeitgeist of right and wrong, morality and sexuality seemed well defined, labour markets were growing and jobs were available, governments looked out for their citizens and food didn't kill you.  I think perhaps their is a generation out there that lives nostalgically for grandpa's day in a seemingly fluid and diminishing present.  That being said, our present is starting to emulate and ooze an eerie simulacrum to the labour and economic conditions of the 1920s perhaps the fashion is an accurate reflection of the times.  The photos are from the Time-Life Google image project. (except the colour one: from the Inspiration Show, Rin Tanaka...new age old school cobbler/belt makers doing it oldtimer style)