Vintage as the New Look.

Those of us who have always enjoyed vintage clothing are not surprised that buying vintage is fashionable again. Itís hard to believe that not long ago, only "eccentrics" shopped in vintage shops.

Now celebrities are choosing a vintage outfit over the masses of current designer freebies. Julia Roberts accepted her Oscar last year in a fabulously distinctive black and white 1992 Valentino gown. (Not really vintage by our standards, but in the fashion industry, it's ancient.) Renée Zellweger appeared in a 1950s strapless canary yellow Jean Desses gown. Jennifer Lopez recently created a stir by also wearing a vintage Valentino. Kate Moss has been seen in 1980s Vivienne Westwood and it has been said that Naomi Campbell prefers Alaïa's creations of the same period. Even Claudia Schiffer has worn a lacey vintage lacey party dress or two.

Chic shops in Paris, London, Los Angeles and New York are displaying vintage finery in their windows, and often with a hefty price tag. Vintage has become a status symbol. Even department stores such as Saks in NY have embraced the trend, by displaying recycled Victoriana next to the latest styles. Innovative Barney's has opened a Decades concession next to Ralph Lauren and Prada. Henri Bendal has opened an in-house vintage store, whose sales have "exceeded expectations" according to the marketing director.

1950's tailored suit

In London, there is, understandably, a bias for vintage clothing from famous British designers, but any quality 1970s partywear, early Galliano, Pucci, Halston and Victorian blouses are also hot sellers. The best of vintage include Alaïa's stretchy 1980s wear, Vivienne Westwood's punk to pirate collections prior to 1983, Jean Muir's jersey dresses or 1970s leather/suede, late 1960s to early 1970s printed chiffon or lizardskin by Ossie Clark, Pucci swimwear and shirts, early 1980s Thierry Mugler, 1980s shoes with spiky heels by Maud Frizon, anything by Vionnet, Cristobal and, of course, Valentino.

Christie's in London has six sales per year, including the Street Style sale, popular with collectors, tourists, archivists, design and fashion enthusiasts. Anything prior to 1983 is game.

It seems that we can't get enough of Gucci, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Hermès. With the closing of Yves Saint Laurent, demand for these clothes and accessories will probably escalate. No wonder these fashion houses are consistently borrowing from their own rich design history. Designers often buy vintage to get inspiration and many have huge vintage collections. Now Marc Jacobs, Miuccia Prada and Stella McCartney are buying up vintage, to use as inspiration for creating contemporary interpretations.

Stella McCartney's trademark look is a combination of contemporary styles with vintage accessories - her spring/summer 2001 show displayed skirt suits and pillbox hats alongside tailored denim and T-shirts. Her look has been referred to as "vintage sass" which includes a 19th century corset (see Issue 2 article on Corsets), 50's style embroidered cardigan and 1960's pointy slingbacks.

Unfortunately, we all know what happens when there's a trend boom - prices rise and real finds become more rare. Shops often search worldwide for suppliers. Often their stock includes new designers who use old fabrics and rework them by adding trims or changing the colour.

However, sophisticated shoppers opt for the vintage original rather than buy something new that looks similar. The only problem is that supplies are limited, but, then again, that's the appeal. Anything hard to come by, as we know, becomes exclusive. Real style queens insist on originals, which often need altering because they were made small and cut to fit the unique requirements of the previous owner.

Vintage offers a sure way to look unique. No two outfits are the same and they are made from fabric no longer produced and colours no longer dyed. If one needs something special to wear at the last minute, a neat vintage number will solve that problem. With a little luck, one can even find the right sized vintage shoes, although, apparently, they are not as well made as today. In comparison, haute couture takes months of preparation and costs considerably more.

If you're trying to predict what might increase in value over time, choose clothing in good condition, by a well-known designer. Trust your judgement and buy something you enjoy wearing. The vintage wearer must balance age and beauty to achieve this special look of déjà vu. As with any outfit, one should wear the appropriate dress for one's age and body type. Rather than wearing the "samey" looks of global fashion at the moment, why not take the extra time and discover something that hasn't been worn in years? Wear it proudly and with distinction.

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