"I was a young 'un at Oogli, shy as a girl to begin/Aggie de Castrer she made me, and Aggie was clever as sin..." Poem by Rudyard Kipling, photo courtesy of Digitalpix!
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Vintage Clothing Matchmaking

"I was a young 'un at Oogli, shy as a girl to begin/Aggie de Castrer she made me, and Aggie was clever as sin..." Poem by Rudyard Kipling, photo courtesy of Digitalpix!

Both this eau de nil short kimono and the antique paper fan were gifted to me.

Comments are still streaming in over at the all-time #1 favorite post here, Grandma’s Vintage Fur. There is one poignant theme that I want to address: that of wanting second-hand, somewhat valuable, once-loved garments to have a new life. It comes up whenever I buy a “Sadie von Scrumptious” dress online or in person: the sellers are thrilled at the idea that the dress will be worn and seen.

This idea is so powerful that one vintage-dress-loving blogger’s series, The Secret Lives of Dresses, got turned into a novel. The wistful tales of these anthropomorphized garments are irresistible, and show us the drive behind playing vintage clothing matchmaker.

Sometimes a garment comes to my hands , or emerges from the wardrobe archives, that is really great…for a friend. Three tricky things can come up with this:

  • It IS used, after all – And not everybody is comfortable with used clothes.
  • It isn’t how your friend sees themselves -You think your friend looks fantastic in it, but they’re unsure. It may not be their usual color or labeled size, or it may look strange until the right person puts it on.
  • Maybe you’d like money for it – A toughie! I have had this come up twice for me with thrifting finds. Keeping finances out of the friends zone is usually for the best. Still, one time it was an item I’d been asked to look for, and the other time, if my friend hadn’t bought it somebody else would have, with such an immaculate designer item. I offered it to her with the tag on for just-reimburse-me. If I haven’t thrifted it and I do want some money, I usually post it online or talk to the people at appropriate consignment stores. They are not my friends, they are fellow business people.

I do find that playing vintage matchmaker works best with:

  • Designer items – I admit this with some reluctance, but it does give everyone a shared idea of provenance and quality.
  • Natural fiber items – Yes, polyester is veritably vintage, but it doesn’t time-travel so well.
  • Items that match a person’s aesthetic very strongly. Hard to lose here.

As a giver, be low pressure – an air of generous nonchalance is just right. And when in doubt as a receiver, either say no kindly-but-firmly, or, if you’re on the edge, give it a chance. Keep it for a season and see if it fits, or ask when you accept, “If it doesn’t work out for me, can I share it with another friend?”

Vintage matchmaking gets awkward with family. It’s when it’s family that we feel bad about saying no to the closet full of 1970s knits, or coveting the bolt of Italian silk gathering dust in that same closet. Or it’s when we are pressured to take ALL of Grandma’s vintage clothes – the ones we covet as well as the ones we don’t. (My own grandmother, by the way, was much more gracious than that – hi, Grandpenny! That’s your fan in the photo above!)

Lastly, accept that the item is going on to its new life. When you are gifting something, especially with dramatic items or whole outfits, you have your idea of what will happen to it. The new owner definitely has their own.  Would the person who gave me that mink stole be pleased that I had it converted into a scarf and used the scraps to line a cat bed? I’m not sure. Maybe if I shared my own stories about wearing the mink scarf, they’d be reconciled.