Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wearing the Past

Wearing the Past
Vintage clothing retains modern following

Avenue Writer

When Nava Ottenberg first opened Persona in 1980, she had no idea she would still be in the same business 27 years later.

Luckily for her, vintage fashion has maintained a strong following.

"Vintage fashion has become very mainstream. Before, it was very popular in the underground scene," Ottenberg said.

Throughout the years, there has been a notable blending of the past and present.

Bell bottoms from the '70s, swing dresses from the '50s and skinny jeans from the '80s all have a place in modern fashion - bell bottoms are now flared pants, skinny jeans don't have zippers down the legs and swing dresses are a little skimpier.

After fashion disasters of the '90s, like feather boas and parachute pants, designers are taking a more subtle vintage approach. Instead of pushing awkwardly patterned bright colors on harsh fabrics - a la Versace - fashion is taking the best elements of previous decades and compiling them to create a modern look.

Today, flowing tops, Greek-goddess structured dresses and '70s stacked shoes are the sort of elements that comprise fashion magazines and celebrity wardrobes.

Each is tailored to fit our environment yet easily distinguishable as originating in the past.

Not Your Grandma's Sewing Machine

Chain stores that deliver mainstream fashion to the masses are filled with vintage-styled clothing. Forever 21 abounds with bright '70s dresses, American Apparel carries brightly colored '80s-style spandex and Macy's American Rag collection is known for its bohemian '60s styles.

It is sometimes hard to differentiate between the timeless dress passed down from someone's great aunt and the department store dress made in a Taiwanese factory last November.

The main difference lies in the quality and originality of the product.

While a shirt bought at Forever 21 might have the buttons fall off the day it is purchased, one found at a vintage store like Persona most likely will not.

Unlike the quality craftsmanship of the past, modern clothing is often mass-produced, diminishing the garments' quality and life span.

Clothing and accessories found at Persona are all either handpicked, authentic vintage or specially made by independent designers reinventing the vintage style. It all possesses a high degree of quality and originality not obtained from department stores.

"You can buy a designer purse for $3,000 or you can come to Persona and find a great clutch from $14 to $22, and it will have great vintage quality," Ottenberg said.

From Plastic to Fashion

Recycled fashion has also become increasingly sought out since 1990. Unlike vintage shops, recycled fashion - or consignment - stores sell gently used clothing passed down from customers. The same clothes found at the mall are sold for a reduced price.

In the past, buying from consignment shops or thrift stores was reserved for the alternative crowd.

Now, everyday shoppers roam the aisles of local recycled fashion stores like Flashbacks and Sandy's.

"Recycled was a feeling or thought process that for people took off in 1990 with the 20th year celebration of Earth Day," said Flashbacks owner Steve Nichtberger. "Since then, people became a lot more open and recycled fashion became hip."

The 20th anniversary of Earth Day accompanied a trend that made everyone more aware of the benefits of recycling. From plastic to fashion, people became more conscious of reusing resources.

Like Ottenberg, Nichtberger did not suspect his recycled fashion boutique would still be booming more than 20 years later.

As the years passed, appreciation of low-priced quality clothing continued to grow, keeping Flashbacks as successful as ever.

Stores like Flashbacks carry anything ranging from authentic vintage dresses to Hollister jeans. The best part is the clothes cost less than half what they would at the mall.

"People have become more conscious of the fact that they don't have to spend $80 on a pair of jeans," Nichtberger said.

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