Of course, not everyone has a background or interest in history or historical fashion. However, the widespread neglect and disregard of antique garments--those fragments of the past that are endlessly teaching us--seems disturbingly prevalent.
Consider my horror when I innocently scrolled past this on Tumblr. The 9th Street Haberdashery is a vintage clothing store in New York City. I am by no means trying to attack their store; these photos are merely a recent, relevant example of many I could have chosen from the internet. Their new window display features a collection of hand tie-dyed clothing from the early 20th century:
|From left to right: Chemise (teens/1920s), Camisole/Corset Cover (Edwardian), Slip/Nightgown (1930s), Blouse (WWI), Pants (1930-40s), Camisole/Corset Cover (Edwardian)|
|Clockwise from left: Camisole/Corset Cover (Edwardian), Chemise (teens/1920s), Camisole/Corset Cover (Edwardian)|
Another example, from the same store:
This "Amazing 1930’s perfect condition cotton crochet skirt and top set" is a unique and stunning piece, and it's long lifespan is a testament to the skillful hands which made it. But just a month later, the following photo was uploaded, captioned "This is what happens when you leave a perfect #1930’s crochet set too close to a light. Fire! #newhalloweencostume".
A unique garment, forever damaged by a moment of carelessness.
Think about it: how often will someone walk into a secondhand shop, purchase an antique painting, and spraypaint over it? Slice it into decoupage strips? Use it as a tea tray?
Why is it that antique items such as paintings, books, furniture, and decorative items receive more reverence and respect than antique clothing and textiles? Is it that we've become such a throw-away society, consumed by fast fashion, that even antique garments have become dispensable and disposable?
Antique clothing is a window to the past: it is tangible in the way that art (abstract and limited to the wealthy) sometimes is not. Everyone wore clothes. Every garment has a story, a connection. Every garment can make understanding the social, political, and economical changes in history easier.
One hundred years ago, closets and dressers and bureaus were not as packed with clothing as today. Even the well-off wore beloved outfits repeatedly, even altering them to fit current fashions. In our fast-paced, fast-fashion society, this can be difficult to grasp, and thus the rarity of an antique garment can be overlooked.
It is necessary that we spread awareness of the social importance of antique garments. Antique garments should be protected and nurtured, not worn by Manhattan hipsters or shredded into scrapbooking materials. These clothes should be sheltered and preserved, giving them a safe and happy home for the rest of their lives as they continue to teach us about ourselves.
If these last crumbling, fading, shattering fibers of history become lost forever, we will lose an important link with our ancestors and our own human history.