Mrs. Basore’s Fashion Barrel, or
is it still vintage if you wore it the first time it was in style?
When I was a teenager we had an elderly neighbor who had been a fashion designer and dressmaker in the early 20th Century. (This was the late 1950s, and Mrs. Basore was in her 80s, so she would have been a young woman around the turn of the 20th century.) She had a stack of Vogue magazines from that period. I wish she had willed them to me; they would be highly collectible today. She willed my family something much better than magazines: our house. We rented the house she owned next to hers, and my parents did a lot for her—cutting the grass, doing repairs and painting in both houses, taking food to her, generally being good neighbors to an old lady with no family—and they asked her to sell them the house on contract, meaning they didn’t pay a down payment but just made payments as they had been paying rent. It was mutually beneficial and she obviously appreciated my parents.
Whenever my mother asked me to take a meal or pie to Mrs. Basore I would usually visit with her for a few minutes, and she would tell me stories about her life in fashion. As a teenager I was, of course, interested in clothes and style, and she had a favorite expression if I talked about the latest fad: “Fashion is a barrel. When something goes out of style it gets tossed into the barrel, and when it’s full they dump everything out and use it again.”
Mrs. Basore died soon after the house deal was made, prompting some gossip from the neighbors, but neither party had any idea how long she would live when they made the contract, and I believe my parents’ innate kindness had been rewarded.
I think about Mrs. Basore’s “barrel” whenever stretch pants, bell bottoms, culottes, vests, body suits, platform shoes, menswear for women, or anything in the whole spectrum of “vintage” come into vogue. I think I’ve lived through two stretch pants phases, and gone several times across the spectrum of pants widths from elephant legs and sailors’ bell bottoms to the skinny jeans so popular today. Hemlines, a legendary economic indicator, have run the entire length of the leg from ankle to thigh-top, and now it’s anything goes, from long cotton sundresses to butt-baring minis, which may explain why the economy is so squirrely. I won’t even go any further into the realm of shoes. I mean, is there anything more ridiculous than platforms?
Culottes, bodysuits and vests make periodic comebacks (in fact it’s probably about time for a return); twin sets were big in the ’50s and then again in recent years. The men’s hipster look—Buddy Holly glasses, goatee, fedora, t-shirt or dress shirt with a narrow tie and vest, skinny pants—reverberates across several decades, as does the Annie Hall look for women: menswear vest, shirt and tie, baggy pants, hat, big sunglasses.
According to New York Times’ fashion photographer, keen observer and elder statesman Bill Cunningham, hats with veils are making a comeback in Paris, and I actually saw a woman today with a snood. She was a hip-looking young woman in black pants and t-shirt, and she had her hair caught up in a net that reminded me of a woman in a Renaissance painting
I recently accompanied my granddaughter, who is five, to a dance at her elementary school. The theme was “the ’80s.” At first I wondered why they chose that theme, then realized it’s the nostalgia decade for parents of elementary-age kids.
My husband asked me how one would dress for such a party, and I said I guessed a sweat shirt pulled off one shoulder and leg warmers à la “Flashdance.” Bingo. Nearly every female at the dance who dressed up wore exactly that combo, with either an off-center ponytail or big fluffy hair. And it looked just as bad as it did 25 years ago. Especially on six- or seven-years-olds with heavy eyeshadow.
Needless to say I didn’t get decked out in ’80s finery, and Chloe wore a princess dress, always in fashion for the pre-K set.
So I’ll sort of answer my own question: if you wore it when it was in style the first time, you don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, wear it ever again.