Love, Loss, and My "Perfect" 30s Dress

I am not gentle with my clothes. I mean, I don't got mountain climbing in them (or anything else, for that matter, because Illinois isn't exactly known for it's peaks and valleys), but I don't always think about what I'm wearing before I hop on my bike, or try to tackle my boyfriend to the ground in a burst of exuberant aggression. My mending pile sometimes comes to resemble more of a mending mound for this very reason, and I can't tell you know many popped seams I've repaired since I started wearing vintage on a near-daily basis.

This is all just background information, something I feel I should mention when I say that I recently bought my vintageiest dress yet - a 1930s floral print dress. Mid-calf length, with a zipper right up the front, slightly puffed sleeves, and a little trumpet hem. I'd been eyeing it on Etsy for months. There was something about it that was just enormously appealing to me. You know how it is, don't you? You see something and all of a sudden you realize that that is exactly what you would like to be wearing, right now. At $120, I couldn't quite bring myself to pull the trigger, but when the price dropped to $60, I just had to go for it.

In person, on my body, I love it even more than I thought I would when I bought the thing. There's just something so interesting about it - the contrast of the muted blue/violet background and the mustard yellow and red watercolor print, the strikingly modern-looking front zipper, the surprisingly flattering shape of the sleeves.

Unfortunately, it's far more delicate that I realized when I bought it. The fabric is really fragile, and when it arrived I had to spend a couple of hours mending it before I could even risk trying it on. It wasn't anything as minor as a split seam, either, but a handful of places where the fabric had parted like wet tissue paper. I wore it very gingerly to take these photos, and then to my coffee shop, where I spent the entire time sitting in a chair reading a book. Somehow, despite being very careful, I still managed to split the fabric in the back and at the underarms.

And to be clear, I don't want to sound like I'm blaming the seller, the fantastic Vacation Vintage. She was very clear that the dress was being sold as-is, and given the price, I figured it wasn't going to be in pristine condition. It's an 80+ year old dress, made from a fabric not known for its longevity, and it was definitely well-loved in its time. It still presents beautifully, as you can see.

I am not a person who buys clothes just to have them around, or as decoration. If I have it, it's because I like it and want to wear it, so I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this dress. I could keep wearing it, if only very occasionally and for short periods of time, mending the tears with my Frankenstein stitches and covering up the flaws with a cardigan or jacket. I know it's just going to keep disintegrating if I do that, though, and while I'm tempted to go for it anyway, I'm starting to feel rather protective of vintage clothing in a way that I wasn't before. 

I look like I've seen the ghosts of dresses past.

I look like I've seen the ghosts of dresses past.

Or maybe by not wearing it, I'm denying it its proper place in the universe. I wonder sometimes if things that are made to serve a certain purpose can be sad if they're not allowed to. That's silly, I know - it's just some scraps of fabric and metal, and can't possibly have any needs or desires - but I can't deny the intention of the person behind it. It's clearly home sewn, and I feel like it must have been made by a young woman, perhaps as an early project, going by the crooked seams and other architectural quirks. I'm just starting to sew myself, and I really like the thought that, nearly a century from now, someone might stumble across a project of mine, and decide that despite any tears and mends and fading that might have accumulated in the intervening years, they love it. I imagine that young woman wearing it year after year, loving all the weird little things that make it unique, mending and patching it until it's become little more than a pile of rags, before finally, with a sigh, letting it go.