“By strict definition, vintage fashion is anything more than 50 years old.”
-Heather Williams, “Vintage: the upscaling of hand-me-downs, The Los Angeles Times
It all started because I was publishing pieces on a writing site that awarded cash prizes for the best articles of the day. It was not, in general, my kind of place – the editors preferred the objective to the subjective, the political to the personal and the simple sentence to the complex. Given my facility for writing sentences with as many as thirty two dependent clauses, I was, largely, a disappointment to them. Sometimes, though, if my topic was sufficiently controversial, I won a prize. My winnings were deposited into my Paypal account, and for the four months or so before the writing site shuttered its virtual doors on December 24th I became obsessed with Etsy. It was “free money,” as far as I was concerned; I recycled posts from Open Salon, and in exchange for approximately five minutes of labor at the computer I had what I considered to be a house account at the coolest store on earth. A more prudent type might have transferred the ten and twenty dollar prizes into a real bank account and put them towards toothpaste and rutabagas but it didn’t feel like regular money. It was magical, found, and outside the quotidian realm of mortgage payments and tire repairs.
I bought jewelry, note cards, soap, perfume, and a tiny felted owl, rarely spending more than ten dollars at a time. I bought Christmas gifts. I made friends with artists whose work I admired, and felt good about contributing to their bottom line – at times, I justified my shopping with an image of The Food Chain of Art in which I won money for my writing, and gave it to other artists instead of soulless corporate entities. It was Paris in the 30s, and I was selling my stories to The Paris Review so that I could buy drawings from Braque and Picasso. I replaced Angry Birds with the calming effects of scrolling through hundreds of tiny photographs on my phone, looking for the perfect fingerless gloves or just the right hand crafted meditation incense. I was eight years old with a quarter at the penny candy counter; the possibilities, the combinations, the opportunities to change my life were practically endless.
When the writing site closed, I knew I would have to do something to keep the Etsy money coming. I am fairly crafty, but not an artist, and I didn’t want to sell the kinds of things that populate the average small town Kute Kountry Kraft show. As it is, I struggle with the impulse to start projects that tie up the dining room table, leave a scrim of tiny beads and paper scraps on every surface, and necessitate emergency rubber cement runs. Fortunately, Etsy allows shops to sell not only “handmade” but “vintage” items on the site, and I have access to (what probably should have been) dumpsters worth of old stuff. As I began to focus, thinking about sifting out chaff (broken earrings from Claire’s) from wheat (a pair of kitschy Cheerios cereal mugs from the 1970s) I decided to check out what qualified as “vintage.” It turns out that it’s a loose category, but that the strictest definition is that a vintage item is anything at least 50 years old.
That meant that, in less than three months, I would become “vintage.” On March 22, 2012 at 12:20 PM, to be exact.
And so, as it so often does, my mind spun off from the firm terrain of What I was Actually Doing into the limitless blue sky of Distraction. I am less flexible lately, my hair is thinner every day, and my right thumb aches when it’s going to rain. These are often signs of one’s impending dotage. Despite my fervent adherence to notion that “you’re as young as you feel,” the universe had clearly conspired to erect a real, physiological barrier between Youth and Age. That invisible portal is not, at least in my case, one reachable at some arbitrary date after years of barely noticeable steps in its direction; it is happening right now, at the very time that I begin circling for my descent into Vintage. Six months ago I felt pretty ageless, and I could have passed for forty in the right light. This morning, feeling the deleterious effects of two (small) glasses of Christmas Riesling and a holiday dessert splurge, I am definitely every minute of forty-nine-and-three-months. If I am “as young as I feel,” I am apparently eighty.
I am working hard at some plausible synthesis for both this post and my actual life. I would like to come up with a theme that recognizes the inherent value in old things, and encourages their preservation through the habits of frequent cleanings, oilings, and judicious application of paint and varnish. I would choose, if I could, to see myself not as an old lady with coils of Brillo-grey hair and sensible shoes, but as a thing like my house, built to last in 1912 and lovingly preserved to serve as a sturdy vessel for modern-day life. It would horrify me to cover the worn, hardwood floors in my house with carpet, or to despoil a 19th century cameo with a coating of gold paint and Swarovski crystals, and I hope that I can be equally moderate in preserving myself without obscuring the patina that comes from decades of loving use. I am, after all, not just an old thing, but a valuable old thing – at least in some circles.
I trust that I will find folks on Etsy who are longing to buy the strange odds and ends I have accumulated because they seemed too interesting, too beautiful, or too beloved to discard. I also trust that even stiff-thumbed and white-haired, I will still constitute a great “vintage find” for those blessed with a sentimental disposition and a discerning eye.