|Richard Avedon for Vogue (1955)|
If old is the new 'new', what if you’re heading towards antique status yourself? Can you ever be too old to wear vintage? On innocently asking this of the woman behind Jean Cronin Vintage, Looking Our Best (LOB) has been taken to task. “I disagree totally with categorising - it’s actually ageist.” It wasn’t quite handbags (second-hand) at dawn when your blogger met up with the effortlessly stylish Jean Cronin for some grown-up fashion expertise, and LOB concedes that the blog could sometimes be mistaken as a dreaded ‘Dress Your Age’ edict. But still the feeling persists among those of us heading towards our sell-by date that if you fall for a beautiful length of old lace to wear, you could end up looking like Miss Havisham. Not so, it's all about confidence, says Jean, and knowing what suits us is one of the advantages that comes with age. That is what should guide when buying something new, not whether it’s vintage or modern, she says. “You wouldn’t walk into Debenhams and buy a polka dot dress with huge underskirt and frills just because it has a 1950s style,” she argues. “ You buy what you know suits your shape, and the same goes if it’s vintage.”
The very word ‘vintage’ has become something of a catch-all phrase, but for Jean, it simply means beautifully tailored clothes from the past, professionally finished, and in wonderfully tactile fabrics such as pure silk, cashmere and tweed. As a young art college graduate back in the late 70s, she co-founded Xanadu, the tiny Dandelion Market second-hand shop that blossomed into an Art Deco-style boutique on Dublin's Drury Street. Three decades on, she remains the go-to collector for beautiful vintage clothes, whether you are an art director on a film, or simply someone looking for a special one-off. Jean has also designed her own clothing and accessories range, and runs a designated boutique in The Loft Market, (pictured right) blending old with contemporary. And that’s the key to making vintage work, whatever your age, she says.
“You never wear all vintage – you would just look like you are auditioning for a play in the local parish hall. Mixing modern with something older is how the look becomes individual. But I think there is confusion out there as to what constitutes vintage. A lot of stores are selling 80s clothes as vintage. It’s a look that’s hard to wear and doesn’t really doesn’t suit anyone over 30.” For us grown-ups long past our 30s, little black dresses and tailored jackets from bygone decades have never gone out of style. A classic designer label will undoubtedly influence a purchase, and you can still find the odd gem (Jean sold Yves Saint Laurent and Dior pieces at a recent vintage fair).
The same goes for accessories, especially handbags with beautifully aged leather, and that could probably tell a good story. Costume jewellery offers something unique too. Pearls – which don’t have to be real – are worth treasuring, she says. Clip-on earrings (pictured left) give a great period look, and are often more beautifully designed than pierced earrings.
She is enthusiastic about wearing brooches, although LOB feels you can end up looking like your grand aunt. “You wear them in a different way – high up on a collar, on a dress with a low-cut back, pinned to a belt, or on to a bag.
It’s the same with silk scarves, which are beautiful in their own right. In the past, women wore them under the neckline of coats, as much to save on dry cleaning as anything else. We wear them over garments now. ” Vintage shoes are in a different category again, and Jean acknowledges that many people are not keen on stepping into the previously worn. “I don’t have any such reservations, because vintage shoes are so beautifully made. They usually have leather soles – something you don’t get with modern shoes. I have original brogues from the l950s made from kid leather.
I wear them with jeans in the summer. In fact, it you look at modern shoes, they are generally reproductions of styles past. ” You can check out Jean's take on vintage, along with a host of other exhibitors, this Sunday at the Spring 2013 Vintage Fashion & Decor Fair. So if you are a certain vintage, and do find that special treasure, the trick is, yes, do it again, but do it differently.
Among LOB's other happy hunting vintage Dublin stores are:
and A Store Is Born