Killing It Softly: Shattered Silk

IMG_2095It’s beautiful. It’s romantic.

It’s dying. It’s incurable.

It’s tragic. It is doomed.

It begs for its story to be told, even as the story comes to a sad, inevitable end . . .

My mother bought a box of vintage linens for me recently, a box full of damask and lace and elegance.

In that box, in a plastic bag, was a garment, a nightie or a slip, and it was so lovely. Soft peach-colored silk with pin tucks and filet lace and a pointed handkerchief hem.

IMG_2092Just seeing it sent my imagination awhirl. The young woman who wore this—who was she? When did she live? What was her story?

Well, she probably lived in the northeast United States or Quebec. She was here, and wearing pretty things, in the late 1800s or early 1900s. She had enough money for quality silk, at least for this one special item.

Could I learn more by looking at the details? I pulled the lingerie out of the bag, opened it up, and . . .

It shattered. The silk began to shatter and each touch, each movement, made it worse.

It didn’t shatter like glass shatters, into a thousand brittle pieces that scatter and cut you and make you bleed. It shattered as only fine old silk will, into creeping tears in the fabric that appear from nowhere and grow and multiply and break your heart.

IMG_2090 IMG_2086As I understand it, the very quality of this item was its undoing. The seeds of its end were there from the beginning.

According to the Pragmatic Costumer, old silks were created in ways that guaranteed their demise. She notes that, “During the 19th and early 20th centuries, silks were often treated with metallic salts to give them fabulous weight and a pearly sheen.” Because silk, unlike other fabrics, was sold by the weight, the heavier it was, the better. Metallic salts gave silk the heavy lushness and “rustle” that spoke of money, class, and quality.

But those same metallic salts ultimately destroy the fabric. Old silk fans shatter along the fold marks, a man’s silk tie shatters at the knot, the silk patches in a crazy quilt shatter and disappear while the cottons and wools stay strong. Slips and negligees and lingerie shatter when they’re handled.

Every time I move this silken beauty, I hasten its death, killing it softly with my touch. I can’t save it; there are no conservation methods. I can only take pictures to remember it by. And tell its story so it won’t be forgotten when it’s gone.

IMG_2083

Why Vintage? Reason #1

vintage fashion-2When I mention to people that I sell vintage linens and house wares, they usually respond in one of two ways. They look at me blankly because it has simply never occurred to them to buy something that wasn’t brand new or they get it immediately and say, “Oh, and vintage is really ‘in’ right now, right?”

It does seem that vintage is really popular right now. I honestly think that, to some extent, there’s always an interest in some sort of vintage but currently a vintage look, or a variety of vintage options, seem to appeal to a LOT of people.

And, I’ve been thinking about why. Why vintage? What is it about clothing and home décor and cars of decades past that appeals to people? When we have an endless supply of new, clean, cheap goods available, why would some of us be drawn to the pre-owned, used, and recycled?

So far, I have identified 5 reasons why people are drawn to vintage:

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of fashion

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of ethics

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of finances and quality

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of nostalgia and sentiment

It’s a choice motivated by a sense of individuality

All five of these may motivate some of you, while others may incorporate vintage into your lives for just a few of these.

I’ll explore my 5 theories over the coming couple of weeks. Who knows, I may even come up with more as I go!

1) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of fashion

This is the one that I understand the least because anyone who knows me will agree that fashionable, I ain’t. If I can’t get it at LL Bean, I don’t need it.

But according to the magazines and blogs I read, fashion motivates a lot of people! Vintage is cool and, because it can come in so many looks, there seems to be something for almost anyone. Do a search in your WordPress Reader for the word “vintage” or go to Pinterest and search on “vintage fashion” to get a sense of how prevalent the interest is and the extent to which people go to create their vintage look.

Vintage-themed weddings seem especially fashionable right now and the vintage look can extend from the formal wear of the participants to the props. I’ve had people contact me, because I sell vintage linens, and ask for 100 blue and yellow vintage napkins for their wedding! It’s the sort of request I’d love to be able to fill but sellers of vintage can’t order their finds in bulk. We find napkins in sets of 4 or 6, if we’re lucky, and almost never see duplicate sets. I’ve often wondered what a bride would DO with all those lovely linen napkins once the wedding was over . . .

Some of the eras that seem to be most popular in vintage fashion group around the mid-20th century. The looks of the ‘40s and ‘50s tend to be chic and fairly conservative but then we hit the 1960s and can choose among bohemian hippie style or Carnaby Street mod or Andy Warhol-inspired Pop Art. Of course, movies and television add to the appeal. As a result, right now, anyone selling anything from the 1960s on Etsy or eBay seems to be using the phrase “Mad Men” in their listings!

Just an example from today!

Just an example from today!

And, of course, fashion isn’t just what we wear on our backs. Decorating a home with a vintage vibe seems to have a continuous appeal, it’s only a question of which vintage era is “in” right now. The cottage chic look seems to be fading now with more interest given to the clean lines of Danish modern or the kitschy look of the 1950s. I know I can always sell vintage dishtowels with a pink and aqua color way! And Downton Abbey is offering viewers a new old look to emulate.

What’s your sense of fashion, in dressing and decorating? Is it at all motivated by a vintage look of a particular era? Which era “speaks” to you most?

pink and aqua towel