When wearing vintage was weird…

Three designs by Leong for Streisand's club appearances in the early 60s that included (left to right) a feathered bedjacket, vintage 20s shoes, and Edwardian bodice.

Three designs by Leong for Streisand’s club dates in the early 60s that included (left to right) feathered bedjacket, vintage shoes, and Edwardian bodice.

I never knew that when Barbra Streisand sang “…I’m wearing second hand hats, second hand clothes, That’s why they call me Second Hand Rose…” in Funny Girl, a song originally written for the 1921 Ziegfield Follies, that she was also singing from experience.

When I wrote the chapter ‘Doing Your Own Thing’ in my book Sixties Fashion: From Less is More to Youthquake, I knew there was more to the history of wearing vintage clothing but every contemporary academic book and period article I could find on the topic credited the Mods and Hippies of the mid 1960s as the originators for wearing funky threads found in antique stores and thrift shops. Any reference that predated the mid 60s trend referred to old clothing as something worn for fancy dress-up, or out of need due to wartime necessity or poverty. These last two reasons however, were more about the resale of previously worn clothes that pass for new, or remaking vintage clothes to disguise their archaic styling- not wearing them because of their archaic styling.

Research doesn’t end when the book is published and so it is that I discovered an interesting site today about Barbra Streisand’s fondness for wearing vintage clothing. In 1960, the 18 year old Barbra often wore black tights and raincoats for a Beatnik chic while attending acting classes. After winning a fifty dollar prize in a singing contest, Barbra got a gig that September to perform between comedy sets by Phyllis Diller at the Bon Soir, a Greenwich Village after-hours club. In a January 9, 1970 article in LIFE magazine, Streisand recounted how she wore an antique white lace combing jacket and pink silk 1920s shoes to appear at the Bon Soir. “I didn’t know you were supposed to wear gowns in nightclubs so I sang in a wool dress or in antique clothes.”

Earlier that year Streisand met the young costume designer Terry Leong while rehearsing a play. Leong sketched several stage outfits for her nightclub routine that included vintage pieces such as an Edwardian beaded bodice, feather-trimmed bed jacket or shoes from the 1920s. Phyllis Diller reportedly told Striesand “You can’t wear that stuff”, and took her shopping for a cocktail dress, but “It wasn’t me” said Streisand.

2 thoughts on “When wearing vintage was weird…

  1. In the late 80s-early 90s I bought a dress for ~$60/80 at a consignment shop for a high school dance, probably prom. I lived in an affluent suburb in the South so going to 2nd hand stores wasn’t something most of the kids were inclined to do. The dress was a short, black silk with lace, absolutely gorgeous; I still love it and wish I could fit into it. I had more than one person laugh and scoff at me for buying a 2nd hand dress. “why would you do THAT??!!??” “Oh, I’m sorry your dress is used” etc. Those comments didn’t come from my friends, but from the more “mainstream” kids at the school. But I still remember wondering what was so weird about not wanting to wear some 80s monstrosity to a dance, saving a bit of money, or knowing that no one else would be wearing anything similar. There were also kids who called me “hippie” because I wore my hair long and straight. Defying social norms and expectations is fun!

    • Peer pressure is fierce at that age, but good for you for having the self confidence to do what you wanted!

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