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.