The Beauty of Vintage

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I attended a 1920s “Gatsby theme” party recently, thrown to celebrate a dear friend’s 30th birthday party. The scene was perfect; an oak panelled salon upstairs at Kettner’s in Soho, where the lights twinkled dimly through the hand-blown glass and the neo-gothic corniced ceiling recalled the extravagant drawing rooms of the Long Island mansions of the Gilded Age. The dress code, of course, was ‘Gatsby’, and I had decided to wear white tie (or for purists, ‘formal evening dress’). My ensemble consisted of a vintage tailcoat from the early 1920s, a pair of new barathea wool trousers, a white cotton waistcoat, stiff-fronted evening shirt (with amber studs), butterfly wing collar, black silk socks and patent pumps.

“That looks uncomfortable!” a jovial American (for my friend is a Bostonian) remarked, eyeing my high collar. “Not at all” I replied, quite truthfully. “Did you get that made up?” he continued, scanning my outfit up and down. “No, it’s a combination of vintage and ready-to-wear.” This language had him flummoxed. Considering the growing din and the encroaching awkwardness, I decided to lean in and simplify; “The tailcoat is a very old one, I bought it second-hand.” He looked perplexed by this statement, but then collected his thoughts and transmitted his understanding through a toothy smile. “So it’s not new?”

I decided two things that evening. One, to have a 30th birthday party of my own next February to commemorate the end of my own ‘roaring twenties’ and secondly that my vintage tailcoat, though not made for me and almost 100 years old, is probably the finest thing I own. Not only is it extraordinarily comfortable, it has an elegance that the years have not destroyed. I had slipped it on for the first time in a year, allowing its gorgeous weight to bear upon me and feel the novella-thick lapels between my fingers as I attached a pink carnation. I suddenly envisioned the original owner, standing in front of a mirror, tiredly attending to his own costume as a vinyl played through a gramophone.

“No” I responded “It’s not new, but it feels new. Especially on nights like this.” No tailor, however in sync with my tastes and my desires, could match this except by facsimile, and such a prospect fills me with coldness. It was shocking to some that I should wear something that others have worn before. However, it was more shocking to me that something so magnificent could be so readily available, and be so readily ignored. The artisan who had made my tailcoat is long dead. Artists, as we all know, are always more valued, and missed, after they are gone.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Ray Frensham says:

    I agree with you Winston. One of my most loved garments is my own vintage set of tails found in some market in Amsterdam. The weight and the cut still astonished. And the width of the jacket lapels… so broad they might suddenly flap and I would fly away.

  2. Daniel says:

    Goodness, if that’s you in the picture, what size jacket is that? I have a hard time finding sport jackets on the small side (I’m a 36), so I can hardly imagine happening upon a dinner coat, much less one with tails.

    I especially love the carnation and those studs.

  3. Those are beautiful tails! How did you find them? where did you get the shirt made? Is the collar detachable? Has to be, right?!?

  4. Winston says:

    Daniel and Kirby,

    The jacket is about a size 35, bought from Savvy Row.

    http://www.savvyrow.co.uk

    They have an excellent selection of vintage tailcoats. I did wait a while for this one to come along but it was an easy decision.

    http://www.savvyrow.co.uk/collections/types?q=Evening+Tailcoats

    The shirt is from Darcy Clothing:

    http://www.darcyclothing.com/shop/shirts/sh2291.html

    It is a washable stiff-fronted evening shirt, the collar (also from Darcy) is detachable;

    http://www.darcyclothing.com/shop/collars/washable-butterfly-stiff-wing-collar-co134.html

    Personally, I prefer a stiff fronted shirt and detachable collar with white tie. The detachable collars are of a better height.

  5. Alan says:

    Moving post.