Dress to Express - Page 2

Folks who go retro say it’s all about steppin’ out in style, self-assertion and hunting for clothes
Dress to Express
Vanessa and John Kunkel sporting a 1960s retro look.
Dress to Express
The Kunkels, in their Sunnyvale Eichler living room, where they often throw theme parties—and of course dress the part.
Dress to Express
Outside the Kunkels' Eichler. Their rides, naturally, are also from the mid-century.

"More of the new people in our neighborhood are really into the mid-century modern. They're into decorating their houses, but not so much into decorating themselves," she says. "For me, it all goes hand in hand."

If you're thinking there's something comical, and perhaps obsessive, about dressing up day after day in clothes from another era—cowboy shirts with piping, silvery floral caftans, Hawaiian shirts with hand-painted outrigger canoes splashing through the waves, or another such shirt in Karl's collection showing grisly headhunter heads hanging from a bamboo pole—well, that might explain why so many collectors of vintage wear deny at first that they are really collectors.

"I'm not a collector, but I know what I like," says Kathryn Danish, who lives with her husband, Andrew Danish, and two children in a mid-century modern home in the Oakland Hills. The home has an atrium with a carp pond.

Then she shows off some of her many suave vintage handbags, her gold lame slippers, a swim cap whose look suggests a sponge from the deepest sea. "Cool?" she asks, holding it up. "I have hats," she adds. "Lots of hats."

Still, there is something undeniably compelling about collecting and wearing vintage clothes. The two activities inevitably go together, proponents say.

For one thing, the activity is absolutely social. It also takes courage. Almost anyone can settle comfortably into a mid-century modern home, and anyone with some taste and education can furnish it with period flair. But dressing the part? That requires commitment. Yes, people do stop and stare.

Oh, but the rewards!

Highest among them is assertion of self. Over and over, folks who go retro, while they may look like creatures from the '50s and '60s, say it's not about impersonation. The way folks dress represents who they are.

And doing it right requires artistry. Many people in the retro scene—including Andrew Danish—say they're attracted by the unique and beautiful designs of vintage fashion, and by their quality, more than by nostalgia. Like many retro collectors, Andrew works in a design field.