I do love images like this for various reasons.
I’m obviously not one for uncritically wishing to live decades in the past. I recognise the valid arguments against romanticising historical eras and turning them into mere snippets of attractive fashions and lifestyles, ignoring any actual lives that were lived and experienced during those times.
However, the fact remains that I enjoy bits and bobs of old-fashioned things. The way I write and speak is tinged with slightly and definitely pretentious fragments and structures of outdated novels. I like seeing vintage photographs and styling myself with fashion influences from the 20s or the 40s. I pin curl my hair. I love brogues, high-waisted trousers, waist-coats, a dapper hat. I also love fitted dresses which flare from the waist. But I certainly have no wish to actually go back to these eras: people who think that it was a time of refined and “proper” manners and good music are kidding themselves, and I usually scoff at them before catching myself.
So what am I doing, then?
I can’t even pretend that I’m able to defend these tastes of mine. Perhaps my frowning at people who critique this trend for retro, usually well-meaning (augh) white middle class feminists, is knee-jerk defensiveness.
But I cannot help but feel that more stories need to be told here. I read on Tumblr once that a POC enjoyed seeing photos like the above because they loved seeing and knowing that people like them existed in the past. Indeed: the most visible versions of these retro worlds - at least the ones which exist in the popular imagination - are almost uniformly white and thin.
When [white middle class etc.] people long for their vintage world, they all but say that they want it to be visibly populated with only the sort of people that “look” right. They sigh over the vintage photographs where there’s not a single brown face, approve of a time when men where gentlemen and women were ladies, note with pleasure their trim waistlines and apparent “good health”. It’s so unlike nowadays, what with all this “diversifying”, and no-one knowing how to dress properly or treat a lady right - all those things are just PERLIDICKAL CORRICKISS GORN MAID and a symptom of an unruly and confused modern world.
But obviously there have always been a huge range of identities out there since… for ever. People whinge about “revisionist” history even when it’s based on considerable amounts of material and written evidence. It’s not like brown queers suddenly sprang up in the 1960s: it is simply a matter of which set of identities is taken into the dominant mainstream and showered with visiblity. I just wish I could confidently say that the dominant narratives and representations are more diverse and accepting in the early 21st century in comparison to the early 20th century…
So that is part of why I like to see these vintage photographs in addition to others and myself dressing up in vintage-inspired styles. We were really there in the past. We are here now. And we’re terribly stylish.