Growing up in the 1990s, my teenage fashion was a mix of brightly colored baggy jeans, baby t-shirts, embroidered 1970s varsity jackets and headbands from my mother’s closet, kept from her youth. . Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Marc Jacobs splashing grunge on the catwalk of Perry Ellis haute couture, I learned to compliment rather than match and mix recognizable brands with random but carefully selected pre-owned pieces. . This approach works because, like the times of the pandemic, fashion is a nifty but flat circle; it shuttles us around a Ferris wheel of styles that resurface over and over again over the decades.
However, if that Yves Saint Laurent dress was expensive back then, it will probably be even more exclusive because of inflation, baby!
That’s why Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth Carter built her career dressing actors like Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s period piece. Malcolm X and Chadwick Boseman in Afrofuturist Black Panther — knows that vintage shopping is both a treat and a necessity for women who don’t have Rihanna’s fashion budget.
“I think we’ve always defined personal style with vintage,” Carter says of black women. “I remember Joie Lee walking on the set of do the right thing, and she was wearing a vintage 1950s casual cotton dress, and I thought, “Oh, that’s so perfect.” She really stood out from the pack.”
Contemporary fashion is a mix of high and low, and the most famous looks are old and juxtaposed with something that doesn’t seem like it should match at all. Rare finds are the crown jewel of Carter’s work, especially when she digs up clothes from bygone eras, like the luxurious mink coat she put on Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What’s love got to do with itor when she rummaged through the basement of an Italian men’s store in Brooklyn, to find long-collared shirts for Delroy Lindo — father of this perennial 2020 meme — in Crooklyn, the coming-of-age story of Lee in the 1970s. This ability to tell a story through clothing is part of why Carter is currently an ambassador for the black woman-owned online platform Thrilling, a connector for vintage stores across the country, to share their inventory with TV and movie costume designers. She dug out these mountains of shirts so we didn’t have to.
“I’m so excited to be associated with Thrilling because it fits who I was,” Carter says of her talent for finding clothing needles in haystacks. “For Malcolm XI traveled to Chicago and bought coats from a vintage collector’s old warehouse where there were piles and piles of coats [just for] that scene where Denzel walks out of the movie theater in a zoot suit.” In his Thrilling selection, you can shop an abstract ’90s poncho (a trend that’s firmly on a comeback), Gucci sneakers, vintage Louboutin pumps, and pretty earrings representing just about any decade you’d want to remember, with items starting at $15 and going through the triple digits.
In Carter’s work, era-specific clothing is often necessary to tell a story, but vintage also enjoys a moment of popular stardom. It girls like Zoe Kravitz and Zendaya are leading the charge, and the latter’s frequent stylist, Law Roach, boasts a deep personal vintage collection. In 2021, Roach dressed the Euphoria star in a YSL haute couture gown that once belonged to Eunice Johnson, the founder of Ebony Fashion Fair cosmetics and took the night off at the Essence Black Women In Hollywood event. For the Euphoria premiering in January, Zendaya wore a black and white striped strapless Valentino jumpsuit (pictured above) first worn by Linda Evangelista in 1992 – a resounding yes.
She also wears vintage on screen; Eagle-eyed fans spotted vintage Jean-Paul Gaultier in an early Season 2 episode when his character, Rue, casually appears in a silk waistcoat. Rue is a perfect example of someone who would wear something vintage specifically because it’s unique, quirky, and not at all like the sexy twinsets and cutout dresses her classmates wore. Something she found, randomly, for business or in her mother’s closet. Something that wasn’t factory-made to fit an aesthetic we’re all drowning in thanks to TikTok.
Carter is no stranger to the seamlessness that can happen when fashion people keep referencing each other in an endless loop. “Everything looks the same, you know? she reflects. “There’s so much bad stuff there. Once they decide fuchsia is the color of spring, everything is fuchsia, and it’s boring.”
Instead, if you see a mint condition 1990s No Limit Records jersey long enough to be a dress and you think it would be fine without pants with glittery, strappy Amina Muaddi stilettos and a Goyard bag in the dead of winter, then congratulations, you’ve managed to tap into Mya’s 2000 “Get The Best of Me” look and elevate it. Congratulations, too, for literally being Rihanna in that recent weather-defying going out outfit. As Zendaya’s red carpet moments attest, an outfit that harkens back to a pop culture moment and takes it to another level is elegant shine. If you’re inspired to try your hand at this, check out BLK MKT Vintage, an all-encompassing vintage experience that brings black culture to the fore through archival pieces, clothing, home decor, even accessories and decor and, yes, they are Black Owned.
An obvious benefit to crating for clothes is doing your own little bit to reduce waste, but there’s also something decentralizing about the rise of vintage shopping and style. While there are well-reported fashion trends like the resurgence of the 1990s, including my favorite shade of quirky Darya green, integrating lightly used clothes opens the imagination. It allows circumventing, quoting the devil wears Prada“people in this room”, and do your own thing.
It’s what blacks and browns have been doing for ages, whether through fashion, music, art, food, etc. — think of Jean-Michel Basquiat painting on real rubbish. We take things that are not considered high fashion or desirable and fly it, so fly that the world hunts us for the goods (mass produce them, then ruin the fly, then we move on). Consider nameplate jewelry, a style popularized on the necks of black and brown women, which is now the focus of a slew of Instagram brands that endlessly respond. no when customers like me ask if their business is black or brown owned. Fashion, like the weather in this pandemic, is a flat circle.
So while most of us aren’t dressing Tessa Thompson or Lupita Nyong’o for a glamorous movie or blithely creating an uncolonized Africa like Ruth E. Carter does with her vintage finds, the draw n is no less strong on a daily basis. . It’s finding the perfect piece no one else could, for less, an elusive item that proves your style is timeless and yours; you replace the brand name and the lookbook arrangement – you bring your style to the clothes and not the other way around. It’s about taking what you see on the slopes each February and September, digesting the reminders of a bygone era, and finding the original for a third of the price. It’s a win, every time.
“For those of us who don’t have the money to go to Gucci and buy clothes that cost thousands of dollars, we feel comfortable going the vintage route,” Carter says. “Everything is cyclical. You can look back and see where the ideas are coming from and create a look that’s completely current, smarter and fresher, using vintage.” Completely now, smarter and cooler? Seems about right.
the state of the art is InStyle’s biannual celebration of Black creativity and excellence in fashion, beauty and personal care, and culture in general.
Artistic Director: Jenna Brillhart
Artistic Director: Sarah Maiden
Illustrator: Kaitlyn Collins
Visual editor: Kelly Chiello
Associate photo editor: Amanda Lauro
Editorial Director: Laura Norkin