I was just nineteen
and the term “vintage” was applied only to cars.
Used dresses, coats and jeans were merely second-hand
or old, though if they were older still, they may be called antique.
It was 1974 and junk-shop clothing was a hippy thing.
Audaciously we flounced into charity shops and jumble sales
declaring in voices designed to carry:
I love these places, they’re such fun,
but let’s go to Dorothy Perkins when we leave.
We didn’t want to be labelled penny-pinching
even though our grants rarely stretched to the end of term,
and soon we would be surviving on a diet of spaghetti and tomato ketchup –
until the ketchup dried up, and we had to make do with margarine.
Like sheep that want to be something more interesting
but hope that the flock won’t notice,
we giggled to cover up our middle-class shame
tussling with aging customers, yanking blouses from their hands
as if we didn’t know they were holding them.
It seemed fair, because sometimes they did the same to us,
and anyway, we were young. We were beautiful
and would do justice to the shimmering red satin
or the cool blue chambray.
We pretended it was fancy-dress,
but in truth we adored the look.
Beaded and sequined flapper dresses in swish silk and chiffon
could be easily purchased
for less than a factory worker’s wages, but
that was too great an investment for me,
so I plumped for forty’s austerity
with it’s hardwearing fabric,
its prim sexiness sewn as if by chance into the seams.
I stroked my hips to feel the fine weave
practiced poses before the mirror,
admired the unusual detail.
In the High Street I slowed my pace beside glazed windows,
slant-eyed, subversively scrutinising my reflection.
The shop girls gazed down their noses, sneering at my vanity
while I saw only admiration in their eyes.
I told myself I was an original.
I still think that the dress may have been.
It was beautiful in its conception and its finish.
I wish the moths hadn’t eaten it.
It was treasure. It was Art.
©Jane Paterson Basil