Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Lookin' good but feelin' bad...

With vintage news again thin on the ground (has something happened - not only are my daily page views right down, but some of the vintage fora that I frequent are very quiet too?) my mind is turned once more to some thoughts and opinions related to vintage, which I have come across recently.

Charlotte over at Tuppence Ha'penny has written another excellent post about an attitude we vintage aficionados face every so often and you can read my own views on the debate here.  Suffice to say we continue to agree on the definition of a "vintage lifestyle".

Around the same time two other vintage bloggers, the lovely Veronica Vintage and Old Fashioned Susie, have written two interesting posts about living the vintage life while afflicted with serious health problems and it is this aspect that I intend to focus on today. As some of you may remember I disappeared for 4 months a year ago when a straightforward abdominal surgery went wrong leaving me in hospital between May and August.  My health has not been at its best in recent years, but I am feeling near to as well as I can be at the moment having recovered from that last hiccough.

I haven't for one minute let these problems interfere with my wearing of vintage-inspired clothing.  As a matter of fact I find vintage garments, particularly the high waist/rise and braces (suspenders) of vintage trousers, far more comfortable than modern cuts - a welcome example of sartorial serendipity.  I continue to find that dressing smartly and taking pride in my appearance helps to occupy my mind and makes me feel better about myself on the days when I might not be feeling so hot.

"...and if you ask me you're too well-dressed to be ill."

By and large the compliments I receive are welcome and generally along the lines of "you've recovered well" or the classic "you look a lot better".  Among those positive remarks, though, I've come across a few times now a somewhat negative attitude linked to my vintage appearance.  I am sometimes told "you don't look ill" with the inference clearly being that I somehow dress too well for someone with health issues.  It has even been suggested that by dressing as a chap and a gentleman I am perpetuating a fraud and "fooling people" into thinking that I'm healthier than I might be.

A constant ringing in his ears, but does that stop him
wearing a suit, tie and pocket square...? ;)
I can't help it if the clothes I choose to wear lead people to make assumptions about me and I think such attitudes are downright silly - it's practically suggesting that I should wear jeans, a dirty t-shirt and three days' worth of stubble every time I go to see my doctor.  Part of the problem, of course, is that most people wear such an outfit even when they're not sick - expectations (and standards) have therefore dropped to an all-time low.  Another reason might be linked to a generational paradigm shift.  People who lived through great hardships such as the war (basically people from the eras we are interested in and have an affinity with) made light of their difficulties and "muddled through" without wishing to make a fuss or draw attention to themselves.  Ask my 86-year-old nan (whose ailments are too many to list) how she is and the instant reply is "Oh fine thanks, dear".  My similarly stoic approach to ill-health can no doubt trace its roots to my love of times past.  Nowadays although the "don't trouble the doctor" attitude is still very much in evidence so many people don't bother with their appearance even when they're well that when they're not it readily shows and throws my dapper appearance into even starker relief.  Having said that, and to tie in with Charlotte's (and my earlier) post, let me reiterate that I am eternally grateful to be living in a time when medical advancements mean that I am able to live a normal life and there's absolutely no way I'd want to live in the 1930s (when my condition had only just been discovered!).

It's a shame that such attitudes as I describe exist, but perhaps I should not be so surprised given the various similar opinions that are handed to us when someone sees the way we dress.  Thanks to Veronica and Susie for their thoughts on this aspect of vintage - I'd be interested to hear yours!


  1. Sometimes I use the way I dress as a mask.
    I always try and look my best when out about, it’s what I like to do, plus I don’t want the world to see me looking how I do when I’m not very well. (Strangely making the extra effort helps me a lot!)
    Most people I meet don’t know what my current health is like, because when they see me I’m always looking (fairly) chipper and well put together, which they don’t associate with someone who is ill!!!
    We can never win in the eyes the people who just don’t understand- I gave up worrying what people thought a long time ago!

    Tupps x

  2. I don't think it's a sartorial thing. There is a strange 'Daily Mail' attitude (taking the very worst of English 'curtain twitching' and American reactionary judgement) I've found from some people which boils down to acting as if kindness and sympathy are finite resources, therefore you need to EARN it off them by looking bad and making them feel smug about being OK. To be quite honest, I find some very smartly dressed people hold this attitude as much as anyone else (and indeed some of the older generation! Especially if one is 'too young' to have a certain ailment). I wonder if it's trash TV and newspapers having their influence: they are so used to people's troubles being splashed around in hyperbolic style (e.g. Britney has a breakdown... we don't read about a child star gone awry, we gawp at her shaved head...) so people EXPECT that.
    It feels like in order to have some sympathy, one needs to 'pay' for it by gratifying the other person into feeling better (presenting yourself so they feel they'd handle it better... or just plain they're healthy and you're not so "I'm alright Jack"). I've worked with young people who have overcome disabilities and had hostile comments to the effect that they 'shouldn't' succeed and expect help when they can't do something: basically in order to have help, they 'should' be helpless and feeble, rather than equal people who might need consideration to enable them now and then.

  3. I think you've captured the essence of the term schadenfreude. What is it about some humans that there is this need to reduce other people? And it goes both way. Real talent - even real joy - can be dissed as much as a person who is sick but dressing well.

    Hang in there; stay classy!


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