Vintage style takes centre stage

Designers and fashionistas are falling for the timeless allure of vintage fashion

 Nomi Ansari vintage style brida
Nomi Ansari channels the vintage trend

Tired of flicking through unappealing designer racks? Too broke to afford the exclusive designer quality you crave? If you want to look unique and chic, it’s time to consider vintage. Vintage has been a fashion favourite globally for years but it’s starting to become something of a South Asian trend too. Designers in both India and Pakistan have always looked to traditional wear for inspiration but wearing vintage has suddenly never been more fashionable.

How to wear vintage - a jamawar shawl styled with jeans and a funky jacket
Wear a vintage jamawar shawl with jeans and a funky jacket for a boho-chic look (styled by Maham Asaf)

Designer Payal Pratap Singh’s Autumn/Winter 2013 collection, shown at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, was called Opening My Grandmother’s Trunk. Vintage-like pieces such as printed saris, satin churidars and velvet jackets were styled in a boho-chic retro fashion. On this side of the border, bright young designers like Nida Azwer are known for wearing vintage.

How to wear vintage - pakistani brides wear vintage

The trends for kamdani, loose shirts and ezaars have meant that many beautiful old pieces have been rescued from muslin wrapped bundles on the top shelves of cupboards. For the more adventurous, the stalls selling antique borders and lace at Sunday bazaar have been a goldmine. Meanwhile heirlooms have never been more popular. Like Kareena Kapoor, many a Pakistani bride has worn a revamped version of her mother’s or even grandmother’s wedding jora. Style, as they say, is timeless.

Kareena Kapoor's vintage wedding outfit
Kareena Kapoor famously had her mother-in-law Sharmila Tagore’s vintage bridal revived for her by Ritu Kumar
How to wear vintage -Sania Maskatiya
A Sania Maskatiya formal worn with a vintage ezaar

Exceptional vintage pieces encapsulate the best of couture. The majority use excellent fabric, often of a fine quality that is no longer made or is exorbitantly expensive now. The detailing, from tiny hand-made buttons to artisan lace and exquisite embroidery is breathtaking. Add the fact that every piece is unique or almost unique and it’s easy to see the attraction of vintage.

How to wear vintage - close up of vintage ezaar
Close-up of the vintage ezaar

Every community has their own favourites when it comes to heirloom clothing. Memons give a richly embroidered Khombi, a sort of chaddar, with the trousseau and this is often passed from generation to generation. Parsis similarly pass on gara saris and borders. Chiniotis hoard real silver kamdani chiffons and Kashmiri chaddars.



How to wear vintage - Misha Lakhani
Misha Lakhani mixes it up

How to wear vintage

1.    Don’t wear vintage head to toe.
2.    Use neutral tones to highlight a dramatic
3.    Good fitting is vital – don’t be afraid of
4.    Do give vintage pieces a mini-makeover,
changing buttons, trimmings or hemlines
where necessary.
5.    Mix with modern pieces to bring the look
up to date
6.    Pay attention to styling. Accessories,
draping and silhouette are important – the
idea is not to look like a museum piece.
7.    If an old piece is too worn, stained or
fragile to wear, don’t be afraid to take parts
of the vintage item and work them into a
new outfit.
8.    Treat pieces as separates. For example, belt
a lovely antique dupatta with palazzos and
a short camisole.
9.    Recreate delicate pieces – we have plenty
of kaarigars capable of recreating heirloom
10.  Use old embroideries as inspiration – it’s
what our best designers do.





So what riches might you find in your mother’s or grandmother’s closet? 

How to wear vintage - Vintage crepe silk Banarsi Sari with peacock border
Vintage crepe silk Banarsi Sari with peacock border

They’ll probably be able to point you straight to classic items such as gara borders, Chantilly lace saris, kalamkar shawls or maybe even a Mrs Kazmi outfit. Whether your mother’s wedding outfit was a sari, lengha, Hyderabadi Khada dupatta, gharara, sharara or farshi, chances are she will have stored it in a muslin wrapped bundle somewhere. Heirlooms like wedding dresses are obviously only for special occasions but other jehez items or outfits can be a treasure trove. Look for real zari embroidery, handloom textiles, antique lace or crochet, French chiffon saris, hand embroidery, banarsi dupattas and sari borders. Real quality stands the test of time and will always be appreciated. Ornately embroidered Ezhaars and dupattas can be worn as they are while kameezes can be altered or turned into jackets. Sari borders can be picked off and put on new outfits while a sexy new blouse can contemporize a vintage sari.



Taking care of your vintage clothing.

Clothes, unfortunately, don’t stand the test of time as easily jewellery or furniture. They fade, fray and are prone to moths and mildew. Heat, light and moisture are the worst culprits. That said, vintage clothing is often of a higher quality than is generally found today – it can be robust, well-made and well-cut with hand-finished details. Look after those precious heirlooms using the traditional ways our mothers and grandmothers looked after clothing. Clean any stains before storing although it’s better to avoid harsh drycleaning as much as possible. Make sure all items are well-aired before storing and store in a cool, dark place wrapped in muslin. Take out vintage clothing once in a while for a good airing and change the folds to keep the piece looking pristine. Use cedar chips or naphthalene balls wrapped in linen to keep away moths, but never let naphthalene balls touch your precious fabrics as they can cause stains. The V&A recommends vacuuming vintage clothing through a muslin screen as the best way to remove dust and dirt particles.

It’s all about style

There’s a host of designers and Socialites with a vintage obsession. Some of them explain the attraction of vintage.

Shehla Chatoor

Shehla Chatoor:  I have always been fascinated by our rich heritage of textile and embroidery. I love the intricate beauty of traditional embroidery but prefer to use vintage techniques on contemporary silhouettes.

The way I would use a vintage piece is to applique the parts I like onto a new outfit, adding further complementary embroidery to make a seamless link. For example the gara embroidery on this jacket is from an old kameez. The dated style of the kameez did not appeal to my style sense but by using the embroidery on this jacket I was able to create a piece that is modern yet classic.

Sania MaskatiyaSania Maskatiya: I adore vintage and I actually hoard vintage pieces. I have beautiful old ezhaars and kameezes with real gold work from my grandmother. Some are too delicate to wear but I collect them because of the exquisite old work on them. I use some of the pieces as inspiration for my own designs, which are deeply rooted in our cultural heritage. I also like to wear vintage, keeping the look fresh by pairing contemporary pieces with those that my grandmother gave me.

Nida Azwer

Nida Azwer: I have a lot of vintage pieces in my wardrobe and I will often pair antique items with modern ones. It seems a shame to keep beautiful old ezhaars and dupattas wrapped up and to never use them. My design sense is very classic and so many of my outfits work well with vintage pieces.

Misha LakhaniMisha Lakhani: Some vintage items are like pieces of art. The real gold embroidery, the soft, rich feel of the fabric and the intricacy of the work are all major draws. Wearing vintage is a great way to look unique – the trick is to add contemporary pieces to your outfit that complement and enhance the vintage items.

Ritu KumarRitu Kumar was chosen by Kareena Kapoor to recreate Saif Ali Khan’s grandmothers’ wedding outfit, which Sharmila Tagore also work but which was now too delicate to be worn. “You have to keep the USP of the original garment in mind and create a new piece using the same colour palette and style of embroidery. Sometimes it is only possible to isolate some bits and pieces from the original garment and use them with new fabric,” she explains, adding that in the last decade or so, more people are looking to revive their family heirloom garments.

Maham AsafMaham Asaf of Breathe boutique: Vintage fashion and jewellery can be very effective. The purhana handwork is simply gorgeous and there are so many types of lovely fabric and embroidery in our heritage. I have a lot of antique clothing that is very wearable. Most versatile perhaps are beautiful, authentic jamawar shawls. You can’t get that sort of quality these days. I’ll wear my jamawar shawls over both western and eastern outfits. A subtle elegant outfit can really set off a traditional piece.

Jasmine Ajanee
Jasmine Ajanee
: Vintage clothing is like wearing a piece of history.  The uniqueness and originality of a vintage piece stirs a sense of nostalgia, particularly those pieces deemed heirlooms. I have come to the realization that there is some fabulous fashion in our mother’s and grandmother’s wardrobes. These grand pieces, many as delicate as the brides who wore them or as ravishing as the jewelry of the time, are timeless. Styled properly with a modern twist, these treasures can look as if they are straight off the runway, but with an air of timeless beauty.

First published in the Daily Times Sunday magazine on 5th January 2013

Copyright 2015 Karachista. All rights reserved
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerasta is chief editor of and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

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