Delicate Luxury: The Ethics Of Antique Fashion 

Know the lines and boundaries of wearing fashion pieces from the past.

Fashion has evolved for millions of years. It is a reflection of the current state of society. From rituals to workwear—the innovations and stories of the people in that era are told through clothes and jewelry. 

Recently, local and international celebrities wear antique archival pieces on the red carpet. In the Philippines, Beauty Gonzalez wore jewelry from excavated golden eye and mouth burial covers from Butuan and Surigao. Kim Kardashian also controversially wore a piece of history—after wearing Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Happy Birthday” dress for the 202 MET Gala. 

Beauty Gozalez golden mouth and eypieces in GMA GALA 2023
Beauty Gonzalez wearing the golden mouth and eyepieces/Photo via Instagram @beauty_gonzalez

Instances like these create a ruckus in the fashion and anthropology spheres. The debate between fashion and the preservation of history and culture is currently on a constant back and forth. Some argue that clothes from the past deserve to retire and be viewed on a glass case. On the other hand, others believe that these historic finds should be worn and paraded. 

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The Future From The Past 

Aside from celebrities, other fashion enthusiasts are now finding unique and one-of-a-kind pieces. By buying clothes and jewelry from the past. In a TikTok posted by @thisismytiktokguys, they said, “Why buy vintage when you can buy antique.” The creator then proceeds to enumerate accessories ranging from a belt-turned necklace from 19th-century India, a pair of earrings from Yemen in the 1970s, and a 19th-century Japanese firefighter jacket. 

japanese fireman jacket
Japanese fireman jacket/Photo via Instagram @sarajonyc

From Gonzalez to Kardashian and now this fashion content creator, all received backlash from the media. Gonzalez was labeled as a “grave robber” by a concerned citizen. Kardashian received the same backlash after the iconic Monroe dress was damaged. 

Drawing the line between fashion appreciation and historical preservation is a conversation that should start beginning. Giving light to a gray area in fashion would eventually lead to clearer boundaries and lines regarding fashion and history. 

Ethical Questioning 

Buying antique pieces for your collection is not a bad thing per se. Moreover, it is important to have some ethical considerations before purchasing and wearing it. Asking the right questions is important to draw the line between appreciation and desecration. 

Identifying the value of what you have is a first step. Knowing how important or how expensive that article of clothing is makes a whole world of difference. Furthermore, being knowledgeable of how fragile the item is makes you consider if it is for the museum or your body. 

silver cuffs and textiles
Silver cuffs from Algeria and textiles from Japan, Pakistan, and China/Photo via Instagram @sarajonyc

Moreover, having the right fit, in terms of clothes, is an important factor. Antique pieces are delicate, it may have stood the test of time, but then again, it has its limitations. Having the perfect fit prevents pieces from being damaged. 

Next on the list of questions that should be asked is if it is durable enough to be exposed. Usually, antique jewelry and clothes are sensitive to light or humidity exposure. Together with this question is knowing if the antique can be washed or cleaned through modern ways. Washing or cleaning an antique using materials today can cause irreparable damage. 

19th century necklace Nepal
19th-century necklace from Nepal/Photo via Instagram @sarajonyc

Lastly, the most important of all, knowing if the item is ethically sourced. Is the item stolen? Were certain ancient customs disrespected while obtaining the item? These are some questions to ponder before investing in antique fashion. Wearing something from the past is a rising trend, but it is also important to remember that these items tell stories from a different point in time. 

Banner photo via Instagram @sarajonyc.

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