There are two viewpoints to consider. Vintage purists typically believe that vintage items should be left untouched. Some of them prefer to wear vintage exclusively or their style reflects a certain decade in all details, from their hats to their shoes.
Those who upcycle or refashion vintage clothing take what is old and make it "new" again, either by updating a garment, or repurposing it (using the material for a different garment or craft). A good example of this is the show Dresscue Me, where Shareen Mitchell takes vintage finds and creates new looks from them.
Then there's the dress heard 'round the vintage community. The gown that Colin Firth's wife, Livia Giuggioli, wore to the Oscars. There was a big uproar over the fact that 11 vintage gowns from the 1930's were cut up to form this one dress. (Though it was later clarified that the dresses were in pretty poor condition and had a slim chance of resale in their current state.)
|Image courtesy of the Huffington Post|
So..where do I stand? Pretty solidly in the middle, actually. I stand on the side of individuality and self expression. I believe that if a beautiful vintage garment has lasted this long, it should remain pristine and that every effort should be taken to "revive" vintage garments by repairing and cleaning them. However, if a garment has damage that would otherwise place it in a landfill, why not refashion it into something beautiful and wearable for future generations to appreciate? Often, the construction of these garments is exquisite and is something that students of fashion design can learn from. I also think it's good to remember that many vintage garments come to us already refashioned (consider the "Make do and Mend" movement of WWII, where women were encouraged to freshen up the garments they already owned instead of buying new.)
I believe vintage fashion is meant to be appreciated. Whether you choose to wear a 1950's look from head to toe (which I sometimes do, when the spirit moves me) or you prefer to have a unique garment that you can style to look like it just walked off the runway, it should be up to you. There is enough elitism in current designer fashion, let's leave it there. Wear what makes you feel good.
Hugs and Smooches,