Velvet is a fabric unlike many others. Some hold a special affection for its luxury, screeching, “I looooooove velvet!” when a particularly choice plum blazer or blue dress is mentioned. You rarely hear people saying, “Oh my, I am the biggest fan of linen!” or “Yes, I collect items made of nylon – can’t get enough.” Cotton and wool are too ubiquitous to merit specific attention, while things like lurex or crimplene attract a pretty niche fan-base. Silk, satin and tweed might provoke similar excitement, comparable in their sense of extravagance, but velvet still rules the roost.
It’s a conversation starter. When wearing my black velvet trousers or red velvet mini-dress, I’ve had compliments aplenty. Several people have informed me that they collect velvet clothing, and they spontaneously reel off lists of what they own. It’s also a tactile fabric, one of the few aside from feathers or faux-fur where it’s acceptable to ask, “Could I just stroke that?”
A fabric of extremes, it's a texture adored by some, loathed by others. Counterbalancing the appreciation brigade are those who can’t stand the look or touch of it. It’s one of the more common materials to have a phobia of: that strange, slippery-soft feel being repulsive to a few.
I used to be ambivalent towards velvet. It reminded me of my dimly remembered, late maternal grandmother, revisiting a sort of adolescence as she walked around the local town in long skirts and bare feet in 1999; of photos of my parents in their new age phase during the the early nineties. Velvet was the preserve of patchwork trousers and crystal healing, associated with clothes sold on the kind of stalls found at fetes and fairs where other wares included incense, plastic bangles, felted hats and belly button studs.
I discovered its merits later. My mum had some fabulous vintage items squirreled away, including an emerald-green velvet two-piece suit, found when she was a student. Probably sixties in origin, the matching skirt and jacket were a cut above casual evening wear. Other items came to light, more discovered in charity shops and markets: a black fifties gown with a velvet bodice and taffeta skirt, an eighties Monsoon short, green velvet dress with long sleeves and a sweetheart neckline, a bright blue velvet top, various long skirts in shades of mauve and turquoise. It’s a versatile fabric that finds itself shaped into all sorts of accessories from hats and bags to shoes, gloves and scarves. When the quality is good (especially silk based) then it’s gratifyingly lavish.
Even the adjective ‘velvety’ is interesting. It suggests opulence in one context, softness in another. Voices are depicted as velvety, as are smooth lakes and dusky evenings. It can be suggestive, sexy, evocative or (often) clichéd. Restaurant critics use it to describe food; travel writers to convey views. Compare it with: silken hair, satin seas, corduroy fields or skin like old leather. They're all recognizable similes and metaphors, both the visual and cultural significance of certain fabrics lending themselves to imagery we're all too familiar with.
Another set of photos taken a shockingly long time ago - perhaps last September? However, today I'm thinking about the allure of the fabric as I'm wearing one of my favourite blue velvet dresses. All clothes pictured are second hand - assembled from various charity shops, family members and vintage markets. As a result, I'm linking this in to Bella's #SECONDHANDFIRST post - you can read more on it here.