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Was anyone else inspired by the Diana Statue?

It got me thinking about that classic fashion staple: the belt. Would the unveiling of Princess Diana's statue spark a renewed interest in those 1980s crazy-wide waist cinchers? The editor of Canadian Antiques & Vintage published my thoughts about it in their latest volume:

Buckles, Clasps & Slides

When I first saw the new Diana statue unveiled, I immediately wondered whether the giant buckle, which figures so prominently in the monument (and the photograph it is patterned after), would spark a returning trend for fashion buckles. After months of pandemic-induced sedentary lifestyles, I doubt whether anyone wants to accentuate their waist; however, I am convinced that as images of the Princess’ likeness inevitably seep into the collective consciousness, that hard-to-ignore, iconic 1980s fastener, with all its connotations, will spark a renewed interest in buckles, clasps, and slides within the collecting community.

As a form of functional jewellery, buckles have been used for centuries to secure two ends of a strap together, whether they were banding hats, waists, or shoes. Victorians loved them so much that they wore them as rings and bracelets; but then, they were a sentimental bunch; and, to them, a buckle was a tangible symbol of binding fidelity. Today, in the midst of a fourth covid wave, we might be more likely to associate the buckle with tightening our belts during times of economic uncertainty or subconsciously accept its association with self-protection. To historians, buckles, clasps, and slides represent the history of human invention, man facture, ornamentation, and social status. That is what makes them collectible.

These fantastic fasteners are not the limited-edition men’s metal buckles, around which magazines and buckle clubs were established in the 80s & 90s. Though you are not likely to see buckle competitions at button clubs anymore, fashion enthusiasts and history bounders are motivated to scroll through Etsy, Ebay, and Poshmark in search of the perfect period piece to complete a vintage-inspired outfit. Thrifters are equally psyched to dig through bins, baskets, and trays to find a discarded pearl-encrusted frame, sterling silver clasp, or early celluloid slide with which to fashion a custom belt or complete a sewing notions collection.

Film producers are also on the hunt for such items. Connie Bulagic, owner of Vintage Soul Geek, the popular Hamilton haunt that has supplied vintage clothing for movies like The Shape of Water, says many of the vintage clothing lots that come her way contain ‘orphan’ belts with buckles and vintage clasps that can be easily recycled. Many are fashioned of bakelite.

Crafters and up-cyclers buy early 20th-century art deco clasps for their one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces, like the buckle pendant necklaces featured on the ‘Unforgettablevintage’ Etsy shop. Another crafter uses mirror-image clasps to create earring pairs with retro appeal. Yet a third jewelry maker/Etsy shop owner, ‘Fleurdelis123’, has made a name for herself creating buckle bracelets by snipping men’s ties and slipping them through vintage slides to be fastened with Velcro.

And, Victorian, Edwardian, and 1920s metal cloak clasps are popular with history bounders who want to recreate a period look using authentic materials and original methods. Although cosplay and history bounding are relatively new hobbies, both have grown out of the historical costuming community. The term ‘cosplay’ was coined in 1984 and the recent history bounding trend was identified by Morgan Donner who established her website of the same name as recently as 2019. That is not to say that individuals were not bringing historical costume—authentic or reproduced—into their everyday lives for several years before that. As one hash-tagger commented to Donner, “Thank you for giving us a new name for an old concept . . . for when you want to embrace historical attire, yet not go full-out costume.”

These works of art, notable for their varied history, texture, colour, and design can be categorized by type, era, composition, and maker. Although not all are marked, one notable signature to look for is that of the Canadian husband and wife duo Micheline De Passille and Yves Sylvestre, renowned for their modernist jewelry produced in the 60s and 70s. These two-time winners of the Quebec Artistic Competition and first-prize winners of Canada Craft ’67 (enamel category) have gained international and lasting attention for their pieces, many of which now reside in distinctive museums and important private collections. In fact, significant examples of their work were received by dignitaries over the years as official gifts from Canadian federal and provincial governments. Although this duo’s imaginative pieces are considered to be the best to have come out of the Quebec Enamel Movement, Monique Olivier is another Quebec artist whose 1970s enamel buckles and other jewelry will only increase in value.

What to Collect:

In addition to bakelite, jeweled and/or precious metal pieces, have an eye for current fashion fads, trends, and notable designers representing items that have the potential to become future vintage collectibles. Iconic pieces by such notables as Robert Lee Morris and Betsey Johnson do well on digital resale sites; and, if maintained in good condition, will increase in value as they become scarcer. (Hint: if you find an unmarked clasp on an Escada, Prada, or other high-end belt, look to see if the leather is signed; if so, keep the item intact. Removing the buckle will diminish its value.) Don’t neglect historically important examples with cross-over appeal. Many are priced in the thousands of dollars on Ebay. Also, consider hat buckles, shoe buckles, and medical memorabilia like the sterling silver uniform buckles, gifted to British nurses upon their graduation.

Preservation and display:

Cleaning and preservation of vintage and antique buckles, clasps, and slides will depend on what material they are made of. Search the internet for reliable information on the best methods for cleaning your finds whether they are made of abalone, acrylics, bakelite, bone, celluloid, ceramics, china, fabric-covered metal, glass, ivory, lucite, or other plastics, metal, or mother-of-pearl. While collections can be displayed in shadow boxes or on jewelry trays as in the button club competitions of the past, many textile hobbyists now incorporate vintage and antique fasteners into fabric ‘junk journals’.

As nostalgia for the past, coupled with time spent at home, drives new crafting and collecting trends, there is no better time to consider the resale potential of buckles, clasps, and slides. I believe Diana would approve.

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