What exactly is vintage?

When I originally wrote this piece last year for London Edge, Kendall and Kylie Jenner were facing a backlash over their collection of “vintage tees” for adding their faces to famous music albums without any consent. As they rushed to remove all trace of them online, it raised the question, what exactly is vintage? What was vintage about their t-shirts? Has the term “vintage” become simply an adjective for anything a bit old looking or something that has a pretty, romantic feel?

Kate Beavis wearing vintage fashionimage by Anna Berry

The dictionary defines it as a noun linking everything to grapes and wine. But it also describes it as an adjective:

  • of or relating to wines or winemaking.
  • being of a specified vintage
  • representing the high quality of a past time
  • old-fashioned or obsolete
  • being the best of its kind

We know from history that in times of hardship such as recessions, we tend to look to the past for our fashion inspiration, craving a sense of the “good old times”. In the 1970s, we looked back to the 1930s and even the art nouveau period, the early 1990s saw us wearing 1970s fashion and in 2008, when the global market crashed we saw the start of the largest vintage boom to date which we have enjoyed ever since. There is something almost safe about vintage fashion, it is nostalgic, more ethical and in times of austerity we look to a slower fashion, something that has lasted the test of time when a prosperous future doesn’t feel in grasp.

I started wearing it in the late 1980s, when vintage shops were rare. The only one we had where I lived had embraced a much earlier vintage fashion than I wanted, preferring to stock 1920s dresses (how I wish I had bought them!) or even Edwardian pieces. Back then, as a teenager, that felt old fashioned. Instead I went to charity shops and bought 1960s/70s maxi dresses and shortened them to micro minis and teamed them with Red or Dead shoes, the latter costing 20 times more! I wore it to stand out, it seemed a great way to express my personality and inject some fun.

By the 1990s, more shops started to open but it wasn’t really until the late noughties that they were everywhere, alongside vintage fairs and festivals. We had fully embraced vintage; be it fashion, homeware, or furniture. For a  fan it was great, and at that point I made it my business.

But somewhere, in the last few years, the word  has become over used and often not aligned to anything old nor even based on anything old. When shops like Primark have a “vintage” coat collection and Asda has a range of “vintage” crockery, it is easy for the lines to become blurred and for the public to tire.

And to be confused.

For me, it is something that has been designed in the past, in the 20th century and is something unique and stylish. As the dictionary says, it represents the high quality of the past. I don’t see it as old fashioned as such but to be authentic it needs to be old and not used simply as an adjective.

But vintage is evolving.

The 1990s is now considered vintage, teens and millennials are embracing this 20 year old fashion, just like we did in the 1990s when we wore flares and platforms from the 1970s.  We will more than likely be wearing noughties fashion within the next few years (think Juice Couture leisure wear, low rise trousers, maybe an Avril Levigne or Gwen Steffani look here and there).

Vintage reproduction fashion brands have been gathering pace, designing authentic looking pieces which flatter every shape, every size no matter what your age. For the first time, a vintage style has become accessible for all, and what’s more, makes women from all walks of life feel great.

But what happens next?

As it becomes harder to find and is getting a little frayed from use it is becoming more precious. Are we starting to run out? And if the boom is starting to wane as some are predicting as we start to look forward, when will it come around again? Do we need to wait for another recession? Will we need to wait for everyone that bought it in the last 9 years to sell it on again when they have tired with it?

One thing is for sure; the people who have made vintage their lives will not be without it, whether it is fashionable or not.





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