Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is Vintage Clothing Right For You?

A Series on Vintage Fashion - Part One.

If you want to save the planet or save a few dollars, buying vintage is not necessarily the right step for you. Owning and wearing vintage pieces requires a commitment to care that most of us reserve for our most treasured and seldom worn outfits. So before you decide to jump on the vintage bandwagon, or perhaps need to reevaluate a choice already made, I present you with a few things to think about.

Recycled or second hand clothing does not Vintage make.

This is a contentious issue amongst both sellers and we the lustful masses. In my opinion "Vintage" needs to be 40 years old or more, 30 at a pinch. If an outfit is something I wore during my school days, having it now fall under the Vintage category is too ridiculous for words. Instead I'll make use of the term Retro to describe clothing from seasons that fit into that less than 30 year old category. Ergo, a 1986 bomber jacket is not vintage!

Why do you want to buy Vintage?

Does buying Vintage appeal to the lemming in you, or is it more a desire to connect with the past? Perhaps Vintage appeals to you from an ethical and environmental perspective. If your motivation is purely from an environmental impact perspective, consider this analogy. Would you buy a first edition book simply to save a few trees? Chances are you'd simply go to the book exchange and buy second hand. But the environmental benefits of buying Vintage can also be a handy tool to justify your latest purchase to your bill payer or yourself. Whatever your motivation, give it some thought before dolling out for an overpriced target dress from the 1980's.

Bad Vintage.

Once fashion headed down the "off the rack" trail, the general quality of clothing began to deteriorate as it sought to cater to the mass market. Just as today there is a huge difference between buying this seasons dress by Lanvin and the "inspired by" number at your local fast fashion outlet. It drives me nuts that something that is a poorly made, mass marketed brand from 30 years ago, suddenly commands big money because people attached the Vintage label to it. It was crap when it was made and now it is just old crap. Now this is not to say that you should avoid this type of vintage at all costs. You may love the styling of a certain era, but your budget doesn't. In this case, you should certainly follow you heart if a pretty little something calls your name, but be aware of just what kind of creature it is, and do not pay and exorbitant price for it.

Vintage Is Not just for Christmas.

You have been privileged to get your hands on a killer vintage piece, but just how did it get there? Someone took the time to lovingly care for it, possibly restore it and it now falls to you to do the same. Here's the thing with vintage clothing. It is a piece of history, and you are now its curator. Quite the responsibility really. If you want your piece to retain, if not grow, in value, you have to give it proper TLC. So no chucking it in the machine and hoping for the best. Only a few Vintage garments will come with the care instructions you find in modern ones, so if you really want to look after your piece, you'll have to get to know the fabrics and their care requirements. Sometimes a little Preen can be your savior on a very old stain, sometimes it could be you undoing. If you take the time to do the research and apply what you have learnt, you could be passing on some very valuable family heirlooms in the future. But if you buy gorgeous vintage and treat it in the same manner as you would a Made in China shirt - either post them to me for a better home or I will hunt you down with the wrath of the Vintage fashion gods!

So with all that decision making info at your finger tips, you should have some idea of whether Vintage is for you. But what to do now? I can't just leave you hanging so I promise to give you some quick tips for sorting your Vintage into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the next installment. In the meantime, check out the cornucopia of Vintage Fashion online , vetted and approved as members of the Vintage Fashion Guild. Top drawer stuff!


Leah said...

I have found buying vintage online is difficult because buyers have to be so careful about the measurements sellers give. I find that sellers are a bit generous with measurements and it can be difficult to alter/tailor some vintage pieces. Have you also found this to be the case?

K.Line said...

Very informative post, SKM. I agree that you have to be willing to work with vintage in order to make it "living history". We are the curators!

Penny said...

great tips!
i do hate it when vintage things are so overpriced, especially when they aren't even proper vintage (over 40 years) they have just realised that they can make loads of money out of it and rack up the prices - so people think it must be something special and snap it up!

Danielle said...

! :)

esme and the lane way said...

What a good post. I couldn't agree more.

Lilac Stevens said...

These are really good points. It irks me a little when I see people with entirely thrifted outfits made up of stuff that's less than 10 years old and they're slapping the label vintage on everything. Just because it's from a thrift shop doesn't mean it's vintage!! said...

OMG - love your site - what a great witer too!
p.s. do you ever browse the kawaii fabrics at

Pony said...

Thank you so much for making that first point - the plethora of things from MY childhood - i.e. the early nineties, that are being called vintage is all over the internet. It really seems to devalue what should actually be an investment, or a piece of history, and in some cases, a piece of art.

I know I just sounded a bit too serious :P But it really does bother me, and to my knowledge, no other bloggers have made that point!!

Pony said...

oops - my comment was a grammatical mess - sorry!! note to self: REREAD!

Hammie said...

Well I agree that anything I wore in the 80's and 90's should not be considered vintage. However that's just because it makes me feel old when I see Peaches Geldof wearing it! I follow, "the 20 year rule" for calling a trend retro and making it worth bringing back. I also follow "if you wore it last time, you can't wear it this time" mostly.
As for saying "Vintage" for "Op Shop Designer Treasure Hunting"; yes, guilty as charged, but it sounds so much nicer. The term "op shop" doesn't travel, and I think a mid-nineties Armani Suit or Max Mara double breasted plaid jacket deserves better. Can I have new word please, for my designer treasures? maybe "Thriftage"
(ps. I have had my first go at Fashion Blogging Super K, inspired by you and all the lovelies)

Super Kawaii Mama said...

Leah: I think that applies to all clothing sellers, vintage or not. I never trust a size label and always ask the seller to measure for me according to my specifications. I can be very pedantic but it means I have no problems in the end.

K.Line:Living history it is.

Penny: It is all about consumer perception and education.

Lilac Stevens: Yes, imagine what a fashion goldmine all those charities would be sitting on if that were the case. They'd never need to host another benefit again.

Shopdownlite: thank you. Yes, I do browse Kawaii things regularly on Etsy. I like to support and buy handmade where possible.

Pony: I know. 90's? Vintage? what the hell? It is up to us as fashion bloggers to make a point to differentiate and show the market makers just what we will stand for. Finding pre-loved crap in Ebay under Vintage has to be one of my biggest hates.

Hammie: I absolutely agree that if you wore it last time you shouldn't wear it this time. Hence, no harem pants a la MC Hammer at my place! Your point on good designer finds is a tricky one. I can't say I have a specific term, but if I'm asked what I'm wearing at it is one of these items, I just simply give the label. A simple "I'm wearing Armani" usually does the trick for me. But I'll put on my thinking cap and see what I can come up with.
And checking out the fashion blog of today too. :)

The Seeker said...

What a great post!!!
Very informative, and I think it should be "publicitised" (sorry if it's wrong).
Most of the time I see that there's a great confusion in people heads about vintage and retro.

Thanks for bringing it to discussion.


Hammie said...

Super K, you're right of course. And it brings us back to "Looking Good vs "Being Worthy" quandary.
I worry if people think I bought this stuff new,(as if) they will judge me. (and take away my home help!)
But from now on I will say just that "Thankyou, it's Armani" Why not be proud of fabulousness even if it is from a charity shop? It is a hobby, of sorts, and it helps me escape. Gracias.
(ps. I am tormented waiting for you to comment on my blog)