Monday, January 13, 2014

What is Vintage Clothing, Anyway?

photo: Google’s Life fashion collection.
There’s no denying that vintage clothing is hot today, and shows no sign of losing its appeal. 

But do you know what exactly is considered vintage? If you’re considering stepping into this incredible trend, it will help to know what you’re shopping for.

As a vintage clothes seller and student of the field, I have two rules for what qualifies:

  • Twenty years old
  • Have relevance and value beyond being “old”

Let’s look at these in more depth

If you want real vintage clothes, most sources say they must be at least twenty years old.  There’s some disagreement about this, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

The first thing to remember is that not all clothes sold as vintage (especially online) are actually this old.  Sadly, a lot of people sell their old stuff from last season and call it vintage just because it’s used. Nothing could be more misleading.

Second, even if something is old enough to qualify as vintage, it should have some lasting value beyond its age. More about that below.  

photo: Google’s Life fashion collection.
Used clothing is not the same as vintage. 

In fact, some vintage clothing has never been worn. You could run across a fabulous mini dress from the 1960s with the original tags on it. Modern retailers often use the word “vintage” to describe clothes that are brand new but have retro styling. And on some online shopping venues, people clean out the stuff they bought last year at Forever 21 or Old Navy and sell it as “vintage.” Watch out for these if you want real vintage. 

Most definitions of “vintage clothing” range from 10-30 years. At Etsy, items have to be 20 years old to be considered vintage.  As I said above, this is my rule of thumb. But some vintage sellers who really know their stuff draw the line at about the 1980s.  For example, the Vintage Fashion Guild timeline for vintage fashions stops after the 1970s.

Now, when you get into really old clothing—say, 75 years to 100 years old—they are considered antique.  Again, definitions are not hard and fast but in general, if you find something more than 75 years old, you could safely call it “antique.” 

(For help dating your vintage clothing, visit this page.)

Finally, another confusing term used to sell modern clothes is “retro.”  This usually refers to clothes that are not actually old, but are vintage styles.  Modern manufacturers like ModCloth and eShakti fall into this category—they use words like vintage and retro to describe their items, but they are not true vintage because they are made right this minute. 

photo: Google’s Look fashion collection
Vintage clothing should also have special value beyond its age. 

This is a vague rule, but the idea is that vintage clothing that you buy to wear and use today should be more than just old enough. It should be special.

Think about it. There’s a lot of junk from the past that no one would want to wear today. Think cheap, poorly made stuff that wasn’t very attractive or special even when it was new.
The best vintage sellers will curate collections of well-made, relevant pieces that you can really use and enjoy now. 

They will be high quality and add real value to your style and wardrobe. Their value lies in their special designs, excellent workmanship, beautiful natural fiber fabrics, or other features that make them desirable.
So look for pieces that are old enough and have real relevance and modern value. Oh, and most importantly, look for things you love
That’s vintage!


Marie said...

It's irritating to hit retro results on ebay when searching for vintage! I love vintage and want to find it fast!
Marie @
In Our Happy Place

sallymandy said...

Marie: I know what you mean. That's part of what motivated me to write this post. I do know eBay has a category menu on the left side of the screen where you should be able to browse by decade in real vintage. It's a choice sellers have when they list. Maybe that will help you?