Thursday, May 3, 2012
The 90s as Vintage: What is "Vintage" Anyway?
It's been covered before. A lot. But Le Hemmingway has once again brought the discussion to the fore with his recent assertion that the 1990s should be officially considered "vintage". The pronouncement caused a predictable uproar in the vintage community, partly because of a general distaste for the "trendification" of vintage, partly because many of us can't bear terming fashions we wore first time round "vintage" and partly, I suppose, out of a desire to protect what we see as vintage from being watered down by association.
It's easier to define where "vintage" starts than where it ends: the consensus seems to be that around the 1920s is the advent of modern fashion, and thus the beginning of vintage clothing; anything prior to that is antique. But the cut-off point is a contentious issue. It's generally accepted that 1970s fits under the "vintage" umbrella. Even the 1980s has been grudgingly admitted by all but the most stringent. Abritrary figures have been tossed about - 20 years old, 30 years old, 50 years old. There's no meaningful precedent to look to: A vintage car must date from between 1919 and 1930; a wine can be 2009 vintage. So where do you draw the line?
"Anything post-60s is retro, not vintage", I've heard it said. Personally I've always considered "retro" in its original sense of retrospective, as "new with an old look" - for me Heyday! Clothing, Vivien of Holloway and What Katie Did are retro. But that aside, this statement is evidence of a certain "vintage snobbery" that occasionally rears its head. In general I've found the vintage community incredibly accepting, broad-minded and lovely, but I have encountered this vintage snobbery before (thankfully only in passing, not directed at me). The vintage snob turns up her nose at vintage repro brands, or declares offhand that anything after 1950s "isn't vintage". She considers that only designer name vintage is worth owning, and might label you a fraud if your look isn't completely period-accurate.
Personally, I can see a case for categorising any look that can be definitively ascribed to an earlier fashion era as "vintage". If you look at early Friends episodes, or Blossom or The Fresh Prince, it's plain to see that the fashions have a distinct style that's very definitely not "modern". Does this make them de facto vintage? If (as I do) you take out "retro" as a term meaning actually old, then - much as it pains me to say it of fashions I might have worn first time round - perhaps it does. Or maybe it's just second hand.
There will never be a definitive answer. In the meantime, perhaps we should rejoice that the masses are turning their attention to 90s vintage, and leaving the older stuff to us more dedicated followers of vintage fashion; let them call their look "vintage" if it makes them happy. One thing I am sure of is that whether the 90s is admitted into the vintage arena or not, it still won't change my own taste or my leaning towards midcentury styles. One of the ways that I define vintage is the ability to follow your own fashion whim, regardless of whether it's currently in style.