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.

25 comments:

  1. "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. "
    haha she would call herself an afficionado, I would call her an anorak.

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    1. Yup. I find some (none I choose to chum up with) purists oddly like trainspotters... where's the joy in it? The aesthetics even? If it's just 'look like 19__ by numbers'?

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  2. I think the very word "vintage" has reached semantic satiation at this point, haha. I know in the realm of designer clothing, things from just a few years ago can be labelled "vintage"; talk about confusing.

    I tend to just avoid the word as much as I can, and refer to clothing by its decade or style, as everyone has such a widely varying definition for it! It's also become such a catchy marketing phrase; I'd rather not perpetuate the gentrification of "vintage", marking old clothes up at prices only the well-off can afford because it's trendy. I'm fortunate enough to live in a rural area where pre-50s clothes are still cheap & available, and I feel the word vintage implies a sort of elitism I'm uncomfortable with.

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    1. Dakota- great point the definition of vintage is neither here nor there, what we should really be concerned with is exactly as Charlotte says "the ability to follow your own fashion whim"

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  3. This is tricky! I did a lot of work on this last year of uni. You should read Clarke and Palmer Old Clothes New Looks. Its fairly definitive from the academic side. They term retro as Re-performance of the past and people generally deem things as being vintage if they have been created at a similar time to when their grandparents were young.
    In theory of course. In academia we term antique pre 1920s as you said, retro is a super contentious term but thats the current definition!

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  4. Great post. In the world of Etsy (where I sell), vintage clothing must be 20 years old or older to be sold as vintage on that site. Soooo, some of the clothes I wore as a bright young thing are now vintage (like it or not).

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  5. Interesting discussion, and tricky just like Stevie said! I know that inwardly, I cringe at the idea of anything being vintage within my lifetime, but surely I'll have to let go of that the more I continue to age. lol And that's age talking, not vintage snobbery talking. I don't think any era is better than the next, you just like what you like! :)

    One layer of distinction I do sometimes make in the vintage vs. retro department, regardless of era, is in reference to people: I try not to say I am a "vintage gal" (although I accidentally do now and again), because -I- am not really vintage myself; my fashions are. So I feel like as a person I would call myself a "retro" person, who loves vintage things.

    I'm guess personally though, I don't mind being loose about the definitions of vintage and retro. It's different things to different folks--different eras, even--and I don't there will ever be a consensus. I don't think that there needs to be, either. I'm happy to use either term and don't look down my nose on anyone who refers to themselves or items as retro OR vintage. Everyone has their own take on vintage and/or retro and/or 20s through 70s (80s? 90s?) fashion. I think that's what makes it so marvelous. I do my best to admire and not get caught up in technicalities. :)

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  6. I remember when the term 'vintage' first started being used- it was in the 1990s, and I'd been wearing retro (to me, 60s-70s) for a few years. So I always give a wry smile when people (a) get snooty about retro/60s-70s or (b) act as if it's a fixed term in the OED or something.

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  7. I think clothing from any period prior to the noughties can be considered vintage (or antique if pre-1920s). Clothing from the 1990s stands out so much on charity shop rails from the mass produced primark generation of noughties threads and there is a high demand for the key, distinctive styles. That said, vintage lovers always favour different periods depending on their personal style. Although I sell a lot of 90s stuff in my etsy shop, probably because it's so easy to incorporate into a modern wardrobe and not 'too precious' to wear to death, it's the older vintage that really gets my heart racing and it's what I personally invest in and collect. x

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  8. Personally, I don't consider the 90s vintage. Mainly because there is nothing really distinct about it. I still have clothes from the late 1990s that fit me and look perfectly normal today - nothing different about the fabric, nothing different about the style, nothing new in the colours. To me, it is 20s-70s, and each decade is "distinct" in its own ways in style, fabric, sewing techniques, materials used and colour usage. Now, we have an amalgamation of every previous fashion era and even "new" designs have pretty much been done at some point in history. We might get new fabric now, but the majority of peoples clothing is cotton or polyester....no one is going to be running around in some hi-tech plastic t-shirt anytime soon.

    And yes, I'm just going to pretend the vomitous mass of neon also known as the 1980s did not occur ;)

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    1. I think 90's fashion seems undistinctive because it is so recent. When we look back at the 1960's or 30's, fashions seem so distinctively of that era, but really the change of fashion over the 20th century has been quite un-decade defined. For example, in 1972 what people were wearing was totally different from 1979, so what defines the 1970's?
      I also think one's age counts in all of this. I was born in the 60's and not only do I find the idea of 1980s being considered vintage hilarious, we were wearing 1950s vintage and retro inspired stuff back then on a regular basis! Because it was only 30 or so years old, it was cheap and easy to find in op shops, unlike now. I had a perverse love of early 1970s clothes and wore them through my teenagehood, which was weird because it wasn't old enough to be cool at that point.
      The 1980s wasn't all about neon, that's part of the 'story' of the 1980s that has formed with time. It was also about punk tartans and leather and natural colours and fibres worn in cool assymetrical drapy mad dresses, gorgeous cotton voile tea dresses, three tiered floral skirts, dressing in men's clothes in a funky way (Annie Hall). MerchantIvory movies like Room with a View and A Passage to India had big influence on fashion. The whole plasticy silly neon thing that started in the late 80's is just one trend. BUt it is fun to make fun of that's for sure! :)

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  9. Very well written, Charlotte. I'm not sure where I draw the line (as it pains me to consider anything I wore first time around as "vintage" as well) but I certainly think there's room for all sorts under the vintage umbrella ;) Thanks for a great post!

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  10. For me, retro is something newly made with a style inspired by the past. Vintage would be made say 20 years plus ago. Antique would be 100 years plus ago. I just happen to like the art deco style in particular (and I can't see me wearing the stuff I wore as a teen again either!) I think of myself as a vintage enthusiast but that's it, whilst I quietly turn my house into a little museum!! X

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  11. With all these seemingly interchangeable labels such as 'vintage' and 'retro' it can be confusing as to whether the item is new or original. With a lot of shopping taking place on the internet there may soon be a generation of collectors/enthusiasts who have limited opportunities to handle original items. That's why I love going to collector's fairs and fleamarkets where you see all sorts of vintage and not-so-vintage items and get a feel for what's genuine. My perspective is more from someone who collects magazines and printed ephemera but I think the same principles apply. What happens when the new items age a bit - a second-hand 2010 retro 1980s dress! - and does it matter? PS - it would to me!

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  12. Personally, I think vintage is something from a past generation, so about 25 years old. The thought of the 1990s being vintage is a little terrifying; I'm only 20 and it makes me feel old! I also wonder why anyone would wish to revisit that fashion...

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    1. "I wonder why anyone would wish to revisit that fashion..." That's what they said about the 80s - and the 70s before that, and I have several articles from the 40s looking on the styles of the 20s with unmitigated horror.

      I'm not saying I especially want to revist 90s fashion, but each to his (or her) own, and since it's a style that's demonstrably different to current fashion there's a case for it to be called "vintage".

      xx Charlotte

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  13. Vintage, for me, stops at the seventies. I do not even want to consider the 80s vintage. I know many do accept it as vintage, but each to their own. Now the 90s I am not even going to think about that as vintage, for the same reason as Ruby!

    I do prefer vintage at all times, but I love reproductions aswell, such as the brands above mentioned. For me this falls also in the category 'retro'.

    People are labelling stuff too easily 'vintage'. When I thrift the Dutch 'Ebay' for (to me)real vintage; I get so annoyed by the modern stuff people post under the name of 'vintage shoes' or whatever, which were actually 'en vogue' last year. I think lots of people ( I am not talking about the lovers of bygone era's here ) don't really know what the word vintage really is, and confuse it quickly with 'second hand'. It makes the real treaures hard to find. Sadly.

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  14. Vintage really makes my skin crawl these days just for this very reason. I've even had people who call their thrift haul "vintage" when it's all clearly eighties stuff! Ugh... Vintage is sadly a new marketing catch phrase.

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  15. One day it will all be vintage, I'm sure! I am opposed to labelling anything more recent than the 70s as vintage because it makes it too hard to search stuff on ebay :P

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  16. There are so many good thoughts here in the comments about the differences between antique, vintage, retro, second-hand, etc. I also find it interesting to compare the way the words are used in fashion to the way it is used pertaining to music, furniture, and cars. Given that the legal definition for cars is 25 years, that seems a good start to me. That would mean that full blown late '80s is just starting to count. I still have difficulty accepting the '80s and certainly the '90s fashion as vintage. I believe that there are too many people who are wearing '80s and '90s fashion simply because they are out of touch and fail to recognize that time is passing and they are aging, rather than because they are making a deliberate stylistic choice. I believe that for me, that is where the line is drawn. Are the vast majority people of people who wear clothes of that style making a deliberate choice about the image they present to the world, choosing the clothes they believe to be most flattering to their figure and their personality, or are they doing it out of laziness and lack of self-esteem? I believe that most people who still have '80s and '90s clothes is their closets do so because they are reluctant to get rid of them rather than because they have made a deliberate fashion choice and picking the best from the era. To me, that means that those decades aren't vintage yet.

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    1. I don't think you can really say that anyone who's still wearing clothes they've had for more than a couple of decades is lazy or has low self esteem. Besides, there are plenty of people wearing 80s and 90s who don't have it left over in their wardrobe from first time round - you forgot to mention the people who are wearing "re-worked" (i.e. chopped and re-hemmed to mini length) 80s floral tea dresses or 1990s tie-dye denim bralets because those styles are trendy now, and therefore double trendy if they're vintage.

      So perhaps vintage really is related to the age of the wearer - if you wore it first time round, it isn't (?)

      xx Charlotte

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    2. I'm 18 and consider 90s as vintage, for what's the matter. I remember seeing it in movies, TV shows, and wearing the kids fashion myself in my younger years, now I've lots of magazines from that decade, and it's really different from now. I can definitely see a progression in the magazines, changes, and I'm also interested in the designer clothes from that decade. There are distinct aesthetics for just an era, too, and there are whole "moods" that I associate with it. People working in stuffs like that (selling vintage clothings, designing clothes based and these, and just plain second-hand dealing which actually takes knowledge) and books always told me the "rule" was 15 years before now. (now I live in France, it might depends on locations)
      I don't understand how one can think people want to call it vintage because they'd be ashamed of wearing second-hand clothes... (or how you can assign moral values or a state of being to wearing clothes from the nineties, which would be bad and due to being lazy... why, because they're old? Let me laugh.) Plus, your 40s or 70s dresses are second-hand too! If you want to get technical, someone owned these before, it's also exactly what it is and it's also vintage.
      Also, it's not because someone is interested in the 90s that they aren't also interested in other eras clothes. Saying they are less dedicated, is like telling someone who is interested in both system administration and programming (or more interested in system administration, or only interested in system administration), that they're less dedicated, less passionate, less interested, in computing because of that. That somehow their interest is more shallow and you can dismiss it... Plus, maybe being also interested in 90s clothes (not just knowing about it or having worn it) can bring a new light to how they see and style precedent eras' clothes.

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  17. I just wish people would realise that there is no shame in using the words second hand clothing when that is exacly what it is, there's so much arrant nonsense about all this, and that fellow and his ilk peddle a lot of it too.

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  18. The Nineties were BAD. Ugly ugly ugly bad.

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  19. A very good discussion! I like the points you make! True true!

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