Picture this, you want to be more sustainable in the new year, so you pop into your local vintage shop intent on buying something new and snazzy for your wardrobe. Despite seeing lots of pieces that you loved, you leave the shop empty-handed, simply because you couldn’t bring yourself to purchase them. But, lo and behold, you pass by Zara on your way home, and are quickly intoxicated by the large red 50% sale sign in the window. In just a few minutes, you have swept around the shop and spent your weekly food budget on clothes that will just sit in the back of your wardrobe. Sound familiar?
If something has been stopping you from buying vintage clothing, even if you pledge to be more environmental in the New Year, could it be these five reasons below? Here are the five misconceptions about vintage fashion that you need to know and overcome in your vintage shopping journey.
1) It’s Not Trendy
Perhaps one of the most momentous concoctions of the 20th-century fashion industry is the transformation of trends from seasonal twice a year rotations to fast-paced snowballing of new collections released every 2 weeks. A double-edged sword, this change has not only bolstered the fashion industry to stratospheric economic and global success but it has also come at the cost of the loss of human and environmental life. Not to mention, this created an intrinsic insidious expectation that to have even the smallest smidgen of fashion credentials you had to be in line with these trends, making many flock to the shelves in haste.
Whilst the trend cycle may have been one of the most economically genius creations, it also is fostered upon a wealth of lies. Vintage fashion is often pushed out of the trend circles, instantly deemed as “lesser than” than its shiny new counterparts, often like the ostracised new girl in a teen American high school drama.
But that ostracised new girl always has a redemption arc, and a rise to grace that we all identify with. Truth be told, vintage clothing has always outwitted new trends, being both ahead and fast in the footsteps of models on fashion weeks shows. Designers at the forefront of the industry constantly take inspiration from the past, whether its imagery, silhouettes, details and materials, eventually trickling down through magazines, influencers, and buyers into our online baskets.
The greatest names in the fashion industry constantly collect and wear vintage treasures, often combining them with their latest catwalk finds and considering it their modus operandi. But of course, you could still argue that there is still a dissonance between the vintage clothes you find in thrift and charity shops, and on eBay and Depop than the carefully sourced old labels of vintage Dior and Chanel. Yet, it is clear that these vintage pieces are historic, and can be loved and revered and reborn just like those off-the-rack.
As mentioned above, collections are always regurgitating past silhouettes, prints and details. But perhaps the fashion industries most cunning trick is that it leads us to believe that these new trends are freshly conjured for our eyes only. Whether it’s a satin covered button, oversized trench, puffed sleeve and tight body-con silhouette, you wouldn’t quite believe that these details were in vogue many years before. For instance, a quick flick through the sites of major fast fashion retailers and you can clearly see many pieces that are fashionable now would not be out of place 20 or 30 years ago. But what makes vintage different is that it possesses a story, does not cost the earth and allows you to have fun with your personal style, whether that’s with current trends or going against them.
2) It Smells
I am not going to shy away from the truth here that some vintage pieces will smell, simply because any piece of clothing once worn and treasured does, and will inevitably possess some form of odour.
There is an unmistakable and characterful kind of smell that permeates some vintage clothing, (with heavy emphasis on SOME) but not all. It’s the musty-attic kind of smell that reminds you of your older relatives, rather than the manufactured saccharine smell of your washing detergent. Whilst smells greatly influence the way we feel, smells like this certainly shouldn’t deter you when deciding to shop more vintage and second hand.
When shopping in a crowded vintage shop (and we mean literally crowded with clothes rather than people) these smells are just part and parcel with buying vintage. Clothes that are stored within well-ventilated environments really won’t smell at all, especially if they are steam-cleaned before being put out on the rack. The musty-smell is truly nothing in comparison with the smells of toxic dyes from dyeing new clothing or the nauseating bitterness of burning fabric and old clothes in landfill.
I think that, for many people, these “human” smells greatly dispel the fantasy and transformative aspect of buying new clothing. When you buy new it is that feeling that it becomes truly yours and was not previously owned. Plus, there is also the idea that this ‘new’ piece inherently holds greater value than second-hand.
There are many ways to get rid of these smells if they really do bother you, and the best way is to hand-wash the clothes with gentle detergent or mild soap. In fact, depending upon the fibres of the clothes, you could choose to add natural smells like essential oils or rose water to renew them with a sense of freshness.
All in all, smells are natural and unavoidable, whether it’s the musty-smell of vintage or the smell of your dinner lingering onto your new jumper. But if it does deter you from shopping in an eco-friendly manner, there are many easy ways you can get over it!
3) It’s Too Expensive or Too Cheap
Another major misconception about vintage fashion is that it’s either wildly expensive or too-cheap. No matter the price tag, this has skewed the way we value the clothing. Vintage fashion, like all fashion and items designed to sell, will always fall within the scale of cheap to expensive, with certain inherent expectations along the way. Vintage brands that are collectable will be slightly pricier, as well as handmade pieces too. Whereas unbranded and newer pieces will be cheaper. The way we value clothes is different from person to person, and completely depends upon how much we would choose to spend on an item. But the blanket idea that all vintage is expensive or all vintage is cheap is too simplistic and also will stop you from finding something good.
A great way to shop vintage in a way that is comfortable for you is to identify and apply your own financial lens which has been independently shaped through your socio-economic background. For instance, you may gawk at spending £80 on a vintage collectable branded jumper that you will wear time and time again, but you won’t hesitate at spending £80 on a new sequin dress from a fast fashion brand for a one-time event. Once you become aware of how much you are prepared to spend on a piece of clothing, then the initial blanket terms are removed as you treat vintage in exactly the same way that you treat other items in your wardrobe.
4) They Are More Likely to Fall Apart (Does Not Possess Longevity)
Another wild misconception about vintage fashion is that it doesn’t possess longevity and is more likely to fall apart (which we think is completely bogus)! Whilst there is always some correlation between older pieces being more fragile and delicate, this isn’t the case for vintage clothing. Infact, it may be surprising to you that fast fashion and cheaply manufactured clothing actually has a shorter lifespan from the outset as it is designed to break and come apart with ease.
Many vintage pieces are created with skill and love, whether it’s a handmade fully-lined prairie dress or an embroidered blouse. Fibres like cotton and linen are naturally strong and designed to weather all seasons. And, in addition to this, it is our attitude in caring and looking after these pieces of clothing that make them designed to last. Folding, careful washing and hanging the items won’t strain the fibres, meaning that they can be worn year after year. So making an investment purchase in a beautiful vintage beaded dress or vintage trench coat that has already survived 40 years of its life is certain to bring you enjoyment for many more!
5) It’s Not Sustainable
And last, but certainly not least, is the belief that vintage fashion isn’t actually sustainable. This point will be brief because it’s simply false! A true vintage garment always will be more sustainable than buying a brand new piece altogether.
Of course, it is our constant consumption of any garment that is more harmful than the garment itself. But with vintage, you get the instant assurance that these pieces are not made from virgin materials and you are reducing the amount of clothing that goes to landfill.
With this in mind, there has been a rise of “vintage style” over the years, which is essentially new items that are created to look like older pieces and could dupe you into thinking that you are buying a vintage piece when this is really not the case. To avoid this, make sure to look at the fine details, from the fabric to the fastenings.