It is a 11.30 on a Sunday morning and I roll up at a Vintage Festival at the lovely Snape Maltings (worth a visit for the jam collection alone). The car park is packed, so busy in fact that, given my lack of parking proficiency, I park a 20 minute walk away. There are a lot of people- young fashionistas looking to be ‘alternative’ with 70s style accesories, nostalgic pensioners who just love markets and families looking for unique, but good-value furniture. I end up leaving with a aquamarine & gold sequin French Connection dress- lovely, but not strictly vintage (it appeared in French Connection’s 2009-10 season). But then not much of the stuff sold here is truly ‘vintage’, which got me thinking about what exactly this term means?
Vintage fashion is currently experiencing a bit of a revival- with the Southbank Centre recently playing host to this burgeoning trend, a exlusively vintage department store opening in London’s fashion-edgy East End and Kate Moss (arguably a noted style icon) fashioning a vintage-style wedding dress on her big day. As such, Vintage has become modern and a la mode- no longer hidden in wardrobes as old and out-dated amongst the real fur coats. But with vintage the new cool, has the term lost its original meaning and has vintage become purely a marketing device to increase an item’s profitability?
Vintage has come to represent a way to dress that is different. By wearing a skirt made in the 1970s, one is unlikely to encounter what I define as topshop syndrome, where everyone wears the same. Buying vintage therefore encapsulates the idea of dressing creatively and reinventing past styles with a modern twist. My preferred understanding of the term (in a fashion sense) is consequently an exciting and fashion-brave revival of decade-worthy and age-iconic items of clothing. Returning to the 60s but with a twist or recognising the value in trends gone-by and in clothes regardless of their age. However, difficulties arise when defining the term stylistically or historically. For how old does an item of clothing have to be to become vintage? And more challengingly, what differentiates vintage from second-hand and thankfully out-of-trend tat? On ebay for example, a vintage tag added to a M&S dress attracts a very different kind of buyer to one that does not, in addition to a higher starting bid.
The rise in the popularity for vintage has lent the term a greater commercial value. Retailers have started experimenting in vintage-style pieces- selling the vintage look but without the process of searching out, haggling and recovering some of these age-worthy gems. Urban Outfitters for example fielding a range of clothing that looks like its from the charity shop down the road, but a hefty price and from a company that has a net income of $273M. Though, I speak as the buyer of a “vintage french connection dress”, I cannot say that I bought this dress on its vintage credentials. I bought it because I liked it and it was a lot cheaper than the first time round. As such, there lies my defining line on vintage clothing- a willingness and love to buy it at a HIGHER PRICE than the first time, and to survive long hours of searching (and traffic queues) for that perfect 60s dress to match your heels.