Defining What is - and isn't - Vintage

Aggiornato il: 21 set 2020

Vintage: a term ambiguous enough that everyone seems to have their own definition. But what really is vintage? With small online clothing sellers gaining ground in the fashion and style world we need to create a standard way of talking about these categorizing terms through an established set of vocabulary. I often see sellers on depop or Instagram selling clothes as vintage, and when I click on the link I find a four-year-old adidas zip-up from someones closet just a few years ago. This is not vintage. This is not bad, but we need to call it what it is -- a contemporary second hand piece -- and stop undermining the value and unique characteristics of true vintage clothing. Online there is a miss-representation of vintage clothing in thinking that all things that are "not new" are vintage. Vintage doesn't have any connection to being a used product. Something can absolutely be vintage and never used (deadstock). The definition of vintage is concerned with the age of the object rather than its past use. Because it is concerned with age, and the age of objects is constantly changing as time passes, what falls into the vintage category changes with time as well.


To better break-down the terminology suggested for online clothing sellers, it's best to start by defining what is contemporary, semi-contemporary, retro, vintage, and antique:


Contemporary clothing is clothing (new or used) that is modern to five years old. It's the stuff you bought last season, or that sweater you bought two years ago and just rediscovered. If I saw it in a store today it would look like it belonged there.


Semi-contemporary clothing is five to ten years old. Looking back from 2020, this would include clothing from 2010-2015. We can think of this as a type of subcategory to the contemporary category. These are the pieces that are often (not always) considered to be "out of style" or "off trend" at the present moment. Keep in mind that this is not true for every individual piece, and in fact, some semi-contemporary pieces can hold real value. These pieces can sometimes look slightly "dated" when compared to contemporary clothing, but don't typically provoke a sentimentality like retro clothing can.


Retro clothing is from ten to thirty years old. It's not quite vintage but still too old to be considered contemporary or semi-contemporary. Retro can be used to define and categorize clothing from 1990 to 2010. I think we tend to attach a certain level of sentimentality to retro pieces as they are close enough in the past for us to remember them, but far enough away that they represent an identifiably different era of our lives. For those of us born in the late eighties through the late nineties, this is the period that we associate with our childhood and beginning teenage years.


Vintage clothing is clothing ranging in age from thirty to ninety years old. At this moment in time, vintage refers to pieces made between 1990 and 1930. To be considered vintage a piece does not have to be used. HOWEVER, a used clothing item is not automatically vintage! With the fashion trend of "sentimentality" there are more people shopping for authentic vintage pieces than ever before. Vintage is in and of itself a modern fashion trend, and this puts the term at risk for over use in the name of selling clothing.


Antique is used to describe pieces that are over eighty years old - or in other words - made before the year 1930. These pieces tend to be more fragile and are often less applicable to contemporary wear due to their age. This category encompasses the most time. Anything made before 1930 can be included in this group. We often hear the term used with associations like: Ancient Rome, and the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods just to give a few examples. Once something becomes antique it will always be considered antique -- this is the final categorial destination for our clothing (and jewelry) items as they move through this categorical timeline.


It's important to remember that the definitions I have presented aren't associated with permanently fixed eras. Because it's based on "years ago", the time periods associated with each category (ex: 1960s) are changing and with time become categorized differently.


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