Where did vintage fashion come from, and why are we so obsessed with it?

Posted by Miss Chloe on

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you are a self-professed lover of all things vintage fashion just like me. But, like me, you’ve probably found yourself wondering where the term came from, and how vintage fashion has become so popular. Well, maybe you haven’t, but hopefully I’ve got you thinking now! The ‘olden-days’ look has become so popular that it has even generated its own sub-genre, reproduction vintage, for those of us who want a genuine vintage look but perhaps a little more practicality (looking at you stretchy fabrics). If you’ve ever wondered why you seem to sniff out a piece of vintage clothing from a mile off, or why you just can’t stop scrolling through our website fantasising about the next outfit you’re going to create, then this blog post is for you. That 1920s inspired blouse of yours, your favourite swing dress, and those Mary Jane heels you covet are all rooted in a fascinating yet winding story.

Miss Sam looing lovely in our 20s-esque Pattie Pussy Bow Blouse

In today’s world there are two clear facets to the vintage domain. There’s genuine vintage fashion, which has survived the test of time to make a statement in today’s wardrobe, and then there is reproduction vintage. We love that old-timey look so much that, since its origin, vintage fashion has literally birthed a whole new sub-genre. Reproduction vintage fashion draws on the lines, colours, and patterns of days gone by, but generally involves slight alterations to original patterns to accommodate today’s beauty standards and varied body shapes. Reproduction vintage fashion also tends to use more modern fabrics which have improved stretch, withstand repeated machine washing, and are sustainable to produce en masse. This is not the same as the distinction between used and vintage that people were keen to uphold in the beginning. Wearing vintage was first a pastime of the nouveau riche of the 1950s who wanted to set themselves apart from the old-money bourgeoisie. In America, at least, some attribute the birth of vintage to groups of college students who, during the 1950s (and well into the 70s and beyond!) began wearing ‘shaggy full-length furs’ originating from the 1920s flapper movement which had been clawed back from the jaws of hungry moths who relished them in attics and warehouses. It was important for these social climbers to firmly assert that this was an act of frivolity and eccentricity – because heaven forbid someone see you dressing in tattered clothing and think that you were actually poor! It is, perhaps, thanks to this movement that the type of vintage clothing we wear today is of much better quality.

A man brings new life to a raccoon fur coat from the 1920s during the 1970s

In the beginning, it was not the same to buy second-hand clothes as it is to buy vintage clothes, although with the preloved clothing market now experiencing a renaissance, this line has been blurred somewhat. It has become almost a badge of honour that we wear with pride to ‘thrift’ our vintage fashion. When someone compliments my outfit, I regularly find myself replying ‘thanks, it’s from a charity shop’ when asked where I bought it – and even if I’m not asked. That is if it isn’t from the Voluptuous Vintage boutique in Gosport, of course! Those are my two go-to shopping habits. Why? Because with both there is so much variety that I know I’ll always find something that will fit me just right – especially with reproduction vintage. There has long been a debate about what can be called vintage. It is generally accepted that any item of clothing over the age of 100 should be considered antique, whilst anything over the age of 50 may be considered ‘true vintage’ and clothing which is older than 20 may be considered ‘retro’, though in my experience, that depends largely on the person buying it. For example, those of us born close to or before the 90s might never be able to consider 90s clothing to be vintage. We may even still have some of these items of clothing in our wardrobes, and a lot of us just think of them as ‘old’! In some circles, clothes from the 1980s and 90s might not be considered vintage at all. They are often given the quirky title, retro. The vintage genre is a slippery beast then. Apart from enduring connotations of luxury, decadence, and uniqueness, what we define as vintage will, naturally, forever be changing.

How we define vintage will likely change, but its value will live on

Etymonline describes the origins of the word vintage as having its roots in the Latin word for wine. Since the mid-1700s the French word ‘vendage’ was used to specifically reference the ‘age or year of a particular wine’, and its meaning has since broadened further to refer to anything which is from a time gone by. It’s easy to see how the term has come to embody the glamour and finery of vintage fashion when you consider its origins in expensive, often one-of-a-kind wine which is the height of luxury and decadence. Indeed, the value of some pieces has been pushed up for various reasons which usually come down to their rarity and designer, much like the value of wine is determined by the variety of grape used and its year of production. But vintage fashion doesn’t have to cost the earth. You can head to your local charity shop and pick out at least one item of clothing that could be considered vintage by today’s standards. Be it an original Jantzen sweater, or a find in the Pimlico Charity Shop Circuit near Westminster, you can expect to pay a fair price for your genuine vintage goodies, but there are plenty of items available that certainly won’t break the bank! If you’re thinking of planning a trip to this popular charity shop spot – please take me with you – then you can find them all here. 

An Original Jantzen sweater for sale on Etsy - a great place for unique vintage finds if you're in a pinch for time!

The same is true of reproduction vintage fashion. At our Gosport boutique, we stock over 50 different brands of reproduction vintage dresses, separates, accessories and hosiery and you can find something within your budget that will make you feel amazing whether you want to spend £50 or £500. Unlike in a charity shop, though, you’ll have our expert Dolls, Miss Petra, Miss Sam, Miss Emily, and (occasionally) Miss Laura on hand to offer you no-nonsense style advice that will have you looking, and more importantly, feeling fabulous. Mrs Darling will also take a look at your genuine vintage pretties and offer you a fair price for them if it’s something she thinks our customers will love. We have some stunning genuine vintage available on our website and an extensive collection which we are hoping to bring to our online store very soon – watch this space!

I’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to do vintage in this blog post, but I hope it’s given you some insight into the origins of our enduring obsession with a style that has endured the test of time. Whatever your favourite era, you’ll find something you love with us, and we look forward to seeing you in-store!

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