A Question of Vintage

My last post got me thinking about ‘vintage’. As a frequenter of so-called vintage fairs and shops, it begs the question of what constitutes vintage and its appeal.

Vintage china. Vintage prams. Vintage clothing. An ever popular penchant for a time gone by. Britain has become accustomed to a new (ironically) sector of the market. The accumulation of items dating back helps to reconstruct the past and offers an alternative to mass production. Vintage appeals to me given the aesthetic quaintness and quality. Vintage appeals to the Duchess of Cambridge given the heirloom status: an appreciation for the part played in previous generations’ lives. But there is vintage and not so vintage – is the curse of ‘vintage style’ ruining the individuality and authenticity?

Retailers have started to imitate the styles which are popular among vintage enthusiasts. Remakes which haven’t endured the past become as popular as originals, for example, Cath Kidston products take inspiration from prints and styles of the 1930s and 40s designed to “evoke a sense of nostalgia” (Cath Kidston, 2015). The consumer invests in a lifestyle reminiscent of the female homemaker with traditional domestic values such as baking and sewing, comforting compared to the multiple roles of the modern woman. Similarly, the Rise of Retro Dressing for Kids is claimed to offer an antidote to the “vulgarities of the modern world".
It seems that vintage is becoming a fashion trend in itself and a paradox to its purpose, to the advantage of shoppers who can’t normally afford the price tag of genuine vintage. A prime example is Women’s clothing brand, Miss Selfridge, which labels some of the products on its website under the category ‘vintage style’. To the dismay of the ‘authentic’ followers of vintage, more people start to invest in the ‘vintage inspired look’ which defeats the initial objective of dressing distinctively. As Simmel (1997) recalls of the fashion system, we are negotiators of conformity and individuality and in doing so we may create a false sense of individuality…vintage followers become another group or trend so it isn’t good enough anymore to merely consume vintage. To stand out as a discerning customer, you require accompanying knowledge and interest in the history. So in a similar vein to Simmel’s take on the nature of fashions, if vintage becomes adopted by the masses, will this lead to its demise?

Simmel, G. (1997) Simmel on Culture: Selected Writings. London: Sage Publications.