Vintage clothing

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Vintage clothing is a generic term for garments originating from a previous era. The phrase is also used in connection with a retail outlet, e.g. in vintage clothing store. Today vintage dressing encompasses choosing accessories, mixing vintage garments with new, as well as creating an ensemble of various styles and periods.[1] Vintage clothes typically sell at low prices for high end named brands. It has been part of the world since World War I as an idea of reusing clothing because of the textile shortage.[2]

Vintage clothing can be found in cities at local boutiques or local charities, or also on the internet (e.g. eBay and Etsy). Goodwill and Salvation Army are the top two charites to donate or shop for vintage clothing. Vintage clothing is used as a muse for new designs and is known to be retro clothing.

1950s bridal vintage slip.


Generally speaking, clothing which was produced before the 1920s is referred to as antique clothing and clothing from the 1920s to 20 years before the present day is considered vintage.[3] Retro, short for retrospective, or "vintage style," usually refers to clothing that imitates the style of a previous era. Reproduction, or repro, clothing is a newly made copy of an older garment. Clothing produced more recently is usually called modern or contemporary fashion. Opinions vary for these definitions.

Vintage clothing is a form of ease in a fast moving world. Re-wearing clothes from a personal wardrobe and wearing newly acquired vintage and retro clothing, can be understood as a desire to recreate familiarity, or felicity, in a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly impersonal.[1]

Most vintage clothing has been previously worn, but a small percentage of pieces have not. These are often old warehouse stock, and more valuable than those that have been worn, especially if they have their original tags. Referred to as deadstock or new old stock (NOS), they nevertheless sometimes have flaws. Vintage clothing may be either commercially produced or handmade by individuals.


In the United States, due to changes in clothing sizes, vintage sizes are often smaller than the corresponding contemporary size. For example, a garment from the 1970s labeled as Medium (M) might be similar in size to a 2010s Extra Small (XS). As obesity was relatively uncommon prior to the 1980s, larger sizes are typically rare. Vintage sewing patterns offer an option for those who want a historically accurate garment but cannot find one in their size.

Retail market[edit]

Popular places to buy vintage clothing include, charity-run second hand clothing shops, consignment shops, garage sales, car boot sales, flea markets, antique markets, estate sales, auctions, vintage clothing shops and vintage fashion, textile or collectables fairs. One of the first regular fairs that was set up specifically to cater for the current demand for vintage clothing is Frock Me!. This event takes place regularly throughout the year in Chelsea, London as well as in Brighton. Vintage clothing is sometimes also obtained from older friends and relatives.

Typically in the United States, vintage clothing shops can be found clustered in college towns and artsy neighborhoods of cities. Sizing is a major factor – in most locations in the United States, the majority of the population would be unable to find vintage clothing that fits. In contrast to thrift stores that sell both vintage and contemporary used clothing, vintage clothing shops are usually for-profit enterprises, with the market mixed between small chains and independent stores. These stores typically range from 200 to 5,000 square feet in size, and will usually have a fitting room. In addition to selling clothing and accessories, many vintage clothing stores also buy clothing from the public in exchange for cash or store credit.

The advent of the internet has been a boon to the vintage clothing industry. It has increased the availability of specific and hard-to-get items and opened up prospective markets for sellers around the world. Popular places to acquire garments include online auctions (e.g. eBay), multi-vendor sites (e.g. Etsy), online vintage clothing shops and specialist forums. Many vintage clothing shops with physical locations now also sell their goods online.

Vintage clothing offers past and present clothing at low prices.  The reduced name brand clothes accomplish uniqueness and originality. Vintage shopping can be viewed as a continuation of discount culture, while simultaneously achieving an individual identity and exclusivity that the brand names have lost.[1]


Since the beginning of World War I the idea of vintage clothing or reusing clothing was a way of living. During World War I, most clothing was repaired, mended, or tailored for other family members or recycled within the home as rags or quilts.[2] The government conservation campaign used slogans such as “Make economy fashionable lest it become obligatory” resulted in an approximate 10% reduction in the production of trash.[2]

In the late 20th century there was as increased demand for high end name brands. During the 1980s, vintage clothing in North America increased because of the demand for reduce high-end name brands.[1] Now fashion is non selective as it used to be, as vintage clothing has moved to subculture to mass culture it is often not limited.[1]

Fashion is fast and at our finger tips. The very definition of fashion fuels the momentum for change, which creates demand for ongoing replacement of products with something that is new and fresh.[4]

This increase in interest is due in part to increased visibility, as vintage clothing was increasingly worn by top models and celebrities, e.g. Julia Roberts, Renée Zellweger, Chloë Sevigny, Tatiana Sorokko, Kate Moss, and Dita Von Teese.[5][6] Popularity of period pieces set in the mid 20th century in television and film have also contributed to vintage's popularity. There is even an international magazine called * Vintage Life – specifically a Women's Fashion and Lifestyle Magazine.

There has also been an increasing interest in environmental sustainability in terms of reusing, recycling and repairing rather than throwing things away. Sometimes vintage items are upcycled via changing the hemline or other features for a more contemporary look. Vintage items in poor condition are also salvaged for reuse as part of new garments.

The textile recycling industry is the environmental part of the fashion industry. Throughout the world, used apparel products are salvaged as reclaimed textiles and put to new uses.[4] The textile recycling industry is able to process over ninety percent of the waste without the production of any new hazardous waste or harmful by product.[4]

A resurgence of historically based sub-cultural groups like rockabilly and swing dancing has also played a part in the increased interest in vintage clothes. In Finland the vintage scene has even spawned an officially recognized association or non-profit organization called Fintage out of common interest in the preservation of material culture and the environment.

Vintage inspired and vintage style[edit]

A girl wearing Victorian-inspired fashion.

Fashion design, throughout history has turned to previous eras for inspiration. Vintage clothing retains and increases in value due to the fact that it is genuinely from a past era.[7] In addition, authentic garments are made one at a time, with enough attention to detail to create an item that has long lasting value. Garments closely resembling original vintage (retro or antique) clothing are mass-produced, for the most part, in China. An example of this is the simple slip dresses that emerged in the early 1990s, a style that resembles a 1930s design, but upon examination will show that it only superficially resembles the real thing. These styles are generally referred to as "vintage style", "vintage inspired" or "vintage reproductions". They serve as a convenient alternative to those who admire an old style but prefer a modern interpretation. Sellers claim consumer advantage in that, unlike the original garments, they are usually available in a range of sizes and perhaps, colours and/or fabrics, and can be sold much cheaper.

See also[edit]


  • Bamford, Trudie (2003). Viva Vintage: Find it, Wear it, Love it. Carroll & Brown. ISBN 1-903258-73-1
  • Tolkien, Tracy (2000). Vintage: the Art of Dressing up. Pavilion. ISBN 1-86205-305-7


  1. ^ a b c d e Palmer, Alexandra (2004). "Vintage Whores and Vintage Virgins: Second Hand Fashion in the 21st Century". Old Clothes, New Looks. Dress, Body, Culture. doi:10.2752/9781847888815/OCNL0022. ISBN 978-1-84788-881-5.
  2. ^ a b c Claudio, Luz (2007). "Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry". Environmental Health Perspectives. 115 (9): A449–A454. doi:10.1289/ehp.115-a449. ISSN 0091-6765. PMC 1964887. PMID 17805407.
  3. ^ "Vintage definition". Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Hawley, Jana M. (2006). "Textile Recycling: A Systems Perspective" (PDF). Woodhead Limited: 13.
  5. ^ Conway, Susannah. "Best (and worst) Oscar Dresses". Daily Mail. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
  6. ^ Pratt, Dayne. "A Fashion Icon with a Wardrobe to Back it Up". 944 Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  7. ^ "Die Goldenen Jahre – Eine Zeitreise mit Collectif Clothing" (in German). Retrieved 11 June 2015.