What Is Vintage?

by @style

So many people ask me this and I read so many disparaging comments about what exactly vintage clothes are. Recently there was a letter sent into the Evening Times opinions page from someone bemoaning the volume of vintage shops opening in Glasgow. Their basic point was that vintage shops are nothing more than charity shops selling the same clothes at high street prices. I think at one point in the letter the writer described vintage shops as a ‘carbuncle’ on Glasgow.

The writer’s other point was that these ‘carbuncles’ are stealing trade from the charity shops in terms of stock. He was of the opinion that clothes people would previously have donated to charity shops are instead being sold to vintage shops. This is very misguided. Yes, people do often bring clothes in to sell, but more often than not they are really high value items that they would never dreamed of giving to the charity shops. Indeed, some charity shops (which shall remain nameless) send vintage clothes to the incinerator as they don’t think they’ll sell. Some charity shops even bring vintage clothes to me. So  really, no one is stealing any business from charity shops.

One thing that’s really annoying me at the minute is the generalisation of vintage clothing. Ask the average person on the street what they think vintage is and mostly they’ll come out with something describing second hand crap and 1970s tracksuit tops. Sometimes people say ‘retro’ which also makes my blood curdle. To me ‘retro’ is fancy dress. It’s 90s. It’s horrendous. Other perceptions people have of vintage clothes are that it’s old fashioned, it’s smelly, it’s second hand, it’s expensive and on and on and on.

In reality it’s none of these things. Not real vintage anyway. So, back to the main point. What is vintage? Well, to me vintage is the absolute best, the creme of any era. It’s also at least (AT LEAST!) 25 years old. It’s the best fabrics, the most exquisite cut, the best print, the best finishing. It’s knowing you’re wearing history, it’s knowing that there isn’t a chance in hell anyone is wearing it, it’s escape from the endless parades of Topshop/Primark clones that seem to plague the streets, it’s being individual and it’s being brave.

There’s nothing in the world like wearing a piece of outstanding vintage. My own collection is mainly made up from 20s and 30s items with a few pieces of Victorian. Whenever I wear any of it people always comment. It makes you feel like nothing else and no matter how much it cost, it’s worth it.

The most you’d pay in here for a dress would be in the region of £200. At the moment there is the most gorgeous 1950s couture gown in gold brocade, it’s a true Oscars dress, fully corseted, beautifully finished and almost certainly the only one of its kind in the world. It’s priced at £215. Contrast that with something from Coast/Monsoon/Wherever this season; some polyester horror story, no doubt strapless, available to everyone and anyone and in the region of £250-£300. Imagine wearing the 50s dress; you’d feel like Liz Taylor, the cut would shape your body into something fabulous and people would notice the gorgeous stylish girl in the beautiful dress. Imagine wearing the Coast/Monsoon/Wherever dress. You’d spend the night hoisting it up as it slowly creeps down your bra (since it was machine stitched in some faceless factory), the layers of polyester would garner so much static it would be clinging to your VPL then someone else would turn up wearing the exact same dress.

I know what I’d rather.

So, that’s my rant for today. Yes, there are some vintage shops where all the clothes are glorified crap priced at ten times their value…just avoid them, they’re pretty easy to spot. Then there are other shops (I’m proud to say The Dresser’s Room is one) where the clothes are truly immaculate, there’s no 80s tat, everything has been washed and pressed and everything is gorgeous.

Beautiful, true vintage. Kate Moss wearing a 1920s flapper dress which had belonged to Errol Flynn's wife.