What Vintage ACTUALLY Means
Photographed by Devin Ricks of Joelle Beauchamp
By Jack Turpen
The word vintage is thrown around very loosely, usually in relation to thrifted items and hand-me-downs. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, the definition of vintage as a noun applies to winemaking, as it means “a season’s yield of grapes or wine from a vineyard”. But the use of vintage as an adjective, the use I am sure you are familiar with, means “of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality”. In simple terms, the use of the word vintage applies to anything that could be deemed classic or old.
In terms of clothing, consumer interest has majorly shifted over the past few years. The consumer's most recent obsession, in relation to clothing brands, has shown that people are starting to become more considerate of the places they purchase from. Per a 2020 study, conducted by the Institute for Business Value and the National Retail Federation, 45% of consumers showed interest in finding brands that were sustainable and environmentally friendly, and 44% percent showed recent interest in finding new ways to recycle. Because of this shift, consumers started looking to thrift stores and second hand shops to do a majority of their clothing shopping. As fashion is consistently looking to the past for inspiration, interest in “vintage” items rose. But, because of how fast this shift happened, did anybody actually stop to think that word actually means?
Like most trends, vintage became sensationalized and the use of the word was quickly getting out of hand. I mean is everything you own going to be vintage? Of course it is not, but that certainly does not stop people from claiming the top they got two years ago is ‘vintage.’
A lot of the “vintage” pieces that are being procured are coming from thrift stores. That is hands down the best way to find actual vintage pieces at a low price. The average donator is not considering the actual value of the items they donate, which allows for real fashion gurus to source rare pieces, if they are lucky. But, not everything that is being thrifted could possibly be considered vintage. In an article from Panaprium, written by Alex Assoune, he states that “used pieces of clothing have to be at least 20 years old to be considered vintage”. This would mean that a large majority of thrifted items are, most likely, not actually vintage. The good news is that early 2000s items are technically vintage, making people with pieces from that time feel slightly cooler and making me feel super old.
When it comes to donating to thrift stores, again, the people donating are often unaware of the values on some of these items. This is primarily is how people are able to find such rare pieces at the same value as the rest of the store. The people pricing these items at major thrifting chains like Salvation Army or Goodwill, also seem to be aware of how far they can go with their pricings, as their original intention was to market second-hand items to those who cannot afford fully priced new items. But with this newfound thrust for buying vintage, these chains have started marking up their prices. Now that these corporations are finally aware of how popular thrifting is amongst the younger generation, they have started marking up their items. Although the pieces are still cheaper in comparison to buying the piece at full price, there has been a definite change. This does not even begin to cover the pricing phenomenon that is a vintage store. Vintage stores, particularly in major cities like New York, have a variety of items that have been carefully selected and marketed as vintage. Their pricing was heavily marked up even before this whole vintage craze, so you can imagine how wild they are starting to become now that everyone is shopping within a stricter box.
Regardless of the noise I tend to project on the everyday, average, mindless consumer, shopping vintage is, of course, cooler than shopping brand new. Not only is it better for the environment to shop second-hand, but you are now the owner of a piece of history. As trend hoppers, we are naturally going to consistently be obsessed with whatever is considered by the general public to be the way to go. The new obsession with owning a vintage item is seemingly unrelated to saving the environment, instead bounded by the idea of finding a piece worthy of bragging rights. e way. If I buy a vintage painting and hang it up in my dorm room, and someone comes over and compliments it, I will obviously be the first to say “iT’s vIntAgE”. Vintage has turned into an idea and an aesthetic. People want to feel special about the things they do, that is the only way in which we can be expected to be even slightly excited about the life we lead.
At the end of the day, there is a correct way to buy vintage. It is not vintage unless it meets specific age requirements, but that is never going to stop the way people choose to use the word. The biggest take away is a reflection on the way we consume. Something is vintage because we want to make the person opposite of us feel a certain way about our vibes. I want to be known within a certain light, which is why I am going to make sure you know that painting is vintage. I meet the requirements of a “cool” person because I choose to abide by societal standards and shop in a certain way. It is all fun and games, until the next trend arises and vintage is suddenly the dumbest thing to be searching for. As much as I make fun of it, the day that happens is the day I get rid of my vintage painting and buy a new one.