‘Vintage’ can mean different things to different people and clever marketing has given it a rise in popularity in the last twenty years.
Nowadays, you can find ‘second-hand’ clothes for 99p while a ‘vintage’ tag can push it towards £99. Did we trade in value for cool points when ‘vintage’ became a desirable look?
In November 2018, a sheer, svelte cream dress, adorned with thousands of tiny crystals sold for 4.8 million USD. This coveted vintage garment was worn by Marilyn Monroe when she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. It holds the record for the most expensive dress sold at an auction.
What’s the most you would pay for a dress?
Vintage Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
The definition of vintage is stretching, expanding, growing, even now. The further along we advance in our time line on earth, the more history we are collecting behind us and the more ‘vintage’ clothes we are amassing in our wake.
Today, the grunge look of the ’90s is considered vintage, as are beaded flapper dresses of the ’20s.
Pricing of these items will depend on a number of criteria, most notably, their quality and rarity. As we move further and further away from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, our supply of mint condition bias cut tea dresses and crisply pleated skirts is diminishing. It’s merely the economics of supply and demand that dictate the hefty price tags on these types of garments.
The Study Of Vintage
Don’t be mistaken – the average charity shop is a delightful treasure trove of denim jackets, fun t-shirts, an avalanche of modern and retro dresses, and so much more. However, if you’re very specifically looking for an original Alix of Miami resort wear caftan, then it might be time to redefine your sustainable fashion goals.
It’s not necessarily that we’ve traded in value for cool points. It’s just that the way we consume vintage fashion and second-hand fashion is very different.
The vintage industry requires a certain rigour and dedication. It is an enterprise all on its own. Professional vintage hunters are heavily invested in the provenance and history of each item. They make regular rotations of estate sales and vintage boutiques. There is a profound respect for the garment, each thread, each piece of hardware, each detail. It’s not just about possessing the vintage look, it’s a passionate study and exercise of fashion history.
Dominique de Merteuil has written an illuminating piece on why vintage fashion commands such value and why it’s unlikely you’ll find a genuine ’20s flapper dress for 2 dollars.
Vintage Is Not The Villain
Ironically, the vintage look has been flung around so heavy-handedly that it has now become a bastardised trend, seeping sadly into the fast fashion industry. Polka-dotted ’60s style swing dresses are ubiquitous in online shops and unnecessarily ostentatious band t-shirts are a dime a dozen across the high street.
The desire to possess the vintage look has engulfed the vintage industry, muddying the line between fashion for fashion’s sake and fashion for preservation and appreciation. Value for money vs. historical, cultural value.
The market is so horrifyingly flooded with cheap clothing that we’re disconcerted by the idea of paying top dollar for an old dress, and who cares that we’re paying for a slice of history? I’ll be the first to admit that I was once guilty of this mindset.
But vintage is not the villain here. It’s how we have manipulated this concept to suit our desires that has us questioning the sometimes justifiable price tags on rare vintage garments.
Loving From Afar
I’d like to learn how to revere and appreciate vintage dresses, shoes, bags and accessories without the desire to possess, without the need to buy a knock off, without the sentiment that I’m missing out on a trend. First step? Saying goodbye to Vogue’s vintage trends lists, which quite frankly, is an oxymoron.
I will never have 4.8 million dollars to buy a vintage dress. Nor would I personally spend more than 100 dollars on any one garment. But the good news? Loving and appreciating the intrinsic historical and cultural value of rare vintage garments will cost me nothing at all.