Pauline Weston Thomas of Fashion-Era gets to the heart of the debate about what exactly makes a fashion item vintage, saying "there's no doubt that whether or not an item is Vintage is in the eye of the beholder." Vintage means different things to different people. In most cases, however, a vintage clothing item is one that is at least 20 years old.
For hipsters and fashionistas alike, collecting and wearing vintage clothing is, ironically, fashion forward. Whether it's a mile-wide tie from the 1970s or a delicate lace dress from the 1920s, vintage fashion is prized for both its uniqueness and its style.
Most clothing considered vintage dates from the 1920s-early 1980s. Pre-1920s clothing is considered antique, while clothing newer than the mid-1980s has not reached vintage status - yet. According to Ebay's Vintage Clothing Buying guide, "some vintage purists contend that any clothing made after the ’60s should be classified as retro as opposed to vintage. "
When it comes to vintage clothing, older does not necessarily mean more expensive. While fashions from the 1920s - 1930s are understandably more valuable due to their age and scarcity, designer fashions from the 1980s will be worth more on the resale market than mass-market fashion from the 1940s and 1950s. Designer clothing items are always among the pricier items on the vintage market, but items by regional tailors and dress shops can also command a higher price, because, like designer items, these items are more scarce and are of higher quality.
One of the most controversial arguments among those who collect vintage clothing is the dividing line between quality vintage items and old items that while considered vintage in years is simply considered outdated in appearance. "Rocking a pair of bleached overalls you found at Goodwill that look like they fell off the set of Saved by the Bell doesn’t make you a vintage queen," says Fashion Indie blogger Daniel Saynt. Printed polyester shirts and acid-washed denim are a niche market of vintage, and should be avoided by those who are new to vintage clothing. In other words, if it was unattractive in its era, it's still unattractive today.
Vintage clothing can make a great fashion statement. Those who are new to collecting and wearing vintage clothing should keep a few considerations in mind, however. Start your collection with simple, timeless designs. Little black dresses, wool swing coats, classic oxfords and well-constructed suits are can't-miss items. Look for well-constructed items made of sturdy materials. Check natural fibers such as silk, wool and cotton for evidence of moth damage. Avoid stained items. Old stains can be impossible to remove. Try items on before purchasing. Sizes on vintage clothing - when available - often do not correspond to modern clothing sizes.
A writer and information professional, J.E. Cornett has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Lincoln Memorial University and a Master of Science in library and information science from the University of Kentucky. A former newspaper reporter with two Kentucky Press Association awards to her credit, she has over 10 years experience writing professionally.