Vintage Explained

Vintage Clothing Explained

  • By Simon Clark

Vintage Clothing Explained

What is Vintage?

Vintage has been around forever right? Actually no. According to reports, clothing wasn’t deemed “vintage” until the year 1957, when a Lord & Taylor advertisement first used the word to promote tatty raccoon coats from the 1920s. But let’s back up just a second. Racked has recently run a fascinating deep dive into the bizarre origins of vintage clothing. Throughout which it claims that a 1950s fad for ‘vintage’ raccoon coats from the twenties was all to thank for the rise of the trend.

While clothing has been sold secondhand since time immemorial, the rise of germ theory basically squashed the Victorian trade for used threads. That is, of course, until what Jennifer Le Zotte — a professor of material culture at University of North Carolina-Wilmington — describes as “the raccoon coat craze.” In a Smithsonian article published in February this year, Le Zotte explains that this craze “led into the expansion of secondhand as collectible”. Which largely coincided with the fact that new clothing had become more affordable and accessible, leading people to want to show that they were special through their clothes

“Looked at this way, ‘vintage clothing’ might be broadly defined as garments that have enough age on them that they’re no longer au courant, yet have sufficient style to make them chic,” Le Zotte says. “Vintage clothing’s tie to age may seem to act like a historical category, but the elasticity around what precisely makes a garment ‘vintage’ means that it’s a marketing strategy.” Which Le Zotte then goes on to show through reference to the 1957 Lord & Taylor ad promoting ‘vintage’ raccoon coats.

Racked even digs up and makes reference to a New York Times article from the same year, which covered the craze with hyperbolic perplexity — describing these garments as both “divinely seedy” coats, and “one of the zaniest college fads since the goldfish-gulping days.” So if you thought that vintage shopping was age-old, it now seems that our more marketable (read: ‘curated’) approach is definitely not a ‘vintage’ phenomenon. Now how’s that for a mindfuck?

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