The Vintage Spectrum
What flashes through your mind when you think flapper? Beaded dresses? Fringe twirling as you dance next to your suited partner capped with a fedora? Without surprise, the release of the Great Gatsby in theaters (for the 4th time) sparked a fascination with all things old-timey and grandmotherly. Who ever suspected that those old dresses gathering moth balls would ever be stylish again??
With all of this interest in past fashions, it makes sense, then, that a passionate resurgence in the vintage clothing market would blossom into being.
So what exactly is “vintage?”
Vintage clothing is a rather broadly used term to cover many different garments with actual vintage being just one subcategory. There are retro, vintage inspired, and antique as well – all of which rely on older fashions; however, only half of them are referring to clothing from the past. Genuine “vintage” more often refers to clothing that has been made in the past. Commonly it is previously worn articles of clothing that are post 1920s – and yes, this technically makes what your grandmother wore when she was your age fashionable. The clothing usually ranges from the 1920s to (currently) the 1980s, covering all of the stereotypical images we see plastered all throughout media of what those time periods were like. (But who actually remembers dressing quite that terribly in the 80s? Was there really that much neon??) These garments have stood the test of time and have held up to the wear of multiple years. The clothes often have a sentimental value– such as a passing down from mother to daughter, father to son. They can be used or completely untouched. In terms of retail the new-old dichotomy of unused older pieces makes them incredibly valuable, especially if the tag is still attached.
Clothing from before the 20s is likely to be referred to as “antique” rather than vintage. This distinction probably stems from the differences in style found before and after the Dress Reform Movement of the early 19th century. Could you imagine wearing a corset everyday of your life? Shudder. Horrible. But that is exactly what defined the time period before the Dress Reform movement (whose focus was on health by the way!) So antique clothing, besides being rare and extremely delicate with age, is far less popular or common. It doesn't often fit the modern (un-corseted) woman and can easily be damaged because the older fabric is far less likely to be forgiving of any stretching or modifying.
“Retro,” shortened from retrospective, is a more complicated story. Retro has a distinctive feel of coming from the 60s onward. I mean, who doesn't think of go-go boots or those endearing 90's video games when they hear retro? So for this, I give two definitions: recreated pieces of vintage fashion and anything that has a nostalgic charm – which makes this incredibly subjective. Recreated pieces of vintage designs negate the official definition of vintage because they are usually mere representations of those bygone styles. It separates them from contemporary fashion though by following past trends rather than innovating. The nostalgic charm speaks for itself. It is what someone grows up with; it is what inspires moments of staring with rose-tinted sunglasses off into the distant, half remembered sunset of the past. We hold those garments close whether or not they were actually made in that time period as a symbol of what we loved most growing up.
And last, but certainly not least: “vintage inspired.” Perhaps the largest of the group, vintage inspired covers a wide variety of designs, styles, and fashions. It is sort of an umbrella phrase for anything that is literally inspired or loosely based off of genuine vintage fashion; however, it is usually distinctly modern in many ways. For example: fabric will often be different, cut, fit and pattern will be slightly altered to fit more with modern preferences, even allowing for a wider variety in sizes. Any number of subtle differences can attribute to a piece to being inspired rather than simply retro. The inspired look is far more popular due to the added benefit of catering to modern tastes and desires. While the dropped waist might be in most people do not want their summer frocks to sport the full length skirts of the early century. It would just be too warm! However, those long strands of milky pearls are always wonderful.
There are pros and cons to any of the types of vintage clothing and it isn't like one is more “right” than the other. The green nature of genuine vintage clothing is a very convincing argument though. I always recommend Modcloth for anything in this particular genre. (I have to be careful on that site! Otherwise I find my paycheck vanishing into thin air before my very eyes.) They have not only inspired looks but a section dedicated just to actual vintage clothes and other odds and ends. On the other hand, Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe both come packed with a variety of vintage inspired looks. Whether or not you value authenticity over comfort or simply want to look a little old school, fashion should be enjoyed and fun and if you happened to look like you crawled out of your favorite past decade, well where is the harm in that?
Just know that those beaded dresses we always see in flapper Halloween costumes aren't the most historically accurate outfit you could wear...