Unique finds are still possible, but beware items purporting to be vintage that are not. Photo: Quentin Jones
Recently, while on the hunt for a new jacket, I found myself trawling the racks of some local vintage stores where I spotted a t-shirt that was, to be frank, practically a rag.
But it was a rag that also happened to be tour merchandise for a particular musician I was obsessed with in my youth. So I bought it. For $80. Actually, that made it more expensive than the mint-condition baseball jacket I bought at the same time. It wasn't until I got home that it actually sank in that I had just bought a second-hand t-shirt – complete with holes – for close to a hundred bucks.
So what is it about the term 'vintage' that makes even the most level-headed person part with serious coin for something that is, at the end of the day, second-hand?
Dale Mckie is Sydney-based stylist who often uses a mixture of vintage with contemporary designers in his work. He says the primary appeal of vintage is the probability someone else won't have it. “You are buying into something that is unique, something you are less likely going to see someone else wearing,” Mckie explains.
There is also much to be said for nostalgia. Fashion tends to look backwards in order to move forwards, and the old saying that if you hold on to something long enough it will eventually come back into fashion does have a grain of truth to it.
That doesn't mean you should hold onto your favourite pair of screen-printed paperbag-waist flares on the off chance that the decade they were made in will become on-trend again. However, like artwork, there is much to be said for owning an 'original'.
“When you buy vintage – real vintage – you're also buying into design and history,” Mckie says. “If you found a pair of Vivienne Westwood pirate trousers from her first runway collection in 1981, I'd snap them up – the value of these would be worth far more than what is in store now! These pieces are collector items and moments in history.”
Another reason to shop vintage is the environment. With disposable clothing from questionable sources becoming ever more prevalent in modern society, buying vintage is one way of minimising your wardrobe's carbon footprint.
With so many high street chain stores pumping out thousands of units of each garment, why not purchase a vintage version for similar cost? The same amount of work, if not more, has gone into producing the garment.
When all is said and done, however, it helps to remain realistic about buying secondhand. Much like 'organic' has become a get-out-of-jail-free card for supermarkets to mark up everything from bananas to bottled water, the term vintage is sometimes applied to things that may not be worthy of the tag.
It's not uncommon to walk into 'vintage' stores or visit websites selling alleged heirlooms that are, in reality, five years old at best. (Having said that, there is much to be said for the fashion of 2010, and I personally can't wait for it to come back into fashion).
A good rule of thumb whenever shopping for vintage is 15 years or older, unless you're after a specific style or era.
What has been your experience of shopping for vintage clothes?