What does vintage really mean?

I thought I’d kick off my new vintage fashion blog with a post about why I love the old stuff, but then that got me thinking – what exactly is vintage? Is what I mean when I say vintage the same as everyone else?

I looked to good ol’ Wikipedia for a definition…

“Vintage clothing is a generic term for new or second hand garments originating from a previous era”

Helpfully vague, don’t you think? So I thought I’d try and outline popular thinking around vintage, and add in my own two pence worth so you know what I mean when I talk about vintage on this here blog.

Antique or vintage?

Wikipedia states that anything pre-1930s is seen as antique, but I’d say that as time marches on, the thirties themselves are moving into that category, with the forties close behind. For example, you’d be hard pressed to find a genuine 1930s frock for under £100 these days. They really are collectors’ items.

Vintage 1910s Dress | Antique Dress Wedding Gown Edwardian Downton Abbey XS X Small Extra Small | Sailor Knot Dress

1910s antique dress from Millay Vintage

The antique label suggest an element of rarity and historical significance. By this token, everything will surely become vintage and then antique eventually.

From the forties…

1940's rose pink , day dress, WW2 , Crepe,vintage dress, lace , tea dress,app size 10 , By dotty's Vintage on etsy

1940s rose pink dress from Dotty’s Vintage

So that leaves us potentially with six whole decades of clothing and trends to wade through. And what trends there have been, shaped by social, political and economic changes and the sub-cultures they inspired. I find them all fascinating in their own way.

That’s the great thing about the vintage scene – it is so varied and that is what makes it such an interesting thing to be a part of as it embraces differences and champions the unique.

To the… nineties? Is it vintage?

A few years ago I’d have screamed “the nineties is not vintage” until I was blue in the face. Though that may just be because I am a child/teen of that decade and I don’t want to face the fact I’m getting old. Surely people 10+ years older than me felt the same way about me wearing something from the eighties 10 years ago and telling them it was ‘vintage’.

vintage 90s dress blue plaid print overalls babydoll grunge mini dress M

1990s plaid dress from Huncamunca Vintage

But now vintage shops are full of floaty dresses, tie dye and high-waisted ‘mom’ jeans. And I have to admit I don’t entirely hate the trend. I’ve even been having some kind of nostalgic urge to own a pair of jelly shoes! (Just don’t try to bring back skirts over trousers or I might lose it).

And, if we go by the definition, the nineties is a “previous era”, and it was one with a number of interesting sub-cultures. One thing that the late nineties did herald, however, was an increase in overseas mass production and often a decrease in quality. So there are some understandable concerns about the increase of ‘bad quality’ vintage.

Deadstock – is it vintage?

This is a bit of a bone of contention. Deadstock, or new old stock as it is sometimes known, is clothing (and bags, jewellery and other accessories) that was manufactured in a previous era (usually 80s and 90s, but occasionally 70s) but which never made it to market. So it has quite often been sitting in a warehouse on the other side of the world before it makes its way to your local vintage store.

New Old Store DEADSTOCK 70's/80's SEXY Secretary UNWORN Vintage Dress Size Medium

1970-80s striped deadstock dress from Incogneeto Vintage

In my personal definition of vintage and going by my ethical approach to dressing, I have no problem with deadstock. The clothing is there, it was made in a different era to a different style and often has really interesting unique patterns. They may be a bit, uh, too funky, but they are a great starting point for modifications and I find it infinitely better to create something new from something old than to use natural resources creating new materials.

But, they are often seen as the Primark of vintage clothing, if you like. Because they are sold and distributed in bulk to vintage businesses across the land, you may see the same dress three times in the same city, which doesn’t make it quite so unique. Plus, because it hasn’t been worn, there is no real ‘story’ to them.

Whilst I have plenty of deadstock pieces in my wardrobe that I wear regularly and love, they’ll never have the same place in my heart as my mum’s handmade dresses or a 1950s wedding dress I bought from the previous owner’s daughter.

What ISN’T vintage?

There is probably a bit more consensus over what definitely isn’t vintage. This includes anything that is new, or manufactured/in the style of the last 15 or so years.

Unfortunately online marketplaces are awash with people trying to pass off last season’s high street threads as ‘vintage’, which can be misleading to people who don’t know better. Fortunately, chances are if it says the brand name you probably know what you’re getting.


Just to confuse things, you may also see the word ‘retro’ used. While the terms vintage and retro can be and often are used interchangeably, it is generally understood that retro refers to vintage style or reproduction clothing, often made with high skill from classic patterns. You’ll often find reproduction clothing at fairs, and they’re very much part of the vintage community. But any good repro or retro clothing maker will label their products as such.

Reproduction mod mini dress by Dig for Victory

So there you go. I haven’t really cleared up much have I? But what I hope I’ve got across is what a wonderfully eclectic place the world of vintage is. Whatever your style, you’re bound to find something to suit your tastes.

What do you think? Do you have a clear definition of vintage?

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