On July 17, 2020, Princess Beatrice glided down the aisle of All Saints Chapel in an elegant wedding gown originally created by Norman Hartnell for her grandmother Queen Elizabeth II in the 1960s. Following her wedding day, the number of brides searching for “vintage” wedding dresses went up by almost 300%, reflecting a worldwide consumer shift away from traditional, big brands towards unique second-hand and vintage clothing. However, although vintage fashion has begun to gain increased popularity and coverage by the media in the past few years, the concept of vintage clothing has actually been around since the 1960s and is predicted to continue for generations to come. 

In order to understand the concept of vintage fashion, it is important to first define what this term exactly entails. Usually, the term “vintage” is used to refer to a variety of styles and clothing pieces originating from a previous time period, traditionally spanning from the ‘20s to as recent as the ‘90s. However, there are also a few misconceptions that come along with vintage fashion and other words are often mistakenly used interchangeably. An example of this is the word “retro,” which refers to clothing that simply resembles, but does not originate from a previous time. Another misconception is that all vintage clothing is affordable. Although many unique vintage pieces can be found at local thrift stores for cheap prices, many brands and specifically vintage stores might sell similar items for higher prices. 

As the popularity of vintage fashion has grown, many well-known brands, such as Levi’s and Coach, have jumped on the trend and started using recycled materials or styles from their previous collections to create new garments. This use of vintage materials shows how brands are able to blend both old and new fashion into pieces that are more sustainable and unique. Although the term “vintage” might be strongly associated with searching through racks and bins of clothing in a second-hand store, consumers today don’t even have to leave their beds to find uniquely vintage items, as websites like ThredUp and The RealReal have monopolized on the concept of reselling vintage clothing and accessories. There is even a search engine called Gem that automatically directs shoppers to used and vintage clothing from a specific curation of websites, making the process of hunting for vintage fashion easier than ever before. 

A major catalyst for the rise of vintage fashion is an increasing awareness of the negative impact of fast fashion according to stylist and fashion consultant Frank Akinsete. Based on a survey conducted by ThredUp, almost half of the Millennial and Gen Z generations claim that they refuse to shop from non-sustainable businesses in order to help reduce their impact on the environment. By shifting toward vintage and second-hand clothing, consumers help limit the amount of new production being outputted by factories, which helps to work proactively against climate change. In addition, shopping vintage prevents individuals from simply throwing away the clothes they no longer wear, but instead enters them back into the market for new consumers to enjoy. However, Maxine Bédat, the founder of the non-profit New Standard Institute, warns that with this uprise in vintage and upcycled clothing, many fashion brands might take advantage of this industry. This could actually lead to a negative impact on the environment if companies mislabel their products as “sustainable” and “upcycled” solely to draw customers in, increasing consumption. 

Nevertheless, sustainability is not the only reason for the rise in vintage fashion. The founder of the second-hand store Designer Jumble, Abigail Chisman, states that because of the unique nature of vintage fashion and its divergence from set trends, selecting vintage clothing can actually bring out a sense of individuality. This is because shopping vintage or second-hand leads to an accumulation of unique pieces that other people are unlikely to have the same copy of. Upcycling vintage designs also contributes to creativity as designers incorporate the patterns and designs of older trends into new, more sustainable fashion. Nostalgia may also play a role in the resurgence of vintage, as individuals long for the past, whether or not they were actually alive to experience the fashions they are now flaunting. Whatever the reason for shopping vintage may be, this resurgence of past fashion is unlikely to simply be a fad, but rather an ongoing, sustainable lifestyle. 


Photo Credit: The Cut