Vintage or advantage…

Vintage or advantage….

Vintage or advantage…

The concept of wearing vintage clothing in conjunction with modern is a relatively new concept in the history of popular fashion.  In fact the term “vintage” has been distorted in recent years to mean anything which has a retro vibe or has had the appearance of age added to it during manufacture.  It can also mean reworked clothing; vintage clothing that has been altered significantly beyond the designer’s original concept to create an entirely new garment.  But in truth the definition of vintage is a design or object which is 25 years or more in age. For example, you cannot call a new car a vintage car, nor a new wine vintage wine. So why is it acceptable to call new clothing vintage?

'River Island' resurrects 1960s fashion chain 'Chelsea Girl' with this "vintage" 1960s angel sleeve mini dress.

The original 1960s lace angel sleeve mini dress at a vintage fair. Sold by Victoria & Albert Vintage

Well for me personally it is not acceptable – there is a distinct difference between new and vintage and one has an entirely separate definition from the other.  So why am I so passionate that this difference should be not only noted but adhered to?  I believe in the old adage “a place for everything and everything in its place” for a start and then there’s the historian in me that requires me to make a mental chronological catalogue of fashion trends – historic; vintage; contemporary.

It appears to me that the term “vintage” has been adopted by many high street retailers in order for them to cash in on the expanding trend of wearing vintage clothing.  Many are faithfully reproducing a vintage garment and selling in all sizes in every store.  So much has the term “vintage” become distorted that should a public survey be carried out the majority would mostly reply “something that looks old”.

The origins of the vintage clothing trend stretch back to the mid 1960s when young people both in the UK and the USA began accessorising their trendy new boutique clothes with antique clothes and military uniforms bought in antique markets and army surplus stores.  There had been strong historic influence in clothing before especially with the Teddy Boys of the 1950s with their Edwardian style jackets (hence the term “Teddy”) but wearing old clothes from past periods was not done to any notable degree before the mid 1960s.

Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg wearing new and vintage clothing in 1966.

1960s Mods searching through second-hand clothes in Portobello Antique Market before the term "vintage" was coined.

Portobello Market, London circa. 1968. Young girl tries on an old fur coat from one of the many antique clothing and military uniform dealers.

The boutique phenomenom of the 1960s brought about a change in attitude to dressing oneself.  The youngsters of the day were not interested in being dictated to by the catwalks nor high street chains who sold either children’s clothes or adult’s clothes and the teen section tended to be a compromise between the two.  It was in fact this lack of understanding of the youth market in the high street that led Mary Quant to design, make and sell her own clothes from her boutique Bazaar which she opened in 1955 on London’s King’s Road.  However, it was not until the very early 60s that Quant’s designs began to take off and be noticed as a new direction in youth fashion.  Doubtless to say that Quant was the pioneer of youth fashions in the 60s but it was boutiques such as BIBA and Granny Takes a Trip, both run by their designer owners/proprietors, who first sold ‘second-hand’ clothing alongside their sharp new designs.

'Granny Takes A Trip' boutique circa 1966.

A young girl lounges in BIBA's mock Art Nouveau window seat circa 1967.

The vintage trend waned by the early 70s with the exception of some small subcultures such as Rockers and Teddy Boys but came into popularity again in the late 70s with the Mod revival.  The Mod revival began around 1977 with newly made outfits inspired by original 1960s clothes but also the girls especially found it easy to source original 60s Mod clothing as it was only just being passed on to charity shops.  But as the Mod revival became a purist cult its followers adopted the authentic 1960s Mod look and began to wear vintage 60s youth clothing to create an entire look in the same way as the Rockers and Teddy Boys had been doing before them.  It was from this point on that the wearing of vintage clothing became mostly and entire historic look for many years because of the popularity of these three subcultures.

Mod revival band The Jam. Singer/songwriter Paul Weller (far left) was a principal figure in the Mod revival movement of the 70’s and 80’s.

1970s mod revival girl wears original 1960s "Op Art" rain mac.

In recent years we’ve seen a return to the 1960s attitude of mixing new and old styles together. This trend has been picked up on by high street retailers who have seen a way to cash in on this trend by producing “vintage inspired” collections of their own.  The success of “vintage inspired” clothing is down to four main factors: there is no need to search for it through second hand sources; it is available in any size; it is in new condition; it can be bought at any and many outlets.  Pure vintage on the other hand needs to be sourced in mainly small independent shops and comes as individual pieces in one size and in varying condition.  My preference is always to choose pure vintage first for the individuality it gives to your look.

Away from the high street a strong interest in vintage clothing in its purist form exists and there are some excellent shops to supply the demand. By “purist” it is meant largely unadulterated clothing of an age of 25 years or more.  In London, where I have lived, worked and shopped all my life, there are some of the best purist vintage shops to be found.  Here are a few of my all-time favourites, all are well-established and reputable vintage clothing dealers:

Rellik –  8 Golborne Road London W10 5NW. Fine vintage clothing and accessories from the 1950s onwards. Has an amazing collection of vintage Vivienne Westwood as well as other notable British designers such as Ossie Clark and other boutique labels.

The Girl Can’t Help It – Alfie’s Antique Market, 13-25 Church Street, London NW8 8DT.  Amazing, well-established and very well stocked vintage shop specialising in mainly American clothing and accessories from the 1930s-1960s period.

What The Butler Wore – 131 Lower Marsh, London SE1.  My favourite vintage clothing & accessories boutique.  Specialists in 60s and 70s clothing, shoes and accessories for men and women but also stock clothes from earlier periods.

Radio Days – 87 Lower Marsh, London SE1.  Just further up the road from What The Butler Wore this Art Deco style vintage shop stocks mainly 1930s-1950s clothing and accessories as well as magazines, homewares, collectables and memorabilia from the same period.

Retromania – 6 Upper Tachbrook Street London SW1V 1SH. Retromania is a vintage charity shop which is part of the FARA group of charity shops.  Impressive clothing selection which covers all periods from Victorian to 1980s. They have a vintage homewares section in the basement for those looking to expand their vintage interest to lifestyle!