Is That Vintage, Really Vintage?

Put. The. Leather. Jacket. Down!

Image via Pexels

Retro. Vintage. Old School.

These terms have become interchangeable in today’s fashion world. But what do they really mean and how has the surge of vintage shoppers affected the clothes that we buy?

As most of us know, the textile industry is one of the biggest global contributors to pollution. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a UNEP partner, estimates that a truckload of abandoned textiles is dumped in landfill or incinerated every second. Even with this mass of clothing being discarded, it is estimated that people are buying 60 per cent more clothes and wearing them for half as long.

In an effort to offset the harmful effect of fast fashion on the environment, many consumers have decided to try vintage shopping. However, with #vintage clothing accumulating over 650 million views, vintage shopping has evolved from an eco-conscious choice to a viral fashion trend.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good vintage shop. One of my favourite things to do is sift through the racks of the local charity shop, trying to find that one piece. But when shopping vintage becomes a race to find the best, most unique pieces, and not about sustainability, we need to ask if vintage clothing shops are really the most ethical choice. Or has the pressure to keep up with trends forced thrift shops to become just another form of consumerism?


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Big LOVE vintage (@biglovevintage)

Where Do Vintage Clothes Come From?

Shoppers treat the supposedly ethical way of shopping the same as they would any high street store, expecting brand new stock every time they visit the shops. To keep up with growing consumer demand vintage shops will restock from once a month to once a week. Filling their racks with brand new, old clothes that are on trend. If vintage clothes are preloved, second hand pieces that have been discarded by their previous owners, then people must be donating their whole wardrobes every day. There are only so many 60s aline skirts which are still suitable to wear after all these years, so where are these clothes really coming from?

The reality is that stockists will often travel to other countries to sort through bins of clothes from suppliers, and hand-pick the clothes they think are the most suitable for their brand. To save money, a lot of major retailers actually source their vintage clothes from Pakistan, adding many miles and carbon emissions to their garments.

To bulk up their racks some vintage shops even include new garments designed to look retro. Because they’re manufactured from scratch, this defeats the whole purpose of what should have been a second-hand purchase.

What Actually Is Vintage?

According to the editor and chief of Vogue Magazine, fashion icon Anna Wintour says that an item can only be officially labeled as vintage if the seller can prove that the item is actually from the time period that it claims.

“The ‘vintage’ tag can be appended to pieces of at least 20 years old. However, only if these articles showcase characteristics associated with that era,” Anna says.

Since people have taken to shopping in vintage stores to reduce their carbon footprint, the vintage aesthetic has become a staple trend of every season. Main stream fashion brands have started creating collections inspired by previous decades. With a rapid turnover of trends, modern clothes are finding their way to the racks of vintage shops being marketed as “retro garments”.  Which means that those 70s retro yellow sunglasses you’ve been eyeing up on Depop may not necessarily actually be from the 70s.

A major difference between vintage garments and retro clothing is the price. Generally retro pieces will be a lot cheaper. Another good way to spot an inauthentic vintage style is if there are multiple sizes in the one garment.

With all of these being said – of course you should continue to shop in your favourite vintage shops. Just make sure to take an extra look at that 70s shag coat, before you decide to buy.