If you’re not in the habit of wearing vintage clothing, it’s easy to think of it in one of two ways: either to associate vintage with the expensive “Old Hollywood Glamour” that’s always being discussed in conjunction with red carpet gowns, or to think of “vintage” as limited to the 90’s jean jumpers that seem to be the primary stock in most thrift stores.
As with many other subjects, the truth about vintage as everyday wear is somewhere between the two extremes. I started to gravitate more and more toward vintage during and after college. Aside from a serious interest in fashion history, there are several good reasons to buy and wear vintage clothing that have kept me hooked. If you’ve ever seen a friend wearing something amazing, and after complimenting her, were told “It’s vintage!”, maybe your curiosity has been piqued. Here’s why most of my wardrobe staples, at this point, were made before 1990.
1. Vintage can be budget-friendly.
Note that I said “can be”—you have to know a little bit about how to shop. Any good combing through a thrift store or vintage outlet can land you solid, flattering, stylish pieces at rock-bottom prices. At the hospital auxiliary thrift store where I love to shop, I found both pairs of my favorite work pants—high-waisted, perfect fit, stylish but classic, for $5 each. I also found an 80’s silk blouse and wool jacket by a major designer that when first on the rack probably cost a small fortune (well, at least to me!)—I paid $35 for the pair.
Another thing to note here is that when you pay so little for a pre-owned but quality piece of clothing, you can afford to have it altered if it doesn’t quite fit. The modern piece that you scrimped and saved for that doesn’t fit right even in your size may actually end up looking worse than a vintage piece that you could afford to alter so it fits you perfectly.
2. Older clothing was designed with more women’s figures and proportions in mind.
Occasionally I still get inspired by something I see at a contemporary outlet. Plenty of modern clothing draws inspiration from vintage styles, but as a woman with a developed figure, I just don’t feel comfortable in unstructured spaghetti-strap tops, flimsy sundresses, or low-rise jeans. The fashion era that inspires me most is the late 1940’s to early 1950’s; I love the high-waisted pants, waist-delineating circle skirts, and structured menswear-inspired but figure-hugging jackets. When I put on vintage clothing I tend to feel more feminine—I feel like I’m showing off my curves and figure without being worried I’m going to lose a strap or having to pull up my pants all the time (torn belt-loops, anyone?).
3. A lot of older clothing is just higher quality.
This sort of goes along with #1— you get a lot more value with your money when you buy vintage. Escape from the sea of polyester blends and graduate into rayon, silk, gabardine, 100% wool, cashmere, and the like. Of course, this often comes with a dry-cleaning bill, but I consider it worth it to dress well. Most office-bound professionals dry-clean a good portion of their wardrobe even if they’re wearing modern clothes. A lot of clothes in US vintage stores were made in the USA. You can even find pieces that were made in someone’s home or custom-tailored. All of this adds up to better fit and construction, and that’s half the battle in being well-dressed.
4. Vintage is eco-friendly and humane.
Vintage consumers are literally recycling clothing. By buying vintage, you won’t contribute to the demands of the fast-fashion industry that relies on sweatshop labor and deliberately undercuts quality to ensure that clothes need to be constantly replaced.
5. Buying vintage supports small (and often woman-owned) businesses.
I shop both at brick and mortar vintage outlets and at online Etsy shops to get my clothes. All of these are small businesses, and the vast majority of them are woman-owned. I love the feeling I get buying a new vintage piece, knowing that I’m helping to support other creative women making a living from her passion.
Hopefully that’s enough to convince you that vintage might be worth a try. These are all fairly semantic reasons, though. I think the real reason I personally wear vintage is because it’s so much fun. The opportunities for developing my unique style through vintage clothing are endless. Research the “eras” that inspire you most and get out to see what you can find. If nothing else, shopping for vintage clothes will always surprise you!