Latest Dispatches

Is Vintage Still ‘Vintage’?

In the past 10 years we’ve seen a huge surge in popularity of 1940s – 1960s clothing and fashions. While some people may think that this is brilliant, as the availability of such things has soared, it’s brought with it a lot of things that are hard to stomach as someone who wants to preserve and enjoy mid-century styles. The term ‘vintage’ has come to mean anything remotely old.

Old fashioned styles being popular and ‘in vogue’ means that my way of dressing has become more widely accepted. No more strange looks and a lot more compliments shouted across the street at me. I should be happy, and yet instead I’m grumbling because it didn’t go quite the way I would have hoped.

How many times have you seen a 1980s shell suit listed as vintage? Am I just getting annoyed because vintage things are getting closer and closer to things that I remember as a kid and actually I’m just afraid of feeling old? My 75 year old Gran surely has to accept that things she wore as a young lady are now ‘vintage’, but do I have to ‘suck it up’ and accept it too?

My boyfriend constantly reminds me that actually the ‘vintage’ of something is its age, and not a universal term for my personal style. He’s quite right (although I’ll continue using the term out of habit no doubt). And yet in my mind, ‘vintage’ is strictly anything pre 1960. For others it’s up until 1970. Let’s be honest the 60s brought with it some incredible styles and fashions, and yet because it’s not for ‘me’, it’s excluded from my definition of ‘vintage’.

The V word has taken over the world and now seems to be used for anything with polka dots or is classically styled. A black pencil dress is obviously someone channelling Audrey Hepburn a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s and put on a halter neck dress and you’re obviously playing Marilyn Monroe. No? No. I regularly watch fashion items on television to be told that there’s a vintage dress from New Look. As far as I’m aware ‘vintage’ cannot be ‘made’.

Me at Goodwood Revival
Me at Goodwood Revival

Regular visitors to eBay will know that searching ‘vintage 1940s dress’ will hurl you into your worst nightmare of cheaply made polyester dresses. Since when did we let the term vintage go? Was it ours in the first place? I don’t know, but I think that someone needs to do something about it.

I’m not saying that the cute little polka dot dresses you can buy on the high street aren’t a style, they are, one in fact which I adored. When I was 16-17 I’d typically wear a little cotton dress with dark tights and a pair of brogues; sometimes I’d pop victory rolls in my hair, and I loved it. But is that vintage? I think in those days I was aspiring to wear original 1940s everyday and because I couldn’t, that’s how I styled myself. It wasn’t wrong (although some of the photos may suggest otherwise).

I regularly see people on twitter and across social media and the Internet saying that they now refuse to use the term ‘vintage’ as its meaning has been lost in translation. I see it as a game of Chinese whispers. As soon as it became fashionable, its definition got broadened until now its often barely recognisable. I could point out that people wearing 1940s/1950s clothing hijacked the word and used it wrongly themselves; so now that it’s been even more broadly defined across the high street we can’t really whinge. But yet here I am, whinging! After all, a dress made in the year 1973 has a vintage of 1973. So technically it’s ‘vintage’. We’ve been using the term wrongly all along, so now that I’m getting up on my high horse because someone dared to use that particular word in a way that I deem to be incorrect am I actually just being a hypocritical old fool?

I’ve debated attempting to start an Internet style riot (a classy riot, but a riot nonetheless) and ask people to start using a different term, maybe mid-century? Maybe ‘true vintage’? So that when I (and many other ‘mid-century’ lovers) are trawling sites for new frocks or suits we can cut the crap and head straight for the Shaheens and the Horrockses out there. Now, in my little dream world of perfection, my campaign would take off and spread far and wide. There’d be a hashtag of #campaignformidcentury and people across the world would alter Etsy listings to say ‘original mid-century skirt suit’ and so on and so forth.

Surely it would work brilliantly. Surely, everyone would listen and take on what I’m saying and just agree with it right away. No one would think I’m being elitist or snobbish. No one would think that actually what I’d be doing was stopping other people getting involved in the ‘scene’ because it all just seemed too scary. These are all issues that I’d be terrified of causing.

However, the (smaller) sensible part of my brain tells me that yes, it might work for a little bit, but then what happens when the sellers with bundles of 1980s poly dresses and maybe a few original 1950s pieces cotton on? Do we expect them to just list the true mid-century pieces as such? Or do we know that they’ll slyly put this new word in the tag line to try and up the traffic to their page?

Laura Hollowell of Madame Medusa Beauty who recently brought vintage hair styling to BBC3's Hair
Laura Hollowell of Madame Medusa Beauty who recently brought vintage hair styling to BBC3’s Hair

The policing of such a campaign would also be a nightmare. I’d probably end up even more devastated seeing people advertise modern pieces as ‘mid-century’ as it had been my attempt at being a purist. Will we ever truly kick out the phonies or should we just stop being pretentious and live and let live? Am I actually just annoyed because it makes my life harder to find clothes? I think the answer is probably yes, however much I hate to admit it.

My personal use of the word ‘vintage’ I think comes from the separation of age of motorcycles. I was brought up surrounded by old vehicles so it comes as second nature. Commonly pre WW2 bikes are ‘veteran’ or ‘historic’, post WW2 is considered to be vintage, and post 1960 is deemed to be a ‘classic’. Clearly not everyone has been to a Vintage Motor Cycle Club event where the correct adjective is displayed in italics in order to deter people from (heaven forbid) using the incorrect term.

I will continue to observe this beloved adjective being banded around willy nilly, because actually at the moment I can’t see a solution. I’m not going to stop dressing the way I do because other people don’t understand it, or understand it in the way I see it anyway. People regularly say to me ‘oh I love your 60s look’ when inside I’m screaming ‘60s?! 60s?! You’re 20 years out lovey!’ I don’t point it out to them, so why should I do so on the internet? Am I in fact just using the opportunity of hiding behind a computer screen to be bolder than I would in real life? I shall stop banding around rhetorical questions that I myself can’t answer and retire for a cup of tea in order to relax my confused brain!

Alex Backhouse is a law with German student, vintage blogger and owner of vintage spectacles company Madam’s Vintage. You can read about her exploits as a lover of forties fashion at her blog: www.thefortiesfloozy.com