What does it really mean to be “vintage”?

By Destinee Hodge

The word “vintage” is thrown around so loosely at times. I think we  probably all have a general idea of what the word means, but would have a difficult time coming up with an accurate definition. I took it upon myself to do a little research.

The word “vintage” in its (quite literally)  most organic form, has to do with viniculture. The dictionary defines it as “The yield of wine or grapes from a vineyard or district during one season.” Interestingly, the definition has a second part, “Wine, usually of high quality, identified as to year and vineyard or district of origin.” So in other words, vintage in a colloquial sense refers to wine that came from a really good year for a particular grape harvest.

No one seems to know how or why we decided to use a word completely unrelated to fashion to describe clothing. But then, things don’t always add up in our beloved English language.

When we say “vintage” now, we’re using it because of certain implied characteristics; it’s old and it’s good.  It means we’re drawing from one of the better fashion “harvests” as it were, of the past.

In fashion, vintage doesn’t necessarily mean that the clothes are physically old, but that they reference an older era for style. You’ll see Ralph Lauren or Dolce and Gabbana with lines that have “vintage” elements. That’s because just like wine connoisseurs know the vintage wines, fashion designers know vintage clothing.

So, as a point of reference, on this blog we’re looking at vintage clothes because they are some of the best styles from the past. Whether they’re literally from 1937 or just made in 2007, we’re going to go to stores that are dedicated to these items and any other places where they may pop up.

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5 responses to “What does it really mean to be “vintage”?

  1. there’s a lot of pressure in a place like austin to look and behave in a particular way . While i’m not trying to make any particularly deep statements with my own wardrobe, i’ve always been fascinated by all the vintage shops in austin and friends/people who shop/dress that style. It’s nice to read a breakdown of where the terminology comes from…feel like i understand the culture a little more now.

  2. i have a question: can something be vintage and cheap? it seems like the word “vintage” has come to be coveted almost as a synonym for designer clothing. is vintage just old clothing that’s fashionable?

    • Yes, vintage can be cheap (in cost, not quality). I consider anything that’s old, not being made anymore, or that you can’t find in modern stores to be vintage. It also depends on where you buy your vintage clothing. You can scour thrift stores for vintage items (cheap) or shop on online vintage stores (varies from moderate to expensive).

  3. Annika Erdman

    Thank you for this post. I’ve never been much into fashion, but I was definitely curious to learn about vintage clothing – because I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. I too, like Janet, had the misconception that vintage clothing was pricey. Looking forward to more insight on y’all’s blog.

  4. It’s my understanding that the term for something that has vintage-inspired elements is “retro”. The term “vintage” should only be used to describe something at least 20 years old.

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