Vintage clothing: definition and history throughout the years.

The term “vintage” is commonly used to refer to old styles of clothing. In its modern use, it often indicates that the item is at least 20 years old.
Vintage clothing has existed since World War I, as an idea of reusing clothing because of the textile shortage. During this time, most clothing was repaired, mended, tailored to fit other family members, or recycled within the home as rags or quilts. Clothing manufacturers reduced the varieties, sizes, and colors of their productions and even urged designers to create styles that would use less fabric and avoid needless decoration.

Photo by Hemeroteca Municipal de Lisboa (Portugal) on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Modified photo (shorten borders)

After enduring the rations and restrictions of war time, industrialization brought consumerism with it as an integral part of the economy. Economic growth came to depend on continued marketing of new products and disposal of old ones simply because of the style. Old clothes—referred to as “used,” “worn,” and “secondhand,” were only for those unfortunate souls who couldn’t afford the freshly made stuff. The term “secondhand” will now be used to modern clothes that are used and sold again.

Bargain shop. Photo by Thomas Hawk on Foter.com / CC BY-NC
40s magazine. Photo by april-mo on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA


Nevertheless, in the 1960s, young people began to revolt against the conservative norms of the time, as well as remove themselves from mainstream liberalism, in particular the high level of materialism which was so common during the era.

[ Read: Why is the 60’s and 70’s style so iconic? ]


Mary Quant, young British designer from that era, said: ” We felt that expensive things were almost immoral and the New Look was totally irrelevant to us.” [meaning Dior’s New Look silhouette based on hip padding, draperies, pleats, embellishments…]

Dior 1954. Photo by thefoxling on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA


Jimi Hendrix popularized the use of old military dress uniforms as a statement that war was outdated. The youth was wearing vintage clothing from charity shops, such as headbands, cloaks, frock coats, kaftans, corduroy pants, and cowboy boots.

Jimmi Hendrix. Photo by sniggie on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

New York Times fashion editorial from 1967 wrote: ” England’s young began swooping down Portobello Road to buy antique military jackets and delicately handmade Edwardian dresses and, what’s more, wearing them in public.

The Youth. Photo by brizzle born and bred on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

This fashion movement resurfaced during the mid-1980s among teenagers, and expanded into the 1990s with the growing popularity of music and style influences, including the grunge band Nirvana (Kurt Cobain was always dressed in vintage clothes). The music influenced the fashion, setting off new trends and reintroducing styles from past decades.

Nirvana. Photo by post406 on Foter.com / CC BY

By the late 2000s, many people in their 20s and 30s, whose style attempted to reject mainstream trends, were wearing vintage clothing. It was considered as an anti-fashion statement because it did not attempt to look expensive or new.

The Libertines, English rock band from the late 1990s, wearing military jackets
Photo by fiberfib on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Nowadays, people have discovered that garments in the past had a magnificent cut and hand-done details not often found in clothes these days. Dressing in vintage style is a way of expressing oneself by wearing something unique. Throughout history, fashion has always turned to previous eras for inspiration, so it is possible to create a modern look using vintage.


In addition, as consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion (referring to fast-turnover high street retailers), they are looking for a more sustainable way to shop. Reusing clothing is environmentally friendly because it makes use of material that would have otherwise potentially ended up in a landfill, avoids producing more and more, and forces us to learn some maintenance skills that help lengthen their life.

Therefore, choosing vintage clothes today is the best way to acquire a new wardrobe whilst minimising the resources used. This is why vintage is on the rise.

Recent photo of my friend, Nawal, wearing a vintage dress from the shop
Photo by Lea Ghirardotti.