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What Actually Is Vintage Fashion? A Useful Guide to Pre-Loved

Everything you need to know.

Last Updated on June 2, 2023

Vintage fashion is becoming increasingly popular, but what does it actually mean?

According to Vestiaire Collective’s 2022 Sustainability Report, resale is expected to double its market share between 2020 and 2030, from 9% to 18%. By 2025, the resale market is predicted to grow 11 times faster than the new clothing industry. 

According to the report, 33million people made their first secondhand purchase in 2020. By buying second hand on the website, you reportedly save 90% of the environmental cost of a new item. Just one purchase equates to 17kg of CO₂e saved.

shop vintage save the planet neon sign

If you thought vintage and pre-loved was all frumpy jumpers and worn shoes, think again. A-listers like Zendaya are proving it’s anything but, after she breathed new life into an iconic vintage Valentino gown at the Emmys. Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid, Megan Thee Stallion and countless other celebrities are doing the same.

When we embrace old trends like Y2K and 90s fashion, vintage just makes sense. But vintage clothing is more than just a trend. Let’s take a closer look.

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What does vintage actually mean?

Vintage fashion refers to pre-loved clothing, shoes and accessories that are at least 20 years old. It typically refers to clothing from the 1920s through to the 1990s, but some consider pieces from the early 2000s to be vintage as well.

While it has always been popular, vintage has gained significant traction in recent years, particularly among environmentally conscious consumers seeking sustainable alternatives. But it does span far beyond our current era.

Vintage first began to surge in the 1960s, marking a significant shift in how old clothing was perceived and traded. The increasing pace of fashion from the 15th and 16th centuries, coupled with greater consumer accessibility, supported various levels of trade in old clothing.

shutterstock vintage rack

With the rising demand for fashion, the trade of secondhand garments also expanded. Ragpickers played a significant role in salvaging discarded items and reintegrating them into the economic system.

The evolution of vintage fashion spans across different eras and styles, from the era of corsets and top hats to the contemporary realms of boho-chic and grunge.

What type of clothing is considered vintage?

The exact definition of vintage clothing may vary depending on different perspectives. However, as a general guideline, vintage clothing typically refers to clothes produced between 20 and 100 years ago.

This broad time frame encompasses various iconic eras, such as the 1920s to 1990s, and now clothing from the famous early 2000s aesthetic is also considered vintage.

How can you tell if clothes are vintage?

When determining if clothing is vintage, several key factors can help in the identification process. Firstly, checking the label for brand name, production year, and country of origin can provide valuable clues.

Unique details like hand-stitching, distinct fabrics, or intricate patterns often indicate vintage clothing. Considering the style is also important, as vintage pieces tend to possess timeless and classic elements that transcend specific decades.

What type of vintage clothing is most popular?

It varies, depending on style and taste. However there are some items that remain ever-popular.

Levi’s 501 jeans are a timeless classic that have stood the test of time for over a century and remain a wardrobe staple for many. With their straight leg and high rise design, they come in a range of washes to suit different preferences.

Vintage dresses like tea, shift and swing dresses are still popular, while band, graphic and sports team tees are huge. Vintage outerwear such as suede, trench, fur and leather jackets continue to be wearable, and who can forget the cute vintage bags, scarves and jewellery?

Which brands sell vintage clothes?

Here are some notable brands in the UK that offer vintage fashion in 2023.

Beyond Retro: A well-known vintage clothing chain with stores in London, Manchester, and Brighton, offering a diverse range of vintage apparel from flapper dresses of the 1920s to grunge shirts of the 1990s.

Oxfam: A charitable organization with stores all over the UK, including an online platform, where you can find vintage clothing while supporting a worthy cause.

Vinted: An online marketplace dedicated to buying and selling vintage and secondhand clothing, offering a wide selection of distinctive pieces not commonly found elsewhere. It’s worth noting that not everything on Vinted will be considered vintage, but you can find some real gems if you look closely.

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