Why vintage is the new ‘new’.

Doc Martens, courtesy of a too.

I recently tweeted that the most stylish kids of our generation are dressing like their parents used to. Although I faced a little bit of backlash (but when have I ever said anything that hasn’t resulted in a bit of backlash…?), a lot of people actually agreed with me. What I wasn’t able to compress into a couple of tweets is my internal debate about whether or not vintage shopping is getting easier.

My argument hinged around the fact that a ton of brands my parents used to like are now hugely popular with bloggers and other fashion conscious young people – my dad wore Doc Martens as a kid (c.f. my beautiful new ones at the top of this post), and has worn Gant and Ralph Lauren (both two of my ‘go to’ brands) shirts for years. My mum spent most of the ’90s in Liberty print and maxi-dresses, both now making a huge comeback. So, in theory, all kids have to do to look great these days is raid their parents’ wardrobes…right?

Not quite. Consider the difference between the following two statements – ‘You look so ’80s!’ and ‘Your clothes look like they’re thirty years old.’ It’s pretty obvious which one sounds more favourable.  When I wear one of my dad’s favourite shirts I invariably look like…well, someone wearing their dad’s old shirt. However, on finding similar shirts in charity shops and the like, it quickly becomes apparent that items have often been donated because the wearer found it at the back of their wardrobe and realised they never wear it.

It used to be that shopping for vintage clothes was incredibly difficult, because finding clothes in good condition was tough to do. Brands like Levi’s, Gant and Abercrombie have totally changed this. By selling clothes that have already been weathered to look vintage, including everything from pre-ripped locker loops (pictured below) to sand washed and torn denim, secondhand shopping has the chance to truly hit the bigs again.

Ripped locker loops traditionally indicated that the wearer had a significant other.

I had a quick word with the gents from a too, a specialist menswear retailer in Birmingham, about how menswear has changed in the last 15 years. This is what they told me – “Don’t get too comfortable! It is amazing just how much men’s fashion and the requirements of customers has changed over the years, something that we have had to constantly be aware of.” They also intimated that most customers are now “looking for something that is a little bit special…they look for great details, fit and materials which set clothes a level up from the regular high-street offerings.”

The guys also alluded to a point I made in a previous blog, namely that popular culture (everything from television shows to the internet) now has a huge impact of people, whether they’re aware of it or not. “The rise of style-based blogs has also meant that people come in looking for a certain look, rather than wanting to get kitted with a particular brand, which is reflected in the brands that we now stock.”

I was recently checking out some advertising from the 1950s and came across this old advert for Gant -

The advert struck me because it reminded me so much of the Mad Men look, which demonstrated another reason that vintage is so massive right now – as well as people wanting their clothes to have character and ‘stories’ to them (whether those stories truly belong to the garment’s owner or not is another story…), current trends are very much based around picking and choosing stylistic devices from the last hundred years and mixing them together in a very postmodern way. And it goes without saying that a shirt made in the ’50s will always look more legit than a shirt that’s been made to look like it was made in the ’50s.

So why are some brands already repro’ing stuff that looks just like what my parents used to wear? Well, there are two reasons. Firstly, they’re putting an incredibly subtle (one far too subtle to explain here…) spin on things that make them similar enough to invoke nostalgia but different enough to make it look fresh and not like one of Pops’ beaten up old shirts. Secondly, there are still men (and women, too) who are resilient to the idea of putting together a collection of vintage pieces because…well, to be frank, vintage shopping can take a lot of work. It’s probably no coincidence that two of a too’s best selling collections are Gitman Vintage and Gant Rugger.

But if you have a little time, there’s not much you’ll find in stores that you won’t find in a vintage store.


  1. Diana

    I absolutely agree with this sentiment. While I myself don’t actually like vintage shopping, reasons for which I discuss here: wardrobeexplosion.blogspot.com/2012/07/thoughts.html ,I definitely see things popping up on high street that wouldn’t have looked out of place during my parent’s generation. I think some of the subtle differences between clothes then and now lie in the cutting of the clothes to accommodate the difference in physique between our generation (wider chests and hips are considerably more common now than they were in my mother’s youth) and our parents. I’d still much rather purchase an item that was vintage inspired, rather than an actual vintage item, but I definitely like how style seems to have come full circle for this particular trend.

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