Is it Vintage or is it Second Hand?

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These days second hand clothes are not always a bargain. The vintage label seems to come with a hefty price tag. Since when have hand-me-downs and cast-offs become ‘vintage’? Is there any real difference? Today I am going to explore this further, with the help of a new series on BBC Radio 4 – From Rags to Riches.

Second-hand is no longer seen as the poor man’s choice and is becoming quite mainstream, with the rise of the likes of eBay. People who bought vintage clothes up until  the Millennium tended to buy only the rarer or more collectible pieces. In more recent times, there has been a real shift and almost anything goes, so long as it is a unique one-off or fits current trends, but without the large price tag of buying new. But with this sweeping change, should we be concerned about true vintage items dying out? This seems likely with the rise in poor quality, fast fashion pieces which are not made to last or even cut well in the first place. I cannot see them enduring in the same way, as items from 40+ years ago.

I have mentioned in a previous post about the history of the garment trade. But what is vintage? Is it simply a garment that is too old, for you to have worn the first time round, in your lifetime? Or is vintage about having a connection with the past? Sometimes people have the luxury of knowing a garment’s original story. But often they are bought anonymously, in a shop or online. I know that I am attracted to clothes from certain eras. I particularly love a lot of the styles that were around in the 1970s, the decade just before I was born. But I can’t really explain why that should be so, it’s probably just personal preference. There certainly seems to have been a lot more meaning attached to certain types of clothing in the past; like flapper dresses, the ‘new look’, mods and rockers or teddy boys, are just a few examples. I am certain that the rise of the term ‘vintage’ has concurred with the rise of the internet and various online marketplaces. Perhaps this is because search engines rely on people searches for certain labels or definitions?

Vintage fashion is quite possibly a counter-cultural movement, a reaction to the fast fashion of the high street. Around the turn of the Millennium,  vintage began to step outside the wardrobes of Punks and students and onto the red carpet. It even found its way onto the pages of high fashion magazines, starting with British Vogue in May 2003. Perhaps some people still adhere too strongly to labels, even when buying second hand. Certainly some people may only buy second hand designer labels. Others may stick to labels that they know suit them, or they like the style of and there’s nothing wrong with that! Still others will actually just like to purchase something second hand, from your common charity shop and just enjoy wearing something that they love, that no-one else has.

So perhaps now, buying vintage or second hand is not an alternative lifestyle choice and has become mainstream in itself? It seems to me that the label vintage is simply applied to any garment over 20 years old, in order to inflate the price artificially. Although I admit that some people have an eye for finding the nicer pieces and perhaps this curation is worth paying a bit extra for. But I love the thrill of the chase. I certainly think there is good vintage and bad vintage, but again perhaps that is a matter of perception. This modern fashion concept called ‘vintage’ just rebrands everything in the same way, whether it’s a Regency gown or a pair of 1990s Adidas Gazelle’s. That is an unhelpful paradox to create.

Certainly, if you head into any fashion design studio what you will find are rails of old clothes (or shall we call them ‘vintage’ darling?) As my Grandad used to tell me, there is nothing new in this world and he always swore that if he kept clothes long enough, they’d be back in fashion again. Not that he truly cared about that, it was just an excuse to never go shopping, well except at jumble sales. (See where I get my love of second hand from – ha!) Anyway, the point is that designers use them as reference points for the ‘new’ trends that they create – whether it’s copying a button, a hem-line, a frill or a motif.

Vintage carries a prestige now because you have the garment and no-one else can. I suppose when people made their own clothes, there was far less likelihood of someone else wearing the same thing, as you chose the material, the pattern and cut it to fit you. Whereas nowadays there is a real fear of turning up in the same thing as someone else, at least for some people. But clearly, the word ‘vintage’ means different things to different people. I still prefer the rummage at the charity shop, along with the generally acceptable price tag. Although even some of them are now offering vintage boutiques, with prices to match! You just have to remember to check the condition of the items, as I often find that they don’t check and have been left with an imperfect, or sometimes unwearable item due to staining.

If you’ve enjoyed my blog post today, you will enjoy listening to the Rags to Riches podcast.

It’s About Things That Wear In, Not Things That Wear Out.

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I’ve been watching a fabulous documentary series about the history of the London Underground. It’s called ‘Going Underground’ and it’s on Channel 5. I’ve long been a fan the London Underground. Since my Father and his parents hail from our fine capital city; I spent a significant portion of my time there growing up. I’ve always loved the architecture of the stations, the branding, the furniture – icons such as the subway tiles, the Underground Map and the whole ambience. My Father remembers when steam trains operated on the lines.

A man called Frank Peck re-designed Piccadilly Circus station in the 1920s. The whole ethos of his design was to create ‘flow’; a movement of people through the station. This had been sadly lacking in its Edwardian predecessor, with halting lifts and cramped ticket hall. He aimed to create a circular ticket hall, a bit like a roundabout to keep people moving. Something he later repeated in other Modernist stations he designed, such as Arnos Grove.

Within his design at Piccadilly, he chose to use elements like pillars to create a feeling of space, by giving the appearance of raising the ceiling. What really struck me was that he used materials such as brass for the pillars and ticket lobby, along with marble tiles on the walls. He wanted the station to reflect the area it was situated in (The West End), but more than this he wanted to use materials that wear in, not materials that wear out. You know that aged patina that can only come with the passage of time. I don’t see that as a faded glory, but I think it adds to something’s beauty or charm.

Even today, Piccadilly is at the back of the waiting list for refurbishment because it was built so well back in the days that it was felt it could survive the longest! That is a testament to buying once, is it not? I wonder if the same will be able to be said of today’s Underground in 100 years time? The trains that run on the line today are 1970s rolling stock and although the oldest, they are the most reliable trains on the Underground to day! Even these trains are based on an original 1930s design by guess who….Frank Pick! They were a simple design which also made them simple to repair and maintain.

Some lessons for us all on Simplicity and Minimalism from London’s own, iconic Underground! I would never have thought such secrets lay within and I can only hope that those who are taking it forward will learn from it, continuing to employ such common sense.1200px-Underground.svg