Why vintage, why now?

©Laura Reynolds

Last week alone, there were two vintage fairs in York; The YUSU Pink Flamingo Fair took place on campus on Wednesday as part of RAG week, and Sunday saw the arrival of York’s Affordable Vintage Fair in the town centre.

The Discover Vintage Fair is coming to York Barbican on 4th March, followed by The York Vintage Fair on March 18th, and at least two further events run by Judy’s Affordable Vintage later in the year. With all this going on, you may well be fooled into believing that vintage is the new high street, and you may be right.

A few years ago, vintage was a rare commodity reserved for those with money to spare, and hours to devote to rummaging through rails of old clothes on the off chance of finding a rare gem. Entire shops devoted to vintage were even rarer, with fanatics often having to make do with a half hearted rail at the back of a charity shop.

Now, however, many young people swear by vintage. Shops devoted to clothes from bygone eras are popping up left, right and centre, including Deep, Purple Haze and the Vintage Emporium to name but a few in York. Online stores are thriving too, with Teapot Vintage being just one example.

What exactly is ‘vintage’? The term is thrown around so often these days that, unsurprisingly, there are varying definitions. Most commonly, ‘vintage’ refers to items, predominantly clothing, from the 1920s to the 1980s, although items from the 1960s onwards can also be identified as ‘retro’.

And it’s not just clothes either; every visit to the cinema, it seems, results in the trailer of yet another remake. The recent trend for cupcakes has a very 1950s housewife feel to it, and the vintage furniture market is worth a fortune.

Entire towns are relying on vintage to reinvent their fortunes, a prime example being the Kentish coastal town of Margate, which has used its many vintage clothing and furniture shops as a draw for potential visitors since the opening of the Turner Contemporary Gallery last year.

A large part of the impression that vintage has made is due to the recession, as it offers a throwback to simpler times. I know that if I think ‘vintage’, I think red lipstick and ‘50s stockings, which then lead me to thoughts of World War II - another economically challenging time, and one which people got through with the infamous ‘make do and mend’ attitude. So perhaps, by embracing vintage, people are seeking escapism from the issues our modern society faces.

There is of course the environmental aspect too. In recent years, it has been hard to look anywhere without being reminded of the importance of recycling. What is a more fashionable way of recycling than rejuvenating old clothes and accessories?

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of the vintage trend is that it is not restricted to celebrities willing to pay a hefty price tag-a quick gander in Purple Haze, one of York’s independent vintage shops, shows prices starting from just £5, and many other pieces cheaper than you would expect to pay in most high street chain stores. In fact, the very essence of vintage means that it is a trend that has been started, and predominantly owned, by the public, who are able to lead this trend instead of following it, as is so often the case.

As anyone who went to the YUSU vintage fair last week will have seen, there are many companies, both locally based and national, who trade vintage. Talking to one stallholder, it was interesting to learn how his money-making hobby of selling the occasional vintage piece on eBay while he was at university has become his full-time career just a couple of years later, thanks to the rapid increase in demand for vintage products.

Whether you love it or hate it, vintage is here to stay, I’m guessing at least for the duration of the recession. If you’re not buying it to wear, why not try trading it - eBay is just one online outlet of many where people are snapping up vintage bargains.



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