The Cost of Vintage

Your most difficult eco-questions, answered by Tanya Ha, one of Australia’s top sustainability experts.

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I love vintage fashion. I love the style and the fact that it’s recycling, but I feel like the word ‘vintage’ doubles the price of what are essentially secondhand clothes. Am I being ripped off?
– Belinda Chellingworth, East Kurrajong, NSW.

The word ‘vintage’ is like the word ‘organic’: there is no single agreed meaning. Both words are used to mean different things, particularly when someone is trying to sell you something.

Generally, ‘vintage’ refers to clothing made at least 20 years ago. I’ll call this ‘true vintage’ – although there are many who only consider pre-50s as vintage. ‘Retro’ is another term that does the rounds, either referring to new garments made in the style of past eras or clothes from more recent decades, such as the 1970s or 80s. Occasionally, you’ll see ‘vintage’ applied to new clothes made from vintage fabrics.

‘Vintage style’ clothes are typically new, mass-produced garments designed in the style of a bygone era. They should have similar prices to other new garments of similar quality. Unfortunately, there are some dodgy traders out there, asking vintage prices for items that aren’t the genuine article.

The material ‘nuts and bolts’ value of true vintage lies in the quality of the fabrics and manufacture. These clothes were made to last, unlike cheaper modern clothing and disposable fashion.If a vintage garment is still in good condition, it is worth paying good money for. Items such as vintage overcoats or tweed jackets, made from sturdy, top-quality fabric, can be worn again and again. Plus, you’re unlikely to find someone
else in the same outfit when you’re wearing vintage.

There’s also a cultural value for true vintage clothing. They are part of history and say something about their original period. Well-preserved vintage clothing is rare, so collectors are willing to pay handsomely for them.
Nicole Jenkins of Circa Vintage Clothing says the condition of a garment is the fundamental consideration when buying vintage. “Don’t buy things with rips, tears, stains or signs of being moth-eaten.”
However, broken zips or hems that have come undone are easy to replace or repair. “If you want to buy vintage, it’s really helpful to have some basic sewing skills for small repair jobs,” Jenkins says.

Remember, a modern Australian size 8 is a US size 4 and a 70s size 12. Flattering ‘vanity sizing’ was introduced in the 80s. When buying online, go by garment measurements, rather than size. To answer the original question, true vintage is more than just ‘secondhand’, and you should expect to pay a reasonable price for it. Vintage aside, secondhand shopping is a great way to add to your wardrobe without it costing the Earth. Much of the sorting and pricing of clothes in charity stores is done by volunteers, who won’t necessarily recognise a Norma Tullo dress or YSL Rive Gauche pant suit among the Sportsgirl cast-offs. You may unearth a vintage treasure at your local op shop.

The Circa Vintage blog has useful ‘Vintage 101’ information, including garment care: www.circavintageclothing.com.au.

Leeyong Soo has great tips for op shopping and upcycling secondhand clothes at her Style Wilderness blog:

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