As vintage fashion becomes ever more popular, Getintothis’ Cath Bore looks at the reasons why people are eschewing the new, in favour of clothes from decades ago.
Vintage fashion has become much more of a lifestyle choice over the last few years.
When the recession hit the UK back in 2008, the Keep Calm And Carry On message from the Second World War, originally meant to boost morale while everyone was dodging bombs and struggling to survive on food rations, appeared on everything from mugs to Facebook memes. A foodbank and zero hour contract-ridden 21st Century Britain happily repeated the same message, seventy years on.
But, along with all that, came a new lack of shame or embarrassment connected to wearing or using anything second hand. Buying not new was no longer linked with poverty and modest circumstances, but suddenly second hand became worthy, with the concept of vintage higher up the ladder, the epitome of cool. Charity shops and eBay finds are viewed as treasures now, not a stranger’s cast offs. They are now moral, and good.
There are many pluses and brownie points to be won by purchasing second hand and vintage clothing; the environmental impact of cheap fashion from high street chains is massive.
Fabrics like polyester and nylon contain petrochemicals, and are non-biodegradable; Rayon/viscose is wood based but old growth forest is often cleared to make way for pulpwood plantations; cotton is natural, but is the most pesticide intensive of crops. The list goes on.
“I think increasingly people are starting to see the human and environmental cost of constantly buying new clothes,” says fashion and lifestyle Pamper & Curves blogger Perelandra Beedles.
“Textiles is the second most polluting industry in the world and to just buy something, wear it twice and throw it away just isn’t sustainable.”
Although the benefits and values of second hand and vintage clothing are similar, the two things are often confused. With second hand, explains singer and vintage fan Bexi Owen, “you could buy something brand new yesterday and if you give it away today then it’s second hand. With vintage, an item as to be really over 30 years old, usually over 50 years old before it can be called vintage although people use the word to describe reproduction clothing in the style of past eras so it’s quite a fluid term today.”
This is indeed the case. There’s often a combination of confusion and cynical marketing linked in with vintage. Second hand is often described as pre owned, pre loved, vintage, a whole myriad of descriptions. But, the fact remains that “both second hand and vintage clothing are more Eco-friendly ways of shopping,” says Bexi.
Perelandra Beedles agrees. “Vintage clothes can be dated, are often very precious and beautifully made. Experts with a real eye who understand the differences in sewing styles, zips used (if any) what buttons are made of etc and will source these items and they are to be treasured.”
Danielle Quigley, manager of COW Liverpool, adds.”Vintage describes something that has been loved and lived in and is just waiting for the perfect person to find it and love it again.”
Another appeal of vintage is the nostalgia element, the warm and comforting appeal of a time long gone. With vintage clothing, this is something embraced by the younger generations, not just those harking back to their own salad days.
Singer Sarah Clifford, aka The Girl With Strawberry Hair, reckons “there are so many fashion and lifestyle choices around us and lots of pressure to look cool, especially in the music industry, that reviving the past has become the only option. Reinventing existing subcultures such as the classic 1950s look, 70s mod revivals, hippies to 90s grunge has recreated exciting times for youth culture.”
Bexi Owen’s favourite era is the 1940s and 50s. “I really like the “Make do and Mend” attitude of the War era and really believe wearing vintage clothes is better for the planet as it’s so much less wasteful than the throwaway culture high street shops and fashion commands of people today.
“Although many view the War period through rose tinted specs, of course I wouldn’t want to return to that time but I think we can learn from history and use aspects of that time such as cultivating our own fresh food and being more resourceful and apply these to our modern lives.”
Vintage clothing fans can find there is more room for expression in vintage and second hand clothes. Buying from the big commercial fashion clothes stores is quick and easy, but coming face to face with someone wearing the same item of clothing can sting a bit. With vintage, no one look is the same.
“I love the freedom of experimenting with clothes, with fashion there are no rules. You can be as creative as you want,” says Danielle.
“The UK has one of the best high streets in the world but when you purchase something from Topshop, Zara etc you know that that same item is available to thousands of people worldwide. When you buy vintage you’re getting a unique item with its own story. It’s yours and only yours and the chance of walking into a bar and somebody wearing the exact same item is very slim.”
“There is something empowering about standing out from the crowd and finding that one unique item you know no one else will ever have,” adds Sarah. “I also love discovering the narratives connected to that unique item of clothing.”
There are limits to vintage fashion, however. Vintage clothes are quite small in size, as women were much slimmer in past decades. Perelandra is restricted as regards what clothes she can buy. “Second hand offers far more choice,” she explains. “It’s also far more affordable. I tend to window lick true vintage and buy second hand.”
Here are our favourite vintage and vintage-style shops on Merseyside
- COW Liverpool, 15 Bold St, Liverpool.
Newly opened on Bold St, COW offers genuine vintage clothing for women and men, plus a range of bags and shoes.
With stores already in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Sheffield , the Liverpool shop as a very nice line in fake fur coats at present, excellent news for the winter, plus casual clothing.
- 69a, 69a Renshaw Street, Liverpool.
Liverpool has been longest served by 69a on Renshaw Street. Celebrating its 40th birthday this year, 69a is an Aladdin’s cave of mainly men’s clothes, vinyl records, books and ornaments, even items of furniture and sheet music.
And let’s not forget the ever-popular 69a cat, keeping a sleepy yet watchful eye on proceedings.
- Pop Boutique, 110 Bold St, Liverpool.
Pop Boutique has found a new and loving home at the top of Bold Street.
Selling a combination of own-brand new clothes in a vintage style and older stuff, with a big range of cowboy and 1960s shirts for men, the recent addition of a well-priced vinyl record shop in its basement has proved very popular.
- Phoenix Apparel, 8 Corporation St, St Helens.
Phoenix Apparel is out of town, but worth a trip out to St Helens anyway. Phoenix Apparel features a clothing shop, vintage haberdashers and record store.
- Soho’s, 80 Bold St, Liverpool.
This shop sells mainly new in a vintage style, colourful party dresses grab your eye when you go in, although it has men’s clothing as well.
Underneath SOHO is the ever tastefully and well-stocked Dig Vinyl, the most diggable record shop in the city.
Photography by Getintothis’ Simon Lewis.