Five Reasons Vintage Clothing Is Not Just “Old Used Clothes” (Even Though It Kind of Is)

Five Reasons Vintage Clothing Is Not Just “Old Used Clothes” (Even Though It Kind of Is)

REBECCA EMILY DARLING

As the owner of the online vintage clothing shop Rococo Vintage, I have been working closely with vintage and antique garments for quite some years now. Even before founding my own shop, I spent the bulk of my teen years scouring thrift and vintage stores for treasures, and then the end of my teen years as the assistant to a now very successful LA-based vintage clothing seller.

I was raised in a Victorian house in New England, surrounded by antique furniture and skeleton keys and ancient table linens, and I suppose all that early exposure to, well, “a whole lot of old stuff,” left an imprint on my heart and my mind. I love the character of vintage clothing, the specialness, the whimsy. Unfortunately, many people just see the garments — no matter how valuable or glorious — as nothing more than “old used clothes.” Here are five reasons that just simply isn’t so.

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Me, wearing some “old stuff” while getting ready for a vintage show.
(fyi, this is basically the vintage gal’s version of a bathroom selfie.)

1. The quality. The quality of vintage clothing is simply unmatched by that of contemporary clothing, with the exception only of today’s highest end luxury designers. Before the 1970’s when polyester first became king, and especially before the early 1960’s, clothing was constructed to last. The end game with fashion was quality over quantity, for reasons both financial and cultural, and it is not uncommon to find luxurious details like French seams, generous hems, and exquisitely crafted buttons on even the most basic of older vintage garments. These days, even dresses that cost hundreds of dollars boast barely a millimeter of extra fabric, and a quick look at the interior of these garments reveals that regardless of the quality of the design, they were constructed with heightened attention paid to saving the manufacturer money. These days clothing is cheaper to make but not always cheaper to own, and it is only by wearing vintage that a person has the chance to experience true luxury construction (think, Chanel) at a less-than-luxury price. There is nothing as flattering as an artfully crafted garment. Plus, all that extra fabric on the inside of vintage clothing means that it is much easier to have it tailored to fit you perfectly. How great is that?!

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Dresses from the 1930’s, 1920’s, and 1950’s, respectively. Look at those details!
They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

2. The uniqueness. When you invest in a vintage garment, you can rest assured that you will never walk into a room to find another person wearing the same thing you are (except by the greatest-ever case of vintage-lightning striking twice.) The most special vintage is entirely unique and bursting with whimsical details that cannot be accurately reproduced; the prints, the pintucks, the buttons… there just isn’t anything like them. This is a big part of the reason why so many celebrities have become such big fans of vintage clothing, as they know that they will easily stand out from everyone else on the red carpet with no concern of winding up in a “Who Wore it Best” column. There is something to be said for owning and wearing something that just about nobody else in all the world owns or can wear (and in the case of custom-made vintage garments, of which there are many, absolutely nobody else in the world does or can.) Every garment is a treasure!

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Taylor Swift, who is a big fan of vintage clothing,
wearing a vintage 1950’s dress from Rococo Vintage.

3. The stories you hear. Whether or not you are able to discover it, every vintage garment comes with a story. Little is more exciting than being able to trace the origin of a garment — known as the “provenance” — and to be able to conjure up wonderful images of its past life. Even in cases when you cannot find any details beyond where you yourself came across a piece, it takes only a drop of imagination to create those special stories yourself. Vintage and antique clothing is seeped in mystery and history, and learning or dreaming it is half the charm of wearing it. Of course, this is one of the things that some non-vintage-fans object to, as I suppose it takes a certain kind of person to want to think about who wore something before you did, but if you already do or can learn to love it, I cannot tell you how much excitement it brings to simply getting dressed in the morning. It’s rather like having a bunch of wonderful imaginary friends hanging out in your closet!

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Who was this young woman? Was this her favorite dress? Did she meet her soulmate while wearing it? Was she a painter? A poet? A professional wartime code breaker? These are the kinds of questions you find yourself asking and wondering about (and loving to ask and wonder about!) when you wear vintage clothing. Photo of unknown girl, c. 1940’s.

4. The people you meet. With absolutely no intention of patting my own back (I swear!) vintage sellers are some of the most fascinating people I have ever met. Whether they own vintage shops, sell at flea markets, or are selling their own or a relative’s old wardrobes, they are people with a great love and respect for what they are doing. It takes a special kind of non-historian historian to be a part of the “vintage world,” and the perspective of vintage sellers is often an entirely unique one. In addition to the sellers themselves, when you wear vintage you find yourself making friends just about everywhere you go. Anytime I wear a vintage or antique piece, I find myself being stopped on the street or approached in line at coffee shops by someone wanting to inquire about what I’m wearing. I’ve even made friends this way! There is certainly something (or a lot) to be said for having the freedom to wander about in jeans and T-shirts or yoga pants and sweatshirts when you want to, but there is also something very special about dressing in a way that reaches out to others without your having to say a word. Vintage clothing is wonderfully nostalgic and invites meaningful conversation in ways that modern clothing just doesn’t.

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With my good friend Rodellee Bas of AdoredVintage, who is one of many friends I’ve made thanks to a mutual love of vintage clothing.

5. The clothing has a soul. Vintage clothing is more than just “old used clothes.” It is more than new unworn clothes. It is history, and art, and the stories of those who have come before us. Owning and wearing vintage clothing is a way of keeping those people and those histories and that artistry alive. At the end of the day, to wear vintage clothing is to be wrapped in romance. Vintage clothing is simply special. It just is.

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Aw.

You can follow Rebecca Emily Darling (and her cats and vintage dresses) on Twitter,Facebook, and Instagram.

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