Face it: fashion will inevitably recycle itself just as surely as a child actor will, at some point, end up in rehab. But WTF is vintage?

sign that says vintage clothing

vin·tage [vin-tij] (adjective) — dating from the past : old

You thought for sure that your nana’s dumpy 1950s sweater was to’-up-from-the-flo’-up until you saw a Paparazzi snapshot an Olsen twin rocking one just like it, over skin-tight leather leggings, while making a Starbucks run. (Or perhaps you still think that it’s to’-up, but your au courant fashion sensibilities tell you that the Olsen-Empresses are the fashion-Law).

We’re bound to see the resurgence of old style trends whether we like them or not, and we generally consider such nostalgic articles of clothing to be “vintage.” But while most of us understand that “O-M-G that’s so vintage” is intended as a compliment; do any of us lay-folk (those lacking in such degrees as Fashion, Fashion History and Interdisciplinary Fashion Studies) actually know what the term technically refers to? And moreover, is adhering to a technical definition and standard really even necessary?

Let us get to the bottom of this pressing issue. And yes it is, in fact, a pressing issue… Because, when the world watches Vladimir Putin address the Ukraine crisis and someone refers to his tie as “vintage,” I, for one, want to live in a world in which there’s some established criteria to determine whether or not that’s even a legitimate assessment. <insert collective WTF-face>

Now, first things first — though exact definitions may vary, many fashion Purists have long defined vintage clothing as being between 20 to 100 years old — as anything less than 20-years-old is considered contemporary, and anything 100 years or older is classified as antique. Fair enough. In fact, we have a perfect example of this usage for your reference:

Mean Girls

REGINA GEORGE: Oh-my-God, I LOVE your skirt!! Where did you get it??

GIRL: It was my mom’s in the ’80s.

REGINA GEORGE: Vintage! So adorable.

GIRL: Thanks!! [walks away]

REGINA GEORGE: That is the ugliest-effing-skirt I’ve ever seen.

From this specific usage example, we also gain that something can be fugly-as-hell and still be considered vintage; though ironically enough, even this totally fetch source material can’t be considered vintage by the aforementioned standards. (Though I’m pretty sure we can all agree to the fact that Mean Girls having come out 10 freaking years ago makes us feel super-old.) In order to correctly use the term “vintage” in the year 2014, according to the aforementioned definition, you may only refer to articles of clothing from the years 1914 to 1994. Here’s a quick break down of what that would look like:

— bellbottoms (1970s)
— poodle skirts (1950s)
— that dainty eyelet handkerchief that your great-grandmother bought in the year 1913

— jelly shoes…eww remember those?!! (late 1990s)
— Civil War era hoop skirts (1800s)
— those Space Jam overalls that your older sister rocked in 1996







Colloquially, however… Let’s be honest. Any time you see a pair of jelly shoes (which we hope is less likely in our current S/S14 days), platform heels or pinup swimsuit separates, you probably don’t stop to consider whether or not they fall under the appropriate time frame of what can technically be deemed vintage — ain’t nobody got time for that. In fact, most fashion sources these days agree on a more fluid definition of the term since, as an article in the LA Times entitled “Is It Vintage Or Just Vintage-Inspired?” The article explained, “As vintage has grown more popular, what ‘it is’ also has grown murky.” In a time when only 2-season-old trends are being sold in vintage stores around the world, the traditional definition of vintage just might be going extinct. And maybe that’s a good thing, because inevitably, as fashion recycles itself, it also must evolve; and fashion-vocab must strive to keep up. So when it comes to colloquial chic-speak, whether you want to call a piece of clothing vintage, retro, throwback or classic, the point is that it’s nostalgic… It’s quintessential to its particular fashion era. But most of all, it’s fly enough to still fly — no matter how old it is.

Any fashion snob/self-appointed Knight Templar of Fashion Terminology who disputes your right to use the term vintage in such a way is just arguing semantics, which by definition, makes him/her a douche.

written by ALPA BANKER

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