Why Wear Vintage?
Updated: Jul 14
Last year, at the end of lockdown 2.0, I launched my own online vintage boutique. I had been collecting vintage clothing since age 14 and after the pandemic pushed me out of job security I decided to take the leap and pursue my true passion, because what did I have to lose?
Even before I had my own store I would say that my wardrobe was made up of about 70% true vintage, 20% second hand wares and 10% new items of clothing. The reason I had almost always opted to wear vintage above anything else was that I wanted to be unique, and when wearing it I never feared walking into a room wearing the same thing as the next person. I also found that the structured shapes of the past flattered my hourglass shape, and that the quality of vintage garments was far superior to any modern day piece that was within my price range.
18 years old, wearing a 1960s shift dress to a party.
Despite me being a vintage devotee, I have noticed that so many of my friends and peers are scared to purchase a piece of clothing with a past. I’ve noticed that reluctant, vintage novices have apprehensions such as: “But vintage smells!”, "The last person got rid of it for a reason!" or even “What if someone died in it?!” OK, first of all, chances are that most people on their deathbeds aren’t donning a party frock (although I like to think I will be). And when sourcing stock there are occasions where I do come across something with a certain mustiness. Rather than get put off, I now liken it to opening an old book, and love that similar feeling it evokes of the past flowing back. In any case I have all of my stock cleaned, repaired, and store it all a pleasantly scented space.
I also think that if someone believes clothes could be haunted, or carry bad energy, surely the fast fashion they buy holds onto energy too - as in the energy of an underpaid seamstress, the energy of chemical ridden, cheap fabric, or the energy of the heartless billionaire who owns the brand. I don't know about you, but I'd far sooner see the ghost of a fabulous granny lurking in my wardrobe than to feel the heartache of the person who made my $10 t shirt - likely a person who had no option but to work in a sweat shop.
Me as a uni student, modelling for a friend's vintage brand. Not sure why I have a ukulele?
What is vintage really? Technically, vintage is anything between 30 - 100 years old. Anything dated prior to that is antique, anything newer than that is merely secondhand. I think it’s important to stick to this rule in the sense that many sellers these days claim to be selling vintage when their wares are often less than 20 years old. But then rules are made to be broken, of course, and even I have a few, exceptional, secondhand pieces available on my website.
Since the environmental impact of fast fashion has been brought to light, it’s undeniable that the switch to second hand and vintage has become more prevalent amongst discerning consumers. But is the sustainability argument really enough to get the masses to buy? At the end of the day fashion needs to be attractive and aspirational as well as moral. It seems that sustainability is now non-negotiable for any fashion business, and it’s simply no longer enough to single-handedly entice an overwhelmed customer.
In London wearing my 1950s cape at a favourite vintage store, Found & Vision, just off Portobello road. Didn't know how to pose for Instagram yet...
The fact is that cool people in cool cities have long entwined vintage clothing into their outfits. Ask any stylish New Yorker or Londoner where they got their outfit and chances are that an element of it will be vintage, no matter how contemporary they appear. When I lived in London, and got to know the power of vintage clothes first hand, I saw that almost all of my peers, working with me in luxury fashion PR, were mixing designer with high street with vintage, and looking unique and fabulous as a result, in that way cool Londoners do. We take pride in Melbourne as being a cool city too, so where is the vintage!? There’s certainly a lot of secondhand around, but decent vintage still feels hard to come by in this town, and prior to launching my own store I didn’t have the perfect destination to turn to here either. Beyond that, unfortunately those beautiful, proper, bricks-and-mortar vintage stores cease to exist in larger cities as there just isn’t the customer base to sustain inner-city rents.
In Australia we have the tendency to take vintage clothing a little too literally. You don’t have to present as an extra from a period film if you want to embrace fashions of the past. In my humble opinion there’s absolutely nothing naughty about mixing eras either. Vintage doesn’t have to mean only one thing, it can be a 1940s hat with a 1980s blouse, a 1920s purse with a 1990s dress, a 1960s cocktail coat with a new pair of jeans. The belief that vintage has to be a head-to-toe commitment, or that it means you must stick to a certain era, creates a barrier to entry for many people.
2020, First photoshoot for Chez Charlotte with Jess Eisner. I wanted to capture the glamour and playfulness that vintage promotes.
I believe that vintage brings variety and scope into a fashion landscape that can often feel mundane. The reality is that almost all current fashions are inspired by designs of the past. People can feel little bit bossed around by fashion and trends, putting them off dressing up to begin with. But when you own a vintage piece you’ve fallen in love with it’s bound to make you look and feel special when wearing it. And who really wants to wear the same thing as the person next to them when they could where something totally individual! We know there’s a difference between what’s in fashion and timeless style. We also know that there are no real 'fashion rules'.
So whether you’re an op-shop hunter or enjoy the boutique experience of a highly curated vintage online shop, a vintagephobe or a vintageophile, there is a vintage destination out there that’s perfectly suited to you, no matter your budget or personal style. The more you engage with it the more there will be from your favourite vendors. Why don’t you just try it, what have you got to lose?
Visit my vintage shop here - www.chezcharlotte.com.au
All images belong to the author.