Vintage tends to be a topic that divides people, and I can completely understand that it would. Some are for, others are against. And some, like me, fall in between with a slight biased toward ‘for’. The main issue I feel, is that to the uninitiated there is no difference between thrift shopping and vintage shopping. A distinction I had made in my mind but not thought much about until I read about it on Permanent Style, the world’s leading traditional menswear website, founded and managed by Simon Crompton. He argues that the two are indeed rather different, neither better than the other, just different. Thrifting is perhaps more price-conscious and time consuming because it involves sifting through the dirt to find the gold. Vintage on the other hand, tends to be more curated, and therefore also more expensive. At the end of the day they are just used clothes, but I do agree that there is a difference.
The advantage vintage has over thrift is that it is more convenient, if you know where to look and have the money. What they both have in common however, is that you can find unique pieces that give your look a whole new dimension. It often happens that I see an outfit, in real life or online (more of the latter during these times), where I can’t put my finger on what it is that makes the ensemble, but it just works. I would argue that vintage has this quality. An added layer of something unique.
The question here however, is not between thrift or vintage, as it’s effectively splitting hairs. The real question is new versus used. This is the true divider. Some people don’t want to wear something that has been worn by others, whether it’s a pair of jeans, a suit or a fedora. The main argument usually being hygiene. They find it gross to wear something that may have been sweated in or worse. Again, I find myself in the middle. I’d never buy ‘intimates’, including underwear and socks, but most other things are fair game.
I truly started buying, let’s call it second-hand, when I was visiting Tokyo a couple of years ago. I walked into a store and did not realise, until I spoke to one of the staff, that everything they sold was second-hand. From beanies to socks (well not quite, but shoes). They stocked brands like Ralph Lauren and Scotch & Soda etc. but also items that wore no recognisable tags, and everything was neatly curated and nicely displayed. I was amazed because I had thus far always associated second-hand clothes shops with a general sense of disorder, no real stylistic direction and above a, sometimes faint, sometimes strong, smell. Not a bad smell per se, but a stuffy ‘used’ smell. Here, on a backstreet of Harajuku, it was quite different. It smelled lovely in the store, the clothes were clean and smelled fresh, things just had a distinctly worn-in look that many brands today are trying to recreate. It changed something in me. Not something profound and deep perhaps, but it unlocked the world of pre-owned clothing for me.
The benefits are not all aesthetic either, it’s sustainable, both economically and environmentally. Pre-worn/used stuff tends to be cheaper (there are exceptions of course), and it is much less taxing on mother nature. It’s also ethical. In an industry (I'm referring to the fashion industry as a whole) that sees a lot of items end up in landfills (in America the number is 84% of all used textiles, which amounts to 11million tons/year), the ethical thing to do is to choose clothing that is used or comes in small batches and doesn’t go on sale to get rid of surplus.
It's all very doable, it just needs to be marketed in the right way by the retailers. Clean, repair and wash the used clothes you sell. Curate. Create a whole that is appealing. Buying pre-owned vehicles is broadly accepted as the ‘smart’ way of buying, why should clothing be so different?