“La mode se démode, le style jamais” (Coco Chanel)
What is it about the so-called classics that they never really seem to fade away? Nowadays, epitomized by the Vintage movement, the style representative of those decades between the 1920s and the 1980s has become a must in every wardrobe that prides itself in being more than just a piece of furniture manufactured by a Scandinavian chain. As one of the most well-known fashion icons once said; Fashion will become unfashionable, style never will. We consider that Coco Chanel was, and will always be, right in her judgment about fashion and style; Vintage might be considered fashionable, trendy, cool, chic, snappy… However, regardless of fashion’s demands, its essence will remain timeless.
To know what it means for anything to be Vintage, one should first know where the term finds its roots. At first sight, the word seems to embrace everything related to the roaring 20s (twenty, vingt in French). However, its origins come from even more distant times; Vintage is a Latin term employed to talk about wine (yes, wine…). It was used in wine cellars to describe those wines which belonged to the best harvests, later on, around the 1880s, its meaning changed to describe anything that belonged to an earlier time. It looks like vintage could be considered anything; clothing, furniture, hairstyle, etc. that belongs to the past. In short, the best items from past times. The Vintage fever in the fashion world found its place in the 90s with high couture designers such as Loewe, Chanel, Dior, and Hermes. From the 90s on, Hollywood stars have made of Vintage clothing a distinctive style, time-proof, and unique to everyone; Johnny Depp, Dita von Teese, Kate Bosworth, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale among others.
Nonetheless, why does the Vintage boom strike in the 90s, and specially, comes to urban style in 2010? There is no specific reason why old-days style is now fashionable. Some like thinking that it is due to a blurry and unclear future and to a generalized sense of despair that some people have opted to go back to past decades to find, in style, a way of living that already worked out for many. As they say Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity. Some others, have a bit of a more optimistic way of looking at it; they see, in the adoption of the Vintage style, a way of classy nostalgia; being different by slightly copying past icons and bringing their style back in an eclectic world open to new suggestions. Both opinions have something in common, that is: Being different is not a burden anymore, but rather a way to celebrate everyone’s uniqueness by telling the world who you are, and what you believe in. Even if some do not like it; style speaks for every single one of us.
One cannot talk about vintage without briefly mentioning those so-called urban tribes that take Vintage, or some of it, as part of their daily lives; Hipsters, Pin-ups, Bohemians, Mods, Nerds… They all make theirs some of the most iconic Vintage items. Hipsters are perhaps the most well-known, as well as slightly hated, of all these underground cultural groups. As a non-mainstream urban culture they do not question the system as other subcultures have done in the past (and in the present). They rather prefer diving into the modern gentrification process by buying unique, hand-crafted, and pricey goods in an attempt to react against mainstream culture. The hipster style mostly emulates the good old days, some of the following items having already become icons in the hipster dress-code: Amish beards, kitsch shirts (the older the better), flowery bow-ties, braces, ankle length pants with noticeable turn ups and, of course, iconic vintage glasses. However, contemporary hipster culture does not only consist of a way of dressing but also of a way of thinking; another way of living that by being different in the middle of the system also accepts it as it is. Sometimes confused with the hipster movement, the pin-up style mostly describes those women that embrace a style inspired in the 40s and 50s sharing some tenets with the music genre Rockabilly. Pin ups are representative of those days when women found their voice as well as a way to express themselves through their way of dressing. Make up and a well-defined waist are essential in the Pin up style: pale skin, red lipstick, black eye liner, and a pastel eyeshadow are musts. Dress-wise, some of the most well-known pin up and rockabilly icons are Marilyn Monroe, Dita Von Teese and, more recently, Bernie Dexter.
On the other hand, what is known as the Bohemian or Boho style is perhaps older than what is considered vintage style itself even though in the 20s many writers in La cité des lumières adopted the word to describe their lives. Going back to its origins, those who were called “Bohemians” were travelers or refugees from central Europe (hence, the French bohémien, for “gypsy”). The use of Bohemian to describe an alternative and even desirable way of living began in the 19th century with the Pre-Raphaelite group; painters such as Rosetti began representing, in their paintings, an alternative form of art, the word started being used to describe “Simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art” (1862, Westminster review). In the early 20th century, with the Bloomsbury group (United kingdom) writers such as Virginia Wolf and Vanessa Bell epitomized the movement just by their way of living and the way they wrote. Towards the midst of the century, the word went from describing some artists’ lifestyle and their art, to describing a way of dressing centered in scruffy flowery dresses, light shirts, relaxed clothes inspired in a nomadic, free-from-ties lifestyle… isn’t elegance forgetting what one is wearing? (YSL). Nowadays, some of the most influential Bohemian style advocates are Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Johnny Depp, and Diane Keaton.
Vintage is not just about fashion; it is pretty much about everything. It encompasses textile, gastronomy, interior design, and even entire neighborhoods… For instance, have you noticed the hype for everything made of wood? What about knitting as a hobby? Even food has become slow. It seems that some of us are going back in time… although just to bring the best of it to our techie, speed-of-light fast society. If you feel like taking a full step into an old-new environment try visiting the Shoreditch neighborhood in London or the Mission district in San Francisco. Not so long ago, they were thought of as unappealing, unfashionable, and simply, as boring as a Sunday afternoon. However, right now, they are in the eye of the storm; eclectic, interesting, alternative, and just unique. Shoreditch has opted for a relaxed, alternative, and artsy atmosphere which encompasses incredible slow food delis, in and out of the box shopping areas… new artists with old-timey concepts; dusty ideas with a peculiar light. On the other hand, San Francisco’s Mission district stands for an amalgam of everything; cultures, beliefs, art, food, and people. The city’s ups and downs come together in a vibrant district full of color where more than a cultural clash we find a special ambiance. If you have a chance, check out the Mission’s carnival, its murals… and just stroll around taking a look at the mixture of extravagant looks in its steep streets.
When we talk about vintage or retro style, one of the musts are certainly accessories; many looks we love would simply be too plain if we took accessories away. Think of American rebels such as James Dean or Marlon Brando without a pair of wayfarers and a leather jacket. Do you want to take a ride in the History of one of the most praised complements in Vintage style? Round, Square, Flare, Cat eye… Sunglasses are the complement per excellence. Starting in the 30s, round sunglasses first appeared in the market thanks to the popularization of aviation. Nonetheless, they were made more popular around the 60s and 70s by intellectuals and artists such as the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and John Lennon. Diving into the materials and patterns world we find the known as Tortoise-shell which evokes the looks ranging from the 30s to the 50s. The pattern was first used to make other accessories and specially in interior decoration. Later on, it was declared illegal due to several animal protection laws. In the 30s, thanks to the development of new plastics, the effect could be recreated without endangering any animals, and so has remained until today. The also animal inspired cat-eye frames epitomizing the 50s strike back with the Vintage movement; colorful, bold, edgy…and also Audrey Hepburn’s favorites! Getting closer to our times, in the 90s, grunge style adapted the round, wire-rimmed sunglasses of the 60s to their own era, half-frames also appeared as one of the most popular models and they still remain one of the 90s musts.
So, going back to the essential questions … what is Vintage and where is it? Vintage gathers all those aspects of a past time and brings them back to life in a decontextualized atmosphere where, in spite of not belonging, they end up finding their place. Some of us find in Vintage style a shelter where we have enough space to mix, try, fail, and try again. Vintage can be many opposite things at once; it can be classy and kitsch, old-fashioned and trendy, demure and sexy. Vintage style is in the smallest details and in the largest cities; it is a cafe inspired in the 50s, a haircut, a way of talking, an entire city, a pair of sunglasses which belonged to your grandfather, an old-timey ice-cream shop, our parents’ pictures when they were 20, a vinyl record, a lamp your cousin found in a flee market, a piece of carrot cake… and last but not least; having a glass of the best rosée wine.