Vintage, retro, preloved: what’s in a name?
Some decades ago, there was ever such a teeny-tiny stigma about wearing or using clothing and accessories that had belonged to someone else first. These days, we can at last ‘come out’ and say ‘I buy preloved’ – and even feel virtuous about it.
Way back when …
As a child, my heart sank when I was given my cousin’s ‘hand-me-downs’ to wear. My preferred choices of clothing were well and truly bypassed in favour of economy and non-wasteful behaviour. I wore clothes that I would ‘grow into’, and was encouraged to do so as a badge of honour. It goes without saying that my mother fixed and mended everything she could rather than buy new. And I was, I admit, deeply embarrassed about this.
Once I had left home and was paying my own way, I quickly realised that I couldn’t afford to buy my clothing in Bond Street. So I started to scour charity shops instead – completely forgetting past stigmas about second-hand. Oddly, though, despite clothing being passed around my family for use and reuse, my mother was horrified that I would spend actual money on second-hand clothing, the origins of which we knew not. Now SHE was feeling the stigma. ‘You don’t TELL people you wear second-hand clothes, do you? What will they think? Let me lend you some money to buy something new!’
But we were shopping in a new era – one in which stigmas were removed, and we could begin to be boastful about finding cashmere (my fave) for a quid!
Of course, there was always a level of refinement about using a ‘dress agency’. Agencies smacked of ball gowns, or wedding attire, or the cast-offs of much richer women who changed their clothing according to Vogue. They were delighted to ditch last season’s designs, and I for one was delighted to drag them out of that ‘ditch’.
The new era
As time passed, new labels were used to describe second-hand, and thankfully words like ‘preloved’, ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’ changed our perceptions. Many of us now appreciate the thrift of our parents, but perhaps prefer to gently relabel it as choice rather than financial necessity. We also often take into account those who work in clothing factories in poor conditions and for low wages, the air miles the clothing travels, the waste created by fast fashion and so on. We make informed decisions, and we also create a whole new ‘style’ for ourselves, as individuals, far removed from the fashion seasons. Another thing we do is use the words ‘preloved’, ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’ interchangeably, and Trash Chic Towers has been engrossed in conversation recently about whether any of this actually matters. So let’s look at some definitions:
Preloved – basically, pre-owned. And if you’re curious why something ‘loved’ is passed on, I guess the most obvious suggestion is that it was loved once but not any more. Preloved clothing and accessories can come from any era.
Vintage – this label brings with it a level of quality from a particular era. Think vintage wine, vintage Rolls-Royce or vintage Cartier. Vintage is ‘aspirational’; it gives a big hit of dopamine when you hunt it down. To me, vintage is perfectly preserved silk or linen – and, yes, definitely cashmere – from the 1950s or 1960s.
Retro – this is more an imitation of a past era or style. As such, it’s not really defined by age, but more by a ‘look’. Last week, for example, I was wearing a pair of baggy-bum jeans with a tight leather belt and a striped tee (from TC of course). I swear, as I caught myself in the mirror, the reflection back was of me in Oxford Street, circa 1982!
Does any of this matter?
The bottom line, generally, is probably ‘no’. That said, there might be specific reasons for searching out vintage or retro. But in the end, it’s all preloved, isn’t it? I think my mother would be proud that I’ve continued in her thrifty footsteps, albeit for different reasons. I say, love your clothes, love our planet, and hats off to Trash Chic (and others) who procure such amazing choices for us.
Sandra Stafford is an author, editor and long-time Trash Chic customer.