“Like your shirt,” said my friend.
“Thanks. It’s vintage,” I replied.
“You mean, like, second-hand?” he said, whereupon I became a tad defensive, since the sub-text of “second-hand” says utilitarian at best, poverty at worst, while “vintage” aspires to be fashionable.
“Well, pre-owned doesn’t mean pre-worn, necessarily,” I said, splitting the hair in an attempt to distance myself from the implication of penury (though the shirt in question had obviously been through the laundry more than a few times).
I had indeed bought it in a shop that offers ‘vintage’ clothing as an alternative to the contemporary styles that are available elsewhere: but it was not cheap (ergo, I am not impoverished. Such places – there is a cluster of them in the Northern Quarter – trade on the premise of fashionability and feel entitled to price their offering at a level that is reassuringly expensive. It’s an old trick. Five minutes away, in a less rarefied part of town, there is a Thrift Shop, where re-cycled clothing is offered, also in a stylish and considered display, but at prices a fraction of those in the Northern Quarter. It is, in effect, the Primark of the used-clothing retail sector. I also go there and, sometimes, spot hipsters skulking, trying to look cool while hunting for bargains away from their home turf. Fashion and style are as applicable at the bottom end of the clothing market as they are at the top.
The branding of goods as vintage implies enhanced value and some, as they get older, may even be classified as antique, thereby accruing even more value. In the end, however, there is an argument for the eco-morality of recycling that can be used against those inclined to snobbish disdain for or plain indifference to the value of second-hand stuff. This applies also to book-exchanges, which provide opportunities for free access to text. I admit that authors might take issue with a system that deprives them of income but, like musicians whose creations are available cheaply or free of charge online, and clothing workers who become redundant because of recycling, they have to face the reality of the post-industrial economy. There is a world-wide trend towards consuming less stuff and more services, despite which (and contrary to common perception) the populations of all nations are becoming wealthier.*
The penchant for vintage, by the way, is not just for clothes. I just saw the film Columbus, a pensive, wistful account of one person’s repressed aspirations set alongside her enchantment with the several classic examples of Modernist architecture that happen to exist in her home town, Columbus, Ohio. The camera dwells lovingly on these 1950s buildings but, when the film had drifted inconclusively into its final shot, the chap next to me stood and said “Is that it? Do you think we could get our money back?” Perhaps he would have been more comfortable watching First Man, the biopic about Neil Armstrong. At least he would have known for sure that the story had a decisive, nay, predictable ending. He would also have had the visual bonus of all that convincing footage of 1960s rocket technology in all its bone-shaking, nuts-and-bolts, seat-of-the-pants, vintage glory.
The term 'vintage' comes to us via the wine-making tradition but has proven useful as a catchall for anything that can be located in an identifiable period of time. Well-made wines of a certain harvest will improve with the passage of time. The same can be said of non-organic goods, the best of which resist wear-and-tear, become revered as classics and preserved in museums. Likewise, the best artistic creations will endure. We mere humans, however, must face a different trajectory, a fact that was brought home to me this week, as I visited the dentist, the optician and, along with others of my ‘vintage’, the surgery for the annual ‘flu jab.
*Factfulness, Hans Rosling. Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker