Vintage vs. Old Clothes

Why I don’t like the word “vintage”

Back in the day when women went to the Salvation Army, Goodwill or some other type of thrift store they did so in order to save money; buying used vs. brand new. It was a cost saving method so they could maximize their clothing budget and pick up barely worn items for themselves or their children. It was a fun thing to do back in the 90s. Occasionally one could find a unique piece from another decade (60s, 70s) for under $10 bucks. Those finds are now few and far between. Great decade pieces from the 30s and 20s you could pick up at a costume store or antique store for under $50 dollars is now a hard find, with “vintage” shops popping up everywhere and the owners operating like buzzards after fresh road kill picking off and cleaning up whatever they can get their hands on.

The word “vintage” replaced old clothes or costume. It not only covered up those terms with a fancy title, it shot the price up as well. On any given Sunday, its hard to get a good vintage dress from the 50s on up to the 70s without having to fight off 10 to 15 bidders on Ebay. Yeah they all start at $4.99 but they’re all sure to end after 6 days at $75 and up (and don’t go browsing on the larger vintage shops on-line, they are even worse!) Where is the bargain in that? The point of buying “used” is to save a significant amount of money. I could go full retail and spend that kind of money. Where is the logic in it? The person that actually bought that dress 30 or more years ago didn’t pay $75? WTH?    Clearly, I’m not alone in this assessment of this whole ‘vintage’ business.

The word “vintage”  in my opinion, is a fancy play on words to put into women’s head that they should pay more than what the item is actually worth. Retail clothing (not to mention designer clothes) is already overpriced, why add insult to injury by “buying into” this whole “vintage scheme” to pay even more for old, second-hand stuff. I mean, to me it feels like another way to get over on the consumer, where does it end?

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16 Responses to Vintage vs. Old Clothes

  1. Ashley says:

    Not to be spiteful, but I disagree with you on this one. There is a huge difference between old clothes and vintage ones. What these vintage sellers (the good ones, anyway) are selling aren’t just old clothes they buy at thrift stores and turn around for profit. They’ve searched and combed and dug through tons and tons and tons of thrift store castaways to find truly original pieces from at least a few decades ago (now, you see a lot more 90s finds making their way in to vintage sellers’ stores). These are pieces that have held up in quality over the years, they were fashionable when first sold or historically/socially significant (thinking of things like the return of full skirts after the pencil skirts of WWII), they’re usually made by recognizable designers, and in the rare case, couture pieces. Vintage sellers take tons of time to clean and, if necessary, do a little maintenance work (tears in collars, hems, etc.) on these pieces, and they sell for so much (depending on where you shop; if you do your research and are patient you can find great vintage finds for incredibly cheap) because vintage pieces simply don’t hold up. They’re worn to death, thrown out, stained, torn, and the pieces that do last are far and few between. It’s incredibly rare to buy a good vintage hat, for example, and then find someone on the street with the same hat. Sure, the hat MAY have not cost as much 30 or 40 years ago (depending on it’s original value and inflation rates, or its designer, or if it’s a couture piece), but in 2009, it’s supply and demand: there simply aren’t enough well-made, well-kept pillbox hats with Russian lace birdcages to go around, and some people are willing to pay the extra money to have a truly original piece.

    To me, old clothes are just that: old things that no one cares about, dirty, “mass-market” styles that you can find just about anywhere.

    Of course, vintage clothing isn’t for everyone, and I’m not trying to say that it should be. It can get expensive, it’s hard to find a good fit sometimes, and you always have be wary of those “vintage” sellers who confuse actual vintage with “vintage inspired.”

    I hope I haven’t totally turned you against vintage all together (totally not my intention!). A lot of these vintage sellers truly have a passion for period pieces. They love the way vintage clothes are evocative of culture and history. There’s just something about finding a war-time handbag, a 1950s wedding hat, or a disco jumpsuit from the 70s.

    Again, this (rather lengthy) comment wasn’t meant to be spiteful or mean, nor was it meant to “convert” you to vintage clothes. I just felt I should explain where these sellers are coming from a bit, as many are trying to make a living, just like you or me. I’ve been a lurker, until now, and I love your blog! Keep up the great work!

    • Profile photo of Budget Chic Budget Chic says:

      @ Ashley – Thanks for that comment Ashley. I hear what you are saying, but here is my reasoning on that.

      For me that is the “art of the hunt” and probably for any person who goes to thrift stores. When I use to thrift I did the same thing, I spend time in the stores looking through a lot of stuff. I took the time out because I wanted a deal. I wanted to find a nice item for cheap! That’s the whole reason why I’m in the thrift store to begin with. Its nice to be able to find a great decade piece for under $30 bucks and fix it up. It’s a wonderful feeling. I’m more then capable of cleaning the garment, fixing hems, loose seams, buttons, etc. I’m not interested in somebody re-selling me a garment that they got at the thrift store for $30 dollars and put a little work into it and then sell it to me for $100 dollars or more. When I can do all my own alterations and cleaning and keep my cost under $45 bucks! That to me is a reasonable price for a “used” item.

      I used to buy used clothing on a regular basis and I never purchased anything that was beat-up, dirty and damaged. Many of the items I purchased in fact were in excellent condition actually. I would not buy a used item that was abused, beat up and grossly damaged and most women with any kind of common sense wouldn’t either. Many of the ladies that I use to thrift with or were thrift store regulars were not in these places, taking time out of their schedule to pick up trash. Basically the bottom line is the item is used therefore for me I have it in my head how much that piece should cost. In my opinion, there is little to no appreciation on used clothing.

      Let me also clarify which I don’t think I did in my post – I’m not talking about vintage designer clothing like Halston, Claude Montana, Mary McFadden or Bob Mackie – totally different. I’m talking about average pieces that were mass produced for that era, not designer items and not specialty items that were made for old Hollywood star. In other words not museum-type pieces.

  2. Lenya Jones says:

    You said it. I love vintage but you really need the time to shop for it. Fortunately for me, I have the time because it’s what I do but for a living but I feel for the average woman who works and doesn’t have the time. Love the post.

  3. KT says:

    “I could go full retail and spend that kind of money. Where is the logic in it? The person that actually bought that dress 30 or more years ago didn’t pay $75? WTH?”

    The whole purpose for most real vintage connoisseurs is to get that piece from 30 or 40 years ago, because retail today doesn’t look the same, nor is it made with the same quality materials and craftsmanship. Of course the item didn’t cost the same back then, the age of the item is what makes it so valuable today, if it’s in good condition. True vintage clothing are collector’s pieces today. There is a HUGE difference between buying vintage and thrift shopping, ie. shopping for used items to save a buck and expand one’s wardrobe. Super Kawaii Mama has some great posts about vintage if you are interested in her perspective.

    Maybe I didn’t fully understand the exact intent of this post, and If I did, I apologize.

    • Profile photo of Budget Chic Budget Chic says:

      @ KT – no problem- thank you for your comment.

      As I mentioned in my previous reply. To me there is no “appreciating value” in used mass produced non-designer clothing. Used clothing is used clothing and for me personally, I don’t buy into the theory that I should pay $150 for a dress that was mass produced by machinery in the 40s because the craftmanship was better. I definitely know and believe the craftmanship was better – because frankly it was – but it does not warrant (for me) nor does it justify a higher price tag today.

      It’s still used, its still old, it been worn by someone else. Therefore, logically it has depreciated in value and not the other way around. If I buy into the whole “vintage” concept that has developed over the last 10 years, then I believe its okay to pay someone $200 for a dress they found at a dead person’s estate sale for $30. I know what the marketplace was like BEFORE the whole vintage ideology came about. Those items were hanging up in costume stores and sticking out of old trunks in antique stores for $20 dollars and people picked them up on the fly just for the fun of it – to me mass produced clothing regardless of the era does not warrant “collector status”. Museums are in the business of collecting things, I buy clothing for functional reasons.

  4. my preferred method for “vintage shopping” is scouring thrift stores– I volunteered for one by my house and literally nothing in the entire store was more than 15 bucks– i like finding the treasures that other people consider trash

  5. Angie R. says:

    I’m totally co-signing with the Hostess!

    Too many items found in these “vintage” shops are mass produced clothing of a particular era and sold ridiculously high prices. If you don’t want to comb the thrift shops for hidden gems OR do the necessary alterations, then these CAN be a good deal at a vintage shop. But IMO, still not worth it if it’s mass produced.

    High-end designer items are another story but these are usually out of reach in price and in supply; ‘pickers’, stylists, designers and vintage wholesalers snatch these up before the casual treasure hunter can get to them.

    And when you are able to find a designer item, the thrift shops jack the price up because they know it may be re-sold or auctioned off.

  6. BudgetDiva says:

    I am in total agreement with this. This is why I refuse to pay the price that these folks are charging for so called “Vintage” wears. At the end of the day it is used clothes. Salvation Army stand up!!

  7. Profile photo of Budget Chic Budget Chic says:

    @ budgetdiva – not only is it old clothes, a lot of times its old clothes from a decreased person.

  8. sharon rose says:

    Hi there-a very good post and too true, unfortunately. I try and track previous decades by finds in my local charity shops, I would not pay for an item in a vintage shop in London.

  9. *Lady D* says:

    Very true! I’ve always wondered what the difference was between those words. I use them interchangeably because like you said, vintage or thrifted, for items found @ a thrift store,used is used.

  10. anthea says:

    It’s so true. It’s such a problem. But if you go to Value Village and really dig you can find some great pieces before those vintage store people grab them and rack up the prices!!

  11. Karla says:

    Hi! Budget Chic, I really appreciate you bringing this up. And I think there’s a missing term. For awhile, when I scored an BCBG blazer in perfect condition at a thrift store, I sheepishly referred to it as vintage, since it made it “sound good.” Well, better than “pre-owned,” or “closet castoff”….

    I knew it was wrong, and that true vintage clothing has a value based on when it was made, its rarity, workmanship, designer, etc.

    Anyhow, I’ve started to use the term “Found Fashion” for my thrift store finds. It works for me – I work hard for those finds and they are fashionable.

    I suppose that the ONLY justification for stores jacking up the price is that they are doing the editing for the shopper. It takes a lot of time and patience to wade through the junk to find something great at a thrift store. So you’d be paying for the convenience. And if it keeps clothing out of landfill, or minimizes our dependency on sweatshop/disposable fashion, even better! BUT if it’s not truly vintage clothing, well I think they should stop using that term… Maybe the term Found Fashion will catch on! : )

  12. Cyn says:

    I have to say that eBay has taken the fun out of finding those “treasures” in thrift stores. A lot of places will mark up utter junk because it’s from the 70’s or older, or I swear, they hold things back for preferred customers. You just can’t find things like you used to- I mean, there is no more vintage in Goodwill’s anymore, and you can’t tell me people don’t donate that stuff.

    I have a lot of stuff I got for a steal from thrifting back in college before the big “boom” in vintage. And yes, vintage is well-made, and has a design and feel that cannot be captured by contemporary clothing- which is why I like it. Yet I agree with FDiary- unless it is a known name, it is still used clothing, and so little of this is worthy of being a collector’s item.

    Oh well. This is just how it goes. I suppose it makes every find that much sweeter. (Or maybe I just need to start hitting estate sales).

    • Profile photo of Budget Chic Budget Chic says:

      @ Cyn – I think in smaller cities you can still find good pieces. Yes Ebay and on-line vintage shop have “ruin” it in a sense – because those hidden treasures are not as easy to find for the average girl. I hoping the whole “vintage craze” will go the way of disco very, very, soon! :lol:

  13. chicstylez says:

    I totally understand…thats how I feel when Im at the goodwill. I think to myself that I can get something brand new for the same price if not cheaper. BUT, the up side to shopping at the goodwill is that you find unique items that you cant find brand new or they dont even make anymore. check out They have vintage pieces and you bid kinda like ebay but I havent seen any clothing go for 75 bucks

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