Thursday, January 8, 2015

What are the differences between vintage
and second-hand clothes?

Posted by Amanda Villaruel | |
First of all, why is it important to know the differences between second-hand and vintage?
  1. If you have knowledge about the differences, you can determine the value of the garment you already own or purchase in the future.

    And by determining the value of a piece of clothing, it's no longer just 'old' clothes.

    If vintage was just called 'old', fewer people would have bought vintage. Right? Vintage sounds classier and there's some elegance to it :-)

  2. To many people, owning vintage clothing means that you own something unique. 
Photo from the book "WomanStyle - your personal guide to timeless fashion" by Leah Feldon (1979)
Photo from the book "WomanStyle - your personal guide to timeless fashion" by Leah Feldon (1979)


And when you have something special, you automatically want to take more care of it and this prolongs the life of the item. Anything that is kept away from the trash is good for the environment.

Before we start with the differences, we need to know what vintage and second-hand is.

Vintage definition

When I researched the topic I thought my head was going to explode (LOL). There are many accepted definitions of vintage. 'Vintage' in latin is 'vindemia'. Originally it's a term to describe how wine was dated and thereby determining its quality.

Probably the most accepted definition of vintage clothes is clothes that are older than 20 years.
40s fashion illustration, from the book The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance, Grace Margaret Morton, 1943
1940s vintage fashion clothing, from
the book The Arts of Costume and
Personal Appearance,
Grace Margaret Morton, 1943




So, in the year of 2015 a garment that dates before 1995 is technically vintage. Some might disagree and state that 90s clothes are not considered vintage fashion clothing because these clothes aren't 'old' enough.

In fact, many associate vintage with clothes that were produced between the 1920s and 1980s.

Then again it depends on who you're asking. I was born in the early 80s and to me, vintage is anything older than 1990. A person who is born earlier than me would probably associate vintage with the 50s and 60s.

What is second-hand?

As a legal adviser I make a living on interpretation ;-) Second-hand literally means that the
garment has been previously used. And compared to third-hand, second-hand clothes have had one previous owner.

So, anything that has been worn or used is second-hand.
Second-hand clothes at the thrift store Fretex
Second-hand clothes at the thrift store Fretex

Historically, second-hand was an important source of clothing in the 19th century in Europe and North America when people were poorer. They would either buy second-hand or repair/mend whatever they owned. The second-hand trade even reached the colonies.

Once the economy started to grow and the mass production of clothes began, people bought less second-hand because it was cheap to buy something brand new. And the second-hand market became more export oriented. You've probably heard about the export of used clothes to Africa?

Nowadays, when we talk about or mention second-hand clothes, we're probably thinking about used, modern garments.

To others, second-hand clothes can be last year's or for that matter, yesterday's fashion pieces.

So, what are the differences?

Based on the definitions above, the differences between vintage and second-hand is that used vintage clothes is a type of second-hand clothing, because it has been previously worn by others.

Just mind though that vintage doesn't automatically mean that it's second-hand because you can also find 'new' vintage fashion clothing that hasn't been worn or used, which by the way is called 'deadstock.'
Photos from the book "WomanStyle - your personal guide to timeless fashion" by Leah Feldon (1979)
Photos from the book "WomanStyle - your personal guide to timeless fashion" by Leah Feldon (1979)

Another difference is the quality. Normally vintage clothes have better quality and durability than modern/contemporary second-hand clothes. For the most part vintage clothes are made from natural fibers like wool and cotton, to make them durable in a time when people were poorer.

And then you have the other end; much of today's high-street fashion are made from mainly synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon and acrylic that are all petroleum-based products. The petroleum industry is considered as a major polluting business.

And there's' no doubt that we associate vintage with something unique. Clothes of the 21st century are considered less unique because you can find many copies of each garment, especially in the fast fashion industry.

Could you imagine if H&M clothes from the early 2000 were called vintage? Yeah, I didn't think so :-)
The chic 1970s fashion. Photo from the book "WomanStyle - your personal guide to timeless fashion" by Leah Feldon (1979)
The chic 1970s fashion. Photo from the book "WomanStyle - your personal guide to timeless fashion"
by Leah Feldon (1979)

To sum this up - vintage refers to a specific era and considered by many as a synonym for quality and durability, while second-hand is a generic term and implies that the garment has been worn by others.


Continue to read:
Tips on how to get a sustainable style in 2015

Introduction to Reformation - the cool, sustainable brand.



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