The Golden Age of Vintage

Nicole Clinton explores the present preoccupation with fashion of the past.

These days it seems almost impossible to walk into a clothes shop and pick out a trend that the modern world has never seen before. Between the designers who showcase looks that are heavily influenced by styles from previous decades and the recent popularisation of the ordinary person’s acquiring of genuine ‘vintage’ attire, it appears that fashion’s past has meandered into its present. But why is the current generation so infatuated with vintage?

We live in an information age, one which indoctrinates technological advancement as the only worthwhile objective for humanity. The high rates of connectivity that infiltrate our lives mean that we are constantly bombarded with reality, which can be either dreadfully bleak or tragically boring. Thus, it is no doubt that the values that modern society exude fail to satisfy the romantic amongst us.

Vintage style allows us to act on our nostalgic feelings and performs as a sort of time-machine that rescues us from the banality of our ground-hog days. We are drawn to vintage or retro as they are a means by which we can live out a fantasy. It’s like reading a book or watching a film set in the past: we are captivated by the alternative culture because in an age that we claim to know and have everything, it gives us a glimpse of a world that we do not know and can never have.

We do not have to deal with the negative side of a given age because vintage fashion offers us aesthetics only. It is the mildest form of fancy-dress and makes us feel like we do not belong here but rather to an era that we glorify or idealise as superior to our own.

Or, maybe the most obvious reason for our vintage obsession is simply that everything else has already been done. The industry is built on an illusion that each ‘season’ brings us something unique from the other. However, these days, designers generally give us a revised version of a look from prior seasons, years or even decades.

For example, the 1970s trend made the transition from Spring/Summer 2015 to Autumn/Winter 2015 and is obviously constructed around the style that was originally exhibited 40 years ago. This indicates that the popular belief (perhaps so clichéd now that it is used for comedic effect) that a trend can be “so last season” is in fact a myth.

But we should not criticise fashion for the delusion that it founds itself on, because anything that revolves around aesthetics has to involve illusion, otherwise it would not be art and it would not incite passion in anyone.

The intriguing paradox surrounding the vintage fixation is that the utilisation of the style of previous eras is one of the only new trends that have infiltrated the post-millennium fashion portfolio. And it is the lack of distinction between trends that inspires this vintage borrowing as we yearn to return to a world when fashion still possessed the possibility of generating something fresh and exciting because all the options had not yet been exhausted.
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Nevertheless, this does not mean we should lose faith in the creativity of the industry as designers are not just rehashing the old looks, they are revitalising them and making good fashion available to generations that were not fortunate enough to experience it firsthand.

However, while this seems like a plausible, rational excuse, sometimes the most obvious answer is not the real one. As mentioned, designers rely on the past for inspiration all the time, giving us the perfect opportunity to seamlessly blend a legitimately vintage piece into our look. For example, in addition to the strong 1970s nuances provided by Chloe amongst others, the A/W 2015 catwalks saw Alexander Wang and Julian McDonald channel Victorian Gothic darkness and JW Anderson’s collection was infused with 1980s New Wave vibes.

It is true that perhaps they return to vintage styles because they have nowhere else to go. On the other hand, maybe it is the manifestation of a disappointment with reality similar to that of the public. Let us not forget that those who produce fashion are acutely creative artists just like painters, writers, filmmakers and scientists. It is often a sign of the cultured person that they do not see value in their own age. Their sense of disillusionment stimulates them to reflect on the past or envision the future. But it is out of this melancholy that something marvellous, ingenious, is born.