“Vintage is the new black” is no longer a relevant term. Vintage became the new black 10 years ago when “hipsters” used to be called “Scenesters” and the 80s had made a comeback on the fashion scene and the first sartorialist to capture the nation’s youth street culture and display it for all to see was born in the form of a CobraSnake. We didn’t have instant social media or smart phones, we only had Myspace but even still, for the first time, we were able to see what street fashion was really like coast to coast, what people were REALLY wearing and how they were all uniquely wearing it…and it was vintage.
No one wants to pay retail prices for it. Why? Because those that want to jump on the fashion bandwagon and dress in 90s-grunge plaid Pendleton, 60s boho-chic or even head to toe black velour and Doc Martins this year, are aware it’s just a fad. Most want to pay thrift store prices for disposable fashion; “Why should I pay $XX.00 here when I can get something three times cheaper over there?”
Let me explain…
There are different tiers of vintage stores, depending on your tastes and budget, some house a well-curated collection of designer and hard to find relics while others are more like giant thrift stores. There is however, a somewhat curated collection in that they cater to the current street trends and typically have a lower price-point for a quick “flip” or “turn-over” because they know soon enough people are going to quit buying crop tops and moon boots and then it’s onto the next trend.
These “affordable” vintage stores buy wholesale, by the pound, they hire “sorters” to sit and sift through dirty piles and piles of used clothes, picking out the current trends (ie. Gunne Sax dresses, concert tees, high-waisted 90s jeans). Most of these stores do not take the time to merchandise the product either for, that would cost money and time put into the store and is not economically conducive to owners selling clothes on the cheap. Also, these stores do not launder the clothes before they hit the sales floor, if they did that, they would have to raise their prices significantly. Generally, these shops cater to teenagers, early 20-somethings and people looking for themed-party costumes.
So what about the vintage shops that have higher price points?
In my travels and interviews, I have recognized that the purveyors of these boutiques care about vintage and their customers. These shops tend to be smaller, well-merchandised, and stocked with quality pieces without stains or imperfections, usually have a well-designed website with a mailing list and blog posts. They dress stylishly, take pride in their “second home” and are usually present at the shop. They host holiday parties with promotional sales and serve refreshments. These shop-keepers know vintage, they research it and go out on foot just to find a few special pieces at a time. Like a courtship, they know that it might be awhile before the right customer enters the shop and falls in love with a piece and takes it home. Customers of these shops tend to have a more sophisticated taste, range from mid 20s to early 40s, are into current trends and seek statement pieces that will be stylish for years.
And the stores that most of us only dream of buying more than one piece at in our lifetime?
These stores are more like museums with artifacts carefully curated and usually require appointments or assistance to enter such departments of the shop. What customers don’t realize is that these pieces are almost 100% flawless in their vintage state. The effort and money that a store owner can go through to stock full inventory of these gems is constant dedication. These proprietors seek out the best of the best, they go to estate sales and compete with other potential buyers, get into bidding wars at auctions and travel the globe looking through personal closets of socialites or some leads they may get by phone. It’s a true scavenger hunt and again, the pieces must be immaculate, otherwise they have any worthy garment repaired and cleaned; this does not come without cost. Customers here are usually stylists, celebrities and collectors who have a true appreciation for vintage design.
One of the unfortunate occurrences in vintage-retail that the consumers underestimate, is the quality and the craftsmanship of a garment. These vintage pieces are made to last. Do you think your Nasty Gal dress is going to last for 50 years? I doubt it. American Apparel? You know how many crotchless leggings I have from there?! It’s amazing that people will not bat an eyelash extension and click, click away to that shopping cart button to purchase a ZARA dress or two but, when they come into a vintage store or market, they scoff at the $75 price tag, even ask, “Will you take $50?” Even if you must have the item altered, you will be the only one wearing it! Do you think that Madewell dress you just bought won’t be on about oh, 300 other girls? Plus it was probably “made well” in China.
Look, I like new swag as much as the next person but, before you start leaving our hardworking vintage shop owners 3 stars on Yelp instead of 5 “because of pricing”, please think about the history behind the product, the hunt to find it and the love that was put into its cleaning/repairs so you could find it, buy it and be one of a kind.