LLove it or hate it, when Kim Kardashian wears something, people notice. With the reality TV star wearing second-hand Azzedine Alaïa at Paris Fashion Week, second-hand Jean Paul Gaultier at a party and a second-hand 1990s Thierry Mugler dress at an award ceremony price, it suggests that change is afoot. Who would have thought Kardashian – a $350m (£270m) woman who usually wears Balmain and bodycon – would be advocating for sustainable fashion?
As consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion, they are looking for a more sustainable way to shop. Could buying second-hand be the solution?
Vintage, it seems, is increasingly in vogue in everything from Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who wore 1960s Dior to a christening, to her appearance in British Vogue (the May issue asks “Does your dress look vintage?”), to department stores H&M, Arket and & Other Stories announcing that they would test selling vintage and second-hand clothing on their websites. Upscale boutique Browns has also just launched the One Vintage label, which uses old textiles to create new clothes. Octavia Bradford, Browns womenswear buyer, says, “Sustainability is the loudest conversation in fashion right now.”
Research shows that, last year, 64% of women were willing to buy second-hand pieces compared to 45% in 2016 – and it is thought that by 2028, 13% of clothes in women’s wardrobes will be likely to be used. to be used. Fashion circularity, a new term referring to the recycled life of a garment, is expected to reach $51 billion in five years, up from $24 billion currently, according to ThredUp’s annual resale report.
Stella McClure, the founder of online store The Stellar Boutique, has noticed a change. When it first opened 20 years ago, “there was still a stigma” – conjuring up images of yellow sweat stains and emotional baggage that people often associate with used clothes. “But now (thankfully) it’s not just acceptable — it’s cool and has completely captured the fashion zeitgeist,” she says.
Vintage ventured onto the high street in spurts – in 2000 Portobello Road’s Peekaboo Vintage was welcomed into Topshop’s Oxford Circus flagship store. In 2010, Asos launched its Marketplace, which has helped bring vintage products to a much wider audience – and especially online.
If the trend has faded lately, it was all about aesthetics – minimalism replaced bohemian chic, and modernity was more in demand than the florals of the 1970s. But fashion has changed. Along with a heightened awareness of sustainability, vintage fashion fits nicely into the broader vibe of the Instagram era, where authenticity and originality – not being seen in the same outfit as anyone who else – are highly prized. What better way to stand out than to wear clothes that few others are likely to own?
Fashion tends to undermine the past. But many of today’s most exciting young designers, from punk revivalist Charles Jeffrey to James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks of Rottingdean Bazaar, look to decades before they were born for inspiration. “High-end design teams reference eras past,” says Nicky Albrechtsen, author of Vintage Fashion Complete. She references Erdem and Zimmermann’s prairie-style dresses, “reminiscent of nostalgic ’70s fashions,” as well as cult brands such as The Vampire’s Wife and Batsheva.
“Seeing such strong references on the catwalk gives fashionistas confidence to embrace the quirky dresses and present quirky pieces in a modern way,” says Albrechtsen. According to Scarlet Eden, vintage buyer at Beyond Retro, if the pieces produced on the high street are based on vintage trends: “We are able to offer customers original looks”.
Vintage naysayers who may have been put off in the past by the idea of delving into flea market-style basements may be persuaded by the option of buying online. “The popularity of online vintage stores is great for those who don’t have access to everything a city like New York has to offer,” says Gabriel Held, described by Vogue as “the most famous vintage dealer in Instagram”.
But all is not rosy: opening up the market with many online shops means less quality control. Held sees “a lot of mediocre second-hand clothing being marketed as vintage… Something doesn’t have to be 20 years old to be considered vintage, but, to me, if it’s not real vintage, then it should be something extraordinary.”
This is where the lines blur between used and vintage. For Albrechtsen, vintage refers to all eras up to the early 80s, while Eden and McClure consider it to be clothes that are over 20 years old. Held says his definition “isn’t set in stone” – he even has contemporary pieces in his own archive “that I know will be collectible in 10 years”.
Virginia Bates, whose Notting Hill vintage emporium attracted Naomi Campbell and Donatella Versace before it closed in 2012, stocked late 19th century wares. His definition of vintage goes “to the 1920s, 30s, a little 40s, sometimes 50s… I don’t consider vintage 60s. I would never have sold that because I was there, I wore it. But, as she says, “With another generation coming in, the ’60s are the equivalent of what I considered antiques when I opened my shop.”
Albrechtsen says, “Many professionals now include [era]-defining clothing – by that I mean iconic or smart designs. This is where the resurgence and reverence of certain 90s styles comes in, arguably led by cult boutique Peckham Wavey Garms. “The sportswear of the 90s is”, according to Albrechtsen, “very smart in terms of design…so it still works now”. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s filtered down to more traditional vintage outlets – Beyond Retro, for example, is always well stocked with Champion sweatshirts.
The flames of this “less vintage vintage” are also fanned by the rise of resale sites. According to the 2019 ThredUp Resale Report, resale has grown 21 times faster than apparel retail over the past three years. These luxury sites offer a ray of hope for those looking for a more affordable way to shop in designer fashion.
Not content to sit back and watch others enjoy their vintage items, some luxury brands are reviving decades-old designs from their own archives. Last year, for example, Dior brought back its saddle bag due to the attention it was receiving in the vintage fashion market. In February, Fendi brought back its Carrie Bradshaw-approved baguette bag from 1999 – luxury resale site Vestiaire Collective had seen a 558% increase in sales of the bag since January last year. “Every brand is developing a point of view on how to co-exist with occasion,” ThredUp co-founder and chief executive James Reinhart recently told The Business of Fashion.
Of course, for some, buying vintage will never feel quite right. “It’s really not my bag,” says Bates. There are obvious pitfalls – the size is not uniform and, she says, “You have to be very careful to look for holes, moths and tears.
But being able to call a ’90s hoodie, a ’00s Dior bag, or a dress first worn by Naomi Campbell in 1996 “vintage,” might just help maintain the appeal. As Bates puts it: “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter…the most important thing is that it gets recycled – it encourages people not to go out and buy more.”