You keep hearing that vintage is where it’s at but you really don’t understand what makes an article of clothing vintage vintage, or as those in the industry call it “true vintage.”
For the first half of my career in the consignment industry, I was in the same place as you. I focused primarily on sourcing designer pieces and had no true knowledge of what vintage clothing was, so don’t worry! It’s time to take a crash course in the vintage marketplace. This can be a sensitive topic for people who dedicate their lives in the vintage game. If you want to be a snob about it, the comments section below would be a great place to toss on the gloves.
I’m here to give you a basic understanding of what vintage means in terms of clothing. This will include the following; what dates qualify as vintage, single stitch tees, and what the future holds for vintage clothing.
Prior to getting started in dating vintage clothing, I think it’s important to give a little history on the term “vintage” itself. Prior to recent times (the past hundred years), the word vintage was predominantly used in the wine industry. When a wine was referred to as vintage, it meant that the wine was at least 20 years old.
“Aging like fine wine” is a common saying meaning aging well. This concept has been applied to clothing since the mid 20th century. It may seem novel today, but trust me when I say that your parents may have also been deep in the vintage game. Top celebrities of prior generations were also known to rock vintage couture.
I, personally, will accept the term true vintage being applied to any article of clothing produced at least 20 years in the past. This means that every year there will be a new production line of clothing being classified as “true vintage.” Some may disagree (including wikipedia) and say that true vintage only applies to items pre-dating the year 2000 or a range starting at 30 years in the past. In my opinion, 30 years doesn’t allow enough growth for the vintage market we live in today.
That being said, if you have a Dead & Co. Liquid Blue tie dye tee with the year 2002 imprinted on it, I would classify that as a vintage piece. In fact, these garments are now being appropriately labeled as Y2K pieces. Now, if you have a 2010 reproduction AC/DC t-shirt; I would not yet qualify that as vintage.
What is a Single Stitch T-Shirt?
A single stitch t-shirt is actually something that is pretty easy to identify. When you look at a t-shirt seamline by the cuff of the sleeve or at the base of the shirt (where the material was folded over to create a seamless ending) you will see 1 of 2 things. You may see a double seamline or a single seamline.
A single seamline (single stitch) does not always mean that a t-shirt is vintage. The same can be applied to a double seam line. I, personally, have seen hundreds, if not thousands of single stitch t-shirts throughout my career. Some brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Polo Ralph Lauren will actually include single stitch seamlines in modern-day t-shirts, while some Liquid Blue shirts and concert t-shirts that pre-date the 2000s will have double stitching.
More commonly than not, a single stitch t-shirt will be vintage. Brands that were commonly manufacturing t-shirts within the vintage era were using the single stitch method of production. Some brands that are commonly seen on true vintage t-shirts are; Screen Stars, Fruit of the Loom, and Hanes.
Made in USA
Another simple identifier for a true vintage article of clothing is the tag including the manufacturing location as “Made In USA” in some form or another.
Up until the late 90s and early 2000s most of the clothing seen worn by the general population was manufactured in America. I’m not going to go into detail about manufacturing being outsourced to other countries outside of the United States and the ethics involved. There has been a lot of coverage in this subject to the point where it is considered common knowledge.
The point is this; when you are out sourcing for true vintage, a helpful identifier is the piece being made in the U.S. Again, this is not always true. Many leather garments in the 90s, 80s, and prior were manufactured in Korea, Pakistan, and other areas. Hong Kong was also a common manufacturing place for designer brands such as Christian Dior and YSL in the 80s.
Oftentimes, someone “back in the day” needed to actually travel outside of the United States to source garments that were produced elsewhere. So, if you do come across an article of clothing that has all the tell-tale signs of being true vintage and was manufactured outside the U.S. don’t be so quick to count it out!
The Future of Vintage
This is where things get a little tricky. The future of vintage is starting to look a little shaky. The main reason is due to the quality of clothing being produced today.
With the rise of brands within fast-fashion industry producing poorly manufactured articles of clothing, I’m not even sure that clothing will hold together for at least 20 years. It’s almost literally being manufactured out of trash. Actually, I think trash might be manufactured stronger than some of the materials being used today. So what does that mean for the vintage game?
What I foresee this meaning for the vintage game is two-part.
The first option is this; we will really only be able to qualify aging designer pieces as vintage. To clarify, high end designer brands or collectible brands such as BAPE, Comme des Garcons, and Gucci will certainly withstand the wear and tear of time and will cross into a vintage era. Other brands will not be desirable enough to cross into that exclusive class.
The second option for “other” brands will be to become classified into eras. Think about what Y2K style has become. I really feel like this is the only other option. Maybe with more time they can cross over into the general classification of vintage, but I feel like we will have to re-define what the timeframe for vintage is at that point.
Vintage can be difficult to identify depending on the piece in question. Some easy identifiers are single-stitch and Made in USA tags but don’t automatically assume that every article that falls into these groups is true vintage.
The future of vintage is looking bleak. It’s hard to imagine classifying a Forever 21 top manufactured in 2014 as a “vintage piece” and I don’t think that it will ever be. I think it would fall under some variation of 2010’s style.
With this in mind, it will be ever-difficult to source true vintage pieces. The more time that goes by, the harder it will be to find vintage clothing in the wild. Hold on to what you have! Values may continue to reach all-time highs.
I realized while writing this article that there really is so much involved in the classification. Too much, in fact, to include in a basic tutorial. Maybe at some point I’ll write a book on the subject.
-Much love, Ian Drake – Diversity Consignment