Growing up in Alexandria, Egypt, how was I ever going to fail to develop a fascination for antiques? Of course, Egypt is known for its ancient relics from the days of the pharaohs, and certainly such antiquities were of great interest, but from an early age my imagination was also captured by antiques from the more recent past.
My father was a keen collector of antiques. He would take me to peruse the offerings in old shops, and to auctions, where I found the atmosphere thrilling. He subscribed to the Collectors Guide and Apollo magazines, and I would study these, fascinated in particular by the artworks.
I grew up to be a collector too, mainly of Chinese porcelain, Japanese sculptures, and French and Italian glass. But over the years my passion for the old and unique also spread to fashion. The discovery of a beautiful vintage 1930s dress in a second-hand shop, or one of the many brocantes for which France is well known… that is equally delightful. And if I should also find an accessory – a handbag, perhaps, or even an unusual piece of jewellery, then all the better.
What is it that makes vintage clothing so appealing to me, and to many others as well? Here are my top reasons to love vintage clothing:
The thrill of the find
When you look for a piece of vintage clothing, you’re not merely shopping – you’re hunting, treasure-hunting. You’re looking for a piece to add to your collection, something really special.
It’s a game really, in a sense, and such a fun one. The rules of the game are simple: 1) Find, amid a lot of clutter, the treasure. 2) Claim the treasure (before anyone else can) at an excellent price. Negotiating at brocantes and other markets is especially enjoyable – how much of a discount can you achieve?
After the thrill of the find, you continue to feel the glow whenever you wear the item of clothing, your treasure.
The love of a bargain
‘Vintage’ can come with a price tag. A stunning designer ball gown from the last century that cost a small fortune then and now has aged, like a fine wine, won’t come cheap – if the seller knows how special the item is. But you can find amazing pieces just through rummaging in thrift stores or at flea markets, or even online in second-hand marketplaces, and pick them up for a song.
Of course, a vintage item is only worth as much as someone is prepared to pay for it. Unless the item was originally very expensive, or is very old, or was worn by someone famous (see below), it’s unlikely to break the bank. And if you love a bargain, you’ll find it so much more satisfying shopping vintage. It’s entirely possible to love a beautiful skirt more simply because it cost little more than a takeaway coffee.
A connection with the past
Recently, I noticed a headline in the news about a famous Marilyn Monroe dress, now a collector’s item but worn by a celebrity to the Met Gala. I imagine the celebrity felt wonderful wearing that iconic dress; felt beautiful and sensual and close to the Hollywood star.
Of course, the vast majority of us are unlikely to find truly iconic vintage pieces like that dress for our wardrobes. Still, when we wear a piece from a bygone decade, there is a sense of history for us. A flapper dress connects us to the 1920s; we may picture, perhaps, its original owner dancing in a Prohibition-era speakeasy. A Mary Quant-style mini-skirt reminds us of the social revolution in the Swinging Sixties, tells a story of women’s liberation.
A vintage piece may even have a close connection to your own past. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a mother or aunt or grandmother who passed down some items of clothing to you. Perhaps your wedding dress has a very special and personal history.
A break from consumerism, and a boon for the environment
We live in a culture of consumerism, where we are encouraged to buy new items, use them, quickly discard them and then buy more new items. This is, of course, wonderful for the businesses involved in producing, transporting and selling the items, but it’s really not good news for the environment. Too much of the fashion industry isn’t devoted to sustainability.
Think how many clothes are discarded each year that could still be worn. Think how many clothes are produced that we don’t really need. It’s wasteful, so out of step with how people have always lived.
When you buy vintage, you’re doing something positive, using something that still has plenty of use in it. That feels good!
A unique style
Last but not least, vintage is a great choice for building a fresh, original personal style. You don’t need to look like a model from a high-street store; you can simply look like…well, you. Your style is a way to express who you are, and you may enjoy having some unique pieces in your wardrobe. And when you dress vintage, without doubt you’ll encounter people who say, ‘Oh, I love your dress/skirt/trousers/shirt. Where did you get it?’ You can tell them all about your treasure-hunting, and who knows, maybe you’ll inspire them too.
Picture credits: 1) Anna Svetlova/Shutterstock; 2) dowraik/Shutterstock; 3) seeshooteatrepeat/Shutterstock.