By Stevie Michelle Greenleaf
Abstract: The vintage scene has exploded in recent decades, riding a wave of fascination with many desirable aspects of the past. Some of the most dedicated followers of this trend are vintage bloggers, who devote their time and resources to creating an accurate revival of the previous decades. In this paper, I question where this motivation for living a ‘vintage-lifestyle’ comes from, and whether it arises as a response to disappointment with aspects of modern life. Through in-depth interviews with a selection of such bloggers, and an analysis of their online posts, I seek to identify the extent to which the emerging vintage scene is fuelled by a sense of ‘loss’ for a time gone by, exploring: the appeal of vintage; sentiments of nostalgia; the search for authenticity; resistance to mass consumerism; and technological anachronisms within the subculture.
In the summer of 1957, the Walt Disney World resort in California opened its newest and much anticipated attraction – the Monsanto House of the Future. Visitors to this imagined home of 1986 could marvel at the wonders of tomorrow, which, according to an accompanying television advert, “always holds the promise of something new and exciting.” The home, which boasted a microwave oven, plastic walls, electric storage shelves and a climate control panel with an air freshening feature, welcomed some 20 million visitors before its closure a decade later in 1967.
This unwavering optimism about the future had begun to wane. Predictions that had once ‘wowed’ visitors were becoming commonplace or outdated. There was also increased concern for the costs of technological advancement, like the damage being done to the natural environment, as well as the realistic benefits. Even though forward-thinking science had put man on the moon, everyday life remained mundane for most. The anticipation for the future that had characterized past generations began to dissipate, and “many hankered after yesterday’s tomorrows […] of flying cars and plastic houses” (Guffey 2006:152).
As a young adult living in the tumultuous 21st Century, I too face a number of concerns about the future which, personally, often feels more uncertain than it does exciting. As the vintage scene celebrates the past through cultural revival, I wanted to discover whether the fascination with lifestyles from bygone times, like dressing in vintage fashions and engaging in ‘old-fashioned’ practices, stemmed from disappointment with the present and/or fear of the future.
Thus, this research paper seeks to explore the question: To what extent is the emerging vintage scene fuelled by a sense of ‘loss’ for a time gone by? My investigation will examine a variety of avenues, including the appeal of vintage, sentiments of nostalgia, the search for authenticity and originality, resistance to mass consumerism and technological anachronisms within the subculture.
The vintage scene in Amsterdam
Definitions of the ‘vintage world’ are extremely flexible, which I quickly confirmed in a tour of shops around Amsterdam. My first stop led me to Out of the Closet, located at Jodenbreestraat 158, which recently opened in 2012. Feeling very welcoming, the store would be described as more of a ‘charity’ shop than a strictly vintage one, as the money generated from sales went towards HIV awareness. However, there was a small rack dedicated to vintage items which certainly stood out from their regular donated clothing. A small sign reading ‘VINTAGE’ was placed above and the eccentric clothes were organised by colour (and not style, like the rest of the clothing in the store). As well as the clothing, Out of the Closet had some more vintage and retro elements to it – there was an old typewriter available for sale, vintage posters adorned the walls and upbeat 80s pop music was playing in the background. As for the clientele, there were 5 customers in the store at the same time as me, all aged mid-30s plus, and they appeared to be hunting for general bargains instead of specific vintage clothing.
Compared to the more ‘relaxed’ style of vintage at Out of the Closet, the second store I visited – 1953 Retro en Chic at Staalstraat 2 – took vintage a lot more seriously. The tiny shop, which allowed for no more than 2/3 customers at a time, had two floors filled exclusively with vintage. There were lots of valuables in glass cases, such as glasses and jewellery, mostly adorned with ‘do not touch’ labels. The clothes were expensive – a fur gilet cost €225. The music playing was rather obscure and a song that I didn’t recognize, although I don’t think it was a particularly ‘old’ or vintage song. There was a young couple in the store at the same time as me, also just browsing. The sales assistant, a girl of around my age (dressed in a vintage style herself) didn’t really pay much attention to me as I came in, but the small size of the store and the constant reminders to ‘not touch’ made the atmosphere feel a little tense. I got the distinct impression that a lot of people came in to simply marvel at the items, and the only shoppers to actually purchase lots things in there would be the dedicated vintage-lovers.
These two shops were felt to be at either end of a spectrum, and then, of course, there is everything in between – a broad range of cultural commodities and influences that can be found in markets, bars and even cinema décor. Unlike some other trends or scenes, there are no ‘rules’ to vintage. According to the various blogs, books and magazine articles that write about it, there is an almost constant reminder that you can wear as much or as little vintage as you like; it’s a personal style decision and it would seem unusual for someone to feel pressured to look or dress a certain way within this scene.
Vintage bloggers arguably possess the greatest wealth of information on the subject; their passion for the subculture so strong that they have made it their mission to share this knowledge as widely as possible. The breadth of their contributions, from extensive blog posts and discussions to online image galleries, provided a richness of data from which to launch my enquiries. Of the nine interviews I conducted (via email) with bloggers in the UK, USA, Canada and France, seven described vintage as a ‘lifestyle choice’ and part of their identity rather than a mere hobby. Most of the bloggers have not revealed their age online – one calls herself a ‘20-something’ – possibly in line with traditional stigma surrounding the personal image of ageing women, which arguably becomes a more acute issue for those engaging in a vintage subculture.
The blogs provide a way to connect with others who share their interests, display their latest purchases, give make-up/hair advice, and simply just to share their love of vintage. Most are updated around once a week. Here are some examples of their web pages, decorated with similar feminine themes and soft, pastel colours which help to create a calm, rosy feeling:
The blogger that I found most interesting during my research was Jessica, a Canadian in her mid-20s, who writes at Chronically Vintage. Her tagline, located just underneath the title, reads: Preserving the past and sharing my vintage wardrobe one blog post at a time. She then has different sections for people to explore: About, FAQ, Press, Vintage Recipes (which is extensive – she currently has 126 recipes), Links, Elsewhere, Sponsor and Contact, as well as her regular blog posts, which she updates very regularly – often multiple times per week. Her posts are always lengthy and decorated with pictures, either of herself modelling a vintage outfit or of other images that she has taken or otherwise found elsewhere. Her blog appealed to me as it is a very clean and simple layout, but packed full of information. Her ‘About Me’ section is very cheerful and enthusiastic, encouraging readers to spend time on her posts:
Hello and welcome to Chronically Vintage! I’m Jessica, a lifelong lover of all things antique and vintage, especially those from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. This blog is my visual scrapbook in which I record and share my thoughts on the multitude of sources, people and products that inspire and feed a modern gal’s addiction to the past. I also post about the vintage clothes, hairstyles and make-up looks that I adore wearing. Stay a spell and have a blast as we explore the incomparably fantastic world of vintage history and fashion together.
More than simply sharing her love of vintage, Jessica’s blog can be taken as almost a self-help guide for anyone else who is curious about venturing further into this trend but doesn’t quite know where to start.
The appeal of vintage
The fundamental appeal of this subculture is easily recognisable in the intrigue and adventure that ensconces prevalent imagery of the early twentieth century, from silver-screened Hollywood glamour and iconic figures like Marilyn Monroe, to the mystery of an almost alien lifestyle – “a remote and distinct Other” (Guffey, 2006:164). Yet there is a line that divides admiration from the commitment required to embody an ideal.
For Jessica, vintage provided an escape from her old identity. She revealed:
My blog, Chronically Vintage, came about at a time in my life when I was going through an exceedingly rough spell on the health front (I’ve battled a number of different severe chronic illnesses and progressively worsening health ever since I was 18 years old). I really felt like most of my thoughts and actions, as well as how others viewed me, were being defined by my health, and instead of just that side of me, I wanted to show the world that I was so much more.
Bethany’s transition to vintage also led to significant changes, the following quote taken from a public account in the ‘About Me’ section of her blog:
A few years ago I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize myself. I saw a frumpy, unfashionable, messy haired and no makeup gal staring at me. I had let myself go. Right then and there I decided to throw out my sweat pants and become the elegant woman I always wanted to be. This is a blog about my journey to glamour. It includes fashion, cooking, crafting, and creating an inspirational life.
Likewise, Emily began her blog in order to rediscover herself:
I had just gotten out of a very bad (mildly abusive) relationship. I needed a way to reconnect with myself and rediscover who I was – much of that was lost in the relationship. I started my blog as a way for me to connect with other vintage lovers and a way to become a more authentic me.
Vintage being used as a distraction, or an escape, from an old identity seems to be a common theme running through many of the bloggers. For them, dressing in vintage not only changed how they looked on the outside, but also how they felt on the inside. Dressing in a new, slightly daring style, but one that is generally accepted by the masses as being pleasant and glamorous, helps them to express themselves in a whole new and exciting way.
However, the formative interests in vintage, that often predate any such decision to wear it almost every day, can often be traced to warm childhood experiences. This is what I like to call ‘The Grandma Effect’.
The Grandma Effect
Four of my nine interviewees confirmed happy childhood memories with their grandma to be a significant contributing factor in their love for all things vintage. Emily recalls:
I have been into vintage for as long as I can remember. My mom likes to tell the story about the day I was born and how when she was holding me she felt a strong sense that her new baby had an old soul. My grandma was probably the biggest influence on me in regards to vintage and just my life in general. She was much older than my peers’ grandparents […] and she lived through some of the greatest years in history.
Only one of the interviewees, Janey, attributed her early adoption of the subculture to her parents’ fascination with antiques and vintage pastimes. This directly imbued her childhood and teenage years with the rosy glow of yesteryear. Although cases like this are in the minority, Lowenthal (1985:51) suggests that elements of parenthood can be great sources of inspiration and curiosity:
The time just before our own entrance into the world is bound to be particularly fascinating to us; if we could understand it, we might be able to explain our parents, and hence come closer to persuading ourselves that we know why we are here.
On the other hand, these years often reflect a time of relative interference by our parents, which, as Lowenthal astutely points out, may cause us to look elsewhere for guidance, towards a generation where the outdated is accepted and not viewed as a cause for embarrassment. Generally, a grandma is far enough removed that there is an element of allure to her past, but close enough that aspects of its material culture are viewed as curious and charming rather than obsolete.
As the parents of the other eight interviewees’ were still children during the bloggers’ favourite time periods (1930s-60s), they would have been less aware of adult trends. But if one were to advance this bygone era to the ‘retro’ years of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, their parents’ influence would invariably grow.
The origins of this nostalgia are fascinating as the majority of the bloggers in question express a heartfelt longing for ‘missing’ experiences twice removed from their generation’s consciousness. With two exceptions, all of the bloggers allocated these preferred experiences to the 1940s and 50s. As Emily noted: “There is something about wartime that lures me in – although heartbreaking because of war, there is something so romantic about this era in time.”
Brown (1999:367) explores this idea, looking particularly to the post-war decade of the 1950s for evidence of a time ”when people were polite, picket fences pearly white and mom’s apple pie perpetually cooling on the stoop.” He admits, however, that this concept is more a product of the sepia-hued Hollywood retroscape than reality, yet nonetheless one that has been appropriated by “the hucksters of heritage” and, of course, the vintage bloggers.
He reasons that the desire to return to these comforts may be a result of long-term migration patterns, where the rise and acceleration of urbanism in the twentieth century has transformed much of the western world from a settled agrarian society into an urban one, which may result in a loss of “rural rootedness, community spirit and a sense of place” (Brown, 1999:367). This is examined further down below, but it is evident to see some of the bloggers sharing this sentiment and feeling that the overall ‘sense of community’ has lessened – in some cases, no doubt, fuelled by an increase of migration and the mobility of people.
Like Brown’s ‘romantic’ vision of the 1950s, Spigel (2013) found students in her television history class to extrapolate a similar vision of 1960s New York, from the 2007 drama ‘Mad Men’, which rendered an era of possibility and the promise of exciting jobs in glamorous cities. This generated a “strange temporal structure of desire […] for a past that looks like a better future than the one they will achieve” (Spigel, 2013:274).
These are opinions that the vintage bloggers seem to share in spades, recognising a past in which there was not only richer community life, but also better job prospects. Many noted that hard work, friendliness and general communication were once much more prominent, which certainly paints a rather depressing picture of the present day. Below are some of their more intriguing observations:
I love how many people bought items from local shops (like meat from the butcher, bread from the bakery) and/or how many items were homemade. How people entered marriage without the out of “well if it doesn’t work, we can always get a divorce.” Ladies lunches and bridge parties. Stay at home mothers cooking a well-balanced meal for their family and raising their own children instead of sending them to daycare. The sense of knowing your neighbor and actually being friendly with them. (Emily)
People were more friendly and helpful, now everybody is quite selfish and don’t even know their neighbours! They also knew how to do a lot of things with their hands: cooking, gardening, sewing, repairing everything… (Laurence)
No time period was perfect, but I really do miss the respect for family and marriage that seems to be missing in modern society. People, in general, were more willing to work at things. I also really admire how much people gave up for the war effort during WWI and WWII instead of getting bored with it after a year or so like we do now. There’s definitely a loss of understanding of the value of things and of sacrifice in the current generation. (Stephanie)
Manners. Respect for the elderly and ones parents. Working hard. Providing for one’s family without benefits. These are all things that are very much missing into today’s society. (Leah)
Yes, I think that there were certain elements of the past which were often preferable to how they’ve become today such as people being more neighbourly, having a greater sense of civic pride, less debt (personal and global), being able to achieve the (so called) American dream more easily, far fewer broken families, less latchkey kids, (often) better education systems (smaller class sizes, more school funding, higher test scores, etc), many people taking greater pride in their personal appearance (let’s face it, no one showed up to a college class in their pyjamas in the 1940s unless they were sleepwalking!), somewhat less emphasis on the constant buying of items (which can so often lead to vast amounts of personal debt), and more trustworthiness amongst friends and strangers alike…. (Jessica)
This nostalgia is therefore more a criticism of the present than pure reminiscence for a past not our own. It was insightful that so many of the responses made references to the breakdown of the traditional family unit – either through divorce or working mothers unable to focus on raising their children. Spigel suggests that nostalgia may, in fact, arise from our inability to cope with the present, explaining:
Contemporary culture has found a way to imagine a retro-future that offers a compelling fantasy for millennials, who are repeatedly reminded they have no future, or at least no future as good as the one their baby-boomer parents planned. Decorating the present with the retro-designs of midcentury modernism and Tomorrowland futures – whether in television dramas, vintage fashions, or in the material spaces of everyday life – may well help to assuage the pain of downsizing the American dream. But the sleek modern surfaces of contemporary nostalgia make us travel back in time to a future that was itself never really achieved. (Spigel, 2013:278)
Instead of the imagined city of tomorrow, we created the society of today, characterised not by gleaming bubble houses but by then-unimaginable social rights made reality. It is interesting to note how readily the above bloggers approve of the traditional family unit that existed in a pre-feminist era. Spigel expresses the fear that this kind of nostalgic focus could undermine the importance of the feminist progress made since, and adds:
“The most unfortunate consequence of this new form of nostalgia is that despite its sophisticated cosmopolitanism and aspiring ‘liberated’ career girls, it forgets feminism as a political struggle – both its battles against patriarchal injustices and its own internal struggles among women of different sexual orientations and from different class, racial, national, religious and political backgrounds. Prefeminism and postfeminism without the feminism in the middle is a hard thing to imagine. But somehow, much of contemporary nostalgia culture seems to be just that” (Spigel, 2013: 278).
However, the vintage bloggers have conceded that the past wasn’t perfect, and when asked, only one of them expressed the desire to have been born in a different decade. Their reasoning on the matter was quite clear:
As a woman I much prefer the freedom and the choices that I have now. (Bethany)
I like being unique, and if I were born in a different decade, I wouldn’t be. I also love a lot of modern conveniences, like the computer. I also love all of the advances we’ve made in medicine and with regards to human rights – women’s rights, racial rights, etc. (Janey)
I would love to have a time machine, only to be able to visit and come back later to our era […] Post war was not such a pleasure for people in France, they were poor, having a fridge, a TV, a car or even a bathroom was not common. I don’t speak about women stuck with children at home who could not vote and also racism… Not everything was better in the 50’s… (Laurence)
The 1950’s really appeals to me from a design and fashion point of view. I’d love to shop at the stores back then- the service was so much better than today. I wouldn’t want to live with some of the attitudes from back then though (racism, sexism, homophobia etc). (Louise)
There were so many problems with the world during the 1940s and 50s. From WW2 to polio, civil rights oppression, misogyny and sexism, homophobia, and the constant threat of nuclear war, to name but a few. While some of these issues are currently all but gone (polio, in the western world, for example), sadly many of them still exist to some degree and the world has a long way to come before we’ve whipped them out for good (or come anywhere even close to doing so). (Jessica)
Thus, it is evident that even though today’s youth and young adults may feel threatened by an uncertain future and alienated from traditional values (Guffey, 2006), they still recognize the shortcomings of life in the past. Lowenthal’s (1985:49) assessment of the vintage scene remains as true today as it was 28 years ago at the time of writing: ”Besides enhancing an acceptable present, the past offers alternatives to an unacceptable present. In yesterday we find what we miss today.”
Authenticity and originality
The idea of ‘authenticity’ is a pertinent and controversial aspect of the vintage lifestyle, and its ambiguous meaning can relate to both to the more intrinsic understanding of the dedicated advocates and also the subculture’s perception by outsiders.
For the bloggers, authenticity can often be seen in terms of how ‘realistic’ and credible their reproductions of the past can be – recognising, of course, that there are clear limits to this. Nevertheless, the more convincing their recreation appears to themselves and others, the more ‘authentically’ vintage they will look and feel.
Jenss (2004) examines this issue from the perspective of the ‘Sixties’ scene in Germany, positing that ‘retro’ looks can only be made convincing through a dedicated combination of clothing, cosmetics, hairstyles and body posture. Even though I am looking at quite a different strand of the vintage scene, I can certainly see evidence of this when analysing the blogger’s personal images.
Note the attention to detail in the following photographs, taken from the blogs of Jessica, Janey and Solanah respectively:
Also note the similarities – the clasping of the bag at their front, the dark lipstick, their feet placed together, the ‘ladylike’ stance and the wistful expressions that they display. Even the backgrounds used for the photographs add to their overall story, chosen to enhance the impression of a genuine snapshot taken in another time and place. These photographs would not have the same effect, say, if they were taken in a shopping mall with the girls sitting in a slouchy pose.
This quest for authenticity through reproduction, and the dedication that goes into acquiring and presenting knowledge about this particular time period, all work to augment the individual’s subcultural capital. The origins of this idea are expressed by Thornton (cited in Jensen, 2006) which involves the creation of a binary between a certain subculture and an imaginary mainstream ‘other’. The characteristics and knowledge gained by a particular individual will gain them status and admiration within that subculture, which is usually ‘exclusive’ only to them. However, vintage bloggers differ from this general concept, as not only does the scene have a temporal distance to them, but it is a more individualistic subculture based largely on image. Most bloggers noted that their closest friends were not particularly interested in vintage, and so sharing their acquired knowledge and being an active part of an online community is one sure way that someone can strongly ‘validate’ their connection to the scene.
The actual authenticity of the clothing itself is another interesting aspect, which will differ greatly from person to person. For some, it is important that the clothing actually came from the time period that it reflects, but others are happier to wear copies, demonstrating the very ‘personal preference’ nature of vintage. The differences are reflected in the following statements:
I only buy copies if it’s quite impossible to find originals, I like to know that things have history, I can tell at a first sight if something is not original. Reproductions are always not perfect, skirts are often shorter and fabrics are tasteless. Moreover copies are often more expensive than [the] original… (Laurence)
I have a lot of mixed feelings on this subject. I always prefer vintage to repro or inspired garments. It has a lot to do with quality (vintage being of superior quality) and uniqueness. The thing about buying new items is that a person can buy the same thing as you! I don’t want that! But I have a lot of new items in my closet. I have a small collection of vintage inspired dresses from companies such as Bettie Page and Stop Staring, which I take with me when we travel. They have stretch to them, which makes them more comfortable for air travel, and if something happens when we’re out; it’s not a totally devastating process. Additionally, I sew, so that produces copies of vintage garments, but once again, it’s unique, because I made it. (Janey)
I think reproductions are fantastic, you can get the look of vintage without the worry of ruining something 80 years old. (Solanah)
However, as described previously, even the most dedicated followers of the scene must recognize the limits of authentic originals. As Jenss notes, many vintage lovers appreciate the clothing because it differentiates them from the mainstream apparel of the masses. Yet by adopting this “unique” style, they are integrated into a community of likeminded individuals (especially when they blog about it). Consequently, “the quest for uniqueness and differentiation turns into a rather regulated style system determined by a collective set of categories” (Schulze, 2000:120, cited in Jenss, 2004:5).
Nowhere are these guidelines more pronounced than in the ‘self-help’ books for vintage lovers now readily available to purchase. Style Me Vintage, a book that I acquired during my research, is a colourful hardback that offers step-by-step instructions in selecting clothing and arranging hair and make-up. The book emphasises that in its introduction that there are no set rules to following vintage and, instead of being a textbook guide, it offers to ‘hold your hand and guide you in the right direction’ (Thomson & Reynolds, 2010:6). It also has a chapter dedicated to ‘Developing your own Style’ which stresses that vintage should be a ‘unique’ and ‘fun’ journey. However, one can’t help but think that the existence of these books alone undermines the concept that dressing in a vintage style is a wholly unique process.
The idea of authentic ‘originals’ may also be called into question when we consider the rise of reproductions, or ‘repro’, clothing. I ❤ Vintage, a shop at Prinsengracht 201, specialises in replicas and offers the same vintage-style dress in a variety of sizes. Whilst this, of course, can be seen as a positive step towards improving the subculture’s accessibility, it nevertheless hinders the mission to procure an individual style.
Furthermore, our vision is invariably influenced by contemporary trends and necessities. These factors were evident with each of the bloggers, many of whom admitted to mixing and matching vintage and contemporary clothing for the sake of comfort and convenience.
Indeed, vintage youth cultures very rarely replicate the exact look of everyday clothing worn by the masses in the 1940s and 50s, and the photographic images of this period that exist tend to celebrate the more spectacular, eye-catching styles of the era, thus recreating a less realistic, “hyper-version of the decade past” (Jenss, 2004:6).
Another facet concerning ‘authenticity’ relates to the outside observer’s perspective of the vintage scene. Jenss (2004) addresses this issue in her paper – stating that many people view vintage dressing as an ‘inauthentic’ subculture as, far from being progressive or innovative (as many youth subcultures are, or at least appear to be), vintage is merely imitating styles of the past. However, Breward (2002, cited in Jenns, 2004) dismisses this critique, maintaining that recycling former fashions has been a common practice since the post-war period. In the 1950s, many followed the trend of the new-Edwardians and thus, under the same outsider logic, the youth cultures of the post-war period are also inauthentic. Jenss objects that this dichotomous argument leads nowhere, and I would agree. I don’t believe that something has to be ‘progressive’ in order to be ‘authentic’. In fact, the term ‘authentic’ is perhaps flawed in itself. I find it difficult to comprehend the grounds on which an outsider can deem another person’s personally shaped lifestyle ‘inauthentic.’
Crew and Sims (1991) posit that authenticity is less a question of subjective reality, and more a case of accepted authority. Things are “made” authentic and are therefore socially constructed. Consider, for example, an old-fashioned teapot. The point at which this teapot stops becoming merely old-fashioned and starts becoming a beautiful vintage item depends entirely on the context and the value that we, ourselves, give to that item. This teapot may be given very different significance if it were found at a garage sale compared to a ‘kitsch’ coffee shop in a trendy area.
Agency against mass-consumerism
Far from being unprogressive, inauthentic individuals, it’s clear from my interviews that those dedicated to the vintage scene are anything but. Instead, they actively assert their agency by offering forms of resistance towards mass consumerism and global super-brands when buying recycled clothing. The rise of globalization and mass communication has led to a rapid expansion in the awareness of damaging consumer practices, which may act as a catalyst for more people to become interested in vintage. Emily certainly supports this stance, having confirmed:
Vintage for me is about being kind to the environment by reusing and recycling, and not contributing to mass consumerism. I like vintage for the style of the items first and foremost, but I also believe strongly in voting with your dollar, using what is already in existence, and be a responsible consumer.
The sentiment was also echoed by Janey, who said: “Vintage means I’m buying local and not supporting sweatshops/slave labour,” and Louise, who also recognises the diminishing quality of modern apparel:
To me clothing today is so badly made and designed to be thrown out. I dislike the idea of clothing filling up landfills and I think we waste too much today. Also I hate the idea of ‘sweat labour’ so frequently used today.
Calling to mind my research question, I would argue that vintage clothing might indeed be fuelled by a sense of ‘loss’ in certain contexts. There is a prevalent belief within the subculture that clothes in the past were of better quality, more distinctive, and did not require damaging practices like sweatshop labour. Therefore, vintage can be viewed ‘as a consequence as well as a compensation of modernization’ (Jenss, 2004:12) as people try to resist what they perceive to be unfortunate aspects of the clothing trade in the current day.
The wired generation and technology
The sole feature of the present day that simply cannot be rejected by vintage bloggers is technology. Even though they strive to preserve certain elements of the past, they are nevertheless a product of their environments and technology is responsible for a large part of that. Two of the interviewees mentioned that they ‘love’ modern technology. They use it to research information, connect with other bloggers and buy vintage items online, especially using websites such as Ebay and Etsy. These women will also employ a range of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr to market their blog and the sale of any vintage items.
However, some bloggers did try to ‘resist’ these modern vices for a time, presumably because acceptance would diminish their embodiment of the ‘genuine’ vintage lifestyle. Consider, for example, this excerpt from Emily’s account:
I used to be against Twitter, but I had to give in and create an account for my business (I own my own vintage online clothing store via Etsy). While I understand why many vintage enthusiasts would resist technology, I feel it’s a great resource that brings us all together.
Some of the others shared similar responses. Whilst recognising the vast advantages of technology, they will attempt to resist ’moving with the times’ whenever possible. Jessica still favours an old record player when listening to music, while Laurence owns a vintage car and refuses to buy an iPhone, instead settling for an ‘old cellular phone’ for her work. The blogger with the strongest opposition to modern technology was Leah, who found that more modern-looking devices clashed with her taste for vintage aesthetics:
I refuse to use a kindle to read a book, I don’t use an iPod, and I only use my TV to watch films on. I don’t have the latest phone or latest PC, in fact I hate having to buy modern technology. To my personal taste the appearance of such items is always so plastic, bulky and ugly no matter what the device is for.
Brown (1999:369) offers vintage enthusiasts, both old and new, some helpful insights into the matter. He agrees that modern technology may indeed be resisted as it does not suit the overall look of vintage, but proposes further that its overwhelming rate of development might also be causing its undoing. The speed at which new technologies develop can be overwhelming and unattractive to some, therefore Brown stipulates that those who turn to vintage may have “a yearning for simpler, less stressful times amongst those required to keep up, keep moving, keep ahead of the game.”
It appears that vintage bloggers want, and are appropriating, the ‘best of both worlds’. They are wearing vintage clothing, which makes them feel attractive, confident and comfortable, whilst using aspects of modern life to accompany and fuel their interests. Dressing in an overtly vintage way, and indulging in practices that many would term ‘old-fashioned’, almost transports them into a fantasy land – one that borrows some of their most favourable aspects of the past. However, contemporary technology and blogging is imperative for these women to keep up with this subculture, as a way of networking, researching and, for many, finding the very clothes that they wish to wear. To consider my research question about feeling a sense of ‘loss’ – I would argue that the answer is yes and no.
Yes, because all of my respondents noted aspects of the past that they perceived to be better than the future – more human interaction and communication, more friendliness, better quality of goods and stronger family values, but also no, because most of them recognize that, actually, they have a life rather good now. Without the technologies and opportunities available today, it would be very difficult for the bloggers to pursue and continue their vintage lifestyle. Finally, however much these women adore the vintage scene, they are intelligent enough to resist the lure of even the most ornate rose-tinted glasses, and recognise that life has always been pretty difficult – even back in the 1950s when women wore nicer dresses.
(Written for Youth Cultures in a Transnational Context)
Brown, S. (1999) Retro-marketing: yesterday’s tomorrows, today! Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Volume 17, Issue 7, pp 363-376
Crew, S. & Sims, J. (1991) Locating Authenticity: Fragments of a Dialogue, in Ivan Karp (ed.) Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, pp 159-175
Guffey, E. (2006) Retro: The Culture of Revival, London, UK: Reaktion Books Ltd.
Jensen, S. (2006) Rethinking Subcultural Capital, Young: Nordic Journal of Youth Research, Vol. 14, Issue 3, pp 257-276
Jenss, H. (2004) Dressed in History: Retro Styles and the Construction of Authenticity in Youth Culture, Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, Vol. 8, Issue 4, pp 387-403
Lowenthal, D. (1985) The Past is a Foreign Country, UK: Cambridge University Press
Spigel, L. (2013) Postfeminist Nostalgia for a Prefeminist Future, Screen, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 270-278
Thompson, N., Hay, B. & Reynolds, K. (2010) Style Me Vintage: Step-by-Step Retro Look Book, UK: Pavilion
List of Blogs
Atomic Redhead (Janey): http://atomicredhead.com/
Chronically Vintage (Jessica): http://www.chronicallyvintage.com/
Confessions of a Vintage Hoarder (Leah): http://leahloverich.blogspot.ca/
Livin’ Vintage (Emily): http://www.livin-vintage.com/
Lost in the 50s (Laurence): http://lostin1950.blogspot.ca/
The Girl with the Star-Spangled Heart (Stephanie): http://star-spangledheart.blogspot.nl/
The Glamorous Housewife (Bethany): http://theglamoroushousewife.com/
Vintage Ben Zuckerman (Louise): http://vintagebenzuckerman.blogspot.co.uk/
Vixen Vintage (Solanah): http://www.vixen-vintage.com/