The difference between vintage and high street is more complicated than old versus new, it’s more of a battle between authentic versus new. Kristofer Vogel sees vintage as becoming a “commercial entity”, and no longer a “fashion statement against major retail”. Has vintage lost its roots in subversion of the mainstream and become the new high street?
The tricky part of vintage versus high street is deciding when one becomes part of the other. Take these two fishermen jumpers, 10 years different in age but the second deemed ‘vintage’ by Urban Outfitters whilst the other is just a standard buy from American Apparel.
Fishermen jumpers, or ‘ganseys’ originated back in the 19th and 20th centuries to protect against the damp conditions at sea, rather than the fashion staple we see them as today. Surely if vintage offers ‘authenticity’ then why does the 90s revival version get seen as vintage just due to its age? Shouldn’t Urban Outfitter be offering a 1850s original instead?
Some argue that vintage, or second-hand, offers something different rather than authenticity. So whilst thousands own the AA fishermens jumper, just one owns the Christopher Rand alternative; making the buyer feel special.
In a hope to add some originality onto the high street, some vintage shops have moved right into the action. Harper & Lewis have taken over Birmingham, with shops everywhere, their most prolific is in the Bullring.
“We had to change to get onto the high street. We had to stock more new products, cut down on vintage and make sure that vintage is up to standard,” says sales assistant Paul.
It’s not hard to work out why many vintage shops chose to exclude their main stores from the high street. The ability to stock as they please outweighs having to trawl through mountains of second-hand grime to find high-street standard clothes. Let’s be honest, who even wants a perfect ugly jumper, that food stain gives it character.
Due to this, many vintage retailers have instead opted to run a small concession stand in high street shops like Topshop and Topman. COW, owner of four shops, have over 30 concession stands, allowing them to reach a new type of shopper who may have never thought to try vintage before. It’s like the best of both worlds; one-off pieces with no added effort.
This has led to a vintage revolution. More and more people are wanting to buy into the retro look as it’s more accessible to them. “It’s a lot more mainstream now with the [vintage] injection into the high street.” explains Blue Rinse employee Alfie. Though, high street stores have caught on, now offering their own mass-produced take on vintage trends.
The past five years of fashion have definitely been a trip down memory lane, which vintage can only be thankful. The resurgence of 90s grunge and 80s power-dressing has led more to make the excursion to their town’s creative scene and get something more original, but fitting with the current styles.
With this new type of shopper, many vintage retailers have adapted to keep them pleased. “There’s a lot of people who want the retro look but they don’t want to wear old people’s clothes,” says Pop Boutique employee Fin.
Pop Boutique now stocks mass-made vintage inspired clothes ranging from knitwear to flannel shirts. These are all key vintage pieces but for some, come with the peace of mind that no one died in it. It’s the vintage look without the vintage imperfections.
Now vintage shops are stocking own branded clothing, they’re very close to crossing the line of becoming a part of high street fashion. However, Mad Elizabeth co-owner Heather sees it as shops finding their “niche” and she thinks “people have branded themselves in what they like to sell and it makes it easier for shoppers I think.”
Whether this be to just stock popular pieces like Harrington jackets, or tie-dye shirts, vintage has become all about pleasing these new shoppers that are used to how the high street works. Also, they’re after high street pieces without the high street price tag. So a £15 Pop Boutique mock-vintage jumper, is going to be more appealing than a £40 Urban Outfitters alternative.
So with this, maybe vintage has just become the alternative to the high street. With fashion being so cyclical, vintage will always have something that’s on trend, even if it’s with those shoulder pads your mum always moans should have stayed in the 80s. You never know, in 20 years we’ll probably see the return of onesies, fake geek classes and man buns, but it’ll be vintage remember.