Styling the Word Vintage
Recently I had the opportunity to attend Augusta Auctions’ May pre-Brimfield Auction, and the Vintage Fashion & Antique Textile Show at the start of July Brimfield week. Truthfully, my previous exposure to the world of “vintage” has been limited. Having seen the word widely (and sometime questionably) applied at antique shows, flea markets, and antique malls, I was excited to be able to attend these two quality annual events that showcase and define the market.
It was the display and array of items that immediately captured my attention and imagination. From buttons and lace to jewelry, accessories, vanity table items, linens, fabric, and clothing that spans generations, it is like being transported back into closets as familiar and intimate as our childhood memories, and historical eras defined by the fabrics, craftsmanship, and fashions of their time.
The broad definition of vintage is “something classic or was made a long time ago.” That brush paints a big canvas, as does the word “antique,” which can refer to items at least 50 years old or more. When it comes to defining antique-vintage in the fashion and textiles marketplace, experts stay true to the role of fashion to reflect and define historical eras.
Linda Zukas, whose company has been producing the tri-annual, pre-Brimfield “Vintage Fashion & Antique Textile Show,” now in its 25th season, shares, “The key concept relative to the term ‘Vintage’ when dealing with fashion means simply that a piece connects with a certain era. Some examples would be flapper dresses and zoot suits from the roaring 20s, Snap jack shoes and engineer boots from the 50s, poodle skirts and black leather motorcycle jackets, cowboy regalia and equestrian wear, and beachwear. Also reflected in ‘vintage’ would be period uniform pieces – be they military, milkman, firemen, Texaco, taxi driver, soda jerk, athletic gear, or others representing their time and place in history or nostalgia.”
“The question of defining vintage and antique is a funny one, and one that I am asked a lot by folks coming into the shop hoping to sell me things,” responds Barbara Wright of Vintage & Antique Textiles in Sturbridge. “I think the answer is quite subjective. In my shop, I focus on clothing 1970s and preferably much earlier. My favorites are the handmade/homemade garments of the Great Depression and Second World War home front. I’m going into my sixteenth year selling vintage at the shop and during that time, of course, the definition of the time periods has evolved. Now, I consider the 40s to be the upper end of antique, and vintage as 50s through the 70s. But back to saying it’s a matter of perspective; my younger customer is now coming in looking for items from as recent as the 90s. (Ha! I still have clothing in my closet from the 90s – horrors!) I know the women in their eighties that I often purchase from would be horrified to hear that I consider their high school graduation dress from the thirties, or forties ‘going away’ suit, antique.”
Karen Augusta owner of Augusta Auction Co., North America’s premier auction house specializing exclusively in the sale of vintage & historic clothing, rare textiles, jewelry and fashion accessories, defines vintage as, “any garment/accessory from the past that is bought to wear or could be worn. The legal definition of antique is something older than 100 years. I define antique as a garment that is owned for study purposes or will be placed in a private or public institution.”
While the answers are as varied as the clothing and items represented under a broad and flexible vintage tent, the conversation is important as it helps define the market for collectors and establish market values. You will find the conversation continued in Jessica Kosinski’s Antiques Peek column on “Vintage Vocab,” and Bob Ross and Karen Augusta’s article “Gold in the Closets” on page 40.
Personally, attending these events and talking to their promoters, dealers, and customers gave me a greater appreciation for the sentiments and history inherent in the vintage experience. I look forward to attending again next year and taking a closer look.
Maxine Carter Lome, Publisher
Styling the Word Vintage