What is Vintage?

If you were like me in my 20’s, you love a good a-line dress with funky retro prints, were teasing your hair in a bouffant well before Snooky and J-Wow made it the trademark coiff of the Jersey Shore, or maybe gravitated toward an “old is new” mentality when it came to your personal style.

I’ve always had an affinity for things from the past. When I drew my croquis in high school and college, which were terrible, the clothing that came from it always had a nod to the 60’s. The 50s-70s were my jam. Yet somehow, I hadn’t realized that I loved vintage for at least a decade before I ever started selling it.

And when I was considering starting Milk Machine, I started asking friends,

“What is vintage exactly?”

The answers varied slightly but here’s my take.

How Old Does Something Need To Be, To Be Considered Vintage?

I most often got two answers: 20 or 25 years. But why?  Something from 2001 doesn’t feel vintage to me. I was still in high school and I’m not that old.

Apparently, the idea of vintage comes from the amount of time is takes to age a barrel of wine, which is 25 years.

Some people consider vintage 20 years, because that is the amount of time it takes for a care to become a classic.

If something is vintage, is it also an antique?

Nope. And antique dealers everywhere will have your head if you start calling you 90’s jeans “antiques”, and probably your parents too.

Antique refers to anything that is over 100 years old. You have an antique if your item was made before June 1921.

Beware of Facebook marketplace. I’ve found some truly fantastic pieces on there but there are a lot folks who aren’t familiar with vintage and antique terminology. I find a lot of retro-look or reproduction pieces being advertised by sellers who possibly don’t even realize that their piece was made in the early 2000’s and not the 1950s.

What is an easy way to date your vintage clothing?

The easiest way to understand roughly what era your clothing was made in is the tag and the construction.

A lot of pre-1970s clothing may not have a tag. And if it does, instead of those quality control numbers you find in pieces from big box retailers, you’ll also find an ILGWU (International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union) tag up through the early ’80s. The US, especially cities on the East Coast like Philadelphia, were once major world forces in garment manufacturing. If it doesn’t have a brand tag but the ILGWU tag is on your piece, it’s a safe bet that piece is vintage. 

If you item does have a brand tag, check out the Vintage Fashion Guild‘s label look-up to help better date your piece.

As for construction, you should look at a few things like:

  • How are the seams finished? If they are pinked or raw, it’s likely that your piece was hand- or tailormade for the original owner. While this doesn’t guarantee it’s vintage, we keep in mind that things were made to to last far longer in the ’40s through early ’70s and they were often not mass laundered like items are today.
  • Does your item have surged seams? If your piece has seams that are surged (ex. overlock stitch with no raw edge), then it’s likely your clothing is 1973 or later. As the US entered into trade agreements 
  • Is the zipper metal or plastic? If we’re trying to identify if something is ’50s, ’60s or ’70s, you can often tell by the zipper. If it’s metal, it’s more likely from the 50’s or 60’s and you may even have some trouble with it due to its age. If it’s plastic, it’s likely ’70s or later as plastic zippers weren’t introduced into mass production until the late ’60’s.

Whatever you are wearing, I hope that it brings you joy and confidence!

<3 Milk Machine

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