Why is east London mad about vintage?

More and more people are interested in vintage. But what exactly is the reason? Pic: Olivia Campbell

On the second day of our ‘Mad about Vintage’ series, we look at the reasons why people living in the ELL boroughs are choosing to buy vintage clothing. 

Something is happening in the UK. Old clothes are being pulled out from the bottom of wardrobes and dusted off. Shops selling preloved frocks are popping up from the bottom of Bournemouth to the highest tip of Scotland. Hippy dresses have become haute-couture. It is clear that the desire to own our own piece of the past is literally back in fashion, but why exactly are people choosing to buy vintage? To answer this niggling question, we took to a survey to the streets of EastLondonLines. With nearly 100 respondents, here is what we found.

Our search for answers brought back one delightfully simple result – the majority (over 80 percent) of people buy into the vintage trend just because they like the look. The eclectic, and sometimes bizarre, fashion trends of the twentieth century means that garments from the past are often unique and one of a kind. Patterns and designs that have come to define various eras are often poorly replicated by the designers of today – while clothing methods synonymous with vintage, such as intricate hand embroidery, have been lost to factory-made clothes.

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Dabbling in vintage clothing also allows for greater experimentation and expression – a key point for today’s millennials. Many wearers stated that they liked to mix contemporary with the past to create a new “fashion identity”, often as a rebellion against the dominating nature of the fashion industry.

Many people who are going vintage are also choosing to shop more sustainably. In recent years, much attention has been given to the unsustainable nature of global fast fashion industry. In 2017, the UK sent 253 million items of clothing to landfill, while The World Bank estimates that 20 percent of global water pollution originates from the textile industry. The current system of unethical clothes is failing.

The desire to buy clothes that are ethical and environmentally friendly is growing – vintage clothing provides the perfect option for this. At least 38 percent of the people we asked agreed that sustainability was a key reason for going vintage and are challenging the culture of constant consumerism.

Indeed, the results we have received are telling of the nationwide trend. The 2018 Ethical Consumer Survey revealed that buying second hand clothing for environmental reasons had increased by 22.5 percent in the UK alone. This shows an increase from £321 million in 2010 to £625 million in 2017.

Sophia Graves, 22, a copywriter from Tower Hamlets, told us: “I’ve always been super into fashion and the whole shopping culture that comes along with it. However, I’ve recently decided that my buying habits are increasingly unsustainable. Vintage fashion allows me to still buy beautiful clothing without having to feel guilty about where my clothes have come from.”

Vintage garments are physical embodiment of the past Pic: Olivia Campbell

In every way, vintage pieces are also an embodiment of the past. The desire to own a tangible facet of history was a vital reason for 32 percent of responders. It is fun or even awe-inspiring to think of the places a vintage item has been or to wonder about the previous owner – what they did, what they look liked or even how they lived.

Unlike much of our modern-day clothes, vintage clothing also possesses character – something which fast fashion factories can only try and emulate. The search for vintage is tantamount to a treasure hunt – x marks the spot where a rare and beautiful piece is found.

Helen South, 32, an artist from Lewisham, agrees: “As a history graduate, it’s only natural that I love anything from the past! There’s something special about owning an object from another era, especially as I have no idea who may have owned the very same item.”

Quality is also a key factor for why people choose to buy vintage. Unlike contemporary clothing, the quality of a historic garment is extremely hard to replicate. The endless mass-produced clothing that is churned out nowadays is a distant world to clothing of the past, where buying clothes was often a rare luxury. Recessions, wartime economies and historic manufacturing methods meant that clothing was built to last, not to be a cheap commodity.

In many ways, the rise of polyester during the 1970s has meant that clothing has lost some of its spark. French seams, copious amounts of beading painstaking sewn by hand or even eclectic buttons are a thing of the past but can still be bought. The tailoring of a piece is more likely to be wearable and often won’t be constricted to the narrow sizing available on the high street.

It is clear that there is myriad of reasons for the continuing vintage renaissance and the changing nature of the UK’s textile industry facilitates this. So, come on: It’s time to take those vinyl go-go boots out of hiding and join the rest of ELL in their vintage choosing ways!


Follow our ‘Mad about Vintage’ series this week to find out more about the eclectic world of vintage fashion. #MadAboutVintage

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