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When Does Clothing Become Vintage?

Wearing a vintage outfit with hat and sunglasses

Vintage clothing is suddenly the only type of fashion that anyone wants to talk about. Everyone is wearing it, everyone is taking pictures of it, everyone is shopping for it. Why is vintage clothing suddenly so trendy…and when does clothing become vintage, anyway? How can you find vintage clothing and is all vintage fashion stylish and trendy, or is it just certain pieces or certain materials? It’s time to learn more about this trend, why everyone is wearing it and whether or not you should start wearing it, too. Heck, maybe you’ve already been wearing vintage style for a long, long time!

Retro vs Antique vs Vintage Clothing

Vintage, retro, antique clothing, it all means old clothes. It all means used clothes, right? Actually, these terms all have strict meanings in the world of fashion. It can be difficult to find true vintage clothing because items may be marketed and labeled incorrectly, as these terms are often confused. 

Vintage outfit sexy look

Sometimes, these terms are confused on purpose by unethical people attempting to charge higher prices for items marketed as vintage even though they are not vintage by strict fashion definition. Sometimes, these items are honestly mislabeled because so many people do not understand the true differences in these terms. Knowing the difference between these terms and knowing how to spot true vintage fashions will help you make much smarter shopping decisions and make it easier for you to find the real vintage fashions that you want. 


Tommy Hilfiger Women's Shift Dress, Grey/Ivory, 10

Vintage clothing is only vintage for a very specific window of time. Even if an item is used, even if it is old-fashioned, it may not be vintage. By definition, a piece of fashion is only vintage if it is more than 20 years old but less than 100 years old. That is going by the current date, so every year the items that are considered vintage change just a little. 


I-Youth Womens Lace Marie Antoinette Masked Ball Victorian Costume Dress (X-Large, 1Sky blue)

When a piece of clothing or an accessory is more than 100 years old, it is an antique. This is even older than vintage and it is not quite the same. While vintage clothing is considered to be very trendy and very in style, antique clothing is not necessarily so. Antique clothing items are even older than vintage looks, which means they are even more delicate and in some cases, more historically significant. 


Amazon Essentials Women's Mid-Rise Skinny Jean, White, 12 Short

Anything older than last year can technically be retro fashion. Fashion that is not the very latest style but that is still newer than 20 years old is retro. These are styles of the past that are being worn again as a nod to the previous styles that once rocked the world. The term “retro” is used often in fashion but by style definition, it only truly applies to items of clothing that are 20 years old or newer. 

The New Vintage Trend

When did used clothing become vintage and stop being used clothing that was already worn by someone? Prior to the 1960s, wearing used clothing was only for those who could not afford to purchase new clothing. It wasn’t stylish and it wasn’t cool, it simply meant that you were wearing old-fashioned styles. 

Fancy vintage dress

Then, it became fashionable on the streets of London to wear clothing from days gone by. Young people started wearing the items that their grandparents thought were cool, putting their own twist on these old styles from the past. Suddenly, vintage fashion was everywhere and it was a super popular thing. 

Vintage fashion has never truly left the style scene since its first appearance in this earlier era, but suddenly it has made a huge resurgence. The second-hand market is growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. Buying vintage has become extremely popular again, with many proudly buying vintage rather than new items. 

The growing concerns about climate change and the environment are behind this new rise in the popularity of vintage pieces. People are buying clothing that is already used rather than new items. New items must be manufactured and shipped to stores, a process that takes up a lot of energy and resources. More people are embracing sustainable fashion and vintage fashion that requires much less energy and allows people to reduce their carbon footprint buy buying clothing that uses fewer resources and less energy. 

Vintage fashion is everywhere. On the style scene, it’s super hot. It’s far more popular than brand-new items right now, in fact. So if you’ve ever wanted to play around with vintage fashion, now is a perfect time to start exploring these clothing items from the past. 

Popular Vintage Items

When you’re shopping for vintage clothes, keep an eye out for the items that are grabbing the most attention on the fashion scene right now. These items have become popular again thanks to the vintage craze. Even in vintage fashions, there are some items that are popular and in style while others aren’t seen as much. Keep your vintage look in style by picking the right pieces to wear.


NUWEERIR Womens 100% Large Mulberry Silk Scarf Long Satin Scarf Fashion Designer Scarf Lightweight Wraps

Pretty, patterned and colorful scarves are very trendy in vintage fashion right now. The great thing about these scarves is that you can wear them in all kinds of ways. Tie them around your head, your neck, wear it as a shirt, use it as a layer over a skirt or jeans. Get creative and have fun. You can even tie a scarf onto your purse or handbag to give it a pop of color and honor this fashion trend. 

Floral Print Dresses

ANRABESS Womens Summer Floral Print Short Sleeve V Neck Elastic Waist Loose Casual Slit Maxi Beach Cover Up Dress 487huangmudan-XL

Once a must-have for 1980s fashion, floral print dresses are back again and they’re one of the hottest things in vintage fashion. The style and length don’t matter so much as the print. As long as it’s floral, it’s in style. Scour shops for vintage dresses with any kind of floral pattern and you will definitely have the hot style of today’s most fashionable people. 


Vintage Vest for Women Sleeveless V-Neck Plaid Dressy Jacket(L, Brown Plaid)

Popular in the 1980s and early 1990s, vests are back again. Wear them over a T-shirt or a tank top, wear them alone, wear them open or closed. It doesn’t matter. Vests are very simply in style and you can’t go wrong while wearing one. 

What’s Bad About Vintage Clothing?

Vintage fashion is highly trendy and sought-after. Some of these items look amazing and sometimes, you can find really great pieces for really affordable prices. What’s not to love? Well…there is a downside to buying vintage clothing as well. There are some things to consider when you’re buying vintage fashions, things to look out for and to be aware of. This will help you make better buying decisions for you. 

Group wearing vintage dresses

They’re Used

Vintage items are used, some more gently than others. Vintage fashion might be faded, worn, stained or damaged in some way. You will either have to repair the item, cover up the damage or choose to wear it as is. It can be difficult to find vintage items that are in pristine condition, especially considering how popular vintage pieces are. If you’re looking for a good deal, it’s likely that damaged vintage fashion will be where you find it.

Sizing is Hard

Sizes have actually changed in the last few decades, so you can’t go by what the numbers on the labels of vintage clothing say. If you’re trying to buy vintage clothing based on your size, you will need to hold items up against your body or better yet, try them on. Depending on when the item was made, the sizing could be wildly different than what it is today. This makes it hard to find items that are actually going to fit you.


You need to take care of vintage clothing the same way you take care of all clothing. That means it needs to be washed when it’s dirty, ironed when it’s wrinkled, all that good stuff. Care labels on vintage items may be confusing or nonexistent. You might now know whether or not it’s safe to wash a vintage item, as opposed to having it dry cleaned. 

Your best bet is probably to hand-wash and steam vintage clothing items to keep them intact and avoid doing damage. Look at care labels, when present, to find out what the fabric composition for items is. You can use this information to find out how to best wash, dry and care for items made with these materials. 

How to Get Vintage Clothing

If you decide that you want to embrace vintage style, now what? You know what it is, you know that it’s trendy, you know the downside and you’re ready to try this style. So…how do you get used clothing that qualifies as vintage? Once you’re ready to wear vintage clothing, now you’ve got to figure out how to find vintage clothing. 

Vintage clothing on rack

Buy Them in Person

Once you start looking around with the mindset of finding vintage clothing you will discover all sorts of different ways to get your hands on fashions from an earlier era. 

Thrift stores and secondhand shops can sometimes be good places to browse for vintage clothing items. Don’t forget about consignment stores, which allow individuals to resell their items. Flea markets are another great place to go browse for vintage fashions. You can often find diamonds in the rough here, hidden treasures of all types. Vintage boutiques also offer vintage fashion, though these places are often higher-priced than the other secondhand options. 

Seek out yard sales, garage sales and rummage sales. The items here are often donated or they come from someone’s garage or attic that was cleaned out. This means you could find a potential treasure trove of vintage items that are just waiting to be worn again. 

Buy Them Online

Lots of online stores actually specialize in selling vintage fashions, so these places can be a great place to start shopping. You can also search on auction likes, like eBay, to find secondhand items. Etsy is another good place to find vintage items of all kinds, including clothing and accessories. The more you start to search for vintage fashions online, the more buying options you’re going to find. 

Ask Relatives

Why not go to the people who wore this trendy clothing when it was new? Ask your older relatives what kind of old clothing they might have laying around that they wouldn’t mind getting rid of. Who knows? You might just find some rare gems hiding in the closet of someone you already know!

When Clothing Becomes Vintage

When does clothing become vintage? As soon as it is 20 years old. The miniskirt, for example, debuted in the 1960s. Any miniskirt that was made during this era is now vintage…but only until it’s a century old. 

Wearing vintage outfit red and black

There is a difference between true vintage clothing, which is clothing that was made at least 20 years ago, and clothing that is vintage style. Because the vintage trend is so hot, many designers are using old patterns to make new vintage clothing. The terms “new vintage” and “vintage style” are confusing because they have the word vintage in them but by strict definition, they are not vintage. They are simply designed to look like vintage styles from the past but they are new pieces of clothing. 

Make sure you know whether you’re buying something that is truly vintage, as compared to something that is new vintage or vintage style. Some unscrupulous sellers may even market something as vintage though it was made within the last 20 years, so be careful. Don’t pay a vintage price for an item until you know you’re buying from a reputable seller. If you find a less-than-honest seller who is selling new items of clothing as vintage, report them to a consumer group or on social media review sites so that other people know this seller is not legitimate. 

When you know what you’re looking for in vintage clothing and you know what makes something truly vintage, you have a better chance of finding the exact fashions you want, whether they’re vintage or antique or retro or made in a vintage style. And remember that whatever you have in your closet right now will be vintage in 20 years. So the next time someone tells you to clean out your closet, you tell them you’re waiting for your clothes to increase in value! If the vintage trend continues to be popular, they most certainly will. 


Carolina News & Reporter – Old is new again: How vintage fashion is now a multi-billion dollar industry

MasterClass – How to Buy Vintage Clothing: 5 Ways to Find Vintage Clothes

Who What Wear – It May Be 2021, But These 7 Vintage Trends Are Still Dominating

Wisegeek – What Is the Difference between Vintage and Retro Clothing?