Why buy ‘modern’ vintage?

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Rag Parade in Sheffield sells quite a lot of ‘modern’ vintage clothing (let’s call it 1980 onwards, for the sake of argument) as well as more standard militaria and workwear from earlier decades. 

I was interested to know what the appeal was. 

After all, I like vintage clothing largely for the patina of age - how the garments have worn and gained character over time. More recent clothing has less of that, and is more often made of synthetics that don’t age in the same way.

That’s also affected by lower quality. For example, in our last article on Rag Parade I was comparing Trialmaster jackets from different decades. One of the problems with later ones was that the hardware was plastic, not brass, and so didn’t really get a patina - it was just flat, and occasionally chipped.

That’s why brands like The Real McCoy’s recreate old sporting or work clothing: because the quality was often better. Not always, and there was no fancy handwork; it just tended to have good hardware like that, or denser, hard-wearing materials. 

One other reason for an interest in vintage, however, is design - and it’s this that is often the appeal with more recent clothing. 

I bought a 1950s cotton Harrington last year - from Levison’s - largely based on the cut. It was quite short in the body, but also very big in the back, with a huge amount of fullness when the waist was fastened tightly. 

For just the same reason, I’d love to own a piece of Armani tailoring from his prime. It might be thirty years later, or even from the 1990s, but I’d appreciate the design history. I’m envious of a coat Tony owns from that era, which he wrote about when discussing 1980s Armani on PS

So when Jojo at Rag Parade talks about a piece in his shop like the Stone Island coat below, the core reason behind its appeal is the unique design - the touches like the dropped back and the stripes created by wax-resist dyeing. And as a result, the place it has in Massimo Osti’s oeuvre, who was famous for his innovation in garment dying and later stone washing. 

I wouldn’t wear the coat, but that’s because it’s not my style. 

It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it, and understand why others would not just like it but revere it - and pay good money for rare examples. 

For it’s important to say that this isn’t the same as just liking 1980s or 1990s style, as many have begun to in recent years. Most people buying second-hand clothes for that reason are not collecting unique designs - they just like the look. (And at least initially, they like it because the clothes are plentiful and cheap, rather than rare and expensive.)

The Moncler jacket above isn’t quite my thing either. But when I talk to someone for whom it is, I understand how it represents a particular middle-class French style, of a particular era. 

“The colour blocking really dates it,” says Jojo. “And the sheer practicality - the cinch on the outside, when today it would be hidden away, and all those external pockets. 

“Those pieces were great: all made in France, with minimal branding. You can just picture the French guy on his balcony looking down the mountain, wearing massive sunglasses.”

Moncler, of course, was bought by Remo Ruffini in 2003, and it’s often this kind of change of ownership that seals a particular era of design, as the brand takes a hard turn one way or other. 

(Ironically, more recently Moncler also bought Stone Island, in 2020.)

Jojo and I also spent some time talking about trainers, like the blue Adidas above. 

Apparently, you can spot vintage trainers by the fact that yellowed glue seeps out of the edges of the sole, as you can see here. 

I find nothing appealing in that, but I do understand how unusual those old designs are. The Nikes usually have thin uppers and soles, still designed more like track spikes than jogging shoes. 

“And I love the simplicity of these Adidas,” says Jojo. “There’s a bit of a scrubber vibe to them, simpler, no fuss. There’s no finesse to the make - they were really churning them out - but they often used more natural materials, and I like that it’s not an iconic style.” 

One thing modern vintage has in common with classic menswear is that it’s hard to escape a little snobbishness. And with trainers, that comes from wearing something no one else has, or even recognises, despite so many people wearing something similar. 

A final piece Jojo picked out was the Armani Jeans jacket below. 

Again, there’s nothing special from a quality point of view, but the design is interesting: a late 1980s reworking of a chore jacket, which manages to feel both very vintage and very eighties, somehow. 

“I think in the 1980s it would have felt very modern - their version of going back to workwear and reinterpreting it, just as other brands do now,” says Jojo. “But the Armani take is cool and subtle. Unlike someone like Paul Smith, who would just have added a gimmick like a floral pattern under the cuffs.”

The jacket actually used to belong to Jojo’s gran, and he found it in her attic a few years ago. “She was a punk back in the day, and collected so many great clothes over the years, through the 1970s and 1980s,” he says.  

I’m sure most of this clothing won’t appeal to most readers. After all, one of the defining aspects of classic menswear is clothing that is simpler, subtler, and not overtly design-driven. These clothes are about fashions as well as creativity. 

But I find it interesting in the same way I find reading about doublets and hose interesting. They’re irrelevant as far as clothes I actually wear are concerned. But it’s all clothing, all context. 

So hopefully this piece will have been interesting to many, and can perhaps be simply filed away, under something understood. 

Rag Parade is @ragparadesheffield on Instagram. There is also a dedicated account for contemporary vintage, @contemporary_ragparade 

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StuartR

Really interesting..certainly one thing I find with vintage “outdoor” clothing, such as the Moncler, is that it has much more pleasing colour-ways. Also often a more practical fit – modern iterations tending to be far too short, high waisted and fitted.

And

I hate current neon-colored outdoor clothing, even though they say it has its practical use in emergencies

Peter Hall

I had exactly that pair of Adidas trainers in the 80s and remember often repairing the soles with domestic glue (from Woolworths). It was always the sole that used to detach after standing in rain. It was a look, Harrington jacket, black Fred Perry, Levi’s and Adidas trainers.

Peter Hall

Its always the extremes that are mentioned in fashion histories, but for most men, since the 50s it’s conservative shirts, knitwear, jeans and boots (or trainers) that are ‘the daily style’
Winkle-pickers, teddy boys,punks and glam etc are now regarded as costume.

Charles

I completely agree peter, and I think it’s a good point. It’s easy to think of the 1970s as flower power and full austin powers. It really wasn’t for everyone.
I look back at photos of myself in the 1990s and it’s really not that different to me now, as I’m fairly classic in my style (dark jeans, boots etc.). The only real change is the fit and extremes. The baggy stuff went in the bin along with anything with a big logo.

Personally, I’m probably just buying things in my 40s that I wanted in my 20s and just got a levi trucker jacket, with the furry lining. I would have killed for that at 19!

Gary Mitchell

Maybe its just the ‘saudades’ for what we were when we were there. I used to think old men dressed in jackets, shirts, ties to watch TV because that was the uniform of the old until I worked out that it was only the clothes they were used to. As with the nowadays oldest swinger in town, he is not dressing ‘young’ as such, he is just continuing to dress as he always did. I look down now with some shock….at my desert boots, 501’s, Harrington and sweatshirt and realise I am doing just the same. That being said, I am wearing today’s versions of yesterdays staples and so its John Lofgren, Orslow, Private White VC and Real McCoy rather than Clarkes, Levis, Baracuta and whichever sweatshirt. Some things change yet never change. Echoing your final comment, my little sister works at Beamish Museum in the North East and she tells me they now have a 1950’s street which makes sense as when I visit I enjoy to look at the 1920’s so it makes perfect sense for todays youth wanting to look at the 1950’s. Be a strange world if we all liked the same thing but for me, it would seem I’m not changing anytime soon.

Aaron

I absolutely agree with you on this. Something I’ve been searching for that I feel counts as this is a specific bit of outdoor wear – a 60/40 mountain parka, particularly one with buttons like this. It’s nigh-on impossible to find them nowadays, most new ones that have the look are 100% polyester and use velcro. So, not just designs but sometimes slightly unusual ‘performance’ cloths that are no longer made.

Kev F

Aaron, you might look at Grenfell, Hilltrek, Frahm and other firms making Ventile and similar cloths for buttoned parka styles.

Kev F

Seeing “outdoor” clothing in vintage shops and on here reminds me that so many companies start off making quality, durable and functionally effective clothes and footwear. Then when successful companies get taken over or expand into more “fashionable” lines; that’s when the quality plummets, the hideous logos and writing appear and the products cannot do what they originally intended. I can think of a number of firms that have gone down this line. The current fashion for outdoor themed clothing and footwear doesn’t help; pale imitations of the proper thing. Designer climbing boots are a particular bugbear of mine – if you really want to wear the things at the pub or shopping centre buy a decent pair at a fraction of the price.

StuartR

An example of this happening with the “original” Mountain Equipment
https://www.phdesigns.co.uk/a-profile-of-peter-hutchinson

BenM

The PHD stuff is the real deal! Cracking quality, MTM if you like but a strong 90s climber aesthetic. If you carry on like this we’ll see Buffalo on PS which would be a turn up for the books.

Jamie

I’m sort of baffled that you are having to explain this. Have readers stated they don’t understand? I don’t see the appeal of so called ‘modern vintage’ to really be any different to the appeal of any other vintage. For me it’s the design or unusual element of fabric, construction hardware etc that is the main appeal of vintage. So called Patina plays a part but it’s secondary. This article sounds like a young person trying to explain to their grandad why something that is less than 50 years old can still good and worth giving time to. I think their must be a serious lack of understanding of the modern world and youth culture amongst readers If they don’t understand this. Not everything needs to be hand made from tweed and cordovan to be good.

Clive

Simon are you being poetic when you refer to fabrics acquiring a patina? The word relates to a build up on a surface; fabric actually wears, which is the opposite.
And how does vintage clothing fit the PS ethos of the best?
Thanks

Charles

Hi Simon, I’m with Clive on this one. I can buy patina for watches and shoes. For clothes, it’s wear. I just don’t want an old jacket.

Charles

I don’t really see patina as wear, but aging and general “character”. So, patina – when it comes to to leather or watches – adds history and character. I love a slightly faded rolex, and a briefcase with some scars. But on clothes, its just scrappy. I’m not paying money to look a mess. “Great things aging” just can’t equate to a shiny battered barbour, no matter how “vintage” it is, it looks awful. Maybe I could forgive one item in my wardrobe, but in general, it’s a no.

Clive

So are you saying the patina on your shoes results from the leather being worn down as you polish? I thought it was the build up of fine layers over time.
I have never thought of a vintage anorak or pair of trainers having anything to do with luxury, but I am willing to learn.

Jamie

Quality isn’t everything. A garment can have significant cultural, historical, social or stylistic value without being top quality or indeed even good quality. We all love quality but I think it’s important to have some perspective. Quality is not the be all and end all. If quality were the sole means by which we judge things then everyone would look very dull. I really appreciate Jojo’s perspective and honesty that really comes across on the coverage of him. He doesn’t get caught in the trap of elitism. If it’s good it’s good – forget About having a strict And constricted set of criteria against which to judge these things.

Podrig

I agree with the comment about JoJo. Just saw on his IG today that they are collecting and donating clothes for local homeless people. What a great initiative. Independent business’s take note (including this one). I can’t image Ragparades revenue is especially high however they still find time for things like this. Bravo!

SVT

Quality is a perspective as such. Further long-term use to satisfy one’s attitude and attitude towards nature. Quality does not reject cultural, historical value, and sometimes, on the contrary, confirms it over time.
This article just says that quality is not the last point in understanding the purpose of clothing. I myself like to buy inexpensive goods, if this is price-quality and will last a long time.

Anonymous

Simon: Curious to see what your thoughts are on the UK vendors e.g Oldfield Outfitters, Thomas Farthing, Stanley Biggs, and SJ Cathcart who are re-creating clothes based on the designs from the 30’s/40’s? I would think that they have enough clients or they wouldn’t be able to sustain their business. BTW love your parting comment closing the Ivy symposium back in NYC a few years back; something akin to “One should have fun with clothes”. So true. Thanks for your blog. It’s a treat.

Stephen S

As always an interesting read. I think for older generation (I’m likely at the upper end!) it’s more about an element of nostalgia than anything else. For the younger generation more a romantic view of the past, having not lived through it. Similarly this can apply to books, comic books, furniture etc. Price therefore driven by rarity, a degree of self generating hype and thereby associated demand.
That said – I expect most readers will disagree – to me it’s all just second hand clothes. Even the musty smell of the shops on the odd occasion I’ve entered inside is off putting, so I’ll pass.
All the best and to all readers have good weekend.

Dr Peter

Nice piece, Simon. For me, vintage/classic clothing ticks all the boxes when it comes to militaria. I have three or four US Army field jackets: An M-43 (WWII vintage) an M-51 (Korean war, NOS) and two M-65 ((Vietnam war, one worn, the other NOS). I have had these for quite a while and pride of place goes to the M-51. This has a regular shirt-style collar as opposed to the M-65s which have rounded collars.
The M-51 was in mint condition when I picked it up on eBay, after some strong bidding, for just under $80 — I felt it was an absolute bargain.The quality is outstanding throughout and all the bits and bobs — the details that make the coat so attractive — are there. No tears or stains since it was unworn, and now acquiring a nice patina slowly, because of my own wear. The most amazing thing about these US Army field jackets is how light they feel and yet how much protection they offer against the elements, especially cold — I should know, I live in Wisconsin!

Fernando

Hey Simon when I hear someone talk about these very expensive repro brands I always wonder if the original pieces were of the same high quality. Did normal vintage clothes match the quality of a 200€ hoodie real mccoys one? It surely a 655€ M65 jacket must be higher quality than the original. What’s your take on this

Stephen S

Thanks a very comprehensive explanation of what sometimes appear exorbitant pricing. Pricing which is worth it, if it’s worth it to oneself.

Fernando

Hmm I see thank you for the insight

WES WP

I wonder – to what extent such shops and sub-cultures further the fetishization of our (collective) erstwhile clothes? A few thoughts:

1. Vintage (modern or otherwise) stock is often the result (if these photos are any indication) of clothes that have outlived their full utility. Yes – you can be Prince Charles with massive, visible mending patches on your suits (or Moncler logos), or you can drive your car until the wheels fall off, and then send said car to the scrap heap. I much prefer the latter.

2. Modern advancements in fabrications — tech fabric, lightweight, waterproof, stretchy, etc. — have made my clothes much more enjoyable to wear.

3. It’s often fairly disgusting: I made the terrible mistake of buying a “vintage” vest on Ebay last year and I found (when I got the garment in person) sweat-stains and neck oils. Many men wear cologne (it’s almost never a good idea, but, hey, that’s a personal thing), and that cologne or heavy deodorant gets deep inside the garment. It’s the “Seinfeld-BMW-effect” (where a parking valet’s body odor has forever stained Jerry’s car interior).

https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/161d0a41-dd52-40f7-96af-fbd66922021c

I’ve given away, sold, or thrown away some really wonderful vintage pieces because the former owner’s (or owners’) not-so-wonderful-it’s-a-subjective-thing-smell has corrupted the garment.

4. To the extent that we’re fetishizing:
Men’s Precious – a Japanese magazine that I probably learned about here on PS – has a feature called “Precious Objects” – a centerfold spread of trousers and watches and socks and sport coats bathed in a kind of halo lighting. It took me a while to “get this” concept through my thick skull — but that kind of amplifying and spotlighting (or fetishizing) is ever good.

In the end, we salivate over these “grail” items. We become nostalgic in a bad way. We falsely believe that no coat, or sneaker, or sweater could ever replicate the magic of the old ones. There’s no pair of trainers…there’s no jumper…that could ever recapture the glory days of what I wore in high school or university.

It’s the kind of thinking that makes us covet that first Heidi Slimane collector for X, or Y…that “perfect fitting” pair of this or that.

It makes us spend $600 for dead stock Nikes when they’re really not, quite frankly, $500 better than the stuff they’re making today.

It’s emotional. It’s not actual (in most cases).

Clothing should make us feel good. It should make us look good.

To think that the new stuff can’t accomplish those things is not particularly useful (to me), and I’ve found that nothing could be further from the truth (for me).

I would never trade what I have now for the old. It would be going backwards in all ways.

It would be trading a straightjacket for a flexible, princely robe.

And in terms of sustainability, I think much of the USP about vintage is a falsehood: https://www.fastcompany.com/90290795/focusing-on-how-individuals-can-stop-climate-change-is-very-convenient-for-corporations

Yes, we should all do more to reduce our carbon footprint, but if we all shopped vintage (exclusively) would it make a difference? Perhaps (and perhaps it would be the fart in the windstorm). But we don’t. Even those of us who shop vintage don’t “only” shop vintage. It’s just another thing we buy along with all of the other things we buy (in terms of our clothing consumption). It may be (in some cases) a kind of virtue signaling that makes us feel better about ourselves, and allows others to think highly of us in the process.

You’ve probably covered this six-ways-to-Sunday, Simon, so I’m sorry if this is redundant, but I think about bespoke tailors who travel by plane to their international fittings. I would imagine Cifonelli has been flown by private jet to Dubai or the UAE. And there is “sartorial travel” — journeying to the Rubinacci estate for five days (you leave with a suit, or two, or three). Isaia has a “wardrobe creation” vacation – you get your entire closet outfitted by the end of the trip, and you spend part of it on a luxury yacht while you wait for the MTM items to be created.

Yes, fast fashion is the real problem, but all consumption is problematic, and vintage (new, old, modern, or hideously funky) is not really a solution.

WES WP

I hear you, Simon, but too many of us would identify with Macklemore at 4:08: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G1GMJiMtds
The entire menswear, style and fashion industry is built on fetish (or it has become that), and whether we worship Supreme, Rick Owens, Brioni, Moncler, Nike, or another label, it’s still obsession.
And I think that vintage has (wrongly) become synonymous with “sustainable.”
Even in this post – Moncler has been romanticized the same way that Caruso uses mid-century photographs of men in safari jackets, standing on balconies, in its print advertisements. It’s all marketing.
I admire Alessandro Sartori (for instance) who has a massive vintage collection, but (in his case) it’s almost entirely for creative inspiration. He revamped Berluti using vintage inspiration, and he’ll continue to do the same at Zegna: using the past to move forward (instead of just circle back, doggedly and/or obsessively).
Satori has a real justification to fill his spaces with vintage clothing.
And does one need a justification? I do. That doesn’t mean others do, but given how many clothes we already own, well…

Stephen

I tend to agree WES, please see my earlier post. Ultimately they are second hand clothes.

Bernard Tominey

I’m sorry to join the dissenting voices here about your use of the word patina. Using your version, it would mean the paintwork on my Austin Allegro has acquired a patina, whereas in reality it is just old.
And why do you always lecture people if they don’t share your view? Earlier somebody posted that they agreed with another poster, and your reply was “ I don’t think you do agree with…” adopting the position of your argument being categorically right and others being less worthy of consideration.

Bernard Tominey

Thanks. So can we at least agree that patina suggests that something has acquired an appearance of elegance and grace it did not have when it was new? This being the case, it cannot be used to define items of clothing, which can of course only look older and a bit battered? The POW’s patched clothes do not, by any stretch, have a patina.

SVT

This is a very harsh post, but there is some truth in it. 1) partially agree 2) only under certain conditions 3) this is a bad attitude of the seller 4) N/A
As a result: an excellent opinion, to be, not to seem.

George

Simon i watched the link of the armani 80s and also liked the coat a lot. Do you know of any tailor who could make something like that ?

Tony H

I’m always amazed when people get down on vintage in the comments.
Vintage is great if it makes you feel great. I like second-hand things because they can inspire you to think about the way you dress in new ways, and to do it differently.
There’s also something about the lack of choice that I find oddly appealing – there won’t be three or four different sizes or options, and if the next the person into the shops buys it there won’t be another.
There are lots of ways for clothes to be fun, and new suits from Saville Row is only one of them.

Mathieu

Moncler parkas from 70s and 80s are so cool. Very versatile. They keep you warm and you look good while walking the dog on a cold day or having a drink with friends and even on a posh St.Moritz apres ski party you will look hip because everybody else has ugly shiny new ones.

Alexandre

Simon,
it would be very nice if you write a post, a slogan, etc. in support of Ukraine. My city, Kharkiv, is under shelling now.

Philip Gilbert

Hi Simon,
I am possibly better placed to comment on buying vintage / secondhand clothing than many.
6-months ago I started looking at vintage / secondhand Armani. As I was an original, and regular Armani customer from 1977-95, I had a grounding in the subject, knew the styles / cuts / fabrics. From outset I decided I would only buy “black label”, however I have deviated twice times as trousers older than 10-years are very difficult to source.
To date I have purchased around 10-jackets (winter/summer), 2 raincoats (1 trench,1 raglan), 2 overcoats (1 wool / alpaca trench, 1 classic in cashmere, 2 suits. These are all with the label “Giorgio Armani via Borgonuovo 21 – Milano”, which ran from 1985-2005 as part of the JV with Vestimenta.
Except for the overcoats nothing cost over £100, indeed some jackets were £20-40.
As I acquired more, I found myself more interested in the newer collections. Not for tailoring but for casual pieces. I have spent the last 3-months buying shirts, knitwear (long and short sleeved), trousers, and a Mao collared cardigan jacket. Some have been new from Yoox, all other pieces sourced from eBay.
Initially, I had planned to buy less and keep more of what I would describe as “sartorial clothes”. However, I quickly realised that what I had bored me, it was time to move on. I have been selling almost my entire old wardrobe which has pretty much covered what I have spent relacing it.
Other than the need for change, there was the fact that my wife never liked what I had been buying. Also, post-covid, I felt it was the time for more a more relaxed look. The cut and fabrics used in old and new Armani collections achieve this, there is a fluidity that gives drape and comfort whilst still being elegant.
In some ways there is an overlap with what I was wearing, the cardigan jacket is an alternative to a shawl-collared cardigan, overshirts come with zips more like a blouson but, perhaps, more contemporary.
I have only bought two items that weren’t Armani, one was a cashmere polo coat from Brioni, the other a brown suede bomber from Lanvin.
Very happy to share more detail if people are interested.
Philip 

Jojo Elgarice

Hi Everybody,

I wasn’t go to join this discussion but feel I may need to dip my toes in the water. Firstly some of the most durable and best made jackets Belstaff ever made actually came out in the 1990’s/early 2000’s. Sometimes quality/style isn’t always about the garment even, for me it’s also very much how you carry yourself and also how you wear it. 

Far too often we see a suit wearing the person and the person not wearing the suit. 

For some background information we’ve sold thousands of pairs of the best bespoke (and ready to wear) shoes from makers from all parts of Europe and the UK, we’ve been lucky enough to handle pairs by the best maker of all time too which really is quite something. I know quite a lot about tailoring and we’ve sold a large quantity of suits from makers like Tommy Nutter, Huntsman, Henry Poole etc but if i’ll be quite honest unless the design is particularly astonishing and the quality is incredible then it doesn’t overly excite me. We used to have a Savile Row trained Tailor taking fittings at the shop, she trained at Gieves & Hawkes for 12+ years and is now based in Hull. It’s not that we’re not interested in this sort of stuff, it’s just not really our thing currently. 

I like the points some of you are making, in particular Jamie where he says that things don’t have to always be of extreme quality to be good. I’d have to fully agree with this. Sometimes you fancy the best cut of steak and sometimes a burger and fries will happily fill the hunger. As you slip into your Turnbull & Asser robes tonight gentlemen I personally suggest that you open your minds slightly and think just past your attaché cases as Style, Culture & Fashion is about diversity and mixing things up. I like clothing from all eras + styles and after physically raking the corners of the earth looking for old kit it helps to keep it interesting. Rules are there for breaking, mix it up a little chefs.

Peace out. Jojo x