Why buy ‘modern’ vintage?
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.