What does vintage fashion mean?

VINTAGE (adjective)

-of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality

-dating from the past

What does vintage mean?

Vintage when used to describe clothing, is a generic term used for garments from a previous era. Today vintage is not just used to describe clothing garments from a previous time period, but also encompasses accessories, shoes, handbags, etc… 

The generally accepted industry standard for the term, vintage refers to fashion created between 20 and 100 years ago (roughly from 2000 to the 1920s) and clearly reflects the popular trends of the era.

Vintage clothing can include everyday wear to haute couture fashion. Typically items over 100 years old are considered antiques. 

It is also important to note that the definition of vintage is fluid and every couple of decades or so new items are considered to be vintage. The same can be said that all vintage clothing will eventually be identified as antique as time continues on.

Classic examples of vintage trends by decade


-“la garconne” or also known as the flapper with a dropped waist and shortening hemlines

-cloche hats

-beaded/ribbon chokers or long strands of beads

-beaded handbags

-t-strap heels or oxford shoes

Style icons--Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Josephine Baker, Mary Pickford


-popular style included broad, padded shoulders, natural nipped waistline with A-line skirts

-flat-brimmed hats or Basque berets

-heavier Victorian-style jewelry made in cheaper quality materials (i.e. paste or bakelite)

-top-handle kiss-lock handbags

-t-straps, oxfords, pumps, saddle shoes

Style icons--Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford


-practical, hour-glass shapes, broad shoulders, and A-line knee-length skirts with masculine elements throughout

hats, turbans, scarves, snoods, & flower clips decorated women’s heads

-jewelry was larger, more colorful & made in materials other than the typical metals like bakelite or wood

-handbags were structural with frame tops and minimalistic in design

-peep-toe heels, loafers, oxfords, & wedge sandals

Style icons--Ingrid Bergman, Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Katharine Hepburn


-with the “new look,” the fashion emphasized femininity & formality with tea-length full-skirt dresses or slim sheath dresses & tailored suits

-small hats, headscarves, or hair flowers

-pearls, brooches, or sweater clips

-fashion houses began to create ‘it-bags’--Chanel came out with the quilted Chanel 2.55 named for the month and year it was created and Hermes created a bag that was heralded the “Kelly Bag” after Grace Kelly was seen on the 1956 cover of Life magazine

-kitten heels, saddle shoes, or stiletto heels

Style icons--Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor


-from the early 60s tailored suit dresses to short, shapeless shift dresses in bright colors & later psychedelic patterns, the latter part of the decade also brought bell-bottoms and pantsuits

-pillbox hats

-colorful and ornate jewelry or pearl necklaces similar to the 50s remained popular

-handbags were soft yet structured; Gucci’s hobo bag became an ‘it-bag’ of the period, later named the “Jackie” bag

-low heeled flats, boots or shoes made of vinyl

Style icons--Jackie Kennedy, Brigitte Bardot, Mary Quant, Twiggy


-the decade with no predominant one look/style from mini shift dresses, prairie dresses, wrap dresses, skirt suits, jumpsuits to bell-bottom jeans paired with peasant blouses and tunic tops

-bold jewels with yellow gold

-carry-all work totes to gold-tone minaudieres 

-platforms, athletic shoes, cowboy boots, Birkenstock sandals

Style icons--Farrah Fawcett, Faye Dunaway, Beverly Johnson, Olivia Newton-John


-decade of bold style, colors, and silhouettes with trends from ripped tights and biker jackets to oversized blazers and poof skirts

-from oversized hoop earrings to neon bracelets

-soft and pliable bags with popular patchwork design

-neon pumps, peep-toe heels, chunky-heeled huarache-style heels

Style icons--Madonna, Princess Diana, Grace Jones, Mollie Ringwald


-clothing took a turn for the more form-fitting look; popular clothing looks were skirt suits & pantsuits, slip dresses, overalls, crop tops, flannel shirts, etc

-hoop earrings, chain belts, choker necklaces

-Prada’s backpack or Fendi’s baguette bag were popular 90s bags

-platform sandals, jelly sandals, Steve Madden slip-ons, Dr. Martin’s combat boots, clogs

Style icons--Sarah Jessica Parker, Alicia Silverstone, Jennifer Aniston, Liv Tyler

How to buy vintage fashion? 

Are you interested in vintage clothing and want to add some items to your wardrobe? 

You can often find some great vintage finds at your local thrift store or at local estate sales. If you prefer to search online you can always check out eBay or Everything But the House. 

For designer clothing and handbags, second-hand online shops like the RealReal, Fashionphile, Treasures NYC, or What Goes Around NYC often carry vintage designer items! 

Sometimes when shopping for vintage you will hear the term deadstock used, which can mean that that item was never originally sold during the period it was created and was therefore never worn (it doesn’t necessarily mean the item is in perfect condition).

A few things to consider when buying vintage clothing, make sure to check the measurements of the piece of clothing carefully—how we size items now is often not the same as how it was done in the past! 

Also be sure, especially if buying an item online to read the description of the items’ condition, but also understand that vintage items are often not in pristine condition! 

Happy hunting for vintage finds! 



Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published