Vintage Fashion 101: “Vintage” versus “vintage-inspired”

Vintage Versus Vintage-Inspired: How do these terms differ?

What is the difference between "vintage" and "vintage-inspired"?

My tag line is “vintage-inspired handmade jewelry for the soul who is in love with the past, wholeheartedly lives in the present and embraces the future.”
Vintage fashion is something I’ve been fond of for a very long time. That is why transitioning from creating beaded bookmarks into creating handmade pieces of vintage-inspired jewelry was a smooth one.
But what does “vintage-inspired” mean?
To be honest, it wasn’t until recently – about a year ago – that I realized that my own definition wasn’t so black and white. I realized that the term “vintage” meant different things to different people, including both professionals and day-to-day vintage enthusiasts.
While “vintage” may be defined differently from person to person, their definitions often harmonize.
Definitions are important, especially in the beginning, when we are trying to figure out if what we mean is, in fact, what we are trying to say.
In this post, I’ll be attempting to expand on the subject with the help of more reputable sources.

Covered In This Post

Vintage vs. Vintage-Inspired Info-graphic
Vintage Inspired Earrings
Vintage Inspired Earrings by Kaleidoscopes And Polka Dots

Vintage In The Fashion Industry

Trusty Wikipedia defines “vintage” as a colloquialism commonly used to refer to all old styles of clothing.
This blog post titled “What Makes it Vintage? One Seller’s Thoughts.” written by Shannon Letizi from Shop We McGee explains:

The generally-accepted industry standard is that anything made at least 100 years ago is "antique", anything made at least 20 years ago (nearly 2000!) is "vintage". That's an 80-year window which encompasses huge changes in the global fashion-scape.

Ashley Kane echoes that definition in a blog post published in liveaboutdotcom titled “What is the definition of Vintage Clothing?” She writes:

The term "vintage" is used to describe clothing between 20 and 100 years old that is also clearly representative of the era in which it was produced. It could be said that to be called vintage, the piece should strongly reflect styles and trends associated with that era.

Notably, both Ashly Kane and Shannon Letizi work with cloths.

Vintage In Interior Design

In the YouTube video titled – One Kings Lane: What is Vintage? – several design professionals from One Kings Lane, a home décor and luxury furniture store, define “vintage” in their own words, and their definitions differ from those of Ashly Kane and Shannon Letzi.   

It’s a great open word, “vintage.” You know, it really represents things that you find; the serendipity of the found object.

Peter Dunham, One Kings Lane Tastemaker

There isn’t sort of a one line definition and it does come down to – it’s a point of view. It’s about personality. It’s about an energy…

Malcolm Kutner, One Kings Lane Tastemaker

My Own Definition Of Vintage

My definition of “vintage” is something that appears to be from a different era, something most likely cared for and used by someone older and wiser than me. I don’t expect it to be a certain amount of years old. I don’t expect it to look a certain way, or for it to be expensive. I mostly hope it shows signs of use and love.
Day of The Dead Bookmarks
Handmade Bookmarks By Kaleidoscopes And Polka Dots

With these definitions in mind, how would we answer the following questions?

  • What is vintage fashion?
  • What counts as vintage fashion?

I would argue that it depends.

Before committing to an answer, I would ponder over the following questions:

  • When was this vintage item made?
  • How representative of the era is this vintage piece?
  • What about garments made from vintage fabric in modern times – would these pieces count as “vintage fashion”? (Shannon Letizi, who sells vintage clothing at Shop We McGee, posed this last question.)

Clearly, there is a lot to unpack when it comes to defining “vintage.”

I would argue that ultimately, it comes down to how do you define it. What makes the most sense to you and your goal?

Home designers may be focused on establishing a feeling specific to an era, rather than on recreating a space that perfectly matches the period. In contrast, many of us fashion enthusiasts are determined to know and understand what period we are trying to recreate.

What Is "Vintage-Inspired"?

Vintage-Inspired As Defined In The Fashion Industry

It may seem silly to pose this question. Still, a few years ago, I looked up this definition because it seemed like an oxymoron when paired with the term “handmade.”
To me, the term “handmade, when used to describe a product, signified that it was made within the last few years. In contrast, the term “vintage” meant something created in the past – handmade or not.
What I found when I tried to make sense of this term is that “vintage-inspired” is often synonymous with “modern vintage” or with “retro style.” However, the definitions for each of these terms vary slightly and yet share a few commonalities. These include:
  • Pieces are all made in modern times
  • Pieces are generally made with modern equipment
  • Pieces tend to be mass-produced in China
The popular vintage blog, Vintage Dancer, further defines “vintage-inspired” as “new vintage style clothing mostly from the 1930s to the 1970s.”
The writers at Wikipedia further observe that vintage clothing retains its value, and could even increase in value given that each garment is genuinely from a past era. On the other hand, “vintage-inspired” items are generally more affordable and readily available in a wide range of sizes. This is due to their mass production and lower quality.
While we’re on the topic of sizing, it’s important to note that true vintage sizes are quite different from modern sizes. This article from Bellatory outlines the differences seamlessly. Basically, vintage sizes are at least four sizes smaller than current sizes, and the older the garment, the more you may need to adjust.

Vintage-Inspired As Defined In Graphic Design

The term vintage is often understood to mean actual designs and items that were produced in the past, whereas retro is typically used to refer to modern designs that emulate these older designs.

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Conclusion

I stand by my tagline.
I sell “vintage-inspired” pieces, handcrafted by me.
Studying fashion history inspires my work. As a result, there are no exact replicas but rather a lot of vintage inspiration.
These are not mass-produced pieces readily available to ship. If they are ready to ship, it’s because I have carefully created a few extras, which is my process.
At the moment, my designs are strongly influenced by the eras of the 1920s through the 1950s. This could change in the future because the more I learn about fashion history, the more I fall in love with the elements of each era.
I hope you love my work and this article.
If you’d like to reach out to me, email me at lovealways@kaleidoscopesandpolkadots.com.
Jessica Gibson

Jessica Gibson

Headmistress of Kaleidoscopes And Polka Dots.

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