Why should you wear vintage clothing? Here’s a few reasons.
Making the leap from new clothing to vintage can be a bit tough for some people. “What if it smells!” they say, or “I’ll look silly!”
Thankfully, washing machines and style tips exist. But if you’re looking for motivation, we here at Comma Vintage think there’s a lot more to it.
1. Vintage clothing prevents human exploitation
Consider that various American apparel brands helped lobby the Haitian government to prevent a hike in in minimum wage. Consider that Union Leaders in Bangladesh, working to prevent events similar to the Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1,000 garment workers in 2011, are regularly arrested and beaten. Consider too that the Uzbekistan government still forces millions of citizens to pick cotton every year, and only recently took efforts to reduce child labor.
Now consider that these instances are representative of countless similar stories that go untold, and that clothing manufacturing historically exploits the most vulnerable members of society whose abilities to tell their stories and affect real change are limited by forces beyond their control.
An optimist will tell you that clothing has lifted whole regions and populations from poverty. But it’s only happened at tremendous and avoidable cost. And when it happens, brands shift manufacturing to the next cheap market—from New England to the American South to China to Southeast Asia and Central America. There is no next market anymore, so brands are incentivized to exploit labor in these places for as long as possible.
Generally speaking, the labor history of mass-produced new clothing is, pardon my English and understatement, really, really, really, really, really shitty. And yes, vintage clothing is a part of that history. You can help stop repeating that history by buying less new stuff and using what’s already been made.
2. Vintage clothing prevents material waste
And that waste, literally, is the clothing itself. According to the EPA, more than 10 million tons of non-durable textile waste (e.g., clothing and linens) is put in the trash every year. That rounds out to around 60 pounds per person per year.
Wearing pre-owned clothing helps sustain recycling and reselling practices, which means a little bit less gets thrown away.
3. Vintage clothing prevents industrial pollution
The cost of making new clothes is a bit tough to quantify. Recent estimates claim apparel and footwear industries account for about 5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Apparel wraps many industries together: Agriculture and its associated machinery and chemicals to grow cotton and wool, oil extraction and refining to produce polyester, and transportation that takes the cotton grown in the United States to the weaving facility in China to the cutting facility in India to the sewing facility in El Salvador (Or some such round-about path).
Bear in mind, too, that washing synthetic fabrics is contributing greatly to microplastic waste in the oceans. And that much clothing, especially that shipped new from online stores, contains a wealth of plastic packaging, most of which is not recycled. And, of course, bear in mind that much chemical waste comes from the fabric treatment and processing, from tanning to dyeing to non-ironifying.
4. Vintage clothing prevents land and Water abuse
Cotton cultivation is among the most demanding agribusinesses. Consider, for example, that cotton accounts for 2.5% of land-use, but 16% of all insecticides and nearly 7% of all herbicides. All those chemicals have to go somewhere, and most end up in the water, or what’s left of it.
Remember the Aral Sea? It’s more or less gone now. Most of the water that fed it has been used for cotton cultivation in central Asia. The dust left behind contains high concentrations of pesticides that become airborne and poisons locals.
5. Vintage clothing prevents animal exploitation
It’s nice to believe that all our leather products are humanely sourced from beef cattle and that all our sweaters come from happy sheep otherwise bumbling around Vermont and the Midlands. Welp.
Leather is not always a byproduct of the meat industry, sheep do not always survive shearing, and ducks don’t always live a free-range life before being killed then plucked (or plucked then killed) for down.
It’s possible to source these products ethically, but it’s also true that quality wool, leather, and down products last for generations. (The same cannot be said, frankly, about a cotton poplin dress shirt.) Buy vintage to spare the life and wellbeing of a creature, and you’ll probably get a better product for doing it.
6. Vintage clothing encourages creativity
Want to see how a four and half inch polyester collar looks? Maybe the fluorescent colors on a crewneck from the Pittsfield YMCA? Or a genuinely high quality sweater vest?
Some vintage patterns, styles, and garments are simply no longer available, and no longer expected. To fit them with the rest of your wardrobe, you’ll have to examine, evaluate, and experiment.
And to experiment requires you to be creative, and creativity has very real impacts. It’s good for the mind and body, to put it bluntly. Painting or poetry might not be for everyone, but you’re probably going to get dressed either way. Make the most of it.
7. Wearing Vintage Clothing Engages with Culture
There’s a reason a vintage Nirvana t-shirt from the 1990’s sells for hundreds of dollars, and why jeans from the 1890s sell for nearly six figures. To borrow a phrase from Cake, it proves you were there, that you heard of them first. (Or you’d like to pretend as much.)
Clothing, like visual art and music and architecture, defines a culture. And unlike a painting in a museum, you can touch it, modify it, and reshape it to accommodate or criticize the contemporary.
8. Vintage clothing costs a lot less money
This one is pretty straightforward: If you walk into thrift store, you can probably buy a t-shirt, button-up, and a pair of jeans for under $15. Of course, if you’re patient, you might be able to do that at Wal-Mart or Old Navy.
The value of vintage was never exclusively about price. But if you’re looking for clothing that looks good and will last, then an informed trip to a thrift store can save you money in the long run. Even popular contemporary brands, like J. Crew, Polo, and Nike, can be found for 90% off retail. It’s possible, with some patience, to find a vintage Harris Tweed sport jacket for under $5; the least expensive new ones go for about $400.
Finding quality vintage is difficult and requires a bit of effort. Still, a vintage Levi’s trucker jacket, which in my experience will be of superior quality to the new ones, will cost half as much on eBay as buying a new one in the store.
And if you’re up to the task, you can likely get back what little money you spend. Vintage clothing holds its value—it was used when you got it, and short of a tremendous stain or rip, it will be in comparably valued condition when you sell it. It’s possible to dress well and with an updated wardrobe for only the time it takes to shop and resell.
9. Vintage clothing is often better made
There’s quite a few reasons for the higher quality of vintage clothing, and it’s a lot more complicated than “They don’t make ’em like they used to!”
A lot of it comes down to technology. Compared to fabric made with today’s fast moving industrial processes, vintage fabrics—from harvest to spinning to weaving to treating to cutting to sewing—underwent significantly less strain prior to wearing. That means they could endure more strain after purchase. Vintage shuttle looms and loopwheeler machines are flaunted by repro brands. But in their day, they were state of the art.
Maintenance made a difference, too. Few things damage clothing like a modern washer-dryer. When shopping vintage, though, it’s possible to find garments that have never met the high heat setting. They’re in better condition as a result.
Of course, people did care more, in a way. Before mass market consumerism and widespread planned obsolescence, clothes were made to last because durability drove sales. Once companies discovered they could sell the same person 5 pairs of jeans instead of 1, most shifted their manufacturing priorities accordingly or went out of business.
A simple, perhaps overlooked fact of the matter, though, is that clothes that were poorly made from crummy materials—and there were a lot!—simply didn’t last very long. What remains has stuck around for reason.
10. Vintage Clothing Ensures Unique Style
Even if you have no interest in experimentation, a wardrobe with a few vintage pieces will be different from the rest. The styles, colors, and quality of the items stand out, though it might take an informed eye to notice the subtler differences.
Here at Comma Vintage, every item we ship is one of a kind. That’s because each of our customers is one of a kind, too. We believe that wearing vintage clothing, in addition to being good for the environment, good for people, and good for the world at large, is a good way to be your truest self.