The Truth About Vintage
I want to talk today about “vintage”. You’ll see many men’s sites extoll the benefits and virtues of purchasing items vintage. They say that things are cheaper. They are better made. They have more “personality”. The whole thing always struck me as a little strange. Let me explain…
There are some instances where going the vintage route makes sense to me. When I was about 24 years old and had just moved out, I went to a thrift store and found a heavy wool peacoat for about $25. I had very little money and needed a heavy coat for the NYC winters. In another instance, not too long ago, I was in a thrift store with my wife. We went to drop off some old toys that the boys no longer played with. While looking through the men’s section, I came across a navy cashmere sport coat. It was about $30. If it had been my size I might have picked it up. Both of these instances are illustrations of what I would call “normal” ways of buying vintage. Neither purchase (or hypothetical purchase) took up too much of my time or money. In the case of the peacoat, it was exactly what I needed and at a good price.
The issues I have with vintage are from the people who seem to fetishize anything that isn’t modern. It gets to a weird level. I see it mostly with hats, watches, and shoes but it applies broadly to many vintage items. I realize that years ago there were standards of production that just aren’t available now, but do you can’t seriously tell me you LIKE wearing another man’s old shoes. Or a hat with 70 year old sweat stains from some insurance salesman from Toledo, Ohio. I mean, even if these items aren’t haunted (which they undoubtedly are), isn’t it just a wee bit gross?
And trust me, I get the “cheaper” argument. We dads are always looking for ways to stretch a buck and sometimes that extra dollar can make a big difference to the family. That’s why I bought the $25 peacoat. But there is also the issue of time. Trying to find vintage items that fit you that are in good condition at a good price is very time consuming. Unless scouring sites like eBay is a hobby you enjoy, I would recommend simply waiting for deals from modern companies you like whose clothes you know already fit you.
The “better made” argument definitely has some truth to it, especially when it comes to something like hats. Hats were definitely of a higher quality felt before the mid-20th century and the difference is noticeable. It makes sense. The demand just isn’t there nowadays. But again, unless you’re a collector, just go to a shop and buy something new (for a reasonable price, of course). Just get on with your life.
The “personality” point is the one I really can’t get behind. You’ll hear people say “Oh, I always buy vintage. The items just have so many stories to tell!” But want to know what would be WAY cooler? If YOU had a bunch of stories to tell. Wearing a vintage watch that some really interesting guy wore decades ago doesn’t make YOU interesting. You don’t absorb his coolness from wearing his old junk and worshipping it like a relic. And this whole idea of buying something old simply because it’s old is a relatively new thing. Usually these fetishists are trying to revive or somehow live in the bygone days of the 30s/40s/50s. But you know what men did back then? They walked into a shop and bought something new like a normal person. They would have thought you were weird if you told them you were laying down heavy money to snap up their moth-eaten threads long after they died.
Let’s look at watches. If you are wearing an old, beat up watch because you bought it new ages ago and it has been with you all over the world, then yes, that is cool because you know the stories associated with it. If you are wearing an old beat up watch because it’s an heirloom and your grandfather bought it while he was stationed overseas, then yes, that is cool too because there is a real connection there. If you are wearing an old, beat up watch because you were the highest bidder… then it’s just an old watch.
Imagine you’re on a date.
Your date: “I like your watch.”
You: “Thanks! It’s vintage!”
Your date: “I can tell. Did your dad give it to you or something?”
You: “No, I bought it this way.”
Your date: “…Oh… well I imagine you got a good deal, then.”
You: “Haha! Nope! Not really. But look at that patina!”
Your date: “The what?”
You: “I bet the guy who owned this before me had a cool life. I imagine he was wearing it while swimming with sharks, or playing polo, or racing motorcycles!”
Your date (wishing she was on a date with THAT guy): “Yeah, I can imagine.”
Your date: “…”
You: “…the patina!”
There is nothing inherently wrong with wearing old stuff. Just don’t take it to a weird level. If you want something that has a “story to tell” then buy it new and make it YOUR story. You are your own man. You shouldn’t have to piggyback on another guy’s life to make yourself interesting.