Is Your Vintage Archival, Bro?
Seasons change. Perceptions shift. If you want to be in the moment or even ahead of the curve, you’re aiming at moving targets, several at a time, perhaps. One of the cultural reckonings to come out of the early pandemic days was a kind of referendum on fashion and consumption culture. When one faces a crisis, there’s often a recalibration of what should be meaningful. People started asking, do we really need fashion shows and people flying all over the world to attend them? Saint Laurent canceled runway shows permanently. Do we really need to make this much clothing? Miuccia Prada said, “We have too much of everything.” These arguments often ignore the number of people employed in the industry and the moral arguments about denying the pursuit of one’s passion. However, at least for a brief moment, the consensus seemed to be: The Fashion Industry Needs to Chill.
Pre-pandemic there was already a movement of brands attempting to take a more ethical approach to production and consumption. One offshoot of anti-consumption sentiment was the search for more vintage and secondhand clothing. We probably don’t need to align our purchasing behavior with fashion calendars that seem to becoming more and more antiquated. A vintage piece is probably the safest way to ensure you’re not going to dress like those reading the same sites as you. It’s also a great way to find a deal. If it’s something you’ve had in the closet for years, you just scored a 100/100 on credibility.
The vintage surge has provided a new way for brands to be launched or at least a new avenue for entrepreneurs to learn about the industry. There are countless IG storefronts sourcing incredibly rare vintage items from around the world. Some, like No Maintenance, have created their own brand identity from the items they choose to source. 90s Russell hoodies and vintage Levi’s jeans or double-knee Carhartt pants are the uniform. Constant Practice sold incredibly rare Margiela cargo pants to Travis Scott and Unsound Rag has supplied vintage to Bieber and Ye.
But there’s always a high-end, “If-you-really-
Does that mean we’re collecting clothes? I remember a Finish Line employee asking me 15 years ago if I “collected” shoes. I laughed and quickly responded, “Oh, no way”. I was embarrassed at the thought. I wondered though, “How are we defining collecting?”. Where are we in that discussion today? Boxes of unworn shoes seemed like the most uncool thing possible to earlier generations. We still see pictures of bedrooms full of unworn sneakers waiting to be sold. That at least feels like working from home, I guess. If you find archival pieces from late-90s Helmut Lang or early 00’s Dunks, they’ve probably been worn so you probably don’t have to get into an un-dsing existential crisis. It’s also no coincidence that 1985 Jordan 1’s are seeing their strongest market ever, regardless of condition. In a sneaker world with seemingly more options than ever, yet so much still feeling the same, it’s an opportunity to have a shoe not inundating the shelves of resell storefronts. Anyone walking into Round Two or countless other such stores has seen the full size runs of last week’s supposed Hottest Release of the Year.
Of course brands saw the archival and vintage boom and want to get involved. No matter how seriously a brand tells you their virtues, remember there is differentiation to be had and money to be made. Levi’s is selling secondhand directly to consumers. Helmut Lang was one of the first to tap into the archival market (like retro sneakers for clothes!)..Raf Simons released his redux collection this year to mixed reception. Gucci and Ralph Lauren launched projects with The Real Real and Depop respectively.
For all the moral considerations by consumers and brands alike, consumers are often just trying to find something truly different after being subjected to the same product ads on seemingly endless social media streams. Brands are trying to find new revenue streams or maybe just survive. Perhaps the shoes or jacket that came out 10 years ago will provide a consumer comfort from everyone overpaying for the item that came out last week. Even if that item was easy to find 10 years ago at least we, the consumer, is participating in this year’s retail calendar. Maybe we can buy pieces today for the next archival boom in 20 years as a planned subversion of modern retail.. We should remember these moments can be fleeting and note many of this season’s fashion shows are still taking place largely as scheduled.