How vintage clothing could help teens understand aging

‘Vintage’ and ‘retro’ were once terms strictly limited to the hipster universe, but now they seem to be buzz words that are surprisingly applicable to any number of eBay items and/or anything with a remotely weathered appearance. Marketing ploys set aside, I think there’s more to the revival of vintage than purely aesthetic choices.

Of course the vintage aesthetic has plenty to offer, from femininity to sophistication, but I find it interesting how the popularity of vintage clothing seems most appealing to the masses of teenagers that pour into local thrift stores. I’m sure there’s plenty of vintage enthusiasts at all ages, but, in my experience, the retro craze seems to owe much of its popularity to those under the age of thirty.

At first I found it bewildering that so many teens, myself included, could be so attracted to the hallmarks of an era they had little ties to. The charm of vintage clothing relies on a warmth to nostalgia, something that teenagers can’t relate well to since they are in their youth. But then, I thought, maybe vintage clothing helps teens wrap their minds around the abstract concept of aging. Maybe somewhere in the recesses of their minds there is an ache for the days before high school, or a knowingness that high school can’t last forever.

It seems too simple an explanation though, and one that would require a dose of self-awareness, a skill some teens might not possess. There is so little nostalgia teenagers have to work with; the better part of their lives is still ahead! There was something much more innate or natural about their gravitation towards old-fashioned items. I was contemplating this when my friend said:

“I love the ‘20s. I wish I could have lived then.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it just seemed to be so glamorous. And happy! It just seemed like teenagers in the ‘20s had such a good time and knew how to have fun.”

My friend owned a growing collection of ‘20s memorabilia, and I couldn’t help thinking her affinity for the era reflected a deeper concept that could be applicable to the vintage trend. Obviously, time machines don’t exist. We can’t return to the past to ask older generations of teenagers for advice or comradery, nor can we participate in their activities. But we can get a glimpse into their world, through vintage clothing. Vintage items are almost a way to communicate with past generations of teenagers while still leaving plenty to the imagination.

My friend’s comment revealed another reason for the popularity of vintage clothing: The idea of a golden age. Like I said, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to time travel, but the glamor and glory of decades passed are constantly waved at us — as well as the wisdom past generations had that “kids today just don’t get.” It’s as if we’re programmed to think that there was a better time than the present; despite the YOLO culture surrounding us, our elders incessantly criticize us for our birth date. Vintage clothing is a way to hang onto a piece of the glory days: a way to show that we know what class is, but also a shout out, a reminder that we were all young once.

Most interestingly of all, vintage clothing wearers often modify the garment — adding buttons or making modifications. I feel that this best exemplifies the youth’s view of time and aging: We know this time is short-lived and fleeting, but we’re going to make it ours.

(Image via Shutterstock.)