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Sustainable or a Scam?

A Look into Vintage Fashion in St Andrews

It was during my first week of classes that—whilst people-watching in Pret’s bee-hive-like “queue”—the huge vintage clothing culture amongst St. Andrews students hit me. It seemed as though whenever I complimented someone on their chic leather jacket, smart corduroy blazer or trusty mini shoulder bag, I was always met with the same dreaded three words: ‘Thanks it’s vintage’. (A phrase that you just know the owner of said item of clothing has been waiting to declare since making their purchase.) Maybe it's just me, but the smile that accompanies this statement nearly always seems to slap you in the face with a stench of superiority, as if they are rejoicing in the fact that you will never be able to possess this trendy, unique and sustainable item of clothing. Trust me, the sustainable part will never go unmentioned… In comparison, having to admit that my black and white striped turtleneck jumper is in fact from H&M (yes, you are correct, it is the one in the shop window that nearly every other girl in St. Andrews owns or has contemplated owning) feels somewhat sinful. This is especially true when talking to a member of the fast fashion police: at such a time the act of buying a jumper can seem somewhat comparable to skinning someone’s pet rabbit. As such, buying vintage clothing has emerged as not only a way to stand out and possess one of a kind pieces, but to be environmentally conscious - but just how “sustainable” is this for our bank accounts?

The question of what clothing counts as vintage is itself debatable. Although “Vintage” clothing commonly refers to all old styles of clothing, a more specific definition can refer to items made between 20 years ago and 100 years ago. (Clothes that are 100 years old or more are considered to be antique.) Since the pandemic, searches for vintage fashion have surged, with resale apps and websites such as Vestiaire Collective, Depop and Vinted becoming increasingly popular amongst 16-25 year olds. As a result of this recent traction, by 2025 the resale industry is expected to grow 11 times faster than the new clothing industry. Much of this is owed to the popularity of TV shows such as ‘Stranger Things’, that have inspired current trends, however, another explanation for this growing interest in purchasing vintage fashion amongst Millenials and Gen Z, is the recent move away from Minimalism—the aesthetic of ‘less is more’—towards Maximalism, the aesthetic of excess and eclecticism. The days of pandemic athleisure have long gone and in its place has arrived a new craving for colour, pattern and texture, as observed in the resurgence of Y2K trends and 90s nostalgia. This new wave of maximalism has also manifested itself in layering, DIY-ing and personalising clothing. This lends itself to the idea that half of the allure of shopping for vintage and second hand clothing lies in the very process of sourcing the items: in scouring the internet, local vintage stalls and markets and having to actively think about how to style the item without the guidance of a shop floor mannequin flaunting the same piece.

As a response to this new market of vintage-hungry young adults, supply has yet again met demand, and the number of “vintage” shops and sales in St. Andrews has increased exponentially over the last two years. So when embarking on a quest to spice up my own wardrobe and try my own hand at vintage shopping, I followed the swarm of my fellow vintage-obsessed freshers to none other than ‘West Vintage’, located next to Rector’s Cafe at the Student Union, which opened in September of last year. Upon entering the shop, I was immediately faced with all of Depop’s beloved buzz words: Patagonia fleeces, Miss Sixty low-rise jeans and Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren cable knit jumpers. Although this may sound like a vintage-shopper's heaven, the average spend for each of these items ranged from around £30 - £40 - a particularly high price considering the student based clientele, and piling condition of most of the clothes. In addition to this, upon inspecting between the racks and beyond the more well known branded items (and conducting a quick google search) I was met with a hilarious display of average items posing under the facade of “vintage” - cue a vast array of Hawaiian shirts and a particularly a wide selection of American University sweaters (ranging from Michigan to Texas). Furthermore, I found that most of the true vintage items could be found on eBay for a cheaper price, one pair of Alfred Dunner trousers sold for £15 at West Vintage were on sale on eBay for £6. But the cherry on the cake was the colourful sunglasses rack where retro-style sunglasses are sold for £12 each whereas a multipack can be purchased on Amazon containing 10 of the same glasses for £17.99 (approximately costing £1.80 per pair ).

As well as West Vintage, which is open seven days a week, two Vintage clothing markets have taken place at St. Andrews since the start of this semester. The first was run by Yellow Jelly Vintage on the 13th of September with free entry, and the second was hosted two days later by The Night Market UK, featuring a selection of handmade jewellery, plant and food stalls alongside vintage clothing racks. It was this latter event that proved to be the final nail in the coffin of my vintage ambitions. Unlike the first market which was free entry, the ticket prices for The Night Market were £3 - meaning that it cost money to even consider buying anything: an act that I didn't engage in for long however, after being demoralised by the £80 price tag of the first pair of trousers I laid my eyes on. Thus my time in the market was short lived since every other item I spotted thereafter that looked semi-cute was also far from within my budget. However, despite these prices, I noticed that the tidal wave of students rummaging through the clothes hangers and buying items was nonstop - just as it was at the first sale - and I couldn't help but wonder that even if one of those stalls was secretly stocked full of clothes from Primark or Shein and labelled ‘vintage’ the masses would have chewed them up regardless.

This issue of inflated vintage clothing prices is by no means exclusive to St. Andrews - when visiting Edinburgh’s infamous Armstrongs Vintage I was met with similar figures. This insatiable demand for vintage clothes - that are themselves often sourced from thrift and charity shops - regardless of their price tag, is itself leading to another problem: the gentrification of second hand clothing. Gentrification is the process whereby something once ‘owned’ by working-class individuals is taken over by the wealthy and more privileged once it becomes desirable or more trendy. This issue is precisely what has been seen on Depop over the last few years, where sellers - who are mostly between the ages of 18 and 30 - are profiting hugely from reselling items that they have bulk-bought in large quantities from charity shops.

So where does this leave us? Amongst the sea of North Face puffer jackets, Adidas Sambas and Longchamp handbags (I will admit to owning one of these three items) it is refreshing to see individuality and creativity stand out, but ultimately we shouldn’t have to dip into our savings account to do so. Especially if that means spending the same amount of money on a “vintage” sweater (that you could probably find on eBay or in a charity shop for much cheaper) as you would on a month and a half’s Pret subscription. So let us not be dazzled by the bright lights of the word “vintage” and instead research into what it is we are truly buying before blindly tapping our debit cards.

Illustration: Lauren McAndrew

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