By Tanya Silverman
Photo courtesy of Garry Knight.
A rugged, hand-cut-off pair of blue jeans hangs amongst dozens of other cut-off shorts (formerly mass-produced, mid-range denim pants), which are crammed horizontally beneath a hand-written sign that indicates they are $10 per piece. The cut-offs are presented in a playfully angsty shop with bright fluorescent lighting and skidded tile floors that stocks various worn-in suede boots and biker jackets.
An elegant, transparent, 1920s sheer baby blue silk dress embroidered with delicate white flowers hangs in a boutique gracefully amongst other classical ladies’ wear, each piece holding paper tags labeled by a four-digit number (to indicate the decade of manufacture) and another digit somewhere in the hundreds (to indicate price).
A thick, clear glass bottle of root beer, wrapped in a paper label of orange argyles, is spiced by birch, anise, wintergreen and sassafras, with poppy copy text on the label that describes the drink as natural, vegan, and connotatively healthy (being sweetened with cane sugar). This particular soda is stacked on a shelf with several other artisanal carbonated beverages, which are sold alongside creative hummus and regionally inspired dairy products in a national chain grocery store.
A robust, succulent dark glass bottle of 2006 Malbec sits above a hand-written description card that likens its taste to leather but its scent to plums (and also recommends pairing it with a grilled steak or lamb flank). Amongst other red wines of other years, locales and grape varieties, it waits to be sold in a spacious fine-wine business with high ceilings lined by red and white bottles of regarded sophistication.
What do all these drawing and indulgent consumer products have in common?
They are all, in some form, vintage.
I’ve discovered these designated items throughout various parts of New York City. Living in such a densely-populated urban metropolis that hosts and trades a higher volume of products than entire countries combined, I’ve personally noticed the “vintage” description disseminating throughout various markets.
Perhaps the vintage trend has to do with the fact that, as much as we may try to keep with the times, time itself only goes forward, generating a larger amount of remaining artifacts and ideas from the past.
“Vintage. Consumers are looking for anything that reminds them of slower, more stable times,” says National Sales Manager for Emerging Markets at Syndicate Sales, Kelvin Frye to Produce News. “Clothing stores and home accessory retailers are now catering to the vintage movement.”
In terms of fashion, “vintage” has to do with items that are classic, of a particular era or from a collection that has distinct characteristics.
As there have been countless stylistic periods in history, ‘vintage’ thereby applies to a wide array of items and eras. One particular vintage outlet could host a collection of thoughtfully hand-picked items, from pink polka-dot dresses of the ‘50s to purple paisley blouses of the ‘70s, to the pale plaid shirts reminiscent of the ‘90s.
Specialized vintage boutiques often adhere to timely trends, such as the recent ‘80s revival, where stores focused their merchandise selection on things like high-rise stonewash jeans or bulky shoulder-pad jackets. Merchandisers can just as well go for the ‘20s look, presenting accessories like flapper hats, cutesy ribbons and pointy glasses to shoppers. Such decade-based envy naturally fosters entirely separate styles, but the fact that each era’s items were manufactured in the past qualify them as vintage.
In terms of food and drinks, “vintage” has other connotations. Actually, the foremost meaning of this word has to do with wine — the yield of grapes from a particular vineyard or season or the first stages of wine making.
So, you could say a Pinot Grigio is a Veneto vintage or a Pinot Noir is a 2004 vintage.
As for an artisanal root beer, I doubt that this beverage has ever been produced in an esteemed year or area. I assume the purpose of its “vintage” label is playing on the consumer trend that has become marketable to unrelated commodities. Labels that distinguish root beer as “vintage” could be intended to touch upon people’s perception that food nowadays is enormously processed, laced with genetically modified corn and soy products — or maybe vintage is just synonymous with cool for some people at this point.
While a vintage root beer may not have been graciously aging in its bottle for a decade to become more delectably refined over its course, this beverage could work to satisfy the soda connoisseur’s craving for a more craftily spiced, wholesomely sweet selection that possibly existed in the past.
Vintage can also be applied to cheese, but I think generally in other dining scenarios, fresh is preferred.
Beyond fashion and food and into the broader terms of other products and visuals, the use of the word ‘vintage’ is still as ubiquitous as it is subjective. There are vintage posters that represent working class beers of past eras or a new type of beer that tries to replicate an old type of brewing method.
The concept of vintage can be translated or transformed into other terms and attached onto other designs and styles. In certain cafes in Williamsburg (a section of Brooklyn), interior designers have played on the “refurbished” look. They take old doors, saw and polish them, and manipulate them to make up new woodwork. Several blocks away, a bar may try to go for a more retro appeal that replicates the ‘90s aesthetic, incorporating ripped cushions, aged video game machines and dog-eared posters — when the place was actually established in 2007. A lot of trendy bars in Brooklyn have also substituted the typical pint glass for aged looking “ball” jars, to give a classic feel to your beverage.
For a concept that started with wine and has spread to anything from crafty pseudo-European beer to old cuts of bell bottoms, the idea of vintage has extended throughout many consumer markets to play on cravings of a remembered or perceived past through various stylistic products and designs.
In analyzing all of these products and designs that someone could just as easily pass by without much thought, all there really is to say is that vintage is a multi-faceted concept, and what makes something authentically vintage can only be left up to interpretation.