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Are the 80s definitely vintage or maybe retro fashion?

July 31, 2014

Are the 80s vintage? The 80s aren’t for everyone. It’s the predilection for flamboyance, bright colours, garish patterns, shoulder pads and batwing sleeves that put some people off. For many, eighties fashion is something they’d rather forget. Perhaps for those that weren’t around the first time, the eighties are a time of avante garde style and ostentatious designs that are both new and exciting.


Perhaps the eighties really only works if you weren’t around at its inception.

Are the 80s vintage?

Are the 80s vintage?

The 80s vintage? or retro

Some may argue that eighties isn’t really vintage at all, and some may refer to fashion from this period as “retro” – but is it? Is it one thing or the other? Perhaps a looking for a definition of what vintage fashion is, is perhaps the first step to really understanding are the 80s vintage and deserves to be in the hall of vintage fashion, or slung back into the retro department. But firstly, let us disband with the word “retro” – retro is an imitation of a style from another period and one thing the eighties was, was original, the real thing. You can buy retro eighties fashion, but for it to be truly vintage, it would have to come from its original decade


Lady Amaranth

Lady Amaranth

But what is vintage?

Ironically it was in the 1980s that vintage clothing emerged as a force to be reckoned with helped along by celebrity endorsement. However, it was hard to decide how to define vintage, was it someone who bought second-hand clothes or was it a more discerning style of fashion, something that demonstrated individuality and uniqueness.

1980s paneled black & blue dress from

1980s paneled black & blue dress from

Are the 80s vintage-modern used clothes vs vintage treasures

Trouble was no one could decide which was which. According to this research paper, the differences were all to clear –(“Something old, something used: Determinants of Women’s purchase of vintage to second-hand fashion”Journal of Retail & Distribution Management) there was a clear demarcation between seekers of vintage and those that chose second-hand clothes.


Second hand clothes was a clear sign of frugality argued Cervellon and defined as “modern used clothes,” whereas vintage was about finding treasures, their uniqueness and the “thrill of the hunt.“Vintage was from 1920 to the 1980’s, and while second-hand clothes were unique because they came at a good price, vintage were unique because of their period, the condition and the style of the clothing. Cervellon also argued that vintage fashion consumers were also from a “higher level of education.” It was also argued that second-hand clothes buyers needed to be educated about a “pro-environmental lifestyle.”

1980s top from

1980s top from

Are the 80s vintage-increased social acceptance

In The Journal of The Textile Institute, in an article entitled “It’s Vintage Darling! An exploration of vintage fashion retailing” by McColl, Canning, McBride, Nobbsa, and Shearer, a consuming demand for vintage fashion had created “increased social acceptance” as vintage fashion was seen as a form of self-expression. There was also the increasing awareness of unethical practices in the fashion industry and more recently a backlash against disposable fashion.

1980s Beaded top from

1980s Beaded top from

Are the 80s vintage-clarity to its definition.

The article argued that it was difficult to define vintage as there was a “paucity of literature”giving clarity to its definition. They would go on to argue that with online availability of both retro, vintage and second hand clothing, a clear definition of what vintage was,was being eroded. For the writers of this article vintage was and still is, about an attitude, a particular style of dress, or as Palmer, from his book “Vintage whores and vintage virgin: Second hand fashion in the twenty first century” in Old Clothes, new looks: Second hand fashion,” vintage was a “symbol of individuality and originality.”

1980s Leather blouson from

1980s Leather blouson from

It passes the 30 year rule, it has individuality and originality

If this is the case, then when we come back to the eighties, having a clearer definition of what vintage is, we can argue that the eighties ticks all the boxes for vintage, it passes the 30 year rule, it has individuality and originality, and above all, uniqueness. The eighties were all about self-expression and embody all the definitions the English language can throw at us on vintage fashion. Colorful play suits, shoulder pads and flamboyant evening gowns have been repeated throughout the following decades, but as any vintage connoisseur will tell you, there is nothing to beat the original. Online purchase may have confused the vintage landscape, but the eighties have earned their right to be considered vintage if they fulfill the above conditions – and they do.

Are the 80s vintage-80s black & white playsuit

Are the 80s vintage-80s black & white playsuit


With increasing attention drawn to the unethical working practices behind disposable fashion by the media, vintage fashion, from whichever era, is bound to increase in popularity. So for those that love the eighties that’s good news, it’s definitely vintage and it’s definitely here to stay – long live the eighties.

The eponymous shoe boot – an original from the eighties on Etsy

shoe boot etsy


A brand new take on the eighties shoe boot from Asos.

shoe boot asos



1/ Something old, something used: Determinants of women’s purchase of vintage fashion vs second-hand fashion

Author(s): Marie-Cécile Cervellon, (International University of Monaco, Monte-Carlo, Principality of Monaco), Lindsey Carey, (Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK), Trine Harms, (International University of Monaco, Monte-Carlo, Principality of Monaco)

Citation: Marie-Cécile Cervellon, Lindsey Carey, Trine Harms, (2012) “Something old, something used: Determinants of women’s purchase of vintage fashion vs second-hand fashion”, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 40 Iss: 12, pp.956 – 974

2/ It’s Vintage Darling! An exploration of vintage fashion retailing

Julie McColla*, Catherine Canninga, Louise McBridea, Karina Nobbsa & Linda Shearera. The Journal of The Textile Institute, pages 140-150, Volume 104, Issue 2, 2013

3/ 1980 – 1990

Images licensed for reuse.