What is it about Retro that makes people so happy? The love of things old-fashioned has spread from clothing to music and the latest is retro gaming. There must be an explanation for this craze that is sweeping not only the industries but also the generations as one after the other they topple to the charms of the past.
Brighton is something of a Mecca when it comes to retro clothing. As one savvy teenager pointed out ‘You don’t waste any time in Brighton, you can go from one retro shop straight into another, there’s just streets full of them. And you don’t get wet either!’ She added, diving out of the rain into a shop called Beyond Retro. There was nothing for it but to follow.
Inside it’s a large low warehouse with an airy feel, lit from above by natural light and full of exposed ducting. Tres Pompidou. Tres Retro. The walls are lined with retro-bilia, old-fashioned bicycles, a mousse’s head, gilded mirrors, storm lanterns, 1950s car hubs and for some reason a canoe. Here, maybe, lies the first secret of retro. You can’t simply go online and have the same experience. You have to come here and feel the buzz. It’s a sensual pleasure, a day spent wandering through a town, looking, wondering, trying on, comparing and asking your friend for honest advice in the changing rooms.
Some say that Retro is sheer Nostalgia. And the classic explanation for Nostalgia is that we feel insecure in the present, so seek out the past for comfort. Looking around the shop and chatting to the clientele I met a middle-aged father keeping his eye on family of under-thirteens, an older couple trying to find a pair of comfortable shoes and some long-legged teenage girls trying on Dr Marten boots. No-one appeared to be mourning a childhood filled with pear-drops and The Boys Weekly, indeed most of them were too young to even know about them.
Several people mentioned the fact that you can’t find decent clothes anymore, that colours lack depth and the quality is poor. Some designers have responded, whether by intention or luck, to this yearning for quality. Burberry was the first purveyor of old-fashioned English Quality to a younger audience of hip buyers. It marked a point where old-fashioned suddenly became an aspiration for those with money. Then came Jack Wills which describes itself as ‘Famously British’ though the clothes are made in China. There is no doubt that it is Famously Expensive.
Maybe this is why younger shoppers who want good looks and good tailoring are going elsewhere. No-one is pretending that there are enough real old clothes to supply this hungry market, so there are two types of vintage shoppers. There are those who insist on the real deal, Vintage with a capital V, and are prepared to hunt it down. You will find them exclusively in flea markets, charity shops and small independent vintage retailers. Then there are others who do not particularly want to wear itchy woollen dresses or slacks without the benefit of Lycra, but who still want interesting good quality clothes with a vintage look, and many of these are supplied by little known American clothing brands.
One of the beauties of vintage is that you cannot put a price on it. If you are wearing real Vintage, nobody is going to know if you paid a fortune or if you are one of those dedicated people who love hunting for bargains. Let them guess. If you are wearing the vintage look, the same applies. There are no logos and no labels. They can tell where you didn’t buy it but they will never guess where you did and the air of mystery is part of the appeal. They are just good clothes which defy the dictatorship of branding.
And this is very important to the vintage shopper. Part of the fun is finding good clothes that refuse to go out of fashion. Clothes which look good on a real person, rather than on a mannequin, and clothes that you can afford all suggest a certain amount of personality. It’s a statement that says ‘This is me and this is how I look, I have values and I know how to dress with style and humour’. These vintage shoppers shun credit cards, make things for the people they love and point out when others are ‘harshing the buzz’. That means spoiling the mood. Maybe the first line should read: ‘What is it about happy people that makes them buy retro?’…