So Just What is “Vintage,” Anyway? Part I

I just came across a mini-rant about the rampant use of the word “vintage” in descriptions of everything from clothes to bags, houses to art to cars to, well, to just about anything you can think of. “Vintage” has come to mean “anything that isn’t brand new,” and, in some wobbly uses, “anything that might technically be new but looks like something that isn’t new.”


Semantics doesn’t always matter. Sometimes one word will work just as well as another. If I’m describing something for sale and say it’s “new,” it doesn’t make much difference if I change that to say it’s “brand new,” or “still-in-the-box new.” But if I’m trying to sell something and describe it as “antique,” then I had better be sure it’s actually an antique, which can mean “at least 50 years old” to some people but means “at least 100 years old” to others in another field. If you’re advertising something on Ebay and want to say it’s an antique, you’d better know whether it actually is or not. While a 30-year-old car can be an antique, a 30-year-old dress cannot.


And “antique” is easy compared to “vintage.” What does “vintage” mean, anyway? And how old does something have to be to be vintage? Let’s all heave a huge sigh and pour a cup of tea. It’s such a loaded word, filled with people’s desire to sell things they have and collect things that are old and own things that are rare. The word “vintage,” from the mid-15th century, is from the Latin vinum, for “wine” and means “harvest of grapes, yield of wine from a vineyard.” (See the Online Etymology Dictionary here, where you can find all sorts of fascinating stuff about words and their origins.) So you might have a wine that was  2003 vintage, meaning that the grapes used to create the wine were picked in 2003. (To be labeled as 2003, 95% of the grapes used in that wine must have been picked that year.)


Whoa. That seems kind of picky compared to how the mixed media world uses the word, doesn’t it? To us, “vintage” just means “old.” And now it can mean even fuzzier things, like “isn’t really old but looks old,” or “resembles a style from the past,” or–well, it’s hard to tell exactly *what* all it means.


Z8043 Inspiritu Jewelry 150For more of this discussion, which is going on longer than I thought it would, come back on Wednesday, when I’ll have more to say about vintage everything~~in the meantime, you might want to check out Inspiritu Jewelry: Earrings, Bracelets and Necklaces for the Mind, Body and Spirit, by Marie French.




Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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One Response to So Just What is “Vintage,” Anyway? Part I

  1. Dora says:

    Thanks for trying to clear up the mess surrounding the meaning of vintage. I dislike it when words that should help us to communicate meaning, do not.