I was wrong.
This week’s tea-spitting moment was brought to me by the otherwise utterly awesome dressmaker Sarah Hambly casually mentioning in her Grammies fashion round-up that Anitta’s Atelier Versace look was, “Vintage, from 2003.”
(If you missed me literally spitting my tea at this, you can catch it below and here.)
Here’s a confession: I believed she was right. I’d assumed that ‘vintage’ stemmed from the French word for 20, ‘vingt’. The uproar in the comments prompted me to check my facts.
I was wrong.
Or possibly not because I can’t find an actual, to-the-year, official definition.
A good year
My beloved dictionary of etymology informs me that ‘vintage’ is actually born of the pre-1425 Old French ‘vendange’, meaning a yield from a vineyard. A grape harvest if you will, as evidenced by going even further back to the Latin ‘vīndēmia’, which itself is formed from ‘vīnum’ (wine) and ‘dēmere’ (to take off). You can see where we also get our words ‘vine’, ‘wine’ and ‘vintner’. And why we talk about wines having a “good vintage” (or not), first recorded in 1746.
No mention of any age, 20 or otherwise. Oops.
Despite the word being used for nearly 100 years (since 1929) to describe something being of an earlier time, I can’t find a firm definition for how old something has to be to be be officially ‘vintage’. At least, not one with universal agreement.
Contrast this with ‘antique’, which seems to enjoy broad acceptance as meaning aged 100+ years old. Just a quick Google of definitions of ‘vintage’ throws up anything from 20 to 93 years or more.
It also depends on what we’re talking about. Cars have clearer definitions, with only those manufactured specifically between 1919 and 1930 considered vintage, regardless of how old they are at any given time. At odds with the above, cars are officially ‘antique’ at just 45 (11 more months to go for me then), and ‘classic’ at 20.
For clothing specifically, it depends whom you ask. I suppose traders have a vested (pun intended) interest in maximising the critieria to allow them to sell more so it makes sense for them to include items as young as is credible, albeit tea-spittingly so. Other sources (e.g. Farm Antiques) says most antiques dealers consider 40 years to be vintage.
I have been contacting fashion and textile historians this morning for more authoritative clarity but have had no luck yet; I’ll update the blog when I can.
UPDATE: 10 February 2023
I’ve had a response from the V&A’s assistant curator in its Textiles & Fashion department Claire (no surname offered). She tells me: “Apologies in advance not to be of more assistance. As far as I’m aware it’s not a term we have a specific working definition for at the V&A.”
That’s actually helpful in itself and good enough for me: ‘vintage’ seems open to interpretation.
While spitting my tea was the appropriate initial reaction, I can wipe down my cutting mat and go back to enjoying a fresh cup. 🫖☕️