Practising the art of observation (and self-observation) reveals how well we keep up with the times. How well is a matter of degree therefore the clarity of the language will help tremendously to identify the extent.
In everyday life we often use terms such as antique, vintage, classic, retro and, on the other hand, modern and contemporary as interchangeable and even synonyms. However, they all have more nuanced meanings which determine their place on the scale .
“Antique” objects are those that are at least 100 years old. The age is important – it demonstrates that these items are timeless as they have passed the test of the time. Usually antiques are very expensive, not for common use and become the essence of an environment or outfit. Great examples are Edward VII’s Sapphire and Diamond ring and Victorian Circa 1860 Diamond Riviere necklace.
Very close to “antique” quality is the “classic” style. Classic style is also timeless. It has endurance, stamina, the quality to survive the unimportant temporary changes and to shine radiantly forever. Fashion classic style involves items like a white shirt, denim jeans, a little black dress, a polo shirt, a camel coat, Chanel 5, a pearl necklace, etc.
“Vintage” style is the style we choose emotionally. Usually vintage articles are older than 20 or 25 years and can be up to 99 years. They represent a certain historical era, art movement, literature characters that make us feel nostalgic. Vintage pieces have value because of our attachment and sentiment to them. Vintage objects can be quite expensive due mostly to their limited quantity. Think about Marilyn Monroe’s dress at President Kennedy’s birthday celebration, 70s style floral flares, the 1980s mesh and puffy sleeves or the 80s and 90s one-piece tracksuit.
The low-budget Ryanair of “vintage” style is the “retro” style. Retro is defined as the nowadays version of vintage. Articles of this style mimic vintage but they are mass produced, accessible and relatively inexpensive. Usually the fashion houses market and sell them as pieces with vintage flavour – see fashion brands like Rixo or Free People.
At the other end of the scale are the “modern” and “contemporary” styles.
“Modern” style is a fixed category. It points to a style that was radical, liberating, innovative and even revolutionary during the period that has just passed. This style is modern compared to the styles it overrides. Modern is the styles from the beginning and middle of the 20th century such as Art Deco style – Great Gatsby and jazz era fashion, bomber jackets, etc.
“Contemporary” style is, on the contrary, a slippery and subjective category. It means a style “here and now” whatever that means for any of us. It represents a finger on the pulse of the world and youthful curiosity. Will contemporary styles survive the test of time?
No one can predict but as Jean Cocteau rightly said:
“Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time.
Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.”
That leads me to the other category I have not yet mentioned – “old-fashioned” style. But before writing about it I will be having an Old-Fashioned cocktail. Or may be not – refined sugar does not fit well with my contemporary health style.