I'm not going to act like pursuing vintage is a trend exclusive to the last year of our lives, but the pandemic seems to have transformed looking for vintage clothing from something to do when you’re bored on a Sunday to a widespread passion. Asking a friend to go thrifting is nothing new, but it feels like vintage has maybe never been more of a cultural zeitgeist. Within the overwhelming amount of Depop discourse, Instagram feeds defined by aesthetics of the past, Y2K revival, and the passionate ongoing conversation about limiting wasteful production and consumption, we are looking to the past more than ever. It could just be wanting to be more sustainable, but this nostalgic obsession seems deeper than that. In quarantine, we all had hours to spend scrolling through Depop, watching old movies, and changing our wardrobe. I found myself ordering vintage going-out dresses from the 1970s to wear as soon as bars reopened, and completely revamped my bedroom with antiques I spent hours finding. I spent a large amount of time curating on Pinterest, which I hadn’t used since I was 15. Having spent a year staying indoors, going on Zoom, and wearing solely sweatpants, doesn't it make sense that we're looking to nostalgic aesthetics to curate the most interesting looks possible?
In a statistical sense, our shopping habits have collectively changed. McKinsey and JP Morgan have both noted the more obvious shifts in consumer trends as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: online shoppers want to buy digitally from smaller retailers, prioritizing a more meaningful shopping experience. Last summer, I wrote an article referencing the viral New York Times piece “Sweatpants Forever,” taking a deeper look at how quarantine had revolutionized the way we dress. When we were fully indoors, the “Sweatpants Forever” approach to online shopping seemed more simple; we were inside, so we were buying casual, comfortable clothes. With the social world opening up again, I think many of us feel like bats out of hell when it comes to putting our best aesthetic foot forward.
A month ago, I came across viral TikToker Madeline Pendleton, whose videos cover punk culture, sustainable habits, and her own clothing line, Tunnel Vision. I include Madeline here not just because I personally love her content, but because her videos represent the pursuit of a more ethical, nostalgic approach to buying clothing. Pendleton’s fans love her because they care about her style and approach to consumption. There may be nothing more punk than rejecting the social media-driven trend cycles of today. She doesn’t often talk about her brand, instead offering a broader punk approach to repurposing clothing. She’s basically an advice columnist for Gen-Zers trying to navigate a late-capitalist world. Her responses to followers’ questions fill a gap in the more recent Gen-Z interest in the largely gatekept world of vintage renewal and finding ethical punk brands.
Depop, Tunnel Vision, and other independent brands have expanded the digital shopping database to include exact kinds of vintage we want to find. The popularity of vintage clothing and archives compounded with a cultural conversation about nostalgia has created a perfect storm for appreciating great design moments of the past. Every day, I find myself stalking the Instagram account @vintage_interiors—a highly curated collection of vintage interior design run for fun by an anonymous moderator. Despite epitomizing the term “dated,” I can’t get enough of the 1970s shag carpeting, odd bathroom designs, conversation pits, and other relics of the past. The account became immensely popular during the pandemic, its artfully sourced photos being reposted on the Instagram Stories of vintage accounts and influencers alike. In a time when there isn’t exactly one trend that defines the “Sweatpants Forever” period, nostalgia and vintage might just be the trendiest things you can pursue. The funky aesthetics combined with the compelling edge of shopping secondhand is the ultimate counter to fast fashion. Given the insanely good vintage you can now find online, the individuality it allows you to express, and its eco-friendly benefits, this is one Gen-Z trend I’m hoping sticks around.
I know it sounds like I’m relying on TikTok for all of my information, but if anything that’s a perfect representation of my fascination. I’ve seen 20-year-olds perfectly execute Stevie Nicks-inspired looks and spend hours creating crochet halter tops à la Jackie Burkhart of That 70’s Show. Every time I open social media, I see a frenzy—whether it’s over vintage cowboy boots, the revival of mullets, or ‘70s-style conversation pits. Between the sustainability, affordability, and creativity of vintage, I hope this anti-Shein revolution is here to stay.