Vintage Treasures

Our vintage treasures… or are they antiques?

vintage buttons

Just six months before my mother in law passed away, we were visiting her in her home in Arizona. I was looking (as I usually am a few months before Christmas) for inexpensive homemade gift ideas, since our family was facing yet another cash-strapped Christmas. I mentioned to her a project I had seen in which I could decorate bobby pins with small buttons or other trinkets my girls (ages 7 and 5 at the time) to wear in their hair. She mentioned to me that she had a large box full of buttons that her mother and her grandmother had kept and passed down to her. She didn”t sew that often, but they had. She gave me the large container and told me I could choose as many buttons as I liked from the box. Thus began one of the more special evenings in my recent memory. I sat on the living room floor of my sister in law’s home, sorting through the most beautiful collection of buttons in all different shapes, colors, sizes, textures…I remember the way my fingers felt as I reached through the tin to touch decades of family history. I knew each button had a story, but I ached, not to know what those stories were: tiny pearl buttons, large rough leather woven buttons, tin metallic roses…Some had clearly been trimmed from worn clothing, but others were still attached to their original packaging paper, now yellowed with age.

Those buttons mean so much to me, now that my sweet mother in law has passed away. And when we as a KNACK team were talking about our plans for an issue on handmade baby clothes and vintage fabrics, I immediately thought of those buttons. I was pretty sure they qualified as “vintage,” because they were old and special to me, but that made me wonder, what exactly does “vintage” mean?

Doing a little research on that question, I realized that there is quite a list of words that are often used fairly interchangeably to mean “something cool and old.” And since I’m never one to pass up an opportunity to expand my vocabulary (or to ensure that I am using the best words possible in every situation!) we’ve decided to provide this little glossary of cool, old words. We wrote the definitions below based on the books A Century of Interior Design and Interiors: An Introduction, as well as multiple web searches and consultation with a professional costume designer.


Vintage FabricVintage: Originally a term meant to describe the year of bottling for wines, the term has come to be used to describe clothing or other items of design that date back to recent eras of design that precede whatever is “current” or “contemporary”. Used in Published June 25th, 2014 by ObamaCare Facts If you aren’t exempt from the shared responsibility fee (fee for not having coverage) and choose not to get health travel insurance (known as minimum essential coverage) in 2014 you will owe a per-month fee for every month you go without coverage. this way, it describes things that are too old to be considered contemporary, but not old enough to be considered “antique” (i.e. a “vintage” lamp might be 20 or 30 years old.) However, “vintage” can also be used along with a year or decade to describe the specific period of an item’s creation. (i.e. a dress that is “vintage 60’s” was made or sold for the first time in the 1960’s.) Sometimes vintage items are previously worn or used, but not always; that means that “vintage” is not a fancy way of saying “used,” and those words are not interchangeable. (For an example of this, read our article “Mothers of Necessity and Invention.”There we talk about Grandma Lula’s vintage aprons, which she had made – and used – in the 1950s, and Grandma Lula’s vintage fabrics, which had been purchased in the 1950s but were never used – and even had the original JC Penney’s tags!) So just as wines have especially good vintage years, clothing that is vintage, and not just used, has a greater value for its ability to define or even transcend style periods.


Antique: The word “antique” is generally applied to items about 100 years old or older. It usually connotes something of high value because of its age and condition, though there seems to be a fine line between “antique” and “junk.” Similar to our definition for “vintage,” the words “old” and “used” are not interchangeable for “antique.” Referring to clothing or other items as antiques suggests a sense of importance in history, sometimes to the level of becoming an artifact. Therefore, antique items (particularly clothing) are less likely to be functional than vintage items. (Sometimes, though, an antique store is a great place to find vintage items, old enough to be vintage but young enough to still be functional. A great example of this is the buttons that Maryanne used on her original Baby Romper, made of fabric from a vintage stash and buttons she found at an antique store.)


Classic: Any item of clothing or piece of furniture that features a classic design is usually marked by clean simple lines. The term connotes a design that is relevant in any age, one that represents high quality and a sense of “timelessness” in fabric, cut, color, and shape. Thus the term classic may be applied to items of any era, including the contemporary.


Retro: Retro is short for retrospective, and was first used as fashion terminology in 1970s France. It connotes a sense of nostalgia or fondness for earlier eras, most notably those in the mid 20th century, as early as the 30’s and usually not later than the 70’s. Perhaps the most important distinction for our purposes is that retro usually refers to items that represent that sense of nostalgia for the past, which means that the items themselves do not need to be vintage. In other words, clothing or other items made today can be considered retro if they mimic the design elements of earlier eras.


Upcycled: Upcycling is a term that came into usage in the 1990s, suggesting that there is a possibility of finding a better use for typically discarded items, even ones that might otherwise go into a recycling bin. There is an emphasis on creativity in repurposing such items, and those purposes range from crafting to building gadgets to fashion (re)design. In our interview with Erin Rankin in this issue, she highlights some of her own upcycled clothing design. Upcycled items are most definitely used, sometimes even trash or junk, and always recreated into something fashionable, decorative, or useful.


So after doing this reading, I’m thinking that my “old” and “special” buttons really are vintage, and I might even have some antique buttons in there. But no matter what we call them, they are worth saving, and using again, for their age, their beauty, and their priceless sentimental value. We hope you have some old and special items you”ve treasured up somewhere, and that you find the perfect place for them.

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