Besides sharing in the general appreciation of fancy things and vintage finds, this blog seeks to pitch the following bonus idea: that antiques and vintage goods can play a role in combating problems in our modern consumer culture if we’re willing change our relationship with them and learn how to reincorporate them in our lives in functional ways.
In simpler terms, Gen Xs, Millennials, Gen Zs, and beyond might wanna take a look at antiques as having more value for our lives than simply as tchotchkes from our grandparents’ wild days that dorks are into collecting. (Disclaimer: I’m one of those dorks, so I can say that about us.)
I mean, vintage stuff is cool, right? Okay, sometimes it’s cool. Sometimes it’s like “WTF is this?” in a way that is not cool. But generally, vintage stuff is pretty cool. It’s certainly fashionable to tuck an aesthetic vintage camera or antique bottles into room design, but that’s about where most modern peoples’ interaction with antiques stop.
But what would happen if we demystified them a bit and put vintage goods back to work as normal, usable objects?
Antiques and vintage goods have some good things going for them that are particularly beneficial to modern generations. Por ejemplo:
- they’re frequently built to last
- they’re usually cheaper than buying goods brand new because they exist in abundance
- and they’re often designed to be repairable
So let’s break that down.
The Changing Life Expectancy of “Stuff”
For most human generations, goods took more effort to make and were usually constructed more, or entirely by, hand with (comparatively) quality materials. But, thanks to manufacturing technology booms, high production demand, and corporate growth, manufactured goods are now far into fast and cheap land, sometimes they’re even only able to withstand a use or two before having to be trashed (source/citation: having eyes).
So, while we’ve all had that new fast fashion necklace plating rub off after one wear or found the dollar section bag’s zipper will start separating within the week, very much conversely, you can still find fully functioning antiques and vintage items today. In fact, even the “cheap materials” of the past are often leagues above some of our quality goods today.
(Like seriously, disposable boxes of matches used to be made of wood but an average modern couch will likely be made from press board and staples. How did that happen??)
So, yes, there are still quality goods being made by some companies and artisans, but complicated things about the economy, our paychecks, and costs of living makes ever affording or owning those things out of reach for many of us.
So…? Why not go for vintage?
The Affordability Factor
“Self, aren’t antiques expensive?” you might be asking yourself. Sure, there are vintage items and antiques that are rare, delicate, and sought after that might be out of the working-class budget, but there are actually way more commonplace and run-of-the-mill vintage items out in the world than you might think and that keep prices sometimes surprisingly low.
I mean, been to a flea market lately..?
I have picked up a pack of 1940s hair pins for $4, a 1910s classic novel for $3, and a 1930s powder jar for my vanity for $5. They’re not only cute and quirky, but they’re often less costly than even the bargain stuff at le Targét, while being made out of solid glass, hand stitched leather, and other materials that are now high end by modern standards.
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair, Re-…don’t support sweatshops?
Say you’re buying into this all and think giving vintage stuff and antiques a try might be a good plan. After all, the most eco-friendly product to buy is the one that already exists, and with all of the horrible stories about unspeakable conditions for people working in the factories that manufacture fast, cheap goods, we’re all looking for ways to avoid supporting companies and industries that take advantage of the most vulnerable among us. (Sure, changing the manufacturing system as a whole is probably beyond us as individual consumers and needs broader action, but that doesn’t mean we want to throw our money at corporations violating human rights and re-purposing old goods is a great way to avoid buying new.)
And that all sounds good and everything, but how do you actually put almost-ready-to-use vintage goods back into working order or keep up with the care of items you’d like to preserve? How can you make sure you’re not going to break a rare vintage or antique item in the process of trying to clean it to prep it for use? How do you know if your item can even stand up to regular use? It’s not exactly helping solve a problem, saving anyone money, or letting you enjoy your cool new stuff if you jack it up somehow from lack of knowledge.
When we live in a consumer climate where it’s cheaper to buy a new watch than replace the battery when it dies, it’s understandable that we’d start to lose knowledge on how to repair and care for things to make them last and we might feel ill-equipped to do things like semi-restore and upkeep vintage objects. But, honestly, these skills are handy as hell and embracing them empowers us in our ability to fight back against the corporate consumerist hellscape every chance we get, or whatever. (No, but really, yes, they do.)
So, while there isn’t really a fast and easy answer for how to get good at antiquing–from dating and appraising to restoring and repairing–same as like, you know, anything else we do in life that takes effort, they still might just be skills worth obtaining if you think you could get into this sort of thing.
Thankfully, there are now endless sources for DIY knowledge online that can get us off on a good start. And part of what I do on this blog is share my own research into what my items are, from when, and where, and other information that helps me judge whether it’s something that can be used or should be preserved as-is that might be helpful to you in your own searching. I also collect and share information I learn as I figure out about how to clean different materials or how to restore or repair things so they can be used again to help contribute to that tradition of free education and empowerment and whatnot.
Learning these things, sharing our knowledge, and helping one another re-integrate these skills into our generations’ skillset is one way we will help lift each other up in this climate that looks out more for corporate interests than human ones.
So, now is when I do a thoughtful closer that neatly summarizes everything and reaffirms the overall message of the piece.
But how about instead, I just say that whether you like the looks of antiques and vintage things and just want to decorate with them, or you take some sort of weird moral stance about the value of vintage stuff in helping free us from the bonds of consumer culture, or you do both (like I do!) then I hope you find something useful here that will help you satisfy your own motivations for hoarding old shit.
And I hope you have a nice day.