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New book goes behind charity shop doors to reveal why we love the vintage life


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What is behind the rising trend for vintage clothing and homewares? A new book unearths the ‘ghosts and glamour’ that inspire fans to live the vintage life.

A vintage record player

Vintage fan Dr Samantha Holland, Senior Research Fellow at Leeds Beckett University, wanted to find out the reasons why some people choose to fully embrace their favourite vintage era, wearing clothes and styling their homes entirely according to that era.

In her new book, Modern Vintage Homes & Leisure Lives: Ghosts & Glamour, published by Palgrave Macmillan, Samantha shares the findings of her study into the everyday practices of vintage fans and the personal meanings behind them – in particular, of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Items at a vintage fair
Photo by S. Holland

Samantha found that vintage fans are very concerned about authenticity and knowledge. They want to make sure they have the right expertise to accurately recreate era-specific outfits and home interiors.

They also feel that buying vintage encourages them to value their belongings more, and so they keep them longer than brand new products. They don’t like to cycle quickly through new upgrades and updates.

The people she spoke to are very motivated by emotion, sentiment and nostalgia – by the love of the ‘ghosts’ and stories steeped in their vintage items.

A vintage kitchen
Photo by S. Holland

Samantha said: “I had not entirely anticipated how emotional the study would become, for me as well as for the participants. They appreciated items more when those items had provenance, that is, when they could find out the ‘story’ about previous owners or where something had come from.”

A questionnaire was completed by 233 people – 97 per cent of which were women aged between 16 and 73 – to give Samantha a feel of how popular vintage really is and how it fits into people’s everyday lives. She then spent a year observing participants in the study as they attended vintage fairs and festivals, visited charity and vintage shops, and took part in online groups. She spent a total of 37 hours in a vintage shop observing shoppers.

Finally, she interviewed 20 full-time vintage fans, aged between 26 and 52. She was allowed access to their homes to see their collections, and how they stored and displayed items. She also went vintage shopping with some of them.

In her book, Samantha also considers the important role of gender for the women she spoke to – how they thought about glamour and spent large amounts of time on getting ready, for example doing their hair in a wet-set.

Samantha said: “All of the participants had homes that were strictly in-period so home and domestic ideals were important to them. As were memories – their own and those of others, especially their family members – and heritage.”

Vintage clothes hanging in a wardrobe
Photo by S. Holland

Samantha’s book also covers the history of the eras – looking at period kitchens, Christmases past and the history of second-hand markets.

Speaking about the inspiration behind her latest study, Samantha added: “I have always bought second-hand things and worn second-hand clothes so I have been interested to see the rise in popularity of ‘vintage’, even with people who have little or no interest in specific eras or social history or fashion history, where vintage becomes almost a generic brand in itself.

“So as a collector myself (for example, I have a lot of 1950s pyrex, and quite a few art deco armchairs!) I was interested to find out about the everyday practices and the personal meanings for a particular group of vintage fans.”

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