Controversial Post: 3 Reasons Vintage Is Like Crack (and How I Control the Habit)

Flashback Summer - Controversial Post: 3 Reasons Vintage Is Like Crack - 1920s woman shopping

There are many ways in which vintage can be cost-effective (finding clothes in flea markets for $5, refashioning clothes, making your own), but I have found that wearing vintage can become addictive if I'm not careful.

We often joke about being addicted to bakelite, novelty skirts, Hawaiian prints, etc., and vintage lovers will shell out huge amounts of cash to get these items.

We also, for example, post pictures of our bakelite collections in specialized online groups, most of which are followed by at least a few comments similar to, "I wish I had such a great collection!" or "Aw man, my collection sucks.  I need to buy more."

Vintage is addictive.

I've wondered why exactly this is as I've felt myself getting sucked in.  I never want to go to the mall and drop a bunch of cash on a dress.  I never overspend in other areas of my life.  I'm quite responsible.  Why is it, though, that when I see a Middle East novelty print, I plan how I can rent out my puppy for farm work or sell a couple of my eggs in order to pay for it?  Why the strong, materialistic urge that says, "I must have this.  I love it.  I need it.  How can I get it now?"

Have you guys encountered this same feeling?  Do you find that it's a problem for you, or does it not affect your life very much?

As I've thought about it, I realized there are a few aspects of the vintage-wearing culture that cultivate this mindset for me, and I've cultivated a couple ways that I cope with them.  First, these are some reasons vintage is addictive:

1.  The road to materialism is wide because our vintage hobby is based on material things, and there are plenty of avenues for comparison.
A vintage lifestyle is largely based on clothing, so it can be easy to slide down the slippery slope of comparison as we look at the millions of outfits posted on blogs, Instagram, Facebook, etc.  It's a visually-based hobby, so we're constantly taking in examples of things we don't have, or looks we can't pull of because of this or that.  It can even come down to valuing ourselves or our uniqueness by the number of bangles on our arms or the collection of novelty print skirts we have.  We differentiate ourselves from "the rest of the world" solely on the fact that we wear victory rolls while "normal people" wear pony tails.

2.  Most vintage is sold in global, competitive arenas.
Etsy, Ebay, online shops.  All are available to nearly every vintage lover in the whole world, and we're all tapping the same relatively small amount of sources for our items.  This creates intense competition, a "first come first serve" environment in which you have to buy something if you even remotely like it, just to make sure someone doesn't snap it up before you do.  Things are selling in hours to people on opposite sides of the world.

3.  Vintage is scarce.
There are so many vintage items that are ooak or close to it.  I have said to myself so many times, "But if I don't buy it now, I may never get another chance, ever!  It may never resurface!"  This, of course, is a real possibility, as some things are ooak or may take decades to come back to market.
This is very much a personal answer, and I'd love to share how I've coped with these things in my own life.  It seems to me that the root of this comparison and endless desire for more stuff has to do with my character and values, so the next two sections will be very open about how I see things, including my religious beliefs, just to prepare you!  There's really no other way I can see to help myself overcome the character issues of materialism and comparison and make it a real heart change, not just a "clothing purchase diet."

I remember my priorities.
I'm a Christian, so my number one purpose in life is to live out my relationship with God in a way that shows others how amazing He is and what a difference He's made in my life.  I believe there is life for everyone after death, and what we do here will affect where that eternal life happens.  Not only that, I believe that God wants us to experience an incredible life here on earth, right now.  He offers hope, peace, comfort, joy, and steadfast loyalty in the face of a terrible world where people die hungry, children are sold as sex slaves, people abandon their families, and violence ruins the lives of so many.  
I don't mean this to make anyone feel guilty or to "Jesus juke" anybody, but as I remember how I want to make a dent in the horrible-ness of the world and change things for the better, what is a skirt to that?  How important is a blouse when it comes to the big picture?  It's hard to be materialistic with bigger, more eternal goals in mind.

I remember who I am.
I was a fun, unique person before wearing vintage, and I always will be (not to toot my own horn or anything, haha).  I'm not unique because I have weirdly innovative hairstyles or look like an old movie star.  I'm unique because God created me unlike anyone else in the whole world, past to future.  I have a different combination of likes, dislikes, opinions, a worldview, history, interactions, etc. that no one else in the world could ever replicate.  I'm more than the clothes I wear, so I can skip out on the "perfect" dress and not feel gypped as a person.
Not to mention, the God of the universe who can, you know, do anything and made billions of galaxies, considered me worth living in our horrible world and dying a terrible death then resurrecting Himself to rescue me and make it possible for me to interact with Him personally.  That makes a girl feel pretty good about herself, and it has nothing to do with what I'm wearing today.

Now after saying those things, I would like to add that I still struggle with making impulse buys and wanting so many things!  I, by no means, have all of this figured out, and I'm still trying to figure out the balance between enjoying vintage and indulging too much.

Have you encountered these issues in interacting in the vintage world?  Have you noticed any other reasons why vintage can be addictive to you?  How do you overcome these struggles in your own life, or are they still a persistent hang-up?

Check out these other "Controversial Posts" and join the conversation:
Refashioning Perfectly Wearable Vintage
Vintage Jewelry and Novelty Prints: Racist?


  1. I love the points you make here. When dressing vintage and retro, I think it's so easy to get caught up in appearance. I started out dressing retro as a way to remember the past and show my appreciation and love of vintage fashion. As my love for fashion has grown, it's become easier to get caught up in my image, and as a Christian I often have to reel myself in and remind myself of what is truly important. I've noticed this is a struggle for many people in the pin-up, vintage, and rockabilly communities. I love the points you have made, please continue your "Controversial" post series!
    My (newborn) blog:

  2. I haven't gotten much into vintage (though I absolutely love the aesthetic and the community!), but I have gotten into sewing. In sewing, I obviously don't have the same problems with availability, but I definitely still feel the materialistic, "But I want it!" impulses. It's especially hard when I look at all the amazing sewing on the Internet and think, "Why can't I be more like them?" and a few new patterns and new makes seem like the answer. I agree though, that my faith helps me remember that feeding those materialistic impulses does next to nothing for anyone in a world that has many great needs. Thanks for bringing up some really interesting issues!

  3. I agree with you completely and struggle sometimes with this myself. As a fellow Christian, I too, sense myself being pulled into things that can replace my true purpose of glorifying God. One thing that has worked somewhat for me is to fast from eBay and etsy at certain points. I've also tried to view them as more of a wish list for my birthday or Christmas or even just places to find inspiration for future sewing projects. If I don't know it's available or such a great deal, I am more likely to avoid overspending or buying to much stuff. It also helps to have a budget for our household. Ours isn't super specific and it's flexible enough to change as our family and needs change. This lets us prioritize where and how much we spend.
    The biggest help for me is to remember that as a witness for Christ I should be focused on the inward person and not my appearance. Also knowing that my kids and others are watching me and seeing where the emphasis of my life is. I want others to see Christ in me, not that I have a better collection of stuff or that I love to shop.
    I think materialism is a problem for most Americans whether we buy vintage or not, and it truly comes down to being discontent with what we have already been blessed with. I hope I can say some day with the apostle Paul that I have learned to be content with much and with little and that I can give thanks in all things. I've also found the more busy I am with things that matter, the less I care about what I have or don't have.

  4. Oh, yes. That's something that I've posted about a bit as well. I've always loved clothing, but something about vintage clothing always gets me. I don't lay out a lot of money for one piece, but I can definitely find myself a little too fixated on all of the things that I need to have. And it really can feel like a need sometimes, rather than a want. There's always a reminder, either in vintage movies and magazines or on the internet worlds of blogs and instagrams, that you could do better, have nice things, be a little more perfect. That's definitely something that I've wrestled with, and it can be hard not to tie your self worth to the things you own and how you look.
    I think so long as I'm conscious of what I'm doing, it's easier to keep things in perspective. Just realizing how silly I'm being about something as trivial as a bracelet or a dress makes it easier to let it go. If I feel like I'm really fixated, I'll put myself on a ban from looking at etsy or ebay.

  5. So glad to find someone else who loves the Lord, and is also a vintage enthusiast, but knows how to see the big picture! I haven't had so much of a problem with buying vintage because I have a very meager, sporadic income, so that prevents me from "indulging" too much.


    the Middle Sister and Singer

  6. I think it's quite easy to become materialistic, image obsessed and shop happy with vintage. Having a new frock to show off and get compliments on is nice and makes me happy, but that happy will never last and I'll always need more. I have to remind myself that I cannot fill my life with enough clothes to make that hole in my heart go away. They only thing that can do that is Jesus Christ.

    Thankfully, I am usually good about sticking to my budget and sewing allows me to rock vintage much cheaper than buying actual vintage or repro. I've been trying to get myself to think of new ways to wear things I already have rather than just focusing on new, new, new. I have soooo many clothes and I don't really *need* any new clothes, even if I want to wear vintage everyday.

    Another thing I try to do is really analyze what I do like and what I actually wear so that when I do add new things to my wardrobe, I'm actually going to reach for them again and again rather than just wearing it once and forgetting about it.

  7. Thank-you so much for posting this, as it is something I often struggle with too! It is so hard sometimes to find the balance between harmless fun and when it becomes addictive. I too struggle sometimes with the big picture vs. my individual wants, so I am relieved to hear that I am not the only one. When it comes right down to it, do I want people to remember me as "that girl who always wore nice dresses and hats", or as "that girl who truly lived out her faith and made a difference in people's lives because of her kindness, generosity and grace"?--- Nicole

    1. That's a good point, Nicole! In fact, I took the liberty of tweeting a shortened version of your last sentence. That's good stuff!

  8. This is an excellent post (I tried to comment the day you posted, but blogger ate my comment and I'm just now getting back to it). I struggle mightily with all the things you describe, especially the OOK phenom, especially when something is in my price range. There is the very real concern that the item won't still be there. But I try to remind myself that it is just a thing, and I have lots of unique things, and that a collection doesn't make me happy (in fact having too many things, no matter how unique and treasured) tends to stress me out. I'm giving more things a pass these days, although I've made several poor purchases in the last little while here, mostly because I forgot some basic guidelines that I've set for myself, many of which echo what you write here. It was a good reminder to me to read this. I'm also linking to your article in my next Odds and Ends post (probably going live later this week).

    1. That's good stuff, right there! I would love to hear what your basic guidelines for yourself are. And thanks for linking to my post! I'm going to try to find it!

  9. This is very good post and not a topic that's addressed much on vintage websites. But I think it also has good points for those who enjoy fashion of any kind, not just vintage, but beauty, fitness, etc. It can be easy to get carried away in things that are not inherently negative and often necessary to a certain degree.

    1. You're so right. It's like that phrase, "Anything in excess becomes unhealthy." Clothes are great and necessary until they become an obsession! (Which, I guess they're still necessary then.... but you get my point!)

  10. Wonderful post! And great tips!

    I originally bought nearly every piece of vintage I could afford and get my hands on, but over the years developed rules for myself that have helped.