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Are the 90s “Vintage”?

Illustration: Madalyn Drewno – The Sentry

The 90s is an era in the past

Opinion by Amanda Blackman

The 1990s is an indisputably vintage era. Just because the 90s feel recent to many, there is such a degree of separation from then to now that, both by emotion and by definition, the 90s are vintage.

When thinking about the word “vintage” on its own, it spurs thoughts of a long-lost era. Poodle skirts in the 50s, flapper dresses of the 20s, or concert tees from the 70s. All of those respective eras and items spur a feeling of reminiscence. Each time is removed from today, seen through the hindsight of 21st century living.

When those who lived during the 90s reflect, how does it look? Does it look like today, full of touch screens and streaming services? Or does it feel like an entirely different era? Frosted tips, JNCO jeans, and Tamagotchis are a far cry from 2019. In terms of how reminiscing on the 90s feels in hindsight, it’s clearly an entirely different time of life.

Feelings don’t qualify as truth but expert opinions do. Vintage expert Cameron Silver, co-founder of one of Los Angeles’ top vintage stores, defines the criteria that makes an item vintage. He states that for an item to be considered vintage, “It needs to be of sufficient quality of design and creative execution for it to stand the test of time and be relevant and desirable to future generations.”

According to top style magazines, such as InStyle and Cosmopolitan, there are trends from the 90s that are popular today. High waisted jeans, scrunchies, and choker necklaces are all sold in many popular stores. Today is the future generation, and the popularity of 90s fashion qualifies many 90s items as “relevant and desirable.” That means that many of the trends that rose to popularity in the 90s decade are, by definition, vintage. 

The year 1990 now lays 29 years behind as 2019 is just beginning. For many, that year feels more recent than that, but be a realist for one moment: it has been 30 years. Both by expert definition and by popular opinion, the 90s simply qualify as a vintage era.

The 90s just happened

Opinion by Genessa Gutzait

Dear reader, 90s kids are all around you. And for those who grew up in them might recall going to both antique stores and vintage stores—which carried distinctly separate types of things. However, there’s been an alarming amount of clothes and music from the 90s that are now being marketed as “vintage,” which is a bit much for some tastes. Not to use the “90s kids aren’t old therefore 90s music isn’t old” argument, but it’s a very strange feeling when one hears the music of one’s childhood being played on the classic rock radio station.

Using “vintage” for 90s clothes and other ephemera may have begun as a marketing ploy by people on Etsy and similar sources looking for category tags that would create visibility and thus sales of their items. But vintage, to many people, means things that date from the 1920s through 1950s or 60s; older items are antiques, and newer items don’t yet have a special term. While vintage can be technically defined as anything over 30 years old, the term has been applied so much to those things from the 20s to 50s that it has taken on that time period as its meaning and hasn’t moved with the passage of time.

Since the 70s through 90s (or even 00s) have a more distinct spirit, vibe, or theme than the decades termed “vintage” or “antique,” there is likewise a need for a separate term for them. Perhaps also a certain amount of time is required before we can see the value in an era’s design and fashion. For example, home decor from the 70s and 80s probably just makes people think of their grandma’s house and therefore is uncool by association. While trends from the 90s are having a major resurgence at the moment, the 90s have a distinct visual language; and it has been 30 years—three things that could be used as arguments that “vintage” fits—but might we instead find a new word to keep it distinct from the older eras’ type of vintage? Perhaps some 90s slang: bomb-dot-com, crunk, boo-ya!, or old school all have mad potential, duhhhh.

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