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How Old Is Vintage – Learn What’s Considered Vintage and Why

The term vintage has been thrown around for decades in reference to cars, clothing, and even wine — but how old is vintage, and what does it really mean? I will explore what makes something vintage. 

The age of vintage is 20–99 years old. A vintage item, like clothing, can also be new but inspired by a vintage design. Whether furniture, jewelry, or a vehicle, vintage means collectible and iconic, plus increased value. Vintage is classic, sophisticated, and considered the best of its time.

What is the difference between vintage and antique? If an item is vintage, is it worth more or less than an antique? Let’s check out what’s considered vintage and why.

What Is Vintage?

Vintage can be defined as the period when an item was produced or how long something has existed and its recognized quality. One might think of vintage as old, outdated, or from their grandparent’s time. Vintage can refer to an age between 20 and 99 years, compared to antiques, which are generally 100 years or older.

Vintage is something unique or the best of its time. Although it’s often used with respect to wine, it also refers to items of a certain age. But what is that age, and how does it differ from antique?

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Vintage
  • Vintage Overview Table
  • When Does Something Become Vintage?
  • What Makes an Item Vintage?
  • What is Considered a Vintage Item?
  • My Personal Research into How Old is Vintage
  • Helpful Vintage Insights
  • Key Takeaways
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A Vintage Wooden Table and Chairs

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

A common misconception is that vintage and antique are terms that can be used interchangeably. This is untrue because antiques are at least 100 years old, while vintage items are usually from 20–99 years ago. Another myth around vintage items is that it’s just old junk that used to belong to someone else.

However, this may not be true if you think of the old saying: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Another misconception about vintage items is that they’re not trendy or desirable. Rather, vintage is highly sought after as a way to express personality and individuality.

History of Vintage

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The term vintage comes from Latin and Old French as the basis of Late Middle English. The use of the word vintage was penned in the June 1957 issue of Glamour magazine with an ad for vintage raccoon coats, according to Professor Jennifer Le Zotte of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington

It was later expanded to include categories like clothing, vehicles, jewelry, furniture, and wine. Enthusiasts for some genres would later create subcategories for vintage items like vehicles.

Characteristics of Vintage Items

CharacteristicDetails
Age20–99 years
QualityBest of its era, characteristic of a time
PriceVaries according to item, less expensive than antique, more expensive than modern
ValueIncreased value over modern or new
RarityCollectible, limited production, readily available
Vintage Item Characteristics

When Does Something Become Vintage?

If vintage refers to the year something is made, when does it actually become vintage? A blanket statement is once it reaches 20 years past its creation date, but with some items, it’s not about the age of manufacture but the style.

Regarding furniture, mid-century designs such as Victorian or Art Deco are considered vintage. Vintage items are often considered iconic; for example, the black Givenchy dress that Audrey Hepburn wore in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is 1961 iconic.  

The difference between vintage and antique is mostly age — vintage is between 20-99 years, while antique is generally over 100 years old.

What Makes an Item Vintage?

What is it about an item that makes it vintage? Part of being vintage is recognizing the era to which it belongs or was made. They’re designed to last and have a higher value than other items considered consumables. These vintage items are also not usually mass-produced (think fast fashion and disposable), but a good amount of it is still reasonably easy to obtain.

What is Considered a Vintage Item?

So, what are vintage items, and how are they identified? Are the criteria the same for each item, or are there variations? Let’s look at some categories of vintage items and how they differ.

Vintage Clothing

Vintage clothing refers to designs and styles from an earlier time. For example, clothing that was popular 20–30 years ago would be considered vintage now. Vintage clothing is representative of trends of that era. It can also be clothing pieces that are new but inspired by a vintage design.

Vintage Dresses, Purses, and Jewelry - How Old Is Vintage - Liberty Leather Goods
Vintage Dresses, Purses, and Jewelry

Vintage Wine

When someone refers to vintage wine, it indicates its maturation time, taste, quality, and uniqueness, according to researchers Olsen, Skallerud, and Heide of the Arctic University of Norway. The grapes that make up the wine are all grown and harvested within the same year, which is used to name the wine (e.g., Sauvignon Blanc 2018). It doesn’t have to be more than 20 years old!

Vintage Furniture

Furniture over 20 years old, whether restored or not, is generally considered vintage. Vintage furniture is usually easily identified from a certain period as its style was popular. These are characteristics of furniture that are known to define periods, especially between the 1950s–1980s.

Vintage Cars

Vintage cars are different from other categories as they are known to have been manufactured sometime between 1919–1930. It was a transition period when automobiles were created differently — before industrialization and paved roads. Vintage cars have fewer features yet classy designs that have been copied into newer models driven in later years.

Vintage Jewelry

Jewelry that is 20–30 years old can be considered vintage. It is the most common vintage category. Some repairs are acceptable, but vintage jewelry must have 50% or more of its original design and materials intact to maintain this classification. Design periods may include:

  1. Art Deco
  2. Great Depression
  3. Post-WWII
  4. Matching sets
  5. Dramatic

Check out this helpful video to learn more about what is considered vintage clothing.

My Personal Research into How Old is Vintage

Some of the vintage items I’ve come across while researching how old vintage is have been eye-opening. We’re talking about items I used as a kid and a teenager. So, I asked some friends and family how old they think vintage is. Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about what people consider vintage.

Presumed Age of VintageTimes Selected
More than 10 years9%
More than 20 years18%
Older than me9%
20–30 years18%
More than 40 years9%
Younger than antique5%
20–50 years18%
30–100 years14%
How Old Real People Think Vintage Is

Helpful Insights on How Old is Vintage

How to find the value of antique or vintage items?

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There are several ways to find an antique or vintage item’s value. One is to find an antique appraiser and have the item appraised. Another option is to do an online search for the same or similar item and see how much it’s listed for.

What is the difference between vintage and antique?

The difference between vintage and antique mostly has to do with age. Vintage is between 20–99 years, while antique is generally over 100 years old.

What makes something antique, collectible, or vintage?

Things are considered antique if they are collectible and over 100 years old. Vintage is between 20–99 years old and iconic or collectible. A collectible is an item that is considered more valuable now than when it originally sold.

Is 12 years considered vintage?

Twelve years is not typically considered vintage; however, in some cases, 15 years may be considered vintage.

Is 20 years considered vintage?

An item that is 20 years old can be considered vintage. Typically something vintage is between 20–99 years in age or style.

Key Takeaways

  1. Vintage is a term that refers to items that are 20–99 years old.
  2. Some categories of vintage items have different periods and classifications.
  3. Vintage does not mean old – it means classic and sophisticated.

In Closing

Vintage has slightly different connotations for different items. For wine, it’s simply a year, while for other items, it’s a period when things were made differently. Vintage makes something sound original, cool, and sophisticated rather than aged or old. 

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