On online vintage store Bodements, it takes less than 20 minutes for a shirt to sell after its put up, signaling the constant rise of "old fashion".
It wasn't the case always, though. When stylist Divya Saini launched the store two years ago, for the most part, vintage shopping in India was unheard of. Making sales was difficult but Saini didn't give up. She had recognised the gap in the market after returning from a trip to Paris, with bags full of clothes designed between the 1960s and 1990s, and wanted to create a niche in India's fashion market. “Well, times have changed now; people are more aware. A major explosion happened during the pandemic,” she insists.
It's indeed true. Between 2018 and 2021, the luxury second-hand market grew 9% faster than the total luxury goods market, according to a report by Tagwalk, a fashion search engine. As the global conversation around waste and sustainability in the fashion industry increased last year, vintage shopping emerged as a responsible alternative.
Corsets, pouf shoulders and lacey blouses began appearing on streets, social media feeds and runways. In spring/summer 2021 collections, disco, balloon sleeves and romanticism emerged as the top-most trends, showcased by the likes of Christian Dior and Valentino. Retro styles continued to influence fall/winter collections, with pastel colours and flowing dresses.
Los Angeles-based designer Vidur Adlakha sifted through racks of clothing at vintage fairs, seeking inspiration for his label La Fuori’s newcollection. Drawing from Victorian silhouettes, it features ruffled dresses and exaggerated sleeves. He believes Victorian motifs can be a breath of fresh air, especially in times of upheaval. In the 1970s too, where most of today’s vintage clothing is inspired from, a wave of countryside Victorian and Edwardian nostalgia had swept America during the Vietnam war. “Those trends became popular because women wanted to be more light, feminine, flirty, and free. Sometimes a little bit of romantic drama can bring in a lot of joy and ease in your life,” he says.
A similar romanticism imbues the latest collection by Gauri and Nainika. Known for their signature floral work and ruffles, the designer duo has always admired 19th century European fashion.
"It's so inspiring because there is so much detail in the garments. You’ll always find something new that you can do your own interpretation on,” says designer Nainika Karan. Since the pandemic, she has observed a surge in demand for voluminous calf-length dresses. “They provide the drama of evening wear without making you look overdressed for smaller gatherings,” she explains. When the designers presented their collection at Lakme Fashion Week in March, it took the audience on a Bridgerton fashion tour.
The series has indeed played a role in fuelling the demand for 19th century inspired fashion further. After its release in India in December, designer Pallavi Singhee’s label Verb saw an approximate 30% increase in sales. Her buyers asked for big sleeves, low-square necks and empire lines. “One of our largest retailers in the US contacted us, saying this is the trend of the season and we need to pick it up in the next month. We could feel the pulse,” she says.
By March, data shows Google searches for "corset" spiked more than at any other time in the past five years. While the original corsets constricted the female body, their modern interpretation liberates it. “They make you feel sexy and confident,” says 24-year-old Preeti Yadav, who started Panda Picked, a second-hand store on Instagram that sells corsets and bustiers. Within a year, she has amassed 37,400 followers and every last one of her corset is sold out. “People are crazy about second-hand clothes. It's a competition now,” she says.
Part of the charm of vintage clothing, says Saini, is that they have a lot more to offer than mass-produced ones. “It gives you the room to explore your own individuality and express it. Each piece is unique and it can’t be copied. You don’t see someone else wearing the same thing as you,” she says. Even though the aesthetics of vintage culture are casting a shadow on its essence, she is certain that a section of people, albeit small, have reflected on their consumption habits and realised,“There is already so much clothing that exists in the world. Why do we need to shop for new?”