Vintage Ways

Dipping One Toe into History While Keeping the Other Foot Firmly in the Present

What intrigues us so much about yesteryear? 

We think of it as a simpler time. In many ways, it was. Parties in the 1960s featured items like cocktail wieners, spicy cheese balls, and that newfangled concoction we call Chex Mix. If Chex Mix appeared on your appetizer table, you were a winner.

Think about it. Chex Mix was new. Not bagged, not re-engineered with different ingredients. It was novel, and simple to make. And 60s partygoers loved it. Easy to scoop onto an appetizer plate, the mix wasn’t too greasy to eat while playing cards or chatting with a drink. It was a hit! And in time, those 60s partygoers fed Chex Mix to their children and their grandchildren.

Earlier times brought us simpler ingredients. Not one cookbook published in the center of the United States in the 1920s seems to feature avocados as an ingredient. Avocados were the hot new thing by the end of the 20s in California, but recipes incorporating them hadn’t made their way to the middle states or East coast by 1930. Recipes during this time focused on easy to obtain, seasonal ingredients – much like many of us prefer to cook today.

These examples center around food. What about fashion? Decorating? Writing? Entertainment? The answers remain the same. Life seems simpler to us as we look backwards, so we find a decade that appeals to us (or two, or three, or five…) and we peer a bit closer. Then we might be interested enough to chase down some crepe paper and attempt to make a few vintage decorations. You know, just for fun. And to add some sparkle to our next seasonal decorating scheme. 

How Old Is Vintage? 

Although some modern “antiques” dealers will dispute this, the term antique refers to an item more than 100 years old. Anything less than 100 years old but more than 20-25 years old is considered vintage. Retro generally applies to the 1950s decade. At least, it does currently. I’m sure that will change with time, and 1960-1980 will become retro in their turn. 

My focus is generally older vintage, but I love it all. 

My vintage house

Currently, I live in a 1985 one-story house. It definitely fits into the vintage range, since it is over 25 years old and it was all the rage when it was built. My laundry is in a closet off my kitchen, which I love — and which hearkens back to an article from the 1930s by Cheaper By The Dozen mom Lillian Gilbreth. She was actually a psychologist and a trained efficiency expert in her own right, and Dr. Lillian Gilbreth designed the basis for what we know as the modern kitchen. 

When I first moved into my house, I was a bit sad. I desperately wanted a 1920-1940 bungalow, but in my area of the country these were all built with basements, and multiples of stairs were not in my future. 

Once we got settled, though, I looked around. The 1920 china cabinet looked right at home next to the corner fireplace. The piano and the treadle sewing machine… they looked like they fit, like they belonged. 

Suddenly, I realized something. Something important. This house was the mid-1980 redesign of the 1920s and 30s bungalow. It was small, functional, fashionable, and popular as a design. The kitchen was an update of the Kitchen Practical design from Lillian Gilbreth 50 years before. The only thing it was missing was the kitchen sewing machine area and ironing station.

Whew. I could relax and enjoy my new house. It was everything I’d wanted, only 50 years later and all on one floor. 

Do we accept everything labeled Vintage?

Well, let me ask you another question. Do you accept everything – absolutely everything – that exists in your culture right now? No, of course you don’t. Some things you refuse due to lack of time, or money, or interest. Other things you eschew due to ethics, or morals, or beliefs. Where you stand on any issue isn’t important right now. The point is, you choose sides for many topics. 

This means that when you embrace vintage living, you don’t have to accept everything just because it existed in a particular time frame. As part of the simplicity we see as appealing in the past, it tended to give rise to odd and offensive opinions every now and then. 

“But they believed” — of course they did. Most people are a product of their time. We can enjoy the gold nuggets they left us without ascribing to strange views. Once in a while, coming across outdated views (especially in literature) gives us a chance to ponder how things have changed. Or how they haven’t.

Just because it looks like a duck…

In the same way, not everything labeled “vintage” is truly that. Some of it, frankly, wasn’t popular enough to be considered vintage. It’s simply old. A self-published book that talks about your family line, that only existed in 150 copies to begin with is not vintage. It certainly qualifies as a family treasure, and it may be very old. But neither of those things marks it as vintage. To be vintage, an item must be culturally popular at one time. Radio shows are vintage. So are radio show commercials. The radio script that never found a buyer and so was never recorded is not considered vintage in the same way.

I’ll focus on vintage gems that will enhance your life. The fun, the quirky, the memorable. Those things that add joy and sprinkle charm.