The vintage trend really took off when the economy tanked — but not just because secondhand clothes, furniture and vehicles are cheaper. It's because we find vintage goods reassuring when facing an uncertain future.
New research forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Psychology finds that the appeal of vintage isn't just aesthetic or financial — it's psychological, as well.
By virtue of being from another era, vintage items make us think of the past. When we incorporate them into our home, wardrobe or garage, we bring them into the present and, implicitly, into the future, based on the assumption that they'll continue to be used.
The consumption of vintage goods gives us an awareness of our place in the universe, so to speak, by prompting us to think about the past, present and future all at the same time.
Although this time-spanning thought process doesn't happen often, vintage items trigger it in a way their modern counterparts don't. The researchers found that handling or even thinking about owning a vintage item put people in this frame of mind.
Mentally connecting with the past and the future as well as the present has a unique effect on our emotions: It mitigates the perception of what the researchers call a "threat condition," which could be anything from from a reminder of our own death to upheaval in our beliefs or relationships — or an event like the Great Recession.
"It is perhaps more than coincidental that recent upticks in embracing vintage co-occurred with the largest global economic recession in many generations," the researchers observed, suggesting that Americans unconsciously have gravitated more to vintage items for their soothing effect in the face of large-scale upheaval and uncertainty.