One of the major trends in retail clothing over the past decade, and a widespread success, has been reproduction ‘vintage’ clothing. This movement kicked-off in Japan, moved back home to the US and can now be found in its most commercial form on every UK High Street — most notably in the ‘fake Japanese’ brand Superdry and in the current Gap range.
The ‘real’ thing: Brooklyn’s premier vintage emporium, the curiously-named 10ft Single by Stella Dallas, is a Japanese-run affair, selling nothing but American clothing.
The cultural journey
From the mills and shop floors of ‘blue collar’ America, to Tokyo’s most exclusive boutiques, back to high end Fifith Avenue retailers, and down to the UK High Street is a real cultural journey that says a lot about the way the attraction of ‘the other’ and, indeed, how the ‘schmata’ business itself works in the 21st Century.
To whit: the attraction of ‘the other’ is still alive and well, even if it’s an overseas reproduction of something originally produced in your home country, hence not technically embodying ‘the other’ at all. It speaks of the distance that our technology-based society has traveled from the days of the industrial revolution, and reinforces a hankering for that most elusive of cultural desirables: authenticity.
Of course, this type of gloriously confusing cultural cross-pollinisation has occurred countless times before. Just one notable example being the ‘British invasion’ of the 1960s, which saw American teens go ga-ga over bowdlerised Limey versions of R&B and soul tunes produced in their own backyard. But I digress…
Selvedge denim — never mind the width, feel the quality!
The tipping point
The most notable starting point for this wave of ‘fake vintage’ clothing is the Japanese ‘selvedge’ denim explosion of the 1980s. Vintage clothing dealers from this most culturally obsessive of countries bought up seemingly outdated denim looms from such US manufacturers as Levi Strauss and Cone Mills, in order to fulfill domestic demand with niche brands like Evisu and Sugar Cane.
Initially, the Americans couldn’t understand why the Japanese wanted to produce denim in an outdated, more costly manner. However, inevitably, the likes of Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler (not to mention Ralph Lauren, UniQlo and Gap) now proudly tout the inclusion of Japanese-made selvedge denim jeans in their (usually premium-priced) ranges. For a succinct and informative guide to selvedge denim, please click here.
The USP: it’s better denim.
The trickle-down effect
A recent, Japanese-fired trend that’s hit the High Street is early 20th Century-style workwear. Premium, niche Japanese brands like Workers, Buzz Rickson’s and Rakuten bought up original examples of such ubiquitous early 20thC American ‘working’ clothing as ‘chinstrap’ workshirts and faithfully reproduced them for the discerning domestic market, at prices of around £300 a pop.
Next, premium American brands like Ralph Lauren and J Crew picked up on this trend, and made their own slightly less faithful versions, for around £100. And now Gap and American branches of Levi’s are doing surprisingly affordable, pleasingly faithful versions of these shirts, in a number of different fabrics, for around £35.
The USP: the chinstrap workshirt can bestow a little ‘shop floor’ elan upon even the most jaded mouse jockey.
An original American chinstrap workshirt, circa 1920:
Premium Japanese repro from Rakuten:
High end American version from J Crew:
UK High Street version from Gap: