The Science of Retail Nostalgia!

Let's start by defining the word Nostalgia.

Meriam-Webster defines Nostalgia as

1 :the state of being homesick :homesickness

2 :a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also :something that evokes nostalgia

For most of our lives, we've heard terms like "Good Old Days",as well as statements declaring that "they don't make them like they use to." If you're like me, you may have made the mistake of thinking this was just what "old" people say. Well, now that I am 40 and have my own business selling vintage items, I can tell you, there's much more to it than that. And some of you may already know this. I caught myself telling my daughter about how "I only played Atari as a young boy "and that "we didn't have cell phones, but we had to use pagers and pay phones." I am sure that the next step will be a 3 word broken statement of "Kids these days".

These words and statements are somewhat of a rite of passage, and a celebration of ones life and times. In the words of the band "The Who"..., we're all just talking about our generation.

Mid Life what??

So, the cliché says that many don't handle aging well, and around 40 or so, they start dressing as if they were much younger, and can be proned to buying sports cars to compensate for their aging. Well, anyone who has been bombarded by birthday gag gifts when turning 40, may see how that's very possible. However, there is a different approach that many people take, to "recapture" their youth. Certainly ones mortality does become an issue that we contemplate as we get older, and who really wants to think about that? Yet, it is our somewhat faded but fond memories of our youth that motivate us to fit time for reminiscing into our daily schedule. The song we turn up on the radio, and the old classic car that we do a double take for..., these moments make aging a little bit more tolerable. Even the simple products that we never gave a lot of thought to in our youth, often spark our interests now, making us long for the "good old days". I am still amazed that the pocket fisherman is now such an interesting item to so many, when most of us wrote it off as a cheap TV gimmick "back in the day". Of course, I now see car collectors who only collect Edsels too, a car known as the Father of all lemons at the time it was being sold at dealerships throughout the US. Surely there is method to the madness, right?

My generation seems to have put polaroid cameras and Walkmans on the top of the collectables list these days, as we are officially becoming sentimental and feeling nostalgic, as we enter our 40's. As the definition said, these items are something that evoke nostalgia and like candy to the sweet tooth, we, who are coming to terms with our age, need these seemingly mundane things to feel a connection to our youth.

Nostalgia is in the eye of the beholder.

Vintage vs. Antique

If only determining the value of an item was as easy as judging wine or cheese, where one only need use their sense of taste or smell to determine quality...., but it isn't. But fear not, there is indeed somewhat of a science to it. Let's start out with the basic question I receive the most. What is the difference between "vintage" and "antique"? Again, I'll first reference Meriam-Webster which defines "vintage" as:

1 of wine Smiley Surprisedf, relating to, or produced in a particular vintage

2 Smiley Surprisedf old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality :classic

3 a :dating from the past Smiley Surprisedld

b Smiley Surprisedutmoded, old-fashioned

4 Smiley Surprisedf the best and most characteristic —used with a proper nounvintage Shaw: a wise and winning comedy

—Time

It defines "antique" as:

1 :a relic or object of ancient times

2 a :a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs laws at least 100 years ago

b :a manufactured product (such as an automobile) from an earlier period

So, what did we learn from these definitions? Really, nothing other than that if you're 100 years old, you're probably offended by their definition of antique. Hey, I did say "somewhat" of a science, not definitive. My point being, it's ultimately up to the collector to define what is "vintage" since the definition seems to be a bit more abstract and preferential than the definition of "antique". It can also depend on the means for which the item is being used. Is it for collecting, décor,....,or is it wine? Cars typically qualify as antique at 25 years old, so the lifespan of certain items can be a factor too(my dog at 12 is younger than me, but much, much older than me at the same time) In the industry of vintage resell, many resellers and experts define vintage as no younger than 20 years old, and no older than 100, while defining antique as 100 years old or more.

There have been many times when I've witnessed customers drawn to an item, unique to them not because of the age or period it was from, but because of the particular use they remember it for, or the memories of the place where they used it. They may not even care to remember the particular year they used it as it spot lights their age, and takes the focus off of the fond memories. For example, a few years ago, a 40 year old sled I was selling reminded a man of the one he owned as a child growing up in Michigan. Being from Alabama, that sled had no personal value to me for it did not elicit any memories of my childhood growing up in a humid environment. Heck, he had to explain what snow was, and other than slushies' in the summertime, I have never experienced such a marvel of nature. Had I unwittingly blurted out "Yep, that's a vintage sled and It's 40 years old. You don't see many of them these days", I do believe I would have ruined the moment for him. As Miriam described it, this item was of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality . Meaning, the age of the item wasn't the focus for the customer, but instead the memories it evoked, which is where nostalgia comes in. What feelings and memories does an item evoke in any one individual? That is the part of the science of nostalgia that, much like fishing, is a patience game. We as resellers often have to try different bait to capture the buyers attention. Thanks to the internet, we are now able to map and chart the results of any given product to determine trends, and develop new niches when possible. We literally have to run our business as "for the customer, by the customer" because the demand for any particular supply of vintage is often driven by a deeper, more personal need, thus it is ever changing, and not always easy to predict.

So, why are kids wearing clothes from my generation?

Yes, vintage clothing is at the forefront of the resell industry, due in large part to the teenage population. This point often causes many to doubt my view of what drives vintage resell. But there is a simple explanation.

As we all know, no matter what generation you grew up in, rebellion is often in some form, at the heart of what drives teenagers. My bald head can confirm this. One generations Elvis or Jim Morrison is today's Marilyn Manson(what? Manson isn't popular anymore??) Being different is important to teenagers, as it is the human species way of nurturing and confirming identity while establishing independence. You can't really be different going to the outlet mall and buying the latest trends, so many kids hit that one store they would have avoided years before......,the thrift store. Nirvana and I both loved to wear our dads old flannels in the 90's. Sha Na Na and the movie Grease made 50's wardrobe popular again..., in the 70's. I can't wait until my kids experience the phenomena when they have their own children. I will relish the moment as I tell them that no, it isn't because your generation was "so cool".

From "of use", to "used", to "museum", One person's Junk is another person's Treasure

In closing, as a reseller, it is more important now than ever to truly listen to the customer, and take a sincere interest in their stories and recollections, because that is their sacred history. In this internet driven world fads change quickly, but they often spring up quickly too. It is simply a matter of thinking like a buyer of vintage, and walking in their shoes(whether they are Converse from the 60's or Nikes from the 80's) Take note of items people are drawn to. When I work locally at flea markets, the key phrase I listen for is " Look at this..., do you remember these?" That never fails to stop me in my tracks, so I can start a conversation with them. One where I listen to them reminisce, and try to relate to their nostalgia. This helps to narrow down the supply and understand the demand, therefor I am able to provide the best shopping experience for my customers. This is also what makes our profession so great, is helping someone look back with fondness and celebrate their generation. So that aging isn't a death sentence, but a fact of life to be celebrated. It is simply the process of getting better and bolder in our taste.., like wine.

As a collector, I advise that you buy what you are drawn to, or what you find appealing. Never buy simply for the sake of trend or the potential value as an investment, and be leery of anyone who tries to sell you on the "potential increase in value" of an item. Even being a reseller, there is so much risk in doing this. It requires us to speculate as to what the potential buyer will be thinking about when they purchase an item in the future, and as I said before, the definition of vintage is often abstract and personal. Besides, one only need to look at the current market for Beanie Babies and Baseball cards to understand that if too many people stockpile something of no relative use for the sake of investment alone.., it becomes a whole lot of nothing. My greatest regret as a collector is the massive amount of baseball cards I collected as a kid, and I don't even like baseball. I simply did what many said was the "smart" thing to do, so that one day I could retire off of Jose Canseco's name and image. My true pride and joy is my Star Wars collection and cereal premiums. They have true value because I have always loved collecting both, and I have never given much thought to their monetary value. Ironically, these 2 niches happen to be doing very well now in vintage sales. A good Vintage reseller will want to hear your interest, and be able to relate to you, because they too have something that is nostalgic to them. They won't try to tell you that something could make you millions in the future. We resellers aren't stock brokers, therefor we shouldn't be speculating.

Buy something for it's purpose, and it's value to you personally, and don't wait for it to be popular to buy it. That's when it's harder to get great deals. I myself am still a teenager at heart. I march to the beat of my own drum, so I don't follow the collecting fad of the moment. Instead, I find that I am often collecting those interesting things no one else is looking at, for they are much to preoccupied with collecting the "trend of the day". It actually works out quite splendidly, because this gives me access to unique, yet overlooked items that no one is buying, thus more negotiating leverage in trying to get the best deal. It also keeps me younger than buying a Corvette I can't afford, or wearing clothes that only someone 20 years old should be wearing would.

Having fun with your collection, that is the REAL value. We have forgotten this in our hoarding of items that will never be opened. How do you make memories by NOT using something as intended? Where is the nostalgia in treating a toy like a stock or bond? If I should ever get rich, I intend to buy a 1950's Mickey Mantle baseball card ,and put it in the bicycle spokes. Not because I'm crazy, but because Mickey Mantle , most likely would have done the same thing. Besides, it could only help those investors who have lost so much in the suffering baseball card market, as that would be one less card in the supply pool......., Perhaps to be fair, I should also set my beanie babies on fire to help that market recover too.

Collecting, as a passion, will truly serve its purpose in bringing us fulfillment, if we remember the same words that offer us great advice in all the other aspects of our lives that we're passionate about...., those words being "Carpe diem". A phrase that comes from the Roman poet Horace, which means literally "Pluck the day", though it's usually translated as "Seize the day". A free translation might be "Enjoy yourself while you have the chance". As Miriam Webster puts it:

For some people, Carpe diem serves as the closest thing to a philosophy of life as they'll ever have.

Well said Miriam Webster...., very well said indeed.
3 REPLIES 3
Level 7
Great post! @ResellUnlimited
Very good insight on the differences and similarities between "vintage" and "antique". I think you were spot on with how you tied in nostalgia with buying/selling and reselling!
Welcome the the OfferUp forums! Glad to have you here.
Level 9

@ResellUnlimited  @Fredyfred5   I to found this to be a interesting read. Thank you for the time you took to write it. Hope to read more from you.

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Welcome to the Community forums
@ResellUnlimited!
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Love this charming, VERY informative and humorous post!
Was smiling while taking in the memories... Thanks for posting, very enjoyable read!
Ciao' for now...