“Vintage” abuse


It’s been a while since my last post, not because there isn’t anything to talk about, but because I’ve been stuck on one topic in particular – vintage.

I have written a couple different posts on the topic, but scrapped them all. My dilemma: is this the appropriate forum for the discussion on what can or should be considered vintage Hmong embroidery and what should not? This can be quite the controversial subject. Vintage to me may be different from what it means to you.

According to Webster’s dictionary, vintage is:

A period of origin or manufacture
Length of existence: AGE
Of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance or quality: CLASSIC
Dating from the past: OLD

As you can see, good old Mr. Webster doesn’t offer us a clear-cut definition for vintage.

My definition of vintage is “of an era” – meaning, something from the past that is in tact, is made of its original materials, has not been altered from its original form, and can be or is dated.

So why has this topic been occupying my thoughts for so long? Because more than ever I am seeing Hmong embroidery and Hmong clothes being mislabeled as “vintage” or the “vintageness” (I don’t think that’s a real word, but it works) factor is questionable. I am by no means an authority on vintage items, but I know when something is blatantly not vintage.

Just do a quick search on Etsy or ebay for “vintage Hmong” and you will get hundreds, even thousands of results. Scroll through the items for sale that have been labeled “vintage.” It is quite the task to figure out what is vintage and what is not. Whether you have a trained eye for Hmong embroidery or not, you will be able to easily pick out non-vintage items.

I also have a problem with Hmong embroidery that has been repurposed or upcycled, still being called “vintage.” For me, vintageness is not transferable. A modern pillow or purse made of the materials from a legitimately vintage Hmong skirt does not make the pillow or purse vintage. I can assure you that anything Hmong that is old enough to be considered vintage will not be stuffed with down goose feathers.

The same thing goes for mass-produced items that are labeled “vintage.” Should anything that is so easily attainable be considered vintage? The act of labeling easily reproducible items vintage cheapens the word itself and makes a fool out of buyers. For me, vintage is the direct opposite of mass-produced items. Vintage Hmong embroidery are pieces that were once made by hand, are not being made any longer, are difficult to find especially in good condition, and/or the price is justified by the uniqueness and authenticity of the piece.

So, if you’re in the market for something that is Hmong and vintage. Define vintage for yourself and ask questions. Beware of sellers that label their goods “vintage,” even high-end sellers that have been featured on sites, such as One Kings Lane – especially when the item has been repurposed, upcycled, or does not include a date of origin.

If you are a seller that has been using the term “vintage” loosely, or have questions about it yourself, I recommend that you take inventory of what you are selling and determine whether the item(s) should be labeled as vintage. If they cannot, use other descriptive terms that may be more appropriate, such as authentic, traditional, hand-made, or one-of-a-kind. Your buyers will thank you for your honesty.


Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary (11th ed.). 2006. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.


2 thoughts on ““Vintage” abuse

  1. Hi! I just wanted to say I appreciate your thoughts on others loosely using the term “vintage” to describe certain Hmong items. I too am quite bothered by that since I have a different take on what should be labeled vintage. And yes I can attest that etsy shop owners don’t always differentiate between something that is actually hand made/embroidered/appliquéd and whether or not it’s actually vintage versus mass reproductions. Love your embroidery work in your other posts by the way.

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