Skoda also says it’s an extension of the vintage boom The RealReal has observed of late, with more young customers buying pre-2000s clothing their friends aren’t likely to have. “To tell someone ‘It’s vintage’ when they ask about your dress—that’s kind of a badge of honor,” she says. “We’re seeing this broader shift into more vintage and one-of-a-kind, and less of a need for logos and current-season pieces.”
To call this a “trend” could make it seem fleeting; to me, it represents a broader shift in our values, with personal style and originality prized more than It items. Kate Nightingale, the founder of Style Psychology, a firm that specializes in consumer behavior and experiences, says the change was in motion long before the pandemic: “In Western countries especially, we were in [an era] of personal growth, where people were beginning to care more about experiences and spending time with loved ones,” she says. “During the pandemic, that intensified. It forced us to reevaluate what was meaningful in our lives, and people started valuing wellness, spirituality, charity, sustainability… Instead of, ‘do I have the latest bag?’ we asked ourselves, ‘How does this bag make me feel? What charity did I support when I bought it? Have I done something positive for the environment? What did I do with my old bag, did I sell it or donate it?’ The bag is becoming a symbol of social value,” she concludes—not just a symbol of clout or acceptance.
More surprising were Nightingale’s remarks about how one-of-a-kind, no-name pieces reflect our fundamental need for control. “Even before the pandemic, there was a sense of wanting more control in our lives—controlling how our data was being used, what we shared on social media,” she explains. (We may think we have control over our digital personas, but in reality, we’ve given most of it up.) “The desire for something that’s one-of-a-kind, anonymous, or, better yet, personalized is an expression of control, in a way. A sense of control is a basic need and it’s key to our overall safety, and the pandemic shook that up. It became important to regain some control, and buying pieces that no one else has, that are entirely exclusive—this creates an illusion of safety in our minds.”
It’s also possible that fashion consumers are just getting savvier. The pivot to “stealth luxury” was underway pre-2020, with brands easing into a quieter, more minimalist aesthetic and designers across the board thinking about longevity and timelessness. “The people who buy the flashy logos tend to be ego-driven,” Nightingale says. “Whereas people who buy the not-identifiable items—the pieces you might only recognize if you’re in the know—they’re simply not as concerned with showing their status.”
Gen Z and millennial customers may be catching on to that, regardless of their actual “social status.” Money and prestige are no longer essential to influence, and most young shoppers are just as concerned with their values as they are with excellent fashion. Plus, anyone can buy a logo these days, especially as resale and thrift become more and more accessible. Unique personal style, on the other hand, is much harder to come by. You can’t get it in a single purchase; it comes down to knowing yourself, being confident about your choices, and pushing your creativity. And that’s what feels really aspirational.