Culture often has interesting ways of reminding people of what they’ve lost or failed to achieve over a lifetime. Perhaps the same mania that Jean Baudrillard referred to while examining the collector’s obsession is the same mania that afflicts those drawn to the vintage items.
Vintage is not quite antique but occupies the evolving space between what people would term ‘historical’ and ‘not quite new.’ There are countless old things around us, but since these items belong to the same experienced milieu, they are discounted as plain and uninteresting, with little or no collectible value.
Vintage items on the other hand, possess the precious patina of a bygone era. When a stretch of empty time crystallizes with the yellowing amber of so many elections, birthdays, deaths, political upheavals, fads and all the nonsense that we forcibly use to ‘define a generation,’ and some more time passes until the children of that era are no longer wet behind the ears, that’s usually the ‘sweet spot’ for a vintage aesthetic to grow. Of course, no one wants to dwell too much on the essential harshness of life, especially in the Third World.
And so, the kids who once played in the gravel and dust of the eighties and nineties can only truly remember, with a sickly-sweet fondness, the scarce number of things that made them happy at one point in their lives.
A Short Trip to Antigo
Antigo is a quaint little vintage store tucked away on the second floor of the Great Mall of Pampanga in Xevera, Mabalacat City. It has a few tarpaulins informing the public of its existence for the usual business reasons, where fewer people roam. Antique store and vintage shops like Antigo are anachronistic at the core. For better or worse, these stores offer trinkets, wares, and apparel from times past. It is their raison d’être, the very skin stretched over the dried scaffolding of conflict and lost childhoods.
The shop overlooks the town square, with its center occupied by a massive fountain replete with life-sized sculptures of spear-wielding warriors on horseback, their grimaces forever frozen in a singular, eternal moment. While others may interpret the sculptures as courage, the tense postures of the horses and the warriors speak of retreat or hiding rather than attacking. Quite appropriate as a pasty theme of the times as we approach the next presidential elections.
Antigo’s layout is open and simple, with a few racks lined up neatly against the wall. There are windbreaker jackets, sweatshirts, leather jackets, and other vintage items from the nineties. The clothes are in great condition, probably washed and steam-ironed before being displayed on the racks. They lack the smell of the dreaded baul, and rightly so, as they fetched a slightly premium price for being maintained in such a pristine condition.
It took me exactly a minute to realize that the vintage items in front of me didn’t look or feel vintage to me at all. I was born in 1988. Many of the clothes were likely manufactured in the mid-nineties, onward. Brands like Chaps were commonplace during my time. My grandmother and uncles from Los Angeles would often send clothes like these in balikbayan boxes. Most of the clothes were too big for the kids, and the adults of the family could only wear sweatshirts and long-sleeved polos so many times through the year, so many of these high-quality apparels languished in old, wooden cabinets, to be buried by other old clothes and ultimately, forgotten.
I purchased two sweatshirts and cursorily asked the owner if an old vintage plate on his shelf that said “Cheers!” was for sale. He looked at the plate, and back at me, and said jovially “I’m going to give this to you, so you’d come back!”
I was taken aback by the gesture. After all, by the very nature of their scale, small businesses often cannot afford to give away stuff to patrons. But the young owner of the shop, Gael, had other methods of acquiring sales. He asked me if I could pose a shot, and I obliged. Of course, it takes nothing away from me, and it’s cool to have a photo against a backdrop that included vintage gaming consoles, a Sharp TV from the eighties (likely), and even a box of vinyl.
As we drove home that day, I tried to remember what I looked like twenty years ago when my uncles sent us balikbayan boxes filled with clothes that people now call vintage. I can’t remember anymore. That part of my memory has become hazy with discordant images, many of them now mute and lacking true color and proper order. At home, I touched the fabric of the sweatshirts and closed my eyes. Briefly, something fired in my brain, and for a moment, I remembered something that I now find difficult to put into words. It wasn’t nostalgia. It was certainly not grief. I leave it to these mute vintage objects at the moment to remember for me what it was.
While the machineries of digital space are hellbent in preserving fragments that take on a new life away from their progenitors, the act of summoning memories couldn’t be more different than what are construed as parts of memory. Concepts like “vintage” will only make sense when existing memories come rolling back in full glory – like the fractured projection of a nitrite film used after nearly a century of neglect. The natural decay of the lived experience, coupled with the fragility of remembering and physiological acrobatics of depleted neurons all add a certain type of fatalism to the very act of trying to recall states and events that are not anymore, or never will be again.