Top 10 Vintage Clothing Brands With a Storied Past

December 6, 2023

From James Dean’s iconic white tee to Marilyn Monroe’s billowing dress, vintage clothing holds a special place in American culture. 

But what is it that makes vintage pieces so timeless and coveted? 

Perhaps it is the high-quality materials, the craftsmanship, or simply the spirit of rebelliousness and adventure that certain eras evoke. 

Whatever the reason, vintage clothing brands have only grown more popular over time. 

From Levi’s to Ralph Lauren, several heritage labels have learned to blend nostalgic styles with contemporary fits and fabrics. 

For the vintage enthusiast, choices stretch far beyond your dad’s old concert tee. Here are 10 of the top vintage-inspired or heritage clothing brands keeping history hip in modern times.

1. Levi’s

It makes sense to start with the brand that claims to have created the very first pair of blue jeans. Founded in 1853 by Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss, Levi’s stands as one of the most quintessential American apparel companies. 

Their original riveted “waist overalls” were made hardy for miners and cowboys heading out West. Yet over time, denim became the fabric of rebels from bikers to rock stars seeking that well-worn look. 

Today Levi’s Vintage Clothing pays homage to the brand’s roots with authentic reproductions crafted from rigid materials and built to fade.

Meanwhile, Levi’s made-to-order Authorized Vintage line rescues early 20th-century denim from the archives and upgrades them for contemporary times. 

Regardless of which label you look for, Levi’s will always be synonymous with America’s obsession with denim.

2. Wrangler

Competing with Levi’s for the best-known denim brand is Wrangler, founded by C.C. Hudson in 1904. The name itself nods to the cowboys, rodeo riders, ranchers, and country music stars who made the label part of their unofficial uniform. 

Wrangler introduced its first pair of jeans in 1947 and continues celebrating Western heritage culture over a century later. 

Beyond denim, Wrangler takes inspiration from jackets, shirts, and accessories once worn by real-deal wranglers across the American frontier. 

Comfort and durability remain central to each vintage throwback piece. 

For those who want a sturdy style that can keep up with their adventuresome spirit, Wrangler is always a reliable go-to brand.

3. Lee

H.D. Lee Mercantile Company transformed from a small workwear manufacturer to one of the most iconic denim brands by catering to the needs of the early 20th-century working class. 

When the Union-All jumpsuit launched in 1913 as “a zipperless jumper style denim work suit”, little did the brand know a staple was born. 

The button flies and cross-back detail offered a more comfortable, functional alternative to overalls for farmers, railroad workers, and cowhands. 

Union-Alls would later inspire Lee’s first denim jeans for men and women by 1925. 

Almost a century later, Lee 101 continues as the brand’s hero piece that bridges old-school craftsmanship with new fits each season. 

Beyond denim, Lee’s heritage-inspired collections serve up everything from weathered leather jackets to broken-in chambray shirts and honest worker coats. 

The Endurance line even faithfully reconstructs archival apparel right down to the stitching, serving pure American nostalgia.

4. Ralph Lauren

Unlike the well-worn denims of early innovators, Ralph Lauren introduced a new preppy American style that blended Ivy-league heritage with country club culture when he launched his namesake label in 1967. 

Keeping up appearances mattered greatly in this old-money world of leisure and luxury. His upscale casual wear drew heavy inspiration from 1920s fashion covered in Great Gatsby glamour

From Oxford shirts, chino pants, and letterman jackets to knitted vests, Lauren celebrated a sporty leisure class lifestyle long past. 

Modern collections continue this tradition through RL’s well-appointed vintage designs full of moody plaids, varsity patches, club emblems, and a timeless sophisticated edge. 

Ralph Lauren offers a refined take on all-American vintage for those more interested in Kennedy-era prep than Wild West grittiness.

5. Tommy Hilfiger

Much like Ralph Lauren captured a moment in old-money America, Tommy Hilfiger embodied the culture and vibrance of 1980s and 90s Americana through his stylized world of art, music, sports, and pop media. 

More than any other brand, Hilfiger collections feel like youthful time capsules with their skate and surf graphics, rock band tees, and trucker jackets plastered in patches. 

The designer admits his earliest inspirations came from exploring attics stacked with hand-me-downs in his small hometown. 

These secondhand pieces fused with founder Tommy Hilfiger’s appreciation for rock and roll music and pop culture would come to define his seriously playful spin on classics. 

Today Hilfiger’s unique vintage American spirit lives on through collections that play into nostalgia for 90s hip hop as much as 60’s mod or 70’s disco.

6. Calvin Klein

With clean lines, minimalism, and provocative advertising campaigns, Calvin Klein may seem the furthest thing from rugged denim and working-class roots. 

Yet, this globally-recognizable mega-brand has had its own important place in the American fashion industry since its founding in 1968. 

What Klein introduced through his dresses, coats, and suits was a sleek, unfussed uniform for the modern 1980s woman and man to move through the world in. 

While CK might call up images of supermodels in nothing but white cotton briefs today, the label’s timeless basics invented contemporary classics now seen through a vintage lens. 

Beyond underwear, CK continues breathing new life into signature pieces like oversized sweatshirts, slip dresses, and sharp suits that find endless ways to reinvent American classics.

7. L.L.Bean

No discussion of heritage fashion would be complete without L.L.Bean. This 106-year-old brand built an empire out of creating stylish outdoor apparel without sacrificing utility.

From winter parkas and hunting boots to casual oxfords and flannels, L.L.Bean outfits adventure-seekers for the long haul. 

When its founder Leon Leonwood Bean started selling his own waterproof hunting boot by mail in 1912, little did anyone know how far the quality and innovation would spread. 

Four generations later, L.L.Bean’s original field coats, button-downs, quarter zip pullovers, and duck boots remain bestsellers with enhancements in every way. 

Alongside performance tech fabrics, the company releases limited-edition heritage collections that identically recreate catalog items from every decade since its inception. 

Between the Archive department’s museum quality restoration services and L.L.Bean Bootmobile driving across America to keep old boots in service, everything links back to the durability and timelessness of classics done right.

8. Patagonia

Much like how L.L.Bean equipped sportsmen exploring the Northeast’s forests and streams in the early 1900s, Patagonia grew out of the funky entrepreneurial surf culture of Southern California in the 70s and 80s. 

Rock climber Yvon Chouinard built his company based on a commitment to both high-quality gear and environmental ethics. 

Over the decades, they faced criticism for moving production outside America yet continually led as an exemplary brand for sustainable practices. 

Beyond their funky fleeces, recycled down jackets, and classic corduroy shorts, it’s Patagonia’s utter durability that makes their vintage wear such treasures. 

Pieces easily pass down over generations and even their worn-out apparel gets transformed into new thanks to their groundbreaking Worn Wear program. 

9. Abercrombie & Fitch

The Abercrombie & Fitch of today scarcely resembles the brand originally founded in 1892, yet plenty of heritage still echoes from this century-old American company. 

Back when Ezra Fitch took the elite outdoor outfitters over in 1900, Abercrombie outfitted all manner of adventurers from Theodore Roosevelt to Amelia Earhart to even Civil War veterans. 

Known for innovations like the original safari jacket and sheepskin-lined aviator coats, quality, prestige, and attention to detail reigned at Abercrombie. 

Yet the 60s ushered in declining profits until rebranding in the 90s repositioned A&F squarely at the teen demographic with provocative catalogs and ribbed tanks galore. 

While fierce brand loyalty remains among Gen X and millennials today, Abercrombie continues blending hints of that wild spirit and ivy-league heritage into more inclusive contemporary teen fashion.

10. Carhartt

The dependability Carhartt workwear brings American jobs comes from keeping its own manufacturing largely based in the US since 1889. 

Founded by Hamilton Carhartt in Detroit, the brand created superior-quality clothing to serve railroad workers and farmers. Within decades, early unions adopted its denim bib overalls as part of their uniform. 

Carhartt’s signature triple-stitched seams and passionate focus on perfecting utility designs to meet all kinds of labor needs built the kind of trust people can depend on. 

The 80s then ushered in the first streetwear trend when rappers and skaters adopted the durable coats and pants for a new generation. Suddenly canvas chore coats and duck traditional Gracemeyer jackets made iconic style statements. 

Today with vintage Carhartt wear more popular than ever, the family-owned brand stays committed to keeping quality high and environmental impact low across its timeless work-ready styles.

The Forever Allure of Vintage Finds

Vintage clothing connects us to wondrous tales of the past more profoundly than dates in history books ever could. 

Pieces like a vintage 1960s concert tee made memories of soundtracking formative youth, while a vintage heirloom wedding dress carries the divine joy of new beginnings. 

This everlasting allure of legacy clothing will never fade away; it will only grow in value for future generations to uncover all over again.