1. Firstly, if you haven't been vintage shopping before it can look like a lot of effort and it's hard to know where to start. Unlike most high street clothes shops there is only one of everything. This can make the rails look a little daunting and untidy. There's no way around it, you just have to root. It is definitely a time consuming way to shop, so make sure you afford yourself enough time.
|It looks like a lot of effort and it can be, but you won't find anything unless you get stuck in.|
2. Bring a measuring tape and know your bust and waist measurements. You'll save yourself a lot of time and mental anguish in the changing room if you rule out the garments that aren't going to go near you. You'll also need to know your measurements to shop online as for the most part pieces won't be listed in standard sizes because standard sizes in the past don't necessarily relate to today's sizes.
3. If you're very taken with an item but it's slightly too small check the seam allowance, many vintage dresses have an ample amount which might allow for minor alterations. If the dress is too short, check the hem to see if there's enough fabric to let it down. If you're in doubt ask a shop assistant for advice. If you're shopping online sometimes the seller will provide information about seam allowance, if not it's always worth contacting them to ask.
4. Familiarize yourself with the most common types of damage to look out for, I've highlighted the key words because I feel like my tips aren't colourful enough:
- If an item has beading check for missing beads, personally I don't mind a few missing beads but it's important to establish whether they're still falling off (give it a shake) in which case it will need immediate attention.
- Make sure you can distinguish between a tear and a burst seam. A burst seam is super easy to repair where as a tear is not. This might sound obvious to some but not everybody realises the difference.
- Rust stains generally don't come out and they're quite common, especially on garments with metal fastenings which were stored folded up.
- Check under the arms, as this area experiences a lot of wear.
- If you're buying vintage fur be very careful to examine the garment thoroughly, fur that wasn't carefully stored can often be beyond repair. If the hide feels stiff and dry there really is no coming back from that. Tears are pretty common and can be hard to spot underneath all the fur.
- Check carefully for moth holes, especially on woolen items, as they're easy to miss.
5. I've read some vintage shopping tips that warn against ever buying anything that needs alteration or repair, which I don't think is very good advice. Adjust your expectations according to what vintage actually means. If you're buying a pre-owned item that could be anything from 20-90 years of age chances are it will have some sort of flaw. It's old. If you don't sew yourself you could try asking the shop assistant if they can recommend a local alterations service (I'd be very surprised if they couldn't) and bring it there immediately after purchase to ensure you don't end up putting it on the back burner. Sadly, sometimes a garment really is at the end of it's life, if it's too big a job or you don't think you'll get around to it then don't waste your money.
6. Try on loads of different items, not just one. You'll increase your hit rate and you might surprise yourself. I've fallen in love plenty of times after trying a dress a friend suggested that I wouldn't have rated on the hanger. Going out looking for a very specific item is more suited to internet shopping, in an actual real life shop you have to be prepared to rummage, take chances, and ultimately broaden your taste.
7. The most frustrating thing I hear in work is adult women saying that they love something but it's "a bit out there" and they wouldn't have the confidence to wear it. I experienced this chronic lack of confidence when I was 15 in secondary school and it seriously depresses me that some people still carry that baggage into their adult life. I'm not sure how this qualifies as a tip but if you take anything away from it please let it be that you never bore me with your confidence issues. We all have them. Build a bridge.
8. Being able to date garments is a handy skill to have when vintage shopping. In my experience sellers frequently list the era incorrectly, so it's important that you learn to tell for yourself so that you can decide whether or not a piece has been priced fairly. I always have my eyes peeled for metal zips which generally place a garment in the 1960s or earlier. There are some general tips on dating garments here and I also use the Vintage Fashion Guild's label resource, it's very useful. Vintage garments from the US may also have a union label, you'll find a great deal of information on dating union labels here. The information on the Vintage Fashion Guild site is contributed by lots of different people, so it's not always accurate, as I've demonstrated below with a night gown I used to have:
|A Christian Dior night gown with two labels (the folded one is Saks Fifth Avenue)|
|A screenshot of some of the Christian Dior labels from the label resource.|
|A screenshot of some of the Saks Fifth Avenue labels from the label resource.|
9. Get an idea of average prices in different vintage shops and with different online sellers because prices can vary greatly. If you get a feel for the product and the typical price region you'll be harder to fool and unfortunately people do get fooled. The price on the tag isn't always indicative of the garment's true worth. For example I was in a local vintage shop a couple of days ago and spotted some lovely beaded 1960s tops at an astonishing €120, almost three times the price I sell them for. This works both ways however and as an example of the other extreme I was delighted to discover a 1940s dress for €25 in a local vintage shop recently (I love you Lucy's Lounge). Minor differences in price are to be expected as different businesses have different overheads and means of sourcing. I generally expect to pay more in a vintage shop which I know hand picks their stock as opposed to a shop which bulk buys blind, and I don't mind this as I appreciate the expense and time it takes for shops to buy in this way, and I think it makes for a more enjoyable shopping experience.
10. THIS IS A BIG ONE. Take a few moments to distinguish between 1950s and rockabilly. Polka-dot, halter-neck, swing dresses are not 1950s they're rockabilly (and they are not my fave.)
11. Due to the nature of vintage when you find something you really like I recommend impulse buying. This probably isn't sound financial advice but there's only one of everything so just buy it. Within reason I guess. I've been left emotionally disturbed many times when I held off buying something and then when I returned it was gone. I missed out on a dress over 6 months ago and I still have a picture of it on my desktop so that I won't forget it and I still search etsy for similar ones. It was €20 why didn't I just buy it? WE WERE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER.
12. Other vintage shopping guides I've read usually include a point about not wearing too much vintage in one outfit or not dressing like you're in costume. Whatevs. Provided you take on board my lesson about rockabilly you should just wear whatever you want.
Remember that when you buy clothes on the high street as soon as you take them home and cut off their tags they lose value, this isn't the case with vintage. If you choose well and look after your vintage it will only increase in value with time.