Shop vintage in seven easy steps

Vintage fashion is a great way of shopping sustainably, but it can often seem overwhelming. Here’s a seven step guide to cutting through the clutter.

vintage style

Have you ever stepped into a vintage fashion store, taken one look, smelt the mothballs and turned round again?

I wouldn’t blame you. Vintage can represent the quagmire of fashion shopping. And with many hoping to make a fast buck out of this growing trend, it’s not getting better any time soon.

So we thought we’d give you a easy guide to cutting through the crap, and finding your vintage love.

Step 1: Know your size
Dress sizes as we know them have been around only relatively recently. So if you’re going vintage shopping you need to know your vital statistics, especially your waist and hips. It often pays to take a tape measure with you, as labels are not always included or clear.

Many complain that vintage fashion isn’t available in their size. It’s often said as if it were some great conspiracy or inequality – it’s not. People were just thinner than we are now – different shapes too. Accept it.

However there are some good alternatives if you love the vintage look. Try a repro-vintage company. Tara Starlet is a great vintage-style brand that goes up to size 18, and they have a thorough ethical policy too. Lady V London is also great, as they’re UK made and do a whole range of plus sizes.

Step 2: Decide on your style
This can be a tricky one, but having an idea of the style you’re after can save you a lot of hassle. Do you want to go Mad Men with a Joan Holloway wriggle dress; or do you love the Twiggy style 60s shift dress? Often it’s decided on your shape, for example 50s flared skirts are great for hiding lumps and bumps. But be yourself too, and allow your personality to show.

Step 3: Do you research
As more people try and cash in on the vintage trend, inevitably it’s meant some more¬†unscrupulous¬†characters have arrived on the scene. What exactly constitutes vintage is a contentious issue, and possibly over-debated. However reading a little about what to look out for before you start, will definitely help. There’s plenty of good books out there, or if you’re short on time we have a handy vintage guide too.

Step 4: Know where to go
It’s useful to know how vintage operators work. Many buy their clothes by the kilo, and often unseen. I don’t think it takes a genius to work out the kind of quality you’ll get with this method. To bulk up the weight wholesalers will often add in any old moth eaten, stained rubbish. It’s the customer who ends up filtering through all the junk.

Other vintage retailers buy piece by piece. These are the guys that care and have specially selected each item. Camden Passage in Islington has some of these more refined retailers. Frock Me vintage fair in Chelsea is also good. Vintage Emporium on Brick Lane is excellent, although this street is generally best avoided if you’re serious about vintage.

Step 5: Decide on your budget
Vintage fashion can be expensive, especially if it is old and therefore rare. There are many advantages to investing in it. For one, it retains its value and therefore can be resold for around the same price if you get bored of it. Secondly, it’s kind of exciting to have a piece of history in your wardrobe.

With really old fashion also comes a responsibility though. You need to look after it carefully, and natural fibres can make this a challenge. Making alterations can also be frowned upon, as these are essentially antiques.

If this isn’t for you then maybe look for late 60s, 70s or 80s vintage. At this point synthetics had come into popular use, which are much more durable. Mass production also started, which means that each item is less rare so should not be as expensive.

Step 6: Take your time
Vintage fashion shopping isn’t something you should rush. If you’re visiting a fair then take all day for a really good rummage. Try things on (good markets normally have some kind of make-shift changing room if you ask), and if necessary stop for a cup or tea and cake to refresh before making your final purchase decisions.

Step 7: Look after your vintage
You’ve made your purchases, you’ve put them on, you look like Jackie O but with even more pizzazz. Surely that’s the job done?

I’m afraid not. Vintage needs tender loving care, and so does the environment come to that. Don’t over wash your vintage items – use a steamer or just let them air. Also avoid harsh chemical treatments like dry cleaning.

You’ll also need to keep an eye out for moths (there are natural moth remedies available), and musty smells can be a persistent nuisance. Using lavender sachets, and wrapping clothing up in the bin bags dress bags can help, especially if you want to stop the smell spreading to your other clothes.

Do you have any vintage fashion shopping tips you want to share with us? Let us know in the comments section below.

Photo: Preciousbites 



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