How to Shop for Vintage Clothing

Опубликовал Admin
9-02-2021, 18:30
Vintage clothing shopping is exciting and enjoyable because you can find items of clothing that nobody else has and you can find good quality items made the way they don't make things these days, from fabrics that might not even be around now. Not only are you sourcing unique items but you're also being eco-friendly into the bargain and pre worn clothing is considered desirable by those frequenting the red carpet to the local fashionista. Buying vintage clothing takes a little background knowledge of the styles you like, knowing where to look, and knowing how much you can get away with in terms of fit and alterations; while DIY alterations can help with little fit issues you may have, it’s really important to check the fit of a garment before buying. Ultimately, buying vintage clothing is about choosing what you know you'll feel great wearing.


  1. Be aware of vintage clothing dates and quality variations. This article presumes that "vintage" is at least 30 years ago (currently ruling out the 80s), thereby taking in the 1970s and anything before then. Realistically, not a lot of clothing prior to the 1920s is going to be very practical to wear nowadays, and is likely to be harder to find in good enough condition (or at a good price). In terms of quality, a lot of the clothing pre-1960 will be tailored and finished with greater care and preciseness than clothes post the 60s. This is due to the fact that mass manufacturing of cheap clothing, although already in full swing post World War II, really came into its own from the 60s and 70s, so garments from these decades on will be of varying quality and you'll need to rely on your own eye for assessing quality picks.
    • Beware! From the 60s on, the love for human-made fibers no matter how scratchy, icky, or heat-producing will be found in a lot of modern style clothes, so pay close attention to the quality and feel!
  2. Know your preferred fashion decades. Through the decades, every era has its own particular fashion statements and focus on emphasizing different parts of the body. For most eras, and certainly from the 30s, checking out photos of the major movie stars will give you an excellent overview of the top fashions for each decade and help you to form an idea of what you like the most. Having a good 20th century fashion book in your possession is a sensible buy that will help guide your choices. As well, visit museums, look at online galleries of vintage clothing, and simply browse through stores to start getting a feel for the older fashions. Some brief major points from the 20s to the 70s include:
    • 1900-1918: Beginning of haute couture, major reforms in clothing and some severity in styles during World War I.
    • 1920s: The flapper fashion era, focusing on a thin silhouette line, lots of beading and intricate work, longer length, and beautiful fabrics. A bit boyish/androgynous in some respects, so perfect for the tomboy. Movies start to influence fashion.
    • 1930s: Lots of glamor and Parisian couture thanks to the movie stars getting more and more publicity, lots of evening gowns, elegant fabrics, and a focus on femininity; lots of French haute couture.
    • 1940s: Thanks to World War II, pragmatism, improvisation, and durability influenced the clothing, with solid suits in neat cuts and durable fabrics like wool leading the way. Colors tended to focus on blue, black, and brown and clothing was often livened up with costume jewelry.
    • 1950s: With rock and roll and an increased focus on youth culture, changes were afoot in the fashion industry, from floral sundresses, full (poodle circle) skirts, fitted bodices, cocktail dresses, bolero tops, halterneck dresses, pretty cardigans, jeans, capris, and gorgeous evening wear worn by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor. And don't forget the Audrey Hepburn look; it's unique. Names from this era include Dior, Balenciaga, Balmain, Faith, Givenchy, Chanel, Norell, Claire McCardell, Mainbocher, and Galanos. Movies continue to act as a strong influence on fashion, passing on the new youth trends; and Barbie comes out in 1959.
    • 1960s: Tailored lines are strong, with Jackie O style suits, to Twiggy mini skirts, all well made and well finished in a glorious range of colors, including oranges and pinks. Patterns are starting to take center stage, including polka dots, psychedelics, paisley, and stripes. And the hippie look is one strong element of the 60s, as the mod/pop preference for synthetics was left behind. Designers from this era include Mary Quant, Paco Rabanne, Andy Warhol, Biba, Laura Ashley, Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, Balmain, Oleg Cassini, Peter Max, etc.
    • 1970s: The hippie era from the 60s leaves its mark on 70s clothing, with long, flowing dresses, as well as lots of amazing (often tasteless) prints and disco influenced looks. There is also punk, disco, and knitted everything. Designers include Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb, Thea Porter, Zandra Rhodes, Gina Fratini, Jean Varon, Jean Muir, Rae Spencer-Cullen, Calvin Klein, Diane von Fürstenberg, Ralph Lauren, Halston, etc.
  3. Know what to look out for. When buying vintage, look for the quality that older clothes can bring. Vintage clothes have been worn before. That’s part of their charm. Don’t expect brand-new clothing items. But make sure you’re getting your money’s worth as well. Check the garment over for flaws or blemishes, and if you’re buying online, read the description thoroughly! If you’re unsure of the garment’s condition, talk to the seller. They should be able to help you determine whether or not it’s something you want to buy.
    • Check that the item is lined, cut well and structured properly. It is also very helpful if it doesn't date too much to that era but can easily blend into today's forgiving array of fashion, although it's really up to you if you don't mind standing out as someone with clothes from a specific era.
    • Insect damage. Moth, beetle, and other insect damage to clothing can create nasty holes that might not be recoverable. Also, you don't want to be bringing the insects back home if there are still eggs waiting to hatch on the item.
    • Fading of color or pattern. This isn't always fatal but it might really spoil the overall look of the garment if it's too obvious and severe.
    • Totality of embellishments. Are only a few minor ones missing, or are so many missing that it's really evident? Some embellishments make the outfit and might need to be there to ensure it's a really good look.
    • Check for odor, stains, and loose items or tears. In terms of odor, some odors that are hard to remove include mothballs and pet urine. Stains are very iffy because they'll probably have been on there for ages unless someone just upended coffee on it while browsing. Can the stain be covered? Would it matter if you scrubbed at it but it didn't come off? Is it so glaring as to render the piece unwearable? Could the item be altered to work around the stain? In terms of tears or rips, are they repairable or can something else cover the tear without ruining the look? Be ruthless in asking your internal questions because an item that is ruined won't be worn by you; if the fabric itself is so gorgeous it's to die for though, could it be turned into gloves, a scarf, a cushion cover instead? If so, ask for a reduced sale price!
    • Keep in mind that if it doesn't feel right or look good when you try it on, then it probably isn't the piece for you (subject to a reasonable assessment of the potential for alterations).
    • Be wary of the fabric's fragility. Some fabrics are more fragile than others and only increase in fragility over time. Chiffon, net, and lace are very susceptible to wear over time and should be examined carefully before purchase. Even when purchased, they should still be worn rarely in order to preserve them.
  4. Understand the importance of trying on the clothing for size. Sizing has changed considerably over time, and varies greatly depending on which country the garment originally came from. So if you’re buying from a store, always try things on before purchasing them or you may be disappointed when you try it on at home. And many vintage stores sell "as is" and won't accept returns, but ask all the same before you buy if an item can be returned for not fitting or because you've changed your mind.
    • Note that most online vintage sellers will estimate which contemporary size the garment will fit, but you should always double-check the measurements anyway, just to be safe. And if you’re buying online, make sure you check the measurements (and know your own)! In this case, check the terms and conditions for return should the online estimate be way off.
  5. Decide on your budget. On the whole, vintage clothing can cost more or less than its modern, new equivalent depending on where you source it from. In particular, quality vintage designer wear will still cost a small fortune, especially for the more well-known designers, so factor that into your budget; the rule is fairly much that anything that was expensive when it was made will be correspondingly expensive as a "collectible" today. However, only spend a lot on such clothing if you are purchasing from a reputable vintage wear retailer. To spend a lot less on vintage clothing though, and to really have fun, hunt and discover as many possible sources for older clothing where prices are likely to be lower (such as thrift stores and garage sales), to find vintage wear at a price that's affordable (see the next step for more ideas on where to shop).
    • When making the most of your clothing budget, keep in mind that just a few key vintage pieces mixed in with your regular clothing will go a long way to glamming up your wardrobe.
    • Not all designer labels should be more expensive. If the label was made for the mass market, it doesn't deserve to come with a high price. Do some learning about the origins and purpose of the label's marketing approaches.
  6. Know where to shop. Vintage clothing can be found in numerous places but the extent and quality will come down to the devotion of the seller sourcing the vintage clothing, so always start by checking out the credentials of the seller to find out how much they know about vintage clothing, as this will give you the confidence that they're selling good garments. Places to look include:
    • Stores specifically catering to selling vintage clothing. These can be solely clothing or they might form part of an antique store or mall-style store. Generally you should find the seller very knowledgeable about the clothing, the clothing will have been carefully selected, and there should be fitting rooms to try on the garments. Look online for recommended stores near you; there will be many lists supplied on vintage clothing sites. A visit to the local library to check out books on vintage clothing should also turn up some lists within the books, although these may be region-specific only.
    • Online. There are many vintage clothing stores online, both as distinct websites, or through auction sites. Don't forget to also check general sales advertisements online as sometimes families dealing with estates will get rid of entire box-loads of old clothing rather than having to deal with sorting through them. In terms of the success rate of online purchases, it will be lower than when you've personally visited a store and tried on the item. Don't be surprised if some of the things you get are not at all what you'd hoped. The safest bets for online shopping include knitwear, coats, and blouses because they fit over several sizes.
    • Check out thrift stores and charity shops. They tend to carry a wide selection of clothing from different eras. It'll be more work searching through all the different clothes but when you find something older, what a thrill! As you become more experienced, you should be able to simply walk down an aisle of clothes and "spot" anything vintage without even handling the garments.
    • Don't dismiss local sales such as garage and yard sales, school bazaars and fairs, church charity sales, flea markets, etc. as all of these can be fun sources of unearthing vintage clothing via donations. And flea markets and the like can be a real treasure chest of vintage clothing finds!
    • Your own family. Don't be afraid to ask your elegant Great Aunt if there is anything in her wardrobe from decades ago that she's happy for you to wear. You can even share delightful stories of the last time she wore her beautiful evening gown from 1954...
    • Be aware that consignment shops tend to carry contemporary clothing unless they have enough space to also carry vintage. However, it'll depend on the quirks of the owner, so don't completely rule them out as a possible source, and they may be a good source for designer wear whatever the year.
  7. Be an open-minded and flexible browser. Although you might like the fashion of a certain era, it pays to have a broad mind when hunting for vintage clothing because you never know what you might unearth that you "just have to have" even if it doesn't fall within your idea of the era of vintage clothing you prefer. Browsing through it all will give you the opportunity to expand your options without being restricted by having a specific piece in mind. It also helps to think about your existing clothes and how the new items would mix in (see below for mixing the old with the new).
  8. Be prepared to make alterations. Don't be afraid to alter a vintage garment, either for fit or for a totally changed look, or maybe even both. When you find the ideal print or fabric but you only like part of the garment, or you know it'd be great if only it looked "just so", then be prepared to alter it yourself (DIY) or to have it tailored to look the way you'd prefer. The chances are that you won't find the fabric or quality anywhere else, so it's worth the expense and effort to adapt the item.
    • Sometimes, a vintage garment just needs a nip here or a tuck there to fit perfectly. Tying, cutting, and pinning things are also interesting ways to get a good fit and add some character to your outfit. Borrow a good book from the library on making alterations if you are a competent sewer but need some direction.
    • This doesn’t mean you should turn all Project Runway if you don’t know what you’re doing. If that dress you just bought is a few inches too long and you try to hem it when you’ve never sewn before, the situation will probably end in tears. It’s best to leave the technical alterations to a friend who sews, or a tailor.
  9. Mix the old with the new. When deciding how to wear your vintage clothing, pair the vintage with the contemporary. Clothes and accessories that you wear every day can be shifted up a notch with the addition of something gorgeous from your vintage collection, such as adding a modern bag and shoes to an old 50s fitted dress. Some of the coolest outfits out there are the ones that combine vintage pieces with modern trends; if you already love your skinny jeans, imagine how killer they could look when paired with some vintage boots. Love your new blazer? How cute will it look with a vintage mini dress!
  10. Love your look. The final but most important part of a good vintage shop is to love your look. If you don't, get back to the mirror and keep refining until you do. All clothes, whether vintage or new, should make you look your best, so that you can feel great when you step out.
    • Don't neglect vintage accessories to complete the look. There are many possible additions including bags, hats, hair accessories, jewelry, scarves, and more.
    • Vintage shoes can also complete the look but shoes often don't wear as well in their used state. The answer is to look for modern equivalents where you can't find a decent vintage pair.


  • Don't neglect the accessories and the hairstyles to go with your vintage clothing!
  • It is possible to make your own vintage wear and accessories following vintage patterns. However, the downside to this is that vintage patterns are expensive to purchase in many cases, and they read differently from modern patterns. In addition, there are often scant instructions (it was assumed you knew what you're doing a lot more in contrast with what a modern pattern assumes) and there will often be mention of items and fabrics that no longer exist, so you'll need to know how to substitute. It is a good idea to use modern fasteners, clasps, and handles where possible to ensure durability and availability.
  • If you like eclectic looks, vintage is ideal for you; mix and match with abandon!
  • Some stores specialize in certain eras of clothing, such as the 40s or 50s. If you're focused most on a specific era, look for such stores as they do all the hard work for you by choosing, sorting, and selecting only the best from the era.
  • "Futuristic" fashion runs through all eras of the 20th century fashion industry.
  • Read a lot about vintage fashion. In doing so, you'll learn how we continue to reinvent the fashions and how using fashion to be popular in the past was just as important as it is today. It also teaches you that every generation thinks it's wearing the absolute height of fashion until the next generation comes along! Looking at vintage photos of young beautiful people will leave you wondering "Where are they all now? They must be... how old?".
  • Store vintage clothing with care. Padded hangers are an absolute must, and ensure that insects cannot damage the items during storage by using adequate protection.
  • Some people do consider the 80s and 90s to be "vintage" already. The choice is really up to you but the general understanding of the term "vintage" tends to be 30 years to 100 years (after which, an item turns "antique"). Whatever your cut off, ask yourself seriously if you really want to wear power suits with padded shoulders and head-to-toe pastels. If you must go 80s, at least make it designer wear! However, good quality "new wave" clothing from the early 80s (30 years old now) is iconic so just keep an eye on the indicators that demonstrate good workmanship and value.
  • Don't be afraid to haggle but do be gracious when you're turned down. Everyone has to make a living!


  • An item that is too small for you will always be too small for you, so don't buy it hoping it'll increase in width or length. Larger items can be tailored to fit but never smaller.
  • Margins are tight for those selling vintage clothing, so be sure you want it before buying it as returns are probably not going to happen for most stores. Some may offer exchanges but it's best to know you want it before outlying the money.
  • Keeping vintage clothing clean can be challenging. Have a specialist dry cleaner help you with the more delicate and unusual pieces. One way of testing the ability of a dry cleaner is to purchase some cheaper vintage gear with sequins, ribbons, and other embellishments etc., to check how the dry cleaner deals with them before giving over you more precious and expensive items.

Things You'll Need

  • List of suitable retailers
  • Online access for online auction and store shopping
  • Comfortable clothes for shopping; preferably something you can try on clothes over the top
  • Tape measure in your bag
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