By Jo Abbie
For serious fashion fans, vintage shopping can be one of life’s greatest joys. Often all about the thrill of the hunt, there are few things as satisfying as unearthing a truly incredible piece (or five) from another era. However, learning how to buy vintage clothing can also be tricky and, frankly, overwhelming.
Even if you’re not in the market for a high-end pre-owned piece, Raymond insists that everyone’s closet could use a few vintage goodies to add that special something to an otherwise ordinary wardrobe. Here, the fashion forager offers insider tips on how to buy vintage clothing like a pro, and score killer high-style finds.
Firstly: Know the difference between vintage and thrift
What is it that sets vintage clothing apart from simply used items? Raymond explains: “You can find great vintage items in thrift stores, but you shouldn’t find obvious thrift items in a vintage store. Vintage denotes something special—that an item has stood the test of time and has proven to remain relevant for any number of reasons—timelessness of style, [quality], historical or cultural significance or interesting provenance.”
A few interesting things to keep in mind: Signs that a garment was manufactured before the mid-’60s are metal zippers, side-snap closures, saw-toothed edges (often known as pinked seams), and union labels printed in blue.
Start with a classic
If you’re a neophyte when it comes to vintage hunting, it’s worth seeking out something timeless to start. “A good first piece of vintage for the newly initiated is something basic and classic,” says Raymond. “Perhaps a 1950s beaded cardigan or a 1960s little black dress. Make it something you can wear over and over again that won’t lose its luster right away.”
It’s not size that matters, but undergarments
Often with vintage, it’s not the size but the undergarments that truly make a piece fit correctly. “Sizing standards have changed through the decades, but not as much as ladies undergarments have,” says Raymond. “Every era of the 20th century has a distinct silhouette that required specific shape-shifting garments—from corsets to girdles to bullet bras and beyond.”
Why buy vintage vs. new
A quality vintage garment or accessory can cost as much as current couture (ahem, vintage Chanel) so why would someone choose a pre-owned item over something brand new? Because it’s probably made better. “A general rule of thumb, especially for higher-end designer pieces, is that the older the piece the higher the quality,” Raymond explains.
“There is usually more handwork, more attention to detail and a tendency for durability that you don’t see much any more in contemporary fashion.” Not to mention that—with a vintage designer item—you likely won’t spot any other gal on the street carrying that same bag or wearing that same jacket.
If you fall in love with something that doesn’t quite fit, remember that vintage items can always be nipped and tucked to make them perfect for you. “Don’t be afraid to invest a little bit of money to have it properly tailored to your body. If you invest $25 [or] $30 in having the cuffs shortened or the waist slightly taken in so that it’s not puffy, it can make the difference of looking frumpy to looking like it’s tailor-made,” says Raymond.
That said, there are items from another era that simply cannot be altered, so it pays to be aware of your body’s proportions. No matter how much you adore the fabric of a coat or the drape of a dress, if they’re too short or long-waisted it may not read right, Raymond points out.
Feel the fabric
You may fall in love with a beautiful printed garment or a beaded dress, but check to see if the fabric is in good condition. “I always like to really look at and touch the clothing, to make sure it still has life in it. Vintage pieces often get brittle and dry and shatter. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than investing some money in something and having it fall apart on you.” If a garment looks like it’s cracking, pulling, falling apart, or fading, it’s probably wise to leave it.
Say no to plastic
We’re all guilty of letting our clothes hang around in those pesky dry cleaning bags, but Raymond says it can be especially harmful to vintage pieces. “Never store your things in plastic—ever! Because plastic, if you think about it, doesn’t allow a garment to breathe. So if any moisture exists in the air, or let’s say you take a shower and your closet is next to your bathroom, the moisture accumulates and can cause deterioration or even mildew.”