Sunday, 2 January 2011

'Taint What You Do It's The Way That You Do It: How To Shop For Vintage Clothing

Hello darlings! Dolly's been vintaging for the first time since moving back to the States.....and it's not so easy here in East Tennessee! I think I bought every piece of 1960s in my small town! The good news is that it cost me a fraction of what I'd have paid in London! The venue may be different, but the rules remain the same:

Rule #1. Thrift shops will be cheaper than proper vintage shops...but you will have to have the patience to deal with loads of 'second hand' mess to find a couple of good pieces of vintage

Rule #2. Never go vintage shopping for a particular piece like a little black dress or a green coat to wear to a particular event. 98% of the time, you won't find it. Instead, go vintaging when you don't actually NEED anything. You'll be more likely to find and try on things you may have overlooked had you had a focus in your shopping. Also, you won't feel compelled to buy something that isn't really right. Just because it was the only piece you found in the last shop you were in and you 'simply MUST have something to wear to the club night' you're due at in two hours, doesn't mean you should buy it. If you do, it most likely won't fit correctly, you'll be uncomfortable in it during the event you bought it for, and ultimately you'll never wear it again.

Rule #3. Make sure you have enough time on your hands to dig. If you're in a hurry you won't find many good pieces, you'll be unlikely to try things on, and you'll buy things that may be more trouble than they're worth.

Rule #4: Know your style. Some people just have a knack when it comes to styling. Those people have no trouble finding amazing vintage and wearing it. They're lucky. Most people find it overwhelming though. If this is the case, or if it's your first time vintaging, do a little research first. Know your body type. It will help you discover the era that you might want to focus on. (I'll post more on this later on.) Know what you like. What era speaks to you personally? Once you find it, learn the fabrics and colours that were used in that time period. This will make it easier to make informed decisions about a garment's age as well as being easier to eyeball a great piece crammed onto a crowded rack.

Rule #5: Now you've found some lovely duds to try on, check for imperfections. Hang each piece up and look at it very carefully. Check seams...especially under arms and darts. Then turn the garment inside out. Do the same check on the inside, linings and such. Most things can be fixed, but if you don't sew or if the damage is to the actual fabric, you may have a problem. Don't forget to check for any stains on the garment. Many times it's only dirt and will come out in the wash, but this is impossible to know. For this reason, I don't recommend buying anything with a stain....unless the stain is near a hem or a seam that can be taken up or in, then there is a chance that the garment is useable.

Rule #6: Check all the fastenings BEFORE putting the garment on. Are any buttons missing? If so, is there a spare sewn into the lining? If not, you may have to replace ALL of the buttons in order to match them up and this can be time-consuming and expensive. This could be a reason not to buy. Also be sure that none are loose, as you don't want to lose them between now and the time you get the item home. Check any zippers carefully. Be sure that they are fully functional. You don't want to get stuck in an item when the zipper refuses to undo and have to yell for the fitting room attendant! Also, be aware that there is something that I like to call 'zip rot' that occurs often when an item is stored incorrectly. The zip may seem to work fine...a couple of times...but in reality, the fabric next to the teeth or the teeth themselves will become brittle. This will result in the teeth falling out after a few zips. This is a hard thing to check for, but some tell-tale symptoms are an item that has a slight mildew odor or slight rusting on any part of the zipper. This can mean that it has been stored somewhere damp at some time and this dampness can disintegrate the fabric of the zipper over time. Give the zipper teeth a slight tug and if any are loose, the entire zipper will have to be replaced. This is a good check for purses as well!

Rule #7. Once the garment is on, check the fit, front and back. If it fits like a glove, it's a miracle! If it doesn't, you'll need to decide how it can be altered. If you don't sew yourself, you will have to take it to a tailor. Either way, there are some things to keep in mind: If the item is too big, try and figure out where it could be taken in. Darts are used often to make a dress or a top more fitted. Personally, I prefer taking a dress in at the side seams if it's possible...the side seams are the 'biggest darts in a garment. I especially prefer this when the garment already has darts in the bust or at the back. Sometimes if a garment is quite a lot bigger, you can take in most of the excess at the sides and then deepen the darts that are already there by a tiny bit. There is also the option of taking in a zipper, but keep in mind that too much will alter the placement of side seams and can make the garment look 'off'. Also, pay close attention to shoulders and sleeves. This is the hardest thing to alter as many times you have to practically take the entire thing apart and the results are hit or miss. Basically, if you aren't sure if something can be altered, don't buy it.

Rule #8. Once you've decided that the garment is the right size and in good condition, check the tag...if there is one. What is it made of? This is important because you want to be able to care for your new treasure and keep it lovely with the least amount of trouble or money spent. If it's a fabric or a blend that must be dry cleaned-like fur, wool or leather-it may not be worth the investment. Also, clothing that can be washed at home is recommended to be washed by hand and dried naturally, which of course can take up time and space. One exception: I have found most man-made fabrics from the mid 60's on to be perfectly fine tossed in the washer on gentle and then popped in the dryer on the lowest setting.

Rule #9. Now you're ready to buy! Check the return policy of the shop. Most vintage or thrift shops don't allow returns. Those that do, will generally only let you exchange or get a store credit for any returned item. But if you've gone through the steps here, you shouldn't have to worry too much about this one anyway!

Rule #10. Always clean the item before you wear it. Many shops launder items...or at least CLAIM that they do...such as Rockit, London. But most do not and so it behooves you to wash your finds as soon as you get them home or drop them at the cleaners on the way!

Hope these little guidelines help you out a bit and take away some of the mystery behind vintage or thrift shopping!

Here's today's loverly vintage chunes:

Ta, loves!



  1. Great guide! I really like this.
    Also the knack is SUCH a good film - kind of strange at times, but it's the ultimate mid-60s British comedy in that sense. If that makes sense...haha!

  2. I love that type of comedy! It's fab...but, yes, a bit strange as well! Richard Lester also directed Hard Days Night and worked quite a bit with Peter Sellers. I'm going to do a post on him soon, as I think he was absolutely brill!

    Dolly the Bird