Lynnette Peck Bateman, owner of Lovely’s Vintage Emporium shares her tips, and those of industry experts, on how to buy vintage fashion the smart way.
1. Where to look
They say that charity begins at home, and so could your initial search for vintage fashion. Ask your family if they have any pieces dating from the 1920s to the early 1990s. Your next and best port of call are reputable dealers who sell vintage online and in brick and mortar stores. Do not be afraid to ask them lots of questions, as they are the experts, after all. Avoid specialist vintage auctions initially as they are mainly for dealers – they often sell items in bulk. You can scour online auctions sites, markets and car boot sales but the pieces may not be authentic.
2. Get label savvy
‘It is always good to do your research on vintage labels before going shopping, so take a little time to see what labels are true vintage and whether your era is 1960s or 1940s find some good brand names from that time,’ says Jayne Read from vintage shop Island Memories at Doreshill Farm Emporium, Isle of Wight. The Vintage Fashion Guild website is a good place to start your research.
3. How to buy vintage: online
Buying vintage online is convenient and you can browse at your leisure any time day or night. Choose a website run by an expert (read the ‘about us’ section) and ensure each item has full measurements, clear photography and a simple returns policy. Plus that it has a secure payment system. Charlie Anderson Sumner, freelance fashion stylist to the Royal Family says: ‘As a new-to-vintage customer ensure you buy from trusted sources as they’ve done all the hard work sourcing, sifting, cleaning and presenting it beautifully for you!’
4. How to buy vintage: shops
Luanne McLean, stylist and author of Contemporary Fashion Stylists says: ‘Vary when you visit certain stores, as weekends are the busiest shopping days but during the week new things are added. Try and rummage early in the morning before work or at lunch times to beat the crowds.’
5. How to buy vintage: fairs and markets
‘Always take cash. If you are going to markets be it Portobello in London (that’s where I go) or fairs. I always get there early too, or as soon as it opens, as I don’t like crowds and I like to do a quick browse of all the stalls first. Plus do not forget to barter,’ says Shirlie Kemp, ex Wham! and Pepsie & Shirlie singer, vintage blogger and wife of actor Martin Kemp.
6. Sussing the smell
Rebecca Ball, vintage auctioneer at Hose Rhodes Dickson Auction Rooms: ‘Don’t be embarrassed to sniff potential purchases! There is nothing worse than a pong you can’t get rid of. Although most pieces lose that smell when they are dry cleaned by an expert – but it is still best to avoid ones with brown mold marks are they are near impossible to remove.’
7. Check the condition
Naomi Thompson, author of Style Me Vintage says: ‘Always hold clothes up to the light before purchasing. This will immediately highlight any flaws, holes, thinning of material or previous repairs.’ Jo-Ann Fortune, from VintageBrighton.com agrees and says: ‘Look carefully at the condition of the pieces that catch your eye. Look for moth holes, tears around seams and hemlines that have been taken up with poor-quality stitching. Of course all of these things are easily rectifiable – you just need to weigh up the cost and effort of the work required against the retail price.’
8. Size really matters
The sizing labels on vintage pieces rarely match current sizes as the clothing industry and fashion trends mean they change all the time. Trying pieces on or checking your measurements against the piece are the only way to ensure it is your size. As a general rule of thumb go down two sizes from what the label says for a modern fit. Tolly Gregory, 13-year-old blogger from tollydollyposhfashion.com says: ‘Ignore sizes. It sounds ridiculous but sizes have changed from years ago to now, so you might be a UK 10 now but you may fit into a vintage UK 14.‘
9. Ensure it fits
Buy vintage items that fit but still have some space to breathe, as older materials will not withstand stretching the same as modern garments do. A burst seam is never a good look for anyone either.
10. Online sizing
When buying vintage online a reputable website will have the full measurements listed. Get a tape measure and write down your vital statistics, so you have them to hand, but also get a similar piece in your wardrobe that fits you perfectly and compare the measurements to it.
11. Wear what you buy
Choose vintage clothes that are strong enough to be worn regularly and avoid fragile pieces that look as if they belong in a museum, as you will soon damage them. A smart idea is to wear a washable extra layer such as a slip underneath to protect your outer vintage. Kate Molloy from The Vintage Directory says: ‘Always buy items that you actually like and will wear – don’t buy just because a piece is rare, novel or ‘on trend’.’
12. Vintage investments
If you are buying for investment then do your research and have a strategy, such as choosing a type of clothing or a certain designer or a specific decade. Find an expert dealer and work with them to build your collection just as an art collector would with an art dealer.
13. Quality counts
Designer labels are always sought after and do hold their value. Also look out for quality dressmaking such as covered buttons, piping, silk linings and boned bodices.
14. Fabulous fabrics
Look for great fabrics that will stand the test of time such as cotton, wool, linen and silk. Man-made fibres such as Rayon should not be discounted either as they were cutting-edge at the time and do hold their colour and wash well.
15. Oh la la vintage!
‘French car boot sales, or vide-greniers (literally ’empty the attic’) can be an excellent source of vintage accessories – especially if they are held in fairly well to do towns or villages,’ says former fashion journalist Karen Wheeler, who is the author of three books about her life in France, including ‘Tout Sweet: Hanging up my High Heels for a New Life in France’ and new diet book, ‘The Marie Antoinette Diet: Eat Cake & Still Lose Weight.’ ‘Two summers ago, a friend of mine found two Hermes bags from the 1950s – one in black crocodile, the other in black lizard – at a vide grenier for €3 each. The bags were stuffed in a cardboard box under the vendor’s table. They have since been authenticated by Hermes in Paris and valued at €10,000 each.’
16. Vintage alterations
Jackie Dixon, fashion photographer at onerepresents.com says: ‘If you can wear it straight away buy it, i.e. if there is endless tailoring to be done don’t bother – you will never get round to it!’
17. Vintage body shapes
There is some truth to the rule that different decades suit different body shapes. Dresses from the 1950s look good on curvy bodies and 1920s dresses on more boyish figures. Floaty 1970s pieces tend to suit everyone.
18. Looking after your vintage
Look after your vintage pieces, as they are an investment with a value that is not just monetary but historical too. Store them in a cool, dry place with no light and away from any cooking fumes, pets or cigarette smoke. Use padded hangers and acid-free tissue paper and always clean or air after each wearing.
19. Vintage reads
Decades: A Century of Fashion, Cameron Silver
Vintage: Art of Dressing Up, Tracy Tolkien
Vintage Fashion: Collecting and Wearing Designer Classics 1900-1990, Zandra Rhodes & Emma Baxter Wright
Vintage Fashion Sourcebook, Cleo & Mark Butterfield
The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping: Insider Tips, Helpful Hints, Hip Shops, Melody Fortier
20. The future
If buying now for the future then look out for limited-edition designer pieces that will increase in value over the next twenty years. As morbid as it may sound deceased designers have greater currency simply because they will no longer be designing. Recent pieces by Alexander McQueen for example have reached far higher prices than expected.
Lynnette Peck Bateman is a freelance fashion and beauty journalist and owner of Lovely’s Vintage Emporium, which counts amongst its clients US rap star Nicki Minaj and TV presenters Dawn Porter and Holly Willoughby.