How to shop for vintage clothing

Tips for buying vintage clothing

Lovely vintage garments that demonstrate my tips for vintage shopping. Image writer’s own.

It’s important to know what to look for when buying vintage clothing. These simple tips will hopefully help the next time you’re hunting for that perfect, vintage treasure. A general rule of thumb – the older the piece the better the quality. That’s why investing in some quality vintage items is so worth the hunt (and price).

First things first, a brief lesson on definitions:
– Antique – something that is at least 100 years old.
– Vintage – an item which has been around for 20 years or more.
– Retro – refers to anything that looks out of style for the current time period.

Fabric
If you find that an item is tearing, ripping, pulling, cracking or stained beyond your wildest dreams, don’t buy it. It’s just not worth it, and it will probably just end up in your closet waiting for those repairs that never happen.

Before purchasing, try to find natural light and hold the garment up before buying it. This can help spot any flaws or stains that you may have missed in the exciting ‘look what I found’ stage.

Always check the area around armpits – sweat can damage fabric! Especially on vintage items when deodorant wasn’t worn. Over time the area can turn discoloured and wrinkled beyond repair. Don’t be afraid to sniff something you’ll potentially purchase! I do it all the time. Sometimes smells just won’t disappear no matter how much dry-cleaning or hand-washing happens.

Look for great fabrics that will stand the test of time like cotton, wool, linen and silk. Man-made fibres like Rayon should not be forgotten about either because they were top-notch at the time and do hold their colour and wash well. During your searching keep an eye out for quality dressmaking. Details like covered buttons, piping, silk linings, metal zips and boned bodices.

Tips for buying vintage clothing

Check underarms of vintage garments for stains and smells.

Fastenings
Signs that a garment was manufactured before the mid-’60s are metal zippers, side snap closures, saw-toothed edges (which are super cute and often known as pinked seams), and union labels printed in blue.

Look at all the fastenings on the garment. Give it a good once over and check that none of the buttons are missing and the zips are working properly. Specific areas to check are around the neckline where small buttons may be hidden under a collar (and check for discolouration while you’re there), and also around the cuffs. While you’re looking, make sure the belt is still attached. If there are belt loops and no belt, I often double check with the store staff that no belt came in with the garment. I used to work for a recycled clothing store and often we had spare belts behind the counter that had fallen off garments in the pricing process. It’s always good to double check!

Tips for buying vintage clothing

Check that the zips work properly on vintage garments.

Sizing
Don’t be scared to try garments on, don’t pay too much attention to sizing either. Vintage sizing was very different to sizing nowadays. Also, if you like something on the hanger and aren’t sure about it, just try it on. It’s amazing how different and glorious a garment can look once a body is inside it.

Tailoring
If you fall in love with something that doesn’t quite fit, spend the money to get it tailored. Bear in mind, that some fabrics and cuts cannot be altered. One amazing, well-fitted garment is better than five similar styles which don’t fit as well. And to reiterate, don’t buy anything that needs mountains of repairs.

Tips for buying vintage clothing

If a garment has belt loops ask if a belt is available or has been misplaced.

Helpful to take along when shopping:
– A tape measure and a piece of paper with your own measurements if you’re unsure.
– A waist belt – because some unbelted garments can look incomplete without a belt so it’s good to take one along with you.

Keeping your vintage in good nick:
Store them in a cool, dry place with no light and away from any cooking fumes, pets or cigarette smoke. Use padded hangers and always clean or air after each wearing. If you have something really special, a box with acid-free paper is the best way to store that special piece.

And lastly, patience is everything. Nothing worthwhile comes easily, which is why the thrill of the hunt is half the fun with vintage shopping. So be patient, check stores regularly and don’t be afraid to do a little research and overall checking of the garment before purchasing to ensure you’re getting a quality, vintage piece.

Charlotte also writes over at Miss Charlotte Cake.

Images writer’s own.

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