Have you ever wanted to vintage shop however you walk into the store and you have no idea where to even begin, let alone how to decide if you are getting a good deal or not? I know when I lived in Paris, France for a month one of the many things on my to do list was to go vintage shopping. However, I discovered very quickly just like you how overwhelming it can be if you do not go in with a mission in mind. When I say “mission” I mean you have already decided on what piece(s) of clothing or accessory you are going to be on the hunt for. And when I say “hunt” that is not an exaggeration because most vintage stores are jam packed with a million in a one different styles of clothing, shoes, handbags, accessories and an array of other miscellaneous items. I know the first time I walked in I turned around and walked right back out; I can barely handle shopping at Nordstrom Rack let alone shop in a vintage store! At least at the Rack there is more than one size of a certain garment, at vintage shops all hope is lost immediately when needing a different size for garment you have just gushed over! I would have to say that is the most difficult part about vintage shopping you could totally fall in love with a certain piece to only be disappointed when you put it on and discover it does not fit. Now I am a huge believer in tailoring clothes to fit you correctly however some pieces a tailor can not fix enough to make it fit right. You may lose the shape and or design of the garment and that is the whole point of vintage shopping; classic silhouettes that are hard to find in most retailers today.
Some of you may be thinking, I do not even want to bother with vintage shopping. However, once you experience the feeling of wearing garments that were hand made with fabrics of top quality and in a wide variety of silhouettes that are just beautifully crafted; you will appreciate vintage shopping that much more. You are guaranteed to find a silhouette that is best for your body type while wearing a garment that will allow you to be uniquely dressed; what a deal! No matter the season, you can find the silhouette that is right for you, you are no longer constricted to the trends of each season. Because as I have explained in early posts being STYLED RIGHT is not just wearing the trends of the season, it is wearing garments that make your body look its best and purchasing ONLY the trends that enhance your existing wardrobe. A true stylish woman knows what looks best on her body and only purchases items that follow those guidelines no matter what is in or out for the season. Thus, learning to be an expert vintage shopper is a major plus to your wardrobe.
Here are tips and tricks to becoming a VINTAGE SNOB…
Best pieces that are total bargins: Even though these items may still be a little pricey; the quality and interesting styles are totally worth it. These are pieces you will not find in retail stores and ones that will be one of a kind!
- Anything leather
- Beaded and embellished pieces
- Cashmere sweaters
- Trench Coats
- Tailored pieces
- Camel-hair coats
- Cocktail and evening dresses
RARE finds, a vintage shoppers dream garments to find: Do not pass up these pieces if they look great on you, you will kick yourself later if you did not snag these garments as you come across them because guaranteed if you go back they will not be there.
- Mary Quant minis
- Yves St. Laurent tuxedos
- Halston jersey dresses
- Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses (first season)
- Sheath dresses by Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy
- Trench coats by Burberry or Auascutum
- Accessories by Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Bonnie Cashin for Coach, Chanel, Calos Flachi and Bottega Veneta
DEVELOPING AN EYE:
Fabric: Be on the look out for pieces that are well made by looking at how it drapes and feels. Fabrics that are coarse, stiff or fuzzy stay away from! If you can find 100% cashmere snatch it up also any silk fine fabrics are also good finds. Also, do not buy if the fabric is shiny, faded or discolored.
Condition: Because these garments have been previously owned and are probably at least 10 years old or more it is important to examine the garment thoroughly looking for holes, stains and other signs of wear. Look closely at the seams and closures, if either feels weak that is a sign of dry rot (meaning DO NOT BUY). Look under the arms and examine the collars, cuffs, waistbands and closures for signs of friction or perspiration stains. Vintage shopping is just like shopping for an old classic car; you want it to be in mint condition with little wear and tear. Those are the finds worth paying the price for! 🙂 Just because a piece is vintage does not mean just purchase it, it must possess all the qualities for it to be a great vintage find! You would never go into a retailer and buy a garment that was torn or had a stain on it so why buy a vintage piece that does? Also, when looking to buy a vintage handbag make sure all hardware works. And for shoes check for abrasions and cracks (those are big no nos).
Label: A lot of people make the mistake when vintage shopping to only look for designer labels. When people do this they actually miss out on what I consider to be higher quality than some designer labels. Back before the mid-twentieth century, a lot of garments were hand crafted by local dressmakers who put their own name and city they were from on the label. Also, many retailers would use their own tags. If you find garments like this you can be sure that they were not mass-produced and are of high-quality. Furthermore, not only can the name of the label tell you a lot but the way it is sewn on can tell you even more. If the label itself is completely sewn down (especially if it is woven on) it is of true high quality. I know it is funny how much a label can you tell you about the garment; you would never really think that but now you can say you are a total label horror when it comes to vintage shopping and that is actually a good thing [lol].
Workmanship: Since many vintage garments are handmade you should expect noting less than top-notch workmanship; both inside and outside the garment. The most obvious giveaway is the buttons, if they are made of brass, pearls, bone or jet you can be sure you are in the presence of serious quality. If the buttons do not give the garment away look at the bottom holes (see if they are beautifully bounded). Next, look at the seams, nothing should be left raw. If the garment is of finest quality the edges would be turned and sewn under or binded. There will be no bumps or ripples in the seams. Additionally, the lining will usually be made of beautiful fabric, like silk, in a breathtaking pattern or color. If there is no lining do not be weary, however wool should definitely be lined. Just like in life the smallest things make the biggest difference same can be applied here. Surprising details to a garment like inside pockets, dress weights are always good indications of a well made garment.
Oh and most importantly I cannot forget to talk about SIZE! It is not uncommon for a vintage garment to have no size tag, either it was cut out or it was made to measure. And really even if the tag does have a size it may have been altered which changes the original size and/or it may be of a European cut. Like I have said before when shopping size really does not matter it is truly based on how it fits when you put the garment on. Thus, it is really important to TRY ON each garment before purchasing (most likely there is no return policy). However, vintage stores can sometimes make it difficult to do so, so its important to come prepared; meaning dress for the hunt! Wear baggy pieces so you can slip pants or skirts on underneath, wear layering tops so you can slip on top garments over slim tanks. If the garment is too small just put it back, however if the garment is too big see if it can be tailored to fit you look at where the seams are placed and zippers are as well. If so go for it but if you think it will be too tricky again put it back!
WHERE TO SHOP
Vintage Boutiques: Can be compared to “Off 5th” (Saks Fifth Avenue discount store). This is where you will find the largest selection of most garments being in great condition and are usually of higher price because of their collectible value. The staff will be the most knowledge out of the three different types of shops and the most organized (which is definitely helpful). Shops like this will have finely honed selections because for the most part owners will have focused on one or two decades. I would suggest you shop here until you have figured out how to really dig for the buried treasures!
Lemon Frog Shop (BEST SHOP)
1202 N. Alvarado St.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Lemon Frog Shop is one of Los Angeles’ most unique vintage clothing boutiques for women. Located at the border of the Echo Park and Silverlake districts on Alvarado and Sunset, we’re Hollywood’s fashion trend setters’ best kept secret. At this shop you you can find one of a kind, rare clothing and accessories from the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s in every price range.
Consignment Shops: Can be compared to “Nordstrom Rack”. This shop will have a wide array of garments with no specific time frame from when the pieces originated. Here people can sell their gently worn items, the store owner will most likely take the garments and accessories as long as they are clean, are in pretty good condition and not more than a few years old. Most likely if you are wanting to update your wardrobe with pieces from today’s market this is the shop for you but if you are looking for true vintage pieces dating way back when this will NOT be the shop for you. Also, it is definitely not as organized, however the staff are usually pretty knowledgeable.
Thrift Shops: Can be compared to “Ross”. Merchandise in this shop have all been donated, usually to benefit charity so not only is the inventory huge, varied and in constant flux the sales people are not knowledgeable and it is most likely completely unorganized. Trust me when I say unless you have been vintage shopping for years STAY AWAY! Only shop here when you know EXACTLY what you are on the hunt for because if not you will become quickly discouraged and frustrated. However, if you have become an expert or rather a “vintage snob” these shops can be the best places to shop. Because the prices are low even on the finest of garments and most people shopping in here do not have the same purpose as you so it can be a true benefit once you have mastered the craft of shopping vintage!
Ok, so now that you have all the tips and tricks I can think of you are on your own. In no time, I am sure you will turn into a Vintage Snob just like me! As much as vintage shopping can be a chore it can also be like treasure hunting. Trust me after you find you first few amazing pieces you will create a true love for the hunt. So goodluck and happy hunting! Ps. I would love to hear about your great finds so email with your goodness!