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By Arwa Lodhi
It seems there are those girls who know how to shop for vintage, and those who don’t – some end up with a musty sweater that looks like they found it in granny’s attic, whilst others cause jaws to drop as far to the ground as the hem of the one-of-a-kind sequined Halston maxi dress they ‘just happened to find’ at ‘this tiny place in the Village’.
So, how is it done? How can you find a vintage treasure that fits like a glove, doesn’t stink of mothballs and mildew, and doesn’t make you look like you’re on your way to a fancy dress party?
Here are our 14 Top Tips for Vintage Shopping to ensure you find only the most covetable of vintage treasures, whether you’re searching in markets or online.
Vintage Shopping Dos and Don’ts
1. DO try to drive a bargain
Vintage prices aren’t like other retail prices; generally the shop owner sets them. So if you’re a regular customer or are buying several pieces, or if you find flaws in a piece the shopkeeper wasn’t aware of before, it’s likely you can strike a deal that’s good for both you and the seller.
2. DON’T forget to look for misspellings
There may be loads of competitors bidding for that Balenciaga classic on Ebay, but not so many going after the Balenciagga one… Doing a deliberate search for misspelled words may well pay off! Search for Louie Vuitton, Dolce and Gabana, Jean Paul Gautier or Botega Veneta, for example.
3. DO be careful!
There are plenty of fakes out there, and whilst most of them can be quite obvious due to their questionable quality, stitching or spelling (Pravda bag, anyone?) just be aware you may not be buying the real deal unless you shop somewhere super reputable. If you’re thinking of buying a vintage designer bag, for example, make sure you do some research first! We have a good tutorial here.
4. DON’T expect to bag a bargain
Most people who are selling genuine vintage treasures are aware of their value – you won’t find many designer labels cheaply – in fact, some are even priced above new pieces in shops, due to their rarity – take Catherine B’s original Birkin bag, for example. But half the fun of vintage shopping is trying to spot that one Kelly bag someone has foolishly priced at £150, right?
5. DO look for classics
A Chanel bag of any kind or Louis Vuitton luggage will never go out of style. Like, never. So it’s always a good idea to go with something classic. But also do a search for vintage pieces that are now much-coveted collectables – think Murakami Colorway bags by Louis Vuitton, original ‘Choose Life’ tees by Katherine Hamnett, Christian Lacroix jewellery…and if you find something, hang on to it – these things will go up in value.
6. DON’T buy anything that was too trendy back in the day
80’s power shoulders will certainly make a quick comeback at some point, but they’re hardly a wardrobe staple. They weren’t then, and they won’t be any time soon. Stick to items that don’t scream ‘dead decade’ – instead, look for styles that tend to recur again and again: oversized coats, military jackets, animal prints, pussy bow blouses, etc.
7. DO Venture beyond the big name labels
There will always be high demand for any big French or Italian label, from Alaia to Zanotti. So why not search for something less likely? American designer vintage is more plentiful – look for 90s Marc Jacobs or DKNY, for example. Back in the UK, Biba’s platform shoes are a British classic, and Ossie Clarke may not be designing today, but his groovy maxi dresses from the 70s always look Rolling Stone-girlfriend cool.
8. But DON’T get hung up on searching for big brands
Some labels are cut out (for PR purposes) when they are donated to vintage shops – you may not know it, but that sleek, unlabelled black jacket with the perfect cut could well be an Armani or McQueen. Other great pieces may not have a label you recognise, but who cares? Look for quality instead.
9. DO be specific with your goals
Are you after something with a 50’s Dior New Look cut, 90’s grunge or a delicate Edwardian piece? As vintage shops tend to be a mishmash of styles and epochs, knowing what you have in mind will help stave off shopping fatigue. If you’re searching online, make sure you type in specific keywords: for example, are you looking for a specific style, print or material? If so, rather than searching for a ’70’s blouse, type in something like ‘vintage pussy bow silk blouse’ or ‘mutton chop sleeve vintage blouse’ or ‘psychedelic vintage blouse’.
10. DON’T be afraid to ask for something
Unlike big retail chains, many vintage shops are manned by their owners – and the shop owner is likely to know exactly where to find what you’re looking for. In fact, they may even have something hidden in a back room that you’d never have seen otherwise. Ask, ask!
11. DO have your usual wardrobe in mind
What could you mix and match with your vintage treasure? Classics like designer bags go with just about anything. But ensure that before you buy those satin knee high boots or those high waisted hot pants, you know what you’d wear them with in your closet.
12. DON’T forget about after care
Is this a delicate piece that requires special cleaning or maintenance? You may want to check before buying. It’s hardly a bargain or sustainable if you have to dry clean it every month.
13. DO know where to shop online
No longer do you need to trawl through rack after rack of clothing–many shops online now carry great vintage clothing and accessories. Try any of the links below, or click here for a full list of online shops.
Vestaire Collective: Not just vintage clothing, but also some authentic used designer gear, too.
Ebay: You may be surprised. A lot of people in small towns don’t know where else to sell their stuff…
Yoox vintage: Seriously, vintage designer stuff at its best. Great for serious fashionistas!
Liberty of London: The iconic London store now offers wonderful vintage online, and they’ll deliver worldwide.
Designer Vintage: These guys get loads of Chanel and Hermes bags in, all the time!
14. Don’t be put off by flaws
Hemline too long? Buttons all wrong? Don’t reject an otherwise awesome vintage piece – you can always change those things by taking the item to a tailor, or just making a few alterations yourself.
Main image: Vintage Versace Campaign, 1990 courtesy Versace