The thrill of vintage shopping lies in the excitement of buying items that have the exclusivity of a custom-made piece, but for a fraction of the price.
But browsing through the racks at a vintage stall or charity shop can quickly lose its appeal as you struggle to make out the authentic items from the designer knock-offs, and you begin to suspect that anything you buy won’t last more than one wash before disintegrating under the strains of time.
Alexa Chung and Dita Von Teese may be able to put together vintage outfits that ooze glamour and sophistication. But as you gaze at the flapper dresses and fascinators, the worry sets in that you’re going to look like you’ve stepped out of a period drama.
With this in mind, we decided to call on the help of women who have the ability to spot a vintage gem amidst a sea of cast-offs – bloggers: Kerry Clark aka Missy Vintage, Betty Pamper of Pampers and Curves, and Sheri Pavlović of Confessions of a Refashionista.
“Buying vintage is an amazing way to ensure your clothes are both individual and environmentally friendly,” says Pamper.
Scroll down for Clark, Pamper and Pavlović’s insiders’ guide to buying vintage fashion:
1 Suss out the sizing.
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“Vintage sizing is not like modern sizing and can be a minefield,” says Pamper.
“I’ve got sizes from 14 to 22 in my vintage collection and they all fit me, which gives you some idea of how wildly sizes can vary.
“Ignore the size label. Women’s proportions change each decade, this is down to everything from underwear to diet.
“1950s clothes will tend to have very nipped in waists with proportionally larger busts and hips, think hourglass shape.
“1960s clothes however have a tendency towards a straighter and less pronounced shape with smaller bust areas.
“In addition, many people made their own clothes or had their clothes made, so some vintage clothes will have very specific proportions that don’t match any size charts. With this in mind, measurements are the way forward when buying vintage.
“Never go by the size on vintage clothing labels and only by the measurements. All online retailers should provide measurements, along with details about how those measurements have been taken.
“Then you should compare these measurements with something you already own that fits well, and preferably in a similar material, as materials have different thicknesses and this will affect the fit.”
2 Learn the lingo of labels.
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“Tags and labels are always a great place to check for the approximate decade a garment was made,” says Pavlović.
“Tags were not regularly added to clothing until the 1940s/1950s and then they rarely stated anything other than the designer logo or manufacturer name.
“From the 1970s labels started to include the basic fabric content and garment size.
“In the 1980s clothing brands began labeling not only the brand and size, but also the detailed fabric content, care instructions and country of manufacture.
“By the 1990s tags contained all of the information we see on modern garment labels and were commonly multi-lingual.”
Clark adds: “You can easily check labels and date clothes with the label resource on the Vintage Fashion Guild website.”
“It might not have everything you’ll ever need, but it’s pretty comprehensive and even just browsing is a good way to learn more about what to look out for.”
3 Seams and fastenings are also a mine of information.
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“Taking a peek at interior seams and how the garment was actually put together is another tell-tale sign of its age,” says Pavlović.
“Zippers were not introduced until the 1930s and were made of metal until their plastic counterpart was invented in the 1970s.
“The majority of clothing was created using a mixture of hand and (straight) machine stitches until the late 1800s.
“Although the zigzag stitch machine was patented in the late 1800s it wasn’t commonly used for everyday clothing until a home version was made available in the mid-1900s.
“Until the early 1970s the interior seams of many garments were finished by clipping the excess fabric with pinking shears (scissors with zigzag teeth) to help minimise the damage from fabric fraying.”
4 Look out for signs of your clothes biggest enemy… moths.
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“Moths are annoying little blighters, and love nothing more than to feast on fabric,” explains Pamper.
“Natural fabrics are more prone to moth damage than artificial fibres, so check silks, wools and cottons for signs. You may find moth damage on artificial fibres, but it’s not usually the case.
“The best way of checking for moth damage is to hold the fabric up to the light, if you can see small holes that are not in the weave of the fabric then these may be moth damage.
“Moth damage isn’t the end of the world but you must be sure not to introduce the moth into your own wardrobe where it will spread.
“As soon as you get the garment home fold it carefully and place it in a freezer bag. Then place that into your freezer for 48 hours. When you remove your, very cold, garment from the freezer be careful when unfolding it as the fibres may have become brittle, particularly silk.
“Once the garment is defrosted it is safe to put into your wardrobe, wear and enjoy.
“In order to prevent moths in your own wardrobe try to regularly hoover the inside of your wardrobe, use cedar wood hangers and environmentally friendly cedar balls, and hang lavender bags amongst your clothes.”
5 Play detective.
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“If an online vintage seller hasn’t provided you with enough information on which to base your purchase then get in touch with them and ask questions,” advises Pamper.
“They will want you to be happy with your purchase and so will not mind answering queries. And yes you can ask about a returns policy, even on vintage.
According to Pamper questions worth asking if the answers have not been made clear in the listing include:
:: Have there been any repairs to the garment? :: Is there any damage which needs repairing? :: Are there any odours or stains on the garment? :: :: Are all buttons, beads or other bits that may have fallen off over the years present and original? :: Do they have a returns policy?
6 Don’t be afraid to mix and match.
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“Having a love for fashion can be a sit down set menu or a moveable feast and I like the latter as it means I can enjoy experimenting with my style without feeling tied down to being era perfect,” says Clark.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to have a fixed decade look of course, it’s just not for me anymore. I like to use vintage to shop the trends, as well as buck them.
“My interest in vintage fashion is an ever evolving animal and yes I’ve done the forties forces sweetheart look and been quite era specific, but several years on you’re more likely to find me in an eighties batwing jumper, skinny jeans and DMs than you are a tea dress and dainty victory rolls.
“I’m all for mixing vintage with spanking brand new clothes, it’s not an all or nothing look. You don’t have to dress head-to-toe in only vintage items.”
7 Don’t be put off if an item doesn’t fit like a glove. Befriend a good tailor.
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“You should never be afraid of having your vintage items altered to fit both your shape and your individual style,” explains Pamper.
“The point of vintage is to love it, wear it and enjoy it, and if you feel that you can’t alter something to your own particular style because of it’s age, then you won’t enjoy it.
“Also, buying a vintage item that is too large for you and then having it tailored to your perfect size may result in it being the best fitting item you own.
“A couple of words of warning with this though, use a reputable alterations person, one that you use regularly or one recommended by someone else.”
8 A friend in need of a fifties frock is a friend indeed.
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“Many sellers will have blogs and social media accounts, they want to share their expertise with you through their stock and interest in vintage fashion,” says Clark.
“So get following for inspiration, hints and tips and you’ll begin to find suppliers and information you can have faith in.”
9 Smell solutions.
Sadly some vintage clothes come with an added extra… odour. But with Pavlović’s top tips many items can be salvaged:
“All of the gear needed for your vintage deodorising tool kit can already be found in your house (or reasonably purchased from the supermarket),” she says.
“Place the item in a sealable plastic bag and put it in the freezer overnight (longer for stubborn odours). The freezing temperatures will kill most of the odour causing bacteria allowing you to launder the remaining smells away.
“To remove light musty smells spray an equal parts white vinegar and water mixture directly onto the garment and hang to air dry, (a dab of vinegar can also help to remove stains and spots).
“Stronger odours can be neutralised by adding a cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle.
“Heavy smells may require an overnight soak in a 1 part vinegar to 5 parts warm water mixture.
“Baking soda is a great alternative to vinegar as it is odourless. Place the garment in 4 to 5 litres of hot water and add a cup of baking soda on top of the saturated fabric. Let it sit for 15 minutes, give it a good mixing then soak for about an hour and wash normally.
“Vodka is not only a great deodoriser, it also kills the bacteria causing the foul fragrance. Simply pour some straight vodka into a spray bottle and give the vintage victim a good spray. Once dry, launder as usual. The alcohol smell disappears as it dries, so this is also a great technique for vintage items not easily washed such as bulky jackets, furniture fabric and decorative textiles.
“Vintage footwear odours are easily defeated with a few household bits as well. Put a few tablespoons of odour neutralising kitty litter and a teaspoon of baking soda into a pair of old socks or fabric scraps, tie off the top and place the shoes in overnight.
“Add an equal mixture of baking soda and cornstarch to a pair of cotton socks and pop them into the shoes overnight.
“Or break some charcoal into small pieces and place inside an old pair of tights, put them into the shoes and leave overnight.”
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This September The Huffington Post UK Style is focusing on all things sustainable, for the second year running. Our thirst for fast fashion is dramatically impacting the environment and the lives of thousands of workers in a negative way. Our aim is to raise awareness of this zeitgeist issue and champion brands and people working to make the fashion industry a more ethical place.
We’ll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #SustainableFashion and we’d like you to do the same. If you’d like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email ukblogteam@Stylesspa.com.