How To Buy Vintage

So, there’s been a buzz around vintage lately.

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So, there’s been a buzz around vintage lately. You’ve probably seen some of your favorite influencers getting into it and even celebs are opting for vintage over new pieces on the red carpet. But what exactly is vintage and why do we want it? Generally, in clothing these days we consider an item to be vintage if it is at least 20 years old. It is a little flexible since we love to label items by decade. Not everything from the Y2K era is 20 years old quite yet, but you will still find it while shopping vintage.

People love vintage for a lot of reasons. We love feeling nostalgic, even for a time we didn’t get to experience. Sometimes it is just simply a style we love because it suits our shape, but we can’t find it in modern designs. A lot more people are into rejecting “fast fashion” and see vintage as a more environmentally friendly way to shop. 

Since all the cool kids are doing it these days, you obviously want to get involved, but where do you even begin? I won’t set you up for failure on this vintage shopping adventure. If you do not absolutely love shopping, vintage is probably not for you. It requires patience to dig through everything, either in store or online. If you want the best possible experience, it will require learning a few new things. If you are in to shopping, it can be a thrilling adventure. 

First, it helps to know what your personal style is and what time period to look for. I’m not suggesting you need to be a fashion historian or anything, but a timeline history will help. There is so much out there, you cannot simply search “vintage” on the internet and come up with exactly what you’re looking for. You will be searching through 70 plus years of fashion trends, not just a season or two.  Knowing what style you’re looking for can point you in a direction of the right decade. Do you like your clothes crisp and tailored, to show off a nipped waist hourglass figure? The 1950s are probably a good place to start. Are you a little bit bohemian? Do you tend to drool over all of those Coachella posts? You will want to look for 1960s and 1970s. Are you more of a streetwear or athleisure kind of person? I would suggest '80s and '90s. That will be a good start with regards to narrowing down your search.

Yes, of course going in with an idea can help to keep you from falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, but you should also keep an open mind. Even knowing style lines for most decades isn’t an exact science because we’ve always loved retro looks. You can find tailored items from the '80s inspired by the '40s and '50s or psychedelic looks from the '90s inspired by the '60s. You will have to decide what is most important to you, the look or the actual age. Knowing some more about fabric and caring for it will probably help you make that decision.

Fabric is something you will need to get familiar with if you want to really incorporate vintage into your wardrobe. So many of the clothes we buy new today are made with fabrics that are blends. There are all kinds made for specific purposes, to wick moisture, to keep in heat, to stretch but still maintain its shape. They are very much made to make our lives easier, to wash, dry, and wear.

This is not the case with most vintage clothing. Most of what you will encounter in the earlier decades will be woven fabric unless it is a knit item like a sweater. You will encounter more polyester knits in the '70s and then even more knits of all fiber types from the '80s onward. Laundry is hardly our favorite chore, but it will be more important with vintage. Many fabrics can be washed is a regular machine, but you will want to gently hand wash something that is silk or particularly delicate or particularly old like from the '20s, '30s or '40s.

You will probably be giving the dryer a break from its regular duties as it will be best to dry most items as flat as possible, and for the love of all things vintage please do not hang up your knits! Sometimes your best bet will be spot cleaning. You need to remember that these items are old. If you want to keep them in the best condition, just be gentle. 

Knowing your measurements is easily the most important part of online vintage shopping. Vintage sizing is going to be very different from modern sizing. A size 10 today was not a size 10 in 1950, and you can’t just order the next size up or down. Vintage sellers know this and will likely provide you with bust, waist, and hip measurements for most items.

When considering the fit of an item, you should consider the fabric and if it has any give to it and if there are any places where you feel there is a bit of wiggle room with the size. Taking our own measurements isn’t something we do often these days. If you need more tips on important measurements and how to take them, check out this article.

Every body is different. Alterations are something we don’t all do as often today as our parents and grandparents might have. It is helpful to know a good seamstress or tailor. They will have the skills you need but try to remember they are not miracle workers. Unless you are willing to change a style significantly making something larger is difficult. There may be some extra fabric to take a piece out at the seams, but you will also have to consider the wear on the fabric in that area. Taking in a piece that is too large is going to be your easier option. It is best to choose something that is at most a size or 2 too big. Anything larger than that and you are starting an entire deconstruction and reconstruction project on the garment. 

Is it worth the investment? I think so. Whether it is ready to wear once received or it needs a bit of tailoring, that vintage will be unlike anything you can find at the department store.  Remember that it is rare and that makes it worth the work. Enjoy your vintage clothes, wear them -- that’s what they were made for -- but also remember to treat them with respect. They are a piece of history and you are now the conservator. 

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Caitlyn Pallas is a guest blogger. Barbies and Stevie Nicks were her first fashion icons, and watching Anthony Bourdain (against parental warnings) inspired an interest in cultural anthropology. She studied textiles, merchandising, and design at University of Rhode Island and received a Master's in dress and textile history from University of Glasgow. "I am still trying to carve out a space for myself in the world of fashion," she says. "I can’t say everything has gone to plan, but as some wise dudes who were probably just stoned once said, 'There are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.'"

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