A Crash Course in Vintage Shopping
By Catherine Owsianiecki
Legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel once
haughtily declared, "I detest what is
new." And judging from the proliferation
of successful vintage fashion shops and Web
sites, many of today's shoppers wholeheartedly
agree. And who could blame them? The fringed,
frivolous confections of the flapper era,
the lavish bias-cut gowns of the 1930s and
the circle-skirted chiffon visions of the
1950s are far more interesting than the see-it-on-every-corner
and increasingly less glamorous garments of
But before you jump with abandon on the vintage
style bandwagon, it is essential that you
become a smart and savvy shopper. And if you
are familiar with the following basic pointers
about vintage, you will be well on your way.
Vintage vs. Antique
Contrary to popular belief, the terms "vintage"
and "antique" are not interchangeable.
Garments created before the 1920s are referred
to as antique. Victorian (pre-1900) and Edwardian
(1900-1919) fashions are the most readily
available representations of this category.
Meanwhile, clothing and accessories dating
from the 1920s through the 1970s are considered
Where to Shop
If you live for the thrill of the hunt, visit
your local flea markets, thrift stores, consignment
shops and vintage and antique boutiques. And
be sure to check newspapers and shopping guides
for listings of antique shows and estate sales
in your area. But remember to always check
for any wear and tear on your fashion find
before you purchase it.
Confirmed online shoppers should visit sites,
such as eBay.com and Sothebys.com, that offer
ongoing auctions of vintage clothing and accessories.
Before bidding, always read the seller's feedback
and carefully scrutinize the site's policies
and help pages.
If you prefer to buy your vintage items on
the spot, use Internet search engines to find
online boutiques. As with online auctions,
shoppers should be familiar with the site's
payment and return policies before submitting
an order. And if you have any questions about
the condition of a vintage item, do not hesitate
to contact the seller. A reputable Internet
dealer will be more than happy to answer any
questions you may have.
Authentic Vintage vs. Contemporary Reproductions
Closures are the most telling indicator.
Plastic zippers were not introduced in the
garment industry until the 1960s. Prior to
the 1940s, snaps were most often used. And
before the 1900s, hooks and eyes were the
closures of choice.
Also, look at the seam finishes. Overlock
finishes did not appear until the 1970s. Before
that, seams were either pressed open or finished
with French or Hong Kong seams.
Meanwhile, sewing machines were not introduced
until the 1860s. If you find a garment that
is completely hand sewn, you may have a very
valuable antique on your hands.
The Cost of Vintage
Prices will depend on the age and condition
of the item, current trends, and the individual
seller. Designer clothing will necessarily
command higher prices, as will items that
are currently in high demand. But in general,
if you purchase a durable, finely crafted
vintage piece that you absolutely love, the
price will be well worth it.
Caring for your Vintage Clothing
To help your vintage treasures live long
enough to become antiques, try the following
tried-and-true cleaning and storage methods:
Congratulations! You have successfully completed
this crash course in vintage shopping. Finding
a dress, suit, or hat that is uniquely you
should now be a perfect breeze. So, newly
inducted vintage fashion mavens, what are
you waiting for? Hit those stores!
Catherine Owsianiecki is
a freelance writer and vintage fashion fanatic
with articles published in Collectors News,
Collector Magazine and Price Guide, Animal
Wellness, Delta Epsilon Sigma Journal, Simple
Joy and LifeToolsforWomen.com. She has a Bachelor
of Arts from the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland, and is currently pursuing a Master
of Arts at the same institution.