Buying Vintage Clothing – Pros and Cons

There are a handful of people that can do vintage to perfection. Think Gwyneth Paltrow in her pink vintage Dior gown and Julia Roberts in her Oscar winning, black and white vintage Valentino. However, not many mere mortals can do vintage well, unless you are looking at a red-carpet moment ,with your own personal stylist; where garments can be tweaked and refitted to your figure.

According to Karen Homer, author of Things a Woman Should Know about Style, today’s modern woman has bigger feet, is 4-inches taller and 2 dress sizes larger than her counterpart in the ‘40s, and many of the styles from yesteryear simply do not fit. Take no notice of the sizing on a ‘50s dress, try in on to be certain that it fits!

The Truth about Vintage

Vintage to many women represents the glamorous days of the ‘40s,’50s ‘60s and ‘70s when fashion was the epitome of chic and elegance. These are times when French fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent were in their heyday, setting trends with their glamorous gowns, safari jackets and pantsuits.

However, vintage may not be all that’s it’s cracked up to be. After all, vintage, nowadays, is an upmarket work for used or second-hand, often used to bump up the price. Vintage can mean 40 years ago or 4. Although it is referred to as vintage, it may only be a few years old, or even just a few seasons.

In her book, Homer scathingly points out that “vintage is a word used by second-hand clothes merchants to justify charging you at least 10 times what the garment originally cost.”

The Problems with Vintage Clothing

  • Part of the problem is that there are fewer and fewer genuine vintage bargains anymore. Most have been snapped up by fashion designers, dealers, boutiques, or heads of fashion houses, looking to find outfits for movies or shows or as a source of inspiration. Not to mention celebrities and their stylists, searching for that elusive red-carpet gown.
  • Whilst it is still possible to pick up the occasional bargain, opportunities are becoming fewer, as more people become vintage savvy. eBay is littered with garments with the listing term “vintage”, whether it be a much sought after Vivienne Westwood gown or a pair of ’80s plastic earrings from Walmart!
  • Traders have wised up to the marketing potential of vintage. In her fashion exposé, Fashion Babylon (Corgi Books), Edwards-Jones tells of garments being spotted by eagle-eyed members of the fashion trade at local markets such as London’s Portobello Road, and placed on sale at boutiques for a phenomenal mark-up.
  • Buying vintage does not always equate with quality. If the garment had not been well-cared for, it may smell of mould (if it has been hanging around in someone’s basement for 30 years) and may fall apart once you put it on.

The Benefits of Vintage Clothing

  • Buying Vintage clothing means being green, helping the environment by recycling garments.
  • For many high-fashion followers, instead of spending money on collections from contemporary designers, (where there is always a danger of running into someone else wearing the same outfit) with vintage, you are likely to be the only one in the room wearing such a unique piece.
  • Although real bargains might be as rare as hens’ teeth, now and again you can be lucky, and may be able to sell something on for a profit, at a later stage.
  • It’s okay to buy a vintage outfit just because you like it. You may love the look, the fabric, the stitching, or the cut. Forget the label, if it makes you feel good, then it is worth the money.
  • Some of the best pieces are right under your nose — outfits that have been kept over the years by family members, sitting in the back of closets or in suitcases in an attic. A vintage garment found in your grandmother’s loft, “could be worth thousands of pounds,” says Pat Frost of Christies Auction House.
  • Investing in accessories such as sunglasses, belts or jewelry, is a great way to wear vintage without worrying about a complete look. Often just a touch of vintage, can add glamour and chic to an outfit. Archiv, the vintage accessories shop in London is so popular with international designers that, according to Edwards-Jones, head designers from the likes of Gucci or Louis Vuiton accessories, will buy up to 50 pairs of sunglasses at a time!

Where to Shop for Vintage Clothing

Doing vintage well means you have to know where to shop. If you are really serious, then it is worth considering the specialist outlets and vintage fairs, many of which are in London. These are favored and visited by designers and fashion houses the world over, to feed their desire in finding something old to recreate into something new. As Edwards-Jones outlines in her book, it is vintage that drives what happens on the runways, not the other way round.

Fashion generally goes in 20-year cycles (the 20-year rule) and famous and up-and-coming designers can be found searching for inspiration for their next collection, in stores like Rellik in London’s Notting Hill, just off the Golborne Road. Owned by ex-Portobello market stallholders, Rellik is also a favorite of Kate Moss and Kylie Minogue, the store has its own website for further information.

Held 9 times a year is London Vintage Fashion, Textiles and Accessories Fair, and, according to the DailyMail’s article “Antique Gold: Vintage chic on the Cheap,” attracts famous designers, stylists and fashion industry insiders from New York to Paris. In the confines of Hammersmith Town Hall, names like Donna Karan and Stella McCartney rub shoulders with members of the public and celebrities. The fair takes place every 5 or 6 weeks and more information can be found on the fair’s website.

Another option is to visit some of London’s vibrant markets and vintage clothing stores. There are also a number of other vintage fashion fairs and events which take place in London, on a regular basis.

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