How to Start Shopping Vintage

Posted by on Jan 04, 2012

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Shopping vintage is hardly a new trend, but for those wanting to break into vintage, the process can be overwhelming and full of scams. Vintage expert and fashion designer Bridgett Artisse, co-author of Born-Again Vintage: 25 Ways to Deconstruct, Reinvent, and Recycle Your Wardrobe, offers some essential tips for starting to shop vintage.

Where should people start shopping vintage?

For vintage newbies I always say start small. Walking into a thrift shop to look for vintage is a bit overwhelming, so I suggest starting at a consignment shop where usually all vintage is in one spot, or at a vintage boutique where you can become familiar with the items. Going thrifting requires lots of patience and only the strong survive it. So, familiarizing yourself is key in becoming less overwhelmed when you do decide to take the plunge.

How can beginner shoppers check if a vintage garment is in good condition?

Of course no stains is the first thing to look for, as well as no strong scents. The attic smell can be conquered, but once again, for a newbie, it may be too much to deal with. Ripped seams are an easy fix, so I'd be more concerned with moth holes, which aren't as easy, depending on the fabric. However, when shopping in consignment and/or vintage shops, the majority of the clothing is in good condition, which eliminates that worry. It's the thrift shops where you usually have to worry about smells, stains, etc.

What are some easy tailoring fixes to make a vintage garment fit?

A good chunk of the time vintage garments have a lot of excess fabric, so opening up seams are an easy fix if the garment is too small, which is usually the issue with vintage. The seam line can be taken out by a dry cleaner, if you don't have a high powered steamer available. For a dress you love but has underarm stains, remove the bodice and make it into a skirt instead.

What's the best way to know the authenticity of a vintage garment? 

The best way is the union label. Most vintage has a union label unless it was specifically tailored for someone, which was often the case in those days. Vintage Fashion Guild has a list of when the various union labels were created, which you can use to identify your piece. If there's no union label, that same site has a list of brand labels that you can use to identify your piece.

What are some vintage repurposing trends that you're seeing lately?

Everyone's always trying to achieve the trend for cheaper, so I see a lot of add-ons to accessories. The feather trend sparked people hot-gluing feathers to their vintage shoes and, voila, you have the hottest trend for under $10. The staining look on some really high-end garments is achieved with a little imagination. Dip half of your trench coat in bleach or splash it with some red wine and, oops, you've stumbled upon a masterpiece for a third of the price.

Bridgett Artisse is the co-author of Born-Again Vintage: 25 Ways to Deconstruct, Reinvent, and Recycle Your Wardrobe, published by Potter Craft. Head to Bridgett Artisse's website for more about upcycled vintage fashion.

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