Vintage Shopping Tips from Robert Black

On my quest to learn more about what vintage truly is I have discovered that in fact I am Vintage… Like a fine wine I feel my vintage, 1959 was a good year that produced a stellar crop. The 1959 Vintage folk grew up with a taste of the girly 50’s, the sexy 60’s the polyester 70’s, the opulent 80’s, the supermodel 90’s and now the confused millennium. Generally speaking it is important to understand that all vintage will eventually become antique so I will jump that hurdle when the time comes! For now, when we use the generic term Vintage to describe clothing we are referring to items that are 20 -100 years old. Vintage items include, handmade, used, manufactured and sometimes new or what we refer to as dead stock. One last term to be aware of as you start your quest is “vintage style” which refers to items currently produced to imitate the style of a previous era, in other words… not the real deal!

Vintage shopping should always be a fun and exciting adventure. Know that dressing in vintage apparel may mean you will step out of your comfort zone but it also means you will be one-of-a-kind! For many of us the hunt is the thrill. Finding that perfect piece to add to your collection or out do your coworkers at the office mad man party. Whatever the motivation you will find yourself in stores like mine where we have curated for you or if you are a die-hard you will be searching racks at thrift stores. Soon the obsession will consume your travels and irritate your family members but I am sure they have their vices also. It is important that on your quest you ALWAYS try on a vintage garment and pay no attention to the size on the label if there is one .Don’t panic if you do look and it says a 14 and you know you are a 4! Many times bust, waist and hip measurements are provided so you can “guestimate” if the garment will fit you on your way to the changing room. There is no standardization in sizes from decade to decade. Make sure if feels good and looks good on your body type! Most stores that sell Vintage apparel have a strict no return policy.

It is also important to know a few etiquette rules of the trade when trying on a vintage item.  Remove all jewelry that may snag, or tear the fabric. Cover your face as you slip the item on and off so that you do not leave a lipstick stain on the garment. Do not put on your shoes until after the garment is on your body as not to damage the item and if you are trying on a dress always bring a pair of  heals so that you can see the drape and line of the dress as it will look when you are wearing it.. They just don’t look the same with tennis shoes!

It is important to check carefully for stains, holes, tears and fading.  Look at the garment inside out, literally... particularly anything knit as you can see light through a pin hole! Don’t assume a stain will come out as it may have set in for a very long time. Fading may show up more often on shoulders and sleeves. It is your risk if you purchase an item with any of these issues. Be sure to check the underarm area for perspiration stains. Find a good quality dry cleaner that will do some work by hand and understands the delicate nature of your vintage pieces. Buttons can melt, beading can denigrate as can lining so ask them if they do vintage before leaving your item with any dry cleaner!  If you find an item that is a must have and there are issues you must ask yourself can I live with the small hole in the fold of the skirt that you can’t see or will I obsess about it being there. If you take it home think about how the garment can also be simply altered to disguise the problem or eliminate it all together. Sometimes a long dress becomes cocktail length or a panel can be added to replace a worn or torn area. When trying on a garment always check the inside for the seam allowance. Most vintage garments were hand made and the quality is excellent. With that came extra seam allowance so often times it is an easy fix to do a little nip and tuck. Do calculate this into the cost however as the seamstress will also be doing this by hand and it will increase the cost of your purchase. You also should have access to a seamstress that understands construction and is willing to do many things by hand.

-Robert Black