Shopping for vintage is the most environmental way of shopping, but it can be tricky. How do you manage to find those perfect pants or that adorable dress? We turned to our own expert Frida Jonsson for help.
I am an avid vintage shopper and have been for over a decade now. Discovering lost treasures is such a natural part of my life I sometimes forget what it was like before I found joy in other people’s refuse. The world of second hand can be daunting with supply high and demand for quality even higher, just knowing where to start is tough. As a vintage veteran I’d like to share with you my top ten tips for successful vintage shopping.
1. Think before you shop
Vintage does not allow for the same predictable shopping experience as the high street does. This is half the fun, but having an idea of what items you are after can really help narrow down where you should start. I have a running list of fabrics, details, cuts and eras that I am after when I browse. This allows me to quickly sort out unnecessary sections of shops, scan rails quicker or narrow down online searches.
2. Location, location, location
Where you look will determine what you find and maybe most importantly, the price tag. Most charity shops stock their shops with items locals have donated. An older population can mean more access to genuine vintage pieces while a more well-off area can mean higher end pieces. In general it is always good to move around, you get the whole spectrum when you vary where you shop.
3. Pre-Internet clothing online
Online vintage shopping has widened the playing field for buyers and sellers alike. Etsy and Ebay are great resources of many international vintage sellers, but make sure you read reviews and consider shipping and customs fees. Instagram is growing in popularity as a platform for vintage shops and individuals to sell or advertise items. Apps like Plick or Depop have smaller number of users but offer a mobile friendly shopping experience. If you are after genuine higher end items, online shops such as Vestiaire Collective verify authenticity on all items sold via their website.
4. Little but often
Part of finding treasures is dedication. By visiting shops frequently you increase your chance of finding new special pieces. Most shops will happily let you know what days they take in new stock, which can give you a head start on other shoppers. Get your timing right. The best finds will go earlier on, but at for example car boot sales prices drop towards the end of the day. Don’t be afraid to dig in, I once found a pristine ‘50s cardigan literally at the bottom of a barrel.
5. Fabric matters
Train your hands to feel the difference between different fabrics. Nothing is worse than buying something that you later can’t wear due to fabric that doesn’t breathe or is itchy. Many ‘60s and ‘70s dresses were made in man-made materials so be aware of what you are buying.
6. Define your taste
Learning a bit of fashion history and terminology gives you a huge advantage, especially for online shopping. If you can describe cuts, fabric, detailing and know which era you are interested in you are much more likely to find that bias-cut ‘40s figure-hugging dream dress than if you just type in “vintage dress”. This takes time so a tip is to look at how established online vintage shops are describing their items and using those search terms.
7. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it
Many vintage pieces look very different on the rack from on the body. Different body types have always existed, but as we know different eras favoured different silhouettes. There are plenty of guides for finding flattering cuts for your body type, but you should wear what makes you feel most comfortable. By trying on different cuts from all the different eras you will find what works for you and your style.
8. Mix and match
Don’t be afraid to try things, there are no rules that say a prim ‘40s blouse can’t be paired with ‘90s denim or an ‘80s t-shirt doesn’t work with a ‘50s circle skirt. Accessories can be a great way to dip your toe in the second hand ocean, especially timeless handbags or jewellery.
9. Make do and mend
Most of us took Home Economics at school, but many of us can’t even thread a needle any more. A small tear should not stand between you and a great find, so take to YouTube to re-learn this handicraft. Learning the basics of sewing can help you repair holes in dreamy items, improve fit and modernise dated pieces. If your item has extra fabric (such as in the facing) you can create a patch to cover larger holes. Iron on hem tape or fabric glue can work wonders for those sewing-impaired. Dye items with stains that won’t budge for a whole new look. If you have found a real treasure and are DIY-phobic take the item to a tailor/seamstress that can help with most things.
10. When to say goodbye
Sometimes a piece is not meant to be. Vintage shopping can be full of disappointments in the form of unrepairable damages, scary stains and tiny vintage sizes or huge price tags. No matter how lovely a piece was in its prime, do not spend money on things you can’t use or afford. There will be another dream item, trust me. So get that Instagram shot, cry a single tear and move on.
When it comes to shopping for vintage there is no right or wrong way, but hopefully these tips can help you get started. Finding your way can be tricky but once you do it is hard to turn back. Second hand allows us to explore history and forgotten craftsmanship. By bringing old clothing back to life we can create new memories and express ourselves more uniquely all while contributing to an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Good luck, vintage hunters!
Name: Frida Jonsson
Occupation: Student, artist, freelance copywriter and webdesigner
Lives: Stockholm Sweden