Skip to content

Top Tips for Shopping Vintage Clothing

With sustainable fashion growing in importance and all the different aspects of how we can do this, we asked Steph of Painted Bird Vintage to share some of her knowledge with us.

When specifically hunting for vintage….what are your tips:

1.     Look for fabric that catches your eye in colours that suit you.  Vintage fabrics are often the unique piece that stands out on the rail of mass-produced, cheap fabric clothes.  It will have a life of its own peeping out amongst the others. Put your shoulder in there and get stuck in!

2.     Don’t be a label basher.  Most likely if it has a label and you know or have heard the name, it isn’t vintage.  Of course, if you are a seasoned searcher you might find a good old El Jay, Miss Deb, Maree de Maru, Babs Radon or even a Glamis in the mix – but it’s unlikely!  

Don’t forget, many people remove the labels of clothing and not all vintage pieces have a label or tag, so don’t be fooled if one isn’t there.  If you find “union made” or the letters ILGWU (International Ladies’ Garments Workers’ Union) lurking, then you can be fairly certain that the item was not made within the last 30 years. 

Often, vintage clothing was handmade and therefore, prior to the 1980s, can be sans tag.  If you do happen to find a piece with a tag, usually it is pretty clear that it is old.  Faded does not mean old though; it may just mean that the item was cared for when washed.  If you really care, look up the label and its origins online – it is all out there on the net.

3.     Look at the zip – metal zips can be a good indicator of a vintage item.  A metal zipper placed either in the side seam or back middle of the garment indicates a garment pre 1970s.  Nylon, woven plastic zips began their foray into fashion around the end of the 60s.  After the 70s often zips were relegated to the rear of the dress.

4.     Check out the buttons – are they glass, plastic, shell?  Can you imagine a designer investing in glass buttons on their collection nowadays? Not likely!  Are all the buttons there?  Sometimes the coolest buttons are down the front and the sleeves might have newer ones.

5.     I always look at collars. If I have established the item is indeed vintage (pre-1980), I look at the collar and see if it is rounded, small, pointed, how long, etc.  While I am not, and do not ever profess to be a fashion historian – I reckon collars are a pretty good tell-tale as to the age of a garment.  You can always link up to the Vintage Fashion Guild website which I regularly use as a resource.  Collars are a good indication of trends and you can look up what is what on their site.

6.     Garment care labels – if it is vintage it probably didn’t have one.  If the item has a care label (with washing directions) then it was made after 1971.  That’s the year care labels were introduced, so vintage items that are said to be older than that will not include this feature. 

Remember handwashing? It is how we used to wash clothes we cared about!

7.     I look at the seam allowance.  That means the amount of fabric that was left, in the event the garment needed to be altered.  Nowadays, in most current clothing the seam allowance is absolutely abysmal and you would have to CONSUME (buy, buy, buy) MORE clothing if you went up a size.  What a scam. 

In the old days, if you needed to go up or down a size you didn’t just throw your clothes away.  You would either fix it yourself or take the garment to be altered!

8.     And finally, I look at the actual piece and the ‘style’.  I have been known in my time, to wear some things that raise eyebrows, are not everyone’s cuppa and can/may push the limits of costume. I don’t mind what others think about the way I dress and am happy enough in myself to dress as I please. 

BUT when I am looking, I actually do take in to consideration the ‘costume’ or, shall we say the ‘confidence’ factor.  

I ask myself; are you game for the piece if it is a little ‘out there’?  Do you think you will feel confident wearing it?  Will it reflect your mood or your personality? Does it enhance your wardrobe and provide wearable options with other pieces?   Will you actually wear it – or, are you just buying it to look at it (as a collector)? 

If you ask yourself these questions and you aren’t answering yes, then I would propose,” Do you really NEED that?” Or, is it enough to just enjoy looking at it or offer it to another hunter in the store.

Thanks to Steph for sharing her tips.  What are your tips for finding vintage gems?  Have these inspired you to go out hunting one weekend?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.