When shopping for vintage, whether online or in person, keep in mind four important factors:
- Price: Obviously the first consideration. It doesn't matter if it is a late 40s Dior suit, if you don't have the £1,000 asking price, move on and look for something you can actually afford. Consider also the 'cost per wear' - if it's a versatile piece which you can see yourself getting a lot of use out of, it may be worth spending a bit more; on the other hand how many taffeta cocktail dresses do you really need, even if it is only £25?
- Condition: Look it over carefully - does it need work? If you will have to spend time repairing it, or pay someone else to fix it, you need to factor that into the price. If it's a beautiful silk gown that's disintigrating in your hands, seriously consider why you want it (because you can salvage the beaded neckline to use on a sewing project? Go for it. Because it's an interesting piece and you'd like to study the construction? Fine. Because you like the idea of having a 1920s dress in your wardrobe? Keep looking.)
- Size: Is it actually going to fit? If it's not, can it be made to fit? It's reasonably straightforward to take in the side seams an inch or so (or let them out, if there's enough seam allowance). If it's truly incredible there are other ways in which you might be able to alter it (for example inserting contrast panels). If you'll need to pay someone else to do this for you, remember to factor in that cost (if the dress is £25 and the alteration £20 - can you find something similar that already fits, for that £45?). If there's really no way it's ever going to fit, put it back and resume the hunt.
- Do you love it? Are you actually going to wear it? Just because you find a 1950s dress for £12 doesn't mean you have to buy it; if you're never going to wear a khaki-coloured jewel neck sheath dress, save your pennies to put towards something amazing.
You might be able to find a bargain from when older styles re-emerged in more recent times. For example, there were a lot of 1930s influences around in the 70s (but for authenticity, avoid crimplene!). Similarly, both 1940s and 50s styles had a revival during the 80s, and these can be had much cheaper - and often in larger sizes - than their original counterparts. Sometimes just removing the shoulder pads is enough to make an 80s dress pass for much earlier; other times it takes a little more work.
If you're shopping online, take time to figure out your measurements - and those of your clothes. Take measurements of items you already own which fit you well - these won't necessarily correspond to your actual body measurements, depending on how you prefer your clothes to fit. Like Marilyn (so I hear), I prefer a snug fit, so I'll choose items which have very close to my actual body measurements. Some styles are more forgiving than others, for example in circle skirts I can get away with a waist size slightly smaller than my actual measurement.
If you don't have unlimited funds and you don't live in an area which has lots of amazing and affordable vintage shops (i.e. most of us), you'll probably need to supplement your wardrobe with modern clothing, either brand new from the high street, or thrifted. Modern clothing also has the benefits of being less fragile, easier to care for, and less precious (so you won't be scared to wear it!) than original vintage. So what to look for in modern clothing to recreate an authentic vintage look? My next few posts in this series will cover just that.
Next in the series: Building a Vintage Wardrobe: Skirts & Trousers