How to Buy Vintage Clothes: A Beginner's Guide

A Beginner's Guide to Vintage Clothes Shopping

Vintage shopping is no different from a treasure hunt. The joyful feeling of finding an exclusive piece or a place to buy vintage is parallel to the ‘X’ that marks the spot. To a fashion enthusiast, words can't express the joy that comes with these beauties. Quite often, the thrill of the chase and the history these pieces carry are all reasons why vintage clothes are admired.

There’s this undeniable rush after finding an exclusive piece that’ll hang loosely on your closet, it becomes an awarding piece that undeniably casts a shining light on it’s quality and uniqueness. Just because these pieces have been owned by other people doesn't mean it has necessarily lost its value, on the contrary it becomes a piece of history and past lives. The way the fabric feels on your skin, or the way the detailed stitchings run from one shoulder to the other are nurtured by decades and worn downs.

Regardless of this excitement, you might want to keep in mind what piece is actually worth your pocket money. There are times we don't get to realize what makes a vintage piece a legitimate one, but let’s be real, sometimes you’ve got to make the final verdict. Even if you're not familiar with the luxury consignment market, it can never be too late to start your vintage collection if it’s something you’ve been craving. Buying vintage takes a little background knowledge in fashion, which is surprisingly fun. For this reason, I've written this guide. So, how to find vintage clothing? Let’s find out!

What makes a piece vintage?

Okay, so get your swim caps ready– let’s dive in!

According to fashion historians, for a piece of clothing to be considered vintage, it should be between 20 and 100 years old, which is also clearly prototypical of the era in which it was produced. This arguably puts vintage clothes in between the 1920s and 1990s.

Wearable clothing before the 1960s is distinguished because of its precision tailoring and high quality fabrics. This is a result of the mass production of clothes during World War II, so materials made during the heat of the war had varying rich qualities. You might want to keep an eye when shopping for pieces that were produced during this period.


Understanding your preferred vintage decade

Decades and eras come with different fashion styles, each one focusing on different political and social standards. For most periods, especially during the 1930’s, with the booming of Hollywood films, people became very influenced by the big screen actors and actresses. The glamour and the fame were only counterparts, it was also an experimental moment driven by the last decade, the roaring 20’s.

During the 1930’s with the ‘Old Hollywood evening gowns – like sleeveless, backless, long bias-cut dresses. Sailor pants with high waisted placements, and wide leg dripping beach pajamas stood among the influencing waves. On another note, casual sports clothes such as striped knitted shirts and skirt-like shorts took over the relaxed day-to-day status quo. Oh, and let’s not forget the slouch hats, tilt hats, knit berets!

Going over a quick research on past decades whether it be through Google’s infinite sources or a fashion booklet, you’d be surprised on all the inspiration you might get for your ext vintage hunt. Never underestimate the inspiring collections from fashion galleries, online displays, or the local stores that surround our streets. These will surely kick in your creativity and help you make the best choice!

Through the decades: From everyday wear to vintage

The first decades of the 20th century were the epitome of modern fashion as we know it. Vintage clothes carry stories that involve political upheavals, fame and influential pioneers. Here, we have dissected, very briefly, (for real) some of the exciting moments in fashion history through these first decades.

1900: New reforms of World War I design and the beginning of haute couture. With World War’s industrial advancements, the invention of the trench coat by renowned designers Burberry and Aquascutum was born. Burberry invented the gabardine fabric, a tightly woven fabric used as overcoats, uniforms and windbreakers. The design was offered to the United Kingdom War Office in 1901. After the end of the war soldiers and soldiers started coming back to the cities became influential with these durable hefty garments making them iconic pieces among today’s modern clothes.

1930's: Due to Hollywoods’ impact and movie stars, the Parisian couture started working its way on different parts of the World. Evening gowns and luxurious fabrics were also in vogue. This was a feminine era, and an exploration of a woman’s structural power.

1940's: Also referred to as the improvisation era, all thanks to World War II. You will find most dresses in this era were improvised, and fabrics like wool became commonly used in clothes. Some distinctive pieces were blouses, sweaters and fitted skirts, unadorned and defined with sharp shoulder pads. Many pieces were often inspired by military influences.

1950's: The rock and roll era! Think Elvis Presley, think the hit series ‘I Love Lucy’ or post Great Depression. This era is one of the richest in a variety of the well known 50’s-60’s vintage dresses. You will find pieces from this decade very distinctive like bolero tops, fitted bodices, jeans, and exotic evening dresses. This time came with significant changes in the fashion industry and overall discomfort of ‘gender roles’.

1960's: The start of the 60’s gave light to the drainpipe jeans and capri pants which were common in America among women. Auderey Hepburn was a striking influential fashion icon, with skirts and plaid button downs being casually worn. This era brought about several colors in cloth production. Patterning styles also became common in this era.

Know What to Look For

One of the charming things about vintage clothing is acknowledging it has belonged to someone else, benn in a different home, worn by another person. This shouldn’t discourage you, just because it has been worn and used before doesn’t mean it has lost value–on the contrary, you’re giving it a new home, a new meaning adopting and reusing.

However, make sure you always get your money's worth on each piece you buy. Keep an eye out for garment flaws or defects. If you're buying online, go over the descriptions thoroughly and talk to the seller for a quality and authenticity check.

Here are some markers you should look out for:

  1. Check if the item is lined and sewn correctly.
  2. Inspect damages caused by insects: insects can cause havocs to clothing, so you should keep an eye out for similar damages.
  3. Fading colors and patterns: this isn't always fatal, but when it is too severe or damaged, you might want to reconsider–but lowkey, worn and washed can look pretty cool.
  4. Think about your budget: on average, vintage clothes are of higher cost than its modern equivalents or any other fast fashion pieces. The idea is that anything expensive then will be costly today and classified as a highly sought ‘collectibles’. To avoid spending so much, you should research on other vintage vendors and compare prices and quality. Thrift shops are always good starting points.


Where to find vintage clothes?

Shopping for vintage clothes isn't always easy. I guess it's a price we have to pay to get quality second-hand clothes. However, there are two main ways to shop for vintage clothes. Many people carry different opinions on where to shop, and it all depends on what you're looking for.

In brick and mortar experiences, you can touch, feel, and have a sense of how much you like the dress. However, shopping online could also be an easy option for you to find the best quality vintage!


Offline vintage shopping


You spend quality time choosing a product: Shopping for vintage isn't just about looks, but about the experience. Shopping in stores allows you to be in contact with the pieces which can eventually convince you into purchasing. It also gives you the opportunity of finding pieces you didn’t even know about!

The touch and feel: As mentioned before, the touch and feel of vintage fabric plays a significant role in its entire essence. Touch and feel are one of the best ways to know the quality of a piece. You get to scrutinize the cloth and make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. You can also try the ‘scrunch test’! Hold the cloth for a few seconds and then let it go. If the fabric doesn't keep a wrinkled look for a few seconds it’s probably a good textile.

You can always get a second opinion: Another advantage of offline shopping is you can always ask questions. If you're not sure of the history, fabric, or you need more details, you can always ask the attendant. This also helps you decide on which piece you should buy if you find two equally great ones.


Exhaustion: You might spend an entire day looking for a particular pair and not find it. At first, shopping is fun, but if you spend the whole day and not see what you're looking for, it can be frustrating. Remember to take coffee breaks, and try to make it a soulful experience!

Expense: Offline stores tend to be more expensive than online ones. Sometimes, you may end up paying more than what an item is worth. Make sure you compare the pieces and their original prices, you never know what you may spot!

Crowds: Shopping in stores can sometimes get crowded, which isn't comfortable for introverts or germaphobes. This might be a little bit overwhelming, but never underestimate the power of patience!

Online shopping


A broader market: When shopping online, you get a wide range of options. You can search over an array of markets for specific designs or any other specifics. This means you don't have to run from one store to the other.

24/7 shopping: No one cares if it's 2 AM, or if you're in pajamas. You can shop during any time of the day! Best part is, you can get it delivered to your door the next day! Well, at times it could take a little longer.

Secure payment: Online stores accept all sorts of payments, including credit and debit cards and even PayPal. This makes issuing payments very easy, but always assure secure payment methods on transactions.!


Quality issues: All you rely on is the seller's description of the product, this might be difficult to distinguish quality of the products. Since you can't experience the physical products, there's no way for you to assure if it adds up to your expectations when you see it online. You could always check out the description details and Google them, for a more convincing outtake.

Size and fitting: The fitting description might be a challenge, especially with clothes. For this reason it is recommended to assure the sizes by metric measurements and check out a conversion chart with US, IT and UK sizes. This can be really handy just in case any size confusions pop in.

Waiting period: The hardest part of shopping online is waiting to get your clothes delivered. Although you can select which shipping speed you prefer, you have no control over the possible delays that may occur during delivery. But remember, patience is key!

Written by Vanely Martinez