How to shop for good vintage Part 1

How to shop for good vintage Part 1

Being stylish should not be at the expense of our environment. Sustainyourstyle

Think of a huge garbage truck full of clothes, dumping clothing items on your driveway every second and you’ll have an idea of just how much the up to 85% of textiles that go to landfill every year looks like. Did you know 70% of your donations to charity also end up in landfill? So, the truck coming up your driveway just behind that garbage truck will be the one filled with the latest donations. One possible answer? Less ‘new,’ more ‘use what you have’ or ‘use what has already been created’. It is no joke and is an issue we can, as individuals do something about, to contribute to change.

Yes, we can still shop! Shopping vintage, recycle and op-shop still buoys our economy in a more circular fashion (particularly now) and helps to cement a new behaviour of shopping ‘new to you’ before ‘newly-made’, that is absolutely less harmful to the environment.

“Style is not a ‘fast’ undertaking.” Sustainable Stylist, Stephanie King

You begin to learn over time what to look for when out on ‘the hunt’. I have been a ‘style’ (rather than trend) hunter since the tender age of 16 with my first pay packet. It just happens to be that the clothing with ‘style’ always seems (to me anyway) to be vintage (from 1940 to 1979). I would agree that spending hours trawling the racks in vintage stores, second-hand stores and op shops can be a daunting process if you don’t have an experienced or trained eye. I have spent many hours with my personal styling clients on shopping trips, teaching them what to look out for when they go out on their own. It is about sharing the learning and working together towards change.

“Vintage means value — but only if it’s authentic. With current trends, it’s tempting to market clothes that appear vintage as the real deal. That puts the burden on consumers and distributors to know the difference.” Chicago Tag

By the 1980s, women began purchasing mass produced fashion that was less expensive than ever, thanks to the outsourcing of production to many Asian countries. In my view, that is where fast fashion really began to take a hold; therefore I prefer not to promote garments from the 80s onwards. I do a fair bit of research, nowadays online, when I decide to write my views and try to ensure I select unbiased (non-name dropping) articles as a reference in need. ‘Fast Fashion’ is not my style, not my jam and not my choice.

So, as an aside – I do like SOME, but do not really wear anything from the 80’s, 90’s etc and would rarely suggest those items to my clients or store customers, unless used as a staple garment like a camisole or singlet type piece. For me, a there isn’t a lot of flattering (key!) style in those Talking Heads inspired suits (sometimes good for a fruity pear type shape), sweaty stained t-shirts that happen to have a retro band photo on them (good for rags) or, the rapper style activewear leisure-suit re-enactment. Ha ha my blog – my ravings!

And now to the picking!

The ops shops (particularly in Auckland), are very often absolutely picked over by the ‘volunteers’ and by the Trade Me resellers, before you happen along on your quest for ‘the good stuff’. Of no surprise to me, there is always an abundance of the retro (retrospective fashion) 80s and 90s stuff to be found. Your ‘eye’ for that pièce de résistance will differ for resale and self-enjoyment, so it helps to be clear about the purpose of the shop - if you are shopping for yourself, I always suggest making a list of items that are missing from your wardrobe so you can go directly to the right part of the store for what you need.

When specifically hunting for vintage … here are a few tips:

  1. Look for fabric that catches your eye in colours that suit you. Vintage fabrics are often/usually 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!


    Image courtesy Vintage Fashion Guild

  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, Peony 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 by tag/no tag. 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?

The value of vintage as a preferred sustainable fashion option worldwide is on the rise at an exponential rate. Good quality vintage clothing is a coveted commodity around the world and very often sits at the same level as designer clothing. For those who value the quality of true vintage clothing, they will not be selling it at bargain basement prices. NZ op-shop prices are not reflective of the true nature of this type of clothing worldwide. In NZ unfortunately, the rest of the world are buying up our pricing mistakes. You will most likely find the price point is a tenuous and heated discussion amongst sellers. There are those who spend their lives op-shopping for the resale buck, those who buy from vintage suppliers, those who are generously gifted pieces and those who buy directly from collectors.

My view has a sustainable fashion underlying perspective … AND it has been proven by marketing gurus around the world:

  • If you spend $4 on a boot, that is the care you will offer it - $4 worth of care. When you get bored with it you might just turf it in the rubbish bin (refer to garbage truck at the beginning of this story).
  • Buy a boot for $1000 and you will gently put them in the shoe bag every time you finish wearing them. You will think about them each time you put them on, in a fashion of care and look after them until they are WORN OUT.

At the core, cost per wear. Everyone has a differing value pinch point and will spend as they value the item. Vintage is ‘zero waste wear’ and the cost per wear has probably already been achieved through ‘wear credits’ before it found YOU – its fabulous new forever home. Wear it with the care of a million-dollar item. It probably is – a ‘one in a million’ item now.

Painted Bird is the fusion of curated vintage clothing and current fabulosities.


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