My seventeen-year-old daughter has discovered vintage, which has reminded me of all the hours I spent hunting for something special. Oh, how I loved my vintage collection. But a few years ago I noticed I didn’t grab those pieces quite as often and wondered if passing forty I could still get away with it. I’ve concluded yes you can wear vintage at any age, and in fact, some interesting things are happening which makes vintage, resale and reworked clothing very of the moment. Vintage is original, fun and chic when done well.
I choose my vintage pieces the same way I chose what to wear in the morning… what makes me feel good. Don’t buy vintage like a teenager unless you are a teenager of course. Anything cutesy, made of super thin material or trying too hard to be ironic probably won’t work. Vintage shopping is about stumbling upon great finds, not finding that specific piece you need. I’ve found the best vintage shops tend to be in cities. The stock moves fast and buyers pay attention to fashion. I shop both beautifully curated shops as well as super stocked bargain basements. What is your tolerance for sifting through? Many dealers (albeit at the higher point) have an online presence. That said, great things can be found in the most random places, often because of less competition. So if you happen to be in the ‘burbs or the middle of nowhere (barn in Maine anyone?)and drive by a promising looking fair or shop, by all means do a quick stop. You never know where that amazing find will turn up!
Tips on buying vintage:
-Consider the fabric. There is a lot of polyester out there… it holds odors (pre-dating your own) and just can feel seriously ick. I prefer to stick to natural fibers like cotton, wool, cashmere and silk.Also, over time fabrics can degrade so be sure its not cracking or overly dry- which could mean its on the verge of falling apart.
-If it smells, it probably will always smell. Pass.
-Try it on… sizes tend to run small, and for women, I see this especially in the shoulder area… we have become giants compared to fifty years ago!
-Buy your style. I think it’s easy to fall for costumes and fancy yourself someone you are not in vintage stores. Odds are you will never wear a costume in real life if you don’t already. Put the boa down.
-Get to know the people running the place. They always have stock coming and going and they might pull exactly what you want from out of the back. They also are really great at sizing up what will fit.
Some of my favorite items to buy vintage are dresses, coats and tee shirts. Oh, and sunglasses. I have two coats that have been timeless and my go-tos for years. My velvet leopard coat (I think it cost me fifty dollars) dresses up or down, travels really well and is perfect for most weather. It even garnered an elevator compliment from none other than Tom Ford himself. I wore it as I found it for years, then decided to shorten it about six inches and most recently relined it in black silk when the liner frayed. Animal prints are neutrals to me. Right now the pattern on pattern look is super fashionable, so you won’t been seen as the crazy person even if you pair it with other patterns. Find me an icon and I’m pretty sure you can pull up an image of her in a leopard print coat. Another favorite is a jean jacket I bought in LA during high school. Yeah, that means the 80’s. Very age of Aquarius… I assume its from the 60’s. It’s just so cool… tie-dyed denim with embroidered astrological signs on the back. The funny thing was, despite it being intermittently unfashionable over the last twenty years, it’s back, and I am so glad to have held on to it. Gucci couldn’t do it better. Tee shirts have always been fun for me. When I was young I loved to provoke with words and images on my shirt. Now it’s more about finding an incredibly soft, worn-in, well fitting tee with a interesting or beautiful graphic to mix with my more luxe pieces. A worn in tee looks really good with a dressy velvet skirt or jacket. I also love, love, love buying vintage tees for my kids. I am so over those ubiquitous faux vintage shirts. That said, I definitely go for random funny when I buy my boys shirts. I mean Couples Relay or Lionel Richie Concert Tee’s? They wear them largely because they are so soft! And as so many vintage tees run tiny, I can buy for both my teens all the way down to the youngest who is ten. Dresses are easy to fit and wear, so whenever I find a great one I tend to grab it. The polyester exception I make is for sparkly, scratchy, awesome lurex party pieces from the sixties and seventies – they are just so festive. And well, sometimes beauty is uncomfortable. Lastly, sunglasses… so fun and easy, and so chic to wear something without a big logo on the side. Plus, sometimes you can find these really cheaply – this makes a great gift for a teenage girl in your life.
I recently fell for a perfectly worn, washed out pair of Carhartt pants. I had to buy them. Oh, and did I mention they do not fit… yet. Buying this way is not for the faint of heart. It is a project that needs a really good tailor who also has a sense of style and awareness of current fashion, which is not so easy to find. It would also be awfully easy to leave them on the chair in my closet. But this post has given me the kick in the pants (no pun intended, sorry) to get them done. Only buy something that doesn’t fit if you truly will take it to get tailored. One shouldn’t be afraid to tailor things to be a more chic length or better fit. This is one of the biggest tricks to successfully wearing vintage. Odds are the exact right hemline for you is not the same as it was for someone else in the past… and a little adjustment can make it feel spot on. These items are for wearing!
Which leads me to all the amazing new companies taking advantage of our lust for genuinely worn in fabrics, especially denim, and our problem of not so great vintage fit. I have found some pretty awesome RE/DONE jeans, where they have reworked old, poorly fitting ones into incredibly comfortable and flattering favorites. They have a website, but I suggest hitting a store in person to try on several pairs as the size variation is pretty extreme. Don’t really pay attention to sizing on tags – try the ones you like the look of. I also was impressed by the girls at The Vintage Twin pop up shop in NYC. They will somehow size you up and pull pairs that shockingly work from a massive pile of jeans, finally cropping them to the right length a lot more neatly than I would! Reformation has used old fabric for new dresses for years – a great way to tiptoe towards vintage.
Finally, not quite vintage but resale, luxury consignment sales have become quite fashionable. There have always been the cool resale boutiques where you might hope to find a stash of someone’s old Alaia or Hermes, but now they are online as well. Frankly, they are a great way to monetize special things you never wear but glare at you from your closet. I have a wonderful relationship with The RealReal. I have loved consigning through them as well as buying off the site. I think it’s always worth a quick look for designers you love, or trying to find those items you missed once but keep thinking about.
Fashion has finally embraced the idea of style as individual expression. Which means original and vintage are back. If you haven’t tried it in a while or ever, maybe it’s time for a peek.
Some of my favorite sources:
No. 6 Store
The Vintage Twin
What Goes Around Comes Around
The Way We Wore
Selima Optique on Bond