Okay, girls, I’m going to let you in on a little secret I like to call Smart Vintage Shopping. This guide will help you be the girl with the awesome ’70s clutch that everyone gushes over, as opposed to the lady who thought it would be acceptable to wear an orange jumpsuit to the first day of class. I’m not trying to bash orange jumpsuits, I’m just saying I’ve bought one—I tried to rock it and not look like I belong in a jail cell—and it wasn’t pretty. But seriously, vintage shopping is one of those things that sound awesome but can ultimately be pretty intimidating. After reading this guide, though, even your mom will want to raid your closet—and you’d think she would be the one with the awesome wardrobe from 1970!
First things first: why buy vintage?
Vintage is technically defined as any piece of clothing that is twenty years or older—which means theoretically, all your T-shirts from 1990 count as vintage now! Danielle Mandel, NYU student and vintage shopper extraordinaire, points out that not only is vintage clothing accessible, but it’s also usually cheaper than stuff you can find in any retail store. Also, it’s durable. Sara Ryer, another NYU student and sales employee at well-known Manhattan vintage boutique Zachary’s Smile, says, “Vintage garments hold up a lot better than contemporary clothing. They’ve remained in good shape for up to thirty years—what’s going to make them fall apart now?”
How do you get started?
Sammy Davis, founder of “the H&M of vintage,” Sammy Davis Vintage has a mission: to “help women achieve feel-good fashion through do-good practices.” For the lady who has never shopped vintage before and needs some inspiration, she suggests checking out WhatIWore.com a daily fashion blog created and maintained by Jessica Schroeder, a particularly stylish vintage goddess. She champions the internet at large to find actual stores: “You just have to use Google,” she says. “Find the Goodwill, the church stores, the Salvation Army—you can go on their site and go to their store locator, just like you would with a supermarket!” Mandel also suggests making lists: “I made lists of all the stores I wanted to explore, and I just went. That way, I got a feel for prices, quality, and styles.”
What to do if you don’t live in a big city (hi, college towns!)?
Davis is actually very enthusiastic about small-town vintage shopping, so get psyched—you could have an edge on the big-city shoppers. “Different regions, different clothes,” Davis says. “It’s definitely a positive to be elsewhere because there are different clothes, and if you’re shopping outside of NYC you are definitely going to be spending half the cost.” Mandel agrees. “Try to avoid New York at all costs! Just go to Goodwill … it may seem skeevy—get over it.” Skeevy? “Well, if you’re shopping at a boutique the clothes are usually cleaned before going on the racks. If you’re shopping elsewhere though, you MUST wash your clothes before wearing them. You don’t know where they’ve been … I try not to think about it.”
Girls, you know that shopping is like a battle—you’ve got to find your stuff, get it before anyone else does, and then get outta there! Vintage shopping is just like that, but even more intense (think the notorious wedding gown sale at Filene’s Basement in downtown Boston). Check out your wardrobe before you start shopping—don’t buy what you don’t need! Then pick one item you really want to find, and strategize from there. “Think about what you want in your wardrobe,” Davis said. “Say you want a little black dress.” She explained that vintage stores are often organized by color and by style, so you can go to the black section, or the dress section. That cuts down the time you spend looking by a lot, and means you’re more likely to make a good buy.
Go with a group
Davis points out that your friends often know your style better than you do, so if you bring along a group, you might get a great find thanks to your friends’ eyes! “Also, if you’re intimidated in the beginning, making it a social outing can be really fun,” she said. “You can go for coffee afterwards and check out your stuff!”
Wear a skintight full bodysuit … I’m only sort of kidding!
Davis suggests going with leggings, so you can try things on in the aisle. “You want to get in and get out,” she said. If you have a skintight full body suit, so much the better! But don’t try to get around this rule by simply buying off the rack—you must try things on before purchasing them. “Just because it says its a size four, doesn’t mean that the last three people who owned the dress haven’t taken it in and altered it in 100 different ways,” Ryer explained. Also, sizes have changed over the decades, so a size six today is not necessarily a size six from 1970.
Don’t be intimidated
Davis believes that vintage can be for everyone. Not convinced? “Think about styles today,” she says. “You have the really girly girl, and then you might have the rugged Americana, and then you have the Forever 21 style, and then you have sophisticated Ann Taylor … so there’s different styles for each female, and that’s been seen over the decades.” If a girl is uncertain about buying vintage, Davis suggested starting with a jacket or a piece of jewelry—something simple and easy to assimilate into a larger wardrobe. Ryer warned against all vintage jewelry, though—“I find the metals and strings can get brittle and sometimes break easily.”
Avoid the impulse buys—just because something’s unique doesn’t mean it’s good!
When I complained to Davis about that fateful orange jumpsuit I bought on an impulse, she totally commiserated: “Those bright orange jumpers get you every time,” she laughed. “But seriously, I can honestly say I’ve done the same thing. I’ve bought some things where I end up thinking, what is that? How can I make that work?” So what do you do if that happens to you? Well, it’s easiest if you just avoid the impulses. “It’s really recognizing what do I need versus what do I want and what can I do without,” Davis says. “Having an awareness of what you OWN is really important.” Mandel agrees, and also points out that it’s easy to get carried away because something is “amazing!” “Then I just realize I will never feel like wearing it because I’m simply not feeling it with the rest of my wardrobe,” she explains. “I’m all for standing out, but I try not to go too costume-y.” Got it, girls? Unique = good, sometimes. Orange jumper = bad. (Can I say that enough?)
Have fun and be yourself!
Ultimately, vintage shopping is just like regular shopping—it’s a way to express yourself and have fun. Davis says, in her opinion, the ultimate vintage shopper is “a role model, fun, outgoing, and open-minded—being open-minded is the most important part about it.” So what are you waiting for? Go out and start shopping—as if you needed another excuse!
By Vanessa Friedman for Her Campus