Thursday, June 21st, 2018

How to Shop for Vintage

Published on February 13, 2009 by   ·   9 Comments Social Buttons by Linksku - Share links onlinePin It

Love vintage dresses, but scared to shop for them?    Guest blogger Chrissie Eden Vazquez gives you the 411 on how to find the right dress, and what to do once you get it home.

Springtime is just around the corner, and with it, the beginning of Celebration Season. You know what I’m talking about–that stretch between April and September when everyone you know seems to be getting married, having a baby, graduating from clown school, whatever! By the time invitation #3 shows up in your mailbox (or in your inbox, if your pals are eco-savvy enough to skip the paper), your first thought isn’t “Awwww”, it’s ” #&%@, what am I going to wear!?”.

Vintage 50s Gown, $40 @ Ebay

Vintage 50's Gown, $40 @ Ebay

Fear not. You can get a fabulous vintage gown for each occasion without breaking the bank…but you’re going to have to work for it a little, sister. The advantage (and the fun) of going vintage is that you get a unique garment that is not only beautiful, but also green because it keeps that fabulous old dress out of landfill! Why battle it out with half of the City at Bloomingdales or Neiman Marcus and still risk walking into an event in the same dress as some other gal? How embarrassing!

60s Vintage Gown, $270 @

60's Vintage Gown, $270 @

Skip the big stores and re-think your shopping plan. Vintage gowns can be found in any number of places, from estate sales to flea markets and thrift stores, but the internet offers the widest selection. Some tips for buying a vintage gown online:

  • Before you even begin looking for a vintage gown, find a tailor in your area that you can trust to handle any alterations or repairs necessary. Keep in mind that an evening gown can be a rather large and labor-intensive project. If you’re going all out for a black tie type of event, you want to allow time for proper handling of delicate fabrics, as well as any detail work like beading. A rush job might cause irreparable damage to a one of a kind piece, leaving you scrambling last minute to find a back up dress.
  • Size it up. It pays in saved aggravation and tears to have your measurements handy while shopping, especially online where you can’t try before you buy. Some resellers of vintage attire will list their gowns according to what modern size the item fits, while others will list according to the original size. Most will provide you with hip, bust, and waist measurements, along with recommendations on bra cup sizes and shoulder widths that will fit into specific pieces.
  • Measure over your clothes so that you have enough wiggle room for alterations.
  • Give yourself LOTS of time to shop, especially if you’re tall or curvy because if you find a gown you love but it’s not in your size or big enough to be altered–sorry, sister, gotta move on.
  • Dare to think about underwear. Vintage silhouettes were very heavily shaped by the wearer’s undergarments (think about the bullet bras of the 50s and the tiny corseted waistline that defined Dior’s New Look). {EDITORS NOTE: YOU CAN FIND AUTHENTIC BULLET BRAS ONLINE ON BULLETBRAS.NET} The dress may look different on you than it does on a mannequin or on a model wearing period undergarments to complement the style. If you’re determined to keep it authentic by wearing a vintage or vintage inspired corset or bra, ask the seller if they have any recommendations. However, if you value free breathing or don’t like the idea of wearing someone else’s undergarments, relax, and remember that it’s your dress. You can have it restructured or changed any way you want! As long as you’ve followed tip #1 and acquired a good tailor, you should be able to rework the gown so that it is more flattering to your body without the use of bionic underwear.

    Betty Page sporting a bullet bra style bikini.

    Betty Page sporting a bullet bra style bikini.

  • Ask direct questions about the condition of the dress! Reputable resellers of vintage clothes disclose any minor damage or discoloration up front, but if you can’t examine the dress in person, get clear, high-resolution images of the damaged areas to make sure that you can live with the imperfections. If you see a gown with great bare bones potential but want to make serious changes to it, ask if the fabric will hold up to your ambitious plans. A delicate piece of material over 50 years old will fall apart even in the hands of the most careful and skilled tailor.
30s Evening Gown & Slip, $65, Ebay.

30's Evening Gown & Slip, $65, Ebay.

With a little investment of time and effort, you can expect to save some cash and still be the belle of the ball, with everyone clamoring to find out…Where DID you get that dress?

Chrissie Eden Vazquez lives in NYC in an apartment full of clothes and furniture made and used years before she was born, along with her rescued pitbull Franklin and her rescued-from-the-suburbs boyfriend Gino. She got her first taste of vintage thrill from her Mom, who happily indulged her young daughter’s tastes for shiny brooches and little clutches from the 40s, unknowingly starting an obsession with all things made before the Nixon era. Mother & daughter continue to try to out-do each other with the perfect vintage score…with Chrissie currently ahead by one set of dining chairs.

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Readers Comments (9)

  1. Nancy Esther Mroz says:

    Love the insider tips on vintage shopping. Don’t know if you’ve checked out Gaby’s on 13th and 1st avenue but its well worth the trip as they always have sample Manolo Blahniks to go with that perfect score. XOXO

  2. Deeners says:

    Thanks for the great advice! I too love vintage items but always have a hard time finding vintage clothing that fits…Aside from finding time to actually look for stuff I like, I guess I just need to follow step #1 & find a tailor I can trust and then consider under garments. I never thought about the under garments before, but now that you mentioned it I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. LOL

  3. Rachel Moran says:

    Bullet bras are fuckin’ awesome.

  4. B Sims says:

    Wow! I can’t believe that beautiful black dress from is actually possible to buy!! I would never think a dress that gorgeous would be that affordable! I can see your style tips will be helping me for days to come! Thanks!

  5. Cynthia Raymond says:

    Thanks for the article. I’ve always wanted to find a vintage dress to wear, but never knew I could trust ebay. I’m not that experienced with vintage clothing, so I’m not sure I would know the difference. This helped.

  6. lis says:

    what’s the difference between vintage and old. How do I know that on ebay I am not getting an old dress, but a vintage dress?

  7. Chloe Jo says:

    Hey Lis. There is no difference between old and vintage. Dead stock means it’s never been worn, but most vintage has been worn. It’s description will usually tell you if it’s been lightly worn, well worn, or gently used. You should be able to suss out the condition of the garment by the description. If you aren’t comfy doing ebay for vintage, start in your local resale or vintage shop and get a feel for vintage scouting. Bon chance! xCx

  8. Chrissie Eden Vazquez says:

    There are also some hints on the garment. For example, the label–you’ll be able to spot something that was printed 20 years ago by the styling of the tag, or the place of manufacture or sale. For example, I bought a vintage leopard print faux fur coat that you could not tell had ever been worn, b/c it was in such great shape. But on the inside, in script and embroidered in gold (which these days is pricey, but most of the USA’s fancy embroidery was done right in NJ so it was more common then) “for expert cleaning & refurbishing, bring to Chevreau Cleaners 241 W 30th street”…which no longer exists.

    The cut and silhouette of the coat, the style of button, and the outdated address of the cleaners all point to this being a vintage piece, probably from the 60s.

    Take a look at some websites dedicated solely to clothes from specific periods to gain some fluency in the descriptors and cuts.

    “Mod” is 60s. “Peasant style” is 60s-70s bohemian. Pencil skirts and dresses that are slimcut are usually 40s or early 50s before Dior introduced his New Look with the fluffed out crinoline petticoats. (Voluminous skirts and opulent detail became popular in the 50s, especially for evening gowns, because of the availability of fabrics post WWII when wool, silk, and nylon were no longer rationed.)

    You might feel that stuff that’s 15-20yrs old is just “old” or “used” as opposed to “vintage” because you’ve seen it worn (new) in your lifetime. Conversely, you may feel that stuff from certain eras is old because it’s something your great aunt Tilly would have owned and you wouldn’t be caught dead in it.

    “Old” depends on your definition of the word and your personal style. A vintage piece from 1945 is now 64 years old, which means I have purses older than my own mother. To some folks anything that old is grandma junk they’d just as soon get rid of when they need space to store tennis rackets in the attic…I drool over this stuff! Meanwhile, I have friends who go nuts for hightops and Sergio Valente jeans, but I refuse to wear anything that was new in my own lifetime and call it vintage b/c to ME, it’s just old.

    So it’s up to you…but any way you slice it, Chloe is right–there is no real difference btwn “old” and “vintage”. It’s allllll based on perception!

  9. Dusty Rose says:

    Thanks for helping people to consider making a green and economical choice by buying vintage for important events!

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