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What Is Vintage Clothing?
The word “vintage” simply means “from the past.” When it comes to clothing, items that are over 20 years old are generally considered vintage. (Antique clothing is over 100 years old.) Vintage clothing is usually secondhand (previously worn). Items that mimic past trends, whether they're vintage or vintage-inspired, are called “retro.” Unworn clothing—typically found in bulk in warehouses and factories—is known as “deadstock” but is typically not vintage.
Where to Buy Vintage Clothing
From vintage boutiques to consignment stores to discount thrift chains, there are many types of vintage clothing stores.
- Thrift stores: A thrift store is a discount store that typically sells secondhand clothing. You can find quality vintage when thrifting, but you may have to dig through many items to find your size and style.
- Consignment stores: Consignment stores are places where individuals can resell items. When a piece sells, the store takes a cut. Consignment stores generally specialize in high-end and designer pieces and accessories, like handbags, shoes, and costume jewelry.
- Vintage boutiques: Boutiques have a curated selection of unique vintage clothing that hews to a certain aesthetic or past era. They are usually small, which means you can develop a relationship with the people who work there. A boutique might specialize in vintage haute couture, or it might only sell denim.
- Flea markets: If you’re lucky enough to have a large flea market or swap meet in your city, it can be a great place to find vintage clothing. Flea markets are typically outdoors, and vendors sell a wide variety of items, including furniture and brand-new goods. You’ll have to seek out the vintage clothes sellers, who often have giant racks of unsorted used clothing. Come prepared to haggle for your vintage items.
- Online: There are many online stores that specialize in selling vintage clothing, often direct from multiple sellers. The advantage of buying vintage clothing online is that you can search for specific key terms to find exactly what you’re looking for. The disadvantage is that you won’t get to try the item on, and buying vintage online is almost always more expensive than shopping at thrift stores.
How to Shop for Vintage Clothing
Vintage shopping is an adventure, and with a few simple skills, you can develop your own unique vintage style.
- Keep an open mind. Unlike stores that sell new clothing in every size and color, vintage stores are stocked with one-of-a-kind pieces. Don’t go vintage shopping if you’re looking for a specific item, because you probably won’t find it. Instead, use a moodboard for inspiration, and you might leave with some great vintage finds.
- Set a time limit. Vintage shopping can be overwhelming, especially if you’re shopping at a large thrift store or flea market. Since sellers rarely organize by style, the best way to find hidden treasures is to flip through every single piece. One way to avoid vintage shopping fatigue is to set a time limit on your excursion. Pop into the thrift store for 30 minutes (or an hour for experienced shoppers), search as thoroughly as you can, and head to the dressing room when your time is up.
- Try on anything you like. Sizing between brands varies widely—especially when it comes to vintage clothing. In the past, sizes skewed much smaller, and in addition, washing can shrink pieces. When it comes to vintage shopping, the size on the tag is virtually useless. To know if a garment actually fits, you’ll need to try it on. In cases where a fitting room isn’t available, such as online or at flea markets, your best bet is to know your own measurements. Ask online sellers for exact measurements of the item, and when shopping in person, bring a small measuring tape so that you can measure the items yourself.
- Search for flaws. Unlike new clothing, vintage clothing often has flaws: stains, rips, missing buttons, stuck zippers. Before making a purchase, thoroughly inspect your item for any flaws. (If you’re shopping online, look for items with plenty of high-quality images, and ask the seller directly if the item has any flaws.) If you fall in love with a flawed item, ask yourself if you can live with the damage or if it will always bother you. Some flaws are fixable, like too-long pants that need to be hemmed. Other flaws, like fraying silk, aren’t. Don’t expect to be able to remove any stains yourself, and don’t buy items that need mending unless you’ll actually mend them.
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