Wednesday, March 7, 2018

10 Tips for Shopping at Vintage or Charity Shops

Clothes hanging in closet

Stepping into a vintage store or fair, a charity shop or even a car boot sale can be overwhelming. There's so much to look through, often the clothes are arranged in ways that might not be helpful in finding what you need, the lighting can be terrible and unlike your favourite retail shops that generally house a specific style you're drawn to, there are so many different looks and genres to choose from that it's easy to get distracted. Over the years I've been able to pick up some darling finds in charity and vintage shops that have added both fun and in some cases, more value to my wardrobe. A YSL jacket I bought for £20 and wore to fashion week, a COS dress I bought for £10 and was wearing wearing that time I got photographed for Tatler and the Louis Vuitton makeup bag I carried with me everywhere for years that I found for just £5 are just a few examples of some excellent pieces I've found using the tips below. Hopefully they'll help you too!

1. Colour
Colour can be one of the most important elements of vintage or charity shopping because various hues can really age and look old. If you're going for a full-on 70's vibe, then by all means buy the pea green and mustard yellow floral print, but if it's a classic, timeless look you're after, it's important that you consider the colour choices on your shopping trip wisely. In a charity shop, this isn't always quite an issue since many of the items are only 5 years old or less, but if you're shopping for true vintage items that are 10 years old or more, colours fade and can look dated since fabrics and colourways are improved every year. Search for timeless neutrals like black, white, navy, khaki, olive, grey or metallics. Vibrant or deep reds, various pinks and purples often age well, but if you're unsure, steer clear of yellows, greens and oranges. This also applies to patterns. Classics like polka dots, stripes and chevron prints rarely go out of fashion, but florals can look dated so if in doubt, avoid those too and if you do decide to purchase something in a print, apply the colour rules above... You will rarely go wrong with something like a black & white polka dot print or even navy & white stripes.

2. Texture
Vintage and charity shops can be great for finding ornate, textured pieces you might not be able to afford new or furs. Many of my friends will only buy fur 2nd hand for moral reasons, but they're also a bit cheaper when they're pre-loved. If you're on the hunt for a piece to add texture to your wardrobe, cast a keen eye to look for damage, signs of wear & tear or inconsistencies in the texture. Will it last and still look good? If not, don't waste your money. Furthermore, if you're buying something like a coat or a fur, even when shopping vintage or charity, get the best you can reasonably afford.

3. Reputation
If you're looking for high-end or excellent quality, reputation is a good indicator of where to start. Ask around, read online reviews and find a place that has a good reputation for carrying quality pieces at acceptable prices. You can also find some great pre-loved pieces when you buy them from sellers, bloggers or other influencers you trust. Finding a source that's reliable will make your job as a shopper ten times easier and in many cases with quality vintage dealers, if they don't have something you're looking for, they'll source it for you if they can.

4. Cut & Fit
Ignore the size labels on vintage items, particularly anything more than 10 years old, because sizes have changed drastically throughout the decades. Furthermore, pay attention to the cut of some items which will help you narrow down which pieces to try on. If you have large arms and there's a dress with tiny sleeves, it's probably not going to be the right piece for you. If you're really tall, you might want to look for shift dresses and more flowy styles since the waistlines of really old dresses may not hit you in the right place. Pay attention to what the garment looks like rather than what the tag says and if you think it might work, give it a shot.

5. Try It On
Further to point number 4, you must really try everything on so go prepared in clothes & shoes you can easily take off and be prepared to budget some serious time in the dressing rooms. If you're shopping a car boot sale or any place that doesn't offer dressing rooms, wear a fitted camisole or tank and leggings under anything else you may have on that day so you can try things on over your base layers without showing off too much in public.

6. Armpits
Before you even consider a piece, look at the armpits... Sweat stains aren't pretty and over time the chemistry of sweat and deodorant can break down fabrics. If there's a pit stain that looks like it won't budge, don't even bother trying it and move on to something better.

7. Look for Other Flaws
Pay careful attention to garments and shoes to ensure you're not buying something with flaws you can't live with. Look at the bottoms and insides of shoes. Check buttons, zippers, seams, collars and hems on all garments. Hold each garment up to the light to inspect the front and back for any moth holes, stains or wear & tear. If you pay careful attention, you can avoid some serious disappointment later on.

8. Alterations & Repairs
It is 100% okay to buy something that you want to alter or have repaired, but first consider if it's worth it and if you're likely to do it. If it's going to be expensive, are you happy with that? Will you make the time to have the piece altered or repaired? Is the work required extensive and is it even possible? If you need to have trousers hemmed, a zipper replaced or you want to change a garment by amending the neckline or removing the sleeves, go for it. If it practically needs to be remade, maybe you should pass on that one...

9. Provenance
If you're buying high end vintage and consider it to be an investment, look for vintage shops and dealers that can provide provenance, which is basically the information on how many previous owners the piece has had and who they were. A piece becomes instantly more exciting (and in some cases more valuable) if you know where it came from and can conjure up stories of where it's been. Imagine buying a bag owned by an obscure princess, a gown once owned by a famous movie star, or a vintage apron formerly worn by a housewife in the 1950's suburbs... Each piece has a story to tell and while in my opinion, this isn't ever really necessary, it can make vintage shopping a lot more fun. If you're not buying high end, why not try making up a back story for a piece you love yourself?

10. Personal Style
As with anything you buy, it's my opinion that you'll get a lot more joy out of buying vintage or 2nd hand pieces that actually complement your personal style. This shouldn't limit you really, but simply help you to work out whether or not you'll actually wear the piece you buy, what it goes with that's already in your wardrobe and all the fun ways you might be able to style it. If you consider your personal style to be more edgy than girly, will you actually wear that pale pink 1950's full-skirt tulle dress? Maybe you will... Maybe you'll style it with Converse sneakers and a leather jacket, but if the answer is no, try not to get caught up too much in the nostalgia of the vintage shopping experience so much that you'll buy things you can't imagine ever wearing in public.

Do you have any great tips on vintage shopping? If so, please leave them in a comment below!

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