Thursday, January 24, 2013

a guide to vintage shopping

Here's a fun factoid for you: as of today, I own more secondhand clothes than firsthand clothes.

I'm gonna go ahead and leapfrog over all conversations about how this proves I'm hipster (that conversation's been had, son.) and get to the weightier matters. Like how I came to be the world's best vintage clothes scout and what I plan to do with this superpower!

First, when I say "vintage," what I really mean is "clothes some grandma somewhere gave to charity." I do not mean "clothes from a store in California that says they're secondhand but charges as much as firsthand stores." Those stores have some great finds. But this guide is specifically about finding the gems in the sometimes scary sea of truly-secondhand clothing.

Second, when I say "a guide for vintage shopping," what I really mean is a guide for finding skirts, blouses, dresses, blazers, and the like. The classy wardrobe items. I'm not talking about Christmas sweaters with jingle-bells hanging off the hems and Napoleon Dynamite-style tee-shirts. You people are gonna have to go elsewhere for guides like that. (Actually, I take that back. Here's your guide: Go to the tee-shirt rack at D.I. Close your eyes. Grab any shirt. Congratulations, you've done it.)

Some Reasons to Shop Secondhand ('Cuz I Know Some of You Think You're "Too Good for It" and Whatever):
  1. The Obvious: It's cheaper. Like 5-6x cheaper.
  2. The Not-So Obvious: No one--and I mean no one--will have your same outfit. I'm not really one to care one way or the other if I'm wearing the same thing as someone else* (I get it if you do, though). So I guess what I really mean here is that by shopping vintage, you will find items that feel modern but that have one-of-a-kind details. Blouses with triple pleats down the front, mid-calf skirts with high waist-bands and deep pockets, suede heels with silk bows on top.
  3. The Cut: Maybe it's just that my body and the cut of modern clothing have it out for each other, but I'd say these older tailorings fit bodies so much better. Let's talk about those high-waisted skirts and how they make anyone look like Grace Kelly. Let's talk about blouses that are cut long and roomy but somehow manage to be incredibly ladylike.
  4. The Bravery: It's an adventure. We're talking treasure hunt every time, people.
  5. The Artistry: It engenders constant imagination, reinventing how you pair things in your closet, what colors and what patterns might unexpectedly go together. If you have any creative bones in your body, this is gonna become something really fun for you.
  6. The Environment: Save the whales. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Carbon footprints, blabbaty-blah, okay next section.
The General Idea:
Find a thrift store. Enter. Mosey. Find a clothing rack that interests you. Nonchalantly browse until you find something that catches your eye. Look a little closer--still like it? Cool, try it on.
The Rules:
  1. Only buy it if it fits perfectly annnnnd  looks smashing on you.
  2. Avoid the ratty stuff. You know, pilly fabric, stuff with stains, things that have that "washed-too-many-times" color.
  3. Be open-minded, try things that are kind risky, and then think in terms of layers. Sometimes a blouse's pattern is a little freaky, until you realize it'd look really good with a navy cardigan, or a mustard scarf, or a blingity-bling necklace you already have at home.
  4. You have to go not expecting to find anything. Just go to browse. That's when (no joke) the Vintage Gods drop gifts from the heavens.
  5. Be creative! I sewed some wide white lace around the bottom of an otherwise plain pink skirt and now it's one of my favorites.
  6. Go regularly. This isn't something you do in one fell swoop. Sometimes you find stuff, sometimes you don't. It takes cultivation, incubation, one piece here, one piece there, until you've got a hand-picked, carefully selected closet of one-of-a-kind, just-for-you clothes.
Some Insider Tips:
  • You don't have to look at every piece. Look over the racks quickly to see if any fabrics jump out at you. If you are looking for something specific (like a skirt, for instance), go through those racks a little more thoroughly, but the same rule applies: look first and only for fabrics with good colors, interesting patterns, or good texture. Then look closer at things like the cut.
  • Don't pay much attention to sizes until you get in the dressing room. You'll know if something's going to be way too big or way too small so obviously filter those out, but generally the size on the tag won't be equivalent to our sizes today and generally the stores are no better at guessing what the actual size might be than you are. So if you like it, just try it on.
  • Some times are better to shop than others. I like going during the day, when it's less crowded. Part of me bets that a week after Christmas would be a great time to go, but I'm usually still hibernating with a quilt and good book around that time, so I can't vouch for this.
  • The second you start getting overwhelmed or tired of it or everything starts looking the same, GET OUT OF THERE. As soon as it loses its capriciousness, as soon as you start caring if you find something, it loses its magic and all you will find for the rest of the day are leather-fringed denim vests and shirts with "Abercrombie" emblazoned across the front. I'm sure these will again have their day in the sun, but today is not that day. Save those for when our kids want to dress vintage.

There you go. Happy hunting!

*There was actually one time when I did care that I was wearing the same thing as someone else. It was at a My Morning Jacket concert. He was 15. I was not (*ahem*: mid-20s). We were both wearing the same tee-shirt. He had bought it (appropriately) from the men's section at H&M. I had also bought it from the men's section at H&M. I think that means he won.

1 comment:

  1. I think you should show some photos of your favorite clothes you've found! I want to see...