Should smart shoppers
—buy vintage—?


by Emma O’Leary


Ever since Topshop decreed it socially acceptable back in 2000, vintage has seen a boom in popularity. Once a fashion trend for a select fashion-forward few via Portobello Market, vintage has become visible to a younger high-street shopper.

Let's face it though, scouring the shops and markets for a perfect one-of-a-kind vintage item - in your size, ticking all the boxes - is much harder than clicking 'buy' direct from an editor’s pick or an influencer’s post.

But wearing what we have and buying what already exists is the way forward as the perils of disposable shopping are more apparent. Our planet cannot sustain a throw-away fashion culture for much longer. Updating our wardrobes with original, beautifully made vintage pieces while reducing the damage to the environment has become a win-win.

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I own a vintage stall and online store, and I hear so many reasons why people won't (or think they can't) wear vintage. More often than not, my reply is “yes, you can!”. They'll say I don't want to look “old fashioned, too vintage” or “like I'm wearing fancy dress”. But while there are people who chose to dress immaculately head to toe in an era - usually the 40s or 50s, complete with victory rolls and nylon stockings – this is far from the only option.

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Take an element from an era and add it to your existing wardrobe, to achieve an original look.

Pairing a well-tailored, 50s tweed jacket with contemporary-cut jeans and trainers is, for example, a great look which you know for sure no one else will be wearing. Or, if you're completely new to vintage, start small, by introducing vintage accessories like a handbag, belt or jewellery. A beautiful vintage silk scarf can transform a modern sweater. Or wear it as a headscarf, a la Audrey Hepburn. I guarantee that you will receive compliments and you will be hooked!

A common misconception is that vintage is only for a petite frame. It's true that over the last few decades, we have got generally bigger. A 1950s size 16 waist would be comparable to a 12 in today’s clothes. Throughout time, manufacturers have always changed the sizing of garments to help women feel better about how they look, it’s referred to as 'vanity sizing'. But there is a whole range of vintage sizes out there, so don't be discouraged. If you find a beautiful cut, pattern or fabric, anything's possible to make it work for you.

If it’s too small, seams can be let out or hems taken down. And if it’s too big, you can have it taken in to fit, or just wear it oversized or cinched in with a belt!

Second-hand and vintage clothing have come a long way from potent, nose-tingling charity shops or dusty, moth-ball scented vintage stores of times past. If the whiff has turned you off in the past, then try again. Most reputable vintage sellers do tend to launder and present their items to a shop standard.

Vintage doesn't have to be expensive either. If things aren't priced in a boutique don't be put off and assume it's priceless: you'll be surprised. Of course now anything pre-1950s has a higher value. This is because they are rare, handmade, quality fabrics, or from a designer. An exquisite beaded 1920s flapper dress would be hundreds, if not thousands, depending on its condition; and a 1940s tea dress in good condition could be in excess of £100. But pieces from the 60s onwards are more likely to have been mass-produced in cheaper fabrics, so naturally have a lower price tag. Even unique everyday pieces from the 60s, 70s and 80s, in amazing colour ways and prints, tend to be competitively priced against high-street shops, if not substantially cheaper.

I'm constantly amazed by what different people are drawn to from my vintage collection.

The smartest woman, dressed in classic black, head to toe, will walk away with a flamboyant froufrou skirt; or a dungaree-clad hipster falling for the smartest dress coat. It’s the 'vintage effect'. When you shop for vintage you need to come with an open mind - you’re likely to fall in love with something you wouldn't ordinarily dream of. Vintage isn't always perfect and that’s okay. To the new owner that adds to its character or its existence, it tells a story of where it has been. When you pick a vintage item, you are the next custodian and you continue its story.

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