Vast racks and bins of old clothes can be intimidating. How do you find the perfect tweed jacket? What makes the difference between looking chic and looking as if you’re wearing old clothes? And how can you be sure a vintage garment is not going to fall apart on first wearing?
Here are some tips:
Starting out, look through magazines and get a good idea of what you want. Envision how you want to dress. Have an item in mind when you go to the stores. When choosing your shopping destination, don’t rule out places like Salvation Army, Goodwill or other charity outlets.
When you’re at the store, feel free to ask for help. Be patient. You may have to look at a lot of clothing. Size numbers mean nothing. You will have to try on almost everything. If you have a favorite vintage piece, take it to the store. It will give a sales associate an idea of your taste, says Kathy Rasmussen, owner of Vintage Vogue in Independence, Mo.
Don’t forget you look your best when you’re comfortable, says Blair Schulman, manager of Kansas City’s Second Honeymoon. Don’t buy anything if it doesn’t feel exactly right. Examine a garment carefully for flaws. Look for holes in the fabric. Check out the seams. Consider whether the flaws can be repaired. And hold the garment up to the light to gauge the condition of the material.
Think creatively. Sometimes you can redo pieces. Terry Richardson, at Revue Boutique, is splitting up suits, making flared skirts from ’50s dresses and having furs and faux furs revamped into capelets. Sometimes if a suit looks dowdy, add a modern blouse or whimsical T-shirt. An accessory such as a belt may modernize it. Good tailoring may make a big difference.
If you’re shopping online, make sure you can return a garment. When you’re shopping online, you can’t see and touch the fabric, so you don’t know if it will come apart in your hands. Try to speak to the owner if possible.
Susan Sommers, a New York fashion consultant, advises clients to start with one vintage piece and work it into their modern wardrobe. Don’t be afraid to mix textures. “If you have a check jacket, wear it with new tweed trousers and a silk camisole. You have to modern it up,” she says.
Use moderation to avoid the costume look. Don’t, for instance, wear a vintage suit, with round-toed shoes. Wear instead updated pointed toed shoes or boots. And finally, if you are well beyond voting age or, “a grown up,” be careful not to look dowdy.
“Don’t wear shapeless silhouettes,” she says, “and don’t be afraid to show a little skin” in low rounded necklines.
Again, be creative in how you mix things up. Your grandmother’s pearls might go with a denim skirt. A vintage tweed jacket enhances denim jeans and a novelty T-shirt.