How to buy vintage: 7 common mistakes to avoid

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’d love to start wearing vintage clothes, but they don’t know how to go about it. I can see why, buying vintage can be very different to buying in a regular fashion store, so here are my top 7 mistakes to avoid when you’re buying vintage. I hope they’re helpful, and if you’ve got any tips of your own please share them!

1. Look at those seams

So many amazing vintage dresses have been ruined by being altered when the original owner gained a few pounds. Look out for extra panels which have been added (badly) at the seams or around the zip area. It’s also worth looking for sleeves which have been added afterwards, although these can be fairly simple to remove. Just remember, if a dress has been badly altered, you’ll need to be very skilled to get it back to its original condition (and it may not be possible at all).

2. Notice the details

This is something I keep forgetting to do, and perhaps by writing it here I’ll pay closer attention when I’m buying. They’re only small details, but check that all the buttons are there (including on any cuffs or pockets), and also that the zip works. It’s also worth holding any garment up to the light to make sure there are no tiny moth holes or thin patches which you haven’t spotted! (especially because vintage shops tend to be quite dark places!)

3. Check the armpits!

I know this sounds a bit icky, but it’s definitely worth doing. If you get home and your beautiful vintage dress has yellowy sweat stains under the armpits no amount of cleaning is going to get rid of those marks!

4. Know your measurements

If you’re lucky enough to have a great vintage store nearby and can try clothes on then that’s fabulous, but if you’re buying online you’ll NEED to know your measurements. Women’s clothing sizes have changed enormously over the decades, so don’t think that your normal clothes size will fit you in a 1950s dress. You’ll need to know your bust, waist and hip measurements. You can see how to take your measurements here.

5. Never buy 1 size too small

It doesn’t matter how gorgeous something is, if it doesn’t fit you it’s just going to end up hanging in your closet making you feel bad about yourself. Try to avoid ‘once I drop a dress size it’ll fit’ impulse buys, and NEVER buy shoes that are too small, no matter how pretty your shoes you’ll still be miserable if your feet hurt!

6. Check the small print

When you’re buying online it’s always worth reading the description of the item very carefully. Some sellers will put “condition: excellent” and then only mention that small rip in the seam much lower down the page.

7. Look where you put your feet!

Take extra care when buying shoes to look carefully at the heels and straps. Leather can go brittle with age and you don’t want to buy a pair of shoes just to have the strap or heel break on you as soon as you wear them. There’s a useful article on buying vintage shoes here.

What are your best tips for buying vintage?

5 thoughts on “How to buy vintage: 7 common mistakes to avoid

  1. daisy church

    the seams is totally on spot; I got this gorgeous 50s prom dress back in college when I first started my thrifting/vintage shopping, and when I proudly wore it out to an event (got on the bus that was taking us there), I sat down, and the ENTIRE SIDE split open!!!! (the seams were super rotten; the thread was barely holding). After a mad dash back home to change, I ended up having to rip out and re-sew all the seams with new fresh thread….

    However, I’ve managed to find some awesome finds that were altered (mostly taken in), and able to “un-alter” and take them to a seamstress to get it fitted correctly. (having a good seamstress you can trust with vintage is a LIFE SAVER)

    Also, I totally am guilty of buying the “once I lose a few pounds, this will totally fit!” mentality. SO MANY unworn beautiful dresses I’ve had to rehome after having a reality check (years) later.

    PS: If anyone ever travels to Asia (Beijing, Thailand, etc), and you have a vintage dress that you love or is ruined, bring it with you, because if you find a tailor, they can basically reverse engineer it and make a new one for you (and correctly fitted to your measurements) in literally a day or two. I did that on my trip to Beijing; it was SO AWESOME.

    • vilvintage Post author

      Oh no! I’ve never had that happen, what a nightmare! Great tip about getting garments fixed when you travel abroad, thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Tweed Librarian

    Great advice! The only thing I have to add is to do a sniff test. If it smells like mothballs or mildew, the smell may never come out. Smoke and body odor is hard to remove as well. I bought a beautiful wool jersey suit but when it got wet in a rain shower the mothball smell was disgusting.

    • vilvintage Post author

      Good point, I wonder if that’s more true for some fabrics than others, for example does wool hold odour more than cotton or polyester? I’m quite lucky that I like 60s clothes, so they can go through a fairly hot wash in a washing machine.


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