Seven Tips for the Novice Vintage Clothing Shopper

Vintage clothing is timeless and provides us with a peek into the past. The term vintage is used to describe pieces between 20 and 100 years old. An incredible piece of vintage clothing can be a staple in your wardrobe for years to come. Plus, any girl’s closet could use a few vintage goodies.

If you’re a novice at all things vintage, we’ve crafted the following tips that will turn any beginning collector into a savvy vintage shopper in no time.

Do Your Homework
Shopping for quality vintage fashion pieces can be tedious, so it’s important to learn all you can about vintage clothing, including designers, labels and distinct era styles, before swiping your credit card.

There are multiple resources online where you can find background information on the specific era that peaks your interest as well as a multitude of books available on vintage fashion (check The Vintage Fashion Guild is an international organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vintage fashion and their website is a phenomenal resource for beginners. Check them out at

If you plan on attending a vintage clothing or antique show, the dealers are also key resources. These dealers are typically experts in the area of vintage fashion, so they welcome any questions you have on the details of the piece you’re thinking about acquiring.

Also before you start your shopping expedition, purchase a tape measure and take your own measurements. This will be especially helpful if you’re shopping online and unable to try the pieces on ahead of time. Plus, the sizes of mid-century era fashions are fairly different from contemporary sizing, so it’s vital to have all your measurements on-hand as a reference.

Start with Classic Pieces
As a novice shopper, it’s recommended that your first vintage purchase be basic and classic. If you’re investing in a piece, a basic is something you can wear over and over again and rarely goes out of style versus a seasonal trend. An A-line or pencil skirt, a trench coat, a fitted sweater or a print cotton shirtwaist dress are great first items for a beginner’s vintage wardrobe.

Try It On and Be Open Minded
Throughout the decades, every era has its own individual style and focuses on emphasizing different parts of the body. As stated previously, sizing has changed significantly over time and a garment’s size varies depending on which country it originated from. So if the option is available, definitely try it on!

However, the most important thing to remember is to be open minded! Sometimes it’s good to step a little out of your comfort zone and try something outside your typical day-to-day style choices. Don’t be afraid to tailor the piece to fit your frame. Investing a little money in alterations like shortening the cuffs and taking in the waist will not change the integrity of the piece, but it will make it look tailored to you.

Check the Condition
It’s very unusual to find a vintage piece that has not been previously own or worn, therefore you should carefully inspect the garment for any conditional issues.

Here are some things you should look for:

  • Holes or tears in the fabric
  • Old stains, especially underarm stains
  • Odors such as set in stains, perspiration, mold and smoke
  • Fading or discoloration in the fabric/pattern
  • Insect damage which can create holes in the fabric
  • Deterioration in the stitching or lining
  • Imperfections in the embellishments

When buying online, read the description thoroughly. If you’re are still unsure, talk to the seller. Vintage pieces can get brittle, dry and shatter. If the garment looks like it’s falling apart, it’s wise not to purchase it.

Mix Old With New
Clothes and accessories that you wear daily can be taken up a notch with the addition of a spectacular vintage piece. Whether that’s a great vintage maxi dress with a modern designer handbag or skinny jeans and a vintage peasant top – the sky is the limit! A-list celebrities and fashion icons have been seen donning this trend for years. Drew Barrymore, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Moss, the Olsen twins, Johnny Depp and Nicole Richie are just a few examples.

Know Where to Shop
Antique shows are the perfect places to search for vintage fashions at affordable prices. U.S. Antique Shows’ Pier Antique Show, held biannually at New York City’s Pier 94, hosts nearly 50 vintage dealers in their popular Fashion Alley section. For their November 2014 show, U.S. Antique Shows plans to expand this section to include new dealers carrying vintage clothing, jewelry and handbags. For more details, visit

Other superior local resources include thrift shops, The Salvation Army and charity shops in affluent neighborhoods.

Store It with Care
Older pieces of clothing should always be handled with care – hung on padded hangers and stored flat in acid-free tissue are definite musts. Also, never store your vintage garments in plastic, which can accumulate moisture and cause items to deteriorate or mildew. If you need to cover your pieces, use a clothing garment bag.

Let’s hear from you: What era are you passionate about purchasing pieces from? Leave a comment below, tweet us @USAntiqueShows, or post on our Facebook page:

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