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The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Vintage Clothing

Updated on July 11, 2014

What is Vintage Clothing?

Vintage Clothing is the term used to describe clothes from an era or past time period that are mostly still good enough to wear. There is currently no standard that defines the exact time period that a garment must have originated for it to be considered as vintage. Some would consider fashion from the early 90's as vintage while others insist that it should be before the 60's. Wikipedia defines vintage clothing as those that were manufactured from 1920 to 20 years before the present year. Online stores such as Etsy and vintage clothing websites seem to agree to this definition.

Where can I find Vintage Clothing?

Most of us might seem to think that clothes are disposable. We hardly have any clothes left on our closets that are older than 5 years. But surprisingly clothes do last for decades and if cared for properly, can still be worn like new. It also helps that these vintage clothing were manufactured with superior craftsmanship and fabric quality. If vintage clothes still exist, where can we find some? Let’s check the most common sources below.

Vintage clothes in the attic
Vintage clothes in the attic | Source

Vintage Clothes from Owners

Would you like to have a vintage pastel mini dress like your mom used to wear? The best person who can help you get one might be your mom. If vintage clothes are several decades old then it’s a good idea to ask people who might have worn these clothes before. Ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives if they still have some of these clothing left. Be prepared to raid old closets, dusty attics and storage sheds to uncover these family heirlooms. The best thing is that they are free.

Charity shop
Charity shop | Source

Second-hand Clothing Shops

If the method above did not yield a car trunk full of vintage clothes then don’t worry, there are more places where we can hunt for vintage clothing. Second-hand clothing stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army sell some of the clothes that were donated to them. They sort these donations based on quality and label so that only the best are displayed on store racks. However not all clothes on a typical charity shop are vintage clothing. You will need to check out rows upon rows of clothes to look for vintage ones. This is where your knowledge of vintage clothes gets tested. It might sound like a lot of work but if you are in luck, you will find several beautiful vintage clothes all priced for less than $10.

Flea market shopping
Flea market shopping | Source

Flea Markets, Garage Sales, Swap Meets

These events are where you'll find people selling random old stuff for a few dollars. And some of the old stuff they are selling are vintage clothes. Please make sure to examine the old clothes well and put your negotiation skills to work to get the best deals.

Vintage clothes shop
Vintage clothes shop | Source

Vintage Clothing Stores

As much as we like to think of ourselves as savvy, bargain hunting fashionistas, the reality is that we rarely have time to spare for the types of shopping mentioned above. We need to shop in a place where all the items are vintage. Sounds rational right? Fortunately, such places do exist. They are called vintage clothing stores or vintage specialty boutiques. These shops exclusively carry vintage clothes and accessories so they can be one stop shops for a complete vintage outfit. Now the downside is the comparatively high price on these shops. But the items are priced high for a reason, the shops have extensive networks of sources and they make sure all items are genuine and of high quality.

Vintage Clothing Online

Vintage Clothing Websites

People who love vintage clothing have their own place on the internet world. There are numerous blogs, forums and online shops that are all about vintage fashion. A simple google search will uncover a lot of these websites where you can find a wealth of vintage clothing information and the vintage clothing trade.

Online Marketplaces

Craigslist - This site is excellent at finding local deals. Check the newest listings by typing "vintage clothes" on the search bar to filter out a ton of other entries. If you find an item you like, you can contact the seller and pick up the garment once you agree on the price.

eBay - Most vintage clothes change hands at this classic buy and sell site. You will have plenty of choices while going through the listings. Look for items that have lots of good quality pictures and lengthy descriptions preferably with a little history on the garment being sold. Also review shipping policies and seller feedback scores before actually buying to make sure you are buying from a reputable seller.

Etsy and Ruby Lane - These are multi-vendor sites which mean a collection of thousands of individual online shops. There is a good vintage clothes section on these 2 sites. There are lots of sellers to make the choices interesting and it’s a great place to shop for accessories too.

Vintage Clothing Online Shops

There are lots of standalone online shops that specialize in vintage clothes. Most are online representations of real world vintage clothing shops while some are sellers that too much merchandise to sell at online marketplaces. Prices are generally decent at these shops except for those specialty shops that sell collectible vintage designer clothes where prices reach up to several thousands of dollars.

Vintage Retro Clothing

Vintage styles still have a major influence in modern fashion. There are clothing labels whose entire line is inspired by the vintage look. These clothes are referred to as vintage retro clothing. These are mainly new clothes that are styled to imitate vintage clothes. There are also clothing lines that produce vintage clothing replicas which are clothes that are produced with new fabric but are almost exact copies of vintage clothing. Most retro or reproduction vintage clothes are also affordable. This is a great if you want to wear vintage style but don’t want the hassles associated with acquiring authentic vintage clothes.

Vintage Clothing Size Guide

Clothing sizes are pretty much standardized nowadays that shoppers can just pick clothes that are their size and be assured that they fit when they try them on. However, when it comes to vintage sizing, it gets pretty complicated. You might find vintage items that are seem similarly sized but with different size labels. As a rule though, vintage clothes are sized on the small side. If you normally wear a size 6 you can try a size 10 or 12 in vintage sizing. It is best practice not to rely on sizes printed on the labels and just try the clothes on to see if they fit. If buying online, disregard the size tag and base your decision on measurements when item is laid flat and compare with your own body measurements.

Vintage Clothing Prices

It is often difficult to put a price on vintage clothes. Most often the price you have to pay for them depends on how much the owner value the items. You might be able to get for free or a few dollars or a hundred. For most vintage clothing stores, prices normally range from $10 to $100. It also varies depending on item condition, original purchase price and desirability.

How to Identify Vintage Clothing

When shopping for vintage clothes, it is helpful if you have a guide to help you identify them. Fortunately, there are a lot of tell-tale signs that we can use to spot an authentic vintage item. There may be hundreds of these little details but we are going to list the most obvious and easy to spot signs that vintage clothing have.

Vintage Clothing Labels

Union Labels - a lot of vintage clothes have an extra label with a logo in blue and red. This is a union label and it displays the logo for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU. The union changed its name to UNITE! in 1995 so if the garment has the ILGWU label, there is a big probability that it is a vintage.

Care Labels - Labels with instructions on how to take care of the garment began to appear on garments because of government regulation. Vintage clothes without them can be dated pre 1971.

Label indicating place of origin - Made in USA labels might indicate that a garment is a vintage since there are only very few labels left that manufacture clothing here in the USA. Made in Mexico garments were also popular in the 1950s. Clothing brands with "of California" or "of Hawaii" attached to the names was a trend a few decades ago.

Metal Zippers – The use of metal zippers might indicate that a garment is a vintage. Zippers made of plastic became popular after 1963 and soon after, almost all manufacturers were using plastic ones. So presence of metal zippers might indicate that a garment is pre 1963.

There are hundreds of other details to identify the date on vintage clothing. You will be able to find more information and tutorials online on vintage clothing blogs if you want to know more.

Vintage Clothing Tutorial

Tips on Starting Your Own Vintage Clothing Collection

Focus on one style at first and build your collection around it. It will be a lot easier to search for vintage clothes to add to your collection if you have a specific look in mind. The result is a set of few vintage clothes that goes well even when mixed and matched.

Make sure you buy vintage clothes that are still in good condition. The quality and condition of the garment is important if you plan on wearing your collection.

Educate yourself by reading vintage fashion blogs and websites to learn more about vintage clothing. It will help you decide on the right vintage look that fits you. There are lots of information on these sites to absorb, from vintage clothing identification, sizing, fabric guides, label guides and where-to-shop lists.

Vintage clothing offers timeless style and a sense of history that cannot be duplicated. It might take a lot of time, effort and money to acquire vintage clothes to be practical but to those who value the beauty of vintage clothes, it enhances the experience of wearing them.

Have fun starting your own vintage collection!

Vintage Fashion Poll

Would you consider wearing vintage clothing?

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List of Vintage Clothing Websites & Blogs

Vintage Retro Clothing Shops

Vintage Clothing Stores

Vintage Clothing Blogs


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      5 years ago

      Very useful article for Vintage clothing Start-up person.


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