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Buying Vintage: Ways to Find Unique, Authentic Retro Clothing

Updated on June 12, 2012

Vintage styles have made a comeback in recent years, and even the world's top designers have taken inspiration from past decades. But why not look for pieces that actually were made long ago but are still beautiful and well cared for? The search for the perfect garment can be fun, educational, and oh-so-rewarding. Here are some of the wheres and hows of shopping for retro clothing.

Take a deep breath...

...and get laced up! Many people don't realize that corsets haven't really been out of vogue for as long as you might think. The fitted styles were made for someone wearing a corset or girdle and they just won't look the same with modern bra and slip. They aren't absolutely necessary but a corset will give your garment a better look.

What to Look for When Buying Vintage

There are some things you have to keep an eye out for when buying older clothing. Here's a checklist of things that you should look for:

  • Condition of the Fabric: Is it worn or fraying? Is the hem dirty and ragged? Be sure to look all over for things like stains and worn spots, especially under arms, on elbows, and around the hem. If there's tulle or some other delicate material be sure to look over it carefully for tears. Analyze and decide if it something you can repair or remove.
  • Value of the Workmanship: It's really amazing that these garments are still around after 50, 60, and even 70 years. That said, you should remember that they have had a longer life than even you have, so make sure that seams aren't pulling or coming apart, or zippers, buttons, and other fasteners aren't irreparably broken or torn.
  • Fit: You can always take up a garment that is too large, but you can't make one that's too small bigger. Because many of the styles, especially during the '40s and '50s, were very tailored and altered to perfectly fit their original owners, you might not have the same sizing freedom that you do with modern clothing. Even if a garment has been taken up, don't plan on letting it out because the material may have significantly faded since it was originally altered.

Consignment and Thrift Stores

A quick Google search can turn up lots of little shops in your area that you weren't even aware of. It's not a guarantee that they'll have a great selection all the time, but the shopping can be so much fun, and who knows what you'll find! I recently saw a black summer hat from what I would guess was the late 40s/early 50s at a Goodwill, and other than needing a bit of reshaping and a new netting veil, it was in perfect condition.

Retro clothing can be hard to come by in these places, especially the things from the early 1900s, but at thrift stores the prices are some of the best you'll find. Or, if you're familiar with the styles and look you're trying to achieve you may be able to find more modern pieces that can be accessorized to look retro.

Online Retro Boutiques

These sellers make a profession out of finding and selling quality items with minimal wear and tear. You do pay for the quality, but if there's a specific thing you're looking for you'll have the best chance of finding it from one of these sellers.

Some of the best ones I've found:

Butterick 6582
Butterick 6582

Make it Yourself!

Another great option for vintage style is to make it yourself. Several pattern companies have recently started reproducing retro patterns, and if you have even a little bit of experience with sewing you can likely find something that would work for your skill level. Some of the best ones to look for are:

The best kinds of materials are cotton, or cotton/synthetic blends. Knits weren't at all common, especially for dresses and the styles won't hang right unless you use a fabric with more structure. Some of my favorites are:

  • Sateen -- 100% cotton, but it won't wrinkle as badly as a straight cotton.
  • Small Cut Corduroys -- Don't go too bulky or the garment won't lay nice, but a small cord can be very pretty and warm for winter dressing.
  • Broadcloth -- Very versatile and wears well.


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    • collegatariat profile image

      collegatariat 5 years ago

      Hello Phoebe! I love that decade particularly too-- so feminine and classy. Thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 5 years ago

      Very useful and interesting hub. Two thumbs up!

      I've always loved the 50's dress styles. I wasn't a fan of society during that time, but the fashions were pretty awesome.