Secondhand Sartorialism: Tips

It recently occurred to me that I need to devote some time to talking about how to shop for vintage clothing and not just encouraging our readers to do so or spotlighting stylish individuals who have devoted large portions of their wardrobe to vintage goods. While shopping for used goods is nearly innate for some people, others often find it to be intimidating, overwhelming and even a bit frustrating. Some fear looking like a total fashion throwback, wearing pieces that should never experience a swan song, while others fear just making the wrong choices and purchasing pieces that are neither flattering nor fashionable. So, today I’d like to give you guys a brief and basic rundown of some of the things that I have learned during my near lifetime of thrift store shopping. Tips follow after the jump.

1) Don’t get sucked in by the awesome prices and buy a bunch of pieces that you will never wear. I have definitely been that girl. Having entered a thrift store and discovered that there is an amazing sale going on, I have filled my cart to overflowing and wandered around for hours, starry eyed and completely devoid of the ability to edit my choices. "All women’s ware $1? Surely bedazzling and glittered fabric glue will make triumphant returns. I must have this sweatshirt!"

In recent years, I have also tried to be a bit more considerate when it comes to thrifting. Rather than just buying everything that catches my eye when I am out seeking new pieces for my wardrobe, I have taken to considering the fact that there may be someone else coming along who will actually fall in love with a piece that I am just sitting on the fence about. I should let her enjoy the sale, too, and not clean it out just because I got there first.

2) TRY IT ON. There is no substitution for actually seeing something on your body. Put each piece on and look at it from all angles. This is another chance to be honest with yourself about whether or not you will actually wear something. If you would only wear a piece in the event of a Fantasy Island meets Xanadu themed costume party, or somesuch, just walk away. If you are not going to throw the party yourself, and see no foreseeable future in which the party will be thrown, do not spend your money on it. Don’t doom a piece to sitting in your closet waiting for an event that will never occur when someone else out there will wear it right away.

And remember to always, ALWAYS check the rear view. Many a piece has flattered in front and failed miserably over the derriere.

3) Check it for flaws. Sometimes there is a reason, beyond a glowing desire to donate to charity, why a piece has ended up at a thrift store. Remember to take a good hard look at the pieces that you have decided to purchase. Look them over for stains, holes, cigarette burns, broken straps, missing buttons… If you do find a flaw, be honest with yourself about whether or not you will ever get around to fixing it or whether you are really willing to wear it “as is.” No one needs a closet full of projects that they will never get around to working on. If you aren’t likely to give each piece the reloving it requires, leave it for someone who will.

4) Consider whether you already have pieces in your wardrobe that will compliment any potential purchases. If you buy a vintage dress -- let’s say the off-white dress that is pictured at the top of this post, you have the option of taking it in two very different directions, stylistically. You can compliment it with other vintage pieces or, if you fear looking like a total throwback, you can modernize your piece by pairing it with more contemporary pieces that you either already own or can and will wear again if you decide to splurge on new items.

If you are like me, and quite comfortable with wearing vintage from head to toe and have no real issue with looking like you just stepped off the pages of “Women’s Wear Daily’ circa 1972, you could pair it with some brown flat-heeled vintage sandals and a slouchy brown leather vintage bag. Grab a cute little orange or brown cardigan in case it’s cool out, throw on some wooden bangles, and you’re good to go. If you wanted to update this dress, you could compliment it with pieces that are obviously more recent purchases. I am always a fan of spending a bit more money on good accessories and good jeans—pieces that can last multiple seasons and are truly flattering. In this case, some sweet little gold or bronze flats and a warmly metallic-toned clutch would be perfect. Accents like gold or bronze bracelets and earrings would be perfect. In the end, while your outfit would be obviously vintage inspired and classic, it would (because of your newer shoes, purse and jewelry) have a clearly modern edge.

So, there you have a bit more background on how to shop for and wear vintage and retro clothes. In the weeks to come, I will have more tips for you, and I’d also be happy to answer any styling questions you may have. Do you have a piece that you love but just aren’t sure how to wear it or would you just like a little help getting out there and going thrifting? Do you love vintage clothes and want to tell me more about your favorite pieces or places? Drop me a line at [email protected] and I would be happy to help you in any way I can. Until then — happy thrifting!

-- TaRosa Jacobs

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