I love vintage shopping. It gives me a such a high that sometimes I'm amazed it's legal. There's just something about finding that perfect piece that seems like it stuck around all these years just for you.
But as someone old once said, "nothing worth having comes easy". The same can be said for vintage apparel. I have spent hours rifling through racks and racks of vintage clothes, with nothing to show for it but tired arms (clothes are heavy and I have chicken arms, ok?). I started vintage shopping when I was in high school, and over the years I have learned many lessons about what to look out for. And with the birth of online vintage shopping on sites like Etsy, my education has become even greater. After having been burned by one-particular 60’s dress in 2010 (I’m not emotionally ready to explain that story yet), I have decided to share my tips with you all. Someone call Dua Lipa because here come the rules!!
1. SNIFF IT REAL GOOD
Vintage clothes can naturally have a musty smell. It's not your grandmas fault that she didn't know she had a “Reformation”-esque blouse sitting in her basement for 30 years. She was too busy handing you money under the table to care. Vintage clothing has that distinct scent, and sometimes it's fixable. However, sometimes it's not and LET ME TELL YOU FROM EXPERIENCE, you don't want to be the person at the party that smells like your Great Aunt Bertha’s attic. When you find a piece you like in-person, be sure to sniff it. Sniff it real good. If it has a faint scent, you can do the following:
- Send it to the dry cleaner and be sure to tell them it's a vintage piece. Most places will be able to use a deodorizer. If it's any kind of fur coat, take it to a furrier to deodorize, too.
- If you have a garage, hang it in there a for a few days. Sometimes if the piece is not that old (90's is apparently vintage now so that makes me 100 years old I guess), it just needs some fresh air.
- Activated Charcoal. VERY CAREFULLY put some in a bowl and put the bowl and your garment in a plastic tub or storage bin, any container that will seal. Again, be careful because if you spill the charcoal, well then I can't help you and you'll use my name like Voldemort. Leave them in the bin together for up to 10 days, and the charcoal will help absorb the smell.
- Your freezer is your friend! The lowest shelf on our freezer is meant for meats. The other 3 shelves are all my clothes, it is my second closet. The coldness of the freezer can deodorize and sanitize your clothes. Seal your item up in a large Ziploc bag and let it sit there for a few days. One time, I forgot I put a vintage caftan in there and found it when I was taking out some burgers. Talk about mystery meat (please stay).
Be honest with yourself about the degree of the musty-scent. I bought a PERFECT 70's cocktail dress once, and I did notice that it was especially ~scented~. I tried everything to make it better, but every time I went to put it on, it made me smell like a 90-year-old chain smoker. Cigarette smells are nearly impossible to get out of clothes that have been sitting with it for years, so try to stay away.
2. THE ROBERT MUELLER OF VINTAGE
When I find a vintage piece I love, I inspect that thing like the head of the F.B.I.. I go over every inch making sure there are no visible stains, marks, holes or rips. It's really a non-negotiable to me, there are so many pieces out there in great condition. Vintage doesn't have to mean dirty or sloppy, and brown spots or stains can take it there real fast. My only negotiable stain can be yellow spots on white articles of clothing, because I've found I can spot clean with Oxy Clean or Bleach. But honestly, I can barely remember to move my clothes from the washer to the dryer for 2 days so who has time for that? Make sure the clothes are clean and in excellent condition. Regardless, I always take whatever I buy right to the dry cleaner. Someone has worn these clothes before you! And it probably wasn't Audrey Hepburn, ok?
3. VINTAGE IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Online Vintage is a whole new game. I do all of mine on Etsy and have found some incredible pieces. But since you can't touch, smell or try on your find first, you must be especially cautious
- All great vintage Etsy sellers will give you exact measurements. The tag might say it's a size 8! But a size 8 in the 1950's might as well have been a 0. Take your own measurements and compare them to what they have listed.
- I always, always, always message the buyer to ask if the item has any smells or odors. I got a blouse once that I could smell through the packaging. Turns out they shared a space with a perfume factory, which made me smell like 10,000 flower arrangements dying. When you message the seller, you're safe for a refund if you get the item and it does in fact smell. It's just a security blanket, which I love because I still sleep with an actual security blanket. 27 YEARS YOUNG, BABY!
- Look at the seller’s reviews. People will say if they received an item that wasn't as described, and you can see how the seller responds.
Try to pin down exactly what you’re looking for, to make searching easier. My favorite key searches are:
- Vintage white blouse
- Vintage eyelet blouse/dress
- Vintage 1960’s sundress/party Dress/cocktail dress
- Vintage beaded handbag
- Vintage circle skirt
- Vintage slip dress
Once you’ve found a potential winner, be sure to check if the seller has listed any stains or damage, and don’t be afraid to message if you’re unsure! I usually also put a filter on for just sellers in the United States. I’ve had some issues before with customs and shipping that just weren’t worth it. So sorry Russia!! You’ll have to hold onto some great vintage wiggle dress AND the Pee Tape (#RELEASEIT!!).
Vintage shopping can be incredibly rewarding. Not only are you finding something original and supporting small business, but it’s a huge help to the environment. So to my future children, you can thank mommy later for her vintage- shopping addiction. Because of me and my 8 eyelet blouses, you’ll be able to see a polar bear and trees and stuff. Happy shopping!