Buying from thrift stores,charity shops, jumble sales and car boot sales is always so much fun especially as you never really know what you're going to find. It's not like going shopping with the intention of buying yourself a black skirt and just scouting around a shop floor looking for it. You'll probably find a black skirt when you go vintage fashion hunting, but you're likely to find much more besides.
Thinking of the way my vintage fashion buying has refined over the years, I decided to get some invaluable personal 'expert' tips together for FairyFiligree readers. There is a lot to learn and at each vintage sale you learn something more. Here are some straightforward guidelines on what to look out for.
1. If it's very dirty, I discard. I would only consider if (a) it's branded; (b) it's made of a fine and rare material; (c) it's got parts of it that could be retrieved and re-used. So if it's a vintage Chanel that only needs dry cleaning but is otherwise intact and unsoiled, I would buy. If it's soiled but has an intact piece of antique lace attached to it, or a set of very old buttons, then I will buy for the sake of the lace or the buttons. As regards soiled items - one of my favourite silk scarves is stained and the stains won't go away. I found it at a jumble sale and upon touching it I could tell it was something special. Imagine my dismay when I realised it had a couple of nasty stains which admittedly were initially confused with its own pattern! I bought it anyhow, handwashed it the best I could and aired it to dry in the sun. Some of the stains went away, others remained, but being a scarf, once wound round my neck, the stains cannot be seen and it never fails to make an impact.
2. Look at the labels not just to check the brand but also to gauge whether the item is used or not. Labels attached to clothes, especially the ones sewn into the side hems that carry garment care instructions, can immediately indicate whether the item has been washed, meaning used. A brand new garment will have labels as crisp and sharp as a newly printed banknote. One which has been washed will have a crispy label and that's an immediate tell-off. So even if the garment looks newly ironed and laundered, the state of that label will generally indicate whether it was gently used or extensively used. Another tell-tale sign of much use is the wording on the label which tends to fade away with every wash.
3. Check tell-tale signs of wear by noting the state of underarm patches on tops and dresses; elbow and wrist areas on tops and dresses; knee and lower hemlines on pants. Stained underarm marks indicate abuse of the garment; tiny balls of fluff stuck to the elbow area of a vest indicate it has been used; stretched out knee patches indicate the pants have been used too. Worn-out hems on pants may mean you really can't fix them unless you cut them apart. Check the crotch on pants for signs of stains or tears. If the garment is lined make sure the lining is intact too.
4. Zippers must be functional and intact - check them out by opening and closing several times. Check if the zipper holds closed. Also if the garment has several buttons, make sure they are all where they should be and that they are all the same. If it's a special item it may be impossible to find the right vintage buttons to match. Check they are not broken, scratched or damaged in any way.
5. When buying lace, silks, satins and the like, check they are not torn by examining them minutely in good light as slight tears may get overlooked if you're not attentive enough.
6. When buying jewellery, you need to have some experience in selecting the good pieces from the miserably cheap stuff. Observing metals in jewellery you have at home will help you compare notes and identify what real silver and real gold look like as opposed to other metals which may easily scratch or tarnish. However, generally speaking, if a piece of costume jewellery looks exciting enough, then it's probably worth picking up anyway.
7. To end off, I would like to indicate materials which are especially special to me as a vintage fashion collector - lace, silk, satin, leather, embroidery, crotchet, enamel, chiffon, felt and patchwork. What are yours?