I still remember how I got started shopping for and collecting vintage clothes. I was sixteen, and I’d never been into a real vintage clothing store before (this was in 2008, before vintage was quite the rage that it is today). I wandered into Frederick’s Venus on the Half Shell, having never quite understood what the store sold. I was shocked and impressed to find a retail outlet selling only clothing from decades past. It dawned on me that I was finally surrounded by clothes reflecting how I wanted to dress! I bought my first vintage item, a blue 1950s border print skirt, and a new world opened up to me. The skirt was almost too small, but it didn’t matter—I now realized it was an option to dress with the elegance I had previously only seen in old movies and books.
Of course, there’s a lot more to vintage than the ‘50s elegance of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, but that was my entry point to this slice of the fashion world. Read on to learn more about how to get started scouting and buying vintage clothes, and why this is an increasingly attractive option in a world of homogeneity and fast fashion.
1) Locate a vintage store and gin up some inspiration! If you’ve never shopped vintage before, it’s helpful to know what you’d be looking for, ideally, and why. You may wish to think about which eras of vintage fashion mesh the best with your current style, or eras that inspire you which might allow you to try something different. Popular shows like Mad Men, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Halston have recently done a great job of showing what’s possible in terms of timeless vintage outfits. You may also want to visit a vintage store with the intention of simply browsing and dipping your toe in the waters. Always expect the unexpected when shopping vintage! It’s often about finding that perfect unique piece you’re sure no one else will be wearing.
2) Go with an open mind, and expect to try things on. Because vintage stores stock clothing from a variety of different eras, sizing isn’t standardized. Even if something is labeled a size 10, for instance, it definitely won’t be the same as a size 10 today. Shopping for vintage isn’t the same as going to a department store, pulling your typical size off the rack, and knowing it will probably fit (if you don’t like to spend a lot of time shopping, or tend to shop in a rush). Shopping vintage is all about stimulating your creativity – you will have to sort through the rack in order to find those hidden gems! Especially if timeless vintage is your aim, it may take a bit of searching to bypass pieces that feel dated and era-specific. But finding what works for you is all the more rewarding!
3) If you feel intimidated at first, bring a friend! Taking the time to really sort through clothing racks doesn’t feel comfortable to everyone, but bringing someone along, sharing ideas, and making a fun day of it can ensure that your first experience with vintage shopping is a good one (whether you find anything or not!).
4) Expect to find higher-quality construction and materials at a reasonable price. This does depend on where you shop, but by and large, you’ll be able to find clothes made in the U.S.A. under higher standards of production for less than the cost of contemporary department store clothing. Quality materials such as heavy satin, silk faille, and 100% wool are common. Vintage coats, in particular, are often gorgeous, high-quality, and enormously cost-effective for the price. Clothing tends to be more structured, fitted, and less flimsy. It’s definitely not athleisure, but a good vintage piece can last you (and generate compliments!) for years to come. Purchasing vintage clothing is also about transitioning to a mindset of true stewardship of our “things.”
In a world where the fast fashion industry is one of the #1 generators of waste and pollution, not to mention unfair working conditions, purchasing vintage more often allows us to be the change we wish to see. The wonderful thing about fashion is that at some point, everything old always becomes new again, and runway shows bear witness to the fact that designers recycle historical trends over and over. Vintage and thrift shopping used to get a bad rap – why would one purchase anything old when being in style is all about new? – but those who embrace vintage today are the real trendsetters and innovators. In the past, clothing wasn’t meant to be disposable; it was meant to be beautiful, durable, and unique, and I think only good can come of holding ourselves to that standard again.
- Venus on the Half Shell,101 E Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21701
- Vintage MC, 24 E Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21701
- Emporium Antiques, 112 E Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21701
- Tiara Day, 141 N Market Street, Frederick, MD 21701(shop re-opening)
- Gayla’s, 75 W Main Street B, New Market, MD 21774
- Vintage Bliss Boutique (at DIBS Antiques & Collectables), 3601 Buckeystown Pike, Buckeystown, MD 21717
- Vivian Elise Vintage (online vintage bridal) ShopVivianElise.com