When Sydneysider Beth Armstrong wore a black, high-necked embroidered cotton blouse to a party, her friends were surprised to hear that her Victorian-era top was close to 100 years old. Of course, her friends wanted one too - and so Armstrong’s vintage business, TheTravellingDress.com, was born. “It gave me license to buy numerous beautiful pieces which otherwise seemed too extravagant or impractical,” says Armstrong.
Meanwhile, Alyce Moschini of Perth would return from her lunch break laden with op-shop treasures. It was when a co-worker suggested she start a blog that her online shop, TheVintageValley.com, began to take shape. “To me, the attraction of vintage is the originality of the pieces you find. They all have a history and are a one-off piece that can’t be found in a store,” says Moschini.
We asked Armstrong and Moschini for tips on how to score a one-of-a-kind find when you’re shopping for vintage items.
Keep an Open Mind
“Look for good fabrics and vibrant patterns,” says Moschini. “Don’t let an amazing piece go because it looks a little large, has shoulder pads or the length is too long. These are all things that can be altered.” If that dress is missing a belt, Armstrong suggests checking the hem to make a belt out of the fabric. She also advises doing alterations straight away; otherwise “it will sit in your cupboard for years.”
Inspect zippers, pockets, buttons and necklines, and make sure the material isn’t stained or torn. “Underarm stains are the worst; they can be impossible to shift,” says Armstrong. “Check also for major thinning and weakness of the fabric -- especially silk.”
Look Beyond the Rack
A secondhand store is a treasure trove beyond the clothing sections. “Go into the fabric and lace racks,” says Moschini. “Sometimes they have a gold mine of vintage fabrics you can whip into a long bohemian skirt.”
Take Care Immediately
As soon as she’s home, Moschini washes all her vintage finds in cold water and dries them flat. For any marks that need a little more attention, she uses a mild detergent to ease out stains. Armstrong cautions against leaving clothes with metal hooks and eyes to soak overnight, as they can leak rust and add new stains. “I learnt this the hard way,” she notes.
Feel the Glory
“When I felt I’ve had nothing to wear or couldn’t afford to buy a new dress, vintage clothing has bailed me out on numerous occasions,” says Armstrong. So go forth with confidence and rummage.