Your Essential Vintage Shopping and Style Guide!

For all you skeptics who think vintage is either expensive or frumpy, Dawn O'Porter and the team from 'The Vintage Clothes Show' are on a mission to prove that it could be the answer to your wardrobe woes.

Is your wardrobe stuffed to overflowing with cheap “bargains” that you never wear? Or perhaps you’re just tired of seeing someone else wearing the same thing every time you go out.

If this sounds like you, then it’s time to ditch that fast fashion approach, and get hooked on the romance and glamour of vintage shopping.

“I understand why people love the high street. It’s easy, affordable and you can pretty much guarantee you’ll find something in your size,” says Dawn O’Porter, host of The Vintage Clothes Show on LifeStyle YOU. “But if you want to stand out and be an individual, vintage is the way to go. 

“We over shop – we fill our wardrobes with stuff we’re never going to wear and I think that’s really sad. I think we need to get back to cherishing our clothes a lot more – buying key items that we really love and really looking after them.

“I love vintage clothes because they’ve had a past. Whether it danced to swing in the 40s or was worn by a swinger in the 70s, a great old dress may have seen more of life than you or I ever will. And it’s just waiting for you to be the next chapter.”

But if endless racks of mismatched vintage clothes and accessories leave you dazed and confused, then you need a few tips from the crack team at This Old Thing on how to get it right.

“If you’re freaked out by shopping vintage, don’t be. It’s actually really easy, you just need a few tips on how to get it right.”

Here’s some expert advice from Dawn and her team on how to make your wardrobe really pop with vintage.

1. Find a local tailor.

If you’re not a confident sewer, it’s worth finding a local tailor who can transform your vintage finds into an investment piece you’ll treasure forever.

“Find a local tailor who can make sure those bargains fit your perfectly,” says Dawn.  “Rarely will this be more expensive than shopping on the high street, and all your clothes will fit you just right. No more Saturday night meltdowns!”

2. Always try on

“The upside for vintage shopping is that you don't know what you are going to find.  The downside to vintage shopping is that you don't know what you are going to find,” says Dawn.

If you’re daunted by all the rummaging – don’t be, there is an easy method to finding gems.

“Whether it's a colour, a shape or a print that catches your eye, always try it on. If it works, you will love it because you will feel like you discovered it, and that item of clothing will be in your wardrobe for keeps. Not tossed aside the following year when the high street is telling you that you have to start over again,” says Dawn.

“You’re going to see shapes and styles that you’re not used to seeing on the high street, so don’t judge something on the hanger. Just try it on.”

3. Mix and match

Vintage veteran and costume pattern cutter Jax recommends mixing vintage with your everyday high-street clothing items to get you started.

“Mix vintage with everyday clothes, even if it's only an old silk scarf. Wearing vintage with reference to the current fashion season stops it becoming fancy dress.”

“One of the easiest things for a beginner to do is to create a vintage feel. You can do this by changing the buttons on a high street cardigan or add a braid such as 'Ric-rac' (a woven zigzag pattern). This was popular in the 1950s and again in the 1970s. Develop a style that suits your age and figure, but try not to get stuck in a particular era.”

4. Fire up your imagination 

Bespoke tailor Michael insists you have to be imaginative with the vintage items you find. He regularly finds amazing jeans that fit perfectly from waist to knee but might have too much of a flare for his personal taste. However, tapering jeans from the knee to ankle for a modern look is inexpensive and can be done at most tailors.

5. Check the quality

“If you find something in a vintage shop the chances are it’s going to be worn a lot. Check its condition. Always look at the armpits, always look at the lining and make sure that the jacket isn’t more faded than the skirt.”

6. Ignore the sizes

Designer and seamstress Charlotte never looks at the size of an item before buying it; “If I love it then I buy it and alter it. Be creative with your purchases, turn blouses into crop-tops and skirts into dresses!”

If something doesn’t fit, always check the seams and the hem,” adds Dawn.  “Dresses, suits and pants were made to last a woman for life so there’s usually enough allowance in the seams so something can be done.”

7. Buy it when you see it

Shopping vintage isn’t like shopping on the high street.  Buying vintage means sporting something really individual. And chances are, you’ll never see the same thing twice.

“If you fall in love with it, then buy it because there’s a good chance you’ll never see it again,” says Dawn.

8. Vintage isn’t just for girls

“The best thing about vintage suits is that men had them tailor-made,” says Dawn. 

“They were built to last. They’re such good quality which is why they stood the test of time.” So if you’re looking for a good quality suit, buy vintage and get a tailor to make it fit to perfection.

9. Find an era to suit you

Each era has its own distinctive cuts and trademarks, so do your research and experiment to find the era that suits you best and you absolutely love.

“Remember, vintage should be fun and adventurous. If you don't feel good in an outfit then don't wear it,” says bespoke tailor Michael.  “And always test out new ideas and alterations before going for it on a favourite item.'

10. Forget trends

Trends these days rarely last more than six months; the beauty of buying vintage is collecting styles, shapes and colours that suit you.

“I have always been rubbish at keeping up with trends,” says Dawn. “That’s why I love vintage. There’s no bothering with what’s hot and what’s not. It’s simply key items from a golden era that looked incredible then, and look unique and stylish now.”

“Wearing vintage clothes means you can cherry pick the very best of the 20th century fashion. Each era has given us distinct looks and exciting designs that I think are as wearable and relevant now as they were then. So if you’re not sure what you’re style is, with these clothes you can choose from any decade you like and make your wardrobe really stand out.”

11. Alter items to add a personal touch

Dressmaker and milliner Arianna recommends adding a personal touch to items found in charity shops.

“Change the sleeves; add lace or new buttons to personalise your purchases. Vintage items can be better constructed than modern fashion and can have more natural fabrics and fibers that are great. These items were made to last and be loved. With this in mind be gentle with how you alter them and if in doubt seek professional advice.”

12. Take your time.

Persistence and patience will be rewarded when it comes to shopping vintage.

“You mustn’t rush it,” says Dawn. “It’s not laid out like it is on the high street, so you do have to sift through everything a little bit more. But I promise, if you put in that effort, you’re going to find a gem that you’ll love and treasure.

13. Use vintage to add colour.

Are you stuck in a colour rut? A piece of vintage might be just what you need to liven up your wardrobe.

“Vintage clothes are great for colour,” says Dawn. “They’re slightly different from what you’re going to find on the high street and the prints are always really fun. But if you are nervous about being too bold, why not start with tones like a bottle green or a burgundy. And then mix it with a big piece of contrasting colour in jewellery to really make that colour pop.

“The best way to get colour into your wardrobe is just to get one vintage statement colour piece - whether that’s a jacket or a blouse or a pair of trousers. And then mix that with your neutrals.”

14. Be brave and get rummaging

“Part of the fun is rummaging and rummaging and finding a gem,” says Dawn.
The key to finding gems in op shops and vintage clothes stores is to be really open-minded.

“Step outside your comfort zone and just go for it. The worst thing you can do when you do when you go vintage shopping is to have something really specific image in your head of what you want to buy – because the truth is – you never know.”

Do you have any tips for finding vintage? Let us know by commenting below!

Tune into the Australian premiere of This Old Thing - The Vintage Clothes Show Monday 5 January at 8.30pm, only on LifeStyle YOU.

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