When shopping, you’d never stop to consider whether a piece has tears, holes, stains or snags. But when buying vintage, think again: That one-of-a-kind DVF dress may actually be too good to be true.
I’ve come home from thrifting delighted with my latest finds only to realize that I’ve purchased something that’s only salvageable with some serious investment in a tailor, or with that sewing kit collecting dust under my bed. If you’re anything like me, you’d rather have a ready-to-wear vintage piece, not a ready-to-sew one, instead.
When thrifting, I give each piece a one-minute rundown before I choose to buy. You’d be surprised what you can miss even when trying something on. You’re so excited by the possibility of a great buy that you fail to see the tiny hole in the arm pit ready to burst with one false move, or forget to check vintage fur and come home with a coat that sheds more than your cat. I’ve been there, and it’s not pretty!
No matter where you’re from, there’s a treasure chest of vintage nearby that’s just waiting to be thrifted and added to your closet. The catch: Like picking up a new sport, you need a few pointers before hitting the vintage-hunting playing field.
Read on for my tips on securing the most top quality vintage pieces at your local thrift store and avoiding the pieces that aren’t. With these tips in mind, and some solid practice, you’ll be scoring a vintage-hunting home-run in no time.
1. Get in Position
* Hang the piece so you can see it from a 360-degree view. Stand back and examine all angles of piece for stains, tears, snags and other signs of damage or over wear
* Rub all fur against a cotton shirt to test if it sheds
* Scratch leather and suede. If it tears, the material will crack and flake off with further wear
2. Play from the Inside
* Turn the piece inside out and repeat all of the above
* Look for “floaters” in the pockets of coats and jackets – I’ve found balled up pieces of tissue that have disintegrated and left annoying (and gross!) pill balls
* Examine the inner lining of all outerwear for damage, including sleeves, pockets, and the bottom lining, where thread tends to unravel
* Give the inside a whiff. If you catch any scent that’s not just aroma of moth balls – don’t buy it. You’ll have to dry clean to remove said stench
3. Hit Up the Hardware
* Check zippers to ensure they aren’t bent or off track
* Check buttons to ensure they are tight and secure
* Give sequins some serious eyeball. Vintage sequins are usually hand sewn in India, and while a piece may look great from a far, a critical eye can catch missing sequin bling and fraying thread
* Test all hooks. Vintage pieces are more likely to have extra fasteners – pieces were structured to fit better than your average sweater dress, so many pieces use fish eyes, snaps, Velcro, and other clasps that our 2010 wardrobe doesn’t possess
4. Keep Your Eye on the Piece
* Is the piece a bit dirty? Don’t buy it – chances are, that old grime is there to stay
* With shoes, try to break off the heel. I’ve come home with amazing cowboy boots only to find that the heel is loose
* Try it on! Wear leggings and a tight tank so you can easily throw anything on in the aisle without waiting in line for the store’s (usually) sole changing room
5. Find its Vintage Scorecard
* Look for a union card attached to the inside seam. A union tag is proof that the piece was produced and supported by a clothing union, which existed in the US before the overseas boom of clothing production beginning in the mid 80s
* Union tags are usually square and about ½ inch by ½ inch; red, white, and blue; and state the name of the union, like “The Ladies Garment Workers Union” and “Made in U.S.A.”
* If you find a union tag, you’re definitely scoring a vintage piece, which by definition are at least 20 years old. It’s like having a time-stamp on your clothing!
– SAMMY DAVIS
Sammy Davis is the vintage curator and stylist behind Sammy Davis Vintage. She muses on all things vintage and thrifting at sammydvintage.com, and sells her collection on the online vintage marketplace, Market Publique.