One of our favorite places to shop vintage is The Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show It features New York City’s greatest collection of vintage clothing, accessories and antique textiles from the last century and more. So it’s a great place to discover new pieces to treasure. But it also can be really overwhelming. The first time I attended with my friend Audrey we began with crazy enthusiasm but quickly found ourselves wandering around in a daze from the sheer number of possible purchases: antique laces, mod ‘60s dresses, great old wool coats and on and on… if memory serves Audrey purchased a small red purse and then for the remainder of our time there we followed (stalked?) Lynn Yaeger to see what she was interested in. NOT a recommended strategy at a Vintage show! The next time I was much more prepared and found a few amazing pieces that are still in regular rotation in my closet. So to help you get the most out of the Manhattan Vintage Show -or any other vintage shopping- here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. Do a little research first if possible.
That first vintage show? We went on a whim. Which can be fun but it can be more fun to be prepared. If you know you’re going to a vintage show check out the exhibitor list ahead of time. For Manhattan Vintage there are a lot of exhibitors so doing research can take a bit of time but it could be worth it. Pick out a few names on the list and Google them to get a sense of what they sell. What decades/price etc. I like to do this while watching TV and then keeping a list of which vendors I definitely want to visit.
2. Have an idea of what you want to buy and how much you’re willing to spend.
Like with any shopping you’ll make better purchases if you know what you’re looking for. Is it a new dress for special occasions? A top that is a bit unique to brighten up your work wardrobe? Something inspired by Gucci’s latest collection? This will help keep you focused on the hunt and more able to resist the lure of something that seems perfectly reasonable when you’re in a sea of vintage but you know deep down fits wrong or you won’t really wear it in ‘real life’. We all make impulse purchases at times but vintage ones are often nonreturnable.
3. Not sure what you want? Start with a classic.
There are some things that were just BETTER the first time around. Motorcycle jackets. Sweater sets. The Little Black Dress. If you find something that is classic from another era and still in great condition chances are it was well made and will stay in great condition as long as you take care of it. You can look on any fashion website and search “wardrobe basics” and consider finding the vintage version instead of the mall version. The trench coat is a great example of a classic piece that would be amazing vintage. My own personal test is “will I wear this when I’m 80?” I want to find pieces that are both timeless and elegant and for me that’s something wearable at any age, so asking myself this question is a good reminder for myself not to succumb to trends I won’t wear in a year. Find your own criteria and stick with it!
4. Pay attention to the fabric
You’ve found an amazing piece that you want to buy so now it’s time to really pay attention! Is it at all scratchy? Does it feel dry or brittle? Is it stretched out at all or too faded? While we love vintage if it’s too fragile or uncomfortable to wear there’s no point in buying it.
5. Pay attention to the fit – and can it be fixed?
A lot of vintage is made before stretch fabrics became the norm. It’s what makes some pieces so durable. But also what makes the fit more challenging. Garments from different eras were worn with different kinds of undergarments as well. So if you’re thinking about a pencil skirt from an era when women wore girdles consider trying on with tights or Spanx to get the proper effect (if those are things you own/would normally wear). Also if things are a close-but-not-quite fit consider if they could be tailored. Ask the seller to give their honest opinion. Their business to a degree is based on their reputations so it’s unlikely they would tell you something could be tailored that couldn’t.
6. Finally, bring a power bar and water and wear clothes you can easily change in and out of
Shopping vintage is so fun but also takes energy and focus – if you have a tendency to forget to eat (yeah, I’m working on it) or even if you don’t make sure you have some food and water with you. Yes there is somewhere to buy water but better to have your own than a single use plastic, yes? Also this is not necessarily where you want to make a fashion statement –even though it might be tempting to wear some vintage you already own to a place where others will appreciate it! While you can do that my suggestion is to wear leggings, a camisole top and shoes that slide on and off so you’ll have an easier time trying things on. Not everywhere has individual dressing rooms or there might be really long lines so you’ll save yourself time if you can try on in the aisles.
Follow these suggestions and get going! Vintage clothes are like wearable art and are such a great part of personal style so don’t be daunted 🙂 And let us know if you have other suggestions for shopping vintage!