Such style! Such panache! If you want the ultimate fashion inspo forget that tired “content creator” and their sad generic mall hauls. Instead head on over to the Manhattan Vintage Show. The ultimate destination for truly fantastic looks. Vendors from NYC and elsewhere bring their best collections of vintage clothing, accessories and antique textiles from the last century and more. So it’s a perfect place to find what you need to channel your inner Marlene D or Holly G.
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. Were we feeling the antique lace? Or more the mod ‘60s dresses? How about the classic wool coats?… 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 here are a few things I’ve learned.
How to prep for the Manhattan Vintage Show
1. Research, Research Research!
That first vintage show? We went on a whim. While that can be fun you want to know what’s more fun? Being prepared! If you know you’re going to a vintage show check out the exhibitor list ahead of time. The Manhattan Vintage Show makes this so easy with a page that features the dealers with images and social info. Trust me when I say this is so much better than just a long list of names! Just scrolling the vendor list is getting me excited. (no judging!)
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 items 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.
Make a list of 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? Yes, eighty! 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. Bring a power bar and water and consider wearing clothes that make it easy to try things on.
Shopping vintage is 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?
As for what to wear: on the one hand you want to be able to try things on easily, on the other this is the place to wear that brilliant Pucci dress that is sorely underappreciated by your nearest and dearest. Here it will be well admired. So maybe find a middle ground. i.e. wear the dress but have a bodysuit on underneath so you can easily slide it off and into something else. 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.
7. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone
Okay, I know earlier I said look for the classics. And I stand by that advice. But I know you’re capable of holding two contradicting thoughts in your head at one time so also consider trying on the outrageous feather coat. Or the unexpectedly well constructed suit jacket. Or the dress in that color that your sister said looked terrible on you. She was wrong. And if you fall in love, don’t hesitate. Life is too short to spend time trying to track down the one that got away.
Follow these suggestions and get going!
Also read Sophie Bishop’s article on how and why she only wears vintage and her tips for starting out.