How to test for quality, when to look for labels and more pro tips from local vintage shop owners.
By Eden Lichterman
Photography by Sylvia Jarrus
For first-time vintage shoppers, stepping into a store with racks of unfamiliar clothing and accessories can be intimidating. To help lead the way, SEEN spoke with three local vintage shop owners about their essential do’s and don’ts for a successful vintage shopping experience.
1. Have an open mind.
According to Amanda Khoury, co-owner and manager of Lost and Found Vintage in Royal Oak, it’s important to keep an open mind when searching for vintage pieces. “You don’t want to go into a vintage store looking for something specific or thinking, ‘Oh, I want to wear that one dress that Molly Ringwald wore in “Pretty in Pink,” ’ because chances are you’re not going to find it,” Khoury says.
2. Start slow
If you’re a first-time vintage shopper, don’t immediately jump to patterns and styles outside your comfort zone, says Emily Bernstein, owner of The Velvet Tower in Hamtramck. “Definitely just start with one piece, maybe like a blouse that’s a familiar cut or a skirt that’s a familiar cut, and then mix it with something already in your wardrobe — just to make sure that you’ll be comfortable in it and actually wear it,” Bernstein says. She also recommends starting with simple vintage robes as outerwear.
3. Check for quality.
Most pieces dated back to the 1940s or earlier inevitably have flaws, says Kelly Sykes, owner of Virgie Geroux Vintage in Pontiac. But for less antiquated garments, she suggests politely tugging at the seams to test the strength of the seams and fabric. Sykes also says to look “under the arms to see if there’s stains because that’s almost impossible to get out. And that can be really well hidden.”
4. Leave room in your budget for alterations.
When setting your budget, keep in mind that most vintage pieces need alterations. “About 75 percent of the time you have to understand that you’ll probably have to alter a piece in some way to get a perfect fit,” Sykes says. Bernstein adds many formal pieces from the ’40s and ’50s were custom made, so they require alterations to fit the dimensions of the buyer.
5. Talk to the shopkeeper.
According to all three store owners, it’s helpful to speak with the shopkeeper at a vintage store. “Since every single piece is going to be a different fit, a different size, (the shopkeepers are) mostly going to know within their inventory what’s going to fit you,” Bernstein says. Sykes adds the shopkeeper should be able to give you information about the garment or accessory. “I’m leery of someone who can’t give me a little bit of history about something,” she says.
1. Get caught up in labels.
When Sykes goes vintage shopping, she looks at the label last. Instead, she focuses on the construction, quality and wearability of a garment. “Don’t get caught up in the label, the designer. Get caught up in what makes you feel good and looks good on you because there’s nothing worse than walking into a room and having a dress wearing you,” she says. She adds that often the designer labels on vintage pieces are placed toward the bottom of a dress, with the store label in the usual tag spot on the back.
2. Avoid unfamiliar silhouettes.
While modern clothes are less form-fitting, vintage pieces typically accentuate the natural waist and figure of a woman, Sykes says. She continues that first-time shoppers often feel intimidated by tighter dresses, but she ensures those pieces highlight the beautiful curves of a woman’s body. “It’s a game changer,” she says.
3. Get disheartened by sizes.
According to Bernstein, it’s important to focus on the fit of a garment, rather than the number on a tag. “People used to be smaller, and what can be labeled a vintage 16 is a four or a two now. So, I try to have a variety of sizes. That’s a really hard thing for I think a lot of women,” Bernstein says.
4. Hold your breath looking for vintage shoes.
Well-maintained, wearable vintage shoes are a difficult find, Khoury says. “If shoes are too beat up, it’s just unappealing and I don’t think people would want to wear that,” she says. Women’s feet were also much smaller (between a five and a seven) decades ago, making it hard to find vintage shoes compatible with modern sizing, Sykes says. That being said, when these store owners find great vintage shoes, they snatch them.
5. Overlook vintage accessories.
If vintage clothing isn’t your thing, vintage accessories are a great way to incorporate older pieces into your wardrobe. “I find that a lot of ladies who aren’t necessarily interested in clothing … generally find a lot of good pieces of jewelry and bags,” Khoury says. “Even if you aren’t going to be a vintage convert, there’s always going to be something for someone.”
Lost and Found Vintage
510 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak
The Velvet Tower
9392 Charest St., Hamtramck (by appointment)
Virgie Geroux Vintage
7 N. Saginaw St. Suite 2C, Pontiac