Vintage shopping is as commonplace as reusing tote bags, recycling your empty foundation bottles and flea market hunting.
Because the world is finally realising that not only is vintage shopping better for the plant (it eliminates the need for resources and energy to create new garments), but non trend-based and season-based fashion has long been a mark of innovation and creativity in the industry for generations.
Everyone from Coco Chanel to Karl Lagerfeld took inspiration from previous runway collections and centuries to inspire their designs. In the 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent was known to have dressed his models on the runway in reworked 1940s evening gowns previously belonging to his mother, while the likes of Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna are regularly seen rewearing vintage clothes from designer archives given their timelessness.
In recent years vintage fashion has exploded onto the scene, thanks in large to online websites such as Depop, Beyond Retro and eBay, but similarly in shops bursting at the door frames with pre-loved clothing that are of better construction and last longer than processed materials commonly seen on the High Street.
Rather than a fad, vintage shopping is here to stay. According to a report from the second-hand clothes sales platform ThredUp the total resale market is estimated to more than double in value from £18bn to £39bn by 2023. But where does one start?
ELLE UK asks the fashion industry’s experts, from supermodels to super-sellers, for their secrets to securing the world’s best one-of-a-kind wardrobe.
Patricia Field – Costume designer
‘I love vintage, but I’m careful not to use it unless I can style it in a contemporary, original way. In the course of my work, I often mix different fashion eras.
‘My favourite places to shop are consignment stores, as the selection covers contemporary dates, too. My go-to place in New York is INA – very curated for contemporary and vintage pieces. Before leaving for Paris to work on Emily in Paris I made INA my first stop and took a volume of fabulous pieces with me.’
Kate Young – Stylist
‘I love Resee, and their emails pull me in every time. I find that Etsy is great for T-shirts, denim and vintage Kenzo, YSL and Cacharel. I always go to vintage shops when I’m travelling, and love charity shops if they are in fancy towns with old, rich women.’
Rejina Pyo – Designer
‘I am really drawn to wool for its durability, and love Italian tailored jackets for the way they’ve been carefully constructed with linings, techniques not commonly used today.
‘I think the two questions to ask yourself when making a vintage purchase are: is it well made? And will it be something I’ll still want to wear in the future?’
Bay Garnett – Stylist
‘One of my favourite shops in the UK is Found and Vision. At The British Red Cross charity shop in Chelsea, London, donations are rarely fashionable – that is why I like it. Old tweed jackets and great cashmere.
‘The best approach to vintage and secondhand shopping is not to see it as different to new. For example, a great men’s shirt you found in a charity shop could also be a new oversized designer shirt (I don’t want my vintage to look “vintage”, unless that’s a specific look I’m going for, à la Gucci). Men’s secondhand blazers look great with a T-shirt or sweater underneath. Oxfam online always has a great selection by Jaeger and Aquascutum (1970s and early 1980s ones are so well made).
‘Think about what you want, then search online at Oxfam, eBay, Vestiaire, and you’ll likely find an even better version!’
Farrah Storr – Editor-In-Chief, ELLE UK
‘If you’re buying vintage online (I love eBay, but also auctionet.com is a very cool Swedish auction site), then try and get as much detail from the seller as possible. Ask if the item has had repairs, as they could devalue the item. If there’s any damage, be realistic: cotton or polyester is easiest to deep clean but if it’s silk or wool you may end up ruining the item.
‘Grunge was my era and is making a stealth comeback on the catwalks, so look for original pieces. It’s alleged Courtney Love burnt the entire ‘grunge’ Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis collection (Jacobs was said to have gifted it to her and Kurt Cobain), so the next best thing are any pieces from Anna Sui or Christian Francis Roth’s SS93 collections.’
Karen Elson – Model
‘For vintage, it’s better to see things in person. I’ve made the mistake of buying online and it’s not been what I expected when it arrived.
‘For me, the best finds are always the unexpected. Like the Ossie Clark dress I found at a flea market, or the 1940s dress I found in Porte de Clignancourt in Paris. I love the Paris Flea Market, but sadly those finds are few and far between these days.’
Lucinda Chambers – stylist and designer, Colville
‘At 12-years-old, I was buying old curtains if I liked the print. I would make them into huge trousers, as I loved to sew. One of my biggest pleasures is to turn something into something else: a printed silk scarf into a lampshade, a great piece of fabric into a cushion. I often buy a dress, chop the top off, and turn it into a long skirt by making the waist elasticated.
‘If you don’t have a sewing machine then your local dry cleaner will usually be able to do this inexpensively.’
Selena Williams Founder, Selena’s Shop
‘Always check that zips are working, and look carefully for any tears that may not be obvious at first. I’ve been caught out a few times, and you don’t always have the time to mend them after spotting them!’
Dorit Kemsley – Influencer and designer
‘One of my favourite things about buying vintage pieces is imagining the story that the piece has; it feels like I’m buying a slice of history.
‘I love to mix vintage items with current ones – for example, a Westwood corset with high-waisted jeans and hoop earrings. Now that I have a young daughter, I save my favourite pieces for her, knowing that one day she, too, can enjoy owning pieces that have lived through my life’s experiences.’
Katharine Hamnett – Designer
‘The great thing about most pre- 1950s clothing is that all the cotton is organic, as chemical pesticides weren’t used. The best charity shops are where rich people live, or go to die, such as Kensington and Notting Hill in London.
‘Clothes can always be taken in, so better to buy too big than too small.
‘If you want to go upmarket, go to the big auction houses such as Christie’s – for textiles, too.’
Eshita Kabra-Davies – Founder, By Rotation
‘You’ll regularly find me unearthing vintage treasures on Etsy, which, I must admit, I am slightly obsessed with. It’s such a great site for homeware and interior choices, as well as clothes.’
Kate Peters – Retail director, Beyond Retro
‘Look for something that has already lasted well. If it’s stood the test of time, it’s probably worth having. For example, 1940s crêpe is always great. It drapes beautifully and it’s usually black, often beaded or appliquéd. Imagine if clothes you bought today looked that amazing in 80 years!’
Molly Molloy – Designer, Colville
‘I’m crazy about vintage dresses. In London, I’d always get a great one from Rellik – they always have an Ossie Clark or vintage Comme des Garçons-style that I didn’t get the first time round. In Milan, I go to Madame Pauline Vintage, where I found a lace mourning dress that I love – I wear it with a wide pair of trousers underneath and trainers.
‘I get most of my dresses on eBay from random sellers. I make it my business to scour Humana Vintage and Sous Vintage in Milan – we’ve been upcycling them at Colville for a couple of seasons, and repurposing them. I recently bought two 1970s cotton dresses to put over a bikini on the beach.’
Marie Blanchet – Founder, Mon Vintage
‘I have shopped and sourced vintage from all over the world since my teens. The thrill of the hunt never left me.
‘I look for pieces that have an importance in fashion history, or the journey of the designer, and also pieces that resonate today. With wearing vintage, the key thing is to never look old or retro; buying and wearing vintage should be a journey towards being fashionable, while asserting your own personal style.
‘Never buy something that doesn’t feel you. Always try the piece first or, if purchased online, ask for as many pictures as possible. Don’t look for the size, as sizes have changed throughout the decades, look at measurements.
‘I like to mix vintage with a tracksuit, or my favourite contemporary brands, such as The Row, who I curate exclusive vintage selections for.’
Kate Foley – Stylist
‘My biggest tip is to get to know store owners and vintage dealers. Ask questions, tell them what you are looking for and what you love. They know so much about fashion and fashion history, so ask for help.’
Steven Philip – Collector and archivist
‘My advice for budding collectors is to start with a designer you love and learn everything there is to know about them. I look for originality, often buying “lots” at auction – these are generally larger collections of vintage garments of little value. But buried among them could be that one hidden gem. My full archive houses the best I have collected over 30 years and is open by appointment-only in Brighton.’
Collin James and Brandon Veloria – Owners, James Veloria, New York
‘Vintage shopping has been getting more competitive, so we check a variety of different sources. You’re likely to see us bidding on eBay auctions on our phones while flipping through racks at a thrift store that we stopped at on our way to an estate sale.
‘Once we’ve returned with our finds, we try everything on and pick a piece or two to keep (or at least wear for a night out before it goes into the shop).’
Georgia Medley – Fashion market & accessories editor, ELLE UK
‘Whenever I shop vintage, I look for the investment pieces, such as a classic 2.55 Chanel handbag or a key runway item that might now be really hard to source (think Margiela spring 2000 collection or any early Yohji Yamamoto).
‘If you ever check out vintage dealers or auctions in the US, it’s always worth seeing if they have any dresses by James Galanos, too – an under-the-radar designer here, but someone who created couture-style dresses for America’s high society.
‘When you’re vintage shopping for new looks, keep an eye out for interesting designs that you rarely see today, too, such as a three-button small lapel blazer from the 1960s or 1970s. They are really flattering and have even been reinterpreted by Bottega Veneta, so whenever I see one I snap it up.’
Alex Eagle – Creative director, The Store
‘When looking for vintage pieces, I love to visit Rellik in Notting Hill, London (I recently bought a beautiful floor-length Margiela dress and some stunning bodysuits). Elsewhere, Aloe & Wolf in Siena, Italy, recommended by designer Gioia Bini, is known for the most amazing selection of mid-century to 1990s Italian designer collectors’ pieces.’
Courtney Trop – Influencer
JJ Martin Designer, La Double J
‘Whenever I travel to a new place, I ask the locals when they have a market. Go early and without any expectations. The vintage gods always reward you when you go with wide-eyed wonder and keep an open mind.
‘I look for print first – vibrant colours and patterns. Buying beautifully sequinned or richly embroidered vintage pieces is the greatest deal, because a similar piece produced today would be 20 times more expensive. Keep accessories very clean and modern.’
Erica Wright – Founder, Sourcewhere
‘I built Sourcewhere as a network of professional “finders” – you can request sold-out pieces and special runway items, and be informed as soon as someone in the network has it.
‘There are so many great vintage sellers on Instagram: @jerome_vintage in Copenhagen for their edit of Chanel and Hermès, @_sentaku for their 1990s-era tailored items, @jinastudio for her reworked blazers, @naninvintage for oversized sweaters and graphic tees, and @thelevelstore for that perfect minimalist edit of basics. I set an Instagram alert so I know ASAP when they’ve posted something new!’
Alva Claire – Model
‘Finding bigger sizes can be a challenge. Try things on, even if you’re not sure it looks big enough on the hanger. If I’m shopping online, I always make sure to have a tape measure nearby to check measurements. Finding a good place for alterations is a must. Be kind to yourself. If something doesn’t fit me properly, I know there’s nothing wrong with my body.
‘Building a more personal relationship with the seller, whether in person or online, means that they understand what I’m after. A few places I visit regularly started sourcing more sizes after I spoke to them about being disappointed by the lack of larger sizes. I’m drawn to anything from the 1970s to 1990s and love mixing them together.
‘Anything with major texture is great, too (feathers, ruffles or diamanté). It’s fun when something seems hard to style at first. I like the challenge.’
Bethany Williams – Designer
‘Growing up on the Isle of Man, I started buying vintage pieces from a very young age. I always found shopping in charity shops gave me more options to express myself and develop my style.
‘In the UK, my ultimate thrift store is Wolf & Gypsy in Brighton. It has a beautiful, curated selection. It’s always a lovely trip to the Lanes there, surrounded by other vintage shops and unique finds. Kempton Market, just outside London, is also one of my go-tos. It is on twice a month and has something for everyone – furniture, antiques, soft furnishings and the most stunning vintage clothes. It is an early start at 6am, but always worth it for the incredible inspiration.’
Maria Raga – CEO of Depop
‘Sellers @nitryl and @thevintagequarter have great designer vintage pieces. Use Depop like social media and use the like and save buttons. The more you “like”, the more pieces Depop will suggest with a similar vibe. When browsing, I also always check out what other people have liked to find those vintage gems and sellers that I might not have discovered yet.’
Rachel Koffsky – Senior specialist of handbags and accessories, Christie’s
‘Auctions are a great place to start. My advice for handbag collectors, or those looking to begin their collection, is: do your research. An education on brands and models is critical for smart shopping.
‘Purchase at reputable sources (if it looks too good to be true, it probably is). Condition is everything (an item in impeccable condition is worth 10 times more than the same piece with condition issues). Most importantly – buy what you love. A handbag is a precious object, and one that loves to be shown off! If it will bring you joy and accompany you to special occasions, then don’t hesitate to add it to your collection.’
Lisa Eldridge – Make-up artist
‘My favourite place for vintage is Lucinda Alford’s studio (@lucindaportobello on Instagram). She’s the industry-insider’s go-to and has been supplying Kate Moss for years. Lots of big designers buy pieces from Lucinda to inspire their collections. I also favour Friday morning under the bridge at Portobello Market in Notting Hill, London – much better quality than on Saturday.’
Anna Foster – Founder, ELV Denim
‘I love vintage menswear. My secret is to source this from John Simons, the impeccable menswear store on Chiltern Street in London, which houses vintage pieces, too. John Simons founded his first shop in 1964, and although retired, his son Paul now runs the store.
‘Along with Sean, who has an uncanny ability to know what you want, even before you know it. (He sold me a vintage alpaca Burberry Prorsum coat on one of the hottest days this year!) Half of me would like to keep John Simons a secret, but retail has really suffered this year, and I feel I should share the love.’
Lucy Bishop – Auctioneer, Kerry Taylor Auctions
‘Vintage dealers and third-party websites often put mark-ups on pieces, so why not go straight to the source and bid at auction? It’s an exciting and unique way to shop for pieces by Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen for Givenchy couture, and the quality is superb.’
Emma Grant – Head of Preloved, eBay UK
‘I made my first vintage purchase when I was in my early twenties, and even though my style has evolved since then, where I source my vintage clothing has largely stayed the same: eBay’s Vintage Hub is a treasure trove. I recommend being specific with your searches, with an idea of what you’re looking for. Knowing styles and cuts of a particular era will help you narrow it down. You can then apply other filters, such as designer, and even sleeve length, to pinpoint.’
Leyla Ertur – Head of sustainability, H&M
‘I believe everyone deserves a second chance and clothing does, too. I enjoy using all these fun new digital services, like re-commerce platform Sellpy, which lets me indulge in that treasure hunting feeling from the comfort of my own home. I love to combine them with new fashion pieces – for example, the great pair of vintage shoes that I found in a lane shop in Shanghai with a timeless dress from COS.’
Erin Beatty – Designer, Rentrayage
‘I’m a strong believer in tailoring vintage pieces to make them fit. Don’t be afraid of doing alternations on pre-loved pieces – these will be the items that will sing in your wardrobe. If you’re in the US, it’s worth heading to Stella Dallas and A Current Affair in Brooklyn. And if you fancy a shopping trip out of the city, check dates online first, and head to Connecticut for the Elephant’s Trunk and Brimfield flea markets. It’s a bit more of a dig, but worth it.’
Leandra Medine – Writer
‘I search mostly for lightweight, colourful jackets from the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’m most often looking for a collarless jacket – the neckline better complements a collared shirt and looks great with a crew neck T-shirt (or just a bra).
‘Chanel and St. John make the best versions of these (The RealReal has the best selection by St. John and Chanel’s is split between that and Poshmark). I buy a larger size, as I like how they look with straight, relaxed jeans.’
Julie Ann Clauss – Founder and owner, The Wardrobe
‘My favourite vintage dealers are Timeless Vixen, Rachel Zabar, Resee, and Ooto Archive, which can all be found online. It’s key to know your measurements. The ideal body type was different in every decade, so you can’t rely on sizes. The safest bet is to know your bust, waist, hips, shoulders and total length.’
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