Expert tips on how to buy and wear vintage

— by Alyson Walsh

Curator Teresa Colonett photograph by Claire Pepper

Now we’re all thinking about sustainability and saving the planet, wearing vintage is cool again.  ‘There used to be a misconception that vintage clothing was quirky, niche and nostalgic – the fashion equivalent of retro bunting and coronation chicken,’ says Chiara Menage of Menage Modern Vintage, ‘But that’s changing. There are so many benefits and pleasures to buying vintage.’

With the increasing concern about the fashion industry’s impact on the environment, shopping second-hand is an ideal way to find something new-to-you without adding to the problem. A thredUP report last year predicted that within a decade secondhand could overtake fast fashion, and, as the market grows, particularly online, choice and availability are better than ever. ‘There’s the thrill of finding something unexpected and unique,’ continues Chiara,’  the ability to buy top quality pieces – designer fashion becomes affordable just as high-end brands are being priced out of reach. There’s the quality of fabric, detail and workmanship in vintage clothes, which makes them feel better and hang better than anything you can buy new for a comparable price. They are on the whole more durable, and – most importantly – 100% sustainable.  Have a look in your wardrobe to see what you can resurrect and what you can pass on. There’s a special pleasure in getting creative with your clothes.’


Vintage 1960s leopard print coat and vintage cords. Photo: Claire Pepper

Of course, there are no rules on how to ‘do’ vintage, and many women show singular style when wearing second-hand. Virginia Bates former boutique owner, actress and co-author of the style book Jazz Age Fashion: Dressed to Kill, looks stunning in an embellished, ankle-length frock and show-stopping opera coat (Virginia is on Instagram HERE). New Yorker Iris Apfel wears her fashion history on her sleeve, the nonagenarian’s flamboyant, more-is-more approach practically tells her life story. While  Caryn Franklin, professor, journalist, campaigner and activist always looks ace in up-cycled vintage and her signature, silk head scarves.

Everyone can wear second-hand stuff (just as long as it doesn’t smell.) Here are three tips on how to look modern in vintage:

Match and mismatch patterns and textures

Choose items that co-ordinate with the clothes you already own. And this doesn’t have to mean matchy-matchy, as curator Teresa Colonett shows (top photo), picking out similar colours is a surefire way to look brilliant when mismatching prints. The wavy bands in her vintage Lanvin blouse tally beautifully with the floral printed Finery trousers, and red ankle boots. My take is more pared-down than clashing pattern, though I’m not averse to a vintage faux fur coat. The Beast is a 1960s leopard print coat I’ve had for more than a decade, add a same-but-different Rockins silk scarf, a plush velvet shirt and second-hand corduroy trousers for a tantalising blend of textures.

Know Your Style

Think about your aesthetic and whether or not the item sitting in your basket in keeping with it. Knowing Your Style saves time, faffage and money in the long run. I’ll always choose classic clean lines over ruffles, fuss and frou-frou; much better for mixing and matching with the other gentlewomanly staples in my wardrobe.  Having a clear vision of what suits and what you feel comfortable in takes some of the risk out of shopping online.

Wear second-hand clothes and sneakers

Comfort is important, high heels are a thing of the past and I wear trainers with everything, unless I’m going somewhere special,’ states Chiara, and she’s not wrong. Sportswear has gone mainstream, more women now buy trainers than heels.  Juxtapose old-school sneakers, such as Adidas Stan Smiths, with a trouser suit; wear hi-tops with a maxi dress (or culottes and a blazer) to get your kicks and score some serious style points.




Chiara in a vintage Hérmes shirt

In order to find the best vintage pieces you need to do your research, plan ahead and be prepared to rummage. ‘Pay attention to the fabric, and opt for high quality natural cashmeres (look out for moth holes), wool, cotton and linen over anything nylon or plastic-not-fantastic,’ says Chiara. Also be aware that sizing has changed over the years, so check that measurements are similar to existing clothes. And pay attention to detail, ‘I always check the condition of the fabric and look out for wear and tear,’ advises Chiara, ‘When scanning a clothes rail, I use my fingertips as much as my eyes. Go for the feel of a fabric; texture is as important as pattern or colour. And I avoid anything with words, obvious branding or logos, fast fashion, synthetic fabrics and overstated pieces.’


Here are six of the best places to shop vintage (and Chiara’s website makes seven):

Bigger players include online marketplace Vestiaire Collective and fashion website FarFetch has a pre-owned section, while Etsy is a great source of second-hand (if you’re prepared to rummage!)

William Vintage sells one of a kind haute couture pieces with a haute couture price tag (nearly three thousand pounds for an Yves Saint Laurent’s 1980s Le Smoking crepe tuxedo suit)

While Retold Vintage ‘curates vintage pieces for fashion conscious women’.

And Manifesto Woman replicates a modern, everyday wardrobe with a ‘mash-up of designer, boutique label, a bit of vintage and high street.’

If you’re in London, Frock Me Vintage Fairs are almost monthly, the next one is this weekend on Sunday 8 March at Kensington Town Hall.



Where do you shop for vintage?

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