Summer School: Vintage Tips

Text by Meghan Wright

Vintage is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s a great way to find unique or one of a kind pieces. Whether you’re scouring through the racks at your favorite thrift store, or browsing a cute boutique, here are some tips to help you better understand your vintage shopping experience.

Is it Vintage?
Pieces from the 1940s to the early 1990s are vintage. Anything older is antique, anything newer is contemporary
{editors note: I’ve always considered vintage to be 30 years old, thus placing 80s and 90s attire in the retro category.  However it seems everyone has a different opinion on what’s truly vintage these days.}

What decade is it?
With the way trends and styles come back, the best way to determine if an item is actually vintage is the construction of the garment. I’ve seen some amazing crochet dresses, that if it weren’t for the contemporary tag, would appear to be straight from the early ’70s. Once you’ve determined that a piece is vintage, the best way to know what decade is to simply study up on the styles of previous decades.

Here are some tips on determining true vintage and what decade:

  •  Clothing didn’t have washing instructions on the tags until the 1970s. This makes it particularly easy to discern whether an item is from the ’60s or ’70s, as certain styles were very similar in those decades. 
  • Clothing from the ’60s and earlier will often have a metal zipper. Most clothing is now made with plastic zippers, or nice metal zippers. Vintage metal zippers are rough and slightly thicker than modern zippers.
  • Earlier pieces will sometimes have buttons instead of zippers, but they’ll always have one of the two. Pullover dresses with elastic waists didn’t come about until the ’70s.
  • In the ’60s and earlier, tags weren’t as mass produced as they are today. The tag on the garment will typically be a rectangular shape, with only the brand name and sometimes a location.
  •  Let the different patterns and prints help you identify what decade the item is from. For example: Light florals, muted colors, polka dots, pin dots and checkered patterns were common in the ’40s and ’50s. Color blocking, bigger, brighter florals, paisley and geometric prints were common for the ’60s and ’70s. Neons, animal prints, geometric prints (again) were common in the 80′s. Darker florals, ditsy florals and plaid were common in the 90′s.
A tag from a 1950s era dress

Where to get it:
Thrift stores are always a great place to search for vintage, though you’ll mostly find pieces from the ’70s – ’90s. Consignment shops and vintage stores are an excellent place to find rare pieces in good to excellent condition. They are of course a bit pricier, but you’ll almost always find a treasure.

Keep up with local estate sales. Some of the most amazing pieces I’ve come across were from estate sales. You can also find great vintage jewelry at flea markets.

Then of course, there is online vintage shopping. eBay and Etsy are two great places for vintage. Two things to remember: Some retailers will label an item “vintage” when it actually a contemporary reproduction. Pay attention to the item’s photos and details. Secondly, vintage sizes are drastically different from modern sizes. You may be a size 6 now, but that size 16 dress from the 1950s might fit you perfectly. Measure yourself and pay close attention to the measurements listed in the item’s description. If there aren’t any, ask the seller to measure the garment for you. Never rely on the tag’s size.

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