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Tips for Buying Vintage from Cherie

Click play to hear today's message from Cherie!
I have been collecting vintage for like a zillion years now and have sold pieces to museums, celebrities and of course thousands of fabulous girls worldwide (like you). Because of this, every once in a while I have the grand privilege of being asked to contribute the bits and pieces of what I have learned so far to some publication. I wrote this article on buying vintage a couple of years back for The Fashion List. This morning I received an email from a girl thanking me for it — she was cleaning out her inbox and came upon it again after all this time. She suggested I republish it and so I have decided to do just that. I have not changed it from the original despite my wanting to do a complete re-write. I am dyslexic so have a tendency to either bam stuff out in a I don't give a F*&k kind of attitude that it is filled with errors and mistakes or obsess over every letter. Today I am just going to breathe deep and let it appear as it did then. Enjoy!

As a beginner, most people start at the thrift level, buying items that appeal to them and looking for cheaper alternatives to what is in the stores. However, as you move up the vintage ladder, you quickly realize that, just as in retail shopping, the cost of vintage is highly dependent on a combination of the quality and the label.

Here are my top five tips that I have accumulated over my career while buying and selecting vintage pieces for Shrimpton Couture and shopping for my personal clients:
1. Learn Your Labels Labels are important in vintage.
Like in the art world, a signed piece can instantly increase its value tenfold. However, I have a rule when I buy for the shop that even if it has a label it still can’t be ugly. That being said, ugly is subjective and there is always an exception to that rule. I would not turn down a Fortuny or a Poiret, ever, no matter what it looked like. Certain labels are so rare and collectible that if you are lucky enough to have a shot at them you need to take it! Plus, they can be worth a fortune. If you buy vintage with the intention to collect then learn who is relevant and who is not.

2. Buy quality

Look for great stitching – it should be tight and finely done on the better garments. In general, the greater the number of seams, the higher the quality. All those extra seams and darts reflect the extra time it took to make the garment. One of the reasons why garments have less seaming now is that it uses more fabric to construct a dress from twenty separate pieces rather then three. Dresses that are cut on the bias are almost always higher quality. This technique uses obnoxious amounts of fabric and is a sign of outstanding construction. Older garments have a ton of extra details that get skipped nowadays to save money; proper buttonholes, gusseted seams under the arms, little straps and hooks under the shoulder straps to hold your undergarments in place, dressmakers tape inside the waist so the dress sits perfectly in your frame, extra hooks, eye and snaps – all meant to hold everything perfectly in its proper spot and all done by taking extra time and cost to finish a garment properly. These are all details that sho w your garment is well made & of high quality. You would have to go very high end or couture modern labels to replicate the level of quality you can find in vintage.

3. Buy the Original Trend

Think this seasons trends are fresh and original? Think again! Almost every trend has an earlier counterpart — for example:
One Shoulder Dresses — find this trend first in spectacular 1940s gowns and then again in the 1970s. And if you find a Halston one shoulder gown call me immediately – I am obsessed with them!
The Fitted Wiggle Dress — look to the 1950s for the original bombshell version of this dress –dresses from this era are fitted, seamed and darted to perfection!
Metallics — look to the 1920s for the real lame – original twenties (or earlier) lame is actual gold or metal thread that was woven into and around fabric. Once you see it you will be addicted and scoff at what you see now that tries to pass itself off as lame. It is not.

Draped Jerseys — the 1930s saw the invention of rayon and jersey fabrics and these are the absolute best to be found. They were so expensive to make that the modern versions cannot even come close to the quality and feel. In the 1970s an entire new generation of slinky jerseys came along and these were also fabulous.

Remember that almost every new trend has an older, original counterpart often of higher quality and a smart girl can find it.
(I cannot resist pointing out that though this was written 2 or so years ago, its just as true now just with different trends — like this seasons forties trend — think Miu Miu — or Gucci's seventies runway looks. No matter what season or year this is written you can bet your bottom dollar someone looked to the past for inspiration — use that to your advantage and shop vintage accordingly to look cutting edge. Feel free to pause to note the irony of that statement before proceeding)

4. Exclusiveness

My hands down number one reason for buying vintage is that it guarantees that you are the only girl in the room wearing that dress! It is the absolute easiest way to stand out and make sure that you have something on that no one else can get or has!

Vintage is a far less expensive alternative to couture and you just cannot go wrong.


5. What Not to Buy

When my clients get vintage from my shop, they get vintage that has been gone over with a fine tooth comb. It has been cleaned and it leaves my hands ready to wear. It certainly does not come that way to me though! One never knows what will happen with a vintage piece till its ready to list and I have had beautiful vintage pieces literally fall apart on me when I have had it cleaned, or had it cleaned and thought it had stood up, brought it home and then found flaws that won’t pass my standards. It happens all the time and is the dark side of the hunt. Of course the easiest way to avoid this as a buyer or collector is to shop with a dealer who edits and sells only the best pieces.

Otherwise, you need to be on the look to avoid or be fully aware of these things — these are the potentially unforgivable:

  • Stains under the arms:
    They are NOT going to come out. Ever. And some fabrics will hold the smell that these stains have associated with them and that smell will only come out when you are wearing the item to a special event and it heats up as you do. Most often this will be in public and under the worst possible circumstances. Just don’t go there. Pass on these items with two (rare) exceptions:
    • you have learned your labels inside out and know the piece is extremely rare and are buying for collection purposes or
    • the damage is very, very slight and you can live with it... . and you might even be able to expand the armhole slightly to rid the garment of the stains
  • Bad stains in general:
    Yes a lot of stains will come out but most will not. If you buy a stained garment buy it knowing you might be stuck with it just as it is forever. If you love it and that is OK — buy it.
  • Shattering:
    This is for silk garments and it happens when the support fibres weaken or oxidize over time — I have cried over some 1920s pieces that gave in and started to shatter. You can spot shattering because it looks like tears that go with the grain of the fabric. They will not go away and they will get worse. Garments that start to shatter will get to the stage where they literally fall apart with the slightest of stress. That is when you hold them and weep.
  • Moth Holes:
    Are bad and if there are holes there may be eggs. Dry clean ANY wool, silk or cashmere as soon as you get it home to get rid of any possible infestation and to be safe rather then very very sorry. If you love a garment with moth holes, get it cleaned immediately to eliminate the possibility of further damage. You can have some fabrics rewoven but it is expensive, so like the stains, if you buy it with moth holes you may be stuck with it as it is. A surface nip or two may be forgivable and livable — huge gaping holes are not.
  • Moth Ball Smell:
    This is sadly one of the WORST possible fates to befall a garment. Cleaning might help but some fabrics seem to hold that smell with a death grip. I almost never, ever, ever buy anything that has been stored in mothballs and has that smell unless its a fabric I can soak.
The best thing to do is find a dry cleaner you can trust and who understands the rarity of the garment. Tell them to ALWAYS hand wash or spot clean your vintage garment unless they are absolutely sure it will take modern cleaning. I instruct my cleaners to not touch it if they have any doubt. They feel safer and so do I under these terms. And I still occasionally lose an item that can’t stand up to cleaning. For really old garment s — 1930s and before — find a specialist. There are certain materials that won’t take dry cleaning or washing at all. I once lost a spectacular sequined 1920s gown early on in my career because I carefully hand washed it and realized too late that the sequins were made from gelatin. Gelatin sequins + water equal a gelatinous gooey mess, a ruined dress and a sobbing girl. Don’t let this happen to you.

Collecting vintage, just like art or antiques, can quickly take over your life. Once you feel the beauty of a silk dress from the 1940s, marvel over the construction of a 1950s couture cocktail dress, die over the sexiness of a 1970s maxi dress and fully realize just how forward and modern a girl who wore that flapper dress in the 1920s HAD to be – well you are hooked.

And then you will be MY client for life

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Tips for Buying Vintage from Cherie + tips on buying vintage