Purchasing Vintage, Antique and Second-Hand Clothing: Understanding the Terms

First in a Three-Part Series\r\n\r\nOver the weekend I had the opportunity to talk with a really great young saleswoman at the new F & F store in the Holyoke Mall about all things fashion!  It was such a great conversation!  During the conversation, we discussed vintage clothing, and the differences in vintage sizing, modern American sizing, and European sizing.  I realized that over the years, from collecting vintage clothing myself to all the stuff my Mom taught me in the 60’s and 70’s, that there’s quite a bit of knowledge needed to make good vintage clothing purchases.\r\n\r\nWe’re not talking just a perfectly distressed pair of Levi’s from the Salvation Army.  I’m talking suits, evening dresses, designer duds, and other items that take a discerning eye to evaluate.  First, let’s talk terms…..\r\n\r\nAntique.    According to RubyLane.com (a great site if you are looking for beautiful antiques/vintage,) an antique item is something over 100 years old.  Right now, you might be able to find gorgeous antique jewelry, but antique clothing is definitely difficult.  Most items of this age will be extremely delicate and perhaps not wearable, except maybe on special occasions.  In a few years, all that beautiful ‘flapper’ clothing of the 1920’s will be considered officially antique.  If you love that style, you might want to purchase now, and hold on to it.  Make sure to preserve it though.\r\n\r\n

Vintage '60's gold and pink evening coat. Most Etsy sellers will tell you if there is any damage to a vintage item. See this page for a closer look
Vintage ’60’s gold and pink evening coat on Etsy.  See this page for a closer look
\r\n\r\nVintage.   Vintage items are ones that are less than 100 years old.  Something from the 1980s can be considered vintage, as will be something from the 70’s, 60’s and earlier.  Great vintage clothing can be purchased in stores, on Etsy or even eBay.\r\n\r\nRetro.  This term can be applied to items less than 20 years old, perhaps what we call “out of style” or “dated.”  Items from the 1990s are “retro.”  Retro can also be applied to clothing that resembles items from other decades, like the 50’s and 40’s, but are not from that decade.  There’s a lot of “retro” out there, and sometimes this is better than buying vintage.\r\n\r\n
one of the many great Simplicity patterns for making your own "vintage" clothing. Click for more info
one of the many great Simplicity patterns for making your own “vintage” clothing. Click the photo  for more info
\r\n\r\nReproduction.  Yes, that means it comes from an original.  One can find reproduction sewing patters for dresses and suits from various decades.  Companies like Simplicty have reproduced them from the original, and may have made slight modifications for current sewing standards.  Materials have changed, so a type of material called for in a pattern may no longer be available.\r\n\r\n“Gently Used” or “Second Hand.”  These terms are often used in conjunction with clothing a few years old, but not necessarily from a past season (that’s simply “Last Season.”)  These items might have high end designer labels or might be good quality department store clothes that have no damage and may or may not have been worn.   Depending on the shop, one might be able to find items with the original sales tags! (sometimes people purchase items but don’t wear them, for whatever reason.)  These items can be super fantastic finds, depending on how old they are or if the purchaser  doesn’t particularly care whether the item is “in” or “out”  A ten year old Chanel piece is neither retro nor vintage nor antique, but it still might be something you want to add to your wardrobe.  That is, if it’s in good shape.  A Chanel piece might be something you wear and wear for many years, so if it’s in bad shape, it’s probably not a good buy.\r\n\r\nOne more thing:  retro items can turn up just about anywhere.  For the past 20 years or so, retro has been “in” and many styles offered by “hip” retailers like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie are retro.  Sometimes, “vintage” retailers may want to pass off a retro piece as original.  Look for labels.  If the label is missing, ask about the item.  The seller may be able to tell you where she got the item, and if it is vintage or retro reproduction.\r\n\r\nMore on labels in my next post…..

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