Sunday, August 19, 2012

How to Shop & Style Vintage Clothing.

Hello everyone!
In the beginning of August, we – Stefanie of Squeaky Swing, Stef of Magnoliaelectric and Lu of Luloveshandmade – have spent one wonderful week with each other and thanks to our blogs, we have become friends in real life. Athough the three of us live in different countries and many hundreds of kilometers are between us, we wanted to work on a project together, a project which includes a passion that we all share. We love beautiful clothes, we love to take photos of our outfits and we love second hand shopping, so why not combine all those things and write a little guide in which we share our experiences and findings? That’s how the idea for this project came into being.
We want to show you where to find awesome vintage clothes, which simple guidelines you should follow and finally how to style those old pieces in a pretty way.
In this post we are going to tell some tricks and you will get to know everything what’s important when you are shopping second hand, especially with regard to clothing from past decades. In the following three weeks there will be outfit posts on all of our three blogs which are about what you can do with vintage clothing, how you can style it with simple means and without much effort and how you can adjust it so that it fits your personal needs.

(1) But what does ‚vintage‘ mean? And what does the term ‘retro’ mean? 
The term ‚vintage‘ has its origin in the English language and literally means ‘year’, ‘year of construction’ or even ‘old-fashioned’ with regard to style. In the context of fashion or furnishings, ‘vintage’ refers to pieces of clothing or objects from the decades of the 1930s to 1970s. Moreover, the 1980s are nowadays often included as well and there are also sources which even include the 1910s. Thus, ‘vintage’ only refers to clothing which is actually old and from past decades, whereas ‘retro’ is used to describe clothes or things which are new, but have intentionally been designed in a way that they look as if they were older and from one of the decades which have just been mentioned. ‘Vintage’ has nowadays become an ‘in’ expression in many respects. It is often used to attach a higher value to things and it is often used synonymously with the term ‘retro’, although both have a completely different meaning.
(2) Decades and distinguishing features.
Here we want to point to some typical features from the different decades from which one can find clothes in vintage shops today.

The 30s: Calf-long dresses with a bell-shaped edge and a narrow shape at the hips. By the way, the famous Peter Pan collar had its origin in the 1920s.

The 40s: Knee-long, high-necked dresses, suits with wide shoulders and plain colors.

The 50s: The time of the petticoats: really wide skirts which accentuated the waist and underlined femininity. Close-fitting pencil skirts were the fashion, many pastel colors and beautiful floral prints.

The 60s: Characteristic for this decade were several different trends, not to mention hair and make-up! The sixties were primarily famous for the miniskirt and at the end of the decade, prints became even more colorful and loud.

The 70s: Just one term: shock trousers! Many square prints, but also lots of single-colored items in clear colors like red, green, yellow and orange. Because of the Hippies, flowing, full-length floral dresses and batik were in vogue.

(3) Why to shop vintage.
Who doesn’t want to be dressed individually and who doesn’t want to be dressed like anybody else? When buying vintage clothes, this is easy, because it will hardly ever happen – maybe never – that you’re sitting next to somebody in the subway who wears the same clothes as you. Yay! The only other way for preventing this to happen is wearing handmade clothes. Another important argument is sustainability. Who buys vintage automatically buys second hand and this way automatically does something good for the environment. Like the name itself says, second hand clothing has been worn before, maybe only once, maybe even more often. Now it gets a new purpose and is used again and isn’t just thrown away. Thus, when buying a vintage piece of clothing, one doesn’t support mass industries and you can give an old piece of clothing a new life, that’s fun! Finally, there’s the price. Of course there are many cases in which vintage clothes are sold for the same price as new clothes, but that’s not always the case. If you happen to see really expensive vintage clothes, you should take a closer look and see if those clothes are worth their high price, for example when they have been cleaned in an expensive way or when they have been altered lovingly and actually are a really special piece of clothing. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the case that they are simply expensive, because the shop which sells them is located in an area where there are lots of tourists who are willed to even pay higher prices. It only takes a bit of research, luck and patience to find some really awesome pieces at a low price (I’m talking here about dresses for 2€-15€ each) and that’s also perfect for the low budget of students.

(4) Where to find and buy awesome vintage clothes. 
There are many possibilities to shop vintage clothes. You can find them on flea markets, in second hand shops and department stores, in grandma’s loft and of course, on the Internet. With a bit of patience, an eye for beautiful, old things and the knowledge where to search best, you’ll find awesome treasures. We put together a few addresses so that you can immediately start your treasure hunt.

Shops in Berlin that we recommend: 
Humana: A second hand department store with many vintage pieces, has many different branches, not only in Berlin, but also in Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig and Halle. Our favorite: the Humana department store in Berlin at the Frankfurter Tor, there are many second hand treasures on several floors, there you can find everything; dresses, shoes, bags, wedding dresses and home textiles, you will just need some time.
Colors: That’s a great second hand shop in Berlin Kreuzberg. The best thing about it: there’s not only clothing with normal prizes, but also a huge section in which you pay for all clothes and accessories per kilo. There it is easy to find a new, highly beloved (old) piece of clothing for which you only have to pay about 2€.

Online shops that we recommend:
Olenka Vintage: That’s a totally awesome shop on DaWanda where you can always find many dresses. A few dresses of Lu’s collection are from this shop.
Vintage and Handmade by Kati: There you do not only find pretty handmade things, but also vintage dresses, Stef owns three of them.
Modcloth: The best retro (and vintage) shop! Unfortunately, it’s from the USA, that’s why you have to pay attention to the shipping prizes and duty fees.

(5) How to find the size that fits best for you.
When shopping second hand clothes, especially vintage, you shouldn’t pay attention to the normal sizes. In the past, the sizes haven’t been the same as they are today. When there’s a label on a dress which says ‘size 42’, this doesn’t automatically mean that you have to hang it back onto the clothes rail, just because you normally wear size 38. How the sizes have changed in the past is a complicated story and is not important at this point, but it is important to try on a piece of clothing anyway. When you’re shopping for vintage clothes online, it’s helpful to know your measurements, because in online shops you mostly only see the size specifications of the pieces of clothing. Therefore, it’s best to know your bust measurement, your waist measurement and to measure up your hip size.
1. Bust measurement: take a measuring tape and measure the girth of your body and breasts at the place where your bust is the widest, best on the height of your nipples. And do this while wearing a bra!
2. Waist measurements: measure the narrowest part of your waits. That’s usually a little bit above the belly button.
3. Hip size: that’s the widest part of your hips, approximately at the middle of your bottom.

(6) What you should pay attention to when shopping vintage clothes. 

Quality over quantity: Of course you won’t find a second hand shop at every corner, especially not those which are good AND inexpensive. Thus, it often takes a while until you find the perfect piece, not only because the patterns and color combinations sometimes seem strange with regard to what’s ‘in’ today. You need to take some time and be patient to do the rounds of all the clothes rails, looking for pretty clothes. You sometimes need to have a look at the bargain counters in the second hand shops, have to take a closer look and come back to the shops on a regular basis, because there’ll always be new, unique pieces.

Prices: Especially in Switzerland, but also in many German shops, vintage clothes are sold at high prices, as if they were new. This happens because of the current fashion trend. You sometimes have to pay about 50€ (about CHF 60,-) for a dress which is forty years old. Thus, the original purpose of second hand shopping is missed and it sometimes takes good online research to find something for a suitable price or you can have a look at the shops we previously recommended.

Material and condition: Although vintage clothes should normally have been washed before they are sold, you always can immediately smell their characteristic smell which usually disappears after washing them for the first time. You should pay attention to the material of the respective piece of clothing, because many items are made of synthetic materials which begin to smell fast when you’re sweating. That’s why we prefer clothes made of cotton. Moreover, you should take a really close look at an item if you consider buying it, because the fabric might be covered in some old perfume stains which won’t wash out. If you want to use the fabric for another purpose, for example because you totally love the pattern, you could simply cut out the dirty parts before sewing and still recycle the fabric.

Cuts: Some advice for your figure and the perfect cut:
Big bust: It’s better to wear dresses from the 50s and 60s with a narrow bust and waist and wide hips.
Small bust: Every dress where the fabric is gathered at the bust makes is look bigger.
Wide hips and belly: You should better do without unruly patterns and choose plain-colored dresses. Furthermore, A-shaped dresses are suitable, because they have a narrow bust and are perfect for wide hips.
Tall and skinny: Long dresses and conspicuous patterns are perfect. Belts, big patterns and horizontal stripes are ideal, because this interrupts the long silhouette.
Small: Dresses with a vertical silhouette optically stretch the body so that the person looks taller and slim.

(7) Adjustment and alteration.
As you have already read, vintage clothes are from a past decade and are at least 20 years old. Styles change, trends come and go and thus, vintage clothes often have cuts and shapes which we aren’t used to anymore. Many dresses have a really wide cut and seem to look like a sack, other pieces have an extremely narrow waist, but become wider at the hips – variations are endless. Sometimes you need to make a few alterations so that your new piece of clothing fits perfectly and suits your personal needs. We mainly refer to dresses, because what we love most is wearing them. We are no professional dressmakers or tailors who easily can alter a pair of trousers, but with regard to dresses or skirts, this isn’t that difficult: many vintage dresses are extremely long and as long as you rather prefer shorter or knee-length dresses, you have to shorten them. It’s that simple: cut off fabric and stitch up the seam, that’s it. The same applies to skirts which are too long, but what you can also do with them is to wear them as a dress and simply wear them above your bust. If that works well depends on the material of which the skirt is made and it depends on the skirt’s shape. You’ll get to know more about this skirt-to-dress-method in our upcoming outfit posts in the course of the next three weeks… What is more, in case that you find an awesome skirt of dress which is too short, of course you can simply add a piece of fabric at the bottom which colors match the original piece. Clothes which aren’t too long, but simply too wide, can also be made more close-fitting!
As you can see, when you’re shopping vintage clothes, you shouldn’t expect to find the perfect piece immediately – it’s rather important to have a good imagination, a little bit of creativity and to be skilled as a craftswoman, because then, you’ll be able to create the perfect piece of clothing for your own needs out of many awesome dresses that perhaps didn’t fit perfectly and maybe at first sight didn’t completely seem to be what you were looking for.

(8) Advice for styling and how to combine vintage clothes.
Now we’re coming to the best part, the actual styling. One of the best characteristics of vintage clothes is that they are so colorful – just think of all the amazing patterns and color schemes! Generally said, you can combine each accessory with your vintage piece whose color can be found in the fabric itself. This way, it looks good anyway. It can also work in a completely different way, but this will follow in one of our upcoming outfit posts. It’s always nice when you use accessories which match the style of the dress, a bag with matching colors, pretty shoes, maybe a hat or a headscarf, and, of course, a matching belt to give a dress a good shape and to cling it to the body. The advantage is that you can use belts for the waist to make a pretty dress out of a piece of clothing which looks like a sack and this is the simple method on which we have concentrated. It’s the simplicity which makes it special.

We can hardly wait to show you more in our upcoming series of blog posts and hopefully we can wake your interest for vintage clothes!

Keep your eyes open, until September 6 you’ll be able to read more entries of this series on our blogs Squeaky Swing, Magnoliaelectric and Luloveshandmade and there you can see which awesome outfits one can put together with vintage dresses!

Have fun!
Stefanie, Stef and Lu

(P.S.: For the German version of this guide, visit the blog of Stefanie and Stef! :))


  1. Eine absolut super Idee! Freu mich schon total auf Eure kommenden Posts zu dem Thema!
    GLG, Steffi

  2. Ein großartiges Projekt! Freu mich schon auf eure Outfit Posts!
    Ich liebe Vintage shopping und könnte Stunden in Second hand shops verbringen!

    Danke für die viele Mühe, die dahinter steckt!

  3. Liebste Lu! Oh mein Gott - wie viel Mühe Ihr Euch mit diesem Guide gegeben habt! Großartig! So vieles davon wusste ich gar nicht und die Infos sind wirklich unheimlich nützlich und schön zusammengetragen. Wenn ich nur an Euren Aufwand dabei denke...
    Und ich finde es sehr wichtig, dass Ihr darauf hinweist, dass mittlerweile viel Schindluder getrieben wird mit Vintage-Kleidung und zu absolut überteuerten Preisen verkauft wird (siehe Urban Outfitters - unglaublich, wie teuer die Teile da sind!). Und viele Menschen kennen tatsächlich gar nicht den Unterschied zwischen "retro" und "vintage" und kaufen die Teile nur, weil sie "in" sind. Ich bin jedenfalls sehr auf Eure Outfit-Fotos gespannt! 1000 Dank für die Tipps!!! Ich drück Dich, Vivi

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  5. Great Idea!

    I have a vintage clothing shop based out of Heidelberg Germany.

    Great to find your blog.


  6. richtig gute tipps! damit werde ich bestimmt superschöne und einzigartige sachen finden :)
    LG Jojo

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  9. Amazing post dude.It will be very helpful for beginners like me.Thank you very much for this important post.Waiting for your next post.
    preloved vintage

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