Monday, June 22, 2009

Assessing Vintage Clothing & Accessories

Brace yourself for a thorough knowledge share! My new roommate moved in this weekend and in a conversation about YazBerry and the fact that I sell vintage clothing and purses, she asked me what I look for when I buy vintage items. I apparently had a lot to say on the subject and thought I'd share that with you.

The first thing I look for is color, texture or print. I have a pretty consistent color palate I like and which meets my aesthetic taste. If we are talking Crayola Markers, it would be the Bold colors. I also like black, gold, copper or brassy metallics and browns.

When shopping for texture my fingers play a key roll. Does the fabric feel comfortable to wear? Is it a particularly unique texture not commonly found? Does it feel particularly well made? Has the fiber aged well? These are questions I consider in regards to texture.

Prints are an exciting but, in my opinion, delicate topic in vintage. I shop for prints I consider timeless. Prints that I could see in stores today, or in many decades. I try to avoid gaudy prints that were part of a trend that shouldn't have happened or has happened and does not need to be revisited. I want my customers to wear the vintage treasures they find, accordingly it is key I look for prints that they would feel comfortable wearing in their day to day lives.

After an item has caught my attention based on the above, I start checking it for flaws. I avoid buying stained or torn or really well worn items when at all possible. Occasionally I may purchase an item that is flawed if the flaw is not noticeable when worn or does not affect the fit or use of the item. I want my vintage items to be strong and last the buyer a long time.

Once I've assessed an item on the above criteria, I get to move on to one of my favorite parts: placing it in a decade, researching the designer and determining the value of the item. Labels are a very important clue. The fonts, colors and materials used in a label tell a lot about how old an item is. They also tell us where it is made. Which, surprisingly enough, also can give a clue to an item's age. If it is made in the USA or Western Europe, often it is from the 1950's or older. The closer in date we come to today, the further east garment manufacturing moves. Of course there are exceptions to this, but it is a great starting point to assigning an era to an item.

Other things to look at are the materials used and how the item was made. If the seams are surged the item is newer. If a dress has a metal zipper the item is older. If the fibers are natural, often the item is older and if synthetic often the item is newer. Pairing this information with the label and other clues about the style of the garment, print, cut etc. aid in dating an item.

Of course style and cut are very big clues in putting an age on an item. Cinema, theater, newspapers, magazines and books aid in identifying style trends and characteristics from era to era. Each era has it's commonly found and stereotypical style and often this is one of the most useful tools in determining the age of an item.

However, this is not always true as contemporary fashion often draws on old styles or retro reproductions can be found. When I suspect this is the case, I refer to my other dating tools as previously described. That is why it's important to know all of the things to look for, not just the style when shopping for vintage items.

And the hardest part: determining the value. This depends on a few key things: Designer, materials and rarity of item. I always research designers online to see who they are. Of course there are many vintage designers who are familiar to me as I have been shopping for vintage for many years. This is a good way to determine what similar items are selling for.

If an item is made of fine materials: silk, leather, fur, embroidery, precise tailoring, hand construction, it will have a higher value. Additionally, if I have never seen an item like it before, and it is a rare item, it will definitely be of higher value. As I frequent vintage stores and browse vintage collections online, I have a vast mental database of what is out there.

I'm always amazed by vintage clothing and accessories. Like any collectible item or antique, there is a lot to know about assessing and appraising an item. I love it and have so much fun with it! For great vintage finds of mine for sale (don't worry, not all the cool stuff I find lives in my own closet...I'd need a whole room to house all of the treasures I come across) visit my store:!

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