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Shopping for Vintage - how to spot a deal breaker

Posted by SJP Oxfam Fashion blogger

4th Mar 2014

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Is there anything worse than buying a piece of clothing only for it to languish at the back of your wardrobe for months, maybe even years, before you have to admit defeat and accept that you won't ever wear it?

This can be a common factor when shopping for vintage clothes - sometimes the desire to own such a unique piece can override the common sense we employ when shopping for regular clothes.

If you're unsure about buying that vintage sundress you've been eyeing up, here are a few things to consider…

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The Fit

Every vintage enthusiast will no doubt have a piece hanging in their wardrobe that just doesn't fit. I have two - a pleated floral dress and a 50s cotton circle skirt - they are both just a teeny bit too small to wear comfortably. Perhaps you have your eye on a similar garment, one that's too short in the arm, too tight round the waist or too big on the shoulders.

Unless you are competent with a sewing machine, it's unlikely that you'll be able to make the item wearable. You could consider paying for professional alterations, which will add on around £20 to the final cost of the garment.

The Stain

Many clothes, particularly those predating the 1960s, were not designed with washing machines in mind, and while hand washing vintage can go a long way to freshening up pre-loved clothes, removing stains that have been embedded for several years can be tricky.

If a stain is small or hidden by patterned fabric then you might be able to get away with it, but larger stains should make you think twice. Harsh chemicals could damage delicate fabric, so your best bet is asking the seller for advice or, if you can't resist purchasing, take the dress to a dry cleaner that specialises in vintage.

The Rip

Trying on a piece of vintage clothing, only to find a hole under the arm seam, or the zip coming away from the fabric can be so disappointing. Just like staining, it comes down to how big the problem is.

One moth hole only requires a hand-stitch or two to fix, but areas such as sleeve holes or side zips can be more challenging to repair because these parts of the garment are put through the ringer by your body. 

The Fabric

Vintage comes in all shapes and sizes when it comes to fabric, from nylon and polyester to cotton, mohair or fur. If you have sensitive skin you should pick your vintage collection with care, as some materials can provoke skin conditions, increase the amount you sweat or just itch like crazy.

Spending a week's wages on something that brings you out in a rash every time you wear it is not a solid investment, so always try on clothes next to your skin so you can work out if the material is suitable for you.

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These are a few deal-breakers that should make you think twice about that vintage garment you have your eye on, plus a few tips that could turn a deal-breaker into a dream purchase.

Do you have any more advice on shopping for vintage? Tweet us @OxfamFashion

Go to the Oxfam Online Shop

Blog post written by SJP

Oxfam Fashion blogger

More by SJP