Top 10 tips for buying authentic vintage clothing and wedding wear

Happy wedding Wednesday everyone (I can’t believe it’s already Wednesday!) 

Today we’ve brought over another long-standing friend’o’blog, Elizabeth Paton of vintage millinary and accessories supplier, Madame B’s Boutique. We go way back with Madam B and today we’re really lucky to be sharing her expert advice for buying any vintage clothing, but particularly wedding wear, which comes with much higher stakes. I’ll hand over to Elizabeth for her top ten tips. 

Starting the process of finding what to wear on your wedding day, whether you’re a bride or a groom, can be a bit overwhelming. Vintage-lovers might be used to doing a little hunting for what they want, but planning for a wedding adds extra pressure to the proceedings, which can take fun out of it. If you’re feeling really lost in the woods, I hope that these tips will help take some of the stress out of the whole experience and help you to find exactly what you’re looking for.

♥ The most important advice I can offer is don’t go for something that will require you to massively alter your body shape or that will be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time – it’s going to be a long day in the spotlight, and you’ll be on your feet for most of it. Ideally you need to be able to stand, sit, dance, and go to the loo in it unaided! Try out different styles and work with what nature gave you.

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♥ If you’re struggling to find inspiration, there’s now an increasing number of wedding fairs that specialise in vintage weddings, such as Miss Vintage Wedding Affair and Vintage & Alternative Wedding Fair to name just a few. All of the images in this post were taking at Miss Vintage Wedding Affair. Chat to as many people as you can at these events, you never know what you might find!

♥ If you’re shopping online, look for sellers with a good rating, detailed item descriptions and at least two clear images of the item. This is especially important for vintage sellers as there are so many to choose from and the quality (and sizes, see below) can vary quite a bit. It’s also worth checking their returns policy, as there might be exceptions for certain types of items. Check the Trading Standards website if you’re unsure.

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♥ Beware vintage sizing! For example, a UK women’s size 16 from the 1950s is actually closer to a modern UK size 12. I like it when online sellers take the time to measure the garment themselves and put up accurate waist, hip and length measurements. This is the norm for menswear anyway, but larger gents may struggle to find their size, so look at vintage reproductions too. Some shops also provide alteration services for a little extra, so it’s worth asking about this.

♥ Contrary to what you might think, if an online seller mentions damage to the item in the description this is a good thing because they are being honest about what they’re selling. A lot of vintage goods will have at least some kind of minor wear and tear, but if the seller is upfront about this you can make an informed choice about whether to buy it or not. Sadly, I have come across one or two sellers who have tried to hide damage to items to get a better price, but this tactic is always going to backfire because it ultimately damages the seller’s reputation.

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♥ As with most things in life, if it looks too good to be true (say, a 1950s Dior dress for £10) then it probably is. Use your common sense and don’t be taken in by fakes!

♥ Look out for hidden costs, especially when buying from overseas. There are lots of fantastic vintage sellers from the USA on Etsy, for example, but if you live in the UK you may have to pay extra tax charges when your order arrives, such as import VAT and Post Office handling fees. Items worth over £135 could incur a customs duty charge too. For more information, check HMRC’s guide.

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♥ Check the washing instructions on vintage clothing carefully. If it doesn’t have a care label or you are unsure about it, stick to hand washing in lukewarm water with a little soap, or take it to the dry cleaners. If you order something online and you’re unhappy with the condition it arrives in, get in touch with the seller as soon as possible.

♥ Some minor damage is usually easily repairable. However, look out for little round holes in clothing, as this may be an indication of clothes moth activity. To avoid unwittingly introducing these destructive little critters into your home, I strongly recommend wrapping the garment in a plastic bag and leaving it in the freezer for at least 48 hours before cleaning it. This will kill off any moth larvae left behind and keep the rest of your wardrobe moth free.

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♥ Don’t forget the details! Accessories can really help to finish your look and give it that extra period authenticity. Check out antique markets, charity shops and search online (eBay and Etsy are great for this) for unusual pieces of jewellery, cuff links or even shoes to finish off your outfit.

I wish you the very best of luck with planning your wedding. If you have found these tips helpful, you might also be interested in my mini eBook, ‘Madame B’s Pocket Guide to Vintage Weddings’, which is available to download for free by signing up here.  Darling Lovely Life readers will also receive a 20% discount on anything in my Etsy shop when they sign up!

2 Comments on Top 10 tips for buying authentic vintage clothing and wedding wear

  1. Erica Arnold
    November 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm (4 years ago)

    An excellent article, thank you for including one of our gowns in the photographs! If I may add, don’t be afraid to ask a seller what their background is. I spent over twenty years working in conservation for national museums and I’m quite happy to advise people on their vintage purchases. Other sellers I know of have a background in textile design and their advice on styling and identifying the real thing is equally valuable. Erica, Real Green Dress.

    Reply
  2. Amanda
    March 3, 2014 at 2:28 am (4 years ago)

    Great tips! As a vintage seller, I inspect every garment that is in my shop and fully disclose the condition of each piece. I think it is crucial as an online seller to inform your customers of every detail of the garment, since they can’t actually feel or try it on before the purchase. With a background in textiles, design, and historic costume, I’m always happy to lend advice on buying vintage. At my shop, I ensure that all pieces are clean, restored, and arrive ready to wear! Amanda, owner of The Brass Giraffe.

    Reply

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