Now that you have the basics sorted out- and have taken care of getting your wardrobe ready to add new items- the next step is to actually purchase items. This, however, is where people often get caught up the most. There are a wealth of companies, but following some of these tips can really help you sort it all out and wind up with a wardrobe that you enjoy.
Modern or Traditional?
The first question to ask yourself is this: Are you a Modern Vintage type of person, or a Traditional Vintage type? Believe it or not, there is a bit of a difference between the two.
Traditional Vintage Enthusiasts are few and far between in the greater scope of the Vintage community. These individuals tend to care more about the genuineness and authenticity of their Vintage look- taking few, if any, liberties with staple elements such as hem lengths, cuts, patterns, and styling [sic]. Disproportionately, people who lean more towards Traditional Vintage also prefer to purchase True Vintage items as opposed to pieces which are Reproduction or Vintage Inspired.
Those who prefer Modern, however, are by far the most common within the Vintage community. These are generally people who do not place so much emphasis on the look being authentic and are willing to take liberties with cuts, patterns, styling, and so one. The result is a unique- if not often caricatured and overexaggerated- image with a Vintage flair that is still somewhat recognizable as being of their chosen era. We see this most commonly with the 1950’s style of clothing- and many of the most notable current Pinup Models and Photoshoots that you see tend to lean more towards the side of Modernism.
But even though Modern Vintage Enthusiasts tend to be the largest group, more people actually fall somewhere in between- having a wardrobe that consists of both True Vintage and Modern Vintage pieces, and taking stylistic liberties when necessary or preferred.
To go Repro or not to go Repro?
Vintage Inspired pieces are garments made using completely modern fabrics, prints, techniques, and cuts… But where some minute element of their design is derived from or inspired by a specific historical era. A great example for Vintage Inspired pieces is the company ModCloth- and I would even go so far as to argue that companies like Hellbunny and Heart of Haute are more Inspired as opposed to Repro; their overall design elements (especially their hem lengths) are partially or wholly modern, but pieces have a very distinct and recognizable Vintage look to them.
“Repro” is a common term which is shorthand in the Vintage community for “Reproduction”. These are Modern garments made from modern fabrics, with modern techniques, but which are usually made using the same cuts and styles as True Vintage pieces would. Whirling Turban and Blue Velvet Vintage are goth great examples of authentic Reproduction companies (though both also cater to the “Inspired” crowd, but are very good at labeling their Authentic and Inspired pieces as such).
True or Authentic Vintage are two interchangeable terms which refer to any piece which was actually manufactured in or during that era in history. These are sometimes very hard to find, but are pieces which managed to survive mostly in tact up until today’s time. They can be very brittle and require special care instructions, may be weaker due to the age, and so on, however- and Elsie over at Sweet Baby Cadillac touched on this quite well in one of her most recent articles.
There are pro’s and con’s to each of these three primary styles, and whether or not you will gravitate towards one or the other will greatly depend on whether or not you prefer a more Modern appearance or a more Traditional one- or to which side you lean if you fall more in between.
Know where to shop for what you want!
If you like a particular style, researching companies which cater to that style, have good customer service, and a great return policy really goes a long way. But Reproduction and Inspired pieces (while they can still be expensive) are a dime a dozen and easy to find. The most difficult item to shop for is by far True or Authentic Vintage pieces. However, if you know where to look and have a good eye for the style of your era, you will be surprised at how easy it can be to find pieces.
Even in Small Town Oklahoma I have managed to find several authentic pieces with little effort- including a 1950’s Skirt with hand crocheted lace detailing (which I saved from being repurposed into a Lamp Shade, of all things), several pairs of 1940’s and 50’s ladies gloves, two 1950’s real fur stoles, several pairs of 1950’s metal frame horn rimmed glasses, a 1960’s era faux fur coat, a 1940’s petticoat, and even a late 1950’s hat (which was such a treasure because I was lucky enough to speak to and see old photographs of the woman who has owned it since she purchased it from the store in 1956). I did not purchase all of these items, of course, but a significant number of them have made their way into my collection over the last few years.
And where did I find all of these? Two primary places: local Yard and Garage Sales, and Antique Stores. Never underestimate the finds that you can accrue by digging through others’ unwanted items in such a manner. You may be genuinely surprised at what you come out with, and it can be at a quarter of the cost of what you would find online or at conventions.
When first purchasing, start with the basics!
Once you have all the details sorted out, you can start purchasing pieces to try. My suggestion is to start small, with basic items in your chosen style- and when I say basic items, I mean basic items: items which are practical, everyday wear- ignoring things like foundation garments at the moment.
I say “ignoring foundation and other garments at the moment” because they are negligible in many ways; they are not wholly necessary and modern substitutions will work well enough for a person who is just starting out- especially since the style of many of these change drastically from one era to the next; a 1950’s Reproduction Bullet Bra will do you little good if you wind up preferring and owning mostly mid to early 1940’s garments (an era which preferred a much different Bra style and silhouette, thereby changing the necessary cut and style of the outer garments that was required to achieve or facilitate it).
Ergo, things such as coats and stoles (unless necessary for Winter or colder climates), stockings and garters, the appropriate bras, shapewear, corsets, and so on can be invested in later after you have explored a bit and have finally settled on the Vintage style that you like. The only type of undergarments that I really believe you need to invest in right off the bat are a half slip and a full slip. Other than those, stick to the basic external wardrobe items:
1 pair of neutral colored (Black or Brown) shoes in the style of your era; 2 shirts in the style of your era; 2 skirts in the style of your era; 1 pair of pants (if pants were worn in the era you chose); 1 pair of shorts (if shorts were worn in the era you chose); 1 dress in the style of your era
Other people will certainly have different ideas of what constitutes “basic items”, and that is fine. But to me, this outline gives you a varied enough beginning wardrobe that you can get a decent feel of how you feel in the styles of that era- and it does so without breaking your budget too badly.
Take care that pieces match and are interchangeable!
If you want the most bang for your buck? Don’t pick and buy pieces hazardously and without thought. Pieces should have at least one or two common elements between them so that they can be swapped around and interchanged with one another to broaden your wardrobe options.
My personal favorite way to do it is to go for patterned bottoms and plain tops; I have a range of 40’s reproduction skirts with pretty modern prints containing 3 colors or more. Every skirt has at least one or two colors in common with one another, even if the affect is completely different per each pattern. This allows me to swap them out with various shirts of plain color when I’m in different moods.
You don’t have to do it the same way, of course… But building your wardrobe with a conscious mind as to how Piece A interacts with or goes with Piece Z or B or O is especially important when first starting out. If you get pieces that compliment one another and can be used interchangeably? Then instead of having 7 basic items with which you can create only a few outfits, you have greatly increased the number of outfits that you can make- thus giving you more options with limited items.
And that really is it! Happy hunting!