With Earth Day quickly approaching, I reflect on the problems our environment faces and consider the ways in which we can all lessen our impact here on this beautiful planet we are lucky to call home. When we think of environmental destruction, we probably imagine power plants, oil drills, and factory farms. Most people don’t stop to think about how much impact the very clothes they’re wearing have on the world around them. These days, stores reset the floor with new merchandise every week, and fashion changes in the blink of an eye–it is nearly impossible to keep up. How is it that companies are able to produce and sell new clothing so quickly? A term has been coined for this very thing, fast fashion, and it has a tremendous impact on the environment. (For example, it take 2700 liters of water to make one t-shirt.)
One way to lessen your impact, and acquire some great unique finds, is to turn to vintage clothing. Do you feel overwhelmed by the thought of sorting through a vintage store or are even confused what to look for? Well, you’re not alone. A lot of people and friends I’ve talked to expressed those concerns and that was exactly my feeling at the beginning. However, as I began to learn what cuts complimented my body and which styles spoke to my personality, I began to enjoy vintage shopping, and I worked it in as one of my regular Sunday activities when I was living in Southern California. To me, these clothes are even more special because someone else lived their life in them. When I put these garments on, I like to imagine the thoughts, feelings, and adventures the previous owner had while wearing them. Vintage shopping is a bit of an art, and as such, you will get better with practice.
Here are some tips on how to navigate those vintage stores and choose clothes that reflect your personal style–without looking like you raided your Grandmother’s closet.
1. Focus on the basics.
This guideline should always be considered when shopping for new clothes. Building a wardrobe should be thought of as building a house: you want a strong foundation before you begin adding more. Choosing to buy basics from a vintage store gives you not only a great deal for the money, but the quality will be better as well. Before fashion was industrialized and the “fast fashion” trend began, clothes were made to last, so you can be sure that the basic black dress you purchase will stand the test of time.
2. Check the quality.
In general, I find the quality of vintage clothes to be far superior to that of clothes today. However, you still want to be sure to check the garment thoroughly. Look over the garment to make sure there are no stains, holes, or other tears (if there are, and it’s something you think will be an easy fix, it never hurts to ask for an additional discount!). Next, you’ll want to check the seams to make sure they are in good condition as well. You may also want to consider whether or not the garment is machine washable. A lot of vintage pieces are dry clean only, so keep that in mind.
3. Imagine how the garment will fit with the rest of your wardrobe.
There are sometimes so many wonderful and interesting pieces that it can be hard to narrow things down. However, you don’t want to purchase a garment only to realize you have nothing to wear it with and no way of fitting it into your life. Sometimes it helps to bring pictures with you, or perhaps even a few pieces of clothing, in order to play around and create different outfits to ensure it will live (another) long and fruitful life in your wardrobe.
4. Imagine how the garment will fit into your life.
Another consideration to make is whether or not this garment fits into your life. Are you a yoga instructor? Then you probably don’t need that floor length gown from the ’60s. Although some garments can be hard to pass up, it is important to look at something and ask, “what situation or event would I wear this to?” If you are searching your head for a random scenario that might pop up one day, you might want to rethink your purchase and leave that garment to fit more seamlessly into someone else’s life.
5. Imagine how you might alter the garment.
Notice there’s a lot of imagination going on here? That’s another great thing about vintage shopping–it opens up your creativity. When you’re not buying things off a mannequin, putting an outfit together takes some thought. This comes into play when looking at a garment as well. Sometimes, your perfect piece is just a simple alteration away, so try to look beyond how the garment is and imagine what it could be.
6. Try on the clothes.
Hopefully, a trip to the fitting room is included in most shopping trips, but for those of us who like to think we can just “eyeball” it and guess if something will fit, vintage clothing can be a little trickier, so be sure not to skip this step. Not only does sizing vary by manufacturer, but sizing has changed a lot over the years, which is why it is especially important to try on garments before you buy.
Overall, just go with the garments that speak to you. I like to think that the perfect pieces find us.
Are you a fan of shopping vintage?
Also by Kathryn: Say Hello To Your New GF Ancient Grain BFFs (Including Jessica Alba’s Fav)
Related: We’re Behind This Sustainable Shopping Solution (Because #TeamEarth)
Cabinet of Curiosities: Shopping for Vintage Jewelry
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