A pRAcTicAL gUiDe tO BUyInG ViNTagE

How else are you supposed to reach new sartorial heights?

Words by KOIBIRD Fashion Team

In case it wasn’t already abundantly clear, we really like fashion here at KOIBIRD. Not only is it our bread and butter, it is our BABY – and we mean that with the utmost seriousness. While we mostly deal in the thrill of the new, what we also adore is vintage fashion. After all, where would today’s designers be without clothes of bygone eras for inspiration? However, there are distinct differences between shopping and shopping for vintage that can’t be ignored and plenty of concurring to overcome. So, to make it easy we’ve composed our very own vintage buying guide from how to correctly identify a genuine designer gem to discovering that one-off item online.

BUYING VINTAGE IN GENERAL

• Since vintage clothes already exist, and therefore don’t require an array of resources and energy to be created, they are among one of the most sustainable ways you can dress. Keep this in mind when anyone tries to pooh-pooh your pursuit of the good stuff (because it is a pursuit, but a worthwhile one).

• Natural fabrics are the key to keeping things contemporary – the man-made stuff can sometimes scream fancy dress, which is exactly what you don’t want.Yet, if there’s a fabric with a print you love, embrace it and repurpose it – you’ll probably never see it again otherwise.

• Seamstresses and tailors can bring new hope to anything apparently unsalvageable or ill-fitting. In fact, we’d recommend a visit to one just to ensure the clothes you do have look the best they can before buying anything new.Because a lot of vintage pieces tend to be very affordable, there’s less at stake in terms of upcycling. This is why you should absolutely hack at a man’s shirt to crop it (hello Miu Miu) or chop the straps of a dress so they can be tied as bows (or something else weird and wonderful).

• Vintage denim is great and easy to customise, but watch out for an excessive amount of wear in the crotch area – you don’t want those jeans or shorts to split in public. We welcome wear in the knees, though: there’s nothing cooler than denim that’s been distressed naturally over time.

• Familiarise yourself with each vintage era to get a grasp of what vintage clothes are actually to your taste, then you’ll be less overwhelmed by everything when you shop. If you like things demure and feminine, for example, it’s worth looking for 50s pieces. For peasant dresses and extravagant collars, the 70s is your era. Fun mini dresses were at their prime in the 60s. The 80s were excellent for general glitz and bold colour. The 90s and Y2K are your friends if you favour cheeky slogan t-shirts, low-rise jeans and going out out tops. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

BUYING VINTAGE IRL

• Always keep your eyes open. Sometimes the best vintage comes about when you least expect it. What we’re basically trying to say is, go into every charity shop.

• Be wary of ‘fake vintage’, particularly of the designer variety. There are sadly some unscrupulous sellers out there who will happily sew a designer label into a subpar vintage piece that doesn’t even have a bloody lining and then charge a premium. Have your wits about you: if there are no other brand symbols on the piece and the quality isn't great, then it may not be what it’s claiming to be.

• The reverse of this, which is almost as annoying, is vintage shops selling a contemporary high street piece as though it’s a vintage original.Make the most of having the clothes right in front of you: feel the fabric, look exceptionally closely and – if you’re particularly shameless – smell it too.

BUYING VINTAGE ONLINE

• It goes without saying that you cannot take a tactile multisensory approach when buying vintage online – the world isn’t that technologically advanced yet. But the sooner you accept the risk (or embrace it even), the better. It’s like online dating: sometimes you’ll be disappointed; sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised; sometimes you’ll get exactly what you expected.

• The internet is a big place. To keep abreast of the best vintage out there, scour every platform. Don’t just stick to eBay, embrace Depop too. And don’t forget Vestiaire Collective either. Some vintage sellers, such as Barcelona-based Los Feliz, largely do business from their Instagram stories. You have to be quick, though – they’re extremely competitive.

• Alerts are your friend. Finding vintage online can be very addictive, but spending too much time glued to the internet isn’t good for anyone. Once you know exactly what you want (a chainmail dress or a camel cashmere coat being just two examples), set an alert for that search term. You’ll receive an email whenever one is available to buy on the respective site.

THE BEST PLACES TO BUY VINTAGE IN LONDON

SCRUFF STUDIO

Scruff Studio is more of an archive than a vintage shop, but with all pieces available to rent it’s the perfect solution for any attention-seeking event. If you’re looking for something to keep forever, keep an eye on their Instagram stories for beautiful bargains. 

VINTAGE THREADS

With a veritable online presence as well as stores (the Covent Garden flagship is our fashion director’s favourite), Vintage Threads is our go-to for retro sportswear – we don’t actually do sports in it, though.

RETRO WOMAN CLOTHING EXCHANGE

Notting Hill is notorious for excellent vintage, but if you’re particularly attracted to designer stuff of the Y2K variety (and a whole host of other designer goods), head here for a browse. You can also exchange pieces of your own for cash – or vouchers of higher value.

BEYOND RETRO

With several outposts across the city (and beyond), Beyond Retro is often a young Londoner’s first foray into the wonderful world of vintage fashion. And what better place to whet your appetite for the stuff? Each store is larger than your average vintage shop, which means more rummaging – but that’s all part of the fun.

MAGPIE VINTAGE

KOIBIRD is no stranger to Magpie Vintage. We recently started selling their handmade upcycled pieces. But, before founder Alice Lockspeiser had even dreamt of those, Magpie Vintage was about vintage clothing in its natural state – and it still is! If you have a particular penchant for 60s and 70s pieces, you’d be a fool not to make the pilgrimage to Camden Passage.

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