Vintage fashion: the best dealers, auctions, fairs and online retailers
Buying and selling vintage and antique fashion is one of life's greatest joys. You can spend hours hunting through vintage shops and trawling the internet – but sometimes, with so much choice, it can be overwhelming. Here's our definitive guide to shopping for vintage clothes
Vintage clothing has never been more in fashion. Chic, unique, and often cheaper than its modern-day counterparts, what’s not to like? Hollywood A-listers such Kirsten Dunst, Reese Witherspoon and Sienna Miller often delve into thrift shops when they want a glamour hit on the red carpet, but you don’t need an A-list budget to work the vintage look.
When it comes to vintage fashion, there are two types of collector. The first are style mavens who are looking for something that nobody else will be wearing. The second, and less common, type are those who buy to collect. But whatever the reason for collecting, the pleasure of finding a one-of-a-kind design is oh-so rewarding.
If you're interested in collecting antique accessories, you should also check out our guide to collecting antique watches and collecting antique jewellery.
What is vintage fashion?
There’s a great deal of debate over what’s vintage and antique. Put simply, vintage fashion is clothing, shoes, bags and other wearable accessories from the 1920s or later. Prior to that date, we fall into the realms of antique textiles and ‘period’ clothing.
Couture garments were made to fit the measurements and requirements of a specific client. One couture dress could take three weeks to produce and would have been as beautifully finished on the inside as it was on the outside.
Ready-to-wear items, otherwise known as pret-a-porter, were mass-produced and reflected the designer’s key trends each season. They were bought off the peg and were therefore far more affordable. These days, vintage ready-to-wear dresses can be found from as little as £40, depending on condition.
If you want to buy a garment by a designer, you could pay £1,000 or even more. Ossie Clark’s 1970s styles, for example, were propelled to new levels and prices after an exhibition at the V&A in 2004, and prices are still strong. Rare, immaculate examples of couture can fetch four figure sums.
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Find out what the difference between vintage and antique is here.
Top tips for buying vintage fashion
Look for signs of couture
Couture items should have an inventory number, hand-written on a cotton tag attached inside. Like a barcode, it means you could find out exactly when the garment was made and who for.
Check the condition
Look under the arms for staining – it’s not easy to clean and get out.
Find a specialist cleaner Seek out a dry cleaner who deals with wedding gowns, as they often have the expertise needed to deal with vintage clothing.
Store the garment carefully
Store vintage clothing in a garment bag made from a material that will allow it breathe, such as cotton, and protect it from dust.
Where to buy vintage fashion
The best fashion auctions
The best vintage fashion fairs
Also check out our guide to the UK's best antique and vintage shops.
Where to buy vintage fashion online
Vintage fashion websites
Most dealers have good sites, such as c20vintagefashion.co.uk, but also look on online auction sites such as eBay.com for vintage pieces worldwide.
Hope & Harlequin
As well as standing at popular fairs such as Frock Me! and having a bricks and mortar shop hidden away in Brighton’s South Lanes, Louise Hill has an online store for her vintage fashion business Hope & Harlequin. ‘I love hearing about a dress bought from me years ago and worn to a wonderful event or how it’s become one of my clients’ favourite items,’ she says. ‘Occasionally I see the pieces again and it’s like seeing old friends.’ Louise sources her stunning collection of dresses, tops, coats and more dating from the 1920s to 1980s in the UK and around the world.
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The best vintage fashion dealers
If you're a vintage fashion lover, growing your collection has never been easier. Dealers have moved their offerings online and opened up digital stores to make sure customers from all over the world can scope out their wares – and you can get exactly what you're looking for, without having to think about schlepping across the country. If it's handbags you're after, take a look at our guide to buying vintage handbags at auction.
We've got a few suggestions of great online vintage fashion dealers and retailers for you below. Whether you're a digital nomad or a tech newbie, remember to check out our guide on how to buy antiques on Instagram before making any big purchases.
If you're a fashion lover, have a read of our list of the best fashion museums in the UK.
Anita started Clara’s Box during lockdown and now sells vintage fashion to international buyers, including costume designers, via her Insta account and Etsy shop. The pieces she sources and sells are predominantly 1900 to 1940s, and current stock includes a rare 1930s Ukrainian hand-embroidered smock dress (£400), a 1970s handmade Afghan kuchi dress (£125), and a 1920s gold lamé lace shoulder shrug (£150).
As well as a bricks-and-mortar shop at Red Brick Market in Liverpool, owner Kitty Ford has a fun and colourful Insta account and Etsy offering. You may have seen her wares at fairs such as Clerkenwell. Stock is all about glamour, so think along the lines of a peachy 1930s satin house dress, 1970s boho frock, and beautiful kimono robes.
Tallullah and Rose Vintage, Rye
Stylist Clare has a shop at Strand Quay Gallery in Rye, as well as online offerings. She sells daywear and eveningwear, including gowns, housecoats, blouses and kaftans. Her real-life store also features shoes and accessories such as handbags, gloves, and other bits and bobs.
Lost Orchid Vintage Store
Rifling through this Instagram and Etsy business will most likely end up with a purchase, as the pieces for sale are well priced and fit with the current trend for bold 60s and 70s patterns and prints, as well as the utility/workwear look we’re craving.
W Armstrong & Son, Edinburgh
An institution in Edinburgh, this vintage emporium has been trading in pre-loved clothing since 1840. The company’s four stores are dotted around the city, and you can connect with the goingson from afar, via social media.
Visit W Armstrong's website and Instagram
Lizzie May Vintage
Sisters Millie and Lottie sell nostalgic vintage clothing. They focus mainly on children’s clothes such as Laura Ashley sailor dresses and retro OshKosh dungarees, but will throw in the odd piece for grown-ups, too. It’s worth checking their Insta account for any gems they might post.
Visit on Instagram
Check out our round-up of the best antique and vintage accounts to follow on Instagram.
Plus! a few more stockists to consider
Appleby Vintage, 95 Westbourne Park Villas, London W2 (020 7229 7772); Circa Vintage, 64 Fulham High Street, London SW6 (020 7736 5038); Samaya Ling Vintage Collections, Bristol (0117 330 8200 / 07877 057082); Still, 61d Lancaster Road, London W11 (020 7243 2932); The Lacquer Chest (020 7938 2070); Clobber, 920 Christchurch Road, Bournemouth (01202 433330); Vintage Secret; The Real McCoy, 21 The Fore Street Centre, Exeter (01392 410481)
The best vintage fashion museums
The best books about vintage fashion
Shopping for Vintage: by Funmi Odulate (Quadrille Publications)
Styling Jo Barnes
Photographs Uli Schade
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