There’s something about summer months that make us want to comb through vintage stalls in outdoor markets and roadtrip to estate sales. Though we’re not quite there yet, temperature-wise, the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show is in town. At the renowned shopping event — which draws celebrities such as the Olsens and Scarlett Johansson, and designers like Donna Karan and Phillip Lim — more than 90 exhibitors from all over the world set up booths showcasing their best finds from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
And because racks filled with varying eras, styles and colors can be overwhelming, we asked show organizer and vintage expert David Ornstein, along with Patti Bordoni, from Amarcord Vintage Fashion, for their tips on scoring one-of-a-kind treasures.
Try things on:
“The first thing when you are fresh to the vintage shopping scene is to be open to trying on several silhouettes and eras until you find the styles that best suit your figure and personal aesthetic,” says Bordoni.
Ornstein adds, “In the 1940s, things were very tailored and fit certain bodies better. In the 1930s, clothing was cut on the bias, and the ’50s are the beginning of very practical clothing. You’re getting into worldwide manufacturing, and it’s probably the heyday of the best quality of ready-to-wear.”
Start at the source
“Estate sales are always great places to look,” says Ornstein. “Most vintage clothing dealers buy their clothing at the source — that means out of the house from the people that originally owned them. There are sites online such as www.estatesales.net that tell people where those sales are.” But if you’re thinking of hitting up estate sales, be prepared to skip brunch. “With vintage, everything is one-of-a kind, so if you’re serious, get online early,” says Ornstein. Another online source he recommends is www.vintagefashionguild.com
“Vintage clothing is made from better materials than today. We’re looking at silks, wool and cotton,” says Ornstein. “Look for construction clues like hand sewing, metal zippers, covered buttons and silk linings — those are all good indicators of finer-quality vintage.” Bordoni says examining pieces will also help you identify a fake. “Nowadays fakes are often accompanied with authenticity cards, so we can’t rely on that,” she says. “I would also suggest asking questions to the seller about where the product was sourced to get a better idea.”
“When people go to buy clothing — whether it’s Bloomingdale’s or Barneys or Century 21 — what’s being sold is a pretty narrow range of things,” explains Ornstein. “All the millions of people who are trying to find their own tastes and likes are having to chose from a very finite range of items. When you come to a vintage store, you’re exposed to the entire range of fashion styles, and that way people can find out who they are and what they like.” It’s also a great way to get on-trend items for less. “If you look at the runway shows this past season, you see gigantic geometrics, broad stripes, and all these things have been in vintage for the past 100 years,” he says.
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Ornstein and Bordoni tell us what’s popular in vintage right now.
• Print on print.
“I am seeing a lots of quirky printed sets this season,” says Bordoni.
• Costume jewelry.
“I almost believe we’re reaching the end of very big jewelry,” says Ornstein. “What the market is moving towards is multiple strands of thinner, less decorated things.”
• Oversized seamless jackets
• ’60s A-line dresses
• Chanel and Alaia
“I think, in the long run, what’s going to give Chanel a run for its money is the Alexander McQueen stuff.” Ornstein
On a budget?
Ornstein’s picks for budget- friendly booths at the Manhattan Vintage show:
• The Ginkgo Tree
• Tangerine Boutique
• Karen McWharter
• Pamela Hartung
• Connie Schwab