Vintage Dressing and Spotting Quality Clothing

I was never really interested in vintage clothing. I look through my parents’ photo albums and usually laugh my head off at what my parents wore in the 70s and 80s. What was with the crazy colour palettes?  I’d gag at the mustard, orange and avocado green so prevalent in the 70s, the overwhelmingly ugly patterns and reams of rayon and polyester. No thanks. Couple that with the musty smell of thrift shops…I just couldn’t get into vintage.

70s girls

Blue Lagoon cocktail and ketchup and mustard chic.

Over the past several years though, I have noticed a real nosedive in the quality of clothing made today. A lot of clothing doesn’t wash well anymore, silk blouses are usually thin and see-through, and I can’t remember the last time I bought a sweater that didn’t pill – no matter the cost. It’s pretty frustrating.  Don’t get me started on designer handbags either.  There are a few culprits out there selling purses for a mint, but the quality is utterly lacking.

I recently read an interesting article on the quality of current clothing and how more and more people are turning to vintage options as the quality of bygone eras is far superior. Also, vintage offers an array of unique options to help you stand out from the throngs of the H&M clad.

Now, let’s look at what actually constitutes “vintage”. Vintage clothing are pieces from an era that are still in good condition – usually manufactured from the 1920s to 20 years before the present year. There are no steadfast rules on age though – some consider 90s clothing vintage, although I’d hardly classify a white baby tee paired with Gap khakis as “vintage”.  Thrift items are usually used clothing items sold for charitable purposes.  Most thrift items aren’t particularly special and the condition can be poor.

Good quality vintage items are gems and should be embraced! Here are some tell tale signs of both vintage and well-made clothing:

Metal Zippers
Metal zippers are sturdier, therefore lasting much longer than your average plastic zippers. Plastic zippers tend to be harder to zip and stay zipped, go off track more often (ahem…Zara) and wear out quickly.

Spare Buttons
Spare buttons are a sign that the designer expects the piece to last, and would only require a minor repair such as a button replacement. If you also are supplied with extra thread with a newly purchased item, signs are it’s good quality.

Natural Fibres
Try to buy pieces made of natural fibres such as cotton, wool, silk and linen. Synthetic fabrics tend to pill and could require extra special care such as dry cleaning. Sweaters made with a blend of natural and synthetic fibres pill more often and stretch out quickly.

Hideous sweater pilling.  GAH!!

Hideous sweater pilling. GAH!!

Look at a garment’s stitching. If you see any signs of unravelling, missed/loose stitches, snags or crooked lines, keep on walking. Also, tug gently at fabric on either side of a seam. If you see any gaps, leave it.

Cheap brands cut corners by using as little fabric as possible, resulting in too-short sleeves and pant legs, less room through the shoulders of a garment (ahem…Topshop), uncomfortably short pant inseams (ahem..Zara…again), and poor drape.

With quality-made items, fabric patterns must match up at the seams. Mismatched seams scream out on bold patterns such as plaid and stripes – a classic sign of poor construction.

Buttons and Button Holes
Button holes should have no loose threads, sloppy stitching or other defects such as being too small. Look at the buttons too. Do they look well-made? Are they sewn on sturdily?

Do seams lay flat or do they pucker? Turn the garment inside out. Are the seams unfinished or serged? Unfinished seams are another sign of poor quality. Serged seams secure the fabric from fraying. If you find a silk blouse with French seams, flat-felled seams or bound seams, you’ve hit the jackpot!  They are few and far between these days.

Clockwise from top: bound seam, serge seam, French seam, another French seam

Clockwise from top: bound seam, serged seam, French seam with pinked edges, another French seam

The lovely Andrea and Katie rocking their vintage coats!!

The lovely Andrea and Katie rocking their vintage coats!!

At the moment, I don’t have much access to vintage items other than those online, but this is a plus. Reputable online dealers do all the work for you, sourcing items that are in good condition and presenting them well on their sites. Some of my favourite sites are Maeven and Decades ($$$$). I’m currently on the hunt for designer pieces (designer quality, not-so-designer price), vintage fur (nice, sustainable option) and evening clutches. I am also on the hunt for cashmere sweaters and silk blouses. Vintage cashmere is much, much better. They tend to be thicker (heavier gauge, double-ply), softer and don’t pill or stretch out. Have you noticed anything about new silk blouses? A lot of them now are made of silk crêpe – which is nice – but ultra delicate and thin. Older silk is thick, heavy and luxurious. No need to wear anything underneath because it isn’t see through. I miss that.

I just scored a 35-year-old Coach bag on eBay. I AM OBSESSED. It’s a Station bag in black. I was stunned when it arrived. It’s in almost perfect condition (a few knicks in the brass hardware). The leather is fantastic, not a popped stitch anywhere, no fading or discolouration. What a score at $35! Of note, most vintage Louis Vuitton bags are lined in leather, not the – I’m sorry – cheap twill that they use now. Something to think about…

Some of my favourite vintage fashion pics courtesy of Vintage Black Glamour:


What are some of your favourite vintage finds? Any vintage shopping tips that you would like to share? I’d love to get your input!


Leave a comment

  1. March 2, 2015 / 5:17 pm

    I love these vintage looks and thanks so much for the clarification. At times it baffles me as to why when someone bought a piece of “thrift” clothing, they consider it “vintage”, now with these signs I can better identify good quality vintage items. This is such a great post, very informative.

    • March 2, 2015 / 5:46 pm

      Thanks so much, Style-Lee. I really enjoyed writing this post. If you are in NYC, you have some of the best vintage shops at your disposal! Yeah – I consider “thrift” as just used clothing, in any condition, and not very special (but that can be in the eye of the beholder). Take care!

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