The Grown-Ass Woman's Guide to: Vintage Clothes

You’re a grown-ass woman. You have things to do, places to be, and aspirations of one day finally being captured on a “street style” blog. What if it was The Sartorialist, can you even imagine? Maybe you dislike the 0:0 flattering-to-quality ratio of Urban Outfitters’ offerings. Maybe you have a body shape that doesn’t quiver with anticipation at the thought of leatherette jeggings, or maybe you just like to buy cheaper, recycled clothes from small businesses. The point is, you’re int-y vint-y. Yep, that’s the exact right phrase for this situation, so turn back now if you’re not int-y the way I wrote that.

Those remaining (hi mom!) are probably with me on my feelings about vintage clothes. Which are: yes please forever. There might be a few stragglers who are buy-curious (tm Arrested Development, 2003-2006 RIP), looking to delve into the world of pre-owned threads but not looking to wander about the streets like a lost extra from West Side Story. Well, whoever you are, I’m about to throw some tips your way that will have you rocking out with your New Look frock out in no time. On y va. 

Know your limit, play within it

Skinnies: head to the late 60s, 70s, 20s, and 90s. Bigbutts: the 40s, 50s, early 60s, and parts of the 80s and 30s are all yours. There are obviously exceptions to these rules, and I hope no one takes offense to this, but if someone had sat me down in my late teens and given me a good talking to about how flow-y bohemian 70s stuff was not something that would ever work with the amount of junk in my various trunks, it would have saved us all a lot of time and button-down closure problems. BRB, buying a high-waisted 1980-sy leather skirt and looking incredible in it. 

This ain’t the haggle-free clinic

It’s hard to do and feels kind of embarrassing, but the owners of vintage shops are open to discussion re: their prices. If you’re buying three blouses at $25 each, there’s no harm in trying to talk them down to $60 for all three. The worst they can do is say no, and you can choose whether or not to buy the items at the full listed price. “How DARE you try to bargain with a price I assigned to this curated collection of second-hand clothing! GET OUT OF MY SHOP, you will never buy high-waisted Levi’s in this town again!” – no storeowner, ever. 

Resist the urge. You know the one. 

If you are even remotely curvy you will be tempted, immediately, to go full Holloway. Those of lither bods may attempt a head-to-toe Hepburn, and that is also probably a no-go. It takes a lot of work to execute a successful sartorial imitation of another time. We’re talking old-style hair setting, support garments that look like iron maidens, very specific shoes, a dainty yet practical golden pen necklace… okay, I’m still daydreaming about the full Holls. This kind of thing is best reserved for special occasions though, as 100% 1940s nurse is a look better left to the impossibly cool chicks who own vintage stores and probably live on a boat that has a pottery studio in it. “My boyfriend is a sculptor.” – those girls.

Tinker, Tailor, Tailor, Tailor

You probably don’t want to wear foundation garments from the 60s. The Victorian blouse you found might have a few weird age spots on it. A 1940s skirt that you love might have a slightly too-frumpy length. In vintage, as in life, few things are perfect. When you do find the perfect thing, it is amazing because it’s like someone from the past has made a garment with your future-body in mind, and you will feel like a beautiful model with the perfect proportions, so get excited for that moment. Until then, don’t be afraid to take things into a tailor—or a friend with sewing skillz—and hem, dart, let out, take in, etc. as required. This can also help modernize the look of certain garments, while still giving you the uniqueness, quality craftsmanship, or old-world style you were looking for in the first place. 

Accept a few realities

There was something weird about mid-century shoulders, in that they were all smaller than mine. Ribcages too. See also: feet. A pattern is emerging. People were smaller in the past, that’s just how it is. Have you ever seen a medieval knight’s coffin? They’re like four feet long. Not that you’re interested in buying medieval armour, but 1) you never know, and 2) I’m just trying to make a point here, sacré bleu. If you’re very tall, or have big feet, or bones, or whatever, you’re bigger than the munchkin-women of the past. Plus they wore corsets and funny bras and all kinds of things that we have burned for feminism. Good riddance to those things, but bad rubbish to trying to squeeze your regular-size waist into something meant for a be-girdled woman of yore. It might be more of a time commitment to find things that fit and flatter your shape if you are above a size 8 or taller than 5’7, but keep looking, it’s out there. Or, buy bigger and see the above tip. 

Assess your accessories

Maybe you don’t want to commit to a full second-hand outfit. Pick up a cool hat. Try out brooches. Actually, don’t. I am kind of trying out brooches as “my thing” right now, and it’s going pretty well, please don’t ruin this for me. Try out fun scarves maybe! You can tie them in your hair so many different ways, or around your neck if you can pull off jaunty without looking like a dumbo. Some people can! Believe in yourself! Or buy a sickeningly cool vintage purse and call it a night. Statement vintage is like fashion training wheels. On your bike, ladies. 

Goddamn you, Zooey Deschanel

You make me feel wholly unoriginal in my fashion and make up wants, and yet you also look very, very good 99.9% of the time. CAN IT, ZANE(ey Deschanel). This point on the list is mainly about just wearing what you want regardless of whether or not it is widely popular, or other people think it’s weird, or you look like a living, breathing version of the Pinterest made by a girl in Texas who you find annoying but cannot stop creeping. Do you, dress you how you want and try to feel good about it.  

Good luck guys! Happy hunting! Also, no product placement-o, but Pretty Freedom in Toronto is so affordable and their Facebook is so charming, and they sell vintage clothes at reasonable prices, so I think you see what I’m getting at. #heyPFgivemeadiscountalready #journalism 

~Monica Heisey

Want some grown-ass advice? Tweet @monicaheisey with suggestions for future guide topics!

Read more of Monica’s Grown-Ass Woman guides on how to have a long-distance relationshipsounding smart at cocktail parties, and packing to disappear.

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