When I was posting a photo on my Instagram recently, I realised I still hadn’t written a post on how I approach buying secondhand/ vintage, which I thought might be useful for those less obsessive to searching for secondhand treasures than I am.
While this will be a general guide focusing on women’s fashion (which you know does not have to just be for women – wear what you want!), as that is generally the area I tend to focus on; I will try to make this post as inclusive to different sizes as much as possible. I also think a lot of the points in this post are relevant for most people!
In regards to being inclusive to different sizes, I am generally going to focus on plus sized fashion as a point in this post. Although, finding good fitting clothes at any size is difficult, it can feel especially intimidating buying vintage as someone plus sized as the general rhetoric is that everyone was smaller in the past (which was not always the case). It’s for the reason I’ve pulled together some specific tips for plus sized vintage lovers.
But first some general tips.
Know your measurements – you don’t need to know the distance from your elbow to your wrist but generally knowing your bust, waist and hips measurement is useful. Leg length can be useful as well, which you should have encountered jean shopping before, especially if you are part of my petite brethren who need a 28inch leg or smaller.
I tend to focus on my waist measurement when looking for clothes as I tend to go for a silhouette that is looser everyone else but there. I think knowing these measurements are especially important on sites like Ebay for example, as some people may classify what they regard as a size 10 for example different to you, and can lead to things either fitting you when you might have disregarded them or an ill fitting purchase.
If you don’t have a tape measure handy, a general rule is that a size 6 is a 24/ 25 inch waist, size 8 a 26 inch waist, size 10 a 28 inch waist, size 12 a 30 inch waist, size 14 a 32 inch waist, and it carries on as such in 2 inch increments. However, not everyone will fit this blueprint – everyone’s body is different!
Another top tip is to measure a piece of clothing you think fits you very well and use that as a guide.
Tops tips for plus sized women – if you’re looking for vintage fashion, the 80s and 90s is great for plus sized women and when I look for clothes in that decade, I often see larger sizes represented. However, that does not mean you should discount other decades, as although rarer, there are pieces in other decades such as the 50s and 60s that will work (especially if you know your measurements!), you just have to dig a little more.
Charity shops tend to be more size inclusive because they rely on donations and they are definitely on of the places I have seen the largest size selection.
If you’re a size that is not well represented, looking for your favourite brands on Ebay is a good start, I know that Killstar (if you’re into a gothic look) caters for a variety of sizes and Lazy Oaf because of some of their cuts can work for plus sized women (though beware of price bump ups for some pieces as their larger sizes usually sell out fast).
I’d also check out vintage fashion bloggers who are plus sized, as although, I’ve included this information based on what I’ve personally seen, I’m not plus sized and someone who is will be able to advise much better than me.
The blogger Vintage Voluptuous has done some great posts on vintage fashion and has even done vintage plus size Etsy roundups. Her blog is so easy to follow and all her outfits are flawless – she’s definitely worth checking out.
Another great blog I found when researching this piece was Something Definitely Happened who crafts some ‘Practically Perfect’ looks (you’ll get it when you see her Mary Poppins look).
Although, both these blogs aren’t exclusively focused on vintage but reproduction items as well; they are great not only in terms of inspiration and creativity but also if you like a brand that they mention that caters to your size, you can look out for them on Ebay and Depop!
I wasn’t able to find any plus sized bloggers who focus on sustainable fashion (doesn’t mean they don’t exist – google can only do so much!), however I did find a list of sustainable fashion companies that cater to plus sized women, as well as ethical brands, as I have noticed that ethical and sustainable companies usually tend to have a limited sizing run.
My first Ebay tip is to set up buying alerts for the items you are looking for. It saves you trawling the site every week and hopefully will guarantee you first dibs on the item. I really wish Depop had this feature (please correct me if I’m wrong about that but as far as I see it does not). I currently have two alerts set up for a rare pair of Irregular Choice (Petal Fever – in green of course – there’s currently a blue pair up in my size but I want the green!) and a vintage pair of Dr Martens.
The second tip involves knowing where to begin if you are not looking for a particular item but want to be inspired (/ replicate that ‘looking through a website for clothes’ feeling). My tip here is to look for brands that you usually like a lot of the pieces for, for example I generally like a lot of the items in Urban Outfitters and Zara but I am not willing to pay their prices (especially Urban Outfitters) and would rather buy second hand and help the planet out. I would even suggest looking for pieces you’ve seen in store (this is especially useful if you’ve tried the piece on in store and know your size) and searching for the piece (this is a useful tip for platforms like Depop too). I’ve found this is a really great way to get something new and stop the culture of a piece sitting in someone else’s wardrobe who’s bought it and changed their mind.
Ebay can also be great for some vintage fashion details but make sure you carefully read the description as you won’t get the opportunity to try it on like a vintage shop. A lot of the times, items may need some DIY, which can be difficult to judge whether it’s a big job or not without seeing the item so be careful unless you are a master seamstress.
However, I’ve found some lovely vintage 90s gems on Ebay in great condition, as well as some great pieces from Urban Outfitters and Zara.
1st image: Dungarees originally from Zara. Bought on Ebay.
2nd image: Dress originally from Urban Outfitters. Bought on Ebay.
Although, I love Depop, I’d also like to start with a word of caution as it isn’t for everyone. Depop can be more tricky as both a buyer and seller, as it can be harder to communicate (you are not allowed to send images as a private message, which I understand is useful to stop harassment but can be frustrating). I’ve also had issues with sellers not sending me an item, though I successfully got my money back through a Paypal claim but it wasn’t a short process. As a seller, it can be frustrating when you receive what I would describe as incredibly cheeky offers for items to the point where you’d be losing money selling the item to someone.
My advice to combat this is as a buyer always check feedback, make sensible offers and always read a seller’s profile details. As a seller, one thing that helped me is don’t feel like you have to respond to low offers. Also, buyers please be polite in your messages, sending ‘lowest?’ with nothing else does not make me inclined to want to offer you a good deal.
I have got some great deals on Depop though from my vegan Dr Martens to my Lucy and Yak dungarees (though I keep missing the denim dungarees when they come up on their Depop – I think I’m cursed!).
There are though some great sellers on Depop who source some truly stunning vintage pieces. My favourites are Worthless Vintage (where I got the trousers seen below and the necklace in the picture above), sisters Mathilda Mai and Liberty Mai (who now have a website called MaiBee) and Earth Nadia. People with Instagram followings also tend to sell their items on there so if there is a fashion blogger you like, it’s definitely worth checking out if they have a Depop – one of my favourites is Babyricecake.
If you like a seller’s style, it’s also worth checking out their likes on their profile for more sellers who probably have a similar style to follow.
I think Depop can also be a great place to source items from America if you’re from the UK while avoiding custom fees, etc.
In regards to searching for items, Depop can be a scary place to begin if you’re not looking for specific items. I would suggest looking up what Depop sellers are popular and following ones that suit your personal style, as well as like my advice with Ebay looking for brands you particular like – this is especially useful for more niche brands like Lazy Oaf and Killstar, as people who sell those items in my experience tend to sell lots of similar items from the same brand and others.
1st and 2nd image: Trousers from Worthless Vintage on Depop!
For me, modern day vintage shops can be divided into two types. The more trendy, usually 80s and 90s focused (though fashion from other decades can be present), often reworked vintage shops and the classic shops, which focus on pristine pieces, usually from the 1970s and earlier. Of course there are shops that mesh between these two types but for me broadly most vintage shops are either one or other. The newer shops tend to fit the first category.
The reason these categories are important is because depending what vintage style you are after will depend what shop you want to go to. If you are interested in a fairly authentic vintage look and bespoke pieces, the second option is probably your best bet, but if you’re interested in blending in vintage pieces with modern pieces the first type is probably what you’d prefer.
Due to the fact that the first type of shop tends to have more recent or reworked pieces, they tend to have a larger size selection (this is also because they tend to have a larger amount of stock).
There’s not much advice I can give about shopping in brick and mortar vintage shops as they will be dependent on your area, except for know your measurements and bring a tape measure handy (this is especially useful if you struggle to estimate the size of clothing). This also helps if you have to take a gamble because the vintage shop doesn’t have a changing room (rare but it does happen) or you don’t feel comfortable trying it on and want to wing it (it depends where you go but sometimes the changing rooms can be a bit makeshift).
The best places I’ve been to for vintage shopping (both in vintage shops and the charity shops there) have been Nottingham and Sheffield. I do of course love London, especially Brick Lane but it tends to be more expensive. If you are ever in St Albans I’d recommend Little Viking Vintage, who I’ve wrote about before. You can also check out their Etsy, which often lists the crème de la crème of their stock.
Brick and mortar shops can sometimes be more expensive than online (it really depends) but you do have the added bonus of the option of avoiding guessing whether something is going to fit/ suit you.
Another thing to pay attention for if you’re not as well versed in vintage is that some vintage shops also sell vintage style clothing, which is often sourced from fast fashion sources. The Ethical Unicorn has a great post on what to look out for here.
1st image: Vintage Pendleton coat from House of Vintage.
A lot of people are cautious of charity shops. I get it, they can be overwhelming and often filled with things that most people wouldn’t be interested in. However, they are definitely worth a look whether you’re interested in a vintage or modern look – I’ve seen plenty of dresses from Asos and Pretty Little Thing fill charity shop rails nowadays (especially as people are more conscious about where their unused clothing goes to).
When I’m in charity shops I tend to hunt for vintage and I’ve definitely found some gems from a beautiful green velvet blouse from Marks and Spencer’s old St Michaels range to numerous Laura Ashley dresses.
That does not mean though that I don’t sometimes have no idea where to start. The way I’ve combatted this is either through going in with a particular goal in mind, i.e. I’m looking for a pink coat or starting by just focusing on each individual section – I tend to always go straight to dresses.
A lot of charity shops have also clued into the fact that there’s been a switch around of opinion on charity shops and have seriously upgraded how they present items (so much that a charity shop I know in Lincoln even has a waitlist for items that appear on its mannequin) and will often have a ‘vintage’ section (this is usually a mixture of actual vintage clothing and clothing with a vintage twist – i.e. rockabilly dresses). This has meant though that the prices in charity shops have increased and I’ve witnessed many a item priced high enough to no longer be called a bargain, however, 90% of the time items you will find will be much cheaper than the standard high street fair (apart from maybe stores like Primark).
1st images: Vintage St Michaels by Marks and Spencer blouse, bought from a charity shop.
2nd image: Vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle boots and Topshop dress, both bought from a charity shop.
You’re out vintage shopping or you’re browsing in the charity shop and you spot the perfect item but then you find it has a small hole and the zip is broken. What do you do? Well, if you have sewing know how the answer is probably simple but for those of us who are uninitiated or simply ridiculously bad at DIY, what do you do?
First, check the item’s price reflects the damage. If it doesn’t and you’re feeling brave, mention the issue to the shop manager, explaining that it will cost you to fix the issue. If you manage to successfully negotiate a price you’re happy with, I’d say go for it. Well, that of course depends on what the issue is. I recently encountered a dress that I LOVED but the zipper would not budge no matter how hard I tugged. I managed to get some money off the dress and have since took the dress to be fixed. In total, the dress cost me £6 (I think) discounted, £1.50 for the zip and £16 for a seamstress to fit the new dress. Overall, that brings the total to £23.50, which although might seem a bit steep at first, is about the price that a lot of people would spend on a dress for a night out.*
While, that was a success story*, I would say do not go for the repair if it is past your skill level or know how. I recently fell in love with a green, 1950s lace dress while vintage shopping but it had noticeable discolouration all down the dress. While the dress was priced accordingly, as it was a branded dress in good condition other than the discolouration, it was more than I was willing to pay for a faded dress that I didn’t know whether I would be able to fix.
Essentially, use what knowledge you have to determine whether something is worth a DIY. Remember simple dye jobs can be quite easy (washing machine dye is your friend) and can transform a item, as well as a simple cropping of a top, but stay within your skill level (and outsource when necessary) otherwise that item will just be sitting in your wardrobe!
*Update: Due to the zip issue I wasn’t able to properly try the dress on and it fits on the waist but is way too tight on the hips – you win some, you lose some!
I have a confession. I have not bought any clothing from Etsy in a long time. I tend to use Etsy to buy items from independent artists, however there are some stunning vintage shops on there as well and I do have a few favourites I love to follow.
If you’re a 50s/ 60s queen I’d check out Sartorial Matters‘ shop – the pieces are usually very Chuck’s style in Pushing Daisies!
For sweet vintage pieces (that are usually Laura Ashley!) I’d recommend Duel at Dawn who also sells lots of adorable brooches.
For quirky accessories but also occasionally cute, alternative vintage pieces I’d recommend checking out KawaiiKave.
My top tip for Etsy is to make sure to set your shipping destination when searching, if you’d like to avoid costly international shipping costs.
My general rule is I try to only buy new if I’ve exhausted looking for the item on the above list. I have slipped up on this a few times but compared to my spending habits before it’s a complete turn around. I will admit I was concerned about writing fashion posts where people couldn’t easily get the items if they liked it but the response I have had has been great!
I’d also suggest if you do need to buy something new and can afford it looking to companies that provide a living wage to their workers. Some of my favourites include Lucy and Yak and I love the ethos and transparency of Maison Cléo – if you’d like a future blog post on that, let me know!
April (April is the Cruellest Month)
This post is entirely my own opinion.
I’m on a journey to make my wardrobe more ethical and sustainable (luckily a lot of what I buy is vintage which helps) but I’m not all the way there yet so the clothes I mention will reflect this.