These days there are a lot of old clothing items that sellers label as vintage, and this is partially because there isn’t really a classic definition of the term – so what should you look for?, plus news on Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A.
I once visited a shop that sold a variety of vintage items. Something in the window had caught my eye and I went in to explore further. As well as having lots of interesting retro pieces, the shop specialised in selling vintage clothing. But what impressed me most about the place wasn’t the pottery, glass and silver, it was the women who worked there. They were all dressed in fabulous vintage clothes – flapper outfits, wartime apparel, 60s miniskirts – and they all looked amazing. Shopping there was like stepping back in time. I began to see the appeal in both collecting and wearing fashions from times gone by. Fun to collect and to wear – and, of course, some items can be extremely valuable.
So when buying vintage clothing what should you look out for? These days, there are a lot of old clothing items that sellers label as vintage, and this is partially because there isn’t really a classic definition of the term.
Many collectors consider anything older than 100 years to be ‘antique’ and items newer than 20 years to be ‘used clothing’. Ultimately, you’ll need to define the term for yourself and your collection. However, whatever era you are interested in, the condition of garments is extremely important – especially if you’re planning to wear the item. And for most collectors, the garment also needs to be as close as possible to its original condition – the most valuable pieces not having been altered to change their style or shape.
Whether you’re planning on wearing or displaying your items, quality construction and creative design are important, but remember, too, that sizing has changed significantly over the years which means you can’t shop by size and expect a piece to fit you properly. If shopping online, only consider pieces that have been measured flat.
Charity shops, flea markets and online auctions are rich hunting grounds and you can also visit textile and fashion museums to see beautiful examples for yourself. But the most important thing, as with all vintage and antique collecting, is to buy what you love.
Celebrating a style icon
London’s V&A Museum launches a major retrospective exhibition this month celebrating the fashion of Dame Mary Quant and exploring the years between 1955-1975, when she and her husband Alexander Plunket Greene (APG), together with their friend Archie McNair, opened their first shop, Bazaar on the King’s Road in Chelsea.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is a collection of some 120 Quant-designed garments, including some pieces lent to the museum by the public, as well as photos, sketches and cosmetics, many of which have never been publicly displayed before.
Mary Quant revolutionised the high street, harnessing the youthful spirit of the 60s and mass production techniques to create a new look for women. She personified the energy and fun of swinging London and was a powerful role model for the working woman. Challenging conventions, she popularised the miniskirt, colourful tights and tailored trousers – encouraging a new age of feminism. Inspiring young women to rebel against the traditional dress style of their mothers and grandmothers, Quant’s tiny boutique grew into a wholesale brand available in department stores across the UK.
Her success soon hit America, where her designs were made for chain stores and mail order companies.
Quant quickly became the woman that made fashion less exclusive and more accessible to a new generation. Ahead of her time in marketing and promotion, she was the embodiment of the label.
Her distinctive, photogenic style, playful energy and revolutionary approach made her the ultimate.
Image: Satin mini-dress and shorts by Mary Quant, photograph by Duffy, 1966 © Duffy Archive