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How To: Vintage on a Budget

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Now, more than ever, money is tight. But that doesn’t have to mean a shopping embargo and spending all day in your sweats and old jeans.

It’s well known that true vintage, especially designer, pieces can be wildly, eye-wateringly expensive. Scrolling through some of the great vintage dealers on Instagram has become as appealing as “interiors-porn” or “food-porn”. And you can dream for hours about the perfect 1940s Lily-Ann suit or a delightful 1950s tulle confection, while still making vintage style, YOUR vintage style, work for you.

Vintage Stores

London is packed with vintage shops and smaller boutiques, often this can come with a bigger price-tag but it’s still great fun to visit and get to know the owners who may be able to help you find the right look, or let you know if they have something coming in that could suit you.

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If you enjoy a good rummage, some of the larger vintage stores such as Beyond Retro, Rokit and Brick Lane Vintage Market are great for spending a bit of time to find real bargains. Don’t dismiss the bargain bins either – if you’ve time and patience there can be some gems, especially if you’re up for a little remodelling or are looking for fabrics and prints to use for making and crafting. A 60s abstract print dress might not be in your size but could work wonderfully for head-scarfs!

Equally, its always good if you find yourself in a new town or new country to check out their vintage shopping, thrift stores, and markets. You never know what can be found and you almost certainly won’t see every other person at Goodwood Revival wearing it!

And there is always the charity shops. Charity and thrift stores have had a renaissance in the last few years, coming out from the shadow of their image as poky and dusty places that smell of mothballs and the stigma involved in shopping there. The drive for sustainable shopping has pushed charity shops right up to the forefront again as people seek to avoid fast fashion and textile waste. Traid in particular has been a driving force and their shops are huge and wonderful places to rummage

A well-known rule is also to visit those charity shops in smart areas, the more affluent the locality the better chance of finding quality items you might otherwise not be able to afford. Oxfam have upscaled some of their shops as "Oxfam Boutique" and even taken their business online.

Oxfam Warehouse - now online. (Getty Images)

Many older styles have been reborn in later decades, and often its as simple as changing up your accessories. Its amazing what a difference a jacket or cardigan, belt or scarf, or even a simple pair of shoulder pads can make! I recently acquired a 70s floral print empire line maxi dress which with a new sash, shawl and accessories, works perfectly for a Regency day-dress.

Adapting and Accessorizing

It helps of course if you’re handy with a sewing machine – or have a really good friend who is (and can be cajoled/bribed into helping) as professional tailors can be expensive. Small fixes though can be achieved easily, buttons replaced, darts added, hems adjusted. Even something a simple as a man’s shirt tucked into some high waisted slacks and add a row of pearls and bingo – you’re Lauren Bacall.

Of course, there is the LBD - the stalwart of any wardrobe. I have one that is a simple sheath, loose fitting and I have styled it from the 1920s to the 1970s, just by tinkering with the line and adding accessories.

And if you’ve used lockdown to Marie Kondo your own wardrobe – don’t dismiss your clear out items quite yet – have a look for things that can be adapted, cut down, or the fabric used for other things.

My Faithful LBD - a veteran of much re-styling!

Vintage Fairs

Vintage Fairs can be tremendous fun, an opportunity to go all out with the dressing up and to meet dealers - sometimes even with live entertainment! During lockdown many of these events so far have been cancelled but organisers have been moving online and are holding timed online vintage fairs through Instagram and Facebook. I recommend Pop Up Vintage Fairs, already an established fair and have done great work in encouraging the market to adapt.

Reproduction Vintage

The average modern woman is roughly about 3 inches taller, and 3-4 sizes larger than their 1950s counterparts – which means that at that time, a UK size 12 was considered “stout”, and very few original outfits actually fit anyone.

The joy of reproduction is that it is made in a greater range of sizes, and you don’t have to panic about spilling anything on something that’s practically irreplaceable.

It’s a great idea to have a stock of staple items that can be adapted in different ways. For instance, a pastel coloured or cream blouse, a couple of stiff petticoats, a plain coloured shirt-waist dress, some slacks and some belts. Belts are SO useful.

There are many great reproduction vintage companies at the moment but I have broken down four key players for you:

Dolly & Dotty

Mostly known for 1950s and rockabilly styles along with modern styles for the price conscious, especially good discounts and sales.

Size Range: UK 6-26,

Price Range: Low – Mid

Example: Tea Dresses for approximately £10.00- £30.00

Pretty Kitty

Known for huge variety of dresses and retro/modern prints.

Size Range: UK 8-26 (in some styles)

Price Range: Mid

Example: Tea Dresses for approximately £30.00- £60.00

House of Foxy

Famous for great quality tailored dresses from 1930s-50s

Size Range: UK 8-18

Price Range: Mid - High

Example: Tea Dresses for approximately £50.00- £140.00

Vivien of Holloway

Well established and famous for great quality 40s and 50s dresses, knitwear and tailoring from original patterns and signature prints

Size Range: UK 8-24

Price Range: Mid - High

Example: Tea Dresses for approximately £120 - £150

Pop Up Vintage Fairs

Online Sources

Ebay and Etsy are those global marketplaces where you can get everything and anything. It takes time and effort and you cannot always guarantee the accuracy of what you get but some real bargains can still be found.

Instagram is fast becoming an amazing resource. Try following small companies who trade in true vintage or even make reproductions themselves. Not only are you helping small companies get a leg up but sometimes these new designs are extremely limited so you could be the only one wearing it at a vintage event. Depending on the designer or maker you might even be able to request bespoke modifications.

Effortless Lauren Bacall

Many small dealers promote heavily through Instagram and Facebook and there are often tremendous bargains to be found while they are trying to build their client base.

It’s also a great place to find inspiration, style advice, tutorials and some of that great “shopping-porn” to while away the lockdown hours.

Half of the joy of dressing vintage and shopping sustainably is about individuality – finding your own style among a genre that means something to you; and half the fun is sometimes all the research, hunting and making, knowing that this piece is all about you and your love of your vintage style.

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