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I have a deep and emotional connection to thrifting.
I was raised distinctly suburbanite, settled snugly between row homes and Dairy Queens. I wore uniforms to school my whole life, and bought each class portrait, school dance and birthday party ensemble at JC Penney’s because my mom had a rewards card.
In high school, I started doing a lot of theater stuff but frankly, wasn’t that great. I got involved on the costume side of the biz, and when I entered college I worked in the university’s costume shop organizing the extensive closet of handmade and vintage pieces as well as learning more about sewing and clothing construction, a skill set I had learned from my mother, a rad seamstress.
I started caring more and more about vintage shopping. I’ve never had a lot of money for clothes, but with vintage, it isn’t even always about owning things. It’s about finding them and learning. The small town where I went to college had super limited thrifting resources, so I turned to Etsy.
Vintage shopping on Etsy is intimidating because it’s, like, 50% awful-looking late 90s polyester column dresses and ambiguously labeled “ETHNIC PATTERNED” sweaters and 50% impeccable, perfect items styled well on beautiful thin, cool women of Tumblr and creepily lifelike mannequins.
You’re either gonna sigh sadly and click on back over to that Missoni flash sale on Gilt or you’re gonna whip out your credit card and blow your budget on shit you never wanted and might never wear but will occasionally slip into conversations where it might seem even vaguely appropriate to mention the fact that you own not one but TWO pairs of vintage floral-print elastic waist culottes. This is a great way to make friends, but not the best way to spend money.
So let’s talk about conquering the world of Etsy and getting you that vintage wardrobe of your cool friend’s dreams. (Everyone knows fashion is a competition. Bring your game faces and maybe some Gatorade or vodka, up to you.)
Know Your Measurements
Women’s sizing standards were developed using chest measurements and assuming women’s bodies were proportional. Since the hourglass figure has, pretty much, remained the ideal figure for so long, this was how clothes were generally designed even though, as we all know, MOST women aren’t shaped like pretty and smooth hourglasses. (No shame if you ARE. Just envy, really.)
Rather than measuring your body, take the measurements of clothing you already have that falls in a way you like. This will be a more reliable way of finding out what sizes you should be looking for on Etsy.
Know What You Want and What You Like
The easiest way to spend all your money all at once and spend the next week sneaking more than your fair share of the office oatmeal supply is to shop without a game plan. Wait, I take that back. That’s the second easiest way. The actually easiest way is to get drunk and shop online, which you should never, ever, ever do, kids.
But with vintage shopping on the big Internet, try and have some sort of game plan. Maybe you want some vintage duds you can wear to work, or some nice dresses for upcoming wedding season. Maybe you want slutty 90s clubwear. Just think about what you want.
Also, you probably have a certain era you prefer. A lot of women love the silhouettes of the 50s and 60s, while others might prefer 70s or 80s. I prefer not to pigeonhole myself to one era of style, lest my wardrobe become too costumey for my taste.
Do Some Research
Wearing vintage is cool because your clothes have a story. In general I’m disgustingly snarky and I received my MFA in Eye Rolling from Liz Lemon University when it comes to the word “trend,” but exploring vintage clothes is a cool way to learn more about why and how trends actually happen in style.
Remember Miranda Priestley’s speech about fashion’s trickle down effect? It’s real! When we think of fashion trends, we only tend to think about certain styles when they were worn by the biggest part of the generation, but it’s cool to see when those things were actually “invented” and how long it took to reach mass markets. Like the A-line dresses we associate with Twiggy and the 60 are actually a one-off of the silhouettes Yves Saint Laurent was producing in the late 50s which were inspired by Dior’s designs of the early 50s, a slightly different form from the A-Line we think of today.
Even if you’ve no desire to wear designer clothes, it’s interesting to learn the histories of their houses. Many American designers were only able to gain footing in the American fashion scene while Paris was under Nazi Occupation. With this shift, American fashion got really simple (read: boring) for a while because of strict regulations on garment production because of wartime and it wasn’t until Dior sashayed across the pond that fashion got weird again, thanks to his “New Look” line.
I learned a lot about these trends and histories working in the costume closet, because we had to know when costuming a show so we could make it as accurate as possible. This is also useful when shopping on Etsy because, while I do like to think every seller on the site is as honest and virtuous as myself, it is useful to know when someone’s trying to scam you into thinking that dress is an authentic Jazz Age flapper gown because you’ll know zippers weren’t adapted by the fashion industry until the late thirties, and even then were used mostly on men’s work clothes and children’s apparel for another 20 years.
Get to Know the Sellers
Just like you’d want to be on good terms with your hairstylist or the guy who sells you weed, Etsy sellers can make for very useful friends. If there’s a certain shop you find yourself frequenting, feel free to send the owner a message commending their work.
Also, if you’re looking for something very specific, like a 1950s navy blue brocade party dress, and it seems like something they’d feature in their shop, feel free to let them know. If they end up selling one at some point, they might give you first dibs! A lot of the people selling on Etsy are just nice, helpful hustlers with the same vibe for vintage duds as you.
See! Etsy is cool and fun and not scary at all. The extra few bucks you pay in shipping are worth it just to have something 5,000 other girls at the mall don’t have. Everything’s a competition. Never forget.