-Vintage Clothes can cost almost as much as new clothes (also ridiculously expensive) that look old- what’s the best investment?
Once upon a time, bright young things ran around town in ratty thirties velvet opera coats with Paris, rue St-Honoré labels, beaded cashmere twin sets from the Easenhower era, and campy sixties frocks found at the Salvation Army for $5. In those days, vintage aficionadas felt like they belonged to a secret society of scavengers who found fabulous bargains lurking on every flea-market table and rummage sale rack.
But that was then. Prices for even the most prosaic vintage garments have skyrocketed, leaving the chic shopper facing a genuine dilemma: With the best old clothes often costing more than new clothes, and new clothes (which are also ridiculously expensive)painstakingly designed in many cases to look exactly like old clothes, how do you decide which is the best investment? Should a vintage loving woman just throw in the Missoni towel and buy the new-old thing? Or should she stick to her retro guts and cost be damned?
As a longtime vintage lover (collecting since I am 8 years old) I am frankly flabbergasted by the price Puccis and Guccis are fetching these days. The biggest differences in the last few years is that there are just so many people looking for vintage resources now. I mean, there are even vintage sections in department stores!
I am not letting the burgeoning prices curtail my clothes collection or the one offered at ERA - it’s just that lately I have been setting my sights on what I can call ‘’covetable eighties designers’’ such as Alaia, Thierry Mugler, Norma Kamali, Krizia, etc….
Prices for hot-label items,be the old or new, may be completely hideous, but I think that you can still can’t go wrong with solid vintage investments: Judith Leber minaudière, just a few decades, old sixties mod dresses, and of course anything marked Hermès.
Actually, when it comes to Hermès, mad desire has been known to vanquish price resistance, whether the item is gently worn or factory fresh. I believe that buying a Birkin with your own money is the sign of a successful woman, old or new. I crave nicely trimmed roomy leather bags. And though I haven’t experience the old urban myth- the dusty Kelly nesting away in a salvation Army store….I have experienced it with a perfect deep navy blue lambskin quilted Chanel Bag and I have been carrying around a beloved black leather Hermès bag for the last 10 years.
As a lifelong vintage collector, I swear I haven’t spent thousands on my extensive wardrobe…………PAUSE here for a few minutes to ponder…………..that is really just my intentions that remain modest. I always go vintage hunting/evaluating with a budget. Let’s say it is $500 - and that feels like a lot and then I go ahead and spend $1000. I cannot help it I have to salvage, refurbish and upcycle all the beauties I come across in my life. Sometimes I break down and buy something so extravagant and think that vintage is still a better deal for my money. And yes I do pass this on to all the ERA Girls that come to the shop.
Still, vintage or not, in the end it’s never just about money. A few season back, an ERA Girl fell in love with a Dior skirt suit from the late fifties, when Monsieur Christian Dior was still in the atelier. It was $1000, she took a breath and bought it anyway. But what to go with it? A brand new tan color Goyard bag, and a pair of paisley gloves from Etro for $200. She swear it’s the only time she ever bought new gloves! She usually buys them from ERA too for a mere $40: a perfect example of a chic shopper: mixing the new and the old in an exercise of style. It’s crazy but vintage is still a much better value than new. She could have not buy Dior suit for that price and get as much satisfaction. And last but not least: you’re getting something one-of-a-kind.
Do escalating vintage prices ever tempt me to break down and buy new Gucci or Prada, a prospect that might be particularly seductive since those houses are actively pillaging their own archives and one of them even buys pieces from ERA? The old things are still cheaper and then there’s the original enamel buttons, the fabric, the beading. You can feel the hand, the inside boning, the embroidery. Now so many things are of one style. Back then they made just a few, or maybe only one. And never have to worry about someone else wearing what you have on.
I think labels are overemphasized. It’s more fun to find a piece by someone you don’t know but has a great fit – and if it doesn’t have that label, who cares?...but I guess sometimes, a provenance adds an extra layer of pleasure. I burst with enthusiasm about a really desirable vintage piece I bought last year – an Hermès caftan in the most delicious colors and a hoodie with delicate tassel. No one, except maybe for Yves st-Laurent, could make a caftan like this and transform this hippie thing into something like a painting. And again, the fit, the cut- perfect. And it’s sexy and that is hard to do with a caftan. Believe me- I have tried on gazillions of them.
Last but not least, but of upmost importance that what makes vintage items superior to a new one is construction. The material were finer and more thought went into the craftsmanship. Even when a house reissues design, it’s seldom quite right. The color is off or the silk is different. Certain fabric milling machines are not available anymore.
The shifting vicissitudes of a big label can be fascinating. For example, Lanvin, that house the epitome of chic in the fifties and descended to the ignominy of nylon in the sixties and seventies. It was wash-and-wear every grand-mother wore it. Now, of course, the Lanvin name again conjures spectacular style. I am also enamored with of those most elusive of vintage discoveries such as a 50 year old Balenciaga coat, a vision of almost geometric rigor that bears only the slightest resemblance to contemporary Balenciaga. Still, in the great chain of fashion, labels, originals and resurrected, keep taking on second and third lives. I do get Balenciaga pieces in the shop because girls wear it once, trash it and then sell it to me and I myself will store it and will wait until it has cross the 20 years bench mark for vintage consideration and then decide what to do with it. In fact I get surprised ever day, I am never jaded when it comes to the possibilities of style-…to be continued…