What was once a niche practice of buying clothing secondhand has exploded in recent years into a burgeoning industry of vintage and secondhand boutiques, stores, friperies, thrifts, and web platforms. Not without good reason—shopping secondhand is better for the planet and often the wallet, plus vintage/used garments are more unique than mass-produced pieces from fast fashion brands!
Still, it is important to distinguish between the wide net of secondhand and the smaller subsection of true vintage pieces, which tend to be higher quality and more difficult to find. After over thirty years of hunting and collecting, our founder Lorraine has developed a keen eye for spotting authentic vintage (read more about her background here).
If you're wondering how to identify vintage clothing, read on to discover some of her tips and tricks which we use to curate our collection at Boheme!
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How to Shop For Vintage
1. Pay attention to labels and tags: often, the easiest, most straight-forward way to determine the quality of clothing is by investigating its label.
- Made in: Anything made in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, or Europe, for example, is probably of higher quality, as it is very expensive to produce clothing in these countries. Garments produced in Mexico are likely from the 80s; garments made in China are usually fast fashion, though if they were made before the 90s, they may be vintage and still good quality (the cheaper clothing industry began mass producing in China after the 90s).
- Fabrics and materials: Clothing items made entirely of natural fibers—i.e. silk, linen, cotton, wool, etc.—are likely higher quality. However, not all vintage items are made only of natural fibers; for example, polyester was invented in the 50s, and rayon was more popular in the 90s, so don't rule out items based on just this factor. At Boheme Vintage, Lorraine prefers to curate a selection of items with natural fibers, but knows that vintage collecting necessitates accepting synthetic materials, too, as it offers a wider variety of color and texture. Pro tip: if you're not sure that a fabric is natural and want to test it, you can burn a small patch or a few fibers—silk, for example, will burn, while synthetic fabrics will not. If it's natural, it will smell like burnt hair.
- The label itself: Higher-quality clothing boasts higher-quality labels: designer clothing often features a label chain or a hand-stitched label.
2. Check the design and composition of a garment for further clues to quality.
- Fabric: Again, is this fabric synthetic or natural? Is it a blend or pure?
- Small details: Thoughtfully-placed darts, pleats sewn down in specific areas to prevent flaring, oblique pockets, and intricate seams are all examples of small, personal details that are absent from mass-produced clothing. Examining a garment for signs of foresight and care—plus the addition of time-consuming or costly elements just to enhance the design—often yields information about its quality.
- Stitching: Is this piece hand-stitched or machine-stitched? Often, designer pieces are made on machines and hand-finished—a sign of quality and intention (check out our designer collection). Vintage pieces from the 60s and earlier are often handmade (like this handmade silver dress from the 50s), as they were designed before the widespread advent of the fashion industry.
- Zippers: Clothing with metal zippers dates to before 1963, when the advent of nylon shifted the industry towards plastic zippers. Another novel design of the 60s is the center-back zipper, as opposed to the side zipper which reigned supreme in the 40s/50s. See this pleated sundress from the 50s with a side metal zipper for reference.
- Different Eras: Various eras sport various styles, many of which are probably already familiar to you… Feminine hourglass silhouettes dominated the 40s and 50s (like this green chiffon dress), alongside peter pan collars and voluminous skirts. The 60s saw the rise of shift dresses, and, importantly, the beginnings of pants and suits for women, plus a later popularity of hippy-style dress. Bell bottoms, flares, platforms, prints, and overall eclectic prints defined the 70s. Punk style—including lots of leather and denim—flourished in the 80s and dresses shifted from the flowy, organic shapes of the 70s into structured, padded, and fitted shapes.
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How to Measure Vintage Clothing
After scouring for and identifying a quality vintage item, the next step is determining its size. Older garments are often missing size labels, or the sizing guides used to assign numerical sizes are now outdated and defunct.
Instead, the most accurate method is to physically measure a garment, as we do for each product on our website, in order to compare it to your own measurements or an item you already own. If you do not yet have your own measurements, read our guide ***here***.
These are the measurements we take for our garments:
- For tops, we prefer to take the shoulders, waist, total length, sleeve width (at bicep and cuff), and sleeve length.
- For bottoms, we use the waist, hips, inseam/outseam (pants only), rise (pants only), and total length.
- For dresses, we find the most important measurement is from the nape of your neck to your waist, because vintage dresses may have been designed with different body types or torso length. Also take the additional measurements of shoulders, waist, hips, sleeve width (at bicep and cuff), sleeve length, and total length.
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Why Shop Boheme?
Shopping vintage, as you have probably noticed, is a lot of work—and it is even more work to find and ensure the quality of each item! Still, our collection at Bohéme stands out against other vintage/secondhand stores for many reasons...
We’ve been collecting for over thirty years! Lorraine’s interest in buying and selling authentic vintage clothing began before thrifting became cool, which has led to her wide, diverse stock of clothing.
Lorraine’s background in fashion (read more here) allows her to intimately understand the fashion world, trends of various eras, designers, and how a quality garment may be constructed. Her knowledge guides and informs her collection practices.
Our collection includes exclusively high-quality, high-end, and designer vintage. We have meticulously catalogued every item with the utmost care, and only traffic in authentic vintage—nothing on our website has come from fast fashion brands.
Lastly, we strive to go beyond our inventory and help you find clothing that truly frames and flatters you, and makes you feel beautiful! Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more information or assistance sizing/identifying clothing using our form and join our newsletter for updates on new arrivals, more information on vintage clothing, and insider discounts.