So now that you are ready to take the plunge into purchasing true vintage clothing from the Fabulous Fifties, where can you find it?
Well, I suppose the answers are pretty straight-forward. You can go online to eBay or etsy, both of which have numerous listings of vintage clothing that date back to the 50’s (and sometimes earlier) OR you can go to a vintage clothing or antiques shop that sells clothing. No matter how you choose to shop, it will be a challenge; there are pros and cons to both choices.
This is the most fun way to shop because you get to sit on your ass and surf through the listings on eBay and Etsy. It’s also the most risky way to shop when buying true vintage, because you can’t try things on. You will get some idea of what condition the garment is in, but the operative phrase here is “some idea”… While most sellers are honest, their idea of “excellent condition” might vary from yours. Usually, you can’t return an item, but if you can, the shipping costs are paid by the buyer (you) so if you want to make a return, you lose money.
Thus far, I’ve made several purchases online, some of which I was happy with, others just didn’t work out. Until I get more experience, I am refraining from spending more than $35 – $40 for a garment I find online.
While eBay and Etsy are obvious choices for vintage online, you can also try Poshmark, a site that not only features EUC contemporary clothing, but vintage items as well! And yes, some of Poshmark’s many sellers DO indeed offer clothing as old as the 1950’s. So far I’ve purchased an adorable mocha-colored check dress by J. Harlan and a beautiful quilted skirt by Carole Chris (labels from these garments can be seen in Shopping For True Vintage 50’s Clothes Pt. 1: Identifying Vintage By Labels.) I got these two beauties on Poshmark at very fair prices and I’m really happy with them. The prices on Poshmark vary a lot, but I think it’s worth taking a look at.
Needless to say, even if you think you know what you’re buying, when you make a purchase online, you will at times be in for a surprise. Sometimes the surprise is not so good. Other times, it’s livable. For example, I bought a lovely satin and lace dress on eBay and it wasn’t quite what I expected (through no fault of the seller, more just because I was not making an in-person purchase). The size was right, but the fabric was a lot stiffer than I thought it would be and I guess I was assuming it would be lined. It is untagged, which I knew it was, but looking inside I found an ILGWU tag. The version of this particular Union tag indicates that the dress was made between 1964 and 1973. I am not complaining though, it still has a very 50’s look to it and is cute with a petticoat. I will be good for a Holiday dinner out. So would have I bought it if I’d seen it in person? I don’t know. But I have it now, and I’m going to enjoy it.
eBay vs Etsy
eBay and Etsy rule the internet when it comes to shopping online for vintage items, clothing or non. We know this. And although Etsy has become a corporate giant within the last few years, it still differs quite a bit from ole eBay.
So I’m just going to come out and say it. Price wise, eBay has better deals. This is in part because some of the clothing is up for auction and the end price is determined by what the highest bidder is willing to pay (and there is not always an astronomical price tag already attached). The other reason eBay has better deals, is that Etsy is more of a collection of boutiques, and the vintage clothing on Etsy seems to carry the hefty boutique price tags.
Personally, I’ve seen many dresses, skirts and even tops on Etsy that I really like, but the prices are so freakin’ high and there is never a “best offer” option. However, this is not to say you can find bargain deals left and right on eBay. I happen to think that most vintage clothing currently on the market is over-priced. Etsy would probably be a better shopping option for someone without a budget limit. More of the clothes offered on Etsy have been well cared for and are showcased in a store-like setting.
Buying Vintage Clothing In Lots
On eBay you can buy vintage clothing in lots. I don’t recommend this unless you are really good at sewing and mending garments. The lots are advertised as needing “TLC” and in most cases, they really do need TLC and on no uncertain terms. Clothing in lots are usually various sizes, which of course, means that not everything will fit you. And as always, the underlying idea of buying a “lot” of something is because you want to re-sell the items yourself individually, and thus turn a profit.
One evening my Mom and I were looking on eBay and there was a listing for a lot of drab-looking 50’s dresses hanging on a clothesline. The bids were really racking up for such a dismal looking group of clothes and I said to my Mom, “Who buys this stuff?” And she says, “Time travelers!”
I laughed my butt off at that. IF you could travel back in time and wanted to blend in, I guess you would need some practical clothing.
Oh the joy of paying shipping. As anyone who shops online knows, sometimes you’re paying as much as the item itself to have it shipped. Clothes are generally heavy, so you will be paying hefty shipping costs. However, some sellers don’t charge a lot for shipping and at times if you’re lucky, you can even find free shipping (on eBay) So shipping costs can definitely be a consideration when buying online.
Buying Vintage Clothing in Stores
Well, this means you have to find a store that you can get to that sells vintage clothing from the time period you are looking for (in this case the 1950s) Since 1950’s clothing is now considered “antique”, your best bet is an antiques shop that specializes in clothing.
I have not had much experience in this, but it is another pricey way to go, since you will actually be in a boutique-like setting. But one major pro to this is you do not have to pay shipping! The second pro, perhaps even better than the first, is that you can see, feel and try on exactly what you are purchasing. No, no, no bad surprises and no losing money on something undisclosed or unforeseen.
Now and again, you might find a store that is liquidating it’s clothing items and you could therefore find some amazing deals. This would probably take some research, but I think it’s worth it and probably the best way to go if you have an antiques store nearby.
What Probably Won’t Work Anymore
There was a time, not so very long ago, when you could find 1950’s vintage clothing at standard thrift stores like Good Will or The Salvation Army. Those days are gone. The 50’s are just too long ago now, and even if an item that old showed up at one of those kinds of thrift stores, the prices would be high. This is not to say that no thrift store has vintage clothing, because for sure there are some pieces that show up now and then. But searching for vintage in those kinds of places is probably going to take up more time than it’s worth.
In contrast to what I just wrote, I was able to find an amazing vintage dress (circa 1940’s?) at our Welfare League store here in Santa Rosa last summer for only $10 which is incredible. The store was liquidating it’s vintage inventory, and there were also a few 1950’s clothes on the rack. The way I see it, all sales are always worth checking out because you never know what you might find! 🙂
Well… all right. That’s it for this section! Please stay tuned for the fourth and final installment of “Shopping For True Vintage 50’s Clothing” when I will discuss finding the right garment for you!