Vintage Clothing

Over recent decades it has not just been fine art that has been growing at auction but a variety of collectables. Here we exam the surprising growth of the vintage fashion market, its reason for increased price and what a collector, or even a novice should know before starting their own vintage clothing collection:

Fashion & Vintage

While many believe it is important to stay ahead in fashion, recent trends have seen more and more people dressing to emulate previous decade’s fashion (we still cant believe the 80’s have come back so fast).  Like all art, fashion has its ebbs and flows; it is natural that styles from previous decades, particularly those of high quality, would return to favour. 

In  2001, Julia Roberts wore a vintage Valentino gown from the designer's 1982 collection at the Oscars. The dress was a huge success and is still seen as a great fashion moment for the star. This growth in popularity of decades past clothes has seen several major and regional auction houses test the auction market for vintage clothing and accessories. In 2013 Christie’s sold a 1939 Schiaparelli black velvet evening jacket for  £47,500 ($75,430 USD).

Fashion was given a value the minute it went into the museum space

The market has been given legitimacy as an investment for a variety of reasons, one being its increased presence in well-known public museums. “Fashion was given a value the minute it went into the museum space, with prices rising alongside the soaring visitor figures,” stated Celia Joicey, head of London’s Fashion and Textile Museum.  The museum itself has seen an 87% year on year increase in visitors up until August 2013.   

Despite the major auction houses having occasional sales, and even some of them creating vintage-specific departments such as Christie’s and Bonham’s, the market itself is being overwhelming led by regional auction houses, vintage-specific houses such as Kerry Taylor Auctions, Wiggins Auctioneers and August Auctions as well as an ever increasing online market. 

So does this mean we should forgo donating our “outdated” threads in the hope that  they will one day make a high return for us? Not exactly. 

High auction prices are often linked to a particular brand, celebrity/political figure of note that wore it, or rarity.  In March 2013 Princes Diana’s iconic off the shoulder dress (worn when she danced with Travolta) achieved £240,000 at Kerry Taylor Auctioneers in London.  With regard to rarity, a prime example is the highly guarded and sought after Hermès Birken bag; at one point purported to have a 6-year waiting list.   While in 2010, the Hermès said the bag would no longer have a waitlist, a vintage bag, depending on size and style, can still on average increase up to 20 per cent each year.

Does this mean it is pointless starting a collection since we are already priced out of the highest prices? Of course not - there are finds everywhere!

The vintage clothing market has become overwhelmingly more accessible to the public since the 1990’s and the acceptance of the Internet. According to the cofounder of Barnebys, Mr. Silfverstolpe, “Our generation is thinking about sustainability and buys vintage as much as new”.  In 2007 a women online thought she had won two Vivienne Westwood outfits on an online auction for just £150. However when they arrived she found her lot actually contained 75 outfits.

Despite the highest prices being out of reach for many individuals, there are still good deals out there for collectors at every price range. According to Kerry Taylor “At the lower end of the market there is such excellent value for money. You can spend less money than you would in Prada and buy something like a lovely 1930s bias-cut evening gown instead.” 

What is Vintage?

To many, clothes from decades past can be classed as ‘vintage’.  In technical terms it means anything at least 25 years old and everything over 100 years is considered antique clothing.  This is not to say a Chanel vintage quilt purse that is 15 years old is not worth buying; it is still a major and sought after brand. 

Types of Collector

Before you start your collection you needs to decide what type of collector you are:- those who wish to wear and those who wish to display.  If you are collecting to wear, buy what fits with a little bit of wiggle room, as you don’t want to stress the seams or fabrics of these delicate pieces.  It is important to be aware that vintage clothing measurements vary and often do not coincide with modern sizing.  

Those who do not plan on wearing the items need not care about the size of the piece they are buying. However, it is important when wishing to display a piece, to keep in mind the customer’s and the fashion sensibilities of the time. For instance in the 1920’s many women were much smaller than today, so extra small mannequins or dress forms will work the best with clothing from that period.

What to Look For

Vintage collections often begin with a specific period, clothing type or brand of interest such as 1950’s, Hats or Chanel. The most sought after items are traditionally evening gowns, followed by smart dresses.  Fur Coats don’t sell well and hats and shoes do not always command high prices unless they have interesting provenance. If handbags are your thing, then the top two names to look out for are Hermès and Chanel.

Popular designers include Lavin, Chanel, Yves St Laurent and Dior to name a few. There are several lesser known designers that are of note such as Madeleine Vionnet, who was the first to cut on the bias; if you find one of her dresses it could be valued as much as £60,000. 

Where to Look

Collectors should not limit themselves to looking in only one area such as online or at auction.  It is important not to limit yourself by only looking in one venue, Looking in all areas such as vintage shops, attics, markets and online will give you a better chance of finding a treasure.  Taylor has countless examples of clients coming in with items they found at markets or in attics for a pittance and has sold them for thousands.  "A man brought in a crepe dress with the very desirable label of Lanvin," she said. "It was in a bit of a state. He had paid £60 at a market – we sold it for £7,000 after we researched and found images of it from 1946.”

There are countless blogs and articles online, so a little research before deciding how to start your own vintage collection is always a great idea and as with any art beware of fakes.  

And above all else remember buy what you like!!! 

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