Jun 20, 2009

Vintage Shopping: Buyer Beware Edition, Part 1

In 30 years of buying vintage clothing, I have painfully found a number of the pitfalls. Let me share them with you, the dedicated buyer, and perhaps you will avoid some of the pain.


While clothing is actually quite hard to reproduce well enough to actually pass as Vintage or Antique, there is nonetheless a lot of misdated fashion in shops and stores, both brick and mortar and online. Ebay, Etsy, and almost every other online co-op are full of incorrectly dated items. So are shops. Some are so misdated as to be ludicrous. Many errors fall into the honest mistake category, some into inexperienced seller and some in plain Fraud.

How to avoid? Know what you are buying. Do research. Study fashion history before you invest. Comparison shop. If all you want is a cute wearable and the price is similar to what you would pay for the modern equivalent, fine. But don’t invest large sums blindly. I know that’s obvious advice, but people get taken everyday. Realize that some sellers are indeed experts, some are rank beginners who know no more than you do or even less, and many are knowledgeable in a specialty area, but may be at a loss in others fields. Buy books, read, go to the library. Ask questions. Take a Fashion History course. There are no shortcuts. The world is out there.

Watch For - 1960s hats sold as 1920s. 1950s hats sold as 1920s. 1890s -1907 dresses with gathers at the back misdated as 1880s 'bustle' dresses. 1950s Suits dated as 1940s War Time

Favorite stories: Two stand out: the plethora of 1950s hats being sold as 1920s Flappers hats on Ebay and the dress in a shop labeled ‘1880s bustle’ that was 1780s at the latest.Yep. 18th century.


Certain Labels add value. A LOT of value. That’s why unscrupulous sellers take them out of an uninteresting or damaged examples of a designer’s work and move them into a no name piece. It’s why dishonest drycleaners steal tags. Oh yes they do - it has happened to me. It’s called Fraud. And it happens online and in shops.

How can you tell? Sometimes by the way it’s sewn in. Sometimes by the location of the tag. Sometimes because it’s an outerwear tag in a blouse. Sometimes because the designer wasn’t even working in the time period the garment was made. Sometimes because it’s clearly not a style or design that designer would have done. Ever. Sometimes the dress is a cheap quality, and the label is too good for it.

What can you do?

At the drycleaners, tell them up front you know the label is there and you expect to see it when you pick up the dress. Take photos before you take it in. Make sure it is securely stitched in. And check your garment when you pick it up for the label. The difference bewteen a labeled and an unlabeled example from a known designer? In Sept 2008 Leslie Hindman sold 2 Versace patchwork dresses - same dress, two different colorways. Dress with label: $579, dress without: $219.

Purchase from reputable sellers who have been around and are trustworthy on other levels. Look at top labels with a critical eye. Study the designer, learn how they had the labels set in by looking at unimpeachable examples, know their career dates and what kind of work they were doing when. Know if they used different labels in their career and when the changes happened. Learn which labels are RTW, which are Couture, and which are from the dreaded licenses. And learn which went in different garments - for example, there was a run of men's tie labels showing up in dresses not long ago. There's nothing wrong with buying licensed or RTW - just don't pay for a couture when you do. That would be a shame. Start here: Vintage Fashion Guild Label Resource.

When you find a case of label switching just walk away from that seller. You can’t trust any label they have. Or much else they do.

Watch for: Any of the Haute Couture Houses, any of the big ticket American designers and the Hot label of the moment, such as McCardell and Ceil Chapman

Favorite Stories: a winter coat that had a Dior Chapeau label and a dress I sent to local auction that had a Saks label, then showed up at local booth with Tina Leser label instead.


Anonymous said...

Great post! Lots of useful information. Unbelievable to think a dry cleaner would steal a label but it obviously happens. Great advice!

Sue said...

Hollis, this is a wonderfully informative post. Too bad that so much label fraud is still happening. Buyer Beware, Indeed.

Wearing History said...

I just found your post linked from another blog. Thank you so much for posting these! I am not up to snuff on what makes a designer garment, but I really hate seeing things glaringly mislabeled. I really think some sellers don't know better- I've sent a message or two on ebay in the past phrased very nicely to the seller and more times than not they're more argumentative than glad to know :(
Like you said, self educating is the best!

Harpy said...

In jewellery, watch out for:

1960s Art Nouveau and Edwardian revival styles being sold as authentic 1880-1920.

1920s Gothic Revival revival (yes, there was a revival of a revival) being sold as original 1860s-1880s

1880s-1910 Arts and Crafts being sold as 1930s-40s Deco or early Modern (this also happens with silverware and EPNS - I've seen 1870s tea sets that wouldn't look terribly out of place amongst mid-century modern)

1970s Art Deco revival sold as 1920s-30s.

1940s Queen Anne styled pieces sold as "Victorian"

Much of it is just plain ignorance, as jewellery can be harder to date especially if it's not hallmarked or signed, and not a lot of people really know about jewellery styles that go in and out of fashion as compared to clothing and accessories.

Miss Blacklake said...

Great post! And lets not forget the millions of 1980s dresses listed as "original 1920s flapper" on ebay and etsy. Just because its got sequins and/or tassels doesn't mean its 1920's. Especially not when the label says polyester! Fabrics are a dead give away in general - as are seams, and, occasionally, zippers.