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.