Guide to vintage fashion

G Magazine

Better than new: opt for new threads the sustainable way - with covetable vintage.


Though the decades can tend to cross over a little, keep your eye out for a few key elements of each decade. Click through these images for some examples...

Credit: iStockphoto


Fourties: Knee length, military styling, spare use of fabric, clever stitching, classic cuts.


Fifties: Full skirts, pencil shirts, "wiggle" dresses, nipped in waists, cropped capri pants.


Sixties: A-line shifts, space age shapes, mini lengths, primary colours, empire line.


Seventies: Long floaty dresses, empire line and medieval styles, tent dresses, soft floral prints.

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While the desire for something new to wear may have you mindlessly opting for the latest new season clothing from designers and chainstores, the waste created from the fashion industry is well-known and astounding.

Manufacturing new clothing causes a huge strain and much damage on environmental resources, with cotton farming occupying five per cent of our land and using 22.5 per cent of the world’s insecticides. On top of this is the pre-consumer waste including use of water in production, textile offcut waste, packaging and transport, and then further landfill, known as post-consumer textile waste, when the item is discarded often only a season or two later. It’s estimated that 50 million kilograms of textile waste is collected each year, most of which goes to landfill.

Yet while the fashion world is an industry created upon the need for everchanging trends in order to continue increased consumption, the vintage underbelly has become increasingly popular, with styles that are classics – in fact, many fashion industry trends are often based on past decades. Here’s all you need to know on picking up a great vintage buy.

Where can I buy good vintage clothing these days?

Forget the old adage about op shops being a good source, they’re pilfered a little too regularly these days and are also having trouble sourcing vintage themselves. Keep your eyes peeled elsewhere. “One of the wonderful things about vintage is that it’s everywhere: markets, garage sales, op shops, auctions, antique shops and specialised vintage clothing stores are all good places,” says Nicole Jenkins, owner of Circa Vintage. There are now a great number of vintage stores you can drop into, particularly around cities, such as the Crown St area in Sydney’s Surry Hills, or Retrostar in Melbourne. A quick look on the net too will bring you to a huge range of online stores with varying prices. Bargains can still be found on eBay as well as marketplace websites like Etsy and Ruby Lane. Fiona Baverstock, who runs The Way We Wear Fairs, also recommends visiting fairs, which often run in capital cities nationwide, as a great way to find quality items.

What should I look out for when I find something I like?

The nature of vintage clothing means most garments will show some level of wear and tear, however many garments you’ll find for sale have been lovingly cared for and are still in good shape. “Make sure there are no rips, shredding, pilling or fragility in the fabric,” says Nicole. “Check the underarms, neckline, hem and cuffs as they’re most subjected to wear.” Ensure the zipper works and all buttons are present. Look for any fading or stains and know what is easy to remove or fix. “Things like rust stains are almost impossible to get rid of but are often possible to camouflage with a trim or alteration,” says Fiona. “Fading can also be fixed by having the dress dyed if you love the piece.” If you like an item but it’s not quite right, a carefully considered alteration – a slightly raised hem, changes to the sleeves, or taken in at the waist – might make it the perfect garment. “Any alteration to an original detracts from its value [for resale],” says Fiona. “But then again, altering it to suit your style or size preference will give it a new lease of life and allow you to add to its story.”

Are sizes from decades ago different to today?

Yes absolutely. “In the past various systems were used,” says Nicole. “It can get confusing so it’s best to go by measurements. By comparing a garment’s measurements to your own and allowing room for ease, you can arrive at an understanding of how the garment would fit you. The easiest way to do this is to measure a garment from your wardrobe, which is a good fit, and then look for garments with similar measurements.” This is particularly helpful when buying online, where measurements are most often provided with the garment lying flat.

Are there any decades in particular I should look out for?

At the moment dresses from the late 50s and early 60s are seeing a resurgence due largely to the popular show, Mad Men. “I’m currently loving bold florals in figure flattering 1950s shapes, which are also the original inspiration for Prada’s frocks,” says Nicole. Florals and soft shades from the 70s are also on trend, while anyone who’s brave enough will find 80s frocks similar to those on the catwalks. “The 1940s are also eternally popular as they’re chic, well cut and easy to wear,” says Fiona. Of course, the style you choose will depend on personal taste and body shape. Opting for classic looks in a style you know suits your shape will be your best buy.

Is it retro or vintage?

There's a lot of debate about the difference between retro and vintage clothing, with many stating vintage are those items from 1920 to 1965, with retro clothing being any from 1965 to 1990. Whichever way you word it, both are second hand, so are a great option for reducing waste and dressing environmentally friendly.

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