There’s something so magical about shopping at consignment stores and vintage or resale boutiques. It’s easy to go to a big department store and pick out the most expensive purse and end up looking like everyone else. But when you shop resale clothing and accessories, every acquisition is like a shopping triumph, especially when identifying vintage fashions.
Just look at the amazing vintage Versace gown above, worn with a red silk pleated wrap designed by Elizabeth Mason. I love the marriage of old and new in this stunning runway fashion show tribute to Valentino by Mason for her Beverly Hills shop, Paper Bag Princess Vintage Couture. And speaking of marriage, who wouldn’t love reciting their vows in this vintage 1930s bias cut gown, also from Paper Bag Princess, as seen below on Nicole Richie? Those convertible beaded sleeves are beyond incredible!
When shopping resale, you will get more for your dollar and you are guaranteed not to walk out with the same purse as everyone else. Shopping resale forces you to get creative, and due to the fact that many pieces are one-of-a-kind, I always feel like I’m on a treasure hunt.
I just bought the most fabulous lipstick red pony hair and patent leather tote by Christian Dior from Trunk Show Couture in Palo Alto. New with tags, its original value is $3,500. I paid just a fraction of that, but there are some points to consider when buying vintage or consignment. Here are my rules for shopping second-hand.
Keep An Open Mind
You have to keep an open mind when shopping resale. I already have a purse, for example, but this deal was too good to pass up. If you close your mind off and focus on buying a specific thing, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get what you want–but a seasoned shopper who knows the value of an incredible Dior purse will nab it and you will miss out on adding an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind piece to your wardrobe.
As I mentioned, your shopping trip will be an adventure of sorts, like a treasure hunt. Keep an open mind about the pieces you are wanting to purchase. If, for example you are looking specifically for a black blazer in a size 6, you will probably want to go to the mall where you can find specifically what you want.
Remember, it’s not a good deal if you’re not going to wear it. Think creatively, but also realistically.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Find out when your shop gets new merchandise each week and be ready to buy. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a gem go to someone else simply because they were there first, but it happens all the time.
Invest in One Good Thing
Oscar Wilde said, “A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Some things might seem expensive at the time, but the value of quality couture can be immeasurable. Certain pieces, like the 1950s Charles James dress on Angelina Jolie, above, are so great that you can wear them for many seasons and always look stylish.
This dress was a rare find at Paper Bag Princess Vintage Couture by costume designer Colleen Atwood for the 2010 film “The Tourist.” It fits Angelina like a glove, and looks as stately and elegant now as it did in the film two years ago, and presumably as it must have looked in the 1950s when it was designed and made. That is true style. That is timeless glamour and class.
So don’t underestimate the value of investing in one good thing. It is better to have fewer pieces of quality than a bunch of garbage.
Develop a rapport with the owner of the boutique. Once they become familiar with your likes and preferences—such as bold jewelry, capes, specific designers, shoe size—you can ask them to call you when something good comes into the shop. Ask them to start a file on you so they have documentation of your preferences.
Look at Labels
Looking at labels may seem like a tip reserved for snobs, but high-end designers cost more for a reason: fine tailoring, better fabrics and enduring style.
How to Spot Good Merchandise
Spend some time familiarizing yourself with quality couture in expensive stores so that when you are shopping resale you know what to look for.
Personally, I don’t want to look like everyone else. Resale and consignment boutiques of high-end couture practically guarantee that you will stand out…in a good way.
The Value of Vintage
What’s old is new again. Celebrities are eating up beautiful vintage couture. Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez and Julia Roberts, above in vintage Valentino at the 1992 Oscars, are just a few of the stars who wear vintage on the red carpet.
Look for quality in construction and uniqueness in design when picking vintage pieces, as seen in the stunning 1987 tangerine gown below by Christian Lacroix for Jean Patou Haute Couture from Decades, Inc. on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.
“If something’s been good for 30 years,” said Cameron Silver, founder and owner of Decades, Inc., “it just gets better.”
If you enjoy the process of a good hunt–and a good bargain– resale shopping is for you. If the thought of sifting through racks of one-of-a-kind pieces terrorizes you, go to the mall instead. But keep in mind that you will not be able to afford the kinds of pieces that you can get at a good resale boutique.
Build Your Wardrobe
Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither are impressive wardrobes. Regular browsing guarantees a greater ratio of success, but you still have to apply your own creativity and knowledge about finely crafted couture when shopping.
Learn How to Shop
Have no idea where to start? There are two great books by Elizabeth Mason, a.k.a. The Paper Bag Princess of Beverly Hills. Elizabeth specializes in vintage couture and has dressed celebrities for the red carpet. I’ve read her books above several times over the years because they are so packed with valuable, timeless information.
You can save a lot of money while building a fabulous wardrobe through resale and consignment. Maybe I’ll see you on my next shopping expedition, but please, leave the Dior for me.