I love using eBay. It’s such a wonderful world that has been opened up; the virtual portal into the salable leftovers of other peoples lives. Antiques, used picture frames, old toys and jewellery; the internet’s largest Aladdin’s cave is one of my favourite places to go for interesting and unique things.
It also reminds me of the ability of one person to see value in something that another has ceased to recognise as valuable. Vintage clothing for example is an area of second hand goods that is represented by a perfect economy of buyer and seller; used goods are sold by someone who views cash as a fair exchange. And the best thing about it? Nothing is thrown away and something is recycled.
There are limits to this Utopian market. Firstly, I would not advise the purchase of second-hand underwear. As ridiculous as the advice seems, it is illustrative of the sheer amount of unnecessary second-hand rubbish that people offer for sale.
Secondly, I would not advise the pursuit of assembling entirely vintage outfits. It can be costly and impractical to do this as it could take months of searching for appropriate pieces. I would advise, from a style point of view, to search the vintage market for pieces one cannot find in the ready-to-wear section of the high street. Vintage is, for example, a great alternative to expensive designer accessories and luxury goods. Standout accessory items like sunglasses and belts, especially if the belts are made using materials that are now contraband in manufacture, can be fantastic buys.
There are certain items, like vintage shoes, which I cannot advocate nor condemn; you should approach them on a case by case basis and always ask yourself what you expect from what you are buying.
Items available in vintage clothing shops are not junk. They are assessed for their wearability. I am interested in vintage ties and I rarely come across imperfect ties; they are simply worn with age, or are a little faded. This only adds to their character and charm.
Not every piece of vintage clothing is worth the money and the apparent ‘bargain’ of purchasing second-hand can be illusory when, in a week or so, the item begins to show the negative side of aging. However, if something is old and it’s still around, if it’s looked after properly, it’s likely to be around for some time yet. Compare what you find in your local vintage store or on eBay to what you can buy new in the shop; strict price comparisons are a little unfair, but it is well to know what is out there that competes with the second-hand product you are interested in.
Here is a short list of some of the best bargains to look for in vintage clothing.
Suits that are made now for high-street shoppers are made cheaply and quickly and materials are not what they were. You can sometimes pick up a premium quality suit, in very good condition, from such illustrious outfitters as Gieves & Hawkes and Acquascutum for under £150. When you consider the workmanship, material and cut, the issue of whether to buy is a no-brainer. Even if the measure is a little out, it’s a suit worthy of a little tailoring.
I wear vintage ties all the time. On an auction website or in a vintage shop, they can cost as little as £4 or £5 and yet, the quality of the silk is always very high. I buy vintage because the high street has a shortage of ties of a narrower width in stripes and classic patterns. An old tie also has the stylish advantage of individualism; I never see anyone wearing anything like my tie.
I’m not referring to unhygienic metal piercings. Cuff links, tie-pins, tie-clips and rings are the bejewelled accessories to which I allude. Vintage versions of these things are just, generally speaking, so much more elegant and stylish than cheap high-street options which are in some cases, when it comes to football tie-pins, novelty cuff links and tacky sovereign rings, genuinely depressing.