How to Find Fabulous Vintage Pieces

I have been shopping for and wearing vintage items since high school. Since WAY before it was cool to hit up the thrift shop. Before poppin' tags was a thing.

Why? I have always loved expressing my style and energy through fashion, and finding that one-of-a-kind piece that is just me is an absolute thrill. Knowing you own a piece that is all yours, and won't pop up on every other person at the party, or on every fashion blog as the hot new trend that is played out before you can jump in the game.


My absolute favorite vintage piece of all time came from a local antique show in my town of Wilmette. Susan Fieldman Wagner is an incredible curator of vintage pieces, and I met her for the first time when I stopped by her booth. I was strolling with my husband and kids and I spied IT. The perfect coat. I ran to try it on, and rushed back to my husband to beg him to run to the ATM so I could buy it. He was stunned- this is very out of character for me. If I have a purchase over $50, endless debate ensues over how much I will wear it, what it will match, is it really worth the price... This coat was a bit over $100, which is a steal for the quality and style, and I just HAD to have it.

At a black tie affair with THE coat

I am literally stopped on the street every time I wear it. One of the train conductors on the Metra hopped off the train last winter to ask me where I found it. It is one of those pieces I will cherish forever.


I stopped at Susan's house this week to catch up and photograph her array of vintage goodies she keeps in her store. I picked out a few of my recommendations and asked her for some tips on shopping for vintage. Listen up, because this gal knows what she is talking about!

Q: What fit issues make vintage garments difficult to tailor? Are there any easy fixes?

A: Tailoring items like fit through the shoulders, waist height and dart placement can be challenging. Shortening a garment, unless it is heavily pleated, is possible. Shorting sleeves is easy. Lengthening is easy too if there is extra fabric, letting out seams as well. Better quality pieces are more likely to have "extra" fabric to work with. Other easy fixes include changing buttons which can really change the look of an item, removing a self belt or adding one. You can take in clothing if the lines are simple through the side seams or long darts. Letting out can be trickier as the fabric will most likely be newer looking. 

Q: Are there particular time periods that are known for certain pieces?

A: Distinct styles from certain periods include - boyish cuts ( no waist), fabulous colors and fabrics from the 20's, dresses cut on the bias from the 30's, shoulder pads and clean lines from the 40's, the 50's saw very ladylike dresses, blouses and skirts. Beaded and sequin sweaters , sweater sets...the 60's were very pop art , geometric prints , loose trapeze style as well as fitted sheath dresses. 

Q: What are your top three "unicorn" pieces- those pieces that you jump for joy when you find?

A: My dream finds would be great quality animal print coats, perfect Persian wool jacket with mink collar and cuffs, beautiful 1920's beaded flapper dress, tapestry coat from the 60's or 70's.... Any vintage designer pieces.

Q:  What are the difficulties/problems with vintage items?

A: Problems to look for - dry rot- seams and thread ready to fall apart, weak fabric, holes, tears, moths. Dry skin on furs. Stains, marks from shortening or letting out, certain smells that won't come out. Things to look out for - make sure zippers work well. Many zippers are easy to replace but not all are! Buttons and belts are there or can be easily replaced, make sure color hasn't faded in spots. Check lining in coats - again sometimes easy to fix but not always.

Q: What types of fabrics generally last the test of time?

A:  Best fabrics to stand the test of time - gaberdine and rayon are tops. Polyester but ... Ick! Satin generally holds up as well as cotton but cotton can get "thin" over time. 

Q: What are some of your favorite places to score vintage items?

A: Thrift stores, garage, rummage sales, etc. but they are not for the faint of heart. Shows- I do open houses at my place a few times a year. I also do cocktail parties. Someone hosts it and invites their friends -usually 5-10 but 15 or so is great! I provide wine and appetizers and the host earns a clothing commission. I also see people by appointment, do personal shopping and a few shows a year outside the house.

If you are in the area, make sure to stop by Susan's booth this Saturday at St. Joseph's Oktoberfest and Market! The Antiques market runs from 9am-4pm with free admission: 1740 Lake Avenue in Wilmette. There is also a family festival from 10am-3pm (my kids LOVE it), and a dinner & outdoor part that evening. If you would like to get in touch with Susan, please let a comment below and I will get her info to you.

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