• Paris 1900 2703 Main St., Santa Monica; 310/396 0405. "We're really known for our Edwardian whites, although we go up to the 1930's," owner Susan Lieberman says. These range from fin de siècle camisoles (from $85) and petticoats to cotton-lawn day dresses to Deco bridal gowns.
• Resurrection 8006 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; 323/651-5516. This L.A. outpost caters to a young clientele of actors and musicians who favor sexy evening looks by Holly's Harp and Halston—and a little more color than their New York counterparts.
Boutiques may be the most convenient way to shop for collectible frocks, but they're hardly the only sources. Here are some hints for buying successfully elsewhere.
Garage sales and flea markets
Dress in a catsuit or form-fitting garment so you can try on clothes out in the open. (It isn't likely there will be a fitting room.) Hold the garment up to the light to look for moth holes and weak spots. If it doesn't fit, remember: too big is better than too small. It's easier to have a tailor take something in than let it out.
Vintage fashion shows
The sheer volume can be overwhelming—these multi-dealer events gather thousands of garments under one roof. Decide beforehand what you're looking for—a sixties party dress, a pair of platform wedgies—to avoid coming home with nothing but a splitting headache.
Come armed with a tape measure and a raft of numbers: not just your body measurements, but also the waist, hip, and bust measurements of your favorite clothes, as there will be scant opportunity to try things on (you can sometimes slip into a coat—under the disapproving glances of auction employees). Or confine your bidding to handbags, accessories, and jewelry, where fit is not an issue.
There's no question that a Callot Soeurs flapper dress or a fifties manteau with a Givenchy imprimatur are highly collectible, but which styles and labels are being sought out by dealers as the next big thing?
Joel Weber of RetroActive says the new old thing may very well be those slouchy 1980's Japanese pieces from Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, Matsuda, and Yohji Yamamoto, along with their stylistic opposites: stiff-shouldered Thierry Mugler creations from the same era. Weber is also seeking out early examples of Nicole Miller's distinctive novelty patterns, such as her famous toothpaste-tube print. • Paul Shore at Rage of the Age has his eye out for early Halston, including the designer's electric-blue pantsuit with a plain jacket and ruffled trousers. • At Resurrection in New York and L.A., the owners are always searching for British invasion labels like early Vivienne Westwood and Jean Muir; the store was a major contributor to a recent gallery exhibition of clothes Johnny Rotten might wear. Katy Rodriguez, one of the co-owners, always pays attention to what fashion designers are buying. She's stocking up on early club wear by eighties brands like Body Map and Boy of London, as well as the Holy Grail of downtown fashion: Fiorucci.