Though you may not be willing to go as far as I have (in my checkered past, I once wore a flapper dress to a business conference), don't worry that you'll look—or feel—foolish in vintage. After all, Julia Roberts and Renée Zellweger were anything but silly in the vintage gowns—Valentino for Roberts, Jean Desses for Zellweger—they sported on the Oscar red carpet. Just remember: whether you feel comfortable in a full-blown padded-shouldered 1940's number or confine yourself to a pair of alligator pumps, you'll be happiest buying the best. If they were wonderful in 1943, or 1963, or even 1983, they'll stay that way.
Multi-dealer shows are wonderful places to look for, and learn about, vintage clothes. The following promoters put together shows several times a year; call for dates and details.
• Northeast: Maven Company: 914/248-4646; www.mavencompany.com
• Massachusetts: 207/439-2334; www.vintagefashionandtextileshow.com
• New York: Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show: 518/434-4312; www.manhattanvintage.com
• Illinois: Midwest Antique Clothing, Jewelry, Textile, and Architectural Sale: 847/428-8368; catspajamasproductions.net
• California: Burbank: Caskey Lees, 310/455-2886; www.caskeylees.com ; Los Angeles area: Vintage Fashion Expo: 707/793-0773
The major Manhattan auction houses conduct sales of fine vintage clothes and accessories several times a year. The auctions at Doyle, in particular, are highly anticipated by collectors.
Doyle New York: 212/427-2730; www.doylenewyork.com
Christie's: 212/636-2000; www.christies.com
Sotheby's: 212/606-7000; www.sothebys.com
In the last five years or so, there has been an explosion of buying and selling vintage clothes on the Internet, especially on eBay. The good news: just type in Claire McCardell or Geoffrey Beene, and something is bound to pop up. The bad news: not only can you not try the pieces on, you can't even see them in person. Lots of things that look luscious in a digital photo fail to evince that same charm when you unwrap them at home. And even if they look lovely, will they fit?If you do buy clothes on-line (and hey, all of us vintage fanatics have succumbed at one time or another) pepper the seller with questions about condition before you spend your money. And make sure the seller gives you the exact measurements of the garment—don't be satisfied with something like "fits a size 10."