The dos and don’t of buying vintage

Dealers at Manhattan Vintage Show share their tips

Denyse Sookdar of Denyse’s Closet (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Denyse Sookdar of Denyse’s Closet (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Three times a year, members of the fashion industry as well as lovers of vintage clothing converge upon the Metropolitan Pavilion for the Manhattan Vintage Show, an expo for vintage dealers from New York and around the country. The most recent event was held last weekend (the next show will be in April) with around 75 overstuffed booths as well as a costume installation that paid homage to the late David Bowie.

While there, Town & Village asked the pros for tips on how to shop for vintage clothes, which — as any of the customers who shell out $20 just for entry to the show to can attest to — can be a pricey undertaking. Especially with some of the dealers hawking Victorian pieces as well as other pre-Depression outfits, not to mention designer labels. Sometimes, the experts assured us, it’s worth it. But other times, customers should know when to walk away.

Denyse Sookdar, owner of Denyse’s Closet in Stanford, Connecticut, warns shoppers to look for flaws in an item that can’t be easily fixed.

“What I look for,” said Sookdar, “is even if it’s a beautiful outfit, I can’t buy anything with a hole I can’t mend. If it’s on a hem, sure. But if not, no. And no underarm stains. I can’t sell underarm stains nor do I want to wear them. Sometimes you can cut off the sleeve but (the stain) usually bleeds.”

 Vivian Hill of Lady V Vintage with apprentice Alexis Wright

Vivian Hill of Lady V Vintage with apprentice Alexis Wright

Vivian Hill, owner of the Queens-based Lady V, recommended that customers find a dealer they trust—and then stick with him or her.

As her rainbow gem earrings dangled, the dealer advised, “You seek those dealers who are respectful of your money.” Gesturing to her own booth, she added, “There’s nothing over $250 here, not even the furs. I’ve been going to the same dentist for 40 years, because I trust him. It’s about building relationships.”

Meanwhile, Amanda Dolan of Spark Pretty, an Etsy shop, recommended taking the occasional plunge.

“Buying smart can mean one or two pieces a year and then accessorizing with your current wardrobe. If it’s two or three good pieces, it’s more of an investment.”

Valerie P. Funk, an employee at Daybreak Clothing shared her view. “If you love it, buy it,” she said, before adding that she’s happy to take her own advice. “If I love something I’m buying it whatever the price is, unless it’s outrageous.”

Fashion writer Lynn Yaeger

Fashion writer Lynn Yaeger

T&V also asked a regular shopper at the show, fashion writer Lynn Yaeger, for her thoughts on smart shopping.

Following a bout of buyer’s remorse, Yaeger advised, “Don’t buy it if it doesn’t fit.” She added that this is a mistake she had just made herself when purchasing an item online. And unfortunately for her, the seller wasn’t letting her return it.

“I think the reason I’m so upset is it’s my fault,” she said. “(If it doesn’t fit), a day later it still doesn’t fit.”

She also recommended that anyone new to vintage shopping start with accessories rather than clothes.

“It’s hard to jump into a whole outfit,” she said, “With accessories it’s easier, and there’s a better chance you’ll use the bag.”

Meanwhile, in the world of vintage fashion, the 70s trend is still going strong, but the 80s and 90s have also made a comeback.

Amanda Dolan of Spark Pretty

Amanda Dolan of Spark Pretty

Maureen McGill, who runs the Manhattan Vintage Show with her husband and also owns the Albany-based Daybreak Vintage, said, “It’s 70s all the way and even a bit of 80s stuff. But the early 80s, before shoulder pads came in.”

The Spark Pretty booth was channeling an early 90s vibe with Kelly Bundy and the girls of “Saved by the Bell” as muses. This translated into tight mini-dresses and denim jackets. She and another vintage dealer at the show were both wearing colored turbans.

Sookdar noted the 80s trend for bright colors, including “look at me” earrings.

She said when she shops for her stock it’s after checking out what women are wearing on the streets in Paris and London and in European Vogue magazines. “It’s going to come here in a couple of years or maybe longer,” said Sookdar.

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