A vintage fair is a wonderful thing.  Forget the monotony (and expense!) of the high street – vintage fairs are the ultimate shopping day out.  If you’ve never been, or always wondered what it’s all about, have a look at these top ten tips for vintage fair newbies, brought to you by Caroline Dill who co-runs monthly vintage fair A Vintage Affair.

1.  Get there early.
Vintage fairs are jam-packed with wonderful things but are sometimes a little overwhelming to a newcomer.  I’ve been at many a fair when I’ve overheard people coming in and saying ‘wow, where do I start?’ Aim to get there when the doors open and have a walk around the whole fair before going back to stalls that caught your eye. Take your time – there is a lot to see!

2.  Have a budget.
Think about how much you want to spend and bring cash as not all stallholders are set up to take card payments.  Whatever your budget – you’ll be surprised at how far your money will go at a vintage fair.  Fairs are fantastic places to pick up quality items at a fraction of what they would’ve cost new. Prices vary from stall to stall and depending on the stock that they have.

3.  Be prepared to try things on.
The only way you know if something is right for you is to try it on.  Fairs don’t always come with a changing room or it might be over the other side of the room or there’s a queue.  I would always advise coming dressed simply and be prepared to slip dresses over what you have on.  Most stallholders have a mirror on their stand and are happy to assist if need be.  Just remember, it’s unlikely that you can return the item so make sure you love it.

4.  Mix and match.
Vintage isn’t necessarily about dressing top to toe in vintage.  For some people vintage is an everyday lifestyle and I admire them for it.  But for me, most days I rush out of the house and never have the time to do much vintage styling to my hair or dress like I’m straight out of the Fifties.  I prefer to mix and match.  Everyday I wear something vintage but you wouldn’t necessarily know it.  I think by now my wardrobe is almost entirely second hand, and I love that the dresses I get complimented on the most have generally cost me next to nothing and there’s a very low risk of someone else turning up in the same outfit.  Start by adding a splash of vintage to your wardrobe with just a scarf or maybe a vintage top with your jeans.  And when someone compliments you – you can say ‘yes, it’s vintage!’

5. Ignore the size label.
The question I’ve been asked most over the years as a vintage seller is ‘what size is this?’ and I always see people hunting for the size label inside a garment.  Well, my biggest piece of advice is ignore that label!  With vintage a size label is irrelevant.  I bought a Sixties full length dress yesterday from a charity shop and it says it’s a UK 14, I tried it on and it fits (very snugly) and I’m a size 10!  Sizes have changed over the years and my wardrobe has everything from a size 10 to a size 18 in it.  Have a look at the garment and just try it on – forget the number.

vintage fair insider tips

6.  Be inventive.
With vintage you will find items that you love but as they are currently they might not fit – don’t immediately put it back, there might be something you can do.  I am far from an expert in sewing / dressmaking but it is amazing what you can do with a little imagination.   If your sewing skills leave much to be desired then belts are a god send.  I have a whole basket of belts at home that just do wonders with dresses that are slightly too big.  Ruching is incredibly easy to do as is pinning a great big flower onto a broken dress strap!  See what you can come up with.

7.  Talk to the seller.
We are on the whole a friendly bunch!  We sellers love what we do and are pretty knowledgeable about vintage.  If you have a special occasion like a themed party coming up and need to dress Forties – ask the seller.  I’ve kitted out many a person for proms, parties and nights out and really enjoy this part of my job.  We’re not there to give you the hard sell and are generally friendly and approachable and most of all happy to help.

8.  Is that your best price?
It’s always worth an ask.  I would never haggle hard at a vintage fair as traders are small independent businesses but there’s no harm is asking if there’s any flexibility in the price especially if you’re buying more than one item.  The worst that can happen is they say no.  Above all be polite and you’ll probably get yourself a discount.

9.  Check the garment.
I buy second hand items everyday and sometimes I don’t check items as thoroughly as I should and end up disappointed or have to do an unexpected repair.  Vintage clothes are fantastic but they have had a history so make sure the garment is in acceptable condition.  The main things to check are the seams and underarms and hems and make sure there are no rips or tears.  Most things can be fixed but its best to make sure you’re happy before you part with your cash.

10.  Have fun!
The best thing about a vintage fair is that they are the ultimate shopping day out.  You may come away with just a scarf or you may come away with bags and bags of shopping but I’m sure you will have had fun. Go with an open mind, you don’t know what you will find.  Also sit down and have a break.  We have a vintage tea party at our fairs so treat yourself to a cuppa and a cake and enjoy.  Happy hunting!

‘A Vintage Affair’ is a monthly event covering locations around Hertfordshire and Essex. It features around 30 traders at each fair selling vintage clothing, accessories and homeware.  Each fair also features a DJ and a vintage make-over corner as well as a vintage tea party.


9 Responses

  1. Beth

    Good advice! I also check for little round holes – this can be an indication of moth damage. The holes are usually easy to mend, but to make sure you get rid of any pesky clothes moth larvae, wrap your new purchases in a plastic bag and pop them in the freezer for a few days, then wash them as per the washing instructions. The cold will kill off any unwanted passengers and protect the rest of your wardrobe.

  2. CherryT

    Great article, and good advice also from Beth. I have just started doing my stall at local vintage fairs, bit daunting at first, but picked up loads of tips by looking at how other stalls had their displays set up. I love doing the fairs and shopping at them too, beats the high street any day of the week!

  3. Vanessa

    I would add: ‘Know your measurements and take a tape measure…’ Over the years, I’ve got pretty good at judging whether something’s worth trying on or not–and it’s important that you don’t try to squeeze yourself into 60- or 70-year-old dress that’s far too small. These pieces need to be treated with respect and often aren’t robust enough to tolerate the necessary tugging should you find yourself stuck! (We’ve all been there…)

  4. La Sweeta Deeva

    These tips are great. I especially like your preamble in which you speak about not having to kit yourself out head to toe in a particular period, hairstyle and all. I think we need to have more conversations about eclectic vintage and curating unique looks that reference vintage as well as the modern age. Mash-ups are so much fun and they really do inspire fashion trends.

  5. Chelle Wagner

    What a great article. As a vintage dealer I love the tip about bringing a tape measure and knowing your measurements. I just cringe when I see a 60 year old dress being taken into the restroom for try on when It looks like it will be a very tight fit. As the article states I provide vintage clothing to others because I love what I do. I have almost every piece memorized as to where it came from and what I paid for it and I am never offended when someone makes me an offer at my booth.

  6. Belinda

    Vintage fairs are over priced. I started collecting vintage clothes over 10 years ago before it was cool…i used to get asked if I was on my way to a fancy dress party and that is exactly the section I used to buy my clothes in at the op shop. I would pay around $2-$10 for a dress. When I decided to clean out my closet I sold most of my clothes at the Kustom Krafts market for an affordable price of around $10 or less per dress and I am now disgusted that at the very next market every one who bought my dresses is now selling them for 5x the price. I am not annoyed that they might make more of a profit than me but I am annoyed that they are ripping people off and driving up the price of vintage clothing.

  7. Emilie

    Thank you for this fantastic article! I’m 11 but I LOVE vintage. I don’t think it’s used, secondhand junk that’s cheap and tacky, I think it has a story and a past behind it! Looking forward to my 1st vintage fair next week!

    • Lena

      I hope you find lots of amazing treasures Emilie!

  8. mali

    This is amazing advice! I find it daunting being physically challenged but look healthy(I do use a cane)
    I have been wearing Vintage clothing since I was a little girl but it became a obsession at age 17 (I am 37 now) I wear things from victorian to 1950’s and being a person with a disability dressing up nicely when I go out even to a doctor it makes me feel special. I agree hoe expensive things have become. I had lost a lot of weight in 01 and had to try and sell all the lovely clothes I had amassed and NO so called ‘VINTAGE” store would buy them and they were mint condition, back then a lovely 40’s dress was no more than 30 bucks. I was not savvy to ebay and so I gave them away. I wish I had the foresight to keep them but oh well. The same stiff sells for over 100usd on etsy ,ruby lane and ebay. However when I sell stuff I try to keep it well under 100 bucks I can’t believe it I mean it is used clothing.! I hate it when big films like Gatsby come out and ruin a trend that was a small sub culture. I have missed all the big fairs as I am chronically ill I get sad about it. I hope to go one day and clean house-sadly a small flat makes for a stopping point I have already reached! LOL